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Hands On with the Moto e5 Plus and g6 Play

Today, 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

Today, 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

Today, 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

Today, 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

Today, 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

Today, 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

Today, 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

Today, 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

Today, 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.


Opera Discontinuing Its Android and iOS VPN Service

Today, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software says its mobile VPN service will go offline on April 30, 2018. The Opera VPN service has been around for several years and allows Android and iOS users to connect to open WiFi network securely. With Opera VPN shutting down, Opera is pointing people to the SurfEasy VPN. Opera Gold subscribers have the option to redeem a free one-year subscription to the SurfEasy Ultra VPN. Non-Gold Opera VPN users will be able to redeem an 80% discount for SurfEasy via the Opera VPN app ahead of the April 30 shutdown. SurfEasy Ultra offers unlimited usage on up to five devices per account, with access to 28 regions, and a no-log policy. SurfEasy VPN is available to more platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Amazon.


Microsoft's AI-Powered Translator App Now Works Offline

Today, 8:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said its Microsoft Translator application can now function when offline. End users will need to download free AI-powered packs for the language of their choice ahead of time. Once downloaded, the Translator is able to take advantage of Microsoft's neural translation technology without a network connection. The AI-powered offline language packs are available to Microsoft Translator for Android, iOS, and Amazon Fire devices. Beyond the end-user features, Microsoft is allowing developers to integrate online and offline AI-based text translations into their own apps. This would let, for example, camera applications translate text in real time even with the phone is offline. Developers can find the new tools on Microsoft's developer web site. Microsoft Translator is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and Amazon Appstore.


Google Simplifies Two-Factor Authentication in Gmail

Yesterday, 10:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has reduced the complexity of using two-factor authentication for Gmail in an effort to encourage more people to take advantage of the tool. Moving forward, iPhone and iPad users can receive security prompts within Gmail. Previously, users needed to have both Gmail and the Google mobile app in order to use two-factor authentication. Google says this new method, which puts two-factor entirely within Gmail, should be easier to use while still offering a more secure method of authentication accounts. Google says this change is rolling out to all users over the next week.


Cricket Providing Service Credits for Friend Referrals

Yesterday, 10:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today rolled out a new referral program that will net people free service. The new Refer A Friend program lets customers and their friends receive a credit after 60 days as long as both accounts are kept active. Cricket customers send a unique referral code to their friend through the myCricket app and the app then sends a text when the account credit is applied. Cricket says the credit can be used towards service, features, and other account costs. The new Refer A Friend program kicks off April 22.


T-Mobile Offers Big Savings to Military Members and Families

Yesterday, 9:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today made a significant commitment to support members of the U.S. military and their families. First, the company is offering major discounts for military members. The first line in a family plan will see a discount of 20%, with each subsequent line available for half the normal price. For example, the T-Mobile One Military plan will cost $55 for the first line, $25 for the second line, and then $10 for lines three through six. The plan includes all the normal T-Mobile benefits, such as Netflix, T-Mobile Tuesdays, Simple Global, Mobile Without Borders, Scam ID, and Carrier Freedom. Beyond the reduced service rates, T-Mobile is offering military members 50% off the Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9+ (via monthly bill credits). T-Mobile has committing to hiring 10,000 military veterans and spouses over the next few years. Finally, T-Mobile says it will spend $500 million to boost LTE coverage in and around military communities, while also laying the groundwork in those communities for 5G. The T-Mobile One Military plan and associated benefits will be available starting April 22.


Snapchat Improves Lens Studio Creation Tools

Yesterday, 3:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Snapchat has added a number of features to its Lens Studio tool, which developers, students, and others can use to create their own, custom lenses. To start, Lens Studio now has seven new templates for creating lens. Creators can take advantage of 2D Objects and 3D Objects to design 2D and 3D lenses that can be overlaid on images and/or video. The 3D Object template is a bit more powerful than the 2D Object template in that it also includes a script for animating loops. Other templates include FacePaint, Photo, Distort, Trigger, and Baseball Cap. These let creators map artwork to faces, overlay lenses, stretch or shrink facial features, trigger action via blinking or opening mouths, and create unique hats. Lens Studio is available to anyone and can be downloaded from Snap's web site. Once people design and create their lenses, the lenses can be shared with others on Snapchat.


Chrome 66 for iOS and Desktops Halts Autoplay

Yesterday, 2:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is this week releasing version 66 of its Chrome browser to iOS, Mac, Windows, and Linux devices. The core feature of Chrome 66 is tackling autoplay video and audio. With the autoplay blocker on, web sites won't be allowed to automatically roll video ads or other content that might be hard to silence or mute. The autoplay blocker is turned on by default, though videos that have no audio or muted audio will still be allowed to play. For iOS devices, Chrome 66 makes it easy for iPhone and iPad owners to export passwords saved in Chrome and use them in another app. Last, Chrome 66 gains stability and performance improvement. Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store, Mac App Store, Windows Store, and iTunes App Store.


ZTE May Lose Access to Google's Android Operating System

Yesterday, 2:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE and Google have met to discuss what to do concerning the Commerce Department's action this week that bans U.S. companies from selling components and software to ZTE. ZTE is being punished for violating the terms of a settlement it signed with the government last year. That settlement covered transgressions in shipping contraband to Iran, which is under sanctions. The U.S. says ZTE misled the Commerce Department over the actions it took in the wake of that settlement and that ZTE is no longer to be trusted. ZTE uses U.S.-based Qualcomm processors in many of its phones. It would not be ablate buy those processors under the ban. More importantly, ZTE uses Google's Android platform. ZTE has a license from Google to use Android. Under the terms of the ban, it may not be able to use Android moving forward, which would throw is entire phone business into turmoil. The two companies have not been able to discern what the exact impact of the ban will be. Neither has commented on the matter directly.


FCC Lays Out Plans to Auction mmWave Spectrum In Nov.

Tuesday, 4:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC hopes to commence two separate auctions for mmWave spectrum in November of this year. Auction 101 for 28 GHz licenses will kick off November 14, with Auction 102 for 24 GHz lenses to follow immediately thereafter. Altogether, some 6,000 licenses are up for grabs. mmWave spectrum is considered prime real estate for forthcoming 5G wireless service, internet-of-things services, and other advanced-spectrum services. Auction 101 will offer 3,074 licenses in the 28 GHz band in two 425 MHz blocks at the county level. Auction 102 will offer 2,912 licenses in the 24 GHz band in a more typical split, with two lower 100 MHz blocks and five upper 100 MHz blocks. Each of the 24 GHz bands will be licensed on an unpaired basis. License owners will be allowed to offer fixed or wireless service on their spectrum. The FCC expects to take several months to set forth the rules governing the auction.

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