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.
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 By relaxing the outdated regulations, the FCC is essentially making it possible for companies that have 800 MHz spectrum to repurpose it for LTE.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.
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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.
The Moto G5 Plus is a mid-range Android smartphone that covers the basics and then some. It represents the company's most refined and powerful G yet. If you're in the market for a visually appealing, unlocked handset that outperforms most others at the same price, the Moto G5 Plus should be at the top of your list. Here is Phone Scoop's full review.
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 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).
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 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 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.
LG's third-generation Stylo for Boost Mobile includes a large screen, stylus, big battery, and advanced software. This mid-range Android handset delivers an uneven experience, but there's middle ground to appreciate. Here is PhoneScoop's in-depth review.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.