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.
Google recently updated its Google Drive and Google Play Music apps for Android devices, giving new features to both apps. Google Drive now allows people to set home screen shortcuts for their favorite or frequently-used files and folders. The update also makes it easier to control notifications and upgrade or change the storage plan. Google Play Music adds a sleep timer that people can use to control how long their device plays music. The app also features new control buttons and other minor tweaks. Google Drive and Google Play Music for Android are both free to download from the Google Play Store.
Sony today highlighted which devices it plans to update to Android 7 Nougat. Sony will make Nougat available to the: Xperia Z3+ and Z4 Tablet; Xperia Z5, Z5 Compact, and Z5 Premium; and the Xperia X, XA, XA Ultra, and X Performance. Sony said it is working to bring Nougat to these devices as quickly as it can, but reminds owners that availability will vary depending on region, carrier, and other factors. Sony will provide more detailed information as it becomes available.
Opera Software today launched a free VPN for Android devices that allows smartphone and tablet owners to browse the web more securely and access what might be prohibited content when using managed networks. The VPN removes ad trackers for privacy purposes and supports virtual locations (U.S., Canada, Germany, Singapore, and the Netherlands), which should let people get around some region-based restrictions. The VPN includes a WiFi tester that can detect the strength of WiFi security. If the VPN determines the network isn't secure, it will recommend users connect through the VPN. The WiFi sniffer also checks to see if the network its public or private, if it's encrypted, how many other devices are using it, if the IP address/location are exposed, and whether or not others can see your device. Opera imagines the VPN will be useful to students and office workers who are restricted from accessing social networks or other types of web sites when using campus or office WiFi. Opera VPN is free to downloaded from the Google Play Store. Opera made the same VPN available to iOS devices earlier this year.
Lenovo has agreed to install Microsoft's core productivity applications on some of its Android-based devices. The apps include Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and Skype. Lenovo said the productivity apps will reach millions of customers over the next few years. The agreement between Lenovo and Microsoft also includes a patent cross-licensing accord, allowing Lenovo to use Microsoft patents on its own devices, as well as those that carry the Motorola brand. Microsoft has patent-licensing agreements in place with most Android device makers. Terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.
Google today made the final version of Android 7.0 Nougat available to developers, phone makers, and select devices. Google released the first developer build of Nougat earlier this year and has been refining the platform ever since. Today marks the official release of the platform, which moves out of beta. The next-generation mobile operating system includes support for Vulkan to improve graphics performance for games, but it also improves the Android runtime to speed up daily use. For example, apps should install 75% faster while requiring 50% less code. On the security front, Nougat introduces file-based encryption to better isolate and protect individual users. It also hardened the media framework to prevent attacks. Nougat offers seamless security updates that happen automatically in the background with no user action required. Google made improvements to the multitasking functions, with multi-window mode available to all. Nougat will show only the most recent seven apps and moves the "clear all" tool to the top of the screen to prevent accidental closings. Nougat overhauls notifications, providing direct control over silencing certain types of notifications. The platform adds Unicode 9.0 for an expanded set of emoji, including skin-tone variations. Last, Nougat bakes in more direct support for virtual reality. Nougat is available to the Nexus 6, 5X, 6P, 9, and Pixel C devices.
Walgreens today said Android Pay users can now incorporate their Walgreens Balance Rewards membership with the Google mobile payment service. Adding the loyalty account to Android Pay gives Walgreens customers the ability to earn points every time they pay with their mobile device, and can do so without requiring people to separately scan their Balance Rewards account card. Walgreens says Android Pay is accepted at some 8,200 stores. Walgreens Balance Rewards are already available to Apple Pay users.
Samsung says it will discontinue its Milk Music service in the U.S. on September 22. "We have made the strategic decision to invest in a partner model focused on seamlessly integrating the best music services available today into our family of Galaxy devices. We believe that working with partners will accelerate innovation, enhance device sales and provide amazing new experiences for our customers," said the company in a statement. Samsung built Milk Music using Slacker's library. The company created a unique, circular user interface for Milk and preloaded the app on its Android smartphones for several years. Samsung had a similar video service called Milk Video, but discontinued that service in November 2015. Samsung did not say what users of its Milk Music service can/should do with the app or their account once it is turned off. There are plenty of alternatives in the market, including Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music.
Cricket Wireless today revealed plans to sell the LG X power smartphone beginning August 26 for $160. The X power, announced by LG earlier this year, features a 4,100mAh battery with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 that delivers up to two days of battery life. The X power also includes a 5.3-inch 720p screen and runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Other specs include an 8-megapixel main camera with flash and 5-megapixel front camera with selfie light. The device is powered by a 1.1 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor with 1.5 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The phone accepts memory cards up to 32 GB. For a limited time, people who port their number to Cricket Wireless can buy the LG X power for $130.
Instagram today added a new Event feed to its Explore tab. The Event feed collects video highlights shared from concerts, sporting events, and other activities so people can find and view them quicker. The events will be customized for each individual user based on what Instagram things they will like. The updated Explore tab is rolling out through Android and iOS app updates in the U.S. first.
AT&T and Cricket Wireless today announced a low-cost Android handset from Alcatel. The device is the same hardware as the Alcatel Dawn sold by Boost and Virgin, but has been rebadged as the Ideal by AT&T and Streak by Cricket. The phone features a 4.5-inch screen with 854 by 480 resolution, 1.1 GHz quad-core processor, and 1 GB of RAM. The Ideal/Streak includes a 5-megapixel main camera, VGA front camera, 8 GB of storage, 1,780mAh battery, support for LTE, and a memory card slot for microSD cards up to 32 GB. The AT&T Ideal runs Android 5.1 Lollipop, but the Cricket Streak runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Cricket is selling the Streak for $30.
FreedomPop today announced a new SIM card that provides free access to WhatsApp. The WhatsApp SIM comes with unlimited WhatsApp usage, 200 MB of data, and 100 voice minutes — all of which can be used for free. The card works with unlocked Android and iOS devices and functions in the U.S., U.K., Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, and two dozen other countries with no roaming fees. More data and voice minutes can be added to the card for low rates when/if needed. The WhatsApp SIM card is available for free from FreedomPop's web site.
Google today released Duo, the video chatting app for Android and iOS it announced earlier this year. Duo is simple to use. It doesn't require a separate account, users need only their phone number to get started. Google says it built the app to function well even across poor network connections. The app will change the resolution to match the connection speed in order to keep the call going, and can seamlessly switch from wifi to cellular. A feature called Knock Knock gives people a preview video of the person calling so they can see what's up before answering the video call. Duo is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Alcatel today announced the Tru, an inexpensive Android smartphone for MetroPCS. The phone features a faux leather rear, a 5-inch FWVGA display, and quad-core 1.1 GHz Snapdragon processor with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. The Tru offers a 5-megapixel main camera with Polaroid software and 2-megapixel selfie camera. It includes expandable storage up to 32 GB, a 2,000mAh battery, and support for LTE (Bands 2, 4, and 12.) The Alcatel Tru runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and costs $29 after rebates. The phone is available beginning today.
HMD Global has hired a former Nokia executive to help kickstart its phone ambitions. HMD Global is a Finnish company that licensed the Nokia name with the intent of making Nokia-branded smartphones. Today HMD Global picked up Pekka Rantala, former CEO of Rovio, to serve as its Chief Marketing Officer. Before he worked at Rovio, Rentala spent 17 years at Nokia. HMD Global will design Android-based smartphones and tablets that will be manufactured by FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Foxconn. Microsoft sold its feature phone business — the last remnants of Nokia's former hardware unit — to FIH earlier this year. HMD expects to spend $500 million over the next few years to increase its ability to make and market mobile devices. In addition to branding rights, Nokia is supplying HMD with cellular standard essential patent licenses in return for royalty payments, but Nokia itself is not investing in HMD. Nokia continues to focus on its core telecoms business.
LG says the V20 smartphone will feature a 32-bit, quad-DAC setup for improved audio capture and playback. The company claims the V20 will be the first smartphone to include four DACs. The four digital-to-analog converters help reduce ambient noise levels by 50%, resulting in crisper audio for videos. The quad-DAC configuration will also deliver cleaner sound through compatible, wired headphones. LG hasn't announced the V20 fully yet, but will in early September. The device, which will run Android 7 Nougat, will succeed last year's V10.
Kyocera today announced the DuraForce Pro, its new rugged Android phone. The DuraForce is positioned as a significantly upgraded replacement for both the DuraForce and the Brigadier models, and comes in versions both with and without CDMA. That implies the phone may come to both AT&T and Verizon, although Kyocera is not announcing carrier partners at this time, just that it will be released "in the coming months." Most specs have been upgraded compared to the DuraForce/Brigadier. The main camera steps up to 13 megapixels, and is accompanied by a wide-angle "action camera" with 135-degree lens and 5 megapixels, plus 5-megapixel front camera. A fingerprint reader has been added to the side, which works with NFC. It's just as rugged and waterproof, but also fully washable (unaffected by soap). The screen can be used while wet and the camera has an underwater mode. The screen is larger (5 inches) and higher-resolution (full HD). The processor is a faster Snapdragon 617. It also has a larger 3,240 mAh battery and both fast charging and wireless charging. Other features a 3.5mm audio jack, memory card slot, PTT, dual front speakers, and barometer. For business users, it supports enhanced MDM, enterprise Wi-Fi, and advanced VPN capability. Its rugged specs include IP68 and U.S. Military rating for dust, shock, vibration, temperature extremes, temperature shock, blowing rain, low pressure, sun, salt fog, humidity, water immersion (up to 2 meters for 30 minutes), and icing freezing rain. The DuraForce Pro runs Android 6.0 (Marshmallow).
Google today launched two new features for Google Maps for Android: a Wi-Fi Only mode, and the option to store offline map data on removable memory cards. Together, the two features are especially useful for those traveling overseas, where data roaming is expensive. The Wi-Fi Only mode allows users to stay connected to data networks for functions like email, while avoiding data charges for mapping, relying instead only on offline map data previously downloaded, and on Wi-Fi service when available. Users can also download extensive map data before their trip — or over Wi-Fi while traveling — and store it on a removable memory card for navigation without using mobile data while roaming. The features are also useful for non-traveling users with limited data plans or spotty service locally. The company did not announce whether the Wi-Fi Only mode will come to Google Maps for iOS.
A newly-discovered set of security vulnerabilities called "Quadrooter" leaves 900 million Android phones vulnerable to malicious software. The four flaws lie in Qualcomm's driver software, which is the low-level software "glue" that connects the Android OS to the specific Qualcomm processor chips that power most phones sold in the U.S. and elsewhere. The flaws allow installed malicious apps to gain complete "root" access to the device without prompting the user for any special permissions. Three of the issues have been fixed, but one remains unsolved. Manufacturers and carriers are responsible for pushing security updates with these fixes to end user devices. To avoid falling victim due to this and similar issues, phone users should always avoid apps from untrusted sources, and avoid untrusted public WiFi networks. The issue also highlights the importance of frequent and timely security updates, an area where some manufacturers have a dramatically better track record than others.
Dashlane today announced Open YOLO, an open-source project the company is spearheading together with Google to create a universal API for third-party apps to automatically and securely access login information stored in password managers such as Dashlane. Other password manager developers are involved as well, and the standard will also be open to other OSes. YOLO stands for You Only Login Once, the basic goal of the project. Password managers enable secure passwords (long, random passwords that are different for each service) that would be difficult to remember otherwise. Current solutions rely on auto-fill software for login forms, or sometimes copy-and-paste. Open YOLO would allow apps to skip the login step entirely, while keeping login info secure.
Cricket Wireless today said the Alcatel Idol 4 is now available for sale from its web site. The Idol 4 is the smaller brother of the Idol 4S. The Idol 4 has the same basic appearance as the Idol 4S, with a metal frame and glass back, and features such as JBL stereo speakers and a reversible user interface. The Idol 4 has a 5.2-inch full-HD LCD display, Snapdragon 617 processor with 3 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. It has a 13-megapixel camera main camera, 8-megapixel front camera, NFC, Cat 6 LTE, memory card slot, Android 6.0, and fast charging. Cricket is charging $199 when the Idol 4 is activated on a service plan. The package includes Alcatel's virtual reality goggles. Alcatel is selling the larger Idol 4S directly to consumers through its web site for $349.
Verizon Wireless has followed T-Mobile in making the HTC Desire 530 available for sale. The stand-out feature of the Desire 530 is the unique "micro splash" effect applied to the polycarbonate rear shell. HTC says no two Desire 530s will have the same pattern. Beyond the appearance, the Desire 530 includes a 5-inch HD screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and Android 6.0. The main camera has an 8-megapixel BSI sensor and includes tools such as burst shot and panorama. The 5-megapixel front camera includes Auto Selfie and Voice Selfie modes for easier picture taking. Verizon is selling the phone for $144 at full retail or $6 per month on a payment plan.
Microsoft has updated Skype for Android, iOS, Mac, the web, and Windows devices and given the communications tool access to more chat bots. Microsoft says it worked with select partners this time around to bring dedicated services to Skype. A bot from Skyscanner lets Skype users search for flights, while a StubHub bot makes it simpler to find event tickets. A bot from IFTTT can deliver alerts from apps, devices, and web sites, while a Hipmunk bot helps book entire vacation packages. Microsoft updated its bot platform last month with support for group bot chats and info cards. The company says more bots and capabilities are on the way. Skype is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, Apple App Store, and Windows Store.
Apple updated its Music app for Android devices and it has finally exited beta status. The 1.0 app adds a single feature in its full release, a graphic equalizer tool for adjusting sound levels. Apple says the app also received a variety of performance, playback, and stability improvements. Apple Music allows people to create personalized stations, as well as listen to tracks on-demand. It includes Beats1 Radio, and supports local caching for offline playback. The app itself is free to download from the Google Play Store, but the service costs $10 per month.
BlackBerry today began rolling out a series of software updates to its Android-based handsets, the Priv and DTEK50. The upgraded software adds new features and improves functionality across various apps. The Hub gains pinch-to-filter, quick send, Viber integration, and Twitter refresh along with WhatsApp and other, general performance improvements, such as quicker load times for long email threads. BlackBerry tweaked the BlackBerry keyboard with quicker language switching, Chinese support, and an on-screen pointer mode for the Priv. The camera app now includes remote shutter triggering, video preview imagery, manual control settings, and a toggle for managing video capture resolution. The calendar adds support for free/busy suggestions for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync users and cleans up the event invite user interface. BlackBerry said Priv and DTEK50 owners can update these apps individually via the Google Play Store.
BlackBerry today announced BlackBerry Hub+, a software offering that brings the company's BBOS 10-based messaging control center to all Android devices running 6.0 Marshmallow and up. The bundle includes BlackBerry Hub, Calendar, and Password Keeper and is available on a trial basis for free for 30 days. After the trial ends, people can continue to use the suite for free as long as they agree to view some ads. Alternately, people can subscribe to BlackBerry Hub+ for $0.99 per month. The for-pay subscription adds Contacts, Tasks, Device Search, Notes, and Launcher to BlackBerry Hub+. The Hub+ is the same software BlackBerry's own Priv and DTEK50 use for communications. The one-stop-shop provides a central place to manage email, text, IM, and social media messages. BlackBerry says BlackBerry Hub+ will reach the Google Play Store later today. BlackBerry said it is working to bring Hub+ to devices running Android Lollipop and iOS.
Google today said Chrome 52 for Android devices should display video quicker and smoother. The refreshed browser is also less power hungry, so it shouldn't dent battery life as much. Moreover, video can be used in data saver mode, which compresses video so it consumes less data over cellular connections. The browser makes full use of HTML5. Google says as more web publishers switch their video content to HTML5, video performance should only get better. Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Instagram today announced Instagram Stories, a new way to share photos and videos that is similar to Snapchat's Stories. With Stories, Instagram users can post as many photos and videos as they want throughout the day and customize them with text, stickers, and drawing tools. Instagram says the packaged Stories will disappear after 24 hours, and they won't be shown in user grids or feeds. Stories from people you follow will appear at the top of the screen, tapping the user's profile photo will take you to their Stories. Privacy settings in Stories mirror those of the main account, and Stories can be easily hidden when needed. Further, users can check to see who's viewed their Stories. Instagram says Stories will roll out to all Android and iOS users globally over the next few weeks.
Google today said it is taking a more proactive step to notify users when there is new account activity. Specifically, Google will send push notifications to Android devices associated with an account every time a new device is added to the account. Users can review the activity to see what device was added and at what location. People can dismiss expected activity, such as when adding a new Android tablet, or immediately secure their account if the activity appears to be suspicious. Google says the native Android notifications are more visible than email notifications, and are reviewed by users four times more often. Google is rolling the feature out to all users slowly over the next two weeks.
Google has added the ability to plan multi-stop trips to its app for iPhones and iPads. The latest version of Google Maps for iOS allows people to add multiple destinations to a single excursion. Users can reorder the stops whenever needed, as well as search for specific locations, such as gas stations or restaurants, to add to the route. Google says once users plot their multi-stop route, navigation functions as it always has. Google Maps is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Google Maps for Android already supports multiple stops.
LG today shared more details about the successor to last year's V10 smartphone. LG confirmed that the new device will be called the V20 and that it will be revealed in September. Moreover, LG said the V20 will be among the first devices to ship with Android 7 Nougat. Google hasn't released the final version of Nougat yet, but is expected to sometime this month. LG didn't say exactly when the V20 will be announced, but the IFA trade show takes in Berlin in early September. The V10 was unique thanks to its dual-selfie cameras and secondary display for notifications and other content. LG implied the V20 will carry over these and other features.
Republic Wireless today said it has added nine modern smartphones to its lineup of Android devices. The new phones include the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge ($799), S7 ($699), J3 ($179), and S6 ($549); the Nexus 6P ($499) and 5X ($349); and the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition ($349), G4 ($199), and G4 Plus ($299). Republic customers can pay full price for the handsets, or elect to pay via monthly installments that range broadly from $11 to $48, based on the cost of the phone. Consumers who already own one of these unlocked handsets can pick up a Republic Wireless SIM card starting August 11. Republic's service plans start at $15 per month, which includes unlimited calling, texting, and WiFi data. Plans that include cellular data cost $20 per month for 1 GB, $30 for 2 GB, and $45 for 4 GB.
Google today said it has worked with several partners to develop Android add-ons for its Docs and Sheets productivity apps. The add-ons extend the functionality of Docs and Sheets, allowing people to accomplish more from their mobile phones. For example, an add-on from DocuSign lets people add a signature to a document and save that document to Google Drive. Another add-on from Scanbot makes it possible to scan documents with the camera and, using the add-on's built-in object character recognition, insert the content into Docs as editable text. Google says eight such add-ons are available from various partners in the Google Play Store.
AT&T is sending out the July 1 Android security patch to its variants of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge smartphones. Google made the security patch available earlier this month. It plugs a number of holes in the code, including some that could lead to remote code execution. In addition to the security update, the phones gain access to AT&T's WiFi Calling service. The update for the S7 and S7 Edge can be downloaded and installed over the air.
Here has renamed and refreshed its core mobile mapping service for Android and iOS devices. Here Maps is now called Here WeGo. The company said it believed the original name was too generic. Along with the name change, the apps gain a significant revision. Here WeGo now prioritizes the search function for finding specific addresses or places. Users will be able to compare multiple different routes more easily, including car, public transit, cycling, and pedestrian options. Here WeGo also now displays options from car-sharing firm Car2Go, as well as regular taxi services with approximate fare rates and wait times. Last, Here WeGo improved bicycle route details with elevation profiles. Here WeGo is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google today introduced the Google Play Family Library, which allows a single account holder to share purchases with up to six family members. Google says eligible app, game, movie, TV show, and book purchases from the Play Store can be shared across Android and iOS devices, as well as the web with no additional sign-up fee. Account holders will have control over what content is shared and what is not. Users can make their credit card available to other family members for purchases, too, and control/manage those purchases. The Google Play Family Library is free to use, but does not include access to Google Music. The fee for the Google Music family plan remains $15 per month. Google says the Family Library is going live in the U.S. and a handful of other countries beginning today.
Twitter today announced a new night mode tool for its Android app that should make viewing in the dark less stressful on the eyes. The refreshed app includes a slider tool in the settings menu that when activated changes the background from white to a deep blue. Twitter for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store. Twitter didn't immediately say if it will make this same feature available to iOS devices.
BlackBerry today announced the DTEK50 smartphone, a slab-style handset that runs Android and features BlackBerry's signature communications and security software. BlackBerry says the DTEK50 features FIPS-2 hardware encryption, rapid security patching, secure boot process, and a hardened Android OS core. It includes Android for Work and Google Play for Work, as well as support for BlackBerry's full enterprise mobility management suite. Other features include BBM, BlackBerry Hub, the BlackBerry intelligent keyboard, and a customizable action key. The hardware is a rebadged version of the Alcatel Idol 4, which was announced earlier this year. The DTEK50 has a 5.2-inch full-HD LCD display, Snapdragon 617 processor with 3 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. It has a 13-megapixel camera main camera, 8-megapixel front camera, NFC, Cat 6 LTE, memory card slot, and Quick Charge 2.0. The phone ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The DTEK50 is available for preorder in the U.S. and other countries starting today for $299. BlackBerry said it will reveal shipping dates on a regional basis over the coming weeks.
People who use Opera Mini on Android devices now have the ability to download videos directly from the browser. Opera Software updated Mini with a tool for saving videos to a phone for offline playback. Opera says the downloader works on "some top video and social media web sites ... without their own built-in media players," such as Facebook, Instagram, and IMDb. Some regions and web sites may restrict video downloads. The download option appears once users tap the play button and allows people to choose where the video is stored (internal storage or memory card). The downloader doesn't require a separate app or web link. Opera Mini for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it is updating the Google Phone app on Nexus and Android One devices with a new spam-blocking tool. With the new app aboard, Nexus devices will warn owners about potential spam callers, as well as give them the ability to block or report suspected spam callers. Google says Nexus and Android One device owners will need to enable Caller ID in order to enjoy the new spam protection. The Google Phone app is free to Nexus and Android One devices and will be updated automatically by Google over the days ahead. Google's new app arrives just days after the FCC asked phone carriers to step up efforts to block robocalls.
Google today rolled out a fresh version of Maps for Android, iOS, and the web with a cleaner user interface. Google says it eliminated unnecessary UI elements, such a road outlines, while simplifying the typography for street names, points of interest, and more. Google Maps now treats areas of interest differently with orange shading. Users can readily spot and click on areas of interest to see things to do in that area. Last, the refreshed Google Maps relies on a new color scheme that Google says is easier to use to differentiate between man-made and natural map features. The new version of Google Maps is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.