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Google Launching RCS Service as Carriers Drag Feet

Yesterday, 3:58 PM   by Rich Brome

Google will offer its own RCS service for Android users on networks that have not yet launched RCS. RCS is an open industry standard for enhanced messaging, designed to replace SMS and MMS. It offers many of the features of Apple's iMessage, such as read receipts, high-quality attachments, and typing indicators. Most new Android phones support RCS via Google's Messages app and its Chat feature, but it requires support on the network side. RCS was designed so that network operators could launch RCS support on their own networks, but most operators have been slow to adopt RCS. Sprint has launched it. T-Mobile has also launched it, but does not yet support it on all Android phones. Verizon has launched it for Pixel phones and promised greater support in 2019. AT&T does not yet support the Universal Profile that makes it RCS standard and interoperable between networks. RCS servers can be located anywhere on the Internet, though, so Google is launching its own. Google is rolling out the service on a country-by-country basis, starting with the UK and France this month. When available, Android users without an active RCS service will see a new prompt when opening the Messages app, asking if they want to opt in to Google's RCS service. Google has pledged to delete message content from its servers as soon as message delivery is confirmed.


Sprint, Verizon, AT&T Offer New GPS Tracking Devices

Yesterday, 11:01 AM   by Rich Brome

Sprint and Verizon both recently started offering standalone GPS tracker devices that can report their exact position using cellular networks. AT&T already offers such a device. The devices use the new LTE Cat-M1 technology designed specifically for small, low-power devices that only need to transmit small amounts of data. Unlike Bluetooth-based tracking tiles, they do not need to be near the phone viewing the location, although the tracker device does need to be within the coverage area of the cellular network it's associated with. All of the tracker devices are roughly the size of a matchbook, are water-resistant, include Wi-Fi for enhanced location accuracy and efficiency, and have multi-day battery life. They are designed for tracking kids, pets, vehicles, and luggage, for example. Sprint's Tracker is made by Coolpad and features a light sensor and speaker. Its battery lasts 3-10 days and it's rated IP67 for dust and water. Sprint is charging $60 for the tracker and $5/month for service. The Verizon Smart Locator has battery life up to five days and an IP67 rating. Verizon charges $100 for the tracker with one year of free service, after which service is $3/month. AT&T offers the Samsung SmartThings Tracker, which has battery life up to one week and an IP68 rating. AT&T charges $100 for the tracker which includes one year of service. After the first year, service on the AT&T network is offered through Samsung, and runs $5/month or $50/year.

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New Police Tool Can Access Any Locked Phone

Yesterday, 9:32 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Yesterday, 9:32 AM

An Israeli company that supplies law enforcement agencies worldwide announced that the newest version of its tool to access locked phones can access almost any smartphone, including Apple devices running iOS 7-12.3 and most Android phones. The company, Cellebrite, promises that its new UFED Premium device offers nearly complete access to Apple devices and "flagship Samsung devices", as well as support for accessing the file system on "popular device models from Motorola, Huawei, LG and Xiaomi." The company boasts that its device lets law enforcement "Bypass or determine locks and perform a full file system extraction on any iOS device, or a physical extraction or full file system (File-Based Encryption) extraction on many high-end Android devices.... gain access to 3rd party app data, chat conversations, downloaded emails and email attachments, deleted content and more". Apple has added features to iOS in recent years to thwart this kind of access, and is rolling out iOS 13 this summer and fall.


Hands On with Anker's tiny new USB-C fast chargers

Friday, 11:00 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Friday, 11:01 AM

Anker continues to crank out a steady stream of universal chargers, batteries, and similar accessories that are at the leading edge of functionality and small form factors. Their latest PowerPort chargers offer high-power USB-C charging in tiny packages, now with flip plugs for even more portability. They're compatible with all Android fast charging techs, as well as iPhone, via Anker's Apple-certified USB-C-to-Lightning cable. We checked them out in person.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 5G Launches on Sprint June 21

Friday, 8:21 AM   by Rich Brome

Sprint will offer its second 5G phone — the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G — on June 21 for $1,300. Sprint is offering a $250 discount for customers who pre-order, which is available starting today. Customers choosing a Sprint Flex Lease will pay $40.28 per month after the $13.89/month credit from the $250 discount. The phone is available only in markets where Sprint has launched its 5G network, which currently includes Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City. 5G markets launching "in the coming weeks" are Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington, DC. The S10 5G joins the LG V50 in Sprint's 5G phone lineup. Sprint also launched the new, mid-range Samsung Galaxy A50 today.


AT&T Launching 5G Phone & Service Next Week for Business Customers

Jun 12, 2019, 4:03 PM   by Rich Brome

AT&T is launching its first 5G phone on June 17th, but only for business customers and a select group of developers. The company will offer the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G to customers on the new AT&T Business Unlimited Preferred plan, which includes 5G service. For a limited time, businesses can order the Galaxy S10 5G with 256 GB of storage through their AT&T account representatives for the discounted price of $1,000. The phone can access AT&T's mmWave 5G network, which is available today in "very limited parts" of 19 cities, with plans to reach parts of at least 30 cities. The phone cannot access 5G service at lower (sub-6 GHz) frequencies that AT&T has promised to launch by the end of the year. The company is also offering a group of developers a Galaxy S10 5G with free service through the end of the year.


Google Teases Next Pixel Design

Jun 12, 2019, 3:40 PM   by Rich Brome

Google posted a photo teaser of the next, unannounced Pixel phone today on the official Twitter account for Google's own-brand hardware. It features a large square camera bump that appears to contain three cameras — two large and one small — and a flash. The back appears to be otherwise featureless black glass. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL were announced in early October of last year, and a cheaper Pixel 3a models were announced just a month ago.


State Attorneys General Sue to Block T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

Jun 11, 2019, 11:35 AM   by Rich Brome

A group of ten states is suing to block the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. The action is led by New York State Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. James outlined the crux of the states' argument in a tweet, saying "The merger would deprive customers of the benefits of competition & drive up prices for cellphone services." Today's action follows an investigation by the attorneys general, which "found that many of the claimed benefits [of the proposed merger] were unverifiable and could only be delivered years into the future, if ever. By contrast, if the merger were to go through, the combined company would immediately have the power and incentive to raise prices." "Additionally... the ten states are concerned that further consolidation at the carrier level would lead to a substantial loss of retail jobs." The complaint was filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.


Samsung Galaxy A50 Lands at Verizon

Jun 11, 2019, 9:33 AM   by Rich Brome

Samsung will bring more of its mid-range Galaxy A Series of phones to the US this summer, including the A50, A20, and A10e. Various A Series phones will be available from all major US carriers, starting with the A50 from Verizon this Thursday. The A50 has 25-megapixel cameras on both the front and back, plus wide and depth cameras on the back. Its 6.4-inch, full-HD+ Super AMOLED display has a small notch and in-display fingerprint reader. It also has a 4,000 mAh battery, fast charging, NFC, and 4 GB of RAM. Verizon will offer the Galaxy A50 for $350. Other major US carrier will offer A Series phones including the A20 and A10e. The A20 offers a 6.4-inch notched display, 4,000 mAh battery, fast charging, and 13-megapixel main camera for $250. The A10e offers 5.8-inch notched display, 3,000 mAh battery, and 8-megapixel main camera for $180. The first A Series phone for the US was the Galaxy A6, which was launched by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint last fall .


Skype Launches Screen Sharing

Jun 5, 2019, 9:40 AM   by Rich Brome

The Skype app for iOS and Android now supports screen-sharing in video calls. Microsoft announced the launch of the feature this week, after making it available to beta testers a few weeks ago. The feature lets you share whatever is on your phone's screen, including other apps, with the person on the other end of the video call. Skype also tweaked its video call interface with a new design and the ability to hide all controls during a call.


Apple Grants Parental Control Apps Special API Access

Jun 4, 2019, 9:10 AM   by Rich Brome

Apple announced changes to its App Store rules, mostly to tighten data privacy across the board. But Apple, for the first time, added special exceptions to its rules for apps providing parental controls, most of which require much deeper, more sensitive access to software APIs in order to be effective. Parental control apps have long made use of MDM (mobile device management) APIs, which were originally intended for use within organizations, for enforcing company policies on company devices, for example. In April, Apple removed many parental control apps from the App Store for improper use of MDM APIs. The new rules allow MDM use by "in limited cases, companies utilizing MDM for parental controls. MDM apps may not sell, use, or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose, and must commit to this in their privacy policy." Apple added similar new language to its policy on VPN APIs, allowing "certain types of apps — such as those for parental control, content blocking, and security — from approved providers." Other changes restrict the use of user data, even anonymous data. Another new rule prohibits apps that "facilitate purchase of ammunition."


AT&T and T-Mobile Clean up in FCC's 24 GHz Auction

Jun 3, 2019, 5:03 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Jun 3, 2019, 5:39 PM

The FCC today announced the results of its recent auctions of mmWave radio bands for 5G services. AT&T and T-Mobile were the big winners, both scoring 24 GHz licenses covering most major US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Houston, Seattle, Boston, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Atlanta, Detroit, San Diego, Orlando, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Las Vegas, Denver, Portland, and San Antonio. AT&T and T-Mobile focused on 24 GHz while Verizon focused on 28 GHz. AT&T spent nearly $1 billion on 24 GHz licenses covering 383 markets. T-Mobile spent $803 million for 24 GHz licenses covering 400 markets, but also $39 million for 28 GHz licenses covering 864 small markets. Verizon spent over $505 million on 28 GHz licenses covering 863 markets, most of which are smaller cities and towns. US Cellular split its winning bids evenly, with $129 million for 28 GHz and $127 million for 24 GHz. Auction 101 was for the 28 GHz band and raised over $700 million in net bids with 33 bidders winning a total of 2,965 licenses. Auction 102, for the 24 GHz band, raised over $2 billion in net bids with 29 bidders winning a total of 2,904 licenses.


Apple iOS 13 Gains Swipe Typing, Better Location Privacy, Dark Mode

Jun 3, 2019, 1:34 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Jun 3, 2019, 2:17 PM

Apple today announced iOS 13 with a long list of new features for iPhones. The Apple text keyboard now supports swipe gesture typing, which Apple calls Quick Path. Users can now grant apps access to location data on an as-needed basis, and prevent apps from gathering location data using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Apple also introduced its own universal sign-in service available to all web sites and apps. Sign in with Apple does not track users across the web like other services. Real names and/or email addresses are only shared with explicit permission, and Apple will optionally generate a unique email address for each app, that forwards to your real email address, keeping your real email address private. iOS 13 includes a dark mode that defaults to dark backgrounds in most apps. A revamped Reminders app supports natural language entry and attachments. An updated Siri uses neural text-to-speech technology to sound more natural and be easier to understand. A new option lets users send spam calls directly to voicemail. The Shortcuts feature now has its own app, which analyzes your usage patterns to create Suggested Automations. Enterprise users can now set up separate iCloud accounts for personal and work use. The latest Maps app supports Collections of favorite locations. It also adds Look Around, which is like Google's Street View, but supports smoother 3D animations when moving around. In Messages, you can now choose to share your name and/or photo when messaging someone for the first time. The camera app supports adjustable studio lighting effects and new Instagram-like editing options for photos and videos. iOS 13 also includes an Audio Sharing feature for sharing whatever you're listening to with another iPhone user wirelessly. When using AirPods, users can now have incoming messages (from any app) read aloud, and reply by voice. iOS 13 also includes performance tweaks such as smaller app updates and faster app launches. The update will be available for iPhones this fall, with a "public seed" version in July, and a developer beta available today.


Apple watchOS 6 Gains App Store, Noise Monitoring, Audiobooks

Jun 3, 2019, 12:38 PM   by Rich Brome

Apple today announced watchOS 6 for Apple Watches. The update adds a full App Store directly on the watch, offering independent apps, which no longer require a companion app on an iOS device. Apple also added a new streaming audio API for live sports and more as well as support for audiobooks. A new Noise app continuously monitors sounds levels to detect loud levels that could damage your hearing. Also new is a Cycle Tracking app for menstrual cycles and fertility, also coming to the Health app in iOS. A voice memo and calculator app have also been added, including a tip calculator.

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Oppo, Xiaomi Demo Selfie Cameras Hidden Under Display

Jun 3, 2019, 10:58 AM   by Rich Brome

Chinese phone makers Oppo and Xiaomi have both put out videos demonstrating a new technology that allows a selfie camera to be located completely under a phone display and capture a photo through the display layer. The technology allows an all-screen design with no notch, hole-punch, nor moving parts. Oppo VP Brian Shen admitted that the technology isn't quite ready for production, saying "At this stage, it's difficult for under-display cameras to match the same results as normal cameras, there's bound to be some loss in optical quality. But, no new technology jumps to perfection right away."


Sprint Details 5G Coverage, Launching Tomorrow

May 30, 2019, 10:29 AM   by Rich Brome

Sprint's 5G network launches tomorrow in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Kansas City, as previously announced. In the coming weeks, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington, DC will also gain 5G service. At that point, Sprint's 5G network will cover a total of 2,180 square miles and 11.5 million people, the largest 5G coverage area in the US by far. Sprint is using the 2.5 GHz frequency band (band 41) for its initial 5G network, which offers much better coverage and building penetration than the mmWave frequencies that Verizon and AT&T have launched 5G with so far. Sprint also uses band 41 for LTE, and its new Massive MIMO antennas are delivering 4G LTE and 5G NR simultaneously in band 41, with similar coverage for each technology. Sprint's 5G network in Dallas-Fort Worth covers approximately 575 square miles and 1.6 million people. In Houston, Sprint 5G covers approximately 165 square miles and 800,000 people. In Kansas City: 225 square miles and 625,000 people. In Atlanta: 150 square miles and 565,000 people. Sprint's first 5G phone is the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, which goes on sale tomorrow in cities with Sprint 5G service. Sprint will offer the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G later this summer.


Google Tightens Play Store Rules on Loot Boxes, Marijuana, More

May 30, 2019, 9:55 AM   by Rich Brome

Google is adding new restrictions on Android apps available through its Play Store. Games that offer "loot boxes" for sale must now clearly disclose the odds of receiving items in advance of purchase. Apps that facilitate marijuana sale or delivery are now banned. Developers of all apps must now associate their app with more specific age targets (such as 6-8 and 13-15) and comply with stricter rules for younger age groups. Google is now applying much stricter rules regarding sexual content and hate speech.


Hands On with the Moto z4

May 30, 2019, 8:00 AM   by Rich Brome   updated May 30, 2019, 11:24 PM

The only successful modular phone system to date, Motorola's z series is still going strong. The new Moto z4 brings updated specs and design while maintaining compatibility with existing Moto Mods. Highlights of the z4 include top-end cameras front and back, a screen that covers more of the front, a larger battery, and the return of the 3.5mm audio jack. The thin design has a metal frame and frosted glass back. What's it like in person? We checked it out.

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