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Bing Gains Visual Search Tool

Today, 7:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft this week rolled out an update to its Bing search engine that lets people perform searches based on things they see in the real world. The visual search function works similarly to Google Lens. Bing users can take a snapshot of a landmark, or plant, or animal and then search based on the image. Microsoft says it will identify the object and provide information about it along with links to learn more. Microsoft says the app also allows people to shop from image searches if they wish. The new visual search function is available within the Bing search app on Android and iOS, as well as via the Edge browser on Android. Visual search will reach the Edge browser on iOS in the weeks ahead.


Facebook Brings More Features to Messenger Kids As It Expands to More Countries

Today, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook's Messenger Kids app is set to become more parent-friendly and more widely available. Facebook is updating the app today with a handful of features, including the ability for more than one parent to control the app and account. The company says it is working on "new features rooted in principles of social and emotional learning." For example, kids and parents will be greeted by a pledge of guiding principles when first signing into the app, and can make use of kindness stickers that let people offer encouragement to others. Last, the app is expanding to Canada and Peru, and is being made available in English, French, and Spanish to those countries and the U.S. Facebook Messenger Kids requires a parental account. It is available on Android and iOS.

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Google Makes Talking to Google Assistant Less Awkward

Yesterday, 10:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today began rolling out Continued Conversation, an update to Google Assistant that should make the tool easier to interact with. With Continued Conversation enabled, people will be able to have more natural, back-and-forth conversations with Assistant without repeating the "Hey Google" command each time. This is an optional feature, according to Google, and must be turned on manually through the Google Assistant app. Google says people will still need to say "Hey Google" to initiate a conversation, but they can then make follow-up requests, add items to shopping lists, set timers and reminders, and more without constantly repeating the catchphrase. The Assistant will continue to listen until it is sure the user has stopped interacting with it. The Continued Conversation function is first reaching the Google Home, Google Home Mini, and Google Home Max products. Google didn't say if or when the feature might reach phones or other Assistant-enabled devices.


Apple, Samsung Support Digital Key for Unlocking Cars with Phones

Yesterday, 10:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Car Connectivity Consortium this week announced release 1.0 of its Digital Key specification, which will let people use their phone to unlock their car. The spec supports the ability to lock, unlock, start, and share access to cars from smartphones and other devices. The underlying technology makes it possible for carmakers to securely transmit a digital key to a mobile device, which then makes use of NFC and a secure element to provide vehicle access. The Car Connectivity Consortium says it has lots of support from both phone and car makers. Some of the member companies include Apple, Audi, BMW, Continental, Gemalto, GM, LG, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Volkswagen. The CCC is already working on release 2.0, which it expects will arrive during the first quarter of 2019. The group didn't say how long before consumers can expect to see the technology gracing their local automobile showroom.


Motorola Makes the Moto Z3 Play Available for Preorder

Yesterday, 10:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 11:02 AM

Motorola today kicked off general preorders for the Moto Z3 Play phone. People can now pre-purchase the Z3 Play from Motorola.com, Best Buy, B&H Photo, and Amazon. The phone adopts a 6-inch 2:1 screen, and is made form a slim metal-and-glass chassis. It is compatible with Motorola's Moto Mods accessories and includes either a speaker or battery. The phone sells for $499. The phone will be sold directly by Sprint and U.S. Cellular later this summer.


BlackBerry KEY2 Goes On Sale July 13

Yesterday, 9:02 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

TCL today said the BlackBerry KEY2 will be available to preorder starting June 29 with an expected retail date of July 13. The phone will be sold unlocked from Amazon and Best Buy for $649. The KEY2, announced earlier this month, has a redesigned chassis, taller keyboard with better keys, and dual rear cameras. Other features include a Snapdragon 660 processor, 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. The phone runs Android 8 Oreo with BlackBerry's hardened security and business communication software. The KEY2 has a 4.5-inch screen and 3,500mAh battery.


AT&T's Unlimited Plans Now Include 'Watch TV' Video Service

Yesterday, 7:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today added to its top-tier plans in the wake of its recent acquisition of Time Warner. The company's unlimited service plans now offer an optional video service called Watch TV. Watch TV includes more than 30 live channels and is compatible with most every smartphone, tablet, browser, and device. The service offers access to 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand. Some of the available channels include AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, History, HLN, IFC, Lifetime, OWN, TBS, TCM, TLC, TNT, Velocity, and Viceland. The service is included at no extra charge in the two new unlimited offerings, which are called AT&T Unlimited &More Premium and AT&T Unlimited &More. The Premium plan offers 15 GB of high-speed tethering, high-quality video, and a $15 monthly credit toward DirecTV Now, DirecTV, and U-Verse. Premium customers may tack on one premium add-on, such as HBO or Pandora Premium, at no extra cost. The simpler Unlimited &More offering does not include tethering, limits video to 480p, and includes a $15 discount only toward DirecTV Now. AT&T Unlimited &More Premium costs $80 for a single line and $190 for four lines. AT&T Unlimited &More costs $70 for a single line and $160 for four lines. These prices require autopay and do not include taxes, fees, or device payments. WatchTV will also be made available as a stand-alone service for $15 per month. AT&T says it has more bundles on the way.


Google Simplifies Account Security and Control

Yesterday, 7:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today improved the design of its Google Account tool in order to make it easier for people to manage their account details, security, and privacy. The revised function provides summaries of personal information, devices with account access, payment methods, purchases, subscriptions, and contacts. A search function lets people easily find particular settings, such as how to change a password. It boasts a new support section with FAQs and other how-tos. Privacy controls are now managed in a single place that Google says has been tested by end users. It offers insight into account activity, and the refreshed Privacy Checkup helps people review their privacy settings and improve them if needed. For example, Google will offer prominent notices if it detects there's something amiss, and will suggest people remove old devices or unused apps from their account. The new Google Account dashboard is available to Android devices now, and will be available on the web and iOS devices later this year.


Amazon Adds Moto Z3 Play and G6 Play with Alexa to Prime Exclusive Lineup

Yesterday, 7:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today made the Motorola Moto Z3 Play and Moto G6 Play, both with Alexa on board, available through its Prime Exclusives program. Phones sold through the Prime Exclusive program have a single sign-in for all Amazon services, such as Amazon Video and Amazon Music. The phones include a number of Amazon apps preinstalled. The Moto Z3 Play (pictured) has a 6-inch screen and is compatible with Motorola's Moto Mods accessories. It features a 12-megapixel main camera with a 5-megapixel secondary camera, and an 8-megapixel selfie camera. The Z3 Play ships with the Moto Power Pack Mod, and Amazon is offering a free Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa for hands-free access to the Alexa assistant. Amazon is selling the Z3 Play for $450 (a $50 discount). The Moto G6 Play is a mid-range phone with a 5.7-inch screen, 13-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel front camera. Amazon is selling the Moto G6 Play for $190 (a $10 discount). Both phones run Android 8 Oreo and are compatible with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Preorders start today, and the phones will ship June 29.


More Lawmakers Target Google Over Huawei Relationship

Wednesday, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

More members of Congress are posing questions about the relationship between Google and Huawei. Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, Republican Representatives Liz Cheney and Michael Conaway, and Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger all signed a letter sent to Google concerning the search giant’s recent decision to halt work on Project Maven. "While we regret that Google did not want to continue a long and fruitful tradition of collaboration between the military and technology companies, we are even more disappointed that Google apparently is more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party than the U.S. military,” read the letter, in part. It’s not clear what the lawmakers’ end goal is. Huawei uses Google’s Android operating system in its phones. Huawei is the world’s third-largest supplier of phones. Some members of Congress see Huawei as a national security threat due to its ties with the Chinese government. Earlier this year, Huawei saw smartphone distribution deals with AT&T and Verizon evaporate after pressure from Congress.


IGTV Is Instagram's Standalone Video App

Wednesday, 1:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today announced IGTV, a separate application meant expressly for consuming video content. Instagram insists IGTV is different from its existing app. "First, it’s built for how you actually use your phone, so videos are full screen and vertical. Also, unlike on Instagram, videos aren’t limited to one minute. Instead, each video can be up to an hour long," explained the company in a blog post. Videos from favored accounts will start to play as soon as users open the app. In addition to content from followers, IGTV will queue up videos based on users' interests. Sections such as For You, Following, Popular, and Continue Watching will let people browse and discover content from others. As always, people can like and comment on videos, as well as share them with friends. IGTV will include creator channels where people can upload their own videos. Instagram says the app will be available globally for Android and iOS devices over the next few weeks.


FreedomPop's Unreal Mobile MVNO Launches with $10 Plan

Wednesday, 10:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 1:01 PM

Unreal Mobile officially launched today after signing up some 50,000 beta users over the last month. Unreal Mobile is a new MVNO from FreedomPop. It is offering unlimited service that includes a VPN, mobile ad blocking, and the ability for customers to use their Unreal phone number on tablets, phones, and computers. All three Unreal service plans include unlimited talk, text, and 2G data. The entry-level plan costs $10 per month and includes 1 GB of LTE, while the $15 plan includes 2 GB and the $30 plan includes 5 GB. The MVNO also lets subscribers carry unused data over to the next month and offers live support. The first three phones being sold by Unreal are the Alcatel Dawn for $50, a certified pre-owned Samsung Galaxy S6 for $150, and a pre-owned iPhone 7 for $300. The carrier says customers will be able to bring their own phone later this summer. Consumers interested in Unreal Mobile can sign up via Unreal's web site.


Google's Flutter Exits Beta and Reaches Release Preview

Wednesday, 10:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made the first Release Preview of Flutter available to developers. Flutter is a set of tools that can help developers create user interface designs that work on Android and iOS. Flutter has been in beta testing since February and saw its last major update in May. Google says Flutter is quick and easy to use, and can be put to use by experienced and novice developers alike. It includes frameworks for windows, widgets, animations, and image libraries. It includes a GPU-accelerated renderer and native ARM code runtime. It supports accessibility features, right-to-left text, localization, and internationalization. On iOS, it support inline video, additional image formats, and background processes. Flutter Release Preview 1 introduces a handful of new features, such as support for hardware keyboards, barcode scanners, and video recording. The team behind Flutter says it is focusing on improving the video player package with broader format support and better reliability. It has also extended Firebase support to include dynamic links for handling links across platforms. Last, Flutter now has instructions for adding Flutter widgets to existing Android and iOS apps. The end result, hopes Google, will be better looking and better functioning mobile apps that look and run the same on Android and iOS. More information about the new features in Flutter Release Preview 1 can be found at the Flutter blog.


Trump Agrees to Talk to Congress About 'Problematic' ZTE

Wednesday, 9:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE will be the topic of discussion at a meeting today between President Trump and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, reports Reuters. Trump wants to talk about the "problematic" amendment made to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) earlier this week, which will keep certain sanctions against ZTE in place. The administration and lawmakers have different viewpoints on what to do with ZTE. The company was caught lying about a 2017 settlement over exports to Iran and North Korea in violation of sanctions. As a result, the Department of Commerce banned U.S. companies from selling ZTE software or hardware for a period of seven years. The ban has effectively put ZTE out of business, as it is unable to buy the components it needs to make phones. The Trump administration wants the ban lifted and the Commerce Department agreed to a new fine along with required management changes at ZTE. Members of the Senate and House, however, contend that ZTE's punishment was fair and should be upheld. Despite the Commerce Department agreement, Senators added language to the NDAA that keeps the sanctions in place, putting it at odds with the Trump administration. The White House confirmed that the meeting will take place, but did not specify the attendees.


Samsung Brings the Gold Galaxy S9 and S9+ to the US

Wednesday, 8:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said its Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ phones will be available in gold starting June 24. The company announced the new color last month, but initially said it would be limited to other markets. The gold color joins the red, black, blue, gray, and purple hues that are already available. Samsung says the gold S9/S9+ will only be sold at Best Buy stores, BestBuy.com, and Samsung.com. Pricing for starts at $720 for the gold S9 and $840 for the gold S9+.


Sprint, T-Mobile Agree to Halt Sharing Location with Some Apps

Tuesday, 5:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Following moves made earlier in the day by Verizon and AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have now said they also will cease sharing customer location data with certain third-party apps and services. Sprint said it is "beginning the process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data." T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted, "I've personally evaluated this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen." The matter rose to attention after some third-party location brokers left the real-time data of millions of customers unprotected. Lawmakers called for change and today's responses appear to be it.


Review: Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

Tuesday, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is a phone for those averse to today's mega-slabs. It's a diminutive dynamo that packs a big punch. This Android phone won't take no guff from nobody. With a top-tier processor, capable camera, and features to spare, the Xperia XZ2 Compact is the one-handed phone you might not be able to say no to. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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AT&T to Also Drop Location-Data Sales to Third Parties

Tuesday, 1:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it, too, will cease the sale of subscriber location information to outside companies. The move follows an identical change made by Verizon earlier today. "Our top priority is to protect our customers’ information, and, to that end, we will be ending our work with aggregators for these services as soon as practical in a way that preserves important, potential lifesaving services like emergency roadside assistance," said AT&T in a statement provided to The Verge. Carriers are under fire because one of the third-party companies exposed the real-time location data of millions of wireless customers without their knowledge or consent. The matter is being investigated by the FCC. Sprint and T-Mobile have yet to make the same commitment.

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