Cricket has announced new service plans that include only data and messaging, with no access to voice service. With the plans, messaging (SMS and MMS) is unlimited, but international service is not included. Data allotments are for high-speed data at the full speed of AT&T's LTE network, instead of capped at 8 Mbps as with Cricket's other plans. Streaming video is limited to SD quality by default, although HD can be enabled. The plans cost: $25/month for 3 GB of data, $35 for 10 GB, and $70 for 30 GB. A $5/month discount is available for the top plan when using AutoPay, making it $65/month. Add-ons are also available for even more data: $5 for an extra 2 GB or $10 for 5 GB. Cricket is also launching the Cricket Turbo Hotspot, a new mobile hotspot made by Netgear, for $120. Lastly, customers who switch to Cricket can take $200 off a Samsung Galaxy S10, or get the Samsung Galaxy J2 Pure for free.
T-Mobile is now offering its own branded checking accounts as a new offering called T-Mobile Money. The accounts bear no monthly, overdraft or transfer fees, and no ATM fees. Accounts earn 4% interest on the first $3,000. The product is digital-only and mobile-first, accessed primarily through a phone app. The debit card is compatible with Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay, although customers receive a physical debit card as well. It supports direct deposit, mobile deposit, bill payment, and customers can send checks. The product is created and operated by BankMobile, a division of Customers Bank (Member FDIC). BankMobile has over 2 million customers, mostly college students using a similar product offered in partnership with over 800 colleges and universities.
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Verizon today started selling the Alcatel Avalon V, an entry-level Android phone that marks the first Alcatel phone to be offered by Verizon. The phone is similar to the Alcatel 1x Evolve already on sale with Metro by T-Mobile, but has a Snapdragon 425 processor instead of a MediaTek chip, and lower-resolution cameras (5 megapixel main and 2 megapixel selfie). The phone is notable for its tall (2:1 aspect ratio) display, which is still uncommon in truly entry-level phones such as this. The phone has a memory card slot, 2.5mm audio jack, and comes with Google Lens image recognition. It's available today for $100.
The first production units of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, sent to some phone reviewers, are experiencing serious failures of the folding screen after very little use, and at an alarming rate. Units sent to The Verge and CNBC have failed after just a few days of normal use. The unit used by Dieter Bohn of The Verge developed a sharp bulge poking up into the screen from the hinge mechanism; it destroyed the screen. The unit sent to CNBC started flickering off on the left side. Two other reviewers accidentally destroyed the screen after attempting to peel off a layer that looks like a removable screen protector, and can be peeled off, but is not intended to be removed. The Verge's unit also developed small nicks in the protective film after just a few days. The folding phone is supposed to ship to consumers at the end of next week.
Intel has confirmed that it has cancelled its 5G modem project intended for phones such as a future iPhone, and will focus its modem business instead on products for devices other than phones, according to the Wall Street Journal. Apple currently uses both Intel and Qualcomm modems in its iPhones. Earlier today, Apple and Qualcomm announced an agreement to end a years-long, ugly patent dispute. The agreement included a new commitment by Apple to use Qualcomm chips – perhaps exclusively – at the expense of Intel. Without its largest customer (Apple), Intel was left with no path to profitability for its phone modem business.
Justice department staff reviewing the proposed merger between T-Mobile US and Sprint have informed the two companies that they're disinclined to approve the merger as currently proposed, on antitrust grounds, according to the Wall Street Journal. The $26 billion deal would reduce competition and likely lead to lost jobs in the long run, although T-Mobile and Sprint claim otherwise. T-Mobile and Sprint could propose alterations to the deal to win approval. Also, senior Justice Department officials could override the staff recommendation and approve the deal as-is, although several state attorneys general are preparing to sue on antitrust grounds if that happens. A final decision from the Justice Department is expected in a few weeks, and T-Mobile and Sprint are still aiming to wrap up the deal by the end of July.
Qualcomm and Apple have reached an agreement to end all ongoing litigation over patents, including that extending to Apple's contact manufacturers. The companies have reached a six-year intellectual property agreement, with an option to extend for two years. As part of the agreement, Apple will pay Qualcomm an undisclosed sum, and has entered into a new agreement to buy chips from Qualcomm.
Kyocera's US phone lineup is down to just rugged phones these days, where they compete with Sonim. Kyocera's been at this for a while, though, so the DuraForce Pro 2 is building on quite a bit of experience. The DuraForce Pro was a solid entry, and its sequel mostly just updates the specs to keep current. It's offered by both Verizon and AT&T. How is it in person? We put on our work gloves and checked it out.
AT&T has a new promotion offering double the data on its mid-range plan. For $40/month, customers get 16GB of high-speed data, instead of the usual 8GB. The plan also includes unlimited talk and text across North America. The promo requires that customers enroll in AutoPay (without AutoPay, the plan is $50/month and only includes the usual 8 GB of data.) The plan includes rollover, where unused data is available the following month. The promo works by adding a special 8 GB block of "bonus data" each month. That bonus data is used first, followed by the standard data allotment. The bonus data does not roll over. Therefore if a customer used 8 GB one month, they could have up to 24 GB of high-speed data available the following month (8 bonus + 8 standard + 8 rollover). The plan also includes HD video and mobile hotspot. The next plan up is the unlimited prepaid plan for $65/month ($55 with AutoPay), but that does not include HD video nor mobile hotspot. The double-data promo will be available until July 11th, but customers who sign up before then will continue to receive the double data as long as they stay on the plan and signed up for AutoPay.
Sprint today launched a satisfaction guarantee to let potential customers try Sprint's latest LTE coverage risk-free for 30 days. If customers aren't happy, they can cancel and have all phone costs, service charges, and fees fully refunded. The offer also applies to existing customers adding a new line. Sprint is also offering up to $650 to cover switching costs (such as paying off a phone payment plan with another carrier). Also, for a limited time, Sprint is offering a $250 prepaid MasterCard when buying a new iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max from Sprint and porting a phone number from a competitor. Like most carriers, Sprint has spent billions in recent years to improve coverage and data performance. Sprint claims this has resulted in a 36.4% increase in national average download speeds year over year, and 30% more total LTE data coverage nationwide thanks to roaming agreements.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold will be on display and available for purchase on April 26th at AT&T, T-Mobile, Best Buy, and Samsung Experience Stores. T-Mobile will start accepting online orders the night before, at midnight ET / 9pm PT. Samsung will start accepting pre-orders tomorrow, April 12th, exclusively for people who have signed up to receive Galaxy Fold updates on samsung.com. Samsung also confirmed that the Galaxy S10 5G will launch in the US in May. Verizon has previously announced that it will be the first US carrier to offer the phone, with a period of exclusivity. AT&T also recently revealed that it will offer the S10 5G in the "spring", which implies that AT&T will launch the phone in June. Samsung says pre-orders for the S10 5G will start "soon".
Visible — a relatively new MVNO using the Verizon network and backed by Verizon — is now offering a free new Android phone to new customers who trade in an old Android phone. Unlike most trade-in offers, any working Android phone is accepted, as long as it turns on, is paid off, and is not already compatible with Visible (making the Galaxy S9 and S9+ ineligible). The free new phone is the Visible R2 by ZTE, which has a fingerprint reader, 13-megapixel camera, 2:1 HD display, USB-C, and normally sells for $99. Visible will ship the new phone first, giving customers 14 days to send in the old phone, so new customers are never without a phone. There are no activation fees, shipping fees, taxes, or contracts. Visible offers unlimited service for $40/month, although data is limited to 5 Mbps speeds. The company has no physical locations, offering activation, support, and all customer interactions via its app.
Google has expanded the two-step verification options when logging into Google services on a tablet or computer to allow the use of any Android 7+ phone as a hardware security key. The option is available today, for both personal and business accounts. It requires the Google Chrome browser on the computer or tablet. After entering their password on the computer or tablet, the user only needs to press one button on their phone, initiating the secure exchange of cryptographic keys over Bluetooth, which completes the login. Passwords alone only provide limited security, so two-step verification (2SV) is recommended for most users. Basic versions of 2SV use one-time codes, sent via text or app, as an additional password. But users can be tricked into giving these codes to attackers, and in some cases the codes can be intercepted. The most secure 2SV relies on a separate physical device carried by the user. Google sells such a keychain device — the Titan Security Key — for $50. Now any Android 7+ phone can serve that purpose, although Google still recommends a secure backup key in case the phone is lost.
The Samsung Galaxy A80 has a unique triple-camera module that normally faces rearward. but is motorized so it can can slide up from the metal frame and spin around to face forward, for selfie mode. Samsung announced the phone today and plans to launch it by the end of May. The camera design allows the 6.7-inch, full-HD, AMOLED display to cover the whole front without a notch. The camera module includes a 48-megapixel main camera, 8-megapixel wide camera, and 3D depth camera. The 3D depth camera enables live focus (portrait effect) for video. The large 3,700 mAh battery can charge quickly with 25W charging. The fingerprint reader is built into the display. It comes with a generous 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, although it does not support memory cards. The A80 will be available in black, gold/pink and white/blue. Specific pricing and launch countries were not announced.
Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon chips bring advanced features to higher-end phones that are a bit more affordable than "flagship" models. The company announced three chips today, two in the 7 series and one in the 6 series. One is focused specifically on gaming phones.
- 730: The first 7-series chip with Spectra 350 image processing, capable of advanced computer vision functions using less power. It supports high-resolution depth sensing, 4K HDR videos in Portrait Mode (bokeh), and the new HEIF image format. The 730 also has powerful "AI" capability thanks to its Hexagon 688 processor with Hexagon Vector eXtensions and Hexagon Tensor Accelerator. The Hexagon 688 is twice as powerful as its predecessor, for faster intelligent functions in the areas of camera, gaming, voice, and security. The 730 also has a Kryo 470 CPU, Adreno 618 GPU, X15 LTE modem for download speeds up to 800 Mbps, and support for Wi-Fi 6.
- 730G: Optimized for gaming, the 730G is based on the 730 but upgrades to an enhanced Adreno 618 GPU for up to 15% faster graphics rendering. It also includes "Anti-Cheating Extensions" and a "Jank Reducer" feature that can reduce "janks by up to 90% in games running at 30fps".
- 665: Sports an X12 LTE modem for download speeds up to 600 Mbps, Kryo 260 CPU, and Adreno 610 GPU. Its Spectra 165 image processor supports advanced camera features such as scene recognition and super-resolution snapshots up to 48 megapixels. The Hexagon 686 signal processor supports "AI" functions via Hexagon Vector eXtensions.
Google has turned its Smart Reply technology into an API that third-party Android and iOS developers can easily deploy in their own messaging apps. The software looks at the (up to) ten most recent messages in a thread, applies Google's machine learning algorithm locally (nothing is sent to the cloud,) and suggests three complete replies that can be sent with one tap. The software also uses machine learning to identify sensitive topics, so it can avoid making inappropriate suggestions in response to cases of personal tragedy/hardship or profanity. The feature is part of ML Kit, a suite of APIs that all use machine learning. Google also just added Language Identification to ML Kit. The new Smart Reply API is available first in English, and uses Language Identification to only suggest replies in the appropriate language. The first third-party app to make use of the Smart Reply API is textPlus.
Snap has added Snap Games to the Snapchat app, a curated set of multiplayer games that Snapchat friends can play together, right within the app. The games are free to play, but include six-second ads. They're all designed for a vertical screen orientation. Players can chat via text or voice while playing. The first six titles include Tiny Royale by Zynga, Alphabear Hustle by Spry Fox, C.A.T.S. Drift Race by ZeptoLab, and Snapchat's own Bitmoji Party, where you play using your own avatar.
Palm has updated its tiny Android phone to operate as its own standalone smartphone. It was originally introduced as a companion device that required a "full" smartphone to share a phone number and sync with. The companion-device functionality remains, now as an option. The company introduced the standalone option today as part of a major software update. The update also improves camera quality and battery life. For the month of April, Verizon is offering the Palm for $199 (a $150 discount) with a 2-year contract or payment plan. Palm is also offering 50% off all Palm accessories until April 18th.