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ZTE Being Given a Chance to Argue Its Case

Yesterday, 10:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE will have an opportunity to ask the U.S. Commerce Department to change its mind regarding the government's decision to ban U.S. corporations from selling hardware or software to ZTE for a period of seven years. An official at the Commerce Department said the agency has given ZTE permission to present more information regarding the actions it took in the wake of its 2017 settlement. ZTE agreed to pay a hefty fine and reprimand 35 executives. The Commerce Department says ZTE did not reprimand those execs and then misrepresented the facts. The agency said this created a breach of trust and it announced the ban earlier this week. According to the Wall Street Journal, "ZTE doesn’t have administrative appeal rights under agency regulations, but the agency had agreed to receive the evidence through informal procedures in the near future." It's unclear what these informal procedures are, nor what impact they might have on the Commercel Department's decision. The ban will prevent ZTE from using mobile processors from Qualcomm and perhaps the Android operating system from Google. ZTE itself said the ban will severely impact the company's chance of survival. Google hasn't commented on the matter directly.

GSMA Puts eSIM Development On Hold Due to Inquiry

Yesterday, 10:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The GSMA telecommunications group today said it will pause work on the eSIM standard while the U.S. Justice Department completes its investigation over the technology. The Justice Department alleges that AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and the GSMA have been colluding to make it more difficult for consumers to take advantage of the benefit of eSIMs. eSIMs act as an electronic version of the physical SIM cards most phones use to identify the subscriber on the network. The original idea behind the cards was to make it easier for consumers to switch network providers via software. Apple and other companies complained to the U.S. government that AT&T, Verizon, and the GSMA are in fact doing the opposite, and making it more difficult for eSIM devices to be used on competing networks. Apple uses its own Apple SIM, which works like an eSIM, in some iPads. Verizon said the inquiry was "much ado about nothing." AT&T and Apple have not commented on the matter.

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Justice Department Launches Antitrust Investigation Into AT&T, Verizon

Friday, 3:35 PM   by Rich Brome

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating AT&T and Verizon for secretly colluding to put carrier-locking ability into the new eSIM industry standard, according to the New York Times. eSIM technology eliminates the physical SIM card that gives a phone its number and identity on the network, replacing it with a virtual SIM that can be loaded and replaced over the network. The Apple Watch and Pixel 2 already include eSIM, but the standard is new and evolving. As originally designed, eSIM could make it easier for consumers to switch their existing phone to a different wireless carrier. AT&T and Verizon are accused of secretly colluding with the GSMA standards group to alter the standard so that eSIM phones could be locked to one carrier. Such a move could be harmful to smaller carriers, and thus the alleged collusion could run afoul of antitrust laws. The Justice Department investigation started when both a phone maker and another carrier filed formal complaints.

Hands On with the Moto e5 Play

Friday, 10:48 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Friday, 10:48 AM

The Moto e5 Play is the latest truly entry-level phone from Motorola / Lenovo. There's nothing fancy about it, but it does manage to fit in a fingerprint reader and an HD display. We checked it out in person. Here are our first impressions.

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FitBit to Update Versa with Quick Replies and Female Health Tracking

Friday, 10:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

FitBit this week released its Versa smartwatch and said new features for the wearable will arrive as soon as next month. A software update to be made available in May will bring quick replies to people who pair their Versa with an Android device. People will be able to create up to five custom quick replies of 60 characters or less and use them in response to text messages, as well as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. FitBit said this feature is not planned for use with iOS devices at this time. The update will also bring female health tracking to the Versa, allowing women to keep track of their monthly cycles. Women should find it easier to manage their cycles and gain a more complete picture of their health and fitness data. These features will also eventually be installed on the older FitBit Ionic smartwatch. The Versa is aimed at the masses thanks to its $200 price point. It includes a color touch screen, accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, altimeter, light sensor, vibration motor, WiFi, Bluetooth LE, and NFC. These sensors allow the Versa to track 15 different exercise modes, including swimming, assess cardio fitness level, provide personal reminders, track sleep, store and play music, and make mobile payments. Battery life is as good as four days. It is available directly from FitBit and retailers such as Best Buy.

Apple's New Robot Prevents Your Dead iPhone from Pushing Daisies

Friday, 3:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today made several commitments to environmental conservation efforts based on recycling old iPhones. To start, the company will make a donation to Conservation International for every device recycled at Apple stores and Apple.com between now and April 30. Eligible devices will receive credit that customers can use toward an in-store purchase or put on an Apple Store Gift Card. The value will vary by device. Conservation International protects natural resources. Further, Apple debuted Daisy, a new robot that disassembles old iPhones in order to recover valuable materials for recycling purposes. Apple says Daisy can take apart nine different iPhone models, and disassemble up to 200 devices per hour, removing and sorting components. "At Apple, we’re constantly working toward smart solutions to address climate change and conserve our planet’s precious resources,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “In recognition of Earth Day, we are making it as simple as possible for our customers to recycle devices and do something good for the planet through Apple GiveBack. We’re also thrilled to introduce Daisy to the world, as she represents what’s possible when innovation and conservation meet." Apple continues to work to reduce its carbon footprint, use safer materials in its products, and power its facilities with clean energy. Last, Apple said it will send an alert to Apple Watch users on April 21 challenging them to go outside and complete 30 minutes of activity. Those who do will be rewarded with unique stickers in iMessage.

AT&T Preps More Than 100 Markets for 5G, Expands LTE-LAA

Friday, 3:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it has launched what it calls 5G Evolution in 117 new markets, bringing the total of pre-5G markets to 141. The company says its 5G Evolution technology can deliver theoretical speeds up to 400 Mbps to properly equipped phones. AT&T expects to launch 5G service in in a dozen markets, including Dallas and Waco, Texas, and Atlanta, Ga., by the end of the year. Further, AT&T has expanded its LTE-LAA footprint from three markets to parts of seven markets. LTE-LAA can push speeds to theoretical a max of 1 Gbps. The new LTE-LAA markets are Boston, Sacramento and McAllen, Texas. A handful of phones sold by AT&T are LTE-LAA capable, including the Samsung Galaxy S8, S9, S8+, S9+, Note8, and S8 Active, as well as the LG V30 and Moto Z2 Force Edition. AT&T's LTE-LAA is already available in The Loop in Chicago, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, downtown LA, and the business district of San Francisco. AT&T plans to deploy LTE-LAA in at least 24 markets by the end of the year.

Google Hinges Android Messaging Strategy On Carrier-Based RCS; Allo Being Put On 'Pause'

Friday, 2:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google hopes to solve the messaging experience on Android phones with a new service called Chat. Chat will be based on Rich Communication Services and live within the existing Android Messages application. RCS represents the next generation of mobile communication with advanced features such as presence, read receipts, video chat, and more. Google has been quietly gathering commitments from wireless carriers around the globe in order to make this work. The service is set to launch soon, though it will be up to individual carriers to deploy. Chat and RCS rely on data connections, but will revert to SMS — what Android Messages uses today — when data service is not available. Google expects to update the Android Messages app with advanced features such as GIF search and the Google Assistant. At the same time, Google is "pausing" development on the Google Allo messaging app, which first launched with Google Assistant in 2016. Most of the Allo team is being moved to the Android Messages product, according to The Verge, leaving Allo all but abandoned. Android Messages is the default texting/messaging app on many Android phones, but not all of them. Companies such as Samsung have created their own SMS/messaging apps for their phones. In those cases, it will be up to phone owners to download and install Android Messages in order to take advantage of Chat service from their carrier. Unlike some messaging services, Chat will not be encrypted. This means it isn't as secure as iMessage on the iPhone. Google has left numerous messaging services in the digital graveyard over the last few years. When Chat launches, it should put the matter to rest and serve as Android's core service for the foreseeable future.

ZTE Vows to Fight Ban, Says Denial Order Will 'Severely Impact' the Survival of the Company

Friday, 1:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said the ban issued by the Commerce Department is unfair and overly severe in what mark its first public comments since the ban was announced. "The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies," said ZTE in a statement. The Bureau of Industry and Security banned U.S. companies from selling ZTE any hardware or software because the company didn't comply with a settlement agreement over an earlier transgression. In 2016, ZTE was caught shipping products to Iran, despite sanctions against the country. ZTE later settled with the government for $455 million and agreed to fire some executives and curb the bonuses of other executives. However, the company did not take the proper actions against its executives and later lied about it to the government. ZTE insists it has taken action against the responsible employees now and has formed committees to ensure it complies with the earlier settlement. "ZTE will not give up its efforts to resolve the issue through communication, and we are also determined, if necessary, to take judicial measures to protect the legal rights and interests of our company, our employees and our shareholders, and to fulfill obligations and take responsibilities to our global customers, end-users, partners and suppliers," said ZTE. Qualcomm, which makes the Snapdragon processors inside ZTE phones, is one of many component suppliers that will be impacted by the ban. More importantly, ZTE may lose the ability to license the Android operating system from Google. Without access to Android, ZTE's entire phone business could be in jeopardy. Google has yet to comment on the matter.

Hands On with the Moto e5 Plus and g6 Play

Thursday, 3:40 PM   by Rich Brome

Sitting in the middle of Motorola's new lineup of affordable Android phones are the Moto e5 Plus and g6 Play. In spite of their odd naming, they share the same design and features. The main difference is that the e5 Plus is larger, and a bit higher-end in specs. Both have a very large battery, a modern all-screen design, a fingerprint reader, and a low price. We took them for a quick spin.

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AT&T Rejiggers Prepaid Plans and Discounts

Thursday, 10:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today overhauled how it organizes its AT&T Prepaid service plans. Specifically, the company is now offering more data and higher discounts for multi-line accounts. First, the $50 plan now includes 8 GB of high-speed data. Second, the $85 unlimited plan improves the allotment of high-speed mobile hotspot data from 6 GB per month to 10 GB per month. Once these allotments are met or exceeded, data will be throttled down to 128Kbps for the remainder of the billing period. All video is streamed at standard definition, and AT&T may slow speeds when the network is congested. Third, AT&T is offering better per-line savings with family plans. Moving forward, the second and third lines added to a prepaid account will each enjoy a $10 discount, while the fourth and fifth lines added to a prepaid account will each enjoy a $20 discount. Customers have to enroll in Autopay in order to score these discounts and data deals. Last, AT&T Prepaid will allow customers to cater each line to family members' individual needs, meaning everyone will have their own line, their own plan, and their own data all under one bill. The AT&T Prepaid rate plan changes go into effect April 20.

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Motorola Making Gains in U.S. Market

Thursday, 9:23 AM   by Rich Brome

Lenovo is finding renewed success for its Motorola phone business in the U.S. market, according to company executives. The company announced four new affordable Android phones today, all of which are being picked up by U.S. carriers. "We are going to be more broadly ranged across all North American carriers in 2018", said company spokesperson Cassandra McCormack. The new g-series phones will be available through carriers and unlocked, while two new e-series phones will be available only via carriers in the U.S.. According to another company executive, they expect to have up to twice as many phones on U.S. carrier shelves compared to last year. The success comes as the company makes several shifts in strategy. The company has doubled down on "Motorola" branding across its whole range, in marketing and on the phones themselves. That's an about-face from the strategy announced in 2016 whereby they planned to phase out Motorola in favor of Lenovo alongside "Moto" for high-end phones and "Vibe" for low-end phones. The company has also expanded its range with more models than last year, hitting more varied price points.

Verizon Smart Family Is A Refreshed Way to Manage Kids' Smartphones

Thursday, 9:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today debuted Verizon Smart Family, a revamped service to help parents keep track of how their kids use their phones. The app allows parents to manage screen time by pausing the internet, to check battery status, and to view texts and calls. Verizon Smart Family provides more fine-tuned content filters, which help parents block inappropriate web sites and apps. The service also includes an optional location-tracking feature with geo-fencing. Verizon Smart Family costs $4.99 per month per line for the basic service, and $9.99 per month per line with location tracking. Verizon Smart Family is available starting April 19.

Hands On with the Moto g6

Thursday, 9:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Motorola's g-series phones have a long-held reputation for value and quality. With the 2018 incarnation, Moto is trying harder than ever to bring high-end features and design to a low price point. For $250, you get a metal body, curved glass back, full-HD screen with 2:1 ratio, dual camera with portrait mode and object recognition, USB-C, fast charging, a fingerprint reader, an ultrasonic sensor that lights up the screen as you approach. It also has much better support for U.S. LTE networks than most unlocked phones, including Verizon, Sprint, and newer bands used by AT&T and T-Mobile. How does it stack up in person? Here are our first impressions.

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Motorola Updates Affordable Lineup for 2018

Thursday, 9:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Motorola today announced four new affordable Android phones coming to the U.S. market before mid-year. Spread across the Moto e5 and Moto g6 series, all four new phones share the company's evolved design language that debuted with the Moto X4 last year. They also all sport a fingerprint reader, a clean version of Android 8 Oreo, Moto Actions gesture shortcuts, a water-repellent coating, front cameras with an LED flash, 3.5mm audio jacks, and memory card slots. They have Qualcomm Snapdragon 400-series processors supporting Cat. 6 LTE, and excellent support for all major US networks, including Sprint, Verizon, and band 66.

  • Moto g6: The highest-end model of the group, it has a curved glass back, metal frame, and a 5.7-inch full-HD display with 2:1 ratio. It's powered by a Snapdragon 450 processor with either 3 or 4 GB of RAM, and 32 or 64 GB of storage. The 3,000 mAh battery supports fast charging via the USB-C port. The 12-megapixel camera (f/1.8) is aided by a 5-megapixel camera for depth sensing, to create portrait effects. The camera app includes object, landmark, and text recognition, as well as slow-motion and time-lapse modes. An ultrasonic system detects when you approach the phone and lights up the display to show the time and notifications. It will be sold unlocked for $249, and via carriers.
  • Moto g6 Play: This more affordable model (at $199) has a rounded polycarbonate back and metal frame. The 5.7-inch display with 2:1 ratio is 720p HD resolution. It's powered by a Snapdragon 427 processor with either 2 or 3 GB of RAM and 16 or 32 GB of storage. The 4,000 mAh battery supports fast charging via micro-USB. The main camera is 13-megapixel camera with PDAF, while the front camera is 8-megapixel. Like the g6, it will be sold unlocked and via carriers. It supports all AT&T bands, include LTE 14, 29, and 30.
  • Moto e5 Plus: A larger version of the Moto g6 Play. It has the same design and features, except the battery steps up to 5,000 mAh, the display size is bumped to 6 inches, and it adds laser focusing to the camera. The processor is a Snapdragon 435 and there is just one configuration with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. It will be available in the U.S. exclusively from carriers.
  • Moto e5 Play: A lower-end model, similar to e-series models of years past. Its plastic shells pops off to reveal a removable (2,800 mAh) battery. Its 5.2-inch display has HD resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The Snapdragon 427 processor is accompanied by 2 of RAM and 16 GB of storage. (However at least one variant will have a Snapdragon 425 processor that only supports Cat. 4 LTE.) The cameras are 8 megapixel (rear) and 5 megapixel (front), and it can record 1080p video. Like the other models, it has dual-band Wi-Fi, a fingerprint reader, and gesture shortcuts. It will also be available exclusively from carriers.

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Alexa Blueprints Let Anyone Create Personalized Alexa Skills

Thursday, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today released Alexa Blueprints, a tool that people can use to create their very own skills for Alexa. Amazon published a new web site that makes it easy to build the skills, with no coding knowledge needed. Users pick from a handful of prefabricated blueprints, fill in some blanks, and publish the skill. Amazon says skills created with Alexa Blueprints will be added to the Alexa app on their phone and available from all Alexa-powered devices associated with the account. The skills will not be made public. "Alexa Skill Blueprints is an entirely new way for you to teach Alexa personalized skills just for you and your family,” said Amazon VP Steve Rabuchin. "You don’t need experience building skills or coding to get started — my family created our own jokes skill in a matter of minutes, and it’s been a blast to interact with Alexa in a totally new and personal way." Some of the initial blueprints include jokes and stories, trivia, motivational quotes, quizzes and flashcards, and skills for guests and babysitters. Amazon's Alexa Blueprints are free to use.

Qualcomm to Trim 1,500 Jobs In Order to Reduce Costs

Thursday, 8:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm is prepared to layoff some 1,500 employees, mostly in California, according to Bloomberg. Earlier this year, Qualcomm promised investors it would cut $1 billion in spending as part of its effort to stave off the Broadcom acquisition. With that deal dead, Qualcomm now has to live up to its promise to shareholders. "We first evaluated non-headcount expense reductions, but we concluded that a workforce reduction is needed to support long-term growth and success, which will ultimately benefit all our stakeholders," said Qualcomm in a statement. Qualcomm has not said what divisions might be impacted by the layoffs. The company is headquartered in San Diego.

Netflix Brings 30-Second Previews to Mobile Devices

Thursday, 8:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Netflix today announced mobile previews, a feature that lets people preview movie and TV content on their phone. Netflix says mobile previews last about 30 seconds each and are displayed vertically in a slideshow format. The idea is to give people a quick look at TV shows and movies so they can decide if they want to watch it. Netflix subscribers can tap to save previewed content to their watch list, or swipe to advance to the next preview. Netflix says previews help its subscribers browse less and discover new content more quickly. The previews load swiftly and are personalized to individual subscribers. Mobile previews are launching on iOS devices first and will reach Android devices soon.

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