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printed March 25, 2017
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Alcatel A30 Reaches Amazon Prime​ for Just $60

Today, 9:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 9:56 AM

Amazon recently added the Alcatel A30 to its roster of Prime Exclusives. This entry-level Android handset includes a 5-inch HD screen and a 1.1 GHz Snapdragon 210 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The phone supports memory cards up to 32 GB. The main camera has an 8-megapixel sensor with time-lapse recording while the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Alcatel says the phone's 2,460mAh battery provides all-day life. The phone runs Android 7 Nougat and is sold in both CDMA and GSM variants, with LTE for AT&T and T-Mobile. Amazon is selling the phone for $60 with lock screen ads or for $100 without ads. It goes on sale April 19.


Google to Strip SMS from Hangouts May 22

Yesterday, 11:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today outlined a number of changes to its various messaging services, including a dramatic shift for Hangouts. Starting May 22, Google Hangouts will no longer support SMS for text messaging between phones. Hangouts will continue to work as a messaging client, it just cannot be used to send SMS messages. Earlier this year Google said it plans to refocus Hangouts on enterprise communications. Google is now pushing the Android Messages app as its primary SMS client. The company is working with carriers to add RCS to the Android Messages, and Google expects to see the app become the default SMS tool on Android phones over time. RCS in Android Messages will support features like read receipts, group chat, hi-res photo sharing, and more. Google plans to notify Hangouts users about the change in the coming weeks and will recommend they download Android Messages. The shift to Android Messages will not impact Hangouts users' message history. More importantly, Google says Google Voice and Project Fi customers will continue to be able to use Hangouts for SMS for the foreseeable future. In other Google messaging news, Google said it plans to get rid of Google Talk within Gmail and replace it with Google Hangouts. It began doing this several years ago, but will finalize the transition in June. The legacy Google Talk Android app, which was replaced in 2013, will cease working when the transition takes place. All Google Talk users should expect to use Google Hangouts moving forward. Google is also retiring a number of Gmail Labs, including Authentication Icon, Google Voice Player, Picasa previews, Pictures in chat, Quick Links, Quote Selected Text, Smartlabels, and Yelp previews. Last, Google is removing some Google+ functionality from Gmail, specifically the ability to email Google+ profiles and the use of Google+ Circles. These changes will take place after April 24.


FCC Relaxes Rules Governing 800 MHz Spectrum

Yesterday, 9:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC this week made it easier for carriers to add LTE to their 800 MHz spectrum holdings. Rules concerning the 800 MHz band (CDMA Band Class 0, LTE Band 5) have been in place since 1981 and limit how much power carriers can use to transmit wireless signals across those airwaves. The effect has stymied wide-scale LTE deployments in the 800 MHz band. By relaxing the outdated regulations, the FCC is essentially making it possible for companies that have 800 MHz spectrum to repurpose it for LTE. Specifically, the Commission plans to allow 800 MHz licensees to transmit the same amount of power across the spectrum band, putting it in line with how other, similar spectrum bands are treated. The FCC will demand that carriers take care to prevent interference with public safety's use of 800 MHz spectrum, but the Commission will also eliminate what it calls unnecessary rules and burdens related to application filings and other red tape. Verizon Wireless, which will benefit most from the change, lauded the decision. "The FCC's unanimous adoption today of Cellular Service Reform rules is a big win for wireless consumers," said the company. "Today's order enables Verizon to accelerate the conversion of 850 MHz spectrum from 3G and put it to use for 4G LTE. The upside for consumers is big: Verizon Wireless will be able to provide 4G LTE coverage on cellular spectrum to 20%-30% more of the US geography and also increase peak 4G LTE speeds by as much as 40%." The change also benefits AT&T, though to a lesser degree.


T-Mobile Takes Steps to Block Scam Calls

Yesterday, 8:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said it is rolling out new network-based tools to help identify and block potential scam calls. Beginning on April 5, T-Mobile will begin to analyze every call that reaches the T-Mobile network against a global database of known scammers. T-Mobile claims it can perform this analysis in a matter of milliseconds. If the number matches that of a scammer, T-Mobile will identify the call as a potential scam when it rings the subscriber's phone. Subscribers can then choose to ignore the call. This feature, which will eventually be available to all T-Mobile customers, is called Scam ID. It is being rolled out to T-Mobile One subscribers automatically, but any T-Mobile postpaid customers can enroll by texting T-Mobile. T-Mobile is also offering the ability for customers to block scam calls entirely. Subscribing to the Scam Block tool will prevent suspected scam calls from ringing T-Mobile phones. T-Mobile says its database of known and suspected scammers is updated constantly and can prevent IRS, medicaid, and other fraudulent calls from reaching customers. Both Scam ID and Scam Block are free. T-Mobile says it will offer these tools to its MetroPCS prepaid customers later in April.


Moto G5 Plus Goes On Sale March 31 for $230-$300

Yesterday, 6:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Motorola today said the Moto G5 Plus will be available to U.S. buyers starting March 31. The company is selling two variants of the phone. The first has 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage and costs $229, while the second has 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage and costs $299. The phone will be sold by Motorola itself as well as Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Costco, Flash Wireless, Frys, NewEgg, Republic Wireless, Target, Ting, and Walmart. Amazon Prime members can score a small discount on the phone, with the 2 GB model costing $185 and the 4 GB model costing $240. The Moto G5 Plus comes in gold or silver. It includes a 5.2-inch full HD display, Snapdragon 625 processor, 12-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel user-facing camera, and wide support for U.S. LTE networks. The phone runs Android 7 Nougat.


T-Mobile's LG K20 Plus Packs Better Specs

Thursday, 2:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 2:28 PM

T-Mobile recently rolled out its own variant of the LG K20 and the phone has somewhat better specifications when compared to the Verizon variant of the same handset. The T-Mobile K20 includes the same 5.3-inch 720p display and 1.4 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor, but improves RAM to 2 GB of RAM and storage to 32 GB. The phone boasts a 13-megapixel main camera with flash and a 5-megapixel front camera with selfie flash. It can record video up to 1080p HD. Other features include a 2,700mAh removable battery, microSD memory card slot, and Android 7 Nougat. The LG K20 Plus is already for sale from T-Mobile for $200. The K20 Plus is also known as the K10 (2017).


LG K20 V Hits Verizon Today for $170

Thursday, 1:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today added the low-cost LG K20 V to its lineup of Android smartphones. The K20 V features a metal frame and rear-mounted fingerprint reader for security. The phone has a 5.3-inch 720p display and it is powered by a 1.4 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor with 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The phone boasts a 13-megapixel main camera with flash and a 5-megapixel front camera. It can record video up to 720p HD. Other features include a 2,800mAh removable battery, microSD memory card slot, and Android 7 Nougat. The phone is available in stores and online today. The full retail price is $168, but Verizon is asking for just $99 with a two-year activation.


Facebook Messenger Adds Message Reactions and @Replies

Thursday, 10:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 11:06 AM

Facebook today announced several new features for Messenger that should make the messaging application even more interactive. First, the app adds the ability to react to messages in one-on-one or group chats. Pressing and holding any message brings up the love, smile, wow, sad, angry, yes, and no emojis, which can then be applied to the highlighted message. These same reactions are already available for news feed items. Participants in the conversation will be alerted when their messages receive a reaction, such as notifications on the lock screen. Messenger also gains the ability to mention specific people in a group chat by using an @reply construction. Using the @ symbol and then a participant's Facebook name calls them out specifically within a conversation. Like the reactions, @replies added to messages will generate notifications for those mentioned in the thread. The new tools are reaching Facebook Messenger for Android and iOS in the days ahead.


Instagram Turns On Two-Factor Authentication for All Users

Thursday, 9:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today said it has rolled out two-factor authentication for all users around the world. The extra layer of security is optional, but can be used to safeguard accounts. With 2FA turned on, account holders will need to enter a code (in addition to their username and password) each time they log in from a new device. The code is typically sent to a known or trusted device via text message. Instagram is also taking steps to protect users from potentially sensitive content. Moving forward, photos and videos that may have sensitive content will be covered by a screen. Instagram says these photos and videos don't necessarily violate its guidelines, but others have reported them as offensive or sensitive. A simple tap allows people to bypass the screen and view the photo/video. Instagram is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.


Verizon Wants You To Rattle Along with Its New Hum Devices

Wednesday, 3:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon today announced a revamp of its Hum line of connected car devices. Moving forward, consumers can choose one of three new options to keep their car in touch with Verizon's network. The HumX is the top-tier product and includes an OBD-II device as well as a Bluetooth speaker. The ODB-II unit provides WiFi hotspot connectivity for up to 10 devices, and also hooks into the car's diagnostics to monitor support functions. It can deliver roadside assistance and connect people to emergency services when needed. The Bluetooth speaker supports HD voice calls. The existing Hum product is being rebranded as the Hum+ and will continue to be available for monitoring auto health and diagnostics, driving history, speed alerts, location, and more. Last, Verizon is rolling out a free Android and iOS mobile app that provides an introductory level of Hum service. The app includes safety score calculations based on driver behaviors (cornering, braking, accelerating), in addition to voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions. The Hum mobile app is free, but the Hum+ and HumX require hardware and monthly service fees. All three launch March 23.


Google to Do More to Push Security Patches to Android Phones

Wednesday, 2:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it plans to give phone makers and network operators more options for pushing security updates to smartphones. In an annual report published today, Google says some 735 million devices received at least one security update during 2016. However, some 50% of devices in use haven't received a security update in the past 12 months. "We’re working to increase device security updates by streamlining our security update program to make it easier for manufacturers to deploy security patches and releasing A/B updates to make it easier for users to apply those patches," explained Google in its report. Google continues to work with security firms and researchers to find and fix bugs. The company typically releases security updates once per month. Google didn't say exactly how it plans to address security updates with its partners moving forward, only that it would.


Google Brings Audio Calls to Duo, Attachments to Allo, Smoother Uploads to Photos

Wednesday, 11:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google updated a handful of its apps and services today, including Duo, Allo, and Photos. Moving forward, Duo users on Android and iOS will be able to make voice-only calls when they wish. Google says Duo's voice calls work well on most connection speeds and won't consume much data. Audio calls via Duo are being made available in Brazil today, with other regions to follow in the next few days. Google updated its Allo messaging app with support for attachments in group chats. Users will be able to share several file types (.pdf, .docs, .apk, .zip, and mp3) with groups through the messaging app. Last, Google says Photos is now better at backing up photos. Photos will first send low-resolution backups to Photos when the network connection is slow or spotty. Photos will then replace the low-resolution shots with high-quality images once good connectivity is available. Moreover, people will be able to share the low-resolution previews with others immediately. These new features are rolling out to Duo, Allo, and Photos over the next few days.


Google Maps Improves Location-Sharing Tools

Wednesday, 9:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it possible for Maps users to share their exact location with friends and family. In Maps, users need only tap the blue dot (signifying their location) and select those with whom they'd like to share. People can share through their Google contacts as well as send links through most messaging apps. The tool permits people to select how long they share their location, which ranges between 15 minutes and 3 days. Alternately, location sharing can be left on indefinitely and/or turned off at any time. Indicators in the app let people know when and with whom they are sharing their location for as long as the tool is active. Recipients of location data will see the shared location as a blue dot on Maps in addition to their own blue dot. The tool also lets people share their real-time location and trip progress while navigating between points. Google says the location-sharing feature works on Android, iPhone, the mobile web, and desktops. Google plans to roll the tool out worldwide over the next few days. Google also recently made it easier for people to remember where they parked their car. A tool in Maps lets users pinpoint their parking spot when they park.


Huawei Mate 9 Gains Amazon Alexa Today

Wednesday, 8:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Today at 3pm ET, users of the Huawei Mate 9 will be able to update their phones over the air to support Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. The Mate 9 is the first phone to have built-in access to Alexa On The Go. Currently, other phones can only access Alexa when used with a hardware accessory of some kind. Users must launch the new Huawei Alexa app before they can talk to Alexa. The app synchronizes with the user's Amazon account and the same Alexa configuration used at home with any Echo and Echo Dot devices the user may have. Alexa On The Go can be used to control smart-home devices, get personalized news updates, listen to podcasts, make restaurant reservations, get weather, access personal calendar info, and play hands-free games such as Jeopardy and 20 questions. It also supports placing orders with Amazon.com, Starbucks, pizza chains, and movie theaters. Huawei is working on future updates to the Alexa integration that will enable voice activation (instead of manually launching the Huawei Alexa app), setting timers and alarms on the phone, and music playback. The current rollout applies only to U.S. versions of the Mate 9; it will roll out to other markets that Amazon supports at a later date.

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Wells Fargo to Bring Smartphone Sign-Ins to 13,000 ATMs

Tuesday, 4:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Wells Fargo customers will soon be able to access their accounts at ATMs via their smartphones. Wells Fargo plans to update all 13,000 of its ATMs in the U.S. next week, completing a pilot that's been in the testing phase for more than a year. The ATMs will grant access to accounts and cash through the Wells Fargo mobile app. The smartphone-based app will generate an 8-digit code, which the customer will then need to enter into the ATM. The ATMs will continue to support traditional bank cards. Wells Fargo plans to add support for NFC, negating the need for the 8-digit code, later this year. NFC-enabled ATMs will allow people to access their account by holding their phone against a reader on the ATM, similar to Apple Pay or Android Pay. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have similar pilots in testing, but they have yet to announce deployment plans.


Google News & Weather to Show More News & Weather

Tuesday, 1:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has added more stores to the home screen of its News & Weather app for mobile devices. Specifically, the home screen will list an additional 200 stories in a section called More Headlines. Google says the More Headlines section is easy to scroll through on smartphone screens and offers a deeper look at business, tech, entertainment, sports, and other topics. The section loads on demand so the more you scroll down, the more stories it will load. Google News & Weather incorporates Google's AMP articles, which load faster over mobile connections. The More Headlines section will reach the Android and iOS versions of News & Weather over the come days. The app is free to download from the Google App Store and iTunes App Store.


Google Gives Developers An Early Look at Android O

Tuesday, 12:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced the first preview of Android O, the unnamed next version of its core mobile operating system. This early version of Android O brings with it a handful of new features that clearly target developers and device makers more so than end users. The primary consumer-facing function is a picture-in-picture viewer for Android phones (this feature is already available to Android tablets). Developers will be able to take advantage of a new background limiter, which can control how much power apps are allowed to consume when running in the background. Android O takes a new stab a notifications with what it calls notification channels. These will let users manage which types of notifications are allowed from individual apps, including new visual groupings that make it easier to see what's going on. The new Autofill API will let developers of apps such as password managers choose autofill defaults across keyboards. Adaptive icons for the home screen will automatically change based on system preferences so they can adapt to different phones and user interfaces. Android O adds new support for Bluetooth audio codecs, such as Sony's LDAC codec. Other features include: in-app pinning of shortcuts and widgets; support for Wi-Fi Aware; XML fonts; wide-gamut color apps; new WebView APIs; expanded accessibility options; improved support for multiple displays; and changes to the MediaPlayer, including new support for the MPEG2_TS codec for media streaming. Developers can install this first Android O preview on their Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Pixel C, and Nexus Player, but will have to do so manually via their computer. Google says Android O will see at least one more developer preview before the company releases a consumer beta of the operating system. Google didn't suggest when the final version of Android O might be ready, but it typically releases new Android operating systems in the fall.


Google Search App Gains Tappable Shortcuts

Tuesday, 8:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said an update to its mobile search app should make it quicker and easier to find basic information via tappable shortcuts that are positioned underneath the search box. The shortcuts let people perform instant searches for a variety of items, including entertainment, sports, weather, food, news, and more. The shortcuts appear on the home screen of the Google search app on Android and iOS devices, as well as Google.com in mobile browsers. Google says Android users will have access to more shortcuts, such as flights, currency converters, attractions, hotels, and others. People will be able to customize the shortcuts and results based on their preferences. Google says it will automatically add tappable search shortcuts for big and current events as they come and go. Google Search is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.


Apple's New Clips App Offers a Fun Way to Create Videos

Tuesday, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today announced Clips, an app for the iPhone and iPad that lets people piece together photos, videos, and music for sharing on social networks. One of the core features is called Live Titles, which lets people create animated captions by using their voice, rather than typing. Clips includes effects such as comic book filters, speech bubbles, shapes, and animated posters to add personality to videos. Apple is pitching the app as an easy-to-use alternative to iMovie. It doesn't require timelines, tracks, or complicated editing tools. Instead, users need only touch a single button to shoot photos or videos from within the app, or pull content directly from the camera roll. Dozens of music soundtracks are included and they will automatically adjust to match the length of the video clip. Apple says videos created in the Clips app can be shared directly to most social networks, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and others. Clips bakes in support for Apple's own iMessage, as well, and will automatically suggest sharing options based on the people who appear in the videos. Clips will be available for free to most iPhones and iPads in April.


Apple Improves Storage Options for iPhone SE

Tuesday, 7:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today gave the iPhone SE a modest update thanks to improved storage capacities. Beginning this week, the iPhone SE will be available in 32 GB and 128 GB versions. These replace the 16 GB and 64 GB models. The refreshed 32 GB iPhone SE starts at $399 and will be available online and in stores starting March 24. Other than the storage boost, the iPhone SE's other specs remain unchanged. Apple first released the iPhone SE about this same time last year. It has a 4-inch display and relies on the same design Apple used for the 2012 iPhone 5 and 2013 iPhone 5s.


Apple Announces (Product) Red iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

Tuesday, 7:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today debuted (Product) Red versions of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The devices are identical to the iPhones released last year, the only difference is the color. A portion of the proceeds from (Product) Red iPhone sales will contribute to the Global Fund to help fight AIDs. The red-colored iPhones will only be available in 128 GB and 256 GB capacities. The 128 GB (Product) Red iPhone 7 costs $749 and the 128 GB (Product) Red iPhone 7 Plus costs $869. The special edition (Product) Red iPhones will be available online and in stores beginning Friday, March 24.


ARM Reveals DynamIQ Processor Design with AI In Mind

Tuesday, 7:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ARM today announced DynamIQ, a new way to manage multi-core systems that gives them the ability to scale exactly to the tasks or needs at hand. DynamIQ expands on ARM's big.LITTLE technology, which allows for paired sets of high-power and low-power processor cores to tackle specific tasks based on the computing requirements. The big change is that DynamIQ doesn't require paired sets; instead, it can handle one high-power processor with seven low-power processors and other combinations to give device makers more granular control over how the cores handle computing operations. ARM says this is particularly helpful for machine learning and artificial intelligence. The company claims DynamIQ will deliver a 50x boost in on-device AI performance over the next few years when compared to what's available today. The fact that DynamIQ can handle AI tasks directly on mobile devices — rather than in the cloud — means quicker response times and better security for end users. Other benefits of DynamIQ include a redesigned memory subsystem that's faster and more power efficient; refined control over thermal budgets; and faster software switching between processor cores. ARM sees DynamIQ making a big impact on smartphones, but it also intends to bring DynamIQ to robots, cars, and other autonomous devices. ARM plans to debut new processor cores specifically for DynamIQ later this year, but the company didn't say when it expects DynamIQ-enabled devices to reach the market.


Google Pushes Second Beta of Android 7.1.2

Tuesday, 7:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has released a second beta update for Android 7.1.2. Build NPG47I is rolling out to the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and Nexus Player devices, as long as those devices are enrolled in the public beta program. Google says Android 7.1.2 focuses on refinements, bug fixes, and other unspecified optimizations for both end users and carriers. Google has been testing the platform with developer betas since January. Build NPG47I will reach beta testers in the days ahead.


Sony Xperia L1 to Hit North America in April

Monday, 1:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sony today announced the Xperia L1, an Android smartphone that will reach American shores as soon as next month. The phone features a 5.5-inch 720p HD display and is powered by a 1.4 GHz quad-core MediaTek processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor and the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor; both have an aperture of f/2.2. Other specs include support for memory cards, dual SIM cards, 2,620mAh battery with Qnovo adaptive charging, USB-C, Bluetooth, WiFi, and Cat 4 LTE. The Xperia L1 runs Android 7 Nougat. Sony said the phone will go on sale in North America in April of this year.


AT&T to Give DirecTV Now Subscribers Free Year of HBO

Mar 20, 2017, 12:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today sweetened the deal for some subscribers to its DirecTV Now streaming television service. New customers who subscribe to either the Go Big or Gotta Have It packages will be given a free year of HBO. The Go Big plan costs $60 per month and includes more than 100 channels, while the Gotta Have It plan costs $70 per month and includes more than 120 channels. Normally, HBO costs an extra $5 per month. Further, AT&T is offering new customers a free Apple TV when they pre-pay for three months of any DirecTV Now package. Both the free HBO and free Apple TV offers end March 30.


Instagram Now Lets You Save Live Videos to Camera Roll

Mar 20, 2017, 11:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today made it possible to save live video broadcasts to your phone's local gallery. Live videos that are broadcast to Instagram eventually disappear from the app, but now users can elect to store videos on their phone for safekeeping. The option is made available after users end their live broadcast. Instagram says only the raw video is saved; extras such as comments, likes, and number of viewers are not added to the saved product. The video-saving feature is available to the Android and iOS versions of Instagram, which are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.


Samsung Galaxy S8 to Include 'Bixby' Voice-Based User Interface

Mar 20, 2017, 8:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 20, 2017, 9:29 AM

Samsung today announced Bixby, a new voice-based user interface that will mark its debut on the Galaxy S8 smartphone. Samsung said it developed Bixby in order to minimize friction between the user and the phone in terms of how voice commands are issued and understood. Samsung calls Bixby a user interface that relies on artificial intelligence. it is not a personal assistant, per se, though it includes those functions. Samsung adapted Bixby's ability to listen and understand commands based on how people speak, rather than force people to issue specific commands (such as "Hey, Bixby") to get the interface working. Samsung is targeting a handful of core behaviors with Bixby. For example, it is embracing something it calls "completeness" — meaning if an app is Bixby enabled, Bixby will be able to interact with nearly every task that app is capable of completing. Bixby is contextual, which means it will work seamlessly in voice mode or touch screen mode without forcing people to start over or lose their place within a command sequence. Last, Bixby will include cognitive tolerance, or the ability to "understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge." The Galaxy S8, which Samsung plans to announce at a March 29 event in New York City, will feature a dedicated Bixby button, something Samsung says will reduce friction in calling upon Bixby for help. Galaxy S8 owners will be able to press the Bixby button and issue the command they want without first unlocking the phone. Samsung says a small subset of apps on the Galaxy S8 will be Bixby-enabeld at launch, though it expects to add more over time. Further, the company will release an SDK so third-party developers can add Bixby functionality to their own apps. Samsung intends to push Bixby across most of its products tline, including tablets, PCs, and even appliances.


Qualcomm's 205 Mobile Platform Brings 4G to Entry-Level Phones

Mar 20, 2017, 7:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today announced the 205 Mobile Platform, a collection of components that includes an application processor, radios, audio codec, power management, and speaker amplifier. Qualcomm sees the 205 Mobile Platform as a plug-and-play solution for device maker to bring ultra-low-cost feature phones to emerging markets. The 205 includes a 1.1 GHz dual-core processor using Qualcomm's 28nm process. Other pieces of the platform include an Adreno 304 GPU, Snapdragon X5 (Cat 4) LTE modem with support for VoLTE, as well as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi radios. As for ancillary features, the 205 Mobile Platform supports cameras up to 3 megapixels, video capture up to 480p, VGA displays, and MP4, H.264, and VP8 media codecs. Qualcomm says the 205 Mobile Platform is compatible with Linux-based operating systems.


Google's Motion Stills for iPhone Picks Up a Useful Update

Mar 17, 2017, 11:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google updated its Motion Stills app for the Apple iPhone this week and added a small number of new features. Motion Stills allows iPhone owners to export their Live Photos in the more widely usable GIF format, which can be shared with non-Apple devices. Chiefly, users can now pick the best possible frame within the Live Photo. This sets the tone for how the app treats other frames in the Live Photo and creates a more personal animation. The app also improves how it treats floating text bubble tracking, and how GIFs are exported. Motion Stills is free to download from the iTunes App Store.


Blu Shows Off the Unlocked Life One X2 Mini

Mar 17, 2017, 5:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Blu today announced the Life One X2 Mini, a smaller version of the One X2 that carries over the basic design and fingerprint reader of the original. The Mini sports a 5-inch full HD screen, Snapdragon 430 processor with 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, and support for memory cards. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with pro, night, and sport modes, while the rear camera has an 8-megapixel sensor with wide-angle selfie mode and selfie light. Other features of the phone include Android 6 Marshmallow, microUSB, Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi. The phone is sold unlocked with LTE support for AT&T/Cricket Wireless and T-Mobile/MetroPCS. The Blu Life One X2 Mini is available today from Amazon.com for $180.


Amazon Adds Alexa AI to iPhone Shopping App

Mar 16, 2017, 11:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today made Alexa, its artificial intelligence, available to a much wider selection of devices by adding Alexa to its iOS mobile shopping application. Now any iPhone with the Amazon app aboard has access to Alexa, allowing people to search for and buy goods simply by asking Alexa for it. Amazon says customers can say things like "search for paper towels" or "reorder batteries" and Alexa will do those things within the confines of the Amazon app. The app lets people listen to music and play Kindle books, ask basic questions, add skills, access Smart Home features, and check the news, weather, and traffic — all via voice requests. The app works hand-in-hand with iPhone owners' Amazon accounts and subscriptions to services such as Amazon Music Unlimited or Amazon Prime. The revised app includes a new microphone button that people tap in order to access Alexa from wherever they happen to be. Separate Alexa-powered devices, such as the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or FireTV are not required. Amazon's main mobile shopping app is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Amazon didn't say when Alexa might reach the Android variant of its app. Amazon's Alexa artificial intelligence competes on some level with Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana. This marks the first time Alexa has been made widely available to smartphones.


Verizon Bundling Free TV with LG G6

Mar 16, 2017, 9:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless' launch plans for the LG G6 include a free LG television set. To start, Verizon is asking $28 per month for 24 months, or about $672 in total for the LG G6. For a limited time, customers can get a free LG 43-inch Smart TV when activating an LG G6 on a new Verizon Unlimited service plan. In order to get the TV, customers need to remain with Verizon for at least six months and then submit a claim. The TV will be shipped 8 to 10 weeks after the claim is made. Verizon Wireless is also offering up to $200 on select trade-ins. The trade-ins must be in good, working condition and are limited to the Apple iPhone 6, 6 Plus and SE; the HTC 10; the LG G4, G5, V10, or V20; or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or 5, S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, S7, and S7 edge. Last, LG G6 buyers qualify for a free Google Home from LG. Preorders begin March 17 and Verizon will begin shipping the LG G6 on March 30.


AT&T Launching LG G6 with 2-for-1 Offer

Mar 16, 2017, 9:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today announced its plans to sell the LG G6 and the company is going a step further than competitor T-Mobile. For a limited time, people who purchase an LG G6 can score a second LG G6 when adding a new line. AT&T is asking for $24 per month for 30 months to cover the cost of the phone, or about $720 in total. The offer requires both lines use an AT&T Next installment plan, and the cost of the second device will be covered on a month-to-month basis. In addition to the two-for-one offer, customers who buy the LG G6 before April 30 will be given a free Google Home by LG. Last, AT&T customers who buy an LG G6 can get the LG Watch Sport for $50 with a two-year service agreement on the wearable. AT&T will start taking preorders for the LG G6 on March 17, with orders shipping on April 7.


T-Mobile to Sell LG G6 Starting April 7 for $650

Mar 16, 2017, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 16, 2017, 9:02 AM

T-Mobile today said customers can buy the LG G6 online and in stores beginning April 7. T-Mobile is asking for $26 down and $26 per month for 24 months to cover the phone's $650 retail cost. Further, T-Mobile customers who order the G6 before April 30 will receive a Google Home from LG for free. The Google Home normally costs $129. The LG G6 has a 5.7-inch screen with an 18:9, or 2:1, aspect ratio. Other features include a Snapdragon 821 processor, dual 13-megapixel cameras, and a rear-mounted fingerprint reader. The phone is made from metal and glass and is waterproof. It runs Android 7 Nougat and includes the Google Assistant.


T-Mobile Phones Hanging Up on 911 in Dallas

Mar 16, 2017, 7:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Hundreds of hang-up calls hitting Dallas' 911 center are causing backlogs, reports the Wall Street Journal, and T-Mobile handsets are to blame. The issue began last fall and occurs when a T-Mobile customer places a legitimate call to 911. After the call concludes, the T-Mobile handset repeatedly calls the 911 center back and then hangs up. Workers at 911 centers are required to call back hang ups to ensure there's no emergency. The Journal says on March 11, the 911 center was hit with so many hang up calls the 911 workers were forced to place more than 400 incoming calls on hold. The same thing happened March 6, with 360 calls placed on hold. The result led to some Dallas-area 911 callers waiting up to 30 minutes before they were able to speak with emergency dispatch services. T-Mobile and city officials have not been able to resolve the problem, but T-Mobile has sent engineers to Dallas to fix it. "We have all eyes on this," said T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray. Neither the City of Dallas nor T-Mobile believes any sort of internet-based attack to blame.


ZTE's Axon 7 Scores Android 7.1.1

Mar 16, 2017, 7:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today began pushing Android 7.1.1 to its Axon 7 flagship smartphone. The Axon 7 is one of the first devices other than Google's own Pixel handsets to receive this update. Some of the features added in the system upgrade include support for T-Mobile WiFi Calling; a wider selection of gender-balanced emoji and GIFs; performance improvements to Google's Daydream VR; and the latest security patches. ZTE says it also fixes bugs and tweaked behaviors throughout the operating system. People who own the Axon 7 can download the update manually via the system settings tools on their phone or wait for it to arrive over the air.


Google's Family Link App to Help Manage Kid Phones

Mar 15, 2017, 11:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced Family Link, an app and service parents can use to set up and monitor Android smartphones for their children. Parents can use the app to create Google accounts for kids younger than age 13, which is linked to the parent account. The app lets parents approve and block apps from the Google Play Store, control screen time with daily limits, and remotely lock or prevent devices from being used at night. Google is offering Family Link through an early access program. Parents interested in testing it can request an invitation. Family Link requires handsets running Android 7 Nougat and up.


Facebook Gets Political, Adds 'Town Hall' for Local Government

Mar 15, 2017, 7:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook is making it easier for people to find and contact their local government officials. The latest version of the app includes a section called Town Hall. Using it, people can seek out local, state, and federal officials based on location. The app makes it easy to subscribe to any or all of the representatives' official Facebook pages, as well as contact them directly through the app. Contact options include messaging and emailing, but not calling. Individual reps' pages are up to that person to maintain, but can contain mailing addresses, phone numbers, direct email addresses, and other details concerning their office and initiatives. The app even shows people which of their friends have subscribed to their own local government officials. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently discussed his intent to make it simpler for people to step up local civil action through Facebook. This Town Hall feature may be a first step in making that happen. Facebook is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.


Google's Chrome Browser for iOS Lets You Save Articles for Later

Mar 15, 2017, 7:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has updated its Chrome browser for iOS devices and given it the ability to save online stories for later reading. The share button now includes a "read later" option that will download the article directly to the device so it can be read at a later time, even when the phone is offline. Chrome 57 is free to download from the iTunes App Store.


Google Improves Playlist Discoverability in Google Home App

Mar 15, 2017, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made it simpler to find music when casting or streaming thanks to a small update to the Google Home app. The latest version of Google Home now includes a Listen tab that's dedicated to music. It reveals curated playlists patched together from songs, albums, podcasts, and more. The Listen tab works with music services including Google Play Music and Spotify, and can tap into whatever playlists may already be on the owner's phone or tablet. Last, Google Home will display a set of recommended or new songs/artists to help people explore new music. The idea here is to make it easier to manage music from a single place, rather than force people to use their music app to find music and the Google Home app to cast it. Now, the Google Home app can handle both discovering and casting. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.


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