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Amazon Raising Price of Prime to $119 On May 11

Yesterday, 5:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today said it will increase the price of its Amazon Prime service from $99 to $119 on May 11. "We continue to increase the value of Prime," said Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky during the company's quarterly earnings call with analysts. Amazon Prime scores members expedited shipping, shipping discounts, and access to cloud-based services such as Amazon Prime Movies and Prime Music. Amazon also offers discounts on select phones to Prime members via its Amazon Prime Exclusives program. Olsavsky noted that it is seeing "rises in cost" for these "digital benefits." The May 11 rate increase will apply to new members. The price goes up to $119 on June 16 for existing Prime customers who renew the yearly service.

Qualcomm May Relax Phone Price-Based Licensing Model

Yesterday, 8:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 8:12 AM

Qualcomm is weighing a major change in strategy to ensure that its patent-licensing business continues to earn money. As it functions now, Qualcomm charges device makers a percentage of the total sale price to cover patented technology within. The more the phone costs, the more Qualcomm earns per device. Some believe this practice is unfair, including Apple and the governments of the U.S., China, and Korea. Apple has withheld more than $1 billion in royalty payments from Qualcomm as the two argue over the licensing model. In order to avoid such conflicts in the future, Qualcomm said it may cap the phone price at $400. With this calculation, Qualcomm would take a cut of the sale price up to $400, even for devices that cost far more. iPhones, which sell for close to $1000, would effectively be treated like a $400 device when Qualcomm calculates how much it is owed for licensing. This would lower the amount of money Qualcomm earns in these licensing deals, but could allow it to sidestep disagreements with customers. The information was shared by Qualcomm executives during the company's recent quarterly earnings call. Qualcomm didn't say if or when it might actually move forward with this strategy shift.

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YouTube Kids to Give Parents More Control

Wednesday, 2:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

YouTube has updates in store for its YouTube Kids service that will provide parents with more granular control over what their children can find and watch. Beginning immediately, Google's partners will cull together "collections of trusted channels" that range across topics such as music, sports, and arts and crafts so parents can pick and choose which their children are allowed to watch. This tool is located in the Profile Settings, where parents can toggle access to collections from Sesame Workshop, PBS Kids, and more. Also starting this week, YouTube will give parents more power over the search function. Turning off the search function will limit the YouTube Kids app to only those channels and programs that have been verified by the YouTube Kids team. When search is set to off, it will not include recommendations from the broader selection of the YouTube Kids app. Later this year, parents will be able to take even more direct control over content. A new feature called parent-approved content will let parents "specifically handpick every video and channel" their kids are allowed to watch. This feature will be added in the months ahead. YouTube said the current version of YouTube Kids will remain available to those parents who are comfortable with its design and feature set. YouTube Kids is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Snappables Are Gamified Lenses from Snapchat

Wednesday, 12:36 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 2:46 PM

Snapchat today rolled out Snappables, which it says are new Lenses meant for playing augmented reality games with other Snapchat users. Snappables are controlled via touch, movement, and facial expressions. Snappables are available from the main Lenses section of the app. Some of the games let people play basketball, fight aliens, or start a rock band. Users can put on a set of Snappables and then invite friends, challenge them, and create multiplayer games. Snapchat says Snappables will be updated with new games and challenges every week. Snapchat is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

Opera Brings Out New One-Handed Browser Called Touch

Wednesday, 12:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software today announced Touch, a mobile browser that prioritizes one-handed use thanks to dedicated buttons and actions. When launched, Touch offers a search bar, QR code scanner, and voice search tool. People can put any of these to find information quickly. A "fast action" button is always available on the browser screen to provide access to these instant search tools as well as navigate through web pages. Opera says Touch syncs seamlessly with its desktop browser and supports its Flow tool, which lets people access saved images, links, videos, and notes between devices. Opera Touch is available for Android devices beginning today and will reach the iPhone soon. The new mobile browser is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Review: Jabra Elite 65t Bluetooth Earbuds

Wednesday, 11:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Elite 65t are Jabra's third-generation fully wireless Bluetooth headphones. The company is taking a slightly new path with this addition to the Elite family. The 65t focuses on improving music and call performance, while bolstering the basics. Do these efforts pay off? Find out in Phone Scoop's review.

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Huawei Facing Criminal Investigation for Violating Iran Sanctions

Wednesday, 10:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Huawei's survival in America is facing a new threat: a criminal investigation over whether or not it violated sanctions preventing the sale or export of select goods to Iran. The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into Huawei's dealings with Iran to see if it broke U.S. law, though it's unclear how far along the probe is and what specific allegations are being made. The investigation "follows administrative subpoenas on sanctions-related issues from both the Commerce Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control," reports the Wall Street Journal. If Huawei is found to have violated U.S. law, it could be hit with severe penalties. The U.S government has already targeted the company this year, suggesting it is a security threat. AT&T and Verizon Wireless backed out of distribution deals with Huawei after being pressured by the U.S. government, and lawmakers have proposed to make it illegal for government employees to use Huawei phones. Huawei, the world's third-largest maker of phones, did not comment on the new assault. Last year, Huawei rival ZTE settled a similar lawsuit over sanction violations.

Google's Tasks App Works Directly with Gmail and Calendar

Wednesday, 8:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 8:49 AM

Google believes its Tasks mobile application for Android and iOS devices will help users manage and complete tasks more efficiently. The app lets people create tasks lists; view, edit, and manage tasks from any device; and control tasks created in Gmail, Google Calendar, or on the web from mobile devices. It supports granular details within individual tasks, as well as subtasks and the ability to check off progress as parts of tasks are completed. People can create tasks directly from an email in Gmail, view tasks in the side panel of Gmail, and trace tasks back to their source email. Further, the app lets people set due dates for their tasks, organize them by date or priority, and receive notifications to help stay on track. Google Tasks also integrates with Google's G Suite business email service. The mobile app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

Google Adds a Dash of AI to Gmail with High-Priority Notifications On Mobile and Smart Replies on the Web

Wednesday, 8:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 10:21 AM

Google today introduced new features to Gmail both on the web and on mobile devices. The web version of Gmail sees the largest number of changes and adds smart features meant to help people move through their email more efficiently. The interface has been refreshed with a new design, new controls, and dedicated access to Calendar, Tasks, and Keep. Gmail users can now click on attachments such as documents and photos without scrolling through entire threads, as well as use a new snooze button to put off emails for later. Gmail's Smart Reply feature, which has been available in mobile Gmail for some time, now comes to the web. Gmail will suggest quick replies to help people push out responses faster. In the same vein, Google will "nudge" people to respond to emails if they sit unanswered for several days with gentle reminders. New security features are on deck as well, such as the ability to restrict emails and attachments from being copied, printed, or forwarded. Further, Gmail users can make a message expire after a set period of time to help them stay in control of their information. Gmail will be a bit more proactive about notifying people about potential scam messages. On mobile devices, the new Gmail adds high-priority notifications that will notify people of important incoming messages, allowing them to ignore the rest. Last, Gmail on mobile devices will be more proactive about helping people unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters. The new Gmail for the web is rolling out now with some of the new features. The Gmail mobile apps for Android and iOS are available from the Play Store and App Store today.

ZTE Prepping Action Against Commerce Department Ban

Wednesday, 8:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said it is preparing to take "certain actions" within the scope of U.S. law to fight the Commerce Department's ban against the company. Earlier this month, the Commerce Department banned U.S. companies from selling ZTE hardware or software, such as mobile processors and the Android operating system, for a period of seven years. The move puts ZTE's survival as a phone company at critical risk. Without access to Android, in particular, ZTE will not be able to sell phones in the U.S., where it has found a comfortable niche with prepaid carriers including Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS. The ban was put into effect because ZTE broke a 2017 settlement agreement concerning its sale of forbidden items to Iran. ZTE did not spell out exactly what actions it will take. Late last week a member of the Commerce Department said it will allow ZTE to argue its case via unofficial channels.

LG Touts the G7 ThinQ's 6.1-Inch Super Bright Display

Wednesday, 7:51 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG says its forthcoming flagship will have a redesigned FullVision display that adds a number of new technologies. The screen measures 6.1 inches across the diagonal at a new aspect ratio of 19.5:9 to account for the additional screen real estate forming the notch. The company says it reduced the size of the bottom bezel by 50% when compared to the G6 to give the phone even more screen real estate on front. The display packs 3,210 by 1,440 pixels for quad HD+ resolution. The G7 ThinQ uses LG's Super Bright Display LCD technology and claims to have a brightness of 1000 nits, making it one of the brighter displays available on a modern phone. LG says this "allows users the convenience of operating the phone in almost any lighting condition, notably under bright sunlight while reducing power consumption by as much as 30 percent than the LG G6." LG claims the screen can automatically adapt to six screen color settings depending on the content, such as movies, sports, games, and such. The phone analyzes the owner's activity and switches screen color profiles to match on the fly in order to conserve power. Beyond this automatic tool, owners will be able to take full control over the display's color profiles through dedicated RGB sliders. The LG G7 ThinQ is expected to be announced at an event next month.

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OnePlus 6 to Be Announced May 16 In London

Wednesday, 7:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus said it will announce its next flagship phone at an event planned for May 16 in London. The company has recently been teasing features of the phone and earlier this week said the device will have a metal-and-glass design with a glass rear panel. The company has not shared any other details about the phone. More information will be available next month.

Instagram Now Lets You Download All Your Data from the Web

Wednesday, 7:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram has brought a new tool to its web site: the ability for users to download all their data. Instagram says users can request the information if they want. "We'll email you a link to a file with your photos, comments, profile information and more," explained the company. Instagram says it may take up to 48 hours for it to collect the data and put it into downloadable form. Instagram is owned by Facebook. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook itself recently made it easier for users to download their data. Facebook is now offering that same tool to users of its Instagram service.

Apple Pushes iOS 11.3.1 to Resolve Display Issue

Wednesday, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple has distributed iOS 11.3.1 to iPhones and iPads in order to solve a problem with third-party displays. In some instances, screens of the iPhone 8 repaired with non-Apple displays became unresponsive to the touch. iOS 11.3.1 takes care of that issue. The update also, according to Apple, improves the security of all iPhones and iPads. iOS 11.3.1 is free to download.

Instagram Makes It Easier to Upload Multiple Photos to Your Story at Once

Tuesday, 11:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today improved the way its mobile app handles story uploads. The latest version of Instagram makes it possible to upload up to 10 photos or videos from your gallery at a time. Users can select each individual photo to make changes, apply stickers, and perform edits. Once done preparing the pix or vids, the group can be uploaded all at once rather than separately. The media are added to your story in the order they were selected. Moreover, Instagram is better at remembering location data so it can help users properly tag photos with location stickers even if the user has moved somewhere else. Instagram says these changes are reaching Android devices today with iOS to follow in the coming weeks.

Spotify Improves Free Offering In Order to Convince You to Pay

Tuesday, 9:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Spotify today raised the volume on a change to its free service offering that takes advantage of machine learning to recommend tunes to music fans as they listen. The changes apply mostly to the mobile app. When customers first sign up for Spotify, they will be asked to name their favorite artists so Spotify's machine learning algorithms can begin to churn out recommendations. Spotify's free listeners will gain access to the songs they want when they want them, so long as the tunes fall into the 15 personalized playlists created by Spotify. Each playlist holds 50 songs, providing free listeners with access to up 750 on-demand tracks that can be listed to over and over. Previously, Spotify's free tier didn't have access to on-demand tracks. Spotify will use what it calls "assisted playlisting" to help, which means as people search for songs Spotify will automatically show them similar songs right away. This takes advantage of user interests as they build playlists for themselves. Last, Spotify introduced a low-data mode to help conserve mobile data when on the go. Spotify claims low-data mode reduces over-the-network data use by as much as 75% while maintaining quality. Spotify is rolling out the revised mobile app and experience to free users over the next few days. In the long run, Spotify hopes the improved free tools will entice more people to subscribe to its $10-per-month premium service.

Review: Mophie Charge Stream Pad+

Monday, 12:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Mophie Charge Stream Pad+ is a universal wireless charger that accommodates iPhones and Galaxies alike. This slim, disk-shaped charger works with most phones and offers rapid power-ups. If you're looking for a single charging pad that does it all, this could be it.

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EU Puts the Brakes On Apple's Shazam Acquisition

Monday, 10:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Monday, 10:32 AM

The European Commission is holding up Apple's planned acquisition of Shazam. "The Commission is concerned that the merger could reduce choice for users of music streaming services," said the Commission in a statement. Shazam is used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide to query song identities. It is available to Android and iOS devices alike. Margrethe Vestager, in charge of the EU's antitrust unit, said the Commission wants to "ensure that music fans will continue to enjoy attractive music streaming offers and won't face less choice as a result of this proposed merger." The EU is also concerned about consumer data Apple will gain. The $400 million deal was first made public in December. The European Commission is going to investigate the transaction to see if it might create unfair competition. Apple didn't immediately comment on the Commission's decision.

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