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Created by Google, Android is a smartphone OS and platform that is open-source and open for any manufacturer to use to make a smartphone. Most Android phones use a version that is mostly provided by Google and requires Google services. Android phones can run Android apps, available from the Google Play Store, or, optionally, from other sources.

by:  Google

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Google Schedules I/O 2024 for May 14th

Mar 14, 2024, 3:42 PM   by Rich Brome

Google's big annual developer event "will be broadcast in front of a small live audience and is open to everyone online" on May 14th this year. Google often announces new products and features at this annual event. At last year's event, the company announced the Pixel Fold and Pixel 7a. It also announced new features coming to Android and Wear OS.

Microsoft Kills Android-on-Windows

Mar 6, 2024, 12:34 PM   by Rich Brome

Microsoft is removing Android app compatibility from Windows. The Windows Subsystem for Android (WSA) was a feature of Windows 11 that enabled Android apps to run on PCs. A limited selection of Android apps were available primarily via the Amazon Appstore. Users who have already downloaded the Appstore and Android apps can continue using (and updating) apps for one year. However the Amazon Appstore is no longer available to download for users who don't already have it installed, and Amazon is no longer accepting new apps for it.

Google Brings Wallet Passes, Transit Directions to Wear OS

Feb 26, 2024, 10:41 AM   by Rich Brome

Google has finally updated Wallet on Wear OS to more closely match the functionality of Wallet on Android, supporting all types of cards, passes, and tickets. Wallet for Wear OS previously only supported credit and debit cards. Now it will support "boarding passes, event tickets, gym memberships, loyalty cards and more". For people who have many such cards, some can be hidden, so that the ones you use most often can be accessed without excessive swiping. Wear OS also now supports transit directions, including trip by bus, train, or ferry. "Look up departure times right from your smartwatch, then get compass-guided navigation directions to your destination."

Google Brings AI to Messaging in Android

Feb 26, 2024, 10:12 AM   by Rich Brome

Google today announced two major new AI features for messaging in Android. The first is in Android Auto, where AI will now automatically summarize long texts or busy group chats while driving. It will also "suggest relevant replies and actions you can take with a single tap – helping you navigate to an address, make a call, or share your ETA when someone asks for it." This feature is rolling out starting today. Separately, the Messages app for Android now lets you Chat with Gemini, where you can have a conversation with Google's new AI chatbot as if it were a person in your contacts. You can even send it photos as part of your conversation. The feature includes thumbs-up and thumbs-down feedback buttons to help Google improve Gemini, and a "Report legal issue" button. This feature is only available to users enrolled in the messages beta channel and only to adults 18 and older. For now it only supports English, and French in Canada.

Google Starts Android 15 Testing Campaign

Feb 16, 2024, 3:11 PM   by Rich Brome

The very first release of Android 15 is now available for developers to test. This is a developer preview, not a public beta version, so it may lack some user-facing features and shouldn't be installed on anyone's primary device. Google says some of the improvements in Android 15 include partial screen sharing and recording, better camera controls in third-party apps, and better APIs for managing processor efficiency. Google plans to release the first beta version in April, with platform stability in June and a final release some time after July.

AT&T and Google Invest in Space-Based Cell Service

Jan 23, 2024, 12:44 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Jan 23, 2024, 2:09 PM

AST SpaceMobile — the company currently testing space-based cellular service for AT&T — has secured a vote of confidence in the form of $206.5 million in new financing from AT&T, Google, and Vodafone. AT&T and Google are new investors. As part of the deal, AT&T has agreed to purchase network equipment from AST to support planned commercial service, and made a $20 million revenue commitment. Google has "agreed to collaborate on product development, testing and implementation plans for SpaceMobile network connectivity on Android and related devices". AST's technology works with existing, off-the-shelf 4G and 5G phones. In that sense, it's similar to the service that SpaceX and T-Mobile are currently testing. Both systems rely on new satellites being launched into earth orbit with massive antennas that can mimic land-based cellular base stations. These services are intended only to provide coverage in "dead zones" not covered by land-based networks.

Google Maps Gains Tunnel Navigation

Jan 18, 2024, 12:07 PM   by Rich Brome

Google has quietly added optional support for Bluetooth beacons to its Google Maps app for Android. This feature lets the app know its location in tunnels, where GPS signals don't reach. Google's Waze subsidiary has already deployed these beacons in tunnels in cities including New York City, Chicago, and Boston. The feature is still off by default; users must go into the app settings and enable "Bluetooth tunnel beacons" under "Navigation settings" to enable the feature. The iOS version of the app does not yet offer this option.

Android Auto Will Know Your EV's Battery Level

Jan 9, 2024, 4:46 PM   by Rich Brome

Google today announced a major new feature of Android Auto: the ability for electric vehicles to share real-time battery information with Google Maps running on your phone. With this update, Google Maps will be able to "provide your estimated battery level upon arrival at your destination, suggest charging stops along the way and even estimate how long charging will take based on your vehicle." Many EV owners previously had to use the built-in navigation system instead of Android Auto to access such features. EVs must be specifically designed to support the feature. The first vehicles to support it will be the Ford Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning "in the coming months, with others to follow."

Beeper Mini's Newest (Cumbersome) Workaround Will be its Last

Dec 21, 2023, 1:29 PM   by Rich Brome

Beeper Mini has a new solution for using iMessage on an Android phone, but it requires a jailbroken iPhone left plugged in and turned on, as well as a Mac or Linux computer. Apple has found ways to shut down previous versions of Beeper Mini that did not require this extra hardware. Beeper says of its new solution: "we believe we’ve created something that Apple can tolerate existing." However, if Apple does shut down the new version of the service, Beeper says it will abandon the project.

Google Will Relax App Billing Rules, Pay $700 Million in Antitrust Settlement

Dec 19, 2023, 1:02 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Dec 19, 2023, 1:07 PM

Google has reached a settlement with 36 states and the District of Columbia in case alleging that Google operated its Play app store as an illegal monopoly. Google has agreed to let developers use alternative billing systems in the US, and "[simplify] the sideloading process". In addition, the company will pay $630 million into "a settlement fund to be distributed for the benefit of consumers", plus $70 million to the states that filed the suit. The case was led by the Utah Attorney General. The case was filed in 2021 and the settlement agreed to in September, but details were announced just this week. This case is separate from a private antitrust case filed by Epic Games, where a jury recently ruled against Google.

Google Making Maps Location History Private, Even from Police

Dec 15, 2023, 11:38 AM   by Rich Brome

Google is changing how Maps stores your location history, moving it on-device by default and encrypting it when saved to the cloud. This change means even Google can't access that data, which also means Google will no longer be able to respond to "geo-fence" warrants from police wanting to know who was in a given area at a given time. Other companies — notably, mobile network operators — may still have customer location data that can be compelled by police, but Google Maps will no longer be a source of this information. Maps already offers a variety of options giving users control over their location data in its Timeline feature. Users can delete all history and set an auto-delete time period. Timeline is off by default, and when activated, now defaults to keeping only three months of data instead of 18. A new feature will let users delete data for specific locations. Users will be able to manually upload an encrypted copy of their location history to the cloud to preserve that data when switching devices; but otherwise it will stay on-device. The changes will apply to both Android and iOS versions of Maps. Users will see a notice in the app when the change reaches their account.

Jury Finds Google Violates Antitrust Laws with Play Store Rules

Dec 12, 2023, 11:21 AM   by Rich Brome

A jury in San Francisco has sided with Epic Games in the drawn-out legal battle the company is fighting against Google's app store restrictions. The jury found that Google had maintained a monopoly in the smartphone app store market and engaged in anticompetitive conduct. Google requires that in-app purchases be made via its Play Store, where it takes a cut of up to 30%. This ongoing legal saga began when Epic tried to direct Fortnite players to an alternate payment platform for in-app purchases. Google also makes it difficult to offer competing app stores on Android. A judge will determine remedies early next year, although Google has already indicated it will appeal, a process that could take up to 18 months. Epic's case going forward is strengthened by the jury's resounding verdict that found against Google on all 11 questions of the case. If Epic eventually prevails, Google could be forced to alter its rules for the Play Store, for Google services required on new Android phones, and for alternate app stores. Epic is pursuing a similar case against Apple. Apple prevailed in the first trial, but that case is also being appealed.

Apple and Beeper Face Off Over iMessage-on-Android App

Dec 11, 2023, 11:03 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Dec 11, 2023, 3:19 PM

Beeper Mini — an app that successfully implemented iMessage on Android phones — stopped working after just a few days, but has now started working again. Apple effectively claimed responsibility for the outage over the weekend, saying: "We took steps to protect our users by blocking techniques that exploit fake credentials in order to gain access to iMessage. These techniques posed significant risks to user security and privacy, including the potential for metadata exposure and enabling unwanted messages, spam, and phishing attacks. We will continue to make updates in the future to protect our users." Beeper's CEO Eric Migicovsky responded: "if Apple truly cares about the privacy and security of their own iPhone users, why would they stop a service that enables their own users to now send encrypted messages to Android users, rather than using unsecure SMS?" The Beeper team has now delivered a promised update to restore service, although it requires an Apple ID account and is tied to the user's email address instead of phone number as before. The app will be free for the time being, instead of the $2/fee (after free trial) originally announced. These developments potentially set up a game of cat-and-mouse that could make Beeper Mini service intermittent. Apple would seem to have the upper hand, being in control of the iMessage servers. However Beeper has been very transparent about how Beeper Mini works, and insists that Apple's options are limited, short of restructuring the iMessage protocol and requiring all Apple devices to receive an update to continue using the messaging service.

Governments Demand, Receive Push Notification Data from Apple, Google

Dec 6, 2023, 11:38 AM   by Rich Brome

A US Senator has written a public letter bringing to light the practice of governments demanding smartphones' push notification records from Apple and Google, and receiving that information. The US government has prevented Apple and Google from disclosing this practice, but Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is asking the Department of Justice to allow Apple and Google to disclose information about this to their customers. Already, in response to the letter, Apple has acknowledged the practice and pledged to include information about it in its next transparency report. On both iPhones and Android phones, app push notifications are routed via Apple or Google servers.

Beeper Mini Brings iMessage to Android

Dec 5, 2023, 11:59 AM   by Rich Brome

Universal messaging app company Beeper has a new app — Beeper Mini — that brings iMessage and "blue bubbles" to Android phones. Crucially — and unlike competing attempts to provide such functionality — the app communicates directly with Apple servers (instead of relying on relay servers or another device) and provides "full" end-to-end encryption. The app supports most iMessage features, including typing status, read receipts, full resolution images/video, emoji reactions, voice messages, editing, and un-sending. The app links to your phone number and does not require an Apple ID account. Beeper Mini is available now from the Google Play store with no waitlist. There is a seven-day free trial, after which the app costs $2/month.

Google Improves Accessibility with AI-Generated Image Descriptions

Nov 30, 2023, 3:23 PM   by Rich Brome

Google's TalkBack accessibility tools in Android now use AI to create text descriptions of images for low-vision users. The feature works with camera photos, images from apps, social media, and messaging.

Google Adds Profiles, Animations, and Color Choices to Messages

Nov 30, 2023, 3:20 PM   by Rich Brome

Google is rolling out a set of major new features for its RCS-based Messages app for Android. A new Profiles feature lets you attach your name and photo to your phone number, so that info can optionally, automatically appear in group chats, even on friends' Android phones that don't yet have you saved as a contact. The feature is somewhat similar to the Contact Poster feature that Apple recently introduced in iOS. "Photomoji" lets you create your own totally custom reaction emoji by quickly cutting out a person or animal from one of your own photos. Custom Bubbles lets you customize the bubble and background colors for each chat. Google has also improved the quality of voice messages with better bitrate and sampling rate. Finally, a variety of other features add new animations to emoji, reactions, voice messages, and full-screen effects when certain phrases are used in text. The new features are available in the public beta version of Messages starting today.

Sunbird Pulls its iMessage App for Android

Nov 21, 2023, 12:40 PM   by Rich Brome

Sunbird has pulled its app from the Google Play Store, and Nothing has pulled its version of the app, following significant privacy issues. Sunbird offered a way for Android users to communicate with iPhone users via Apple's proprietary iMessage platform. However several researchers and journalists discovered that the app wasn't encrypted in ways Sunbird promised, and other people's private messages could be accessed with relative ease. Services like Sunbird will become less necessary in a year, when Apple adds support in iOS for the RCS rich messaging standard already used by most Android phones.

Apple Caves on Messaging, Will Support RCS Industry Standard

Nov 16, 2023, 1:26 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Nov 17, 2023, 10:45 AM

Apple has issued a statement announcing that it will support RCS — the industry standard for enhanced messaging — in late 2024, which likely means in iOS 18. This will enable features like read receipts, typing indicators, and high-quality media with users of other platforms, including Android. Android already supports RCS as its default enhanced messaging platform. Green bubbles on iPhones won't be going away, though. Apple confirmed that blue bubbles will continue to be exclusive to iMessage messages. Google and some governments have been pressuring Apple to provide this kind interoperability in recent months. The full statement from Apple, provided to 9to5Mac, reads: "Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users."

Nothing Brings iMessage to its Phone (2)

Nov 14, 2023, 11:40 AM   by Rich Brome

Starting Friday, owners of the Nothing Phone (2) will be able to download a new app that will let them access Apple's iMessage platform. The Nothing Chats app is based on the Sunbird service, an app that currently has a 150,000-person waitlist. Nothing's deal with Sunbird lets Nothing Phone (2) users cut the line. According to Sunbird CEO Danny Mizrahi, "for the next few months the only way to get Sunbird is to have a Nothing Phone (2)." The app is a beta version, and indeed the Washington Post found several limitations, such as no message editing, limited Tapbacks and group chat support, and occasionally unreliable message sending. Still, the effort marks the first time an Android phone maker has attempted to support Apple's proprietary messaging platform.

Google Optimizes Android so Apps Take Up Less Space

Nov 14, 2023, 11:26 AM   by Rich Brome

Google has released a new version of the Android Runtime (ART), a core component that turns app code into lower-level code that can run directly on that specific device. The update contains new optimizations that reduce the resulting code size by about 9.3%. This means most apps now take up less space in both storage and RAM. On the average Android phone, this means a savings of about 50–100 MB in storage. Thanks to Google's modular design of the Android architecture, the ART update does not require a full OS update.

Motorola Shows Off New Concepts in AI, Foldables

Oct 24, 2023, 2:58 PM   by Rich Brome

Motorola has new phone hardware and software concepts to show off. Its new foldable phone concept is shaped like company's razr foldable, but folds the other way, with the main display on the outside. Rather than a fixed hinge, the whole center of the phone is flexible, allowing it to be worn around the wrist. The phone can also be bent in specific places to make it stand up at an angle on a tabletop. The software adjusts to offer a full-screen Android interface, part-screen full Android interface, or smartwatch mode. The company is also working on new AI software, including Privacy Content Obfuscation, which uses AI to automatically identify and blur profile pictures and names in outbound social media posts, protecting privacy. Motorola's other new AI features include Text Summarization, an AI-assisted document scanner, and a personal assistant that runs a large language models (LLMs) on-device and continuously learns, to provide better, more personalized answers with greater privacy. In a separate announcement, Qualcomm today announced the first mobile chip capable of running an AI voice assistant powered by a LLM on-device. Motorola's announcements were made at at Lenovo's Tech World '23 event in Austin, Texas.

Qualcomm Aims to Improve Multi-Device Connectivity

Oct 24, 2023, 2:00 PM   by Rich Brome

Qualcomm has a new technology that aims to make it easier to connect different devices. Snapdragon Seamless is designed to enable a variety of scenarios, including peripheral sharing (your PC keyboard working with your tablet and phone), dragging files and even windows between different types of devices, and earbuds that intelligently switch devices based on audio source priority. Seamless is a "connection-less" protocol that relies on Bluetooth LE and other existing wireless technologies. The technology is designed to be cross-platform, working across Android, Windows, and other platforms. Committed partners include Microsoft, Google, Dell, Lenovo, and Honor. New multi-device features enabled by Snapdragon Seamless are set to arrive on global device platforms starting as early as this year. Snapdragon Seamless is built in to the company's newest chips, including the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for phones, S7 for earbuds, and Snapdragon X Elite for laptops.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 Can Run Generative AI Voice Assistant On-Device

Oct 24, 2023, 2:00 PM   by Rich Brome

Qualcomm has taken the wraps off its new flagship chip for phones: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3. Unsurprisingly, AI is the emphasis among the new features and performance gains. One key new feature is the ability to run a generative AI large language model (LLM) (specifically, Meta's Llama 2) and integrate it with a voice assistant, all on-device. Google has only recently announced such a service — Google Assistant with Bard — albeit as an "early experiment" and presumably cloud-based. The ability to run such cutting-edge AI entirely on-device, enhancing privacy, is a first. The chip also supports multi-modal generative AI, supporting both input and output via voice, text, and photo. The 8 Gen 3 can generate images via stable diffusion in under one second, many times faster than before. Snapchat has already announced plans to use this feature. The Hexagon NPU AI cores are 98% faster than last year's. In the upgraded Sensing Hub, always-on AI performance has been improved up to 3.5x, and there are now dual ISPs, enabling always-on AI using both front and rear cameras. The upgraded AI capabilities enable features such as Photo Expansion ("zooming out" on an existing photo using generative AI) and Video Object Eraser. The Kryo CPU cores feature 30% better performance and 20% better power efficiency compared to last year's chip. Qualcomm has switched to a 1-5-2 arrangement of the CPU cores, with the prime core running at 3.3 GHz and five "performance" cores running at 3.2 GHz. On the GPU side, the company claims 25% better performance and 25% better power efficiency. The chip is also the first in mobile to support ray-tracing with Global Illumination in Unreal Engine 5.2. It also supports gaming at up to 240 Hz, and upscaling to 8K on external displays. The FastConnect 7800 subsystem supports Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5.4 with LE Audio, and Qualcomm's new XPAN technology that lets earbuds connect over Wi-Fi, for better sound quality and/or extended range. Flagship Android devices powered by Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 are expected to be available in the coming weeks.

OnePlus' First Foldable Aims High

Oct 19, 2023, 11:17 AM   by Rich Brome

OnePlus has launched the OnePlus Open, its first foldable phone. The flagship-class phone has top-end specs, going head-to-head with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 and Google Pixel Fold in both design and features. The phone has a 7.82-inch flexible display inside, protected by Ultra-Thin Glass, with a carbon fiber support structure underneath to reduce the crease at the hinge. The unique "Flexion" hinge is an 8-axis mechanism that uses just 69 parts, compared to the industry average of more than a hundred components. OnePlus claims this improves durability, and has had it tested and certified for a million fold actions. The outer display measures 6.31 inches and is protected by Ceramic Guard, which OnePlus claims is 20% more impact resistant than Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. Both displays are "ProXDR" LTPO AMOLED panels with 2K resolution and 120 Hz refresh. It does sport OnePlus' signature alert slider switch. The Hasselblad rear triple-camera system includes a 48 megapixel main camera with a Sony LYTIA-T808 sensor featuring stacked-pixel technology that boosts light intake. There's also a 64 megapixel telephoto camera with 3x periscope optical zoom and 6x lossless zoom via sensor crop. The wide-angle camera is 48 megapixel and has auto-focus. The Open is powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip paired with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of UFS 4.0 storage. The 4,805 mAh battery can be fully charged in just 42 minutes thanks 67-watt fast charging. It has excellent support for T-Mobile's network, good support for Verizon's sub-6 network, and basic support for AT&T. The OxygenOS 13.2 software (based on Android 13) includes Open Canvas, a new interface for large screens with multi-window / split-screen tools and a "desktop-like taskbar". OnePlus will offer the Open in the US in black or green for $1,700. Pre-orders start today with full availability October 26th. Pre-orders include a free pair of OnePlus Buds Pro 2 earbuds, worth $180.

Qualcomm and Google Bringing RISC-V to Smartwatches

Oct 17, 2023, 6:04 PM   by Rich Brome

Qualcomm is working on a new Snapdragon Wear platform based on the open-source RISC-V architecture instead of Arm. The new chips are intended for smartwatches running Google's Wear OS and Google is working to get Wear OS running on the new RISC-V-based chips. The two companies announced that they plan to commercialize Wear OS wearables based on RISC-V globally, including the US. The planned timeline for commercialization was not revealed. The partnership "will help pave the way for more products within the ecosystem to take advantage" of non-Arm CPUs. Google announced in January that it plans to get Android running on RISC-V chips as a "tier 1" supported platform. Qualcomm invested in a new RISC-V joint venture in August.

Cricket Launches Phone with 6,000 mAh Battery

Oct 16, 2023, 10:38 AM   by Rich Brome

Cricket has launched two new white-label (Cricket-branded) phones, including one with a an unusually large 6,000 mAh battery. (The maximum in most current phones is around 5,000 mAh.) The aptly-named Cricket Outlast (pictured) sells for just $110 yet has a huge 6.8-inch HD+ display with 90 Hz refresh, NFC, and a 50 megapixel camera. It comes with an 18-watt fast charger. The other new model is the Cricket Debut S2, an entry-level Android phone that's just $80. Its specs include a 6.1-inch display, 3,000 mAh battery, MediaTek Helio A22 chip, and an 8 megapixel main camera. Both phones are manufactured by Tinno, which also makes the Cricket Magic 5G and Cricket Ovation 3. Many Cricket-branded phones also come to AT&T Prepaid with a different name; the Outlast may come to AT&T as the Jetmore, while the Debut S2 would be the AT&T Calypso 4.

Android 14 Now Available

Oct 4, 2023, 12:16 PM   by Rich Brome

The final version of Android 14 is rolling out to Pixel phones today. It will come to recent phones from other manufacturers over the next few months.

Android 14 Can Turn Your Phone Into a USB Webcam

Sep 22, 2023, 11:09 AM   by Rich Brome

The newest beta version of Android 14 includes a new and previously-unannounced feature: an option to turn your phone into a high-quality wired webcam. The feature is useful because most phone cameras currently offer much better quality than most standalone webcams. Because the feature implements the USB Video Class (UVC) standard, it should be compatible with most laptops and desktops. To use the feature, connect the USB cable; the usual options for File transfer, USB tethering, etc. will now include a new "Webcam" option. Users can choose to use the front or rear camera, and zoom in or out. The feature currently works on most newer Pixel phones. It seems that it will be up to manufacturers whether to enable the feature when bringing Android 14 to other phones. Apple introduced a similar feature called Continuity Camera in iOS 16, which can operate wired or wirelessly, but only works with Macs.

Cricket Launches More Affordable White-Label Phones

Sep 8, 2023, 3:52 PM   by Rich Brome

Cricket has started selling two additional phones under its own brand, adding to what was already the largest lineup of white-label phones among US carriers. The Cricket Magic 5G offers 5G for just $140, while the Cricket Icon 5 is a 4G Android phone for just $90. Both offer basic features such as Android 13, a 13 megapixel main camera, 5 megapixel front camera, 4,000 mAh battery, HD+ display with notch, and a fingerprint sensor. The Magic 5G also has NFC and a slightly larger display at 6.6 inches (vs. 6.5" on the Icon 5). The Magic 5G is manufactured by Tinno, which also makes the Cricket Ovation 3. It may also come to AT&T branded as the AT&T Propel 5G. The Icon 5 is made by Coosea, which also makes the Cricket Debut Smart, Innovate E 5G, and Vision Plus. The Icon 5 may also come to AT&T as the AT&T Motivate 4.

Fairphone 5 Goes Higher-End

Aug 30, 2023, 9:02 AM   by Rich Brome

Fairphone has revealed the Fairphone 5, the next version of its sustainability-focused line of Android phones. The Fairphone 5 has better specs than past models, including dual 50 megapixel cameras (normal and wide) and a 90 Hz OLED display (6.46-inch, FHD+). The phone is modular and easily repairable. Full support lasts for five years and includes a warranty as well as full Android OS version upgrades. Security updates are promised for eight years. The company also uses materials that are better for the planet. Other specs include a 4,200 mAh battery, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage (expandable), Wi-Fi 6E, and NFC. Even though it's easily repairable, the phone carries an IP55 rating for dust and water resistance. It's available in black, blue, and transparent. The company is currently only taking pre-orders in Europe, but the the Fairphone 4 did eventually reach the US.

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