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printed September 30, 2016
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FCC Spills New Huawei Phone for AT&T

Today, 2:59 PM   by Rich Brome

An unannounced Huawei phone for AT&T appeared today on the FCC web site. Slated for AT&T's GoPhone prepaid lineup, the H1611 appears to be an affordable Android phone with a large screen, Snapdragon 615 processor, and sealed-in 3,000 mAh battery. Front and rear cameras are also shown, as well as a memory card slot. The approvals show support for standard AT&T LTE bands, including band 30. The documents reveal few other details. The AT&T web site does not yet list the phone.

Google Rebrands 'Google Apps' for Businesses to 'G Suite' and Now Lets You Restore Trashed Files

Today, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has renamed and reorganized a number of its service offerings for business customers. Moving forward, Google Apps for Work will be known as G Suite. G Suite includes Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, Hangouts, and other services on PCs, smartphones, and tablets. The idea is to help workplaces communicate and collaborate more effectively on documents and other tasks. Google envisions information flowing freely between people, devices, apps, teams, and organizations. At the same time, Google improved its Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps for Android devices. Users can now retrieve deleted files more easily by finding them in the trash. Users will be given the opportunity to restore deleted files if necessary. The latest versions of Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Android devices are all free to download from the Google Play Store.

Review: Huawei Honor 8

Yesterday, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Huawei Honor 8 is a high-quality piece of hardware that's surprisingly affordable. It competes well with a handful of other $400 unlocked phones from the likes of Alcatel, OnePlus, and ZTE. The Honor 8 boasts top specs, an attractive glass-and-metal design, and Huawei's Emotion UI on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.

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Google Threads Voice Commands Deeper Into Google Maps

Yesterday, 2:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

People can now use their voice to take full command of Google Maps when in the car. Google updated Maps today and added more support for "Ok, Google"-based voice commands. People will need the latest version of Google Maps and Google Search, and will need to enable the "Ok, Google" keyword detection in both apps. Once activated, Android phones will clearly show which screens in Google Maps accept voice commands with a white microphone. Users can then issue commands such as "Ok, Google, find gas stations" and the app will search for and reveal nearby fuel stops. Beyond simple navigation and search functions, Maps users will also be able to control app functions directly, such as showing/hiding traffic, muting voice guidance, checking alternate routes, and more. Google hopes expanding voice commands in the app will allow people to use Maps while keeping their eyes on the road. Google Maps is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Calendar Gains Smart Scheduling

Yesterday, 1:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated Google Calendar for Android and iOS devices with a new smart scheduling tool. Users can now tap a "find a time" button and Calendar will automatically suggest meeting times and available rooms based on preferences. The tool takes into account all attendees' availability, as well as meeting locations. It will suggest times with the fewest conflicts, help to reschedule conflicts, as well as include several backup suggestions. As always, the person scheduling the meeting has control over the time and location finally selected. The new smart scheduling tool is free to use in Google Calendar. The updated apps are available for download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Google says this feature will reach the web version of Google Calendar by the end of the year.

Google Delays Android Wear 2.0 Until 2017

Yesterday, 12:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released Android Wear 2.0 Developer Preview 3 and also shared some details on the timing for the platform's public launch. The biggest addition to the preview operating system is the availability of the Google Play Store on Android Wear devices. With Android 2.0, smartwatch owners will be able to browse for apps via keyword and voice search directly from their wrist. Moreover, users will be able to install watch apps directly to their wearable via WiFi or cellular connections. Google says it added the Play Store to Android Wear to appease developers' wishes for improved app discovery. The new preview includes a handful of other tools for developers, as well. For example, developers can require user permission to set up watch complications, and a new API will allow watch owners to interact with a greater number of notifications on their watch. Android Wear now generates automatic responses to messages locally, rather than on a nearby smartphone. Last, Google said it is still receiving lots of feedback from developers about the features and functionality of Android Wear 2.0. As such, it has decided to continue the preview program into early 2017, at which point the first watches will receive Android Wear 2.0. Google had originally said the refreshed wearable platform will launch in 2016.

FCC Votes to Improve Text Alert System

Yesterday, 10:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 10:55 AM

The FCC today took action to improve the Wireless Emergency Alert system. Local, state, and federal governments use the system to alert people about impending threats. As it functions today, alerts are limited to 90 characters and cannot include media. Moving forward, alerts will be expanded to 360 characters and can include photos and embedded links as needed. The WEA recently came under fire for messages sent to New Yorkers in the wake of the recent bombings. Many felt the text alerts didn't include enough information, such as a photo of the suspect. "We can do more with these messages," said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during today's proceedings. "Vague directives in text about where to find more information about a suspect — just as we saw in New York — are not good enough." The FCC will work to narrow down the geographic areas to which messages are sent, as well as add more detail to emergency messages. Further, messages will be broken into separate groups, such as those containing general information and other, more specific advisories such as to boil water or to evacuate an area. Wireless providers will also be required to push alerts in Spanish. The technology change was first proposed last year and has been under study since. Today's vote to adopt more advanced tools will eventually lead to better emergency alerts. Carriers have a full year to implement the new technology.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft Team Up to Quell AI Fears

Yesterday, 7:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of big tech companies have formed a partnership with the goal of keeping people informed about the development of artificial intelligence. Many people already use technology that is aided by AI, and that number will only continue to grow. The group includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, each of which has its own AI tech (such as Alexa, Watson, and Cortana). The primary aim of the Partnership on AI will be to educate the public about the uses of artificial intelligence and calm any fears that AI will take over our lives. The secondary goal will be to ensure that all companies developing AI are using best practices formed by non-business experts such as philosophers and ethicists. Founding members of the coalition are expected to contribute financial and research resources that will be shared among all members. The group has mandated that the board be equally split between corporate members and non-corporate members. "AI technologies hold tremendous potential to improve many aspects of life, ranging from healthcare, education, and manufacturing to home automation and transportation," said the Partnership in a statement. "Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, [we] hope to maximize this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible."

Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus Reach Cricket Stores

Yesterday, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today commenced sales of the Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus at select stores around the country. The prepaid carrier is selling the iPhone 7 32 GB for $649, and the 128 GB for $749. It is also selling the 7 Plus 128 GB for $869. Cricket is not carrying the high-capacity 256 GB models. Cricket customers interested in these phones will have to pay full price for them, as Cricket doesn't offer monthly payment plans for hardware. The iPhones are also available from Cricket's web site, but the company says it has sold through its online inventory for the time being. Cricket has discounted several older iPhone models, as well. The iPhone 5s 16 GB, for example, is available for $199 and the iPhone 6s 16 GB is available for $449. Cricket's service plans start at $30 per month.

Twitter Expands Moments Feature to All

Wednesday, 11:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today made its Moments story-creation tool available to all users. Moments lets people assemble a series of Tweets about a subject or event into a single package that tells a complete story. Moments are found in a separate tab both online an in the mobile app. Brands and media organizations have had access to Moments since late 2015. People can subscribe to Moments, which will be inserted into the timeline. Moments can be loaded with multimedia, such as photos or videos, to make them more engaging. Moments are displayed in chronological order, with discernible beginning, middle, and end segments. Twitter believes Moments will give people another avenue for creative expression and storytelling. The feature is being rolled out to all users worldwide.

Samsung to Examine Overheating Replacement Note 7s

Wednesday, 10:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung said it will investigate claims from customers that their replacement Galaxy Note 7 smartphones are overheating. Some consumers in the U.S. and Samsung's home market of S. Korea say their new devices get too hot to use. "There have been a few reports about the battery charging levels and we would like to reassure everyone that the issue does not pose a safety concern," said Samsung in a statement. "In normal conditions, all smartphones may experience temperature fluctuations." For example, processor-intensive apps such as virtual reality or games will cause devices to warm up. Even so, Samsung said it will replace the replacements and examine them to be sure there are no on-going issues with the batteries. Samsung recalled 2.5 million Note 7s earlier this month after numerous reports of overheating, fires, and explosions. About 60% of consumers have exchanged their original Note 7 for a replacement device, and Samsung says 90% of those consumers are sticking with the Note 7 rather than opting for an alternative.

Skype for iOS Gains Siri Support

Wednesday, 10:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today released a new version of Skype for iOS 10 devices that includes support for Siri. Skype users can now initiate Skype calls by asking Siri to connect them. In order for the tool to work well, Skype suggests users save Skype contact information directly to the native contacts app — something that's now possible in the new version of Skype. This should make it easier to start Skype audio/video calls, as well as Skype IM chats, without requiring people to first open the Skype app. Last, Skype for iPhones and iPads makes use of Apple's CallKit, so incoming and outgoing calls now rely on the native iOS phone application. Skype 6.25 for iOS 10 devices is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

T-Mobile Giving Away Free LTE Roaming Until 2017

Wednesday, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said its postpaid customers will have access to free, high-speed mobile data throughout South America and select European countries for the rest of 2016. T-Mobile customers will not have to take any action to enjoy free international roaming in these countries. Travelers will have unlimited high-seed data, unlimited texting, and low-cost voice calls when abroad. The free roaming applies to all of South America, as well as Armenia, Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom in Europe. The promotion runs through Dec. 31, 2016. T-Mobile's Simple Global program has given travelers free access to 2G mobile data since 2013.

Samsung Adds Coupons to Samsung Pay

Wednesday, 7:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung has updated its Samsung Pay mobile payment service with the ability to search for and use coupons within the app. Samsung Pay users can upload membership and loyalty cards from select retailers, including grocers, convenience stores, and pharmacies. Coupons are linked to member accounts and savings are applied automatically during checkout with Samsung Pay. The app supports gift cards, too, as well as rewards programs. Samsung Pay now offers a cloud storage feature to help users restore membership and reward account details when adding Samsung Pay to a new device. Samsung says its mobile payment service works with over 500 banks nationwide, covering more than 80% of all U.S. debit and credit cards. To celebrate the service's first anniversary, Samsung is giving away 365 Samsung Gear S2 smartwatches. People can participate by interacting with Samsung's Twitter account on Sept. 28. Samsung Pay is available to the company's high-end devices, including the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, S6 Active, S7, S7 Edge, S7 Active, Note 5 and Note 7.

BlackBerry to Kill Off Smartphone-Making Business

Wednesday, 7:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said it will no longer make and sell its own smartphones. Instead, it will rely on original device manufacturers to design and make devices that will carry BlackBerry branding and software. The company employed this strategy earlier this year with the DTEK50, which was a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4. BlackBerry uses Google's Android platform as a base and hardens it with respect to bugs and security. It then packages this with its BlackBerry Suite of apps and services. "We are reaching an inflection point with our strategy," said CEO John Chen. "Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold. Under this strategy, we are focusing on software development, including security and applications. The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners." BlackBerry calls this its Mobility Solutions strategy. The company has already forged a licensing agreement with a telecom joint venture in Indonesia. BlackBerry announced the news along with its fiscal 2017 second quarter earnings report. The company generated $352 million in revenue, of which $156 million came from its software business.

Google Search for iOS Lets Users Secure Incognito Search

Tuesday, 2:42 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today pushed out an update to its Google Search app for iOS devices and included several new features. Most importantly, Search for iOS now allows people to use incognito mode. Searches performed when in incognito mode are not saved in users' search history. Moreover, people can secure incognito mode with Touch ID, meaning only the device owner will be able to enter the secure search mode. Google says it added a 3D Touch shortcut to incognito mode, as well, making it easily accessible from the home screen. The other significant new feature in Search for iOS is the ability to watch YouTube videos directly in search results without opening the YouTube app. Google says the refreshed app also adds iOS 10 refinements and stability fixes. Google Search is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Californians All But Forbidden to Use Phones In Cars

Tuesday, 10:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

California has outlawed almost all use of mobile devices in cars. California Governor Jerry Brown this week signed new legislation that expands the restrictions placed on mobile phone use in cars. Specifically, drivers are now forbidden from "holding and operating" mobile devices for any reason. The lone exception allows drivers to perform functions that require only "the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger." Even then, however, the device has to be in car- or hands-free mode and mounted to the windshield or dashboard of the car. Assembly Bill 1785 was introduced by Rep. Bill Quirk with the aim of reducing distracted driving. Quirk cited statistics showing an increase in crashes related to in-car phone use as the impetus for the law. The new law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

Review: Apple Watch Series 2

Tuesday, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple's new smartwatch takes a giant leap in the right direction thanks to a faster processor and dramatically improved software. WatchOS 3.0 retools the wearable with a strong focus on fitness. The improved screen, better battery life, and added GPS give the Series 2 just the right mix of features to make it worth using on a daily basis. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.

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