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Google Says New Android Oreo Go and Android One Phones On Deck for MWC

Today, 12:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today highlighted some forthcoming announcements that should have Android fans excited. To start, the company says a number of its handset partners are bringing new Android Oreo Go devices to market, and that the phones will be available for purchase soon. Android Oreo Go is a lightweight version of Android that can run on inexpensive devices with 1G of RAM or less. Google has built light versions of Gmail, YouTube, Search, and other apps so people with Android Go devices can still access information and entertainment on the go. Further, Google's hardware partners have new Android One phones in the works. Android One is a pure version of the platform that includes a streamlined user interface, regular security updates, major system upgrades, and solid performance. Google said it also has news regarding Google Assistant, Google Lens, and its RCS efforts for mobile messaging. Specific announcements are expected as soon as Sunday, February 25.

Cat's Rugged S61 Improves Thermal Camera

Today, 11:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cat Phones today unveiled the S61, an update to the S60. The S61 is a fully rugged Android smartphone that is waterproof, dirtproof, and able to handle temperature extremes, drops, vibration, and salt water. The S61 provides a major upgrade to the FLIR Lepton thermal imaging camera, which now offers higher resolution imagery (up to full HD) and a wider range of readable temperatures (-20C to 400C). Owners can even livestream thermal video to Facebook if they wish. A new indoor air quality sensor alerts people to high levels of indoor air pollutants, such as paints or solvents, and will sound an alarm of levels become dangerous. The S61 packs a laser-assisted distance/area measuring tool that has a range of 32 feet. The S61 includes a 5.2-inch full HD display with Gorilla Glass 5, glove sensitivity, and wet-finger tracking. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 630 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. A standard 16-megapixel camera adorns the back and an 8-megapixel shooter is on front. Other specs include USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, FM radio, Bluetooth 5.0, and a 4,500mAh battery with Quick Charge 4.0. Cat says the S61 will go on sale during the second quarter. Pricing in the U.S. is expected to be in excess of $1,000.

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Net Neutrality Repeal Goes Into Effect April 23

Today, 9:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today published its "Restoring Internet Freedom" rules governing net neutrality in the Federal Register. Per the filing, the agency will repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules effective April 23. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai believes the open market, rather than actual rules, will prevent telecommunications companies from acting in bad faith. Pai is doing away with bright-line rules that prevent throttling and paid-prioritization and suggests that as long as companies are transparent about their policies all will be good. Further, the FCC believes the FTC should take on a greater role in protecting consumers. The FTC, however, is a reactionary body that takes steps only after grievances have occurred. The move is seen as a victory for telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Verizon. April 23 may mark the official end of net neutrality rules, but the FCC's order is the target of litigation. The attorneys general from 21 states plan to sue the FCC in a bid to overturn the reversal. Further, the governors of Montana, New Jersey, and New York have introduced their own rules that compel telecommunications firms to abide by at least some elements to treat web traffic equally. Similarly, some 50 senators have agreed to introduce legislation that would keep net neutrality rules in place, as well as give control over the matter to Congress. Many consumer groups have also vowed to fight the new rules.

Intel Targeting 2019 5G Launch in Phones and PCs

Today, 9:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Intel today announced a range of efforts in the 5G space, including its timeline for bringing new Intel-powered 5G devices to market. The company says it has been developing 5G technology for some now, including virtualized network functionality and software defined networks. It is relying on the 3GPP 5G NR spec and is working with vendors and partners to create an ecosystem of products to support 5G as it rolls out. One of the primary pieces of the 5G puzzle is Intel's recently announced Xeon D-2100 system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor. It can handle intensive compute and network workloads demanded by 5G at the network edge. Further, Intel has partnered with China's Unigroup Spreadtrum and will pair a Spreadtrum processor with its own XMM 8000 5G modem. Intel expects to see phones packing the combined Spreadtrum/Intel SoC during the second half of 2019. PCs with embedded 5G are on the horizon, too. PC makers Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft all plan to enable their mobile computers to support 5G connections with the Intel XMM 8060 modem. Intel and its partners will have some concepts on display at the forthcoming Mobile World Congress trade show. They also expect to bring these concepts to market during the second half of 2019.

LG Refreshes K8 and K10 Series Phones

Today, 8:53 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today revealed two new handsets, 2018 updates to its K8 and K10 mid-range series. Both phones carry over the previous generations' pebble-shaped contours and 2.5D arc glass, but make advancements in the materials. The K10, for example, has a U-shaped metal frame while the K8 relies on polycarbonate. Shared features between the new K8 and K10 include improved low-light photography thanks to Low Light Noise reduction that's combined with HDR to eliminate grain and provide more luminosity and contrast. The cameras also gain a new Timer Helper feature that uses the flash as a visual guide during timer countdowns. The Flash Jump Shot feature takes one photo every three seconds and pastes them together into a shareable GIF. Shared specs include LTE, GPS, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi, FM radio, microUSB, and Android 7 Nougat.

  • K10: The larger of the two phones includes a 5.3-inch 720p display and a 1.5 GHz octa-core processor. It will ship with 2 or 3 GB of RAM and 16 or 32 GB of storage, depending on the variant. The phone features a 13-megapixel main camera and either a 5- or 8-megapixel wide-angle front camera. The selfie camera can capture bokeh-style shots. Other features include a 3,000mAh battery and fingerprint reader.
  • K8: The K8 steps down to a 5-inch 720p display and a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The rear camera has an 8-megapixel sensor while the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. It has a 2,500mAh battery.
LG says both phones will be sold globally, though it didn't specify if the K8 or K10 will reach North America. The phones come in blue, black, or gold. LG didn't say when the phones will go on sale.

Samsung Will Manufacture Qualcomm's 5G Chips

Today, 8:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today said it has expanded its long-standing agreement with Samsung to use the company's foundries to manufacture Snapdragon 5G mobile chipsets. Samsung's new 7-nanometer, low power plus (LPP), extreme ultra violet (EUV) lithography techniques produce significantly smaller chips that give phone makers more space in their designs. The 7LPP process also provides significant improvements to battery life. Compared to Samsung's older 10nm FinFET process, the 7LPP EUV process boosts chip efficiency by 40%, with a 10% increase in performance or a 35% drop in power consumption. Neither company provided a timeline for expected manufacturing of the chips, nor did they suggest when such chips might reach phones or other mobile devices.

Broadcom Lowers Offer for Qualcomm, Qualcomm Says No Way

Today, 8:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Broadcom revised its offer to acquire Qualcomm downward by $3 per share after Qualcomm increased its own bid to buy NXP Semiconductors. Broadcom said, "Qualcomm's board acted against the best interests of its stockholders by unilaterally transferring excessive value to NXP's activist stockholders." Broadcom would have preferred to see Qualcomm act together with Broadcom to broker the right deal for NXP while still allowing Broadcom to move forward with its own offer to buy Qualcomm. Qualcomm wasn't impressed with Broadcom's revised offer. "Broadcom’s reduced proposal has made an inadequate offer even worse despite the clear increase in value to Qualcomm stockholders from providing certainty around the NXP acquisition," said the company in a statement. "Broadcom has refused and continues to refuse to engage with Qualcomm on price." Broadcom says it is still committed to buying Qualcomm, but Qualcomm feels Broadcom's current plan doesn't properly value Qualcomm and, most importantly, has little chance of success.

Apple Seeds Third Public Beta of iOS 11.3

Yesterday, 1:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today made iOS 11.3 Beta 3 available to those signed up to test pre-release versions of the platform. iOS 11.3 tweaks performance and includes the battery health meter for certain devices. The tool is meant to help people balance battery life and speed/performance of older iPhones. Other new features of iOS 11.3 include new animoji, new business chat functions in iMessages, and an update version of Apple’s ARKit augmented reality. Of note, the AirPlay 2 features that appeared in the second beta has been removed for the time being. Apple said the final version of iOS 11.3 will be available to all consumers this spring. Earlier this week, the company released iOS 11.2.6 to resolve several bugs. Apple also released tvOS 11.3 Beta 3 and macOS 10.13 Beta 3.

Google Highlights Phones It Recommends for Business Users

Yesterday, 12:53 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced the Android Enterprise Recommended program and an initial batch of handsets that meet the qualifications. Google says the Android Enterprise Recommended program “establishes best practices and common requirements for devices and services, backed by a thorough testing process conducted by Google.” In order to qualify, devices have to meet a number of specifications concerning their hardware, deployment, security updates, and user help programs. For example, devices approved must run at least Android 7 Nougat, and receive security updates no later than 90 days from their release from Google. Further, device makers must commit to offering security patches to unlocked devices for a minimum of three years. Some of the initial devices that meet the requirements — and are thus recommended for business users — include the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL; the BlackBerry KEYone and Motion; the Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro; the LG V30 and G6; the Motorola X4 and Z2 ; the Nokia 8; and the Sony Xperia XZ1, XZ Premium, XA2, and XA2 Ultra. Google says it will update the requirements with each new Android platform release to “raise the bar to ensure we are delivering the best experience for our enterprise customers.”

T-Mobile Rolls Out Another Deal for iPhones and Apple Watch

Yesterday, 11:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile has a new promotion targeting Apple products. First, T-Mobile is offering a $200 rebate to those who purchase an iPhone X, 8, 8 Plus, 7, or 7 Plus. The rebate is being offered in addition to the value of a trade-in. People who trade a device in at T-Mobile stores will be given instant credit for the trade, though T-Mobile will accept trades sent via mail. Further, T-Mobile is offering a buy-one, get-one deal on iPhones. Customers who buy two iPhones and port-in or activate a new line of service on at least one device can receive the second device for free (via monthly bill credits). Customers will have to pay tax on purchases at the point of sale. People who cancel service will be responsible for paying the balance of any devices on their account. Last, T-Mobile is offering a deal on the Apple Watch 3. Those who buy one Apple Watch 3 can snag a second for half price ($215). These promotions kick off on February 23 and will be available for a limited time.

Blu Vivo X Boasts 4 Cameras, 6-Inch 18:9 Display

Yesterday, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 6:48 PM

Blu Products today announced the Vivo X, a flagship handset that costs less than $300. The phone is among the first from Blu to jump to the 18:9 aspect ratio for its 6-inch 1440 by 720p display. The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. A MediaTek Helio P25 processor powers the phone with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage. The Vivo X features two sets of dual cameras. A 13-megapixel main camera adorns the rear of the phone with LED flash, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, and full HD video capture. The secondary camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Together, they can produce bokeh-style images. On the front, the Vivo X features a 20-megapixel standard-angle camera with user-facing LED flash, f/2.0 aperture, and face unlock, and an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera. Other features include a 4,010mAh battery with rapid charging, fingerprint reader, MaxxAudio speakers, dual SIM card support, Bluetooth 4.1, WiFi, GPS, and support for GSM networks in the U.S. It runs Android 7 Nougat. Blu is selling the Vivo X unlocked from its own web site as well as Amazon for $249.

Facebook Makes It Easy to Add People to Video Calls

Yesterday, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today improved the video call tool in Facebook Messenger by making it a snap to add more people to the conversation. As it works today, creating group video calls requires people to initiate the call as such from the onset. With the new update, people who have an in-progress call with one person can simply add others without interrupting the existing call. A new button makes it easy to find and add other Messenger contacts. Facebook says this new feature is rolling out to its Facebook Messenger app for Android and iOS devices worldwide.

AT&T Names First Three 5G Markets On Deck for 2018 Launch

Yesterday, 8:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said Dallas and Waco, Texas, and Atlanta will be its first three mobile 5G markets and it plans to launch before the end of the year. AT&T has more markets prepped for mobile 5G and will name them later. AT&T said it will offer 5G based on the current 3GPP 5G NR spec, which has yet to be fully finalized. The company will use mmWave spectrum, though it didn’t specify which bands. AT&T expects to offer a puck-style mobile hotspot as its first 5G device and will bring 5G-capable phones to market in early 2019. As part of its 5G rollout, AT&T is relying on software-defined network (SDN) technology. It expects to rely on SDN on as much as 75% of its network by 2020. AT&T says its mobile 5G service will eventually deliver multi-gigabit-per-second speeds and incredibly low latency. In the meantime, AT&T has expanded the reach of its LTE-LAA technology, which is available in Indianapolis, Los Angelas, Chicago, and San Francisco. AT&T and competitors Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are racing to be the first to deploy 5G and all have adopted aggressive rollout schedules.

Qualcomm's Broadcast Audio and TrueWireless Stereo Promise to Make Bluetooth Buds Way Better

Yesterday, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today introduced two improvements to audio technology that should improve the experience of listening to music wirelessly. First, Broadast Audio will let people stream Bluetooth to more devices. The one-to-many streaming technology, which is proprietary to the Snapdragon 845 mobile platform, allows one Bluetooth source to stream audio to numerous headsets or speakers with "near perfect" synchronization. The idea is to allow one person to push music via Bluetooth to multiple speakers, headphones, or other devices. Qualcomm claims Broadcast Audio delivers simpler pairing, connecting, and managing devices; support for dozens of devices in range; and automatic retransmission and packet-loss concealment for a drop-out-free listening experience. Qualcomm's TrueWireless Stereo technology is the second audio tech on deck and is meant for truly wireless products, such as ear buds. The technology broadcasts Bluetooth content to each bud independently to eliminate the need for any wires whatsoever. (Many ear buds maintain one Bluetooth connection between the phone and the primary bud, and retransmit from the main bud to the secondary bud.) TrueWireless Stereo can deliver a good experience no matter the smartphone platform, and gives people the option to switch the role of earbuds between primary and secondary in order to balance power consumption for improved playback time. Qualcomm's TrueWireless Stereo tech is meant to be used with the recently-announced QCC5100 series Bluetooth SoC, which can help reduce power needs for voice calls and streaming audio by 65%. Broadcast Audio and TrueWireless Stereo are already available to developers and device makers.

Qualcomm Drops 802.11ax WiFi Modem with WPA3 Security for Phones

Yesterday, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today announced the WCN3998, a pre-standard 802.11ax WiFi radio for smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. Qualcomm says the WCN3998 is faster, more power efficient, and more secure than previous designs. To start, the 802.11ax spec allows for more throughput for each user, thanks to 8x8 MU-MIMO, even on congested access points. This ensures that end users see an increase of speeds by a factor of two. Moreover, the WCN3998 puts strict power management algorithms to work in order to reduce power consumption by up to 67%. The WiFi radio is among the first to adopt WPA3 encryption from the WiFi Alliance. WPA3 provides a much greater degree of security on home, public, and enterprise networks, and can even protect those who fail to pick strong passwords. Last, the WCN3998 adopts Bluetooth 5.1 with extended data rate and low energy mode. This makes for more robust wireless audio connections and battery life improvements of up to 75%. Qualcomm says the WCN3998 supports pre-draft access points that it expects to reach the market later this year and early next year. The WiFi radio will find its way into flagship smartphones by the end of 2018.

Qualcomm Retools the Snapdragon 820 for IoT Projects

Yesterday, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today announced the Snapdragon 820E embedded platform, a variant of its former flagship mobile processor meant to power internet-of-things equipment. The Snapdragon 820E is intended for connected computing, or devices that need a network connection and powerful processing at the same time. Qualcomm suggests the Snapdragon 820E would be good for virtual reality applications, digital signage, smart retail, robotics, and more. In addition to the 820E, Qualcomm is offering the DragonBoard 820c development board so developers can design and test their applications and/or inventions ahead of receiving the 820E. Qualcomm says developers will have access to off-the-shelf and custom modules when building their 820E embedded platform. The 820E joins the Snapdragon 410E and 600E as a top-tier offering, compared to the entry-level and mid-range capabilities of the other platforms, respectively. Qualcomm says developers can express interest in the Snapdragon 820E through Arrow Electronics.

Qualcomm Reveals Artificial Intelligence Engine for Devs

Yesterday, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today announced the Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence Engine, a package of hardware and software components meant to help developers bring AI-assisted apps and services to Qualcomm-powered handsets. The AI Engine is supported on the Snapdragon 845, 835, 820, and 660 mobile platforms, though it shines brightest on the 845, which has its own AI processing built in. The AI Engine relies on three core hardware components: the Hexagon Vector Processor, the Adreno GPU, and the Kryo CPU. On the software side, Qualcomm's AI Engine runs on the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine, software that was created so developers can target the exact core they want powering their apps. The NPE supports Tensorflow, Caffe and Caffe2, and the Open Neural Network Exchange for developers. The AI Engine supports the Android Neural Networks API, which is baked into Android 8 Oreo, and gives developers access to Snapdragon hardware directly through the Android operating system. Last, the AI Engine banks on the Hexagon Neural Network Library so developers can run AI algorithms directly on the Hexagon Vector Processor. This powers machine learning and accelerates AI operations. Qualcomm says the sum of all these parts is real-time responsiveness, improved privacy, and enhanced reliability on the supported Snapdragon mobile platforms. Phone companies including Xiaomi, OnePlus, Vivo, Oppo, Motorola, Asus, ZTE, Nubia, Smartisan, and Blackshark were among the first to commit to using the AI Engine on future handsets. Qualcomm will be demonstrating the technology at the forthcoming Mobile World Congress trade show.

FCC's Net Neutrality Reversal to Go Into Effect Thursday

Tuesday, 7:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Tuesday, 7:31 PM

The FCC is prepared to publish its order abolishing Obama-era net neutrality rules in the Federal Register on Thursday, the last act needed to put the change into effect. The rules will be made public in their final form on Wednesday, according to an unnamed source cited by Reuters, and will appear in the Federal Register the following day. In December, the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to do away with the previous administration's rules governing openness on the web. The move was seen as a victory for telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Verizon. The attorneys general from 21 states plan to sue the FCC in a bid to overturn the reversal once the rules reach the Federal Register. Further, the governors of Montana, New Jersey, and New York have introduced their own rules that compel telecommunications firms to abide by at least some elements to treat web traffic equally. Similarly, some 50 senators have agreed to introduce legislation that would keep net neutrality rules in place, as well as give control over the matter to congress. Without a simply majority, however, it's doubtful the democratic effort will make much headway.

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