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iFixit Ends Samsung Repair Collaboration

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 11:52 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Wednesday, 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:

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:

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".

T-Mobile, Verizon in Talks to Carve up US Cellular

May 9, 2024, 7:46 PM   by Rich Brome

The Wall Street Journal reports that US Cellular is in talks to sell its assets to T-Mobile and Verizon in two separate but related deals. The T-Mobile deal is reportedly further along and could close this month. That deal includes spectrum licenses and "some operations" for around $2 billion. The Verizon deal could take longer and is not guaranteed. The main assets of interest are spectrum licenses. US Cellular holds licenses in 30 states covering 51 million people. US Cellular's over 4000 towers are reportedly not part of either deal. It is unclear if one or both buyers would take some or all of US Cellular's customers. US Cellular is currently the largest regional wireless carrier left in the US.

Motorola Gives its Stylus Phone a Spec Bump

May 9, 2024, 8:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Motorola has revealed the 2024 edition of its moto g stylus 5G, a model that typically sits near the upper end of its moto g series of affordable phones. The new model addresses most shortcomings of last year's model, adding wireless charging and boosting the wide-angle camera resolution from 8 megapixel to a more-useful 13 megapixel. The selfie camera also gets a boost, from 16 megapixel to 32, and RAM gets a nice bump to a generous 8 GB. Wired charging is also faster at up to 30 watts instead of 20. Other specs remain similar, including the large AMOLED display with 120 Hz refresh, pop-out stylus, Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 chipset, and 5,000 mAh battery. There's also NFC, expandable storage, and a headset jack. The body is water repellent with an IP52 rating, slightly thinner than last year's model, and has a "vegan leather" finish on the back. Motorola will sell it unlocked for $400 starting May 30th. It will also be offered by AT&T, Metro by T-Mobile, Cricket, Boost, Consumer Cellular, US Cellular, Spectrum, Xfinity Mobile, Google Fi, Optimum Mobile, Straight Talk, Total by Verizon, and Visible.

TikTok Sues to Stop "Forced Shutdown" in US

May 7, 2024, 12:44 PM   by Rich Brome

TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance have filed suit against the US government to challenge the constitutionality of a recently-signed law that the companies say will "force a shutdown of TikTok". The law technically gives the companies the option of selling or spinning off TikTok so it is no longer Chinese-owned. However ByteDance says this "is simply not possible: not commercially, not technologically, not legally." This is in part because the Chinese government "has made clear that it would not permit a divestment of the recommendation engine that is a key to the success of TikTok in the United States." The lawsuit says the law runs afoul of First Amendment free speech protections. The law was created over concerns that TikTok holds a large volume of personal data on US citizens, and Chinese companies must cooperate with the Chinese government if it requests access to such data.

Google Pixel 8a is a Modest Update to the 7a

May 7, 2024, 11:58 AM   by Rich Brome   updated May 7, 2024, 12:32 PM

Google has announced the Pixel 8a, this year's more-affordable Pixel model. It offers several small hardware improvements over last year's 7a, and new AI software features, but is otherwise quite similar to the 7a. The design has more rounded corners. The "Actua" display is 40% brighter and the refresh rate gets a bump from 90 to 120 Hz. There's also a new 256 GB storage option. An upgrade from a Google Tensor G2 processor to the newer G3 chip enables new software features like Best Take for group photos, Magic Editor for photos, and Audio Magic Eraser for video. Circle To Search is also available, and Gemeni AI can summarize emails. Pixel 8a also makes official the controversial Audio Emoji feature revealed last week. The battery is also slightly larger at 4,492 mAh vs. 4,385 mAh. Other features and specs remain the same as the 7a, including FHD+ display, 64 megapixel main camera, 13 megapixel wide camera, 8 GB RAM, storage starting at 128 GB, IP67 water resistance, 5G, Wi-Fi 6E, 18W fast charging, and wireless charging. The launch price is also unchanged at $499. As before, a version with mmWave 5G is available for Verizon but priced a little higher, at $550. The Google Pixel 8a is available for pre-order today, shipping May 14th. It's available in four colors at launch: Porcelain (off-white), Obsidian (black), Bay (blue), and a limited-edition Aloe (mint green).

TextNow Intros Ad-Supported "Free Essential" Data

May 7, 2024, 8:00 AM   by Rich Brome   updated May 7, 2024, 12:25 PM

TextNow, purveyor of free mobile service supported by ads, is expanding from voice and texting to free data. The new TextNow Free Essential Data offering lets customers access email (Gmail, Outlook, Exchange, etc.), navigation (Google Maps, Waze, etc.), and rideshare (Lyft, Uber) apps for free. The only charge is a one-time purchase of a SIM card for $5. Voice and texting are also free and unlimited. When customers need mobile data for other apps, they can purchase general data passes for $1/hour, $5/day, or $40/month. A new TextNow SIM card can be ordered from within the TextNow app, available for both Android and iOS.

AT&T Will Now Charge for "Turbo" 5G

May 3, 2024, 12:40 PM   by Rich Brome

AT&T has introduced a new add-on plan called Turbo for $7/month that promises "enhanced data connectivity for real-time responsiveness and improved stability". AT&T says the feature is ideal for "gaming, social video broadcasting and live video conferencing". AT&T confirmed to The Verge that it has technically lowered the network priority level (QCI) for existing plans and this new offering lets users buy their way back into the priority level they had previously. However AT&T claims that existing plans should not notice any degradation without Turbo, and Turbo is more like a new, faster service, due to "increased network resources and relative weighting". Turbo can be added or removed at any time. It is only available to customers already on premium unlimited plans (Unlimited Premium PL, Unlimited Extra EL, and Unlimited Elite).

Google Adding Sound Effects to Android Phone App

May 2, 2024, 11:04 AM   by Rich Brome

The newest beta version of Google's Phone app for Android includes "Audio Emoji", which are buttons that play a sound effect that both parties can hear. They include clapping, laughing, crying, party, drums, and ... poop, which makes a farting sound. The beta test suggests that the feature could roll out to all users in the coming weeks.

Mint Mobile Now Owned by T-Mobile

May 2, 2024, 10:45 AM   by Rich Brome

T-Mobile has completed its planned acquisition of Ka'ena Corporation, which includes the Mint Mobile brand. T-Mobile says Mint will "continue to operate autonomously ... similar to T-Mobile's successful acquisition of MetroPCS in 2013." T-Mobile is also introducing new perks for Mint customers, including a scam call screener and free roaming in Canada. T-Mobile also promises that Mint will continue to offer "a $15/month plan" of some type, but does not promise what that plan will include in the future. Also, "Ryan Reynolds will continue in his creative role on behalf of Mint."

Beats Launches Smaller, More Affordable Earbuds

Apr 30, 2024, 2:25 PM   by Rich Brome

Beats today announced the all-new Beats Solo Buds true wireless earbuds, as well as an update to its iconic headphones, the Beats Solo 4. The Beats Solo Buds are the brand's smallest earbuds yet, and will sell for just $80. They have Class 1 long-range Bluetooth, one-touch pairing for both iOS and Android, and Apple Find My. The earbud buttons are customizable. Unusually, the only batteries are in the buds themselves; the case is for charging the buds via USB-C but does not have a battery itself. The buds can provide up to 18 hours of battery life and a five-minute charge gives up to one hour of play time. They come with four sizes of ear tips. The Beats Solo Buds will be available in June in Matte Black, Storm Gray, Arctic Purple, and Transparent Red. The Beats Solo 4 bring Personalized Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking to the iconic over-ear headphones. They also support wired audio via USB-C or 3.5mm ports. Battery life has been improved to 50 hours. The Beats Solo 4 are available for order starting today for $200. They come in Matte Black, Slate Blue, and Cloud Pink.

FCC Fines Carriers for Selling Your Location Data Without Consent

Apr 29, 2024, 2:56 PM   by Rich Brome

The FCC today announced fines totaling nearly $200 million against T-Mobile (and Sprint), AT&T, and Verizon, for illegally selling real-time customer location data to third parties without consent and without "reasonable safeguards". The fines follow a multi-year investigation started under the previous administration. Today's fines were first proposed in early 2020. T-Mobile and Verizon objected and were able to reduce their fines, to over $92 million (including Sprint) and almost $47 million, respectively. AT&T is fined more than $57 million.

TSMC Announces 1.6nm Chips

Apr 26, 2024, 11:48 AM   by Rich Brome

TSMC, the world's leading manufacturer of advanced chips for phones and other devices, has revealed its newest cutting-edge chip technology with an effective transistor size of just 1.6nm. Current flagship chips from Apple and Qualcomm use TSMC's 3nm technology. TSMC also has multiple 2nm "nodes" (technologies) in the works. Smaller nodes offer greater performance and efficiency. Achieving such densities requires creative new transistor structures. The new 1.6nm process uses gate-all-around (GAA) and a new backside power delivery network dubbed Super Power Rail. TSMC calls the new process "A16" and devices using the chips are expected to reach the market in 2027.

FCC Makes Net Neutrality Official Again

Apr 26, 2024, 11:32 AM   by Rich Brome

As planned, the FCC has formally voted to reclassify broadband internet (fixed and mobile, including cell phone networks) to regulate it under a different set of laws. This has the effect of restoring many key regulations, including "Open Internet" rules, AKA "net neutrality".

TCL 50 Series Reaches US on Metro

Apr 24, 2024, 4:58 PM   by Rich Brome

TCL's new 50 series of phones is reaching US shores with the launch of the TCL 50 XL 5G on Metro by T-Mobile tomorrow. At $159, it's one of the more affordable 5G phones available to date. As the "XL" implies, the phone has a large display at 6.78 inches. Compared to last year's TCL 40 XL, the new model has 5G, a sharper display (FHD+) and more RAM (6 GB). Other features are similar, including a 50 megapixel main camera, 18W fast charging, 128 GB storage expandable to 2 TB via microSD, fingerprint reader, and a headset jack. The TCL 50 XL 5G is powered by a MediaTek Dimensity 6100+ chipset.

"TikTok Ban" Becomes Law

Apr 24, 2024, 11:24 AM   by Rich Brome

President Biden has signed a law that will force the sale of TikTok or ban the app in the US, one day after the bill passed the US Senate. Chinese owner ByteDance has one year to divest TikTok to a non-Chinese entity, or the app will be banned from US-based app stores and any US-based cloud services that power the service. ByteDance has responded by promising to challenge the law in court, a move that could delay implementation.

HMD Moving Beyond Nokia with its Own Brand

Apr 24, 2024, 7:00 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Apr 24, 2024, 11:11 AM

HMD, maker of Nokia-branded phones, is launching a new line of phones under its own HMD brand. This comes as the company expands into other brand partnerships (including Barbie and Heineken) as well as white-label phones, while continuing to make Nokia-branded phones. In the US, the first HMD-branded phone will be the HMD Vibe (shown), an entry-level 4G Android phone for prepaid brands (like TracFone). It will have 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). The Vibe is also available unlocked for $149. The new HMD Pulse lineup will come first to other parts of the world, and includes the Pulse, Pulse+, and Pulse Pro. All three are affordable and repairable Android smartphones. The Pulse Pro has 50 megapixel cameras on both the front and back. Its unusually powerful selfie camera also supports slow motion video and responds to a number of unique gestures for hands-free control. HMD claims these are the most affordable repairable phones in the world.

IHG Rolls Out Hotel TVs with AirPlay

Apr 18, 2024, 1:32 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Apr 18, 2024, 3:56 PM

IHG has flipped the switch on Apple AirPlay at 60 of its North American hotels. The wireless media-casting feature is now available in hotel rooms via LG TVs with a special implementation designed just for hotels. Guests scan a unique QR code displayed on their room TV, and this connects their Apple device to the hotel Wi-Fi and directly to the TV in their room. AirPlay works for video, music, photos, workouts, games, and more. Multiple Apple devices can be paired to the same hotel TV at once. The pairings are automatically deleted when the guest checks out of the hotel. 60 hotels under various brands — including Kimpton, Indigo, Candlewood, and InterContinental — are launching the feature today, "with others to be added in the coming months." IHG first announced its AirPlay plans in June of last year, originally promising to launch it before the end of 2023.

Samsung Expands Mid-Range Lineup with Galaxy A35 5G

Apr 18, 2024, 10:50 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Apr 19, 2024, 11:17 AM

Samsung is bringing more mid-range phones to the US this year with the introduction of the Galaxy A35 5G. Samsung brought the Galaxy A32 5G to the US in late 2021, but the A33 and A34 skipped the US. Samsung launched the A15 and A25 in January. The A35 is very similar to the A25, with just a slightly larger display (6.6 instead of 6.5 inches), IP67 water resistance, and Wi-Fi 6. Other specs are the same, including a FHD+ AMOLED display with 120 Hz refresh, 5,000 mAh battery, 25W fast charging, 50 megapixel main camera, 8 megapixel wide camera, 13 megapixel front camera, Samsung Exynos processor, 6 GB RAM, 128 GB storage (expandable), and NFC. The Galaxy A35 5G is available starting today from T-Mobile, US Cellular, and unlocked from samsung.com. Update: AT&T, Metro, Consumer Cellular, Spectrum, and Xfinity also started offering the A35 this week.

Comcast Launches "Now" Prepaid Mobile

Apr 18, 2024, 7:30 AM   by Rich Brome

Comcast is launching "Now Mobile", a new prepaid mobile phone service to compliment its existing Xfinity Mobile postpaid service. Like Xfinity Mobile, Now Mobile is only available to customers of Comcast home internet service (either Xfinity Internet or the new Now Internet). Now is "the only prepaid wireless option that seamlessly connects customers to more than 23 million Xfinity hotspots." Now Mobile offers one plan: unlimited 5G data, talk and text for $25/line/month, taxes and fees included. As a prepaid service, there is no contract and no credit check. Several $5 add-ons plans are available, including one for Canada and Mexico service, and another for mobile hotspot (at 3G speeds). Now will offer its own lineup of cell phones, or customers can use their own existing phone (if compatible). The service is rolling out starting in Hartford-New Haven, Houston, and Miami, "with a full-scale national launch across all Comcast service areas expected in the coming weeks."

Visible First to Offer Annual Payment Plan, with Discount up to 26%

Apr 17, 2024, 6:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Visible is introducing a new "annual plan" option that gives customers the option of paying for a whole year of service in advance, in exchange for a discount. The premium Visible+ plan is available for $395/year, a savings of $145 (over 26%) compared the usual $45/month rate. The standard "Visible" plan is $275/year, a savings of $25. The two plans are otherwise the same as the monthly options, including unlimited data, talk, text, and hotspot on the Verizon 5G network. New customers can sign up for an annual plan starting this Wednesday, while existing customers will be able to switch to annual payment in May.

Google Discontinues VPN in Google One

Apr 12, 2024, 10:32 AM   by Rich Brome

Google will no longer include a VPN service with its Google One subscription service bundle. Google told 9to5Google that the feature is being discontinued because "people simply weren’t using it." Google first introduced the feature for top-end plans in late 2020, then brought it to all plans just over one year ago. Google still offers a VPN service for owners of recent Pixel phones, and for Google Fi customers.

Android 15 Beta 1 Out Now

Apr 11, 2024, 4:01 PM   by Rich Brome

Google has released the first test version of Android 15 available to the public. Following two "developer preview" releases, those with a compatible Pixel phone enrolled in Google's beta program can now update to Android 15 Beta 1. (As a beta version, it may be buggy and is not recommended for anyone's primary phone.) New features include an API for satellite connectivity, so apps can intelligently present different features or messages when using satellite instead of a cellular network. Android 15 also brings improved system-level support for third-party apps that can run on small cover screens of foldable phones. An "HDR headroom" feature make it easier for apps to display HDR and non-HDR content side-by-side with more natural brightness appearance. Another new API allows apps to respond to screen recording when visible, protecting security and privacy in certain apps. Android 15 also introduces partial screen sharing. At least two more beta versions are expected before the final version is released some time after July.

Apple Expands Repair Program with Support for Used Parts

Apr 11, 2024, 10:46 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Apr 11, 2024, 4:19 PM

Apple is expanding its third-party and self-repair programs to allow the use of used genuine Apple parts when repairing iPhones. The company will also no longer require a device serial number when ordering parts. A new feature will prevent used parts from working fully if they came from a device reported lost or stolen (a device with Activation Lock or Lost Mode enabled). Apple's unique Parts and Service history, located within Settings on iOS, shows repair information and will soon "show whether a part is a new or used genuine Apple part." The use of used parts will come to "select iPhone models this fall". In the interest of "iPhone user's privacy, security, and safety", there are still restrictions on biometric sensors used for Face ID or Touch ID, but "future iPhone releases will have support for used biometric sensors." Apple apparently still uses some form of "parts pairing", a controversial practice. But "beginning this fall, calibration for genuine Apple parts, new or used, will happen on device after the part is installed", a new process that should significantly streamline third-party repairs and self-repair.

AI Tools Coming to All Google Photos Users

Apr 11, 2024, 10:34 AM   by Rich Brome

Google is bringing some of its newest AI-powered photo-editing tools to nearly all Google Photos users, after first introducing the features as exclusive to its Pixel 8 series of phones. Features like Magic Editor, Photo Unblur, Magic Eraser, and Portrait Light will be available to everyone — even on iOS — starting May 15th. The most powerful and demanding tool, Magic Editor, will be limited to 10 edits per month unless users also subscribe to the "Premium" Google One plan that runs $100/year. Magic Editor uses generative AI to make it easy to do complex photo edits "like repositioning your subject or turning the sky from gray to blue."

Fairphone's New Bluetooth Earbuds are First with Replaceable Batteries

Apr 10, 2024, 9:51 AM   by Rich Brome

Fairphone has launched the Fairbuds, the first Bluetooth true wireless earbuds with easily-replaceable batteries, in both the earbuds and the charging case. The Fairbuds are also designed to be easily repairable and come with a three-year warranty. The buds have active noise cancelling (ANC), 11mm titanium drivers, and a dedicated app for both iOS and Android to fine-tune sound profiles (EQ). They offer up to six hours of battery life from the buds alone and another 20 via the charging case. The buds have three microphones each, capacitive touch controls, and an IP54 dust/water rating (light rain and sweat). The Fairbuds are also made with 70% recycled materials. "For now", they are only available in Europe, for €149.

Google Launches New "Find My Device" Network

Apr 8, 2024, 11:44 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Apr 9, 2024, 12:10 PM

Google has launched its new Find My Device app and service, which mimics the capabilities of Apple's Find My app and service, and works in a similar way. Both systems tap into the Bluetooth functions of billions of smartphones and other devices worldwide to help find lost devices and items via automatic crowdsourcing. Location data is aggregated and encrypted to ensure anonymity and privacy. Google's system can be used to locate Android devices starting today, and new Bluetooth tracker tags starting in May. Unlike Google's existing phone-finding system, the new system can find lost devices even when they're offline, and can even find a Pixel 8 or 8 Pro when it's off or the battery is dead. The system provides long-range tracking by showing location on a map, as well as a short-range "Find nearby" mode that shows when you're getting closer to the lost device as you walk around. It can also tap into a Nest smart-home and show to which Nest device the lost item is nearest. The app also lets you share permission to track a device with other people. The new Bluetooth tracker tags will be available from Chipolo, Pebblebee, eufy, Jio, Motorola, and more. The tags will be fully compatible with the new cross-platform unwanted tracking protections developed by Apple and Google. iOS 17.5 brings new support for this standard, ensuring that Apple phone users are protected from stalking via tracking tags using Google's ecosystem, and vice-versa.

FCC to Vote on Net Neutrality, Sale of Location Data

Apr 5, 2024, 10:13 AM   by Rich Brome

The FCC is preparing to vote on broad regulations affecting all broadband providers, including all cellular service providers. Many of the specific regulations are not new; the FCC is simply reclassifying mobile data as a "commercial mobile service" instead of an "information service". This action has the effect of restoring many key FCC regulations that were in force until 2017, but currently only apply to traditional voice service. The effects of this action would be wide-ranging, including restoring "Open Internet" rules, AKA "net neutrality". This would effectively mean the FCC (re-)adopting "bright-line rules to prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization" of specific data traffic over mobile and fixed commercial networks. It also restores "heightened restrictions on carriers' use, disclosure, or provision of access to customers' customer proprietary network information — including customer location information — without consent." The vote will take place on April 25th.

Apple Brings Qi2 Support to iPhone 12

Apr 3, 2024, 10:34 AM   by Rich Brome

The iPhone 12 launched with support for fast 15-watt wireless charging, but only with Apple MagSafe chargers. Macworld reports that iOS 17.4 quietly introduced support for fast wireless charging with third-party chargers using the Qi2 standard.

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