Created by Google, Android is a smartphone OS and platform that is open-source and open for any manufacturer to use to make a smartphone. Most Android phones use a version that is mostly provided by Google and requires Google services. Android phones can run Android apps, available from the Google Play Store, or, optionally, from other sources.
Cricket Wireless today rolled out a new promotion that will give free phones to people who switch from another network. The phones on offer are the LG Fortune and the Alcatel Verso, entry-level Android handsets. People who switch can score the two free phones as well as two lines of unlimited service for $80 per month. Families of four can earn free phones, too, with a monthly service bill of just $100 for unlimited data. In this case, unlimited data is limited to 3 Mbps and video is limited to standard definition. Those who exceed 22 GB of data per month will see speeds slowed for the remainder of the billing period. The free phone promo is available through April 12 or while supplies last.
Google today said Huawei has committed to using Android Messages, the search company's RCS-based messaging service, as the default SMS/MMS tool on its phones. RCS, a global standard, includes advanced messaging features such as texting over WiFi, group chat, high-resolution photo sharing, and read receipts. Huawei joins a long list of phone makers, carriers, and even brands that have added RCS to their messaging services. In the U.S., Sprint has adopted Google's RCS, as have phones from LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, and Kyocera. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon continue to use their own messaging services, though RCS-like features are included when people message others on the same carrier. Samsung has adopted its own RCS-based messaging app, but its use is limited to select carriers overseas. Android Messages supports normal SMS protocols, meaning it can interact with any and all devices whether or not RCS is on board. In addition to adopting RCS, Huawei device owners will be able to make video calls directly from Android Messages through carrier ViLTE and Google Duo. Last, Google and Huawei are working together to offer the Jibe RCS cloud and hub solution via Huawei's telecommunications services, which will broaden the reach of RCS to more users around the world over time.
Responding to reports of poor WiFi performance in homes with Chromecast devices, Google plans to issue a patch that should resolve the issue. "We’re aware of an issue where Chromecast built-in devices may be affecting WiFi network performance," said Google. "In certain situations, a bug in the Cast software on Android phones may incorrectly send a large amount of network traffic which can slow down or temporarily impact WiFi networks." Google says the bug primarily affects those who have an Android handset and a device with Chromecast built in, such as a Google Home product, running on the same WiFi network. Google says it has identified the problem and will roll out a patch through Google Play Services beginning January 18. Until then, the company suggests people experiencing slow WiFi reboot their Android phone and update their WiFi router's software.
Cricket Wireless recently added the Alcatel Verso, a minor upgrade to the Alcatel Ideal Xcite, to its lineup of entry-level Android handsets. This $30 smartphone offers low-end specs to keep the price down. It starts with a 5-inch FWVGA (854 x 480) display with scratch-resistant Dragontrail Glass. The phone is powered by a 1.1 GHz quad-core processor with 16 GB of storage and support for memory cards up to 128 GB. The main camera boasts a 5-megapixel sensor with flash and HD video capture while the front camera touts a 2-megapixel camera. Other specs include a 2,050mAh battery, LTE with HD voice and mobile hotspot, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, and WiFi. The Alcatel Verso runs Android 7 Nougat. The phone is available online from Cricket Wireless for $30 for new and existing customers.
Sprint recently launched its Direct Connect Plus push-to-talk service. Direct Connect Plus powers walkie-talkie style conversations with instant connections between users. The service relies on Kodiak's LTE network-based technology, rather than Sprint's discontinued iDEN network. It supports one-to-one and group conversations. Features include presence status, support for tablets, and corporate control over contacts and groups. Sprint's Direct Connect Plus service is available to most Android and iOS smartphones and tablets via mobile app for $5 per month. Several handsets in Sprint's line-up, including the Kyocera DuraXTP, DuraForce Pro, and DuraTR, include physical PTT buttons and native support for Direct Connect Plus. The service is aimed at business customers.
Facebook's messaging application for children, announced late last year, is now available from the Amazon App Store. The application can be installed and used on Amazon's Fire tablets. Messenger Kids is a mobile app that gives kids under the age of 13 the power to communicate via text and video with approved family members and friends. The app works on smartphones and tablets, but is controlled through the parent's Facebook account. Messenger Kids was first made available to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The app has yet to reach Android devices, though it is expected to soon. The app is free to download and use from Amazon.
Asus is back with another smartphone for the U.S. market. The ZenFone Max Plus (M1) is an entry-level device that offers dual cameras, a large battery, and stock Android. Here is our first look at this low-cost smartphone.
Google today said its Google Assistant is about to be available in far more places than it is today. To start, Google Assistant is headed to Android Auto — both the in-car version and the stand-alone Android app. With Google Assistant available in Android Auto, drivers will be able to listen to their playlists from apps like Spotify or Google Play Music, get quick directions from Google Maps or Waze, and send or receive messages from services like WhatsApp. Google Assistant will soon be available from far more headphones, too. Companies including Jaybird, JBL, LG, and Sony announced Assistant integration with various headphones this week during the Consumer Electronics Show. The experience is optimized for the Google Assistant, which will be easily accessible with the touch of an earbud. Google says Android Assistant is headed to more Android TV devices, as well, including the Nvidia Shield TV, and Sony TVs. Assistant will reach smart TVs from Changhong, Element, Funai, Haier, Hisense, and Westinghouse. Assistant is now compatible with a wider range of smart home products, including some 1,500 devices from 225 brands. Last, Google wants the Assistant's powers to be more obvious to end users. That's why it is calling out Google Actions (similar to Alexa skills) that can be discovered through a new directory. People will be able to explore the Assistant's potential powers from the Assistant app on their Android device or iPhone. The Google Assistant is an AI-powered, voice-activated tool that handles a wide range of queries and requests.
Qualcomm's Smart Audio Platform now supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana. The idea is to make it easier for hardware makers to add voice assistant features to their devices, such as smart speakers and other smart home gear. The platform will reduce the time and development cost to bring such functions to various designs for in-home use. In addition to Google Assistant, the Smart Audio Platform includes support for Android Things, Google Cast for audio. and other Google services. "The integrated platform is designed to bring together a unique combination of processing capability, connectivity options, voice user interfaces and premium audio technologies to help meet increasing consumer demand for comprehensively featured, highly intuitive smart speakers," said Qualcomm. The Smart Audio Platform is powered by a quad-core ARM A53 processor and includes Qualcomm's Hexagon Audio DSP, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy with aptX and aptX HD, audio playback for various codecs, far-field microphones, beam forming, echo cancellation, and noise suppression. The Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform with support for Amazon Alexa is already in production, while the Smart Audio Platform for Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana is expected to be generally available in the first half of 2018.
Sgnl, a start-up company initially supported by Samsung, this week introduced its primary product, a watch band that uses bone conduction to make phone calls audile through your fingertips. The watch band can be used with any analog, digital, or smart watch, or as a stand-alone product. The company calls the Sgnl the world's first "body conduction unit." It generates vibrations that travel through the owner's hand, fingers, and eventually to the ear. Sgnl suggests this allows people to take calls more discretely and privately when compared to speakerphones. The wearable can be paired with a mobile app for tracking workouts and connects to smartphones via Bluetooth. It includes haptics with alarms, a pedometer, water resistance, and four days of battery life. The Sgnl is compatible with Android and iOS. The Sgnl will ship in March. Pricing wasn't disclosed.
Google today took steps to simplify its mobile and online payment products by combining them into a single service called Google Pay. Moving forward, Google Pay will encompass the features of Google Wallet and Android Pay. Google expects people will use Google Pay to make payments online and via mobile devices, and even to pay friends directly. Google says Google Pay is already available in some apps and web sites, including (but not limited to) Airbnb, Dice, Fandango, HungryHouse, and Instacart. Google expects Google Pay to become more widely available quickly, as developers don't have to do too much to alter their existing Google Wallet- and Android Pay-backed services for full Google Pay integration. Google didn't say if or when a new Google Pay mobile app will reach Android handsets.
Asus today announced the ZenFone Max Plus (M1), a new Android handset that goes big. The phone has a metal exterior and 2.5D curved glass on front to help give it a modern look. The phone includes a 5.7-inch screen at 720p resolution and it is powered by an octa-core processor with 3 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage. The phone adopts two cameras on the rear, one standard view and the other wide angle. The main sensor captures 16-megapixel images and can take advantage of PDAF, HDR, and an LED flash. The secondary sensor captures 8-megapixel images at 120-degrees wide. The front camera is either 8 megapixels or 16 megapixels, depending on the market. It comes with Asus' beautification software tools. Asus stuffed a 4,130mAh battery into the chassis, which provides long battery life. Other features include a fingerprint sensor, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and an FM radio. It runs Android 7 Nougat with ZenUI 4.0 on top. The phone supports LTE Bands 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 17, 28, which gives it basic support for U.S. networks. Asus said the phone will be sold in the U.S., though it didn't say if that would be direct to consumers or via carrier. (Verizon sells the ZenFone V Live.) The ZenFone Max Plus (M1) is priced at $229.
Sony Mobile today unveiled the Xperia XA2 and Xperia XA2 Ultra handsets, dramatically improved sequels to last year's phones. The XA2 and XA2 Ultra (pictured) have metal frames, new aluminum back panels, and 2.5D curved glass on front that Sony says is more refined than the previous generation. The full HD panels measure 5.2 inches on the XA2 and 6 inches on the XA2 Ultra. Fingerprint readers adorn the rear panel of the handsets. Both phones move from the Snapdragon 400 series to the Snapdragon 630 processor with 3 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage. The devices share the same 23-megapixel Sony Exmor RS image sensor with hybrid autofocus, SteadyShot stabilization, and ISO speeds up to 12,800 for low-light photography. They have an all-new 8-megapixel camera on front that includes a 120-degree field of view and SteadyShot for cleaner self videos. The larger XA2 Ultra packs a second user-facing camera with a 16-megapxiel sensor, optical image stabilization, and display-based flash. Both phones gain bigger batteries when compared to last year's handsets. The XA2 has a 3,300mAh power cell and the XA2 Ultra improves even more to 3,580mAh. The batteries include Stamina Mode and Qnovo for adaptive charging. Other features include Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX, GPS, WiFi, NFC, USB-C, and memory card slot (up to 256 GB). The phones run Android 8 Oreo. Sony says the Xperia XA2 and XA2 Ultra will go on sale in late January. Pricing wasn't disclosed.
Sony Mobile today announced the Xperia L2, an affordable Android smartphone that makes some significant upgrades compared to its predecessor. To start, the phone has a metal frame and glass front. The L2 includes a 5.5-inch 720p display and it is powered by a 1.5 GHz quad-core MediaTek processor with 3 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage. The phone now packs a rear-mounted fingerprint reader — a must-have in today's market — and a larger 3,300mAh battery with Stamina Mode. The main camera boasts a 13-megapixel sensor while the front camera has a 120-degree, wide-angle, 8-megapixel sensor. Other features include Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX, GPS, WiFi, NFC, USB-C, and memory card slot. It runs Android 7.1 Nougat. Sony says the Xperia L2 will reach the U.S. in black, gold, and pink in late January. Pricing wasn't disclosed.
Huawei today debuted a new red variant of the Honor 7X smartphone. Huawei is only making 20,000 units with the red color, and calls it a limited edition. It will be made available in the U.S., the U.K., Russia, India, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain before February 14. Moreover, Honor has partnered with Monster which has agreed to give the first 100 people to buy the red Honor 7X (in each country) a pair of red co-branded Honor/Monster AM-15 headphones. The Honor 7X is already available in black, blue, and gold for $199. It has a 5.9-inch screen with 2:1 aspect ratio, dual cameras, Kirin 659 processor, 3,340mAh battery, and Android 7.1 Nougat.
Huawei today announced that its Honor V10 smartphone will reach several markets beginning this week. The phone goes on sale in India, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Spain can pick the phone up for less than $500. The phone will land in Malaysia and Russia later this month. The V10 has a unibody aluminum chassis with smooth edges and curved glass. The display measures 5.99 inches and adopts the 2:1 aspect ratio with full HD+ resolution. The phone is powered by Huawei's top-of-the-line Kirin 970 processor with 8 cores, 6 GB of memory, and 128 GB of storage. The V10 includes a dual-camera array on the rear. The main camera has a full-color, 16-megapixel sensor and the secondary camera has a monochrome, 20-megapixel sensor. They can tap into PDAF and the Kirin 970's neural processing unit for sharp focus and portrait photos with blurred backgrounds. Other features include a 13-megapixel selfie camera, fingerprint sensor, NFC, dual SIM cards, 3,750mAh battery, 4K video capture, Microsoft Translate, muted notifications during gaming, screen recording, face unlock, and 3.5mm headphone jack. The Honor V10 runs Android 8 Oreo with Huawei's EMUI 8 user interface on board. The V10 will be made available online, unlocked to U.S. buyers within a few months.
Boost Mobile recently added the LG Tribute Dynasty to its lineup of affordable Android smartphones. This device includes a 5-inch HD display and is powered by a 1.5 GHz octa-core MediaTek processor with 2 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage. The Tribute Dynasty has an 8-megapixel main camera with LED flash and a 5-megapixel selfie camera. Other features include a 2,500mAh battery; Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and LTE; and microUSB and headphone jack. It runs Android 7.1 Nougat. The LG Tribute Dynasty costs $100, but is on sale at the moment for $60. The phone is already available at Boost Mobile stores. Sprint said it will carry the phone starting Jan. 12.
OnePlus has cancelled the global release of OxygenOS 5.0 for the OnePlus 5 due to an unspecified bug. OnePlus says it is preparing OxygenOS 5.0.1 to resolve the problem. It expects to offer the tweaked code in a partial release in the near future. Apart from bringing Android 8 Oreo to the OnePlus 5, OxygenOS 5.0.1 also adds the face unlock feature from OnePlus' newer 5T flagship.
OnePlus has made Android 8 Oreo available to the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T smartphones in new betas. Specifically, the OnePlus 5 gains access to OxygenOS Open Beta 3, which adds the face unlock feature of the 5T. Other changes in the beta include a new app shortcut in the launcher, changes to the vibrate alert, improved 5G WiFi performance, general bug fixes, and the December security patch. For the OnePlus 5T, OxygenOS Open Beta 1 updates the handset to Android 8 Oreo. Core features include picture-in-picutre, auto-full, smart text selection, and a new Quick Settings design. Beyond the standard Oreo features, the 5T will see a new shortcut style and an option for combining app icons and shortcuts. The 5T beta also installs the latest December security patch. Last, OnePlus is offering incremental software updates to the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T smartphones, which add support for aptX HD, a WiFi hotspot manager, and the December security patch. Owners of the OnePlus 5 and 5T will need to enroll in OnePlus' open beta program to gain access to those downloads. The incremental updates for the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T are available to all owners.
OnePlus this week began distributing the OxygenOS 4.7.6 system update to its OnePlus 5T flagship handset. The update targets camera and system performance. For example, OnePlus says OxygenOS 4.7.6 provides stability and clarity improvements to the camera, particularly when taking selfies in low light. The camera should also work better with third-party camera apps (think Facebook and Instagram). On the system front, the latest software build introduces assistive lighting for face unlock, improves screenshot and WiFi behavior, and installs the December security patch. OnePlus says the update is rolling out over the next week or so. In other OnePlus news, the company has committed to bringing the 5T's face unlock feature to its mid-2017 flagship phone, the OnePlus 5. Moreover, both the 5T and 5 will soon see the Android 8 Oreo update.
Instagram has turned on a new Recommended for You tool that will automatically insert photos from other accounts into your feed. "These posts are suggested based on posts liked by accounts you follow," according to Instagram. It has been testing the feature since earlier this month. Instagram says users can temporarily hide Recommended for You posts if they wish, though it doesn't specify for how long. As always, users can report photos that are offensive or violate Instagram's terms of service. Instagram insists the feature is meant to improve the experience by serving up more photos people may like but might otherwise miss. The change is coming to the Instagram Android and iOS mobile apps through an update this week.
Garmin today announced the Vivofit 4, a new activity-tracking wearable device that sports an always-on color display and battery life up to one year. The wrist-mounted, waterproof device performs all of the functions of a digital watch, including timer, stopwatch, and alarms, while counting steps and encouraging the wearer to stay mobile and active. The Vivofit 4 can be paired via Bluetooth with a phone (iPhone or Android) for additional functions, such as sleep tracking, detailed and automatic exercise tracking, and weather reports. It also includes a "find my phone" feature. The phone app connects to Garmin's cloud service and lets users compare activity with selected family and friends. It also lets users customize the wearable's display with various watch faces and themes. The always-on display uses a special kind of LCD technology called MIP (memory-in-pixel) that retains an image without power, much like e-ink displays. It's readable in daylight without a backlight, and can display eight different colors across its 88 x 88 pixels. The wearable comes in three sizes and three different colors. The interchangeable rubber bands are available in three additional colors as well. The Vivofit 4 is available starting today for $80, exclusively from Amazon.com.
Verizon Wireless today began rolling out the Android 8 Oreo system update to the Motorola Moto Z2 Force. In addition to the core Oreo features, including notification dots and picture-in-picture, the update makes improvements to productivity, performance, and notifications. For example, apps should now run quicker and smoother. The update also include Google's new rounded emoji characters and a new calling screen in the phone app. The update can be downloaded and installed over the air.
Google will force developers to adhere to new guidelines beginning next year in an effort to improve the security of apps and the Android devices on which those apps run. To start, Google will require new apps to target API level 26 (Android 8) by August 2018. API level 26 introduced a wide range of new tools that boost security and end-user privacy. Existing apps will need to target API level 26 by November 2018. Beginning in 2019, all apps will need to target the corresponding API for the current Android dessert release. Another change on deck for 2019: all apps will need to support 64-bit code. Google introduced 64-bit cpmputing in Android 5 and says more than 40% of all Android devices already rely on 64-bit (though they also still support 32-bit). According to Google, all apps will need to adopt 64-bit, either in the same APK or in one of multiple APKs for their Play Store app. This is meant to boost app performance more so than security. (Apple discontinued all support for 32-bit apps when it released iOS 11 earlier this year.) Last, Google says it will begin to add security metadata on top of each APK for verification purposes. Google refers to this as "a Play badge of authenticity" for Android apps. This will not require developers or users to take any overt action. Google said more security updates are in the works. Developers can learn more about these changes via the Android Developer Blog.
HMD Global has made Android 8 Oreo available in beta form to the Nokia 6 smartphone. As expected, the beta software adds notification dots, picture-in-picture, autofill passwords, quicker boot times, and the latest security patch. Nokia 6 owners will need to join the Nokia Phones Beta Lab in order to gain access to Android 8. HMD Global didn't say how long it will test Android 8 on the Nokia 6 before a final release is made available. The company recently tested Oreo on the Nokia 8 and later made the update available in full. The Nokia 6 is HMD Global's mid-range handset with a 5.5-inch screen, NFC, fingerprint reader, 3 GB of RAM, 16-megapixel camera, and memory card slot.
Samsung today updated its Galaxy A8 mid-level devices, which now follow closely the pattern set by the S8 and S8+ flagship phones. The A8 series employs glass panels front and back with a metal frame in between. The A8 and A8+ share most every feature and specification, but the latter has a larger screen and battery. Both devices adopt the Samsung 18.5:9 InfinityDisplay with HD+ (2,160 x 1,080) resolution. The A8's display measures 5.6 inches while the A8+'s screen stretches a longer 6 inches across the diagonal. The phones share an octa-core processor, with two cores at 2.2 GHz and six cores at 1.6 GHz. They come with 4 GB / 6 GB of RAM and 32 GB / 64 GB of storage, depending on configuration, with support for microSD cards up to 256 GB. The main camera includes a 16-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/1.7 for better low-light photography. It also adds digital video stabilization for smoother video. The A8 and A8+ put a pair of cameras on the front, a 16-megapixel main sensor and a secondary 8-megapixel sensor, both at f/1.9. Samsung says the phones can produce a range of selfies and portrait effects with Samsung's Live Focus feature for adjusting focus after the fact. Other features include fingerprint reader, USB-C, fast charging, NFC (and MST) for Samsung Pay, Bluetooth 5, WiFi, and LTE Cat 11. The devices are certified IP68 for protection against water and dust up to 1.5 meters, and are the first A series handsets to support Samsung's Gear VR headsets. The A8 includes a 3,000mAh battery and the larger A8+ has a 3,500mAh battery. The 2018 Galaxy A8 series come in black, orchid grey, gold, and blue and run Android 7.1 Nougat. Samsung said they will be available in early January 2018. Pricing wasn't disclosed.
Owners of the T-Mobile variant of the U11 Life smartphone can expect to receive the Android 8 Oreo over the coming days, according to HTC. HTC has made the system update available and will roll it out beginning today. It may take up to a week to reach everyone. The unlocked version of the U11 Life was updated to Oreo last month. Other HTC handsets on deck to receive Android 8 Oreo include the 10 and U Ultra.
Google today said it has decided to wind down Project Tango, its ambitious augmented reality platform that used on-device cameras and sensors to blend reality with computer-generated content. "As we focus on bringing augmented reality to the entire Android ecosystem with ARCore, we’re turning down support of Tango," said Google. The company will officially cease to support Project Tango on March 1, 2018. The company worked with several hardware partners to create Project Tango handsets, which were laden with special equipment to make the platform work. The most recent such device was the Asus ZenFone AR, sold by Verizon Wireless. Moving forward, Google will push its ARCore platform as a means for generating and consuming augmented reality content on Android handsets. To that end, Google today released ARCore Developer Preview 2, an update to its augmented reality toolset for app writers. "We've taken everything we learned from [Project Tango] to build ARCore. Whereas Tango required special hardware, ARCore is a fast, performant, Android-scale SDK that enables high-quality augmented reality across millions of qualified mobile devices." The updated ARCore Developer Preview includes a new C API for use with the Android NDK. Google says this dovetails nicely with its existing Java, Unity, and Unreal SDKs. Another addition is the ability for AR apps to pause and resume without losing their spot in order to allow people to perform actions such as answering calls. Last, the new developer preview improves accuracy and runtime efficiency. Developers interested in the new ARCore Developer Preview can find it through Google's developer web site. Google says it expects ARCore-based apps will reach the Play Store before too long.
Google has updated Maps for Android with a new feature meant to ensure people don't miss their stop when using public transportation, such as buses or trains. Google says the new tool supplies not only departure times and ETAs, but it can also alert people when it is time to get off a bus or train in order to make a transfer or arrive at their destination. The new transit functionality lets people track their progress in real time, just as when driving or walking. Google says in order to use the feature people will need to set destinations and navigate via the public transportation tab in Maps. Google Maps is free to download from the Google Play Store.
BlackBerry said this week that it will no longer provide monthly system and security updates to its BlackBerry Priv smartphone. The company originally committed to providing updates for a period of two years. "Having now stepped outside the original two-year window, we will no longer be delivering monthly updates for the Priv moving forward," said the company. That doesn't mean all support for the phone will stop. The company said it will still honor any warranty obligations it has for hardware repairs. Moreover, BlackBerry claims that its handsets are inherently more secure than most other Android devices thanks to the hardened core and monthly updates up until this point. BlackBerry said if a critical vulnerability is exposed in the Priv, it will work to correct the problem as needed. Last, BlackBerry said it has partnered with BlackBerry Mobile to help legacy BlackBerry owners upgrade to newer hardware. Customers still using the Priv or other BB10 or BBOS devices will soon be able to upgrade to a BlackBerry KEYone or BlackBerry Motion smartphone. Specific details regarding the trade-in program are still in the works.
Instagram today rolled out another wave of creative tools for social media aficionados. First, the Superzoom tool offers more zoom options and sound effects for overly-dramatic videos. Next, the app marks the debut of three new holiday-themed face filters, which include balloons bursting with confetti, winter makeup, hearts, and more. Last, the app is boosting its collection of stickers with additions for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Instagram says users can search for stickers using keywords (English only). These new creative options are available as part of Instagram 26 for Android and iOS. The updated mobile apps will roll out to the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store over the next few weeks.
Pandora today rolled out a new way to enjoy streaming music on mobile devices. Moving forward, people who use Pandora's free, ad-supported service will be able to listen to a specific song, album, or playlist after viewing a 15-second video ad. Before today, searching for a specific song only created a radio station based on that search. The video ad unlocks Pandora Premium for a limited time, meaning people can search for and listen to other songs directly after viewing the ad. Pandora says the idea is to offer premium on-demand features even to users who don't pay for its monthly listening plans. Beyond on-demand listening to specific songs or artists, ad-supported listeners can take advantage of personalized, automated playlists, and background music playback when multitasking. Pandora offers two paid tiers. Customers who pay $5 per month gain an ad-free experience with higher-quality playback, unlimited skips, and up to four offline stations. People who subscribe to Pandora Premium for $10 per month enjoy the ability to search for and play any song, album or artist, create personal playlists, and download customized playlists for offline listening. The new video ad experience will be available within the Android and iOS apps over the next few days.
Blu Products today announced the Life One X3, a mid-range handset from the unlocked phone maker. The One X3 has a curved-edge glass screen and an aluminum frame painted in matte black. The display measures 5.5 inches and offers full HD resolution. Blu gave the One X3 an octa-core MediaTek 6753 processor at 1.3 GHz with 3 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage. An impressively large 5,000mAh battery lurks within in the chassis to provide more than a day of battery life. The One X3 sports two 13-megapixel cameras, one on front and one on back. Both cameras have their own flash and can capture full HD video. Other specs include Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 28) for moderate compatibility with AT&T/Cricket and T-Mobile/MetroPCS. The phone ships with Android 7 Nougat. Blu says the One X3 is available from Amazon.com starting today. The standard retail price is $250, but the Life One X3 will be available for a limited time at $150.
Google today said older Android smartphones and tablets are gaining access to the Google Assistant. Until today, Assistant was only available to phones running Android 6 Marshmallow and up. Now, handsets that have Android 5.0 Lollipop support Assistant. Google says Assistant has started to roll out to all devices running Lollipop in English in the U.S., U.K., India, Australia, Canada, and Singapore, as well as in Spanish in the U.S., Mexico, and Spain. Further, for the first time Google Assistant is being made available to Android tablets. Android slates in the U.S. running Android 6 Marshmallow and Android 7 Nougat will be able to download Assistant over the coming weeks. Google Assistant is Google's voice-powered personal helper. It can be used to perform searches as well as initiate actions on mobile devices.
Twitter today made it easier to publish tweet storms, or threads. The use of threads, a way to string together a series of tweets to tell a longer story, has risen in popularity over the last few years. In order to simplify the process of composing these threads, Twitter has a new "plus" button in the tweet composer that allows users to connect tweets and publish an entire thread all at once. Even after a thread is published, the author can add to it thanks to a new "add another tweet" button. Further, threads will be easier to discover thanks to new labels that point to complete tweet strings. Twitter says the new threading tool is rolling out to everyone on Android, iOS, and Twitter.com in the coming weeks.
YouTube TV has expanded once again to 34 new markets around the country. The additional cities, some of which include Flint, Green Bay, New Orleans, Rochester, San Antonio, San Diego, Savannah, Shreveport, Tulsa, and Tucson, make for a total of 83 markets. YouTube TV originally launched in just five markets in April. YouTube TV costs $35 per month and includes up to six personal accounts all with unlimited DVR recordings and access. The number of channels is still limited to about 50. YouTube TV is available on Android and iOS mobile devices, as well as via the Chrome browser on desktop PCs. A YouTube TV app is expected to reach the Apple TV shortly.
Instagram today rolled out a new tool that allows people to follow hashtags in addition to individual accounts. The idea is to make it easier to discover photos, videos, and people. Hashtags are generally tied to subjects, events, locations, and other interests. The tool lets users search for hashtags and then follow the tag thanks to a new button that appears on the hashtag's main page. Instagram says posts that include the hashtag will then start to filter into users' main photo feed. People can unfollow hashtags whenever they wish. The tool is being added to the Android and iOS mobile apps over the days ahead.
Google today released three photography "appsperiments" that are meant to be fun ways to use your smartphone's camera. The new apps "rely on object recognition, person segmentation, stylization algorithms, efficient image encoding and decoding technologies" to create interesting and unique experiences. Storyboard, available only for Android, takes videos and turns them into single-page comic layouts. The app will automatically scan videos to select what it considers to be interesting video frames and then lay them out in one of six styles. The comics are easy to save or replace by filming new video. Selfissimo (pictured), available to Android and iOS devices, is a budding model's dream. The app is an automated selfie photographer that snaps shots as you move around and make poses. The app encourages you to pose as you go and will create a contact sheet with all the results. People can save individual images or the entire shoot. Last, Scrubbies, available only to iOS devices, lets people adjust video playback speed and direction quickly and easily with their fingers. It works sort of like a deejay turntable to create video loops that highlight action. Google says the appsperiments are in a trial phase and it welcomes feedback from early adopters.
Both Amazon and Best Buy are rolling back the price of the BlackBerry KEYone starting today. The GSM and CDMA variants of the keyboard-equipped smartphone are on sale for $449, a savings of $100 off the normal retail price of $549. The KEYone has a 4.5-inch screen, 12-megapixel camera, Snapdragon 625 processor, Android 7.1 Nougat, and advanced security software. BlackBerry Mobile said the promotion will run though December 24, or as long as supplies last.
Apple today announced that it has acquired Shazam, the song-identifying service, for an undisclosed sum. The deal was first revealed last week in a report from TechCrunch. The Shazam mobile application is available to iOS and Android devices. "Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users," said an Apple spokesperson to Reuters. "We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today’s agreement." Apple didn't say if the purchase would impact Shazam's availability on Android. Shazam has a worldwide user base of hundreds of millions of people. The deal will need to clear regulatory hurdles before it can be finalized.