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. Android phones can run Android apps, available from the Android Market - run by Google - or, optionally, from other sources.
Instagram today made a new version of its photo-sharing application available to Android devices. Instagram said that it worked hard to reduce the size of the app and the resources it needs to run, which means it is faster and more nimble on a wider range of devices. Instagram says users' profile screens should load twice as fast, for example. Instagram also said that it simplified visuals and design elements to make them more intuitive to use - while still retaining all the power and features that have always been part of the app. Instagram 5.1 is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Sony today announced Xperia Themes, which are downloads that allow owners of Sony's Xperia smartphones to customize the look and feel of their device. Xperia Themes go far beyond adding new wallpapers. Users can adjust the appearance of icons, fonts, lines and boxes, and UI elements such as switches, sliders, buttons, and even the on-screen Android control buttons. According to Sony, the themes let people customize their device in a way that previously required third-party launchers. It should be easy for most people to use. There are about a dozen themes available starting today, but Sony said that many more are on the way. Xperia Themes are available to all Xperia devices running Android 4.3 and higher. They can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
Google's Sundar Pichai, who heads the company's Android and Chrome teams, told attendees at the SxSWi conference in Austin today that it will soon release a software developer kit for wearable devices. The SDK will make use of Google's Android platform and the company hopes developers will use it for devices such as smartwatches in much the same way as developers have accepted Android for smartphones and tablets. Pichai didn't provide too many specifics, but indicated the company will lay out its "vision" for wearables and release the SDK in about two weeks. Google suggested it wants to offer the SDK long before devices arrive so there's plenty of time for developers to provide feedback. Several reports, including one from CNET, have suggested Google plans to introduce its own smartwatch, made by LG, at its I/O developer conference, slated for June. Google has not yet confirmed such plans.
Pebble today officially released Pebble 2.0 for Android devices. The app update, which follows closely on the heels of a beta release earlier this week, adds the Pebble Appstore and gives Android device owners new powers over their Pebble smartwatch. Pebble 2.0 has been available to the iPhone since earlier this year.
Opera today made a new version of its mobile browser available for Android devices. Thanks to the inclusion of WebRTC, Opera 20 for Android permits users to conduct live, two-way video chats in the browser without the need for additional software or apps. The browser can be used to control the camera and the sound during chats, allowing users to fine-tune their experience. The update also introduces a new look for Speed Dial; the ability to adjust the browser navigation bar to suit individual tastes; improvements to search functionality; and a number of bug fixes. Opera 20 for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Motorola made a small update available to its Touchless Control application. The improved software adds several new features, chief among them the ability to respond to a "What's Up" or "Read Notifications" voice command, prompting the device to read new notifications aloud. The notifications feature is available in English, Spanish, and Italian, with other languages are supported in beta. The update also improves the software's ability to detect the end of speech for better accuracy and faster responses. Touchless Control is available to the Moto X, Droid Ultra, Droid Max, and Droid Mini. It requires Android 4.4 KitKat.
Isis today announced another promotion with the goal of coaxing smartphone owners into using its tap-and-go mobile payment service. The promotion will give American Express card holders who've registered their card with Isis a statement credit when they use Isis to pay for a ride in a medallioned New York City yellow cab. Isis will credit users back for 50% of the fare up to a maximum of $100. Isis is a joint venture backed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. About two dozen different Android devices are compatible with the system, which requires a secure SIM card, NFC, a credit card from a participating financial firm, and the Isis mobile application. The iPhone requires a separate case, which costs $70, to use Isis. It is free to sign up for Isis.
Sprint today said it will update a handful of its Samsung smartphones to Android 4.4 KitKat. The company is already pushing KitKat to the Galaxy S4 and Note 3, but will also deliver updates to the Galaxy Note II, GS4 mini, GS III, Galaxy Mega, and Galaxy Tab 3 7.0. According to Sprint, the update includes the standard check list of KitKat goodies, and also adds a new lockscreen shortcut to the camera. The timing of the updates will vary by device.
Pebble recently released a new beta of its Android application. The beta is a pre-release version of Pebble 2.0, which adds the app store and other advanced features to Pebble smartwatches. Beta 11 fixes a large number of bugs, such as sideloading apps, and improves stability. Pebble 2.0 is already available for iOS devices, and Pebble says the final version will be ready for Android users soon.
Microsoft today made its OneDrive cloud storage service available to BlackBerry 10 devices. The app, which is free to download from the BlackBerry World store, provides users with 7GB of free online storage. Customers can choose to pay for more storage if they wish. The service, which was recently rebranded from SkyDrive, is already available to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices.
BlackBerry today said that several new features are in store for a future version of its BlackBerry Messenger - or BBM - product. According to BlackBerry, it cultivated this list of features based on user feedback. For example, the next release of BBM will allow users to share photos to multiple people within chats. BBM will increase the size of files it allows to be sent between users from 6MB to 16MB. The next version of BBM will also increase the size of the emoticons so they are easier to see within conversation threads. BlackBerry didn't say if these changes will reach all platforms (BlackBerry, Android, iOS) at the same time, or if they will be staggered.
Google recently made a version of the Nexus 5's Google Now launcher available to all Nexus and Google Play Edition devices. The Google Now launcher, which debuted as part of the Nexus 5's user interface, includes Google Now as part of the home screen. Google Now was upgrade from a widget to one of the home screen panels. The launcher lets people trigger voice search or voice commands by saying "OK Google" when on their home screen. Further, with a full home screen panel, Google Now has more room to reveal info cards, which provide information about travel plans, scheduling, the weather, real-time traffic, and more. The Google Now launcher is free to download from the Google Play Store, but requires Android 4.4 KitKat and either Nexus or Play Edition devices.
Galveston, Texas has become the first major U.S. city to use phone-based payments completely in place of parking meters. Many cities offer mobile as one option to pay for parking, but still have meters or kiosks as backup. Such cities include Boston, Chicago. Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco. But in Galveston's new deployment, there are no meters nor kiosks. Visitors are encouraged to use the PayByPhone app or mobile web site, or they can call a toll-free number to pay. Those that don't have a cell phone or credit card can pay with cash at a number of the local merchants along the seawall. The app - available for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry - registers payment using license plate numbers, eliminating the need for a receipt left in the window. The service can text users when their parking time is about to expire, and let them easily extend it, avoiding a ticket. The city pockets significantly more from parking fees by avoiding the ongoing costs of meters or kiosks. The service supports new EMV requirements of credit card companies by using CreditCall to process payments.
Alcatel this week announced a new range of phones in its Pop series of affordable, colorful Android phones. The new Pop S range has LTE 4G, unlike previous Pop phones. The range includes a small phone, a 5-incher, and a full-on phablet. We checked them out. Read on for our impressions.
LG launched its new F-series at MWC this week, which consists of the F90 and very similar but smaller F70. The specific F90 that they're showing off is a variant for Sprint, which appears to be named Volt. It's a mid-range Android phone with a 4.7-inch display, Snapdragon 400 processor, and 8-megapixel camera. We took it for a quick spin. Read on for our first impressions.
LG this week revealed two new mid-range Android phones with LTE 4G: the F70 and F90. At the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona this week, they showed off a Sprint version of the F90, which seems to be called the Volt. The Volt has a 4.7-inch qHD display, 8-megapixel main camera, front camera, Snapdragon 400 processor, NFC, removable 3,000 mAh battery, tri-band LTE (Sprint Spark,) IR remote control, and a memory card slot. The software includes LG's QSlide, Knock Code, and Smart screen, which keeps the screen from timing out while you're looking at it. It ships with Android Kit Kat 4.4. Pricing and release date were not announced. The F70 is a smaller cousin to the F90. It has a 4.5-inch display, 5-megapixel camera, and a smaller battery, but is otherwise identical.
The Federal Communications Commission has made a network speed test application available to the iPhone. The app, which has been available to Android devices for several months, is meant to provide the FCC with feedback on the performance of the country's wireless network operators. The app does not collect personal data, but reports on the strength of the network and its responsiveness to download/upload requests. The app is free to install from the iTunes App Store.
HTC today announced the Desire 816, a mid-range device that offers the best features of HTC's One series devices in a less expensive package. The Desire is made from a polycarbonate shell and has a 5.5-inch 720p HD display. It comes with some of HTC's more advanced features, such as BoomSound, BlinkFeed, and Sense 5.5. It has a 13-megapixel main camera with an aperture of f/2.2, and a 5-megapixel user-facing camera with back-side illumination. It is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. The Desire 816 supports microSD cards up to 64GB. It uses a nano SIM card and has a 2,600mAh battery. Connectivity options run the norm, with LTE, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and GLONASS all on board. The device runs the latest version of Android and will go on sale first in China in March and worldwide in April.
Geeksphone and Silent Circle today announced new details of their privacy-oriented Blackphone. The phone includes LTE, a 4.7-inch screen, 16 GB of storage, and 2 GB of RAM. The Android-based PrivatOS software not only offers secure calling, text and data, but also comes with software for secure video calling, anonymous web search, secure file exchange, and secure conference calling. Special software controls the Wi-Fi radio to expose the phone only to trusted networks and devices. Each phone includes two years of these Silent Circle services, and one year of "friends and family" service for up to three people, which enables secure communication with other people with standard Android or iOS phones. Pre-orders start today, with shipment estimated for June. It is fully unlocked and priced at $629.
Yota announced a second-generation Android smartphone that has an e-ink display on one side and a regular screen on the other. Here are a few thoughts about Yota's unique handset.
The rumors seemed surreal: an Android phone from Nokia?! Well it's real, and it's part of Nokia's aggressive strategy at the lower end of the market. With a unique blend of slick Lumia design, Android software, Microsoft services, Asha features, and a very low price, Nokia has created something that feels altogether new. Read on for our first hands-on impressions.
ZTE today announced the Grand Memo II LTE smartphone, a thinner, bigger version of its flagship phablet. The Grand Memo II LTE features a 6-inch HD screen protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. ZTE says the screen consumes 80% of the device's front surface, which is among the highest screen-to-bezel ratios. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 400 processor that is paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage. The phone features a 13-megapixel main camera with an f/2.2 aperture and back-side illumination. The front camera rates 5-megapixels. Other hardware features include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, various sensors, and a 3,200mAh battery. ZTE claims the Grand Memo II offers 16 hours of HD video playback or several days of normal use. It measures 7.2mm thick. The Grand Memo II runs Android 4.4 KitKat skinned with ZTE's MiFavor 2.3 user interface. ZTE says MiFavor can memorize user habits to present useful information when needed, and it offers split-screen multitasking for power users. ZTE expects the Grand Memo II will go on sale in select markets later this year
Lenovo today announced three new Android smartphones that hover in the middle of the market. The S860, S850, and S660 for the S Series and all share the same Lenovo user interface customizations. All three devices are equipped with quad-core MTK processors and run Android 4.2.
- S860: Lenovo is pitching this phone as ideal for business users. It has a metal exterior, 5.3-inch qHD display, and a battery capable of delivering 24 hours of talk time. The S860 includes 2GB of RAM and a large battery that can charge other devices. It retails for $349.
- S850: The S850 (pictured) is more fashionable and uses an all-glass design. It includes a 5-inch HD screen, 13-megapixel main camera, and 5-megapixel user-facing camera. It retails for $269.
- S660: This device is slightly smaller thanks to its 4.7-inch screen. It has a brushed metal design, expandable storage, and a scratch/fingerprint resistant screen. Lenovo says the battery is large enough to provide all-day use. It retails for $229.
Here is a first look at Sony's new flagship and mid-range Android smartphones. Both are thin and light and loaded with all things Sony.
Nokia today announced the Nokia X, Nokia X+, and Nokia XL, its first phones to run the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) platform. The phones run standard Android apps, available through a new Nokia Store, or side-loaded. The phones offer Microsoft services - such as Outlook, Skype, HERE Maps, and OneDrive - instead of Google services. The interface is a blend of Lumia and Asha, including re-sizeable live tiles like Windows Phone, plus FastLane from Asha. The Nokia store supports carrier billing and in-app purchases. Facebook is pre-loaded. The X and X+ include a 4-inch display. The X+ adds a memory card slot. The XL steps up to a 5-inch display and a 2-megapixel front camera. The Nokia X will sell for 89 Euros. The X+ will sell for 99 Euros, in Q2. The XL is coming in early Q2 for 109 Euros. Nokia will sell the X family globally, starting in "growth markets." Nokia also re-affirmed its commitment to Lumia and Windows Phone. The company expects to price all X family phones lower than its Lumia phones. It will also continue offering Asha touch phones, at even lower price points, such as the new Asha 230, which will sell for only 45 Euros.
Sony today announced the Xperia M2, a mid-range Android smartphone that offers both performance and value. The M2 makes use of Sony's omnibalance design language, but steps down the features when compared to its flagship devices. It includes a 4.8-inch qHD display, 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, LTE 4G, and a 2,300mAh battery. The M2 includes an 8-megapixel main camera with Sony's Exmor RS sensor. It can shoot HDR images and offers a handful of Sony's advanced camera functions, such as Intelligent Auto. The M2 also offers Sony's entertainment services, such as Music Unlimited and Walkman. The Xperia M2 will launch globally in April. Sony will also offer a dua-SIM variant of the M2 to select markets.
Sony today announced the SmartBand SWR10, a smartphone accessory that offers a variety of fitness and alert functions. The SmartBand is a fully waterproof band worn on the wrist that pairs with smartphones via NFC and Bluetooth. It is accompanied by an Android application called LifeLog. The LifeLog app and SmartBand together track the wearer's steps, activity, sleep cycles, and more. The LifeLog app can be used to set health and fitness goals, as well as track progress. The SmartBand can also be used to control the Walkman music player on Sony smartphones, as well as provide vibrating alerts for incoming calls, messages, emails, and social media activity. According to Sony, the SmartBand was developed using open standards and it is encouraging developers to expand the functionality of the accessory via LifeLog. Sony said the SmartBand SWR10 will be available globally beginning in March. Pricing was not disclosed.
SanDisk today announced a new, faster generation of embedded flash storage modules for Android smartphones and tablets. The iNAND Extreme module is based on the e.MMC 5.0 specification and comes in a 11.5mm by 13mm die. it has its own dual-CPU architecture and supports sequential read/write speeds of 300/80Mbps. It is capable of recording and playing 4K video, as well as powering multiple applications at a time. According to SanDisk, the iNAND Extreme will be available in capacities up to 64GB. The module will be available to manufacturers during the second quarter of the year.
SanDisk today announced its highest-capacity removable microSDXC memory card yet, which boasts 128GB of storage. The new card is optimized for Android smartphones and tablets. It is available from Best Buy and Amzon.com for $199.99.
Alcatel's new Idol phones are slim and light, something the company is known for, but now have LTE. We check out these nice-looking, affordable Android phones.
LG today indicated its premiere devices will earn operating system upgrades, but it can't say the same for other phones in its roster. "We are definitely prioritizing upgrades for the G-series, looking at the G2, G Flex and G Pro first," said spokesperson Ken Hong in an interview with PCMag. "But beyond that, we aren't going to make a commitment to definite upgrades because it's not totally up to us." Wireless network operators play a large role in system updates, which need to be tested and verified before rolled out to customers. "Some carriers may not want the upgrade. If they want to do it, we'll definitely work closely with carriers to do it." LG will, however, launch new phones with the most up-to-date version of Android available. Other manufacturers, such as HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony, publish clear timetables about which devices will be updated and approximately when those updates will arrive.
Opera today announced Opera Max, an application that Opera says can help reduce mobile data usage. Max is not a browser. It is a stand-alone app that compresses all the data that is sent from a phone over the network, such as social media. Once installed, Opera Max compresses data with its servers and reroutes the data through a VPN. It does not compress web sites and apps that use HTTPS connections. According to Opera, the app compresses data, but does not read it, which means users needn't worry about their privacy. It is specially tuned to help reduce the size of picture and video files, such as those shared on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Opera claims Opera Max can reduce data use over mobile networks by about 50%, which should allow people to get more out of their data plans for less money. Opera Max is available in limited beta beginning today, and only works with Android devices. Opera didn't say when Opera Max would become more widely available, nor when it might reach other platforms. Opera Max is free.
Alcatel today announced the Idol 2 S and Idol 2 Mini S, two thin and light Android phones. Both phones include 4G LTE, an 8-megapixel main camera, front camera, quad-core 1.2 GHz processor, NFC, and Android 4.3, ugrade-able to 4.4. The Idol 2 S sports a 5-inch 720p display and is 7.4 mm thick, while the Idol 2 Mini S has a 4.5-inch qHD display and is 8.5 mm thick. They both launch globally in the 2nd quarter of this year.
Huawei today announced the TalkBand B1, a smartphone accessory that doubles as a fitness tracker and a Bluetooth headset. The device has a 1.4-inch flexible OLED screen and relies on NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy to connect to smart devices. It is compatible with Android 2.3 and up, and iOS 5.0 and up. It includes a removable earpiece that's good for up to seven hours of talk time. The TalkBand wirelessly tracks the wearer's activity time, such as steps taken, miles covered, and calories burned. It also records sleep duration and quality, and it has its own alarm. The TablkBand B1 has a 90mAh battery that lasts about six days for tracking activity and sleep. Huawei didn't say when the TablkBand B1 will be available, nor how much it will cost.
Huawei today announced the Ascend G6, a premium Android smartphone that will be sold at a low price. It features a high-quality design that will be offered in metallic and pastel colors. The device runs Android, but Huawei is offering two separate user interfaces: plain Android and its own home-designed UI. The G6 has a 4.5-inch qHD screen and is powered by a quad-core 1.26GHz processor. It boasts NFC, Bluetooth Low Energy, dual-band Wi-Fi, and LTE. The G6 includes an 8-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel, wide-angle, user-facing camera that offers a selfie preview panel. The G6 also packs a 2,000mAh battery. Huawei said the device will be available in April, though it didn't share plans to launch the device in the U.S. It will cost about $300.
Samsung today announced the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, two new smartwatches that run Samsung's Tizen operating system rather than Android. Where the original Gear device relied on Android 4.2.2 and used select Android-based apps, both the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo adopt Samsung's home-grown, Linux-based platform. Samsung says that despite the OS switch, several dozen apps will be available for the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo at launch. Some apps that Samsung has developed include CNN, Expedia, eBay, Evernote, Feedly, Path, PayPal, and The Weather Channel. Both new watches appear similar to the original watch, but the camera has been moved from the strap to the body of the watch itself. They also feature swappable wrist bands, which are offered in several colors, and are water resistant. The watches include an IR port and can act as a remote for home theater equipment. The watches now include an on-board music player so they can be used to play music without requiring a smartphone to be nearby. They also include a handful of fitness apps and sensors to assist with exercising. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo each include a 1.63-inch touch display with 320 x 320 pixels, 1GHz dual-core processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage, Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, and a 300mAh battery that's good for two or three days of use. The only difference between the two is that the Gear 2 Neo does not include a camera. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will be available worldwide in April. Pricing was not announced.
Jolla today announced that its Sailfish operating system and smartphone are ready to expand to more countries. The first Jolla smartphone has been available to most European countries since late 2013. Now Jolla is targeting more markets, including Russia, India, and Hong Kong. Jolla said the OS has been updated several times since its release last year, and a major update planned for March will add features and resolve performance issues. Specifically, the update will add extended landscape support, visual tweaks, camera functionalities, enhancements to the Jolla store, and general settings. Jolla plans to make available a version of the operating system that can run on certain Android devices. Jolla calls this the Sailfish OS experience, which will let Android users get a real taste of what Sailfish is all about. Jolla also plans to offer Android devices a launcher that mimics the top-layer user interface of Sailfish OS. The app will be available for download in the months ahead. Jolla also announced several new partnerships. It is working with F-Secure to improve the security of Sailfish, it is working with Tieto to make it easier for hardware makers to develop their own Sailfish devices, and it has partnered with Rovio for Angry Birds accessories for the Jolla smartphone.
Google today announced Project Tango, an initiative that involves an Android smartphone able to create 3D maps of the world around it. Google is offering adventurous app developers kits that include a 5-inch Android smartphone with a bevy of sensors on board that can track the full 3D motion of the device. The kit includes development APIs to provide position, orientation, and depth data to standard Android applications. Google wants some of the devices used for projects that explore indoor navigation, mapping, and single/multiplayer games that use physical space. The rest Google hopes will be used by developers who are "bold" and "creative" to write new apps not yet imagined. In order to get one of the 200 test kits, developers need to submit an application with proposal to Google. Google hopes to assign the 200 devices to testers by mid-March.
Sprint today indicated via its support site that Android 4.4 KitKat is now available to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The system upgrade will be made available over the air during the next few days.
LG today announced the G2 Mini, a smaller version of its flagship smartphone, that aims at the middle of the market. Like the G2, the G2 Mini places the volume and screen lock buttons on the back surface where LG believes it is easier to reach them. Compared to the G2, the G2 Mini reduces the display from 5.2 inches and full HD to 4.7 inches and qHD. The phone is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm processor (for LTE markets) with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of built-in storage. The phone uses an 8-megapixel/1.3-megapixel back- and front-camera configuration. The G2 Mini includes Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, GPS, and NFC. It supports microSD cards and has a 2,440mAh battery. The device runs Android 4.4 KitKat and will be loaded with user interface elements and apps/services from LG, such as Guest Mode, Capture Plus, and Clip Tray. The LG G2 Mini will be offered in several colors, including black, white, gold, and red. It will debut in select markets in March, with others to follow in April and May. LG did not specifically state plans to offer the G2 Mini in the U.S.