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printed July 1, 2016
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Sprint Giving Away 60 Days of Amazon Prime

Today, 12:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today said customers who add Amazon Prime to their account during the month of July will be eligible to receive 60 days of Prime benefits for free. Sprint charges $10.99 per month for Amazon Prime, which is added to wireless bills as a subscription. New subscribers will receive the first two months (60 days) at no charge. After the 60-day period ends, Sprint will begin to charge the $10.99 monthly subscription fee, or customers can cancel the Prime subscription. Existing customers who already subscribe to Prime via Sprint do not qualify for the free 60 day promo. Amazon Prime includes Prime Video and Prime Music streaming services, Prime Photo online storage, video games, early access to deals, and free two-day shipping. Amazon charges $99 per year for Amazon Prime. Sprint customers who add it to their subscription will end up paying $132 for Prime over the course of a year.

Verizon Intros Trade-In Program for $300 Off Flagship Phones

Today, 11:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today said customers can trade in an old flagship smartphone for up to $300 off a new flagship smartphone. The promotion is limited to certain handsets. For example, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, S6, and S6 edge/edge+; HTC M9; Apple iPhone 6; and LG G4 and V10 are eligible to trade-in for $300. The phones must be in good working order and good cosmetic condition. Other phones traded in will receive a lesser amount to be determined by Verizon. The program also requires customers to activate a new line, upgrade, or switch to Verizon and then purchase a new device on a monthly payment plan. Customers can use the $300 toward the Apple iPhone 6S or 6S Plus; HTC 10; LG G5; Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 edge, and Note 5; and the Moto Droid Turbo 2 or Maxx 2 .(Customers interested in the Turbo 2 or Maxx 2 are allowed to trade-in phones with broken screens.) Verizon suggests customers perform the trade-in at Verizon's stores, where credit for the value of the trade will be applied immediately, but the company is also offering the promotion through its web site. New customers will receive the $300 via a gift card, while existing customers will be given an account credit. Verizon's didn't say how long the trade-in program will run.

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Verizon to Offer Rewards for Social Network Referrals

Today, 8:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today said it will give customers up to $100 to refer friends and family to the network via Facebook or Twitter. Customers will have to do some legwork to receive the reward. The process involves authenticating their MyVerizon credentials and creating an official referral through Facebook or Twitter. The recipient needs to see the referral on Facebook or Twitter, click on it, and create a new Verizon account online or in stores. Verizon is offering $25 for one referral, $50 for two referrals, and $100 for three or more referrals. The new line must be active for 45 days before Verizon will send the corresponding amount via Visa gift card. The social network referral rewards program begins today, July 1.

Facebook Updates Messenger Platform to Improve Bots

Today, 7:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook hopes new features added to its Messenger Platform will help improve how bots perform within Facebook Messenger. For example, people can now rate bots so developers have more direct feedback on what works and what doesn't. Bots will be able to offer quick reply selections to help users know what to type/request within the context of a conversation. A persistent menu should help end users get used to chatting with bots, no matter what developer designs the bot. Bot conversations also gain access to more content types, such as photos, videos, GIFs, and audio files. Last, end users will be given more control over bot conversations, such as the ability to mute conversations when its inconvenient to receive messages. Facebook says its developer partners have created more than 11,000 bots for Messenger already, and more than 23,000 developers are working on bots. Facebook first introduced bots several months ago. It believes brands will use them to facilitate interactions with customers, fans, and others.

Google Adds Multi-Stop Directions to Maps

Today, 7:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google gave Google Maps users the ability to plan multi-stop trips. The latest version of Google Maps 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. This feature is coming to Google Maps for Android first, with Android Maps for iOS to follow soon. Google gave Android users another tool in Maps that can help surface travel memories. Google says Maps users who have Location History turned on can view their travel timeline and select any date from recent trips to see the photos they took on that day. Google Maps is free to download from the Play Store.

Olympics to Be Offered In Virtual Reality for Samsung Gear VR

Yesterday, 1:05 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

NBC today said that it will provide virtual reality coverage of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, but only to the Samsung Gear VR headset. NBC plans to capture about 85 hours of virtual reality programming, including the opening and closing ceremonies, and select competitions. Some of the sports include men's basketball, gymnastics, track and field, beach volleyball, diving, boxing, and fencing. NBC plans to create highlight packages of these sports, as well. NBC said the VR content will not be offered in real time, and will instead be delayed by about a day. The content will be made available through then NBC Sports app. Compatible smartphones include the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Note 5, S7, and S7 Edge. A Gear VR headset is required, and interested consumers will need to authenticate their pay TV cable account before accessing the Olympics VR coverage.

Android N Named Nougat

Yesterday, 11:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today revealed the dessert-themed name for Android N, and it is Nougat. Google did not specify the number designation for Android Nougat. The previous version, Android 6, is known as Marshmallow. Android Nougat is available in beta form to select devices and will be released in full later this summer.

Google Fit Tackles More Goals In Latest Update

Yesterday, 10:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated the Google Fit application for Android and expanded its functionality to include a wider range of activities. The app gains more goal options and support for multiple goals, such as daily, weekly, and monthly goals for specific activities. The dashboard has been refreshed to display all the daily stats at once, and includes info on trends in your weight after logging new measurements. Last, Google Fit now allows people to (anonymously) compare their activity against other Fit users in the same area. For example, Fit might tell users that they are more active than 87% of the people in their town on a particular day. Google Fit is free to download from the Google Play Store.

'AT&T Thanks' Program Rolls Out First Offer

Yesterday, 8:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said its customer appreciation program, called AT&T Thanks, is ready to offer its first perk: Ticket Twosdays. Postpaid customers can score a free movie ticket when they buy one at full price for a Tuesday showing. Qualifying customers can get a free ticket each week by visiting AT&T's web site, where they have to verify their number/account in order to receive a coupon code. AT&T said AMC Theatres and Regal Entertainment Group are participating in Ticket Twosdays. Another promo includes priority pre-sales to Live Nation concerts. AT&T says customers will be able to purchase concert tickets and VIP packages ahead of general availability. The Live Nation ticket program doesn't kick off until the fall. There is no cost to take advantage of AT&T Thanks, nor is there an app to download. T-Mobile launched its own customer appreciation program earlier this month.

MetroPCS to Sell the iPhone

Yesterday, 8:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile's prepaid brand, MetroPCS, today said it will soon sell the entire range of iPhones from Apple. MetroPCS plans to kick off iPhone sales at select stores in Florida on July 1, but will expand to all stores around the nation soon. MetroPCS will sell the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus for $649 and $749, respectively, and the iPhone SE and iPhone 5s for $349 and $199, respectively. MetroPCS did not indicate how quickly the iPhone will be made available to stores outside of Florida. MetroPCS does not require contracts and service plans start at $35 per month.

Google Keep Sorts Notes By Topic

Yesterday, 7:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google Keep gained a useful tool in a recent update — the app can now categorize notes by topic. Keep will assign categories to topics such as web sites, recipes, or favorite places, and those topics will be searchable via keyword. The updated version of Google Keep is available to Android and iOS devices, as well as the web. Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

Verizon Discontinues Free Content Filtering Service

Yesterday, 7:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless this week retired its content filtering service. The tool was initially made available to account holders in order to prevent devices from accessing certain types of content via the web and the Google Play Store. According to a support page on Verizon's web site, any type of content that was previously blocked is now available to devices. Moreover, devices blocked from accessing the Play Store can now browse through and purchase/download apps. Content Filtering was chiefly used by parents and business account holders. Verizon recommends users reboot the devices on their account in order to ensure proper functionality. Account holders still interested in content filtering services can do so directly on the device, as well as through paid third-party tools. "The growing popularity of apps and decline in web browser usage has created a need for new and different tools and protections," said Verizon to Fierce Wireless. "There are numerous alternatives for security, protection and filtering services in the marketplace to help manage content through the device operating system, through applications downloaded to the device and through Web browsers." Verizon's Content Filtering service went offline June 27.

Samsung Intros Unlocked Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge

Yesterday, 7:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 10:34 AM

Samsung today said U.S. consumers can buy unlocked variants of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. The devices are identical to those sold by carriers, but are unlocked and can be used on any GSM/CDMA network in the U.S. and abroad. The unlocked S7 and S7 Edge support LTE in Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 29, 30, and 41, making them highly compatible with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Moreover, the devices ship without carrier apps and instead come with a clean build of Android 6.0 Marshmallow and Samsung's TouchWiz. The unlocked Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are available from, Amazon, Best Buy, Ebay, Sam's Club, and The S7 costs $670 and the S7 Edge costs $770.

Verizon, Samsung Offer Small Cell for Improved In-Home Coverage

Wednesday, 1:42 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today announced the 4G LTE Network Extender for homes and small businesses. The small box provides LTE coverage in buildings up to about 7,500 square feet, including services such as HD Voice and high-speed data. Verizon says the 4G LTE Network Extender supports up to seven devices at a time, with an eighth channel reserved for emergency calls. The device, made by Samsung's networking business, is self-optimizing and can learn its surroundings to provide better coverage. Verizon says the box needs a wired broadband connection to function. Further, it requires broadband service with minimum speeds of 10Mbps down and 5Mbps up, and Verizon recommends broadband service with 20Mbps down and 10Mbps up for optimum performance. The device does not rebroadcast or boost local signal; instead, it uses the broadband connection as backhaul and creates its own LTE cell for connectivity. Users will be able to transition seamlessly between in-home LTE and Verizon's macro LTE network when stepping outside. The 4G LTE Network Extended goes on sale June 30 for $250.

FCC Incentive Auction Racks Up $86B In Clearing Costs

Wednesday, 11:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 12:11 PM

The FCC today said that the reverse portion of its incentive auction is now complete. Bidding for 600 MHz television airwaves is over, and the cost to clear the 126 MHz spectrum target exceeded $86.4 billion. The FCC expects to begin the forward portion of the auction soon, which will see wireless companies bid on the spectrum blocks. Carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are participating, but Sprint is sitting out. The auction drew lots of interest from individual bidders, too. It's not clear how much the FCC expects to make from auctioning off the airwaves moving forward, but bidders will need to meet or exceed the $86.4 billion at a minimum. The airwaves are vital low-band spectrum to be used for mobile broadband. "Today, bidding concluded in the reverse auction, establishing the cost for clearing 126 MHz in the TV band for wireless use," said the FCC's Gary Epstein in a prepared statement. "Strong participation from broadcast stations made this initial clearing target possible. Now the action shifts to the forward auction, which will give wireless bidders the opportunity to compete for this beachfront spectrum to meet America's growing mobile data needs."

Review: Sony Xperia X - Unlocked

Wednesday, 11:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Xperia X is an unlocked Android smartphone that Sony is selling directly to consumers. The phone departs from Sony's Xperia Z series in ways that are both good and bad. This compact handset works with AT&T and T-Mobile, delivers good battery life, and has an excellent camera. It's a shame that so many features have been stripped out. Here is Phonescoop's full review of the Xperia X from Sony.

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Facebook Says It Will Prioritize Posts from Friends

Wednesday, 9:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Responding to user feedback, Facebook plans to change how it ranks posts that appear in the news feed. Facebook says items posted by family and friends will be ranked higher than other content and thus should appear higher up in the news feed. Facebook explained how it approaches the news feed with a system of values. For example, friends and family come first. Facebook also wants the news feed to inform and to entertain — things its research says people want. At the same time, Facebook believes the news feed should be a platform for all ideas that generates engaging conversations while still leaving users in control. "Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook," said the company in a blog post. The latest iteration to the news feed will roll out to all users over the coming weeks.

Blu R1 HD Revealed In Full

Wednesday, 8:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced the Blu R1 HD, an inexpensive Android smartphone that will be sold unlocked starting July 12. The R1 HD boasts curved Gorilla Glass 3, a metal frame, and soft-touch paint job on the rear cover to give it a premium feel. The screen measures 5 inches with 720p HD resolution and the phone is powered by a 1.3 GHz quad-core MediaTek 6735 processor with 8 GB of storage and 1 GB of RAM. The R1 HD includes an 8-megapixel main camera with f/2.0 aperture and LED flash, while the selfie camera — which has an LED flash of its own — captures 5-megapixel images. The phone can record video up to 1080p HD. The Blu R1 HD runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow and comes with support for two SIM cards and microSD cards up to 64 GB. The phone is sold unlocked and is compatible with the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile (LTE in Bands 2, 4, 7, 17). The device costs $100, but will be sold exclusively by Amazon for $50 with ads and promotions appearing on the lock screen. A second variant includes 16 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM for $10 more.

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