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Google Launches a Smartwatch for Kids

Today, 10:46 AM   by Rich Brome

The Fitbit Ace LTE is a new kids smartwatch from Google with a focus on exercise and movement. Like most smartwatches for kids, it lets parents keep in touch with their kids via voice and text, and a companion app (Android and iOS) for parents lets them track real-time location and manage allowed contacts. When kids move and exercise more, they unlock time to play games built in to the watch. Physical activity is also reflected in the "Noodle" activity ring on the home screen, and customizable "Eejie" virtual pets. Parents can also view physical activity data in the app, as well as set a schedule for "School Time" mode. Different wrist bands unlock new content. Google promises to continue releasing new games and bands. A future update will add a Tap To Pay feature "so kids have safe and easy access to pocket money." The watch is water resistant up to 50 meters and has a battery that lasts more than 16 hours. The display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and a rubber bumper is included. The Fitbit Ace LTE only works with a special service plan from Google that runs $10/month. Paying annually gets you a free collectible wrist band, and signing up for an annual plan before the end of August gets you 50% off service. The watch itself goes on sale June 5th and costs $230.

Arm Announces Most Efficient Processors Cores for Phones to Date

Today, 10:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Arm has revealed a new, more efficient set of processor core designs intended for the chips that power smartphones and similar devices. This year's release is more tightly optimized for Android than ever, with new Android software libraries that accelerate AI tasks running on Arm CPUs. This new "Kleidi" software is optimized for computer vision as well as general AI, including generative AI. Kleidi works not only on current Arm CPUs, but older designs and future ones as well. The new hardware and software together is a solution that Arm calls "CSS (Compute SubSystems) for Client". The hardware is Armv9.2, a collection of prime, big, and little CPU cores that chip makers can mix as they wish, plus GPU for graphics. The new Cortex-X925 prime core delivers 36% better single-threaded performance and 41% better AI performance (time to first token, compared to Cortex-X4). The new Cortex-A725 "big" core offers 35% better "performance efficiency" compared to last year's A720. The new Cortex-A725 "little" core offers 15% better power efficiency compared. The new Immortalis-G925 GPU has 37% better general performance and 52% better ray tracing performance, compared to last year's G720. All of these designs are optimized for the latest 3nm manufacturing processes (both FinFET and GAA). For the first time, Arm is also offering optimized 3nm chip layouts using these cores, potentially accelerating time to market. Arm expects chips using these designs to reach the market by the end of this year.

Verizon Taps AST for Satellite Coverage

Today, 8:38 AM   by Rich Brome

Verizon is finally joining AT&T and T-Mobile in making plans to offer satellite coverage for existing phones in cellular "dead zones" across the whole US. Verizon will join AT&T in using AST SpaceMobile, a company that has already conducted a series of successful tests of this technology with its test satellite and AT&T. AST is preparing its initial batch of five commercial satellites for launch starting later this year. Verizon will use band 5 for satellite service. Band 5 is a low-frequency band at 850 MHz, and was the very first band to be used for commercial cellular service in the US. AT&T made a firm commitment to AST earlier this month. T-Mobile will use a similar system from SpaceX that uses new Starlink satellites. All three offerings will work with existing phones without modifications, thanks to new satellites being launched with massive antenna arrays.

Samsung's Next Galaxy Watch Will Have More Fitness Smarts

Today, 7:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Samsung has announced multiple new health features coming to the next Galaxy Watch lineup via its One UI 6 Watch software, available later this year. Samsung refers to these features as Galaxy AI on Galaxy Watch. Sleep tracking will be more detailed and more precise. A new Energy Score combines metrics like sleep, activity, and heart rate to provide "a better understanding of users' daily condition". Running mode will now include Aerobic Threshold / Anaerobic Threshold Heart Rate Zone Metrics. A new Race mode helps runners and cyclists train for a race. Finally, a Workout Routine mode lets users combine a set of exercises for a personalized workout.

T-Mobile Snaps Up US Cellular Customers

Yesterday, 10:07 AM   by Rich Brome

As reported earlier this month, regional wireless carrier US Cellular is being sold for parts. T-Mobile has reached an agreement to take on US Cellular's wireless customers and stores, as well as "certain specified spectrum assets", for $4.4 billion. Current US Cellular customers will become T-Mobile customers. The spectrum will help T-Mobile improve the coverage and capacity of its network, particularly in rural areas. The deal also includes a long-term lease for space on at least 2,100 towers. Previous reporting points to Verizon negotiating to acquire the majority of US Cellular's spectrum assets.

iFixit Ends Samsung Repair Collaboration

May 23, 2024, 12:34 PM   by Rich Brome

iFixit is ending its collaboration with Samsung on Galaxy device self-repair guides and parts. iFixit blames Samsung, saying it "consistently faced obstacles that made us doubt Samsung's commitment to making repair more accessible." As an example, for battery or display replacements — some of the most common repairs — Samsung would only sell a costly part with both the display and battery, pre-glued together. iFixit will continue to provide repair info and parts for Samsung devices, just not in collaboration with Samsung. iFixit continues to work directly with several other manufacturers.

T-Mobile Raising Prices on Existing Plans

May 22, 2024, 11:52 AM   by Rich Brome   updated May 22, 2024, 11:55 AM

T-Mobile is increasing the price for existing customers on many of its legacy plans next month. Customers on the newest Go5G plans and some older high-end plans are not affected, but customers on many older plans will see an increase of up to $5/month for each phone line, and/or $2/month for each "connected device". Some customers report seeing an increase only for connected devices, not voice lines. The new rates go into effect on bills issued starting June 5th. T-Mobile sent text message notifications to affected customers this morning. As part of its merger with Sprint, T-Mobile was committed to not raise prices for three years; that commitment expired last year. T-Mobile says this is its first price hike in a decade. AT&T and Verizon have also recently raised their rates.

The First HMD-Branded Phone for the US Now Available

May 20, 2024, 12:46 PM   by Rich Brome

The HMD Vibe is now available to buy unlocked. HMD is selling it directly on its web site. HMD has long made Nokia-branded phones, but is now branching out to offer its own brand as well as others. For $150, the HMD Vibe offers a 6.56" HD+ display with 90 Hz refresh, 13 megapixel camera, 4,000 mAh battery, Snapdragon 680 chip, 6 GB RAM, and 128 GB of storage (expandable). It will also be sold by TracFone.

Google Maps Gains Bluetooth Auracast Info

May 16, 2024, 3:47 PM   by Rich Brome

Google is adding an indicator for Bluetooth Auracast to Maps listings. Now places like theaters, gyms, places of worship, and auditoriums will be able to advertise that they offer Bluetooth Auracast wireless broadcast audio. Auracast is for everyone, but is particularly useful for those in need of hearing assistance, as it works directly with newer Bluetooth hearing aids. Businesses must update their own profile in Maps to add this information.

AT&T Commits to Space-Based Coverage for Dead Zones

May 16, 2024, 11:00 AM   by Rich Brome

After a series of successful tests, AT&T has signed a firm contract with AST SpaceMobile to provide space-based cellular service in all parts of the US where its terrestrial network does not reach. AST's solution involves launching huge new satellites that can connect directly to existing, off-the-shelf cell phones. T-Mobile is working with SpaceX on a similar system. (Most other services providing satellite connectivity for phones require special support in new phones.) AST conducted a series of tests in 2023 with its test satellite successfully proving voice calls, 4G data, and 5G data. The initial commercial network will consist of five new satellites in low-earth orbit, which will be delivered to SpaceX this summer for launch.

Eye Tracking Coming to iPhones

May 16, 2024, 10:42 AM   by Rich Brome

Apple has announced several new accessibility features coming to iOS and iPadOS later this year. Eye Tracking will let you control your iPhone using just eye movements. Dwell Control will let users activate elements and access "additional functions such as physical buttons, swipes, and other gestures solely with their eyes." Eye Tracking uses the front-facing camera and on-device machine learning. Another feature called Vocal Shortcuts will let users "assign custom utterances that Siri can understand to launch shortcuts and complete complex tasks." Finally, Music Haptics lets users who are deaf or hard of hearing experience music via taps, textures, and refined vibrations generated by the iPhone's Taptic Engine. The feature will work in Apple Music and third-party apps can support it with a new API.

Google Turbo-Charges Anti-Theft Features in Android

May 15, 2024, 1:27 PM   by Rich Brome

Google is adding a lengthy list of new features to Android intended to protect against phone theft in various ways. Three new features help lock your screen if it was stolen while unlocked:

  • First, AI will monitor sensors for motion associated with theft, such as the phone being snatched from a hand and quickly moving away. The screen will automatically lock.
  • Separately, Offline Device Lock looks for extended periods of network disconnection, which thieves sometimes use to prevent remote locking/wiping. This will automatically lock the screen.
  • Another feature allows you to manually lock your screen remotely, from any device, even if you've forgotten your Google account password. (It uses your phone number and a security question.)
All three screen-lock features will come to phones with Android version 10 and newer, via an update later this year. Android 15 will bring additional protections:
  • After a factory reset, a device can only be set up anew after providing device or Google account credentials from before the reset. (This is intended to deter thieves who try to resell stolen phones.)
  • Private Space lets you put banking and other sensitive apps behind a lock that requires its own separate PIN.
  • Since thieves often start by trying to disable Find My Device or extend the screen timeout, these settings now require authentication.
  • Finally, copying a feature recently implemented by Apple in iOS, an optional "enhanced authentication" setting requires biometric authentication (not PIN) "for accessing and changing critical Google account and device settings, like changing your PIN, disabling theft protection or accessing Passkeys, from an untrusted location."

Sony Updates its Flagship Xperia 1 to Mark 6

May 15, 2024, 9:21 AM   by Rich Brome   updated May 17, 2024, 8:48 AM

Sony has launched its newest flagship phone, the Xperia 1 VI. The new model is based heavily on the Xperia 1 V it replaces, with a nearly-identical outer design. One key improvement is the telephoto camera, which now has a range of 85–170 mm, for variable true optical zoom of up to 7.1x. (The 1 V offered 85–125 mm.) The telephoto camera also now doubles as a macro camera. The camera app has been updated to be more user-friendly, without removing features. As expected, the processor has been updated to the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 from Qualcomm. Sony has also made the Bravia-powered display 1.5x brighter, although resolution takes a hit, moving to the more-common FHD+ instead of 4K as before. Other specs remain mostly the same as on the Xperia 1 V, with an emphasis on advanced photography and high-end audio features. Color options are: Black, Platinum Silver, and Khaki Green. Pricing is also unchanged at £1299/€1399. Although Sony does not have plans to sell this model in the US, the 1 VI does have decent support for US 4G network frequency bands. Sony also launched the more-affordable Xperia 10 VI today, which does not support US networks.

Google Shows Off New AI in Android

May 14, 2024, 1:34 PM   by Rich Brome

Today at its annual I/O developer's conference, Google unveiled new AI features across its platforms and apps. In the Gmail mobile app, a new feature will let you summarize an email or thread with one tap. A Q&A feature will let you search your emails using AI prompts with structured results. Finally, Contextual Smart Reply suggests one-tap options for complete reply emails based on the context of past emails. The Gemini AI chatbot app will soon gain a "Live" feature that lets you have a real-time voice conversation with Google's Gemini AI model. Later in the year, this will be enhanced to take both video and voice as real-time inputs. Google is also making Gemini available as a floating pop-up window that can take whatever is on the screen as an input, much like Circle To Search, which is also gaining smarter AI-powered results. An experimental new feature has private, on-device AI (Gemini Nano) listening to your phone calls so it can intervene if it detects a malicious scam call.

Metro Launches new REVVL Phones with Unique Perks Attached

May 14, 2024, 11:22 AM   by Rich Brome   updated May 14, 2024, 11:30 AM

T-Mobile today announced the REVVL 7 series of T-Mobile-branded phones exclusively for T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile. T-Mobile also announced some slightly unusual perks exclusive to the REVVL series on Metro. First is no activation fees when activating a REVVL 7 5G or REVVL 7 Pro 5G (other brands incur a $25 activation fee). Metro is also introducing a lifetime limited warranty that covers "mechanical or electrical" issues for as long as you have the phone and maintain an account in good standing. Finally, Metro will give you a free charger for a new REVVL upon request. The REVVL 7 5G has a 6.58-inch LCD display with FHD+ resolution, Snapdragon 6 processor, 6 GB RAM, 128 GB storage (expandable), 50 megapixel main camera, 5,000 mAh battery, and 15W charging. It also has a headset jack, NFC, fingerprint reader, and an 8 megapixel front camera. It will come in Arctic Gray (silver). The step-up REVVL 7 Pro 5G has all of that plus support for overseas networks, a larger 6.78 AMOLED display, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage, OIS on the main camera, 25W fast charging, wireless charging (15W), a 16-megapixel front camera, Wi-Fi 6E, and USB 3.0. It will come in Azurite Blue (navy). The phones can be had for free for new customers or in some cases when trading in. Full retail price is $200 for the REVVL 7 5G and $250 for the REVVL 7 Pro 5G. They will be available on both T-Mobile and Metro starting May 23.

Metro Launches Prepaid Plans with Phone Upgrades Included

May 14, 2024, 10:20 AM   by Rich Brome

Metro by T-Mobile is launching new service plans that, for the first time in prepaid wireless, will include free smartphone upgrades for existing customers. Starting May 16, new customers can sign up for a Metro Flex plan and get a free 5G smartphone. Then, "every 1, 2 or 3 years, trade in your old phone in working condition and choose from the same Metro Flex deals as new customers on select devices. Your options expand the longer you stay." The entry-level plan is Metro Flex Start, which runs $50/month with auto pay ($55 for the first month). It includes unlimited talk and text, "unlimited" 5G data (speeds may slow after 35 GB each month), and 8 GB of hotspot data. Metro also includes Scam Shield and a 100 GB Google One membership. For an extra $10/month, the Metro Flex Up plan adds unlimited texting to 210+ countries and destinations and bumps the hotspot data to 25 GB. The top-end Metro Flex Plus plan is an additional $10/month ($70/month with auto pay after first month) and throws in an Amazon Prime membership (worth $15/month). The fine print: Existing Metro customers can switch to Metro Flex plans, but will only be eligible for a new phone after 12 months. For six months after receiving a new phone, switching to a cheaper plan will incur a $50 fee. Some phones (new T-Mobile REVVL phones excluded) may require a $25 activation fee. Video streaming is limited to SD quality.

iOS 17.5 Out Now with Cross-Platform Unwanted Tracking Protection

May 13, 2024, 4:01 PM   by Rich Brome

Apple has released the final version of iOS 17.5 to the public. The most notable new feature is support for the new Detecting Unwanted Location Trackers cross-platform specification. This anti-stalking technology will let you know if a Bluetooth tracking device is moving with you that is not yours. iOS previously had this feature for its own AirTags, but now it will work with trackers designed for Google's ecosystem as well. iOS 17.5 also brings a number of important security fixes, so most iPhone users should upgrade as soon as possible. iPhone users can update to 17.5 by going to Settings, General, Software Update, and choosing "Update Now".

Carriers Fined for Misleading "Unlimited" Plans and "Free" Phones

May 13, 2024, 3:47 PM   by Rich Brome

All three big national carriers — Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T — have been fined a total of $10.2 million for misleading advertising and have agreed to change the way they market "unlimited" data plans and "free" phones. The agreement was reached between the carriers and 50 attorneys general, including New York Attorney General Letitia James who led the charge for the fines. According to the agreement, "'Unlimited' mobile data plans can only be marketed if there are no limits on the quantity of data allowed during a billing cycle".

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