Phone Scoop

printed December 10, 2016
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Sprint Extends Free Data Roaming to Mexico and Caribbean

Yesterday, 12:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today said customers who subscribe to its Unlimited Freedom and Sprint Open World programs can take advantage of free, unlimited high-speed data when traveling to Mexico and select Caribbean destinations for the next few months. The program applies to vacation destinations including Bermuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, the Virgin Islands, and most other islands in the Caribbean. The "Sprint South" free, unlimiting roaming promotion runs through March 31, 2017.

Verizon Refuses to Brick Note7, Will Not Issue Samsung Update

Yesterday, 12:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today said it will not brick its customers' phones during the holiday season. Samsung this morning said it will update remaining Note7s over the next few weeks and kill the phone's ability to charge. Samsung believes this will coax remaining owners to return or exchange the device. Verizon disagrees with this strategy. "Verizon will not be taking part in this update because of the added risk this could pose to Galaxy Note7 users that do not have another device to switch to. We will not push a software upgrade that will eliminate the ability for the Note7 to work as a mobile device in the heart of the holiday travel season. We do not want to make it impossible to contact family, first responders or medical professionals in an emergency situation." Verizon says most of its Note7 customers have already returned the device. The carrier reiterates that any Note7s still in the wild need to be exchanged as soon as practical. The Note7 is subject to overheating and causing fires. The device was recalled and cancelled by Samsung.

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Samsung to Brick Unreturned Note7s

Yesterday, 11:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said it plans to take aggressive steps in order to convince Note7 owners to exchange their devices. Beginning December 19, Samsung will issue a software update that will prevent the Note7 from charging and kill its ability to work as a mobile device. "Together with our carrier partners, we will be notifying consumers through multiple touchpoints to encourage any remaining Galaxy Note7 owners to participate in the program and to take advantage of the financial incentives available," said the company in a statement. According to Samsung, about 93% of U.S. consumers who purchased a Note7 have returned and/or exchanged their device. The company implores remaining owners to shut the device down and turn it in as soon as possible. A number of Note7 units overheated and caught fire. The device was recalled in full and cancelled by Samsung.

Gov't Revives Possibility of Voice Calls On Planes

Yesterday, 8:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday proposed rules that could eventually pave the way for making voice calls on airplanes. Current regulations from the FCC ban cellular voice calls on airplanes, but the FCC's laws don't apply to WiFi-based calls. Many of today's smartphones are capable of making calls via WiFi, and many of the country's air carriers offer in-flight WiFi. The DOT believes technology will soon be good enough (and the cost low enough) for air carriers to offer WiFi-based calling on their aircraft. The DOT's new angle here is that in-flight calling might be permissible as long as passengers are fully informed about the voice call capabilities of their flight before it is booked. "Consumers deserve to have clear and accurate information about whether an airline permits voice calls before they purchase a ticket and board the aircraft," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. "[Our] proposal will ensure that air travelers are not unwillingly exposed to voice calls, as many of them are troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight." When the FCC explored the idea of in-flight calls in depth, the vast majority of consumers voiced opposition to the idea. The DOT now believes that WiFi-based calls could be permitted as long as everyone is adequately informed and given the opportunity to arrange different travel options. The DOT will accept comments on the idea for 60 days, and emphasized that a full ban of all in-flight calls is still on the table. It will be up to individual airlines to offer such services if they are permitted.

FTC to Reimburse AT&T Customers $88M In Cramming Fees

Thursday, 4:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today laid out plans to return some $88 million in cash to wronged AT&T customers. In 2014, AT&T settled with the FTC over illegally adding third-party charges to monthly bills, a practice known as cramming. The FTC says 2.5 million current AT&T customers and 300,000 former customers will receive reimbursement for about $31 sometime in the next 75 days. Existing customers will receive the money as a bill credit, while former customers will be written checks. "AT&T received a high volume of complaints related to mobile cramming prior to the FTC and other federal and state agencies stepping in on consumers' behalf," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. "I am pleased that consumers are now being refunded their money and that AT&T has changed its mobile billing practices." Most of the third-party fees involved ringtones, horoscopes, and other messaging-based subscriptions.

Review: OnePlus 3T

Thursday, 2:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

This unlocked Android smartphone from OnePlus is an excellent handset for the contract-averse. OnePlus took its excellent flagship phone from earlier this year and improved it with a round of fresh components under the hood. The result makes the OnePlus 3T one of the best phones available right now. Here is Phonescoop's full report.

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Google Opens Up Assistant and Home to 3rd-Party Apps

Thursday, 12:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made the necessary tools available that will let other companies build apps for Google Assistant and Google Home. The developer platform for Google Assistant is called Actions on Google. Developers can now create Conversation Actions for Google Home in order to push data, services, or help to end users upon request. Google says end users won't have to enable skills or install apps as they do with Amazon's Alexa; instead, people will be able to simply talk to Google Home to access the desired actions. Google is allowing developers to sign up for early access to the program, which entails a new API along with a collection of samples and voice user interface resources. Google says some of its early partners will roll out their Conversation Actions for Google Home in the coming weeks. Google Assistant is at the heart of Google Home, and that means Conversation Actions will reach the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, and the Allo messaging/assistant app down the road. For example, Google plans to add support for purchases and bookings via Google Assistant, as well as deep integration across other verticals. Google didn't say exactly when it might bring Conversation Actions to the Pixel or Allo. Developers can find more information via Google's developer web site.

Google Improves the Selection of Daydream VR Apps

Thursday, 11:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has added a variety of new Daydream virtual reality applications and games to the Google Play Store. People who own the Pixel, Pixel XL, Moto Z, and Moto Z Force can access and download the new content directly from their phone. Some of the new titles include Lego BrickHeadz, HBO Now and HBO Go, Netflix, NextVR, and Need for Speed. Last, both the snow and crimson Daydream View headsets are more widely available online in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. The View costs $79.

Adobe Tweaks Lightroom for iOS and Android

Thursday, 11:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Adobe today announced a handful of changes to Lightroom for iOS. The mobile app now offers a refreshed photo-editing user interface that Adobe believes is easier to use when it comes to enhancing and adjusting images on a phone. A batch of sliders are simple to use with a single hand. An expanded information section brings more functionality to the app, such as the ability to add titles, captions, and copyright icons. Last, a revised capture interface lets people access a new professional mode and gives them direct control over their camera's exposure and focus settings. Adobe said Lightroom for iOS 2.6 includes all these features and is available starting today. Lightroom for Android 2.2.2 only adds support for new cameras and lenses, and includes bug fixes. Adobe said it will bring the new editing interface and info pages to the Android app in the near future.

Microsoft and Qualcomm to Bring Windows 10 to ARM-Based Snapdragon Processors

Thursday, 8:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft and Qualcomm plan to make Windows 10 run on Qualcomm's next-generation, ARM-based Snapdragon processors. The idea is to enable full PC functionality on cellular-connected devices of varying form factors. Qualcomm said its new chips are fully compatible with the Windows 10 ecosystem, and hardware makers can use them to create phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. The companies say new Windows 10 PCs with Snapdragon inside can support x86 Win32 and Universal Windows apps, including titles such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and even games. Microsoft said these "cellular PCs" will be able to take advantage of eSIM technology, allowing people and businesses to activate and use them on the network of their choice. Microsoft and Qualcomm expect to see the first Snapdragon-based Windows 10 PCs reach the market as early as next year. "With Windows 10 on cellular PCs, we will help everyone make the most of the air around them. We look forward to seeing these new devices with integrated cellular connectivity and the great experiences people love like touch, pen, and Windows Hello," said Microsoft's Terry Myerson.

Samsung Debuts Black Pearl Color for Galaxy S7 Edge

Thursday, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said a black pearl version of the Galaxy S7 Edge smartphone will go on sale in select markets starting December 9. The black pearl color will only be available with 128 GB of storage, which means the price will be in the neighborhood of $870. Samsung did not specify which markets will sell the black pearl S7 Edge, nor if any carriers will sell the black pearl version directly. Last month, Samsung introduced a blue coral color for the S7 Edge.

Review: Samsung Gear IconX Bluetooth Headphones

Wednesday, 3:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung's Gear IconX are truly cord-free earbuds that promise the ultimate wireless experience. These Bluetooth headphones include advanced features, such as ambient sound mode and a heart rate monitor to track workouts. They make a fine companion to Samsung's Galaxy smartphones, but there's one major caveat. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.

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T-Mobile Looks to Redefine the Phone Number with 'Digits'

Wednesday, 12:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today announced Digits, a new service that will let customers use the same phone number across multiple devices, or multiple numbers on a single device. The service makes use of T-Mobile's LTE network and works with virtually all connected devices, including phones, tablets, wearables, and computers. Digits relies on an app. Users can sign in on whichever device is most convenient and immediately have access to their phone number, complete with voicemail, text messages, call history, and other features. The service allows a single handset to support up to five phone numbers without requiring additional SIM cards. Similarly, a single number can be used across up to five separate devices. T-Mobile believes Digits will be particularly appealing to business customers, which will be able to assign a T-Mobile Digits number to workers, regardless of the carrier the employee already uses. Digits can run on phones that connect via AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, et al. Digits works natively with the dialer in Samsung's newer smartphones, including the Galaxy S6, S7, Note 5, and others. T-Mobile customers who have iPhones or other Android phones will be able to use Digits through a mobile app. T-Mobile is allowing a limited number of postpaid customers to test Digits, which is available as a beta. T-Mobile did not say how much the service costs. The company expects to fully launch Digits early next year.

Bluetooth 5 Released By Bluetooth SIG

Wednesday, 11:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 11:49 AM

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has released the core Bluetooth 5 specification. Bluetooth 5 was first announced earlier this year and is now available in final form to technology companies. The updated specification makes big performance changes. For example, Bluetooth 5 quadruples the available wireless range, doubles wireless speeds, and improves data broadcasting capacity by 800%. The Bluetooth SIG says the improved capacity will help Bluetooth transmit higher-quality data to Internet of Things devices, such as beacons. Moreover, Bluetooth 5 will allow gadgets to connect and share information without pairing through dedicated applications. The new standard is more secure, more power efficient, and able to reduce interference with other wireless devices. The Bluetooth SIG believes Bluetooth 5 will help companies bring richer, more capable Bluetooth products to the wearables, home automation, industrial, commercial, and enterprise markets. The specification is available for download from the Bluetooth SIG web site. Bluetooth 5 devices are expected to reach the market within two to six months.

Pebble Shuts Down, Kills Off Unreleased Watches

Wednesday, 10:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pebble, which sold its intellectual property to FitBit, detailed plans for the remaining portions of its business. Pebble will not make or sell any more devices. The company says devices already in the market will work as normal and there are no planned changes to the user experience. Pebble warns that some functions may be lost over time and, more importantly, warranty support is no longer available for any Pebble watch. Pebble owners who run into trouble are directed to Pebble's support web site and forum. People who preordered Pebble's newest devices via Kickstarter and have not yet received their device will be given a full refund, automatically applied to their credit card. The company is not taking any more orders and has closed its Kickstarter campaigns. Pebble says watches purchased at retail locations may be returned based on the individual retailer's return policy. People should be able to find Pebble replacement parts and accessories from third-party vendors such as Pebble executive Eric Migicovsky thanked Pebble supporters and the Pebble community for their support over the years. Migicovsky is not joining FitBit, but many of Pebble's software engineers are.

FitBit Buys Pebble's Intellectual Property

Wednesday, 9:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 9:58 AM

FitBit today said it has acquired key personnel and intellectual property related to software and firmware development from Pebble. FitBit did not buy Pebble's hardware assets. FitBit says the acquisition will allow it to bring products to market faster and will speed up its ability to develop customized solutions and support third-party applications. Pebble was an early entrant in the smartwatch market and made low-cost, platform-agnostic wearables that focused on usability. It got its start through several successful Kickstarter campaigns. FitBit is the market leader for health and fitness wearables. It has an entire line of trackers and smart devices that work with Android and iOS devices. FitBit did not immediately say what will happen to Pebble's hardware products, but Pebble's Twitter account said, "Pebble will no longer produce or sell new hardware. Active Pebbles in the wild will keep working." Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was completed December 6.

Chrome 55 for Android Enables Downloads for Offline Use

Wednesday, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Following its recent release for desktop machines, Google has made Chrome 55 available to Android smartphones and tablets. Chrome 55 introduces a handful of new features. Chiefly, Chrome 55 makes it possible to download music, videos, and web pages for offline viewing. Downloads can be viewed and shared within Chrome. The updated browser also lets people see misspelled words in text fields and makes improvements to the contextual search user interface. Chrome 55 contains performance, memory, and stability fixes, as well. The browser is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Pandora Reveals Its Premium Streaming Service

Wednesday, 8:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pandora has taken the wraps off Pandora Premium, its $10-per-month music streaming service that will compete with Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Like similar products, Pandora Premium offers ad-free, all-you-can-eat streaming of millions of tracks. It includes unlimited skips and downloads for offline listening. Pandora Premium competes with Pandora's own $5 monthly product, which is also ad-free and allows for some skipping. The major difference between the two is the recommendation engine. Pandora Premium relies on the data Pandora has collated via the Music Genome to the tune of one billion data points per day. It also takes advantage of users' own "thumbs up" activity and will create playlists based on those songs. The Premium product will be more aggressive about pushing recommendations, particularly when users reach the end of a play list or album. Pandora expects to launch Pandora Premium for mobile devices and the web early next year.

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