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Android Apps Will Soon Need Google's Permission to Access Your Location in the Background

Wednesday, 2:20 PM   by Rich Brome

To improve user privacy, Google is updating its Play Store policies to restrict the use of location data by Android apps when they're not actively running. Currently, any Android app can request permission for such access from the user. Starting in August, apps will only be able to do so with explicit permission from Google, having demonstrated a specific need for access to location data in the background. In November, Google will remove apps from the Play Store that have not complied with the new policy. Also today, Google announced the first Developer Preview of Android 11, which includes a new user option to allow apps to access location data on a one-time basis.


Android 11 Preview Brings New Messaging Notifications, One-Time Permissions

Wednesday, 1:56 PM   by Rich Brome

Google has released the first Developer Preview of Android 11. The list of features in this version provides a glimpse of what to expect when Android 11 becomes available to consumers later this year. Messaging receives the biggest update, with a new dedicated section of the notifications shade devoted to ongoing conversations. Messaging apps can also use "bubbles" to float a simple messaging thread window above other apps. System permission dialog boxes (for access to location, etc.) now have an "Only this time" option, similar to iOS. Android 11 also adds native support for secure storage and retrieval of verifiable identification documents, such as ISO 18013-5 compliant Mobile Driving Licenses. Call screening apps will now have standardized access to STIR-SHAKEN data, as well as a new screen that appears after each call, "to let users perform actions such as marking a call as spam or adding to contacts.". Also new are better support for pinhole displays, waterfall displays, animated HIEF image files, and low-latency video modes. Developers will benefit from new APIs for machine learning, as well as 5G network status and performance. Android 11 also advances Google's Project Mainline, moving additional components of the OS into modules that are quickly and easily updated via the Google Play Store, instead of requiring a manufacturer-supplied full OS update. The Developer Preview released today is not a "public beta" and is not intended for consumers; it will only run on certain Pixel devices and requires manual installation. Separately, Google announced that Android 11 will enhance Work Profile so that companies issuing company-owned phones to employees can give employees separate work and personal profiles on the same device. Companies still control the work profile and can set device-wide restrictions, but personal data is kept private from the employer. This feature was previously only available for personally-owned devices, not company-issued devices. Google is expected to reveal additional features of Android 11 at its developer conference in May.


OnePlus Drops Price of 7T to $499

Wednesday, 1:15 PM   by Rich Brome

OnePlus has cut the price of its newest flagship 4G phone by $100, bringing the OnePlus 7T to $499. The 7T sports triple rear cameras and unusually fast charging.

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TikTok Rolling Out Parental Controls

Wednesday, 8:49 AM   by Rich Brome

TikTok is rolling out a new feature called Family Safety Mode, which lets parents set limits on their children's TikTok accounts. Parents will need to install TikTok and link their account to their child's. The app will then let parents set screen time limits, restrict the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences, and limit who can direct message their child. The feature is available first in the UK, and will begin to roll out to "additional markets in the coming weeks".


Google Expands Stadia Support to Gaming Phones, Flagship Samsungs

Tuesday, 1:42 PM   by Rich Brome

Google is expanding the list of phones supported by its Stadia game-streaming service on February 20th. Initially supported only on its own Pixel phones, Stadia will support Samsung flagship Galaxy S and Note series phones (S8 and newer), as well as gaming phones from Razer and Asus (ROG Phone and ROG Phone II). For a controller, gamers can either connect a Stadia controller via USB, or third-party controllers via Bluetooth. Stadia competes with Microsoft's xCloud and Nvidia's GeForce Now. Like those other game-streaming services, Stadia runs full console-quality games on powerful servers in the cloud, streaming video of the rendered graphics to the user's device. Such services benefit from the higher data rates and lower latency of 5G networks. Forthcoming 5G SA networks will further reduce latency and improve data rates.


New Standard Aims to Make Wi-Fi and Cellular Ubiquitous on Planes

Tuesday, 9:00 AM   by Rich Brome

The Seamless Air Alliance today released Seamless Release 1.0 (SR1), the first-ever standard for inflight connectivity hardware and software. The new standard supports all current connectivity technology, including multiple types of satellite systems as well as both Wi-Fi and cellular technologies within the plane cabin. By standardizing modular hardware, inevitable technology upgrades and changes are cheaper for airlines. This removes much of the risk to airlines when installing inflight connectivity systems on planes, which previously required a commitment to certain provider and/or technology stack. This is expected to accelerate the rollout of such systems. On the passenger side, the standard is designed to make the connection process more seamless and more secure. It supports Hotspot 2.0, which lets mobile devices automatically and securely connect to Wi-Fi networks, authenticating using their cellular carrier account. The Seamless Air Alliance was created by founding members Airbus, Airtel, Delta Air Lines, OneWeb, and Sprint.


Qualcomm X60 Modem Will Enable Faster, Slimmer 5G Phones

Tuesday, 7:30 AM   by Rich Brome

Qualcomm today announced its third-generation 5G modem, the Snapdragon X60. The chip supports new types of 5G carrier aggregation compared to the X55 it replaces, including across TDD and FDD bands, and across mmWave and sub-6 bands. These new aggregation options will enable more carriers to offer faster 5G data speeds, including doubling potential sub-6 peak speeds. The chip also supports native voice calls over 5G (VoNR). Support for VoNR and the new aggregation options will help carriers transition from 5G NSA (non-stand-alone) to more advanced 5G SA (stand-alone) networks. The X60 is made using a cutting-edge 5nm manufacturing process, producing a smaller, more power-efficient modem chip. Alongside the X60, Qualcomm is also introducing a new mmWave antenna module (QTM535) that's narrower than the company's existing antenna modules, enabling slimmer phones that support mmWave 5G.


LG Puts Quad Rear Cameras on Entry-Level Lineup

Tuesday, 7:00 AM   by Rich Brome

LG today announced three new models in the K series, the company's most affordable series of phones. All three phones share a similar design, with a 6.5-inch screen filling the front and four cameras plus a fingerprint reader on the back. The four rear cameras on each are: standard, wide, macro, and depth. All three also have a 4,000 mAh battery, NFC, USB-C, dedicated Google Assistant button, and a memory card slot.

  • K61: Full-HD+ display resolution, 48 megapixel main camera, 8 megapixel wide camera, 16 megapixel selfie camera, 4 GB RAM, and 64 or 128 GB storage.
  • K51S: HD+ display resolution, 32 megapixel main camera, 5 megapixel wide camera, 13 megapixel selfie camera, 3 GB RAM, and 64 GB storage. (shown)
  • K41S: HD+ display resolution, 13 megapixel main camera, 5 megapixel wide camera, 8 megapixel selfie camera, 3 GB RAM, and 32 GB storage.
US carriers often offer LG K-series phones, particularly the K3x and K4x lines, sometimes under different names, and sometimes with slightly tweaked specs. LG says these three new models will reach "the Americas" in the second quarter.


New York AG Rules out Appeal of T-Mobile+Sprint Merger Decision

Feb 16, 2020, 3:55 PM   by Rich Brome

New York State Attorney General Letitia James issued the following statement today regarding the recent court decision to allow the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint: "After a thorough analysis, New York has decided not to move forward with an appeal in this case." The merger is now expected to proceed quickly. T-Mobile claims the merger may close as soon as April 1st.


Gboard now lets you Remix Emoji

Feb 13, 2020, 11:38 AM   by Rich Brome

Google has updated its Gboard keyboard option for Android phones to include a new Emoji Kitchen feature, which lets you create sticker graphics based on custom combinations and variations of standard emoji. For example, when you tap the face-with-cowboy-hat emoji, it presents options for monkey cowboy, ghost cowboy, laughing cowboy, kissy cowboy, in love cowboy, pleading cowboy, and pensive cowboy. The feature is rolling out to all Gboard users starting this week.


MWC 2020 Trade Show Cancelled

Feb 12, 2020, 2:22 PM   by Rich Brome

The GSMA mobile industry trade group has cancelled its annual Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain. An avalanche of companies have pulled out of the event in recent days, due to concerns over how the international event could potentially help spread the new coronavirus, even though that risk is extremely low thanks to quarantine measures put in place by China and other affected countries, and extensive preventative measures already announced for MWC. MWC is the largest trade show in the world for the mobile industry.


Essential Shuts Down

Feb 12, 2020, 1:42 PM   by Rich Brome

Essential Products is closing up shop. The company shipped one Android phone and promised more devices, but never gained much traction. Founder Andy Rubin is also one of the chief creators of Android, and before that, Danger. Rubin had a history of sexual harassment claims against him.


Hands On with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Feb 11, 2020, 7:49 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Feb 14, 2020, 10:27 AM

Samsung's second foldable phone takes a different approach: instead of folding larger, it folds smaller, much like Motorola's new razr foldable. It's cheap for a foldable, but still quite pricey. Sprint and AT&T will carry it in the US. After the Galaxy Fold debacle, is this one more durable? How does it feel to fold? What about the crease? Will it last? More than with most phones, you need a hands-on report to give you an honest assessment of this unique phone. Here it is.

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Verizon Will Offer a Special Galaxy S20 with Both mmWave and sub-6 5G

Feb 11, 2020, 3:00 PM   by Rich Brome

Verizon will offer a special version of the smaller Samsung Galaxy S20 5G that supports both mmWave and sub-6 GHz flavors of 5G in the second quarter. The larger S20+ and S20 Ultra support both types of 5G, and Verizon will sell those models starting March 6th. But the standard S20 for the US only supports sub-6 5G, which Verizon won't launch until later this year. Verizon's special version will support its current (mmWave) 5G network as well its upcoming sub-6 5G network. Although the special version will launch later and include extra components to support mmWave, it will be the same price as the standard version: $1,000.


Samsung Unveils Galaxy Z Flip, a New Clamshell-Style Foldable

Feb 11, 2020, 2:19 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Feb 14, 2020, 10:27 AM

Samsung today announced the Galaxy Z Flip, its newest foldable phone. The phone forms a tall slab of a smartphone when open, but closes to a small square with a small outer touch-screen. It uses a new, ultra-thin flexible glass material to cover the flexible 6.7-inch screen that bends in the middle, The glass is designed to fold up to 200,000 times. "Flex Mode" enables a special split-screen interface in select apps when the phone is opened to an angle less than fully open. This can be used to set the phone down on a flat surface to take a long-exposure photo without a tripod. Purchase of the phone includes YouTube Premium. The phone will sell for $1,380 starting February 14th. It will be available in three color-shifting hues: Mirror Purple, Mirror Black, and Mirror Gold. In the US, Sprint and AT&T will offer it starting this Friday in Mirror Purple and Mirror Black, in "limited quantities".


Hands On with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Series

Feb 11, 2020, 2:00 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Feb 11, 2020, 3:02 PM

Samsung's new flagship Galaxy S phones for 2020 are somewhat predictable in appearance and features, and they've leaked like crazy, but there are a few surprises. There's no smaller, more affordable model like last year's S10e, nor is there a separate 5G model. They're all large and expensive, and they all have 5G. A new top-end option has been introduced beyond the "plus" model: the S20 Ultra. The Ultra seems to be stepping on the toes of Samsung's Note series, offering a huge screen and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feature list for people willing to pay a premium. All three models have an all-new camera system with some new tricks. How well do the few features work? How do the phones feel in person? We have your hands-on report right here.

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Galaxy S20 Series Pushes Samsung Flagships Faster, Larger, Pricier

Feb 11, 2020, 2:00 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Feb 11, 2020, 3:05 PM

Samsung today announced its new flagship phones for 2020: the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20+, and Galaxy S20 Ultra. In the US, all three models support 5G and are powered by Qualcomm's newest top-end Snapdragon 865 chipset paired with 12 GB of LPDDR5 RAM. The base model S20 supports sub-6 GHz 5G; the S20+, S20 Ultra, (and a special version of the S20 for Verizon) are the first phones in the US to support both sub-6 and mmWave flavors of 5G in one phone. The S20 series also supports DSS and SA 5G networks, technologies US carriers are moving quickly to deploy. Compared to last year's S10 and S10+, the S20 and S20+ are a bit taller, allowing larger batteries and slightly larger QHD+ displays. The new Ultra model is larger still, sporting Samsung's largest phone display yet at 6.9 inches diagonal. The cheapest S20 model costs $1,000, while the S20 Ultra starts at $1,400. All three have an all-new triple-camera system on the back (with standard, wide, and telephoto cameras), 120 Hz display refresh, and 8K video capture. The phones can capture 33-megapixel stills while recording 8K video and can upload 8K video to YouTube. The camera app also has improved night and Super Steady modes, as well as a new Night Hyperlapse mode, and a new "Single Take" mode that captures a variety of still and video clips at once and uses AI to suggest several best output options. The design of the S20 series is roughly similar to the S10 series, and carries forward most of the same features, such as a curved-edge display, curved glass on both sides, in-display fingerprint reader, Wireless Power Share, wireless and wired fast charging (25W fast charger included), Samsung Pay, and a memory card slot. The new S20 phones do not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, but wired (USB-C) earbuds are included. A "Space Zoom" feature offers 10x digital zoom using new AI algorithms. Google Duo video calling has been integrated into Samsung's phone app, and — exclusive to 5G Samsung Galaxy phones — supports full-HD resolution.

  • Galaxy S20: 6.2-inch display, 4,000 mAh battery, 128 GB of storage, 12 megapixel main camera (f/1.8, 79º), 12 megapixel wide camera (f/2.2, 120º), 64 megapixel telephoto and 8K video camera (f/2.0, 76º, 3x zoom via crop). 10 megapixel selfie camera. Available in Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue, and Cloud Pink for $1,000. The Verizon version will also support mmWave 5G, but doesn't ship until Q2.
  • Galaxy S20+: 6.7-inch display, 4,500 mAh battery, 128 or 512 GB of storage. The same cameras as the S20, plus a ToF depth camera. Both sub-6 and mmWave 5G. Available in Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue, and Cosmic Black starting at $1,200.
  • Galaxy S20 Ultra: 6.9-inch display, 5,000 mAh battery, 128 or 512 GB of storage, and the option for up to 16 GB of RAM. The same wide-angle camera as the other models, but upgraded main and tele cameras: The main camera sports 108 megapixels (f/1.8, 79º), using 9-to-1 pixel binning to produce high-quality 12 megapixel images by default. It also handles 8K video. The unique telephoto camera (48 megapixel, 24º, f/3.5) accomplishes a 10x optical zoom using a "folded" design with a prism to arrange most of the necessary lenses sideways. Supports 45W fast charging. Available in Cosmic Gray and Cosmic Black starting at $1,400.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 series will be available from most major US carriers and retailers, as well as unlocked, starting March 6th. Pre-orders start February 21st. Pre-orders include a credit with Samsung: $100 credit toward a Samsung product with a pre-order of the S20, $150 credit with the S20+, or $200 with the S20 Ultra. The $150 credit for pre-ordering an S20+ is enough to cover the cost of the new Galaxy Buds+, new Bluetooth true wireless stereo earbuds that have 11 hours of battery life before needing the included charging case.


T-Mobile + Sprint Merger Can Proceed, Rules Judge

Feb 11, 2020, 9:32 AM   by Rich Brome

A multi-state anti-trust lawsuit to stop the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile has failed. New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a statement saying "There is no doubt that reducing the mobile market from four to three will be bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation, which is why the states stepped up and led this lawsuit. ... As we review our options, including a possible appeal, Americans should continue to hold the companies to account for their promises." If the states do no not appeal, the merger is likely to be completed as soon as April 1, 2020, according to a statement from the two companies. The ruling was issued today by the Hon. Victor Marrero of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. New York and California led the coalition of 14 state Attorneys General opposing the merger. The FCC and DoJ approved the merger last year. Some assets from Sprint — including the Boost Mobile brand and customers — will be transferred to Dish, which has promised to use them build its own new 5G network.

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