Phone Scoop

printed August 20, 2017
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Google Search Results On Android Now Include Video Previews

Friday, 4:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is rolling out short video previews in search results. The videos will be lined up in a carousel located high in the results list. Users can slide the carousel back and forth to choose which videos to watch. For now, the short previews will only play when you're on a WiFi network. Users can choose to enable video previews on mobile networks if they wish, or opt out of video previews all together. Google believes giving video results higher priority in search will help people find certain types of information faster, particularly "how-to" and similar queries. Video previews are slowly hitting the Google app for Android and Chrome on Android starting today, with a wider rollout planned for next week.


Google Home Speaker Now Bluetooth Compatible

Friday, 12:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google updated its Google Home speaker with the ability to connect to Bluetooth devices. The search giant first announced the feature at its I/O developer conference earlier this year and has just now enabled the functionality. Using the Google Home app on mobile devices, Home owners can connect to the speaker via Bluetooth for streaming music or other media files. Until now, Home could only stream music through Google Cast connections (over WiFi). Google also enabled free Spotify accounts through Google Home this week. People who use the free version of Spotify can set the music provider as their default streaming service when listening via Google Home. Previously, Google Home only supported the paid Spotify Premium streaming service.


Sprint, T-Mobile Discount LG G6 and V20

Friday, 11:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint and T-Mobile today both introduced promotions that make LG's flagship handsets more affordable. Sprint, for example, dropped the lease price of the G6 from $29.50 per month to $20 per month. That cuts the full cost of the phone from about $700 to $480, or a savings of $220 over time. T-Mobile is offering a buy-one, get-one promo on the G6 and V20. Customers who buy either phone on an equipment installment plan can get a second for free with the activation of a new line. T-Mobile sells the G6 for $20 down and $20 per month, or $500 in total. It sells the V20 for $0 down and $20 per month, or $480 in total. Customers will need to buy both devices and then register to receive a rebate to cover the cost of the second phone. The rebate comes in the form of a prepaid MasterCard for up to $500. LG is widely expected to replace the V20 with its new V30 flagship later this month.


Google Syncs Android O Reveal with Solar Eclipse

Friday, 10:51 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google plans to reveal the name of Android 8 on August 21. The company has timed the revelation with the total solar eclipse that will occur in North America on that day. Google has so far only indicated that Android 8 will start with the letter "O" and guesses range far and wide as to what the name will be. Google typically names major Android versions after desserts, such as Nougat, Marshmallow, and Lollipop. Some believe the new version of Android will be called Oreo, while others think it will be Orangina or Oatmeal. Google released a penultimate version of Android O through its developer channel earlier this summer and is expected to release the final version of the operating system when the name is revealed next week. As per the norm, Google-branded Nexus and Pixel devices will be the first to receive the new operating system. Google will make the announcement at 2:40pm Eastern Time.


iOS 11 Lets Users Temporarily Disable Touch ID

Thursday, 5:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

A new setting discovered in iOS allows iPhone owners to quickly and temporarily disable Touch ID. Pressing the power button rapidly five times activates SOS Emergency mode. The purpose of this mode is to let people bypass the lock tools to make an emergency phone call. A byproduct of entering SOS Emergency mode is disabling Touch ID. The only way to unlock the phone once Touch ID has been disabled is via the PIN or password. Because users are able to do this quickly and discreetly, it could be useful to help safeguard the iPhone in a situation when the owner might be compelled to provide their fingerprint. The feature was first spotted on Twitter and later verified by The Verge. iOS 11 is still in beta testing. It should be rolled out the general public next month.


YouTube TV Jumps to Another 14 Markets

Thursday, 5:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said its YouTube TV streaming video service is expanding to 14 new markets this week, with another 17 to follow in the weeks ahead. The new markets going live today include: Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Columbus, Jacksonville-Brunswick, Las Vegas, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Seattle-Tacoma, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota, and West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce. These markets, together with the 10 markets already active, bring YouTube TV service to about half of Americans. YouTube said it struck a deal with Sinclair so it can air ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC affiliates in nine of the 14 new markets. The 17 markets on deck for YouTube TV in the near future include: Austin, Birmingham, Cleveland-Akron, Denver, Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem, Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, Hartford-New Haven, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Oklahoma City, Raleigh-Durham, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and St. Louis. The same deal with Sinclair brings live ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC to 11 of these 17 markets. YouTube TV costs $35 per month, includes up to six personal accounts all with unlimited DVR recordings and access. The number of channels is still limited to about 50.


Instagram Adds Photo Replies and Face Filters

Thursday, 11:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram has rolled out several new ways to interact with friends on the photo-sharing social network. First, Instagram made it possible to reply with a photo or video to specific photos, videos, and reshared posts in the Direct messages feature. The reply tool automatically includes a snapshot of the original photo and overlays it on the reply. It also supports split-screen replies, allowing people to mix up their own selfie response with the original image. Editing tools let users add graphics, text, and doodles on the replies, as well. Instagram also released a new set of customizable face filters that target fashion from the 1960s. Using the filters, users can tap the accessories to explore different hats, glasses, and outfits and mix and match them however they wish. The new face filter is accessible via a new face button that appears in the lower corner of the camera. Both the photo reply and face filter tools are rolling out in the latest version of Instagram for Android and iOS devices.


Sprint Taking Preorders for the Essential PH-1

Thursday, 11:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today began accepting preorders for the Essential PH-1 smartphone. Sprint is offering the phone at a significant savings through its lease program when compared to buying the phone outright directly from Essential. The PH-1 is available to Sprint customers for $14.58 per month through a Sprint Flex 18-Month Lease, which totals about $260 under the full retail cost of $699. At the end of the lease period, Essential lessees can opt to pay off the balance or turn the phone in for something else. Sprint is also offering the Essential 360-degree modular camera attachment for $199, or $16.67 per month for 12 months on an installment plan. The black version will be available in stores within a few weeks, according to Sprint, with the white model following at a later date. Sprint says the phone supports three-channel carrier aggregation on its network and can hit theoretical download speeds in excess of 200 Mbps. Essential recently emailed customers who preordered the phone and informed them that the PH-1 will ship in about a week. The Essential PH-1 has a bezelless design, a magnetic mod system, dual cameras, and a Snapdragon 835 processor.


Xfinity Says It's Now Available In All Comcast Markets

Thursday, 9:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Xfinity, Comcast's wireless service, today said it has expanded its availability to every market in which Comcast has a presence. The low-cost service launched in April, but was limited to just a small selection of markets. Now, Comcast customers can take advantage of the wireless offering and tie it to their existing internet and television service. Xfinity has also tweaked its service plans. Moving forward, the company offers unlimited service (up to 20 GB of high-speed LTE 4G) for $45 per line per month. It also sells access for $12 per 1 GB, which can be shared across all the lines in a plan. Xfinity offers all customers unlimited talk and text and a base 100 MB of data to get them started. Taxes and fees are included in the pricing structure. Xfinity operates on Verizon's network, but will offload data traffic to Comcast-owned WiFi hotspots when they are available. Xfinity says it has 18 million such hotspots positioned around the country. Xfinity offers a number of popular phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Apple iPhone 7. Customers can pay full price up front or over time via monthly installments.


HMD Global Intros Nokia 8 Flagship Smartphone

Wednesday, 2:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

HMD Global, the sole licensee of the Nokia brand, today announced the Nokia 8 flagship Android smartphone. The handset is milled from 6000 series aluminum and polished to a high-gloss finish in black, blue, silver, and copper. The Nokia 8 boasts a 5.3-inch quad HD screen with curved Gorilla Glass 5, and it is powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor with 4 or 6 GB of RAM, and 64 or 128 GB of storage (depending on color selection.) All versions support microSD memory cards up to 128 GB. Like many modern flagships, the Nokia 8 adopts a dual-camera configuration with two 13-megapixel cameras on the rear with LED flash. One camera captures full color images and the other captures monochrome images along with depth and contrast information. Both feature Zeiss optics. The front camera has a 13-megapixel sensor, too, with a display-based flash. All three cameras have f/2.0 lenses. The Nokia 8 includes software that allows people to shoot photos and/or video with both the front and rear cameras at the same time. Other specs include a 3.090mAh battery, Bluetooth, GPS, WiFi, NFC, and Cat 9 LTE. The phone runs Android 7.1 Nougat and costs $700. HMD Global didn't immediately specify where the Nokia 8 will be sold.


Google Home Owners Can Now Make Free Calls

Wednesday, 1:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today enabled free voice calls from its Google Home speaker. Google Home is powered by the Google Assistant. Google says Home owners in the U.S. and Canada can initiate free voice calls to anyone in their contacts, as well as any business, by simply asking Google Home to make the call. The calls are completed over the Home's WiFi connection. For now, those who receive a call made via Google Home will see "unknown" or "no caller ID" when it rings their number, though Google hopes to let people display their mobile device number in Home calls by the end of the year. People who subscribe to Google Voice or Project Fi can use their Google number with Home right away.


Google Brings Q&A Feature to Maps and Search

Wednesday, 12:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is adding a question-and-answer tool to Google Maps and Google Search for Android devices. Users need only search for and open business listings within Maps or Search to see the Q&A feature, which taps into data provided by Google Local Guides and others. Google says existing answers will be visible first, but people can ask (or answer) their own questions. Questions posed by users may be answered by the community at large or the business owner in particular. Google suggests business owners post their own FAQs and/or answers to common questions that might concern hours, accessibility, and so on. Google says the new Q&A feature is rolling out on Maps and Search for Android worldwide.


Google Improves Collaborative Tools In Docs, Sheets, Slides

Wednesday, 12:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a significant update to its G Suite productivity apps, including Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets. Specifically, the apps gain new powers for collaborating with others. First, users can now save version numbers of documents in order to keep track of their progression from initial draft to final. Users can also preview what the clean version of the document will look like, as well as accept or reject all suggested changes at once. When it comes to mobile devices, Docs, Sheets, and Slides now allow Android and iOS users to suggest changes from their phone or tablet. Google says new templates should help speed up the process of creating documents and spreadsheets, and users can now create their own templates with the proper add-ons. Last, enterprise and education users gain access to a new cloud search tool that integrates across G Suite properties, including Drive, Gmail, Calendar, and others. The new features are rolling out over the next few weeks.


T-Mobile Targets Rural Areas for 600 MHz Service, Starting with Cheyenne

Wednesday, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said it has activated its first 600 MHz cell site in Cheyenne, Wyo. T-Mobile is using Nokia equipment to provide LTE coverage across Cheyenne in the 600 MHz band. The Un-carrier plans to light up 600 MHz service in rural areas around the country first. Markets that can expect to see 600 MHz service by the end of the year include Wyoming, Northwest Oregon, West Texas, Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, Western North Dakota, Maine, Coastal North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Central Virginia, and Eastern Washington. T-Mobile says deploying LTE on 600 MHz in these markets will improve its coverage from 315 million POPs today to 321 million by year's end. T-Mobile won the spectrum licenses in the reverse auction that concluded earlier this year. The government gave T-Mobile the licenses just two months ago. The company plans to deploy service on the 600 MHz airwaves as quickly as it can to help shore up weak coverage areas. The service may be up and running, but there are no devices yet that can use it. According to T-Mobile, Samsung and LG plan to release compatible handsets during the fourth quarter of the year.


FCC Docs Point to HTC-Made Pixel Phone with 'Active Edge'

Wednesday, 7:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 9:27 AM

The FCC recently approved a handset made by HTC that could be the next Pixel smartphone from Google. HTC manufactured last year's Pixel and Pixel XL handsets for Google. The FCC confirms that the new model in question, G011A, includes LTE support for all four major U.S. carriers via bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 30, 41, and 66. The phone supports CDMA BC 0/1/10, providing full support for Sprint voice service. The FCC also confirms that the phone will have Bluetooth, GPS, and dual-band WiFi. Some sample screenshots provided by HTC for the phone's FCC e-label provide a few more details about the device. The G011A runs Android 8.0.1. Google-branded handsets, including the Nexus series and Pixel series, will be the first to run Android 8, suggesting the G011A could be a Pixel. According to these same screen shots, the device runs a baseband radio (Qualcomm part MW8998) that would only be paired with the Snapdragon 835 processor (Qualcomm part MSM8998). The wide LTE band support and potential Snapdragon 835 processor earmark the G011A as a flagship handset of some sort. Last, the screenshots from HTC reference something called "Active Edge" that can be used to "squeeze for your Assistant." The Active Edge sounds a lot like the Edge Sense that HTC pioneered on the U11 smartphone from earlier this year. On the G011A, Active Edge may activate the Google Assistant. Neither HTC nor Google has confirmed any aspect of the G011A or 2017 Pixel.


Essential Says Black PH-1 Shipping Within A Week, White PH-1 Not Ready Yet

Wednesday, 6:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Essential Products today began emailing customers who preordered the PH-1 smartphone with news of the device's imminent arrival. "Great news, your phone has been built! We now just need your payment details and we will ship within 7 days," reads the email in part. Customers who've preordered the black version of the phone can expect to receive their phone within a week of paying for it. The white version, however, is not yet ready. Customers who preordered the white model are receiving a different email that says, "As shipment of your Pure White device is still a couple of weeks away, we want to give you the option to change your order from a Pure White to a Black Moon device, which will ship [sooner.]" People who preordered the Pure White model can contact Essential's support team to opt for the Black Moon color if they wish. The phone will also be sold by Amazon.com and Best Buy in the U.S. in addition to Sprint, which is the only U.S. carrier that has agreed to distribute the phone. Essential hasn't yet said when retail units would be available. The Essential PH-1 has a bezelless design, a magnetic mod system, dual cameras, and a Snapdragon 835 processor. It is priced at $699. Essential told customers who preordered the modular 360-degree camera that they'll be contacted via email separately when the camera is ready.


Decorating with the Asus ZenFone AR

Tuesday, 2:24 PM   by Rich Brome

The Asus ZenFone AR for Verizon is the first phone in the U.S. to support Google Tango, the advanced AR (augmented reality) platform for Android. It supports a small variety of apps so far. The most useful so far are online shopping apps that display virtual items for sale (such as furniture, decorations, fixtures, and appliances) in the room you're currently it. We take it for a spin by decorating a dingy subway station. Check out the full video to see Tango in action.

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Instagram Ties Comments Into Threads

Tuesday, 12:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram hopes threaded conversations will improve the experience of commenting on photos, videos, and other posts. Moving forward, replying to a specific comment will line up the response directly under that comment in an on-going thread. Instagram believes this new layout will make it easier to respond to and keep track of conversations as they unfold. The new threaded commenting behavior is being rolled out globally via Instagram v.24 to both Android and iOS devices over the coming weeks.


Facebook Tweaks News Feed Yet Again, Also Adjusts Camera Behaviors

Tuesday, 12:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today announced several forthcoming changes to the central news feed design that should make it easier for people to tell what's going on. For example, conversation threads will more clearly show who is replying to whom. Facebook plans to adjust contrast, increase link previews, update icons and buttons, and reshape profile photos to improve readability of posts and conversations. Moreover, links will more prominently reveal where they lead before they're clicked, and it should be simpler to see whose post you're commenting on, reading, or reacting to. Last, a larger, more prominent "back" button should make it easier to return to the news feed once you've finished reading posts. Facebook says these changes will reach all users over the next few weeks. Separately, Facebook today improved the feature set of the Facebook Camera for Stories, which can now be used to instantly go live, create 2-second looping GIFs, or create full-screen text posts with colored backgrounds. All three of these new capture styles create content that can be posted directly to the news feed or other users' walls. Facebook says the new camera features are headed to the Android and iOS platforms beginning today.


Google's Allo Messaging App Lands On the Web, Sort Of

Tuesday, 12:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today brought its assistant-backed Allo messaging application to the web. Allo on the web requires Google's Chrome browser and can only interact with Allo on Android smartphones for now (iPhone support is coming later.) Google says Allo web access requires the latest version of the mobile Allo app on your handset in order to function. The setup process includes a unique, scannable QR code to link the phone and web accounts. There are some limitations. For example, Google says Allo for web only displays what's in the mobile app, meaning if the phone runs out of battery or the user quits the app, the web client will cease to work or show conversations. Moreover, a significant number of features are not available on the web at all, such as adding/removing group members, notification/privacy settings, and select chat tools including taking photos, deleting conversations, and blocking contacts. These limitations aside, the web version of Allo allows Android device owners to send messages to one another from their web browser. Allo is free to download from the Google Play Store.


Apple, Google, Others Weigh In On Supreme Court Data Case

Tuesday, 12:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple and a handful of technology companies are asking the Supreme Court to carefully consider the potential adverse outcomes if law enforcement is given warrantless access to personal information, such as location data. The companies filed a brief with the Supreme Court, which will soon hear a case about how law enforcement gleaned a suspect's location by taking the data from a third party without a warrant. The case, and the companies' collective opinion, hinges on the third-party doctrine, which has been in place since a 1979 case. The corporations that signed the brief together collect, transmit, and hold terabytes of data and meta-data generated by their customers' use of their services. If the Supreme Court decides data held by third-parties should still be up for grabs, the corporations may have to provide it whenever law enforcement asks. They feel this violates the spirit of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees certain expectations of privacy, and could in turn convince people to use their online services less. "This transmission of data will only grow as digital technologies continue to develop and become more integrated into our lives. Because the data that is transmitted can reveal a wealth of detail about people’s personal lives, however, users of digital technologies reasonably expect to retain significant privacy in that data," argued the companies. "Fourth Amendment doctrine must adapt to this new reality." The signees include Airbnb, Apple, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Oath, Snap, Twitter, and Verizon. The companies filed the brief through the ACLU, which is participating in the upcoming case.


'Crowd Surf' Feature from Snapchat Seamlessly Merges Public Snaps

Tuesday, 8:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Snapchat hopes its latest feature, found within Snapchat Stories, will make live events far more interactive. Crowd Surf uses the audio captured at events such as concerts to create a seamless experience, allowing people to jump from viewpoint to viewpoint of all those sharing the experience in Snapchat. The social app highlighted Crowd Surf at a recent Lorde concert. When viewing the story, Snapchat users can tap a button that appears in the lower corner of the app to change from snap to snap (essentially changing the camera angle) while maintaining a nearly unbroken audio experience. Snap's research team is using propriety machine learning to make this possible, according to Mashable. Crowd Surf is one way for Snapchat to set its Stories apart from those shared through competing app Instagram. Crowd Surf is already available within Snapchat, though Snapchat didn't say how often it will be available and/or put to use. It will be up to creators who choose to share stories with Crowd Surf enabled.


Trending Stories Make a Comeback on Facebook Mobile

Tuesday, 8:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook has brought the trending news section back to mobile devices, starting with the iPhone. Now, trending stories are visible in the main navigation drawer on mobile devices. Opening the section reveals a list of articles that is easy to browse. According to Facebook, articles highlighted in the trending stories section are the most popular on Facebook concerning that specific topic. Popularity is determined by a number of factors, including likes, shares, and number of comments. Facebook was forced to re-conceive trending stories after the section was filled with clickbait and other questionable content. Trending stories are available within the Facebook mobile app for iOS and will soon appear on Android.


Google Contacts App Works On All Android Phones Lollipop and Up

Tuesday, 8:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google this week made its Contacts application available to Android devices other than the Nexus and Pixel lines. Moving forward, any phone running Android 5.0 Lollipop and up can download and use Google Contacts. The app relies on Google's Material Design and makes it easy to merge duplicate contacts directly on your phone. It also provides automatic suggestions for adding info to your existing contacts. Google Contacts is free to download from the Google Play Store.


New Qualcomm Tech Aims to Bring High-Quality AR and VR Mainstream

Aug 15, 2017, 6:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Qualcomm today announced a major expansion of Spectra, its effort to offer manufacturers a drop-in hardware and software solution for easily and affordably adding advanced camera technology to phones and other devices powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon chips. The expanded Spectra suite includes three new hardware camera modules. The flagship module is an active depth-sensing camera that uses an infrared projector and camera to create a 3D map of its environment, much like LIDAR. The other two new modules are a passive depth-sensing version using two standard cameras, and an iris-scanning front camera. Previous Spectra modules focused on photography, while the new modules enable and enhance additional phone functions, including biometric security, advanced AR, room-scale VR, and AI-powered object recognition. Spectra hardware modules are designed with Qualcomm's guidance, but are made by third-party vendors. Each type of module is offered in one version from one vendor. The Spectra suite also includes ready-to-go driver software tuned to each hardware module, and uses unique ISP technology built into the company's Snapdragon chips. The three new camera modules rely on a new version of the ISP — to be found in future Snapdragon chips — that has been redesigned from the ground-up to be optimized for depth-sensing. The active depth-sensing hardware and software is compatible with Google's Tango AR platform, and should enable Tango phones that are smaller, cheaper, and have much better AR performance. When used for VR applications, the active depth-sensing can be used for position tracking that's good enough to enable room-scale VR in phones. This new version of Spectra also includes advanced new algorithms to reduce noise and improve low-light performance in both still photos and video, by intelligently analyzing multiple frames. The new capabilities will be part of the next generation of Snapdragon chips, which has yet to be announced.

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iOS 11 Public Beta 5 Lands Right After Developer Beta

Aug 14, 2017, 4:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today released iOS 11 Public Beta 5 to those testing the platform, mere hours after the company made the developer version available. iOS 11 targets the iPad more than the iPhone, but both devices gain expanded Control Center tools, a refreshed App Store, new camera features, Siri improvements, as well as updates to iMessage, the Keyboard, files, and more. Apple didn't immediately say what's new in this latest beta. The final version of iOS 11 isn't expected until the fall.


Opera Discontinues 'Max' Data-Saving Service

Aug 14, 2017, 1:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software today said it has pulled Opera Max from the Google Play Store and will no longer update the service. Opera debuted Max in 2014 as a way for Android device users to manage and control their mobile data use. "The product had a substantially different value proposition than our browser products, and represented a different focus for Opera," explained the company in a blog post. Opera said Max will remain up and running for existing users for a while longer, but Max will eventually be shuttered entirely. Opera will inform users before it fully discontinues the service.


Apple Releases Another Slew of Developer Betas

Aug 14, 2017, 12:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today made a handful of new beta builds of its various operating systems available to developers. App writers can download and installed iOS 11 Beta 6, watchOS 4 Beta 6, tvOS 11 Beta 6, and macOS High Sierra 10.13 Beta 6. Apple did not spell out any changes specific to these builds, though it generally resolves bugs and adds minor features with each successive release. Most of these platforms are expected to reach their final form as soon as next month, when they'll be released to the public.


Boost Mobile Matches MetroPCS Unlimited Offer

Aug 14, 2017, 9:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Boost Mobile today rolled out a new "back to school" service offer that gives families less-costly unlimited service. The new Unlimited Gigs plan costs $50 for one line, which includes unlimited talk and text; 8 GB of mobile hotspot; optimized video, gaming, and music streams; and unlimited 4G LTE data for most everything else. Additional lines on the Unlimited Gigs family plan cost $25 each, up to a total of five lines. The pricing matches that exactly of a recent promotion kicked off by competitor MetroPCS. The new Unlimited Gigs offer will be available starting August 22. Boost Mobile continues to offer its 3 GB plan for $35 per month. Additional lines on the 3 GB plan cost $25 each. Boost Mobile is owned and operated by Sprint.


Voice Typing in Google Search, GBoard for Android Gains 30 New Languages

Aug 14, 2017, 8:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Aug 14, 2017, 8:28 AM

Google today updated its Google Search and GBoard applications for Android devices and expanded the number of languages supported in voice typing by 30. Google said it worked with native speakers of these languages from around the world to build the needed speech sample data. In this round of additions, Google targeted African, Indian, and other Asia-Pacific dialects to help those who are coming online perhaps for the first time. Some of the bigger additions include Amharic and Swahili in Africa; Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, and Telugu in India; Javanese and Sundanese in Indonesia; as well as Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Khmer, Lao, Latvian, Nepali, Sinhala, Tamil, and Urdu. Google says these same languages have been added to the Google Speech API, so developers can add support for them to their own apps. Further, Google will soon support voice dictation for these languages within Google Translate. Separately, English speakers in the U.S. can now use voice dictation to find and insert emoji into text. People can utter phrases like "winky face emoji" and GBoard for Android will find the proper emoji and drop it in. Google says it will add voice-dictated emoji support to more languages soon. GBoard is free to download from the Google Play Store.


ZTE Blade Z Max Brings 6-Inch Display to MetroPCS for $129

Aug 14, 2017, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE and MetroPCS today announced the Blade Z Max, a successor to last year's Z Max smartphone. ZTE is making greater use of its Blade branding on value handsets in the U.S., which is why the new phone adds "Blade" to its name. The phone relies on a metal frame and flatter rear panel that is coated with a honeycomb rubber texture for added grip. The Blade Z Max carries over the 6-inch full HD screen with 2.5D Dragontrail Glass of last year's phone, but doubles up on the cameras. The Blade Z Max has a 16-megapixel main rear camera with a secondary 2-megepixel camera to help with focus and contrast as well as create bokeh and monochrome shots. The phone includes an 8-megapixel selfie camera on front. The Blade Z Max is powered by a 1.4 GHz octa-core Snapdragon 435 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, and it supports memory cards up to 128 GB. ZTE says the phone's massive 4,080mAh battery supports up to 31 hours of talk time, and Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 for swifter refills. Other specs include a rear-mounted fingerprint reader, support for VoLTE and HD Voice, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, WiFi, and USB Type-C. The ZTE Blade Z Max runs Android 7.1 Nougat and will go on sale at MetroPCS stores August 28 for $129.


Hands On with the ZTE Blade Z Max

Aug 14, 2017, 8:00 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Aug 14, 2017, 9:37 AM

This follow-up to the affordable ZMAX Pro keeps the huge 6-inch screen, while upgrading a few key specs. It has a premium metal-frame design, fingerprint reader, huge battery, and dual-lens main camera. The ZMAX Pro has been a very hot seller for ZTE and MetroPCS, and they hope to keep that streak running with the new Blade Z Max. How does it stack up in person? Read on for our first impressions.

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LG V30's Floating Bar Born from the Nixed Second Screen

Aug 14, 2017, 7:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG has revealed details about the user interface that will front the forthcoming V30 handset, and the company has fully done away with the Second Screen that appeared on the V10 and V20 devices. The V30 adopts LG's FullVision display aspect ratio (18:9) and the company no longer feels the Second Screen — a small display that sat above the main display — is necessary. In the Second Screen's place will be what LG calls a Floating Bar, a semi-transparent strip that will give V30 owners access to frequently used functions, such as contacts and settings. LG says the Floating Bar can be dragged off the screen entirely when not needed. LG has changed up the Always On Display, too, which is more customizable than before and includes shortcuts to Quick Tools, the music player, and even photos. Other software features baked into LG UX 6.0 include Face Recognition that LG says unlocks the phone instantly even when the display is off. Further, Voice Recognition uses a combination of the user's voice and self-generated keywords to unlock the phone without any button presses. The V30's camera gains access to Graphy, a tool for applying professional-looking styles to photos. LG explains that Graphy lets users pick the stylized filters or moods created by pros and apply the settings (white balance, shutter speed, aperture, ISO) to their own photos in order to achieve the same look. Moreover, V30 owners will be able to create GIFs or movies by pasting together photos and/or video files, as well as customize the feel of haptic vibration and other settings. LG is expected to announce the V30 at an event scheduled on August 31 during the IFA trade show in Berlin.


Samsung Makes Its Internet Browser Available to Most Android Phones

Aug 11, 2017, 7:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung has made a version of its mobile browser available to non-Samsung handsets. The company has been beta testing Samsung Internet Browser on Nexus and Pixel phones since April. The latest build, v6 Beta, is compatible with all Android devices running version 5.0 Lollipop and up. Samsung says its browser can sync bookmarks with Chrome on desktop machines, or other machines via the Samsung Cloud. The Samsung browser also includes content blockers, high-contrast mode, CSS Grid (for control over certain layouts), and the latest Chromium engine. Advanced users might take advantage of several beta features, including WebVR, web-based Bluetooth, WebGL 2, and Gamepad extensions. The Samsung Internet Browser Beta can be downloaded directly from the Google Play Store.


Google Camera Adds Selfie Flash, Double-Tap to Zoom

Aug 11, 2017, 7:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The native Google Camera application, most often found on Nexus and Pixel phones, now includes a selfie flash. The flash works similar to that of the iPhone in that it fires a burst on the screen itself. The flash does not appear to test for white balance like the iPhone's does, and instead maintains an off-white cream color when it fires. The selfie flash can be set to on, off, or auto, and can help provide more light when taking selfies in dark spaces. The Google Camera app also gains a new zooming behavior. Quickly double-tapping the screen will cause the camera to zoom in. Double-tapping again will cause the camera to zoom out. A single tap still sets focus and exposure. Google Camera 4.4 is rolling out in the Google Play Store now.


Google Brings Anti-Phishing Tools to Gmail for iOS

Aug 11, 2017, 7:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said its Gmail app for iOS devices now relies on similar anti-phishing technology already available to Gmail for Android. Google began using a new algorithm earlier this to spot possible phishing attacks and emails with suspicious links. Google will spend extra time evaluating emails in transit to see if they are in fact phishing attacks before delivering them to end users' inboxes. Google will also warn users of potentially harmful links buried in emails. It will display one warning for suspected bad links and a second warning for known bad links in order to prevent people from clicking. This change is rolling out to all Gmail users for iOS over the next two weeks.


LG to Enable FM Radio In All Phones Moving Forward

Aug 10, 2017, 8:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today said it will ensure that all its future smartphones ship with active FM radios. Sometimes LG and/or its carrier partners leave FM radios, included in nearly all phones, inert. That will change, particularly for handsets headed to the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. FM radio makes it possible for hundreds of millions of people to find and listen to local broadcasts for free. Moreover, LG has signed an agreement with NextRadio, which will be preloaded on a significant number of LG handsets moving forward. NextRadio allows people to listen to local radio stations via their phone's FM radio, in addition to stations from all over the country through their phone's data connection. NextRadio says gaining access to the FM radio on LG's phones will translate to huge power and data savings for end users. NextRadio can access FM signals even when cellular data networks are not available. Neither LG nor NextRadio said which phones might be the first to benefit from this partnership.


Facebook Intros A Dedicated Video Platform Called 'Watch'

Aug 10, 2017, 7:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook hopes its new platform will entice people to consume more video content through Facebook. Facebook Watch is a place for episodic shows that will be available on mobile, on PCs, and in Facebook's TV apps. Facebook says the service is personalized to help people find new content, sometimes based on what users' friends and communities watch. People will be able to leave comments on shows in order to connect with friends and others. Shows may offer dedicated Facebook Groups for more in-depth discussions. Facebook says Watch is a platform for creators and publishers seeking to find dedicated audiences, similar to the way YouTube stars have created their own niches. The company has high hopes that creators will put together daily episodes, live shows/events, and even shows that follow a narrative arc. The company has funded a small collection of original programming in order to get Watch on its feet. Facebook will be testing Watch with a limited number of people in the U.S. first. The social network expects to roll it out to wider audiences over time.


Moto Gamepad Mod Hits Verizon Aug. 25 for $80

Aug 10, 2017, 7:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Aug 10, 2017, 10:12 AM

Verizon Wireless recently provided details on the availability and cost of the Moto Gamepad Mod for the Z2 Play and Z2 Force smartphones. The Gamepad, available for preorder via Verizon's web site, will ship by August 25. Verizon said the Gamepad will be available online and in stores. The phone snaps in magnetically via the Mod connector. The pad features a standard set of gaming buttons and joysticks positioned on either side of the screen, in addition to a 3.5mm headset jack and USB-C port for charging. The Gamepad includes its own 1.035mAh battery, so it won't suck juice from the phone and in fact can provide the Z handset with up to 8 hours of gaming time. The Gamepad will cost gaming enthusiasts $79.99. The Moto Gamepad Mod is a Verizon exclusive, as is the new JBL SoundBoost 2 speaker Mod.


LG V30 to Feature Camera with F/1.6 Lens Made of Crystal

Aug 10, 2017, 6:51 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG's forthcoming V30 flagship will be the first to make use of an f/1.6 aperture camera, according to the company. LG says the device will include several camera innovations to improve its photography and videography performance. The f/1.6 lens in a significant start, as it allows 25% more light to reach the sensor when compared to an f/1.8 lens. This will dramatically help with low-light photography. Further, LG is adopting what it calls a Crystal Clear Lens that's made of glass, rather than plastic. The glass permits more light to travel through it, while also allowing for better color reproduction. Like the V20, G5, and G6, the V30 will have a dual camera array with one wide-angle lens and one standard-angle lens. LG said it was able to cut down on edge distortion by 33% in the V30's wide-angle camera when compared to the V20. Last, the V30 camera module is 30% smaller than that of the V20 while still including optical image stabilization, laser autofocus, and electronic image stabilization. Together, all these advancements will make the V30 a better photography device than the V20. LG has already said the V30 will adopt a curved, plastic OLED FullVision display with a 2:1 aspect ratio and minimal bezels. LG is expected to reveal the V30 in full at an event scheduled on August 31 at the IFA trade show in Berlin.


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