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printed December 8, 2016
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Review: OnePlus 3T

Today, 2:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

This unlocked Android smartphone from OnePlus is an excellent handset for the contract-averse. OnePlus took its excellent flagship phone from earlier this year and improved it with a round of fresh components under the hood. The result makes the OnePlus 3T one of the best phones available right now. Here is Phonescoop's full report.

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Google Opens Up Assistant and Home to 3rd-Party Apps

Today, 12:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made the necessary tools available that will let other companies build apps for Google Assistant and Google Home. The developer platform for Google Assistant is called Actions on Google. Developers can now create Conversation Actions for Google Home in order to push data, services, or help to end users upon request. Google says end users won't have to enable skills or install apps as they do with Amazon's Alexa; instead, people will be able to simply talk to Google Home to access the desired actions. Google is allowing developers to sign up for early access to the program, which entails a new API along with a collection of samples and voice user interface resources. Google says some of its early partners will roll out their Conversation Actions for Google Home in the coming weeks. Google Assistant is at the heart of Google Home, and that means Conversation Actions will reach the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, and the Allo messaging/assistant app down the road. For example, Google plans to add support for purchases and bookings via Google Assistant, as well as deep integration across other verticals. Google didn't say exactly when it might bring Conversation Actions to the Pixel or Allo. Developers can find more information via Google's developer web site.

Google Improves the Selection of Daydream VR Apps

Today, 11:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has added a variety of new Daydream virtual reality applications and games to the Google Play Store. People who own the Pixel, Pixel XL, Moto Z, and Moto Z Force can access and download the new content directly from their phone. Some of the new titles include Lego BrickHeadz, HBO Now and HBO Go, Netflix, NextVR, and Need for Speed. Last, both the snow and crimson Daydream View headsets are more widely available online in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. The View costs $79.

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Adobe Tweaks Lightroom for iOS and Android

Today, 11:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Adobe today announced a handful of changes to Lightroom for iOS. The mobile app now offers a refreshed photo-editing user interface that Adobe believes is easier to use when it comes to enhancing and adjusting images on a phone. A batch of sliders are simple to use with a single hand. An expanded information section brings more functionality to the app, such as the ability to add titles, captions, and copyright icons. Last, a revised capture interface lets people access a new professional mode and gives them direct control over their camera's exposure and focus settings. Adobe said Lightroom for iOS 2.6 includes all these features and is available starting today. Lightroom for Android 2.2.2 only adds support for new cameras and lenses, and includes bug fixes. Adobe said it will bring the new editing interface and info pages to the Android app in the near future.

Microsoft and Qualcomm to Bring Windows 10 to ARM-Based Snapdragon Processors

Today, 8:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft and Qualcomm plan to make Windows 10 run on Qualcomm's next-generation, ARM-based Snapdragon processors. The idea is to enable full PC functionality on cellular-connected devices of varying form factors. Qualcomm said its new chips are fully compatible with the Windows 10 ecosystem, and hardware makers can use them to create phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. The companies say new Windows 10 PCs with Snapdragon inside can support x86 Win32 and Universal Windows apps, including titles such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and even games. Microsoft said these "cellular PCs" will be able to take advantage of eSIM technology, allowing people and businesses to activate and use them on the network of their choice. Microsoft and Qualcomm expect to see the first Snapdragon-based Windows 10 PCs reach the market as early as next year. "With Windows 10 on cellular PCs, we will help everyone make the most of the air around them. We look forward to seeing these new devices with integrated cellular connectivity and the great experiences people love like touch, pen, and Windows Hello," said Microsoft's Terry Myerson.

Samsung Debuts Black Pearl Color for Galaxy S7 Edge

Today, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said a black pearl version of the Galaxy S7 Edge smartphone will go on sale in select markets starting December 9. The black pearl color will only be available with 128 GB of storage, which means the price will be in the neighborhood of $870. Samsung did not specify which markets will sell the black pearl S7 Edge, nor if any carriers will sell the black pearl version directly. Last month, Samsung introduced a blue coral color for the S7 Edge.

Review: Samsung Gear IconX Bluetooth Headphones

Yesterday, 3:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung's Gear IconX are truly cord-free earbuds that promise the ultimate wireless experience. These Bluetooth headphones include advanced features, such as ambient sound mode and a heart rate monitor to track workouts. They make a fine companion to Samsung's Galaxy smartphones, but there's one major caveat. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.

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T-Mobile Looks to Redefine the Phone Number with 'Digits'

Yesterday, 12:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today announced Digits, a new service that will let customers use the same phone number across multiple devices, or multiple numbers on a single device. The service makes use of T-Mobile's LTE network and works with virtually all connected devices, including phones, tablets, wearables, and computers. Digits relies on an app. Users can sign in on whichever device is most convenient and immediately have access to their phone number, complete with voicemail, text messages, call history, and other features. The service allows a single handset to support up to five phone numbers without requiring additional SIM cards. Similarly, a single number can be used across up to five separate devices. T-Mobile believes Digits will be particularly appealing to business customers, which will be able to assign a T-Mobile Digits number to workers, regardless of the carrier the employee already uses. Digits can run on phones that connect via AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, et al. Digits works natively with the dialer in Samsung's newer smartphones, including the Galaxy S6, S7, Note 5, and others. T-Mobile customers who have iPhones or other Android phones will be able to use Digits through a mobile app. T-Mobile is allowing a limited number of postpaid customers to test Digits, which is available as a beta. T-Mobile did not say how much the service costs. The company expects to fully launch Digits early next year.

Bluetooth 5 Released By Bluetooth SIG

Yesterday, 11:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 11:49 AM

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has released the core Bluetooth 5 specification. Bluetooth 5 was first announced earlier this year and is now available in final form to technology companies. The updated specification makes big performance changes. For example, Bluetooth 5 quadruples the available wireless range, doubles wireless speeds, and improves data broadcasting capacity by 800%. The Bluetooth SIG says the improved capacity will help Bluetooth transmit higher-quality data to Internet of Things devices, such as beacons. Moreover, Bluetooth 5 will allow gadgets to connect and share information without pairing through dedicated applications. The new standard is more secure, more power efficient, and able to reduce interference with other wireless devices. The Bluetooth SIG believes Bluetooth 5 will help companies bring richer, more capable Bluetooth products to the wearables, home automation, industrial, commercial, and enterprise markets. The specification is available for download from the Bluetooth SIG web site. Bluetooth 5 devices are expected to reach the market within two to six months.

Pebble Shuts Down, Kills Off Unreleased Watches

Yesterday, 10:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pebble, which sold its intellectual property to FitBit, detailed plans for the remaining portions of its business. Pebble will not make or sell any more devices. The company says devices already in the market will work as normal and there are no planned changes to the user experience. Pebble warns that some functions may be lost over time and, more importantly, warranty support is no longer available for any Pebble watch. Pebble owners who run into trouble are directed to Pebble's support web site and forum. People who preordered Pebble's newest devices via Kickstarter and have not yet received their device will be given a full refund, automatically applied to their credit card. The company is not taking any more orders and has closed its Kickstarter campaigns. Pebble says watches purchased at retail locations may be returned based on the individual retailer's return policy. People should be able to find Pebble replacement parts and accessories from third-party vendors such as Pebble executive Eric Migicovsky thanked Pebble supporters and the Pebble community for their support over the years. Migicovsky is not joining FitBit, but many of Pebble's software engineers are.

FitBit Buys Pebble's Intellectual Property

Yesterday, 9:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 9:58 AM

FitBit today said it has acquired key personnel and intellectual property related to software and firmware development from Pebble. FitBit did not buy Pebble's hardware assets. FitBit says the acquisition will allow it to bring products to market faster and will speed up its ability to develop customized solutions and support third-party applications. Pebble was an early entrant in the smartwatch market and made low-cost, platform-agnostic wearables that focused on usability. It got its start through several successful Kickstarter campaigns. FitBit is the market leader for health and fitness wearables. It has an entire line of trackers and smart devices that work with Android and iOS devices. FitBit did not immediately say what will happen to Pebble's hardware products, but Pebble's Twitter account said, "Pebble will no longer produce or sell new hardware. Active Pebbles in the wild will keep working." Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was completed December 6.

Chrome 55 for Android Enables Downloads for Offline Use

Yesterday, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Following its recent release for desktop machines, Google has made Chrome 55 available to Android smartphones and tablets. Chrome 55 introduces a handful of new features. Chiefly, Chrome 55 makes it possible to download music, videos, and web pages for offline viewing. Downloads can be viewed and shared within Chrome. The updated browser also lets people see misspelled words in text fields and makes improvements to the contextual search user interface. Chrome 55 contains performance, memory, and stability fixes, as well. The browser is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Pandora Reveals Its Premium Streaming Service

Yesterday, 8:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pandora has taken the wraps off Pandora Premium, its $10-per-month music streaming service that will compete with Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Like similar products, Pandora Premium offers ad-free, all-you-can-eat streaming of millions of tracks. It includes unlimited skips and downloads for offline listening. Pandora Premium competes with Pandora's own $5 monthly product, which is also ad-free and allows for some skipping. The major difference between the two is the recommendation engine. Pandora Premium relies on the data Pandora has collated via the Music Genome to the tune of one billion data points per day. It also takes advantage of users' own "thumbs up" activity and will create playlists based on those songs. The Premium product will be more aggressive about pushing recommendations, particularly when users reach the end of a play list or album. Pandora expects to launch Pandora Premium for mobile devices and the web early next year.

Google Improves Duo's Video Performance

Yesterday, 8:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google updated its Duo video chatting app this week and made a small number of enhancements to the program. Most importantly, the update introduces significant video quality improvements so chats are clearer. The update smoothes over the camera behavior when the phone is rotated. Google also cleaned up the signup process and resolved a bug that impacted sound during video calls. Duo is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Apple Settles Hazardous Waste Violations for $450,000

Yesterday, 8:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple has agreed to pay a fine of $450,000 for improperly operating a hazardous waste facility in California. The company ran a plant in Cupertino that processed some 1.1 million pounds of hazardous waste. The plant was closed in 2013 and moved to Sunnyvale. California's Department of Toxic Substances Control alleged that Apple ran the facility without the state's knowledge. Apple blamed the transgression on "an oversight in paperwork." The state accused Apple of mishandling some toxic dust, but no one was harmed and neither was the environment. Apple made clear that its own safety standards are more strict than the law demands.

Apple Launches Single Sign-On for Some TV Apps

Tuesday, 4:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Signing into TV and other video apps should be less painful thanks to the launch of Apple's Single sign-on service. Single sign-on allows people to enter their cable provider's credentials just once and then automatically be signed in to all that TV and video apps that require those credentials. At launch, the service is limited to CenturyLink, Prism, DirecTV, Dish, GTA, GVTC, Hawaiian Telcom, Hotwire, MetroCast, and Sling TV. Notable absences include Verizon's FiOS TV service, Comcast, Time Warner, and CableVision. Moreover, the initial batch of apps that support the service are limited, too. For example, A&E supports Single sign-on for iOS, but not tvOS. Similarly, NBC supports Single sign-on for tvOS, but not iOS. Major channels, including CBS and Disney aren't yet supporting Single sign-on. It is up to TV providers to voluntarily update their apps with support for Single sign-on, which is not mandated by Apple. Single sign-on requires iOS 10 and tvOS 10 or later.

Google Makes Play Store Apps Smaller to Download

Tuesday, 3:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Tuesday, 4:08 PM

Google today said it has implemented an approach it calls file-by-file patching to cut down the size of app updates. The technique can, on average, reduce the download size by 65% when compared to the original app. It's able to cut down some app downloads by as much as 90%. According to Google, the Play Store now sends Android devices a patch that details what's different between the old version and new version of the app. It then downloads only the bits needed to make those changes. In total, Google expects the effort will save Android device owners around the world an aggregate 6 petabytes of mobile data per day. Google hopes smaller app downloads will help improve uptake for app developers. File-by-file patching replaces the bsdiff algorithm previously used by Google, which was able to reduce app downloads by as much as 47%. People will not need to take any action to make use of the new updating process. Apple's iOS does something similar with apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store.

EU Approves Microsoft's LinkedIn Acquisition

Tuesday, 2:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The European Union today approved Microsoft's proposed $26.2 billion purchase of LinkedIn. The Union set several conditions in allowing Microsoft to proceed. For one, it must allow other professional networks to link into Office, and must let PC makers choose whether or not to preinstall LinkedIn on their machines. Last, Microsoft must let rival networks access the Microsoft Graph for mining data. The U.S. has already approved the transaction, which can now move forward.

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