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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.

by:  Google

Google's Tasks App Works Directly with Gmail and Calendar

Today, 8:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 8:49 AM

Google believes its Tasks mobile application for Android and iOS devices will help users manage and complete tasks more efficiently. The app lets people create tasks lists; view, edit, and manage tasks from any device; and control tasks created in Gmail, Google Calendar, or on the web from mobile devices. It supports granular details within individual tasks, as well as subtasks and the ability to check off progress as parts of tasks are completed. People can create tasks directly from an email in Gmail, view tasks in the side panel of Gmail, and trace tasks back to their source email. Further, the app lets people set due dates for their tasks, organize them by date or priority, and receive notifications to help stay on track. Google Tasks also integrates with Google's G Suite business email service. The mobile app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

Google Adds a Dash of AI to Gmail with High-Priority Notifications On Mobile and Smart Replies on the Web

Today, 8:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 10:21 AM

Google today introduced new features to Gmail both on the web and on mobile devices. The web version of Gmail sees the largest number of changes and adds smart features meant to help people move through their email more efficiently. The interface has been refreshed with a new design, new controls, and dedicated access to Calendar, Tasks, and Keep. Gmail users can now click on attachments such as documents and photos without scrolling through entire threads, as well as use a new snooze button to put off emails for later. Gmail's Smart Reply feature, which has been available in mobile Gmail for some time, now comes to the web. Gmail will suggest quick replies to help people push out responses faster. In the same vein, Google will "nudge" people to respond to emails if they sit unanswered for several days with gentle reminders. New security features are on deck as well, such as the ability to restrict emails and attachments from being copied, printed, or forwarded. Further, Gmail users can make a message expire after a set period of time to help them stay in control of their information. Gmail will be a bit more proactive about notifying people about potential scam messages. On mobile devices, the new Gmail adds high-priority notifications that will notify people of important incoming messages, allowing them to ignore the rest. Last, Gmail on mobile devices will be more proactive about helping people unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters. The new Gmail for the web is rolling out now with some of the new features. The Gmail mobile apps for Android and iOS are available from the Play Store and App Store today.

ZTE Prepping Action Against Commerce Department Ban

Today, 8:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said it is preparing to take "certain actions" within the scope of U.S. law to fight the Commerce Department's ban against the company. Earlier this month, the Commerce Department banned U.S. companies from selling ZTE hardware or software, such as mobile processors and the Android operating system, for a period of seven years. The move puts ZTE's survival as a phone company at critical risk. Without access to Android, in particular, ZTE will not be able to sell phones in the U.S., where it has found a comfortable niche with prepaid carriers including Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS. The ban was put into effect because ZTE broke a 2017 settlement agreement concerning its sale of forbidden items to Iran. ZTE did not spell out exactly what actions it will take. Late last week a member of the Commerce Department said it will allow ZTE to argue its case via unofficial channels.

Instagram Makes It Easier to Upload Multiple Photos to Your Story at Once

Yesterday, 11:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today improved the way its mobile app handles story uploads. The latest version of Instagram makes it possible to upload up to 10 photos or videos from your gallery at a time. Users can select each individual photo to make changes, apply stickers, and perform edits. Once done preparing the pix or vids, the group can be uploaded all at once rather than separately. The media are added to your story in the order they were selected. Moreover, Instagram is better at remembering location data so it can help users properly tag photos with location stickers even if the user has moved somewhere else. Instagram says these changes are reaching Android devices today with iOS to follow in the coming weeks.

EU Puts the Brakes On Apple's Shazam Acquisition

Monday, 10:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Monday, 10:32 AM

The European Commission is holding up Apple's planned acquisition of Shazam. "The Commission is concerned that the merger could reduce choice for users of music streaming services," said the Commission in a statement. Shazam is used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide to query song identities. It is available to Android and iOS devices alike. Margrethe Vestager, in charge of the EU's antitrust unit, said the Commission wants to "ensure that music fans will continue to enjoy attractive music streaming offers and won't face less choice as a result of this proposed merger." The EU is also concerned about consumer data Apple will gain. The $400 million deal was first made public in December. The European Commission is going to investigate the transaction to see if it might create unfair competition. Apple didn't immediately comment on the Commission's decision.

ZTE Being Given a Chance to Argue Its Case

Saturday, 10:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE will have an opportunity to ask the U.S. Commerce Department to change its mind regarding the government's decision to ban U.S. corporations from selling hardware or software to ZTE for a period of seven years. An official at the Commerce Department said the agency has given ZTE permission to present more information regarding the actions it took in the wake of its 2017 settlement. ZTE agreed to pay a hefty fine and reprimand 35 executives. The Commerce Department says ZTE did not reprimand those execs and then misrepresented the facts. The agency said this created a breach of trust and it announced the ban earlier this week. According to the Wall Street Journal, "ZTE doesn’t have administrative appeal rights under agency regulations, but the agency had agreed to receive the evidence through informal procedures in the near future." It's unclear what these informal procedures are, nor what impact they might have on the Commercel Department's decision. The ban will prevent ZTE from using mobile processors from Qualcomm and perhaps the Android operating system from Google. ZTE itself said the ban will severely impact the company's chance of survival. Google hasn't commented on the matter directly.

FitBit to Update Versa with Quick Replies and Female Health Tracking

Apr 20, 2018, 10:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

FitBit this week released its Versa smartwatch and said new features for the wearable will arrive as soon as next month. A software update to be made available in May will bring quick replies to people who pair their Versa with an Android device. People will be able to create up to five custom quick replies of 60 characters or less and use them in response to text messages, as well as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. FitBit said this feature is not planned for use with iOS devices at this time. The update will also bring female health tracking to the Versa, allowing women to keep track of their monthly cycles. Women should find it easier to manage their cycles and gain a more complete picture of their health and fitness data. These features will also eventually be installed on the older FitBit Ionic smartwatch. The Versa is aimed at the masses thanks to its $200 price point. It includes a color touch screen, accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, altimeter, light sensor, vibration motor, WiFi, Bluetooth LE, and NFC. These sensors allow the Versa to track 15 different exercise modes, including swimming, assess cardio fitness level, provide personal reminders, track sleep, store and play music, and make mobile payments. Battery life is as good as four days. It is available directly from FitBit and retailers such as Best Buy.

Google Hinges Android Messaging Strategy On Carrier-Based RCS; Allo Being Put On 'Pause'

Apr 20, 2018, 2:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google hopes to solve the messaging experience on Android phones with a new service called Chat. Chat will be based on Rich Communication Services and live within the existing Android Messages application. RCS represents the next generation of mobile communication with advanced features such as presence, read receipts, video chat, and more. Google has been quietly gathering commitments from wireless carriers around the globe in order to make this work. The service is set to launch soon, though it will be up to individual carriers to deploy. Chat and RCS rely on data connections, but will revert to SMS — what Android Messages uses today — when data service is not available. Google expects to update the Android Messages app with advanced features such as GIF search and the Google Assistant. At the same time, Google is "pausing" development on the Google Allo messaging app, which first launched with Google Assistant in 2016. Most of the Allo team is being moved to the Android Messages product, according to The Verge, leaving Allo all but abandoned. Android Messages is the default texting/messaging app on many Android phones, but not all of them. Companies such as Samsung have created their own SMS/messaging apps for their phones. In those cases, it will be up to phone owners to download and install Android Messages in order to take advantage of Chat service from their carrier. Unlike some messaging services, Chat will not be encrypted. This means it isn't as secure as iMessage on the iPhone. Google has left numerous messaging services in the digital graveyard over the last few years. When Chat launches, it should put the matter to rest and serve as Android's core service for the foreseeable future.

ZTE Vows to Fight Ban, Says Denial Order Will 'Severely Impact' the Survival of the Company

Apr 20, 2018, 1:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said the ban issued by the Commerce Department is unfair and overly severe in what mark its first public comments since the ban was announced. "The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies," said ZTE in a statement. The Bureau of Industry and Security banned U.S. companies from selling ZTE any hardware or software because the company didn't comply with a settlement agreement over an earlier transgression. In 2016, ZTE was caught shipping products to Iran, despite sanctions against the country. ZTE later settled with the government for $455 million and agreed to fire some executives and curb the bonuses of other executives. However, the company did not take the proper actions against its executives and later lied about it to the government. ZTE insists it has taken action against the responsible employees now and has formed committees to ensure it complies with the earlier settlement. "ZTE will not give up its efforts to resolve the issue through communication, and we are also determined, if necessary, to take judicial measures to protect the legal rights and interests of our company, our employees and our shareholders, and to fulfill obligations and take responsibilities to our global customers, end-users, partners and suppliers," said ZTE. Qualcomm, which makes the Snapdragon processors inside ZTE phones, is one of many component suppliers that will be impacted by the ban. More importantly, ZTE may lose the ability to license the Android operating system from Google. Without access to Android, ZTE's entire phone business could be in jeopardy. Google has yet to comment on the matter.

Hands On with the Moto e5 Plus and g6 Play

Apr 19, 2018, 3:40 PM   by Rich Brome

Sitting in the middle of Motorola's new lineup of affordable Android phones are the Moto e5 Plus and g6 Play. In spite of their odd naming, they share the same design and features. The main difference is that the e5 Plus is larger, and a bit higher-end in specs. Both have a very large battery, a modern all-screen design, a fingerprint reader, and a low price. We took them for a quick spin.

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Motorola Making Gains in U.S. Market

Apr 19, 2018, 9:23 AM   by Rich Brome

Lenovo is finding renewed success for its Motorola phone business in the U.S. market, according to company executives. The company announced four new affordable Android phones today, all of which are being picked up by U.S. carriers. "We are going to be more broadly ranged across all North American carriers in 2018", said company spokesperson Cassandra McCormack. The new g-series phones will be available through carriers and unlocked, while two new e-series phones will be available only via carriers in the U.S.. According to another company executive, they expect to have up to twice as many phones on U.S. carrier shelves compared to last year. The success comes as the company makes several shifts in strategy. The company has doubled down on "Motorola" branding across its whole range, in marketing and on the phones themselves. That's an about-face from the strategy announced in 2016 whereby they planned to phase out Motorola in favor of Lenovo alongside "Moto" for high-end phones and "Vibe" for low-end phones. The company has also expanded its range with more models than last year, hitting more varied price points.

Motorola Updates Affordable Lineup for 2018

Apr 19, 2018, 9:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Motorola today announced four new affordable Android phones coming to the U.S. market before mid-year. Spread across the Moto e5 and Moto g6 series, all four new phones share the company's evolved design language that debuted with the Moto X4 last year. They also all sport a fingerprint reader, a clean version of Android 8 Oreo, Moto Actions gesture shortcuts, a water-repellent coating, front cameras with an LED flash, 3.5mm audio jacks, and memory card slots. They have Qualcomm Snapdragon 400-series processors supporting Cat. 6 LTE, and excellent support for all major US networks, including Sprint, Verizon, and band 66.

  • Moto g6: The highest-end model of the group, it has a curved glass back, metal frame, and a 5.7-inch full-HD display with 2:1 ratio. It's powered by a Snapdragon 450 processor with either 3 or 4 GB of RAM, and 32 or 64 GB of storage. The 3,000 mAh battery supports fast charging via the USB-C port. The 12-megapixel camera (f/1.8) is aided by a 5-megapixel camera for depth sensing, to create portrait effects. The camera app includes object, landmark, and text recognition, as well as slow-motion and time-lapse modes. An ultrasonic system detects when you approach the phone and lights up the display to show the time and notifications. It will be sold unlocked for $249, and via carriers.
  • Moto g6 Play: This more affordable model (at $199) has a rounded polycarbonate back and metal frame. The 5.7-inch display with 2:1 ratio is 720p HD resolution. It's powered by a Snapdragon 427 processor with either 2 or 3 GB of RAM and 16 or 32 GB of storage. The 4,000 mAh battery supports fast charging via micro-USB. The main camera is 13-megapixel camera with PDAF, while the front camera is 8-megapixel. Like the g6, it will be sold unlocked and via carriers. It supports all AT&T bands, include LTE 14, 29, and 30.
  • Moto e5 Plus: A larger version of the Moto g6 Play. It has the same design and features, except the battery steps up to 5,000 mAh, the display size is bumped to 6 inches, and it adds laser focusing to the camera. The processor is a Snapdragon 435 and there is just one configuration with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. It will be available in the U.S. exclusively from carriers.
  • Moto e5 Play: A lower-end model, similar to e-series models of years past. Its plastic shells pops off to reveal a removable (2,800 mAh) battery. Its 5.2-inch display has HD resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The Snapdragon 427 processor is accompanied by 2 of RAM and 16 GB of storage. (However at least one variant will have a Snapdragon 425 processor that only supports Cat. 4 LTE.) The cameras are 8 megapixel (rear) and 5 megapixel (front), and it can record 1080p video. Like the other models, it has dual-band Wi-Fi, a fingerprint reader, and gesture shortcuts. It will also be available exclusively from carriers.

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Netflix Brings 30-Second Previews to Mobile Devices

Apr 19, 2018, 8:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Netflix today announced mobile previews, a feature that lets people preview movie and TV content on their phone. Netflix says mobile previews last about 30 seconds each and are displayed vertically in a slideshow format. The idea is to give people a quick look at TV shows and movies so they can decide if they want to watch it. Netflix subscribers can tap to save previewed content to their watch list, or swipe to advance to the next preview. Netflix says previews help its subscribers browse less and discover new content more quickly. The previews load swiftly and are personalized to individual subscribers. Mobile previews are launching on iOS devices first and will reach Android devices soon.

Opera Discontinuing Its Android and iOS VPN Service

Apr 19, 2018, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software says its mobile VPN service will go offline on April 30, 2018. The Opera VPN service has been around for several years and allows Android and iOS users to connect to open WiFi network securely. With Opera VPN shutting down, Opera is pointing people to the SurfEasy VPN. Opera Gold subscribers have the option to redeem a free one-year subscription to the SurfEasy Ultra VPN. Non-Gold Opera VPN users will be able to redeem an 80% discount for SurfEasy via the Opera VPN app ahead of the April 30 shutdown. SurfEasy Ultra offers unlimited usage on up to five devices per account, with access to 28 regions, and a no-log policy. SurfEasy VPN is available to more platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Amazon.

Microsoft's AI-Powered Translator App Now Works Offline

Apr 19, 2018, 8:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said its Microsoft Translator application can now function when offline. End users will need to download free AI-powered packs for the language of their choice ahead of time. Once downloaded, the Translator is able to take advantage of Microsoft's neural translation technology without a network connection. The AI-powered offline language packs are available to Microsoft Translator for Android, iOS, and Amazon Fire devices. Beyond the end-user features, Microsoft is allowing developers to integrate online and offline AI-based text translations into their own apps. This would let, for example, camera applications translate text in real time even with the phone is offline. Developers can find the new tools on Microsoft's developer web site. Microsoft Translator is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and Amazon Appstore.

ZTE May Lose Access to Google's Android Operating System

Apr 18, 2018, 2:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE and Google have met to discuss what to do concerning the Commerce Department's action this week that bans U.S. companies from selling components and software to ZTE. ZTE is being punished for violating the terms of a settlement it signed with the government last year. That settlement covered transgressions in shipping contraband to Iran, which is under sanctions. The U.S. says ZTE misled the Commerce Department over the actions it took in the wake of that settlement and that ZTE is no longer to be trusted. ZTE uses U.S.-based Qualcomm processors in many of its phones. It would not be ablate buy those processors under the ban. More importantly, ZTE uses Google's Android platform. ZTE has a license from Google to use Android. Under the terms of the ban, it may not be able to use Android moving forward, which would throw is entire phone business into turmoil. The two companies have not been able to discern what the exact impact of the ban will be. Neither has commented on the matter directly.

OnePlus Pushing Android 8.1 Oreo to the 5 and 5T

Apr 16, 2018, 3:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus is delivering a small update to its OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T phones. The update primarily moves the system to Android 8.1 Oreo with the April 1 security patch from Google. The 5T, in particular, gains new gesture support for the home screen. The swiping gestures are similar to those used by the Apple iPhone X. OnePlus says the update adds new optimizations to gaming mode, such as power savings and pausing adaptive brightness, and boosts network priority for the in-progress game to the foreground. The launcher gains new category tags in the search section, and the launcher will now automatically name folders based on categories. The update is being rolled out incrementally. OnePlus says it will push the update in small numbers over the next few days with the majority of 5 and 5T devices to earn the update over the next week or so.

Google Offers Release Candidate of Android Things to Devs

Apr 16, 2018, 12:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released Android Things Developer Preview 8, which it is calling a release candidate. This penultimate version of Android Things brings with it the final set of APIs in the updated SDK. Google anticipates that there will be no changes to the Android Things APIs before the stable v1.0 SDK is made available. The release candidate includes new features in the Android Things Developer Console to make it easier for developers to build and manage production devices. For example, developers can unpublish the current OTA build if issues are discovered, as well as configure device storage allocations, control supported fonts, and share through Google Groups. Changes to the library should simplify the process of managing APKs, which no longer need to packaged into separate zipped bundles. Google also changed the permissions runtime to make it clearer to end users when and which permissions they are granting to Android Things apps and devices. Android Things Developer Preview 8 is available for developers to download via the Google Developer Console. Android Things is meant to bring smarts to connected devices, such as lamps, TVs, thermostats, and more.

Nokia 6 for Sale from Amazon and Walmart for $269

Apr 16, 2018, 8:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Nokia 6 phone from HMD Global is now available to U.S. consumers. The device, first announced in February, is being sold unlocked from Amazon and Walmart for $269. The Nokia 6 (2018) is a refresh to last year's model. It carries over the same design as the original, but improves the specs under the hood. It includes a 5.5-inch screen and premium materials. Key features include NFC and a fingerprint reader. It jumps from the Snapdragon 435 to the Snapdragon 630 and is sold in the U.S. with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The frame is milled from 6000 series aluminum and now comes in black/copper, white/iron, and blue/gold. Other features include a 3,000mAh battery, face unlock, wireless charging, USB-C, and Android 8 Oreo. Support for U.S. LTE networks is unclear at this time.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium Captures and Plays 4K HDR Video

Apr 16, 2018, 3:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Apr 16, 2018, 6:45 AM

Sony today announced the Xperia XZ2 Premium, a high-end Android phone that boasts some of the most advanced imaging features available in a mobile device. The XZ2 Premium has a 5.8-inch 4K HDR display (16:9 aspect ratio) that Sony says is 30% brighter than its previous mobile 4K screen. The phone relies on Sony's Bravia TV and X-Reality mobile technologies to help improve contrast and up-convert standard content to near HDR quality. The XZ2 Premium includes a new Motion Eye Dual camera from Sony, which puts two Exmor RS sensors to work: one 19-megapixel for full color capture and a second 12-megapixel for black-and-white capture with contrast info. Sony says the data from both sensors is combined by its AUBE fusion image signal processor to reduce noise. The Motion Eye Dual camera is capable of capturing ISO 51,200 for photos and ISO 12,800 during video — which means the XZ2 Premium is ultra sensitive to light and can deliver more detail in nighttime pictures. The camera supports selectable bokeh, 4K HDR video capture, and 960fps super slow motion in either 720p or 1080p HD. The user-facing camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with display-based flash. In addition to the high-quality audio capture and on-display playback, the XZ2 Premium includes S-Force Front Surround speakers and a Dynamic Vibration System so owners can "feel the action" in their hands. The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor with 6 GB of RAM and an X20 LTE modem for (theoretical) speeds up to 1.2 Gbps. The phone relies on a 3,540mAh battery with Sony's Stamina mode and Qnovo Adaptive charging, in addition to Qi wireless charging. Other features include NFC, USB-C, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD, 64 GB of storage, and support for memory cards up to 400 GB. The XZ2 Premium has a glass-and-metal design similar to the XZ2 and XZ2 Compact with Gorilla Glass 5 on front and back. It boasts IP68 for protection against splashes and spills. The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium will go on sale later this summer with Android 8 Oreo. Pricing wasn't revealed. Sony said some features, such as Bokeh, will arrive during the third quarter via software update.

Cricket Wireless Selling the LG Fortune 2 for $100

Apr 13, 2018, 7:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today kicked off sales of the LG Fortune 2, an affordable Android phone. The Fortune 2 is a rebadged variant of the K8 (2018) and Tribute Defiant (sold by Boost Mobile). The Fortune 2 includes a 5-inch HD screen, quad-core MediaTek processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. The Fortune 2 has an 8-megapixel main camera with LED flash, a 5-megapixel front camera, and a removable 2,500mAh battery. Other features include LTE 4G with HD Voice, WiFi with mobile hotspot and WiFi Calling, Bluetooth 4.2, and GPS. It runs Android 7.1 Nougat. Cricket Wireless is selling the LG Fortune 2 for $100.

Researchers Suggest Phone Makers Mislead Consumers About Security Patches

Apr 12, 2018, 1:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Security Research Labs says Android phone makers often miss security patches but still tell owners the phones are up-to-date. Researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell examined the code of some 1,200 phones from more than a dozen phone makers for every security patch released during 2017. They discovered phones from nearly all makers missed at least some patches. Phones from Google, Sony, and Samsung ranked fairly well, missing an average of just one patch. Phones from Xiaomi, Nokia, and OnePlus missed between one and three patches per update, while devices from HTC, Motorola, LG, and Huawei missed three to four, and phones from TCL (Alcatel) and ZTE often missed more than four patches per update. High-end devices with processors from Samsung or Qualcomm were more likely to updated properly, while low-cost devices with processors from MediaTek were less likely to be updated properly. Nohl and Lell say what's worse than the missed patches are the phone makers' claims to the contrary. "We find that there's a gap between patching claims and the actual patches installed on a device. It's small for some devices and pretty significant for others," said Nohl to Wired. "We found several vendors that didn’t install a single patch but changed the patch date forward by several months. That’s deliberate deception." The researchers claim this lulls consumers into a false sense of security, though they admit that hacking into Android phones through any of the missed patches is a difficult task at best. In response to the data, Google argued that not all the devices researched were Android certified, and that modern Android phones have other security measures in place to protect them. "Security updates are one of many layers used to protect Android devices and users," said Scott Roberts, Android product security lead at Google. "Built-in platform protections, such as application sandboxing, and security services, such as Google Play Protect, are just as important." Still, Google said it would work with Security Research Labs to investigate Nohl and Lell's findings.

ESPN Launches ESPN+, a $5-Per-Month Video Service

Apr 12, 2018, 10:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ESPN today made a new over-the-top video service available to cord-cutters. ESPN+ can be streamed to most devices, including phones, and delivers a selection of live games from MLB, MLS, NHL, and other leagues. It also includes Grand Slam tennis, college football and basketball, and golfing events. Beyond games, ESPN+ offers subscribers access to ESPN originals, studio programs, international soccer, basketball, and rugby matches, and the ability to record, pause, and rewind live games. The service supports HD streaming on Android and iOS phones and tablets, and Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast streaming devices. ESPN+ costs $5 per month, but a promotion offers early adopters the first month for free.

LG Promises Faster Phone Updates, Starting with the G6

Apr 12, 2018, 7:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG is making a renewed commitment to distributing software updates to its phones in a more timely manner. LG today said it officially opened a new Software Upgrade Center at its Magok-dong facility in South Korea. The Software Upgrade Center is charged with developing and delivering regular system updates to LG phones, as well as ensuring the user experience is consistent from device to device. LG has historically been slower than many of its rivals to release software updates, even for its flagship phones. "Stable and consistent upgrades will demonstrate to our customers that LG smartphones have long and reliable lifespans," said Mr. Jo Seong-jin, CEO of LG Electronics. The first initiative to come from LG's new Software Upgrade Center is to bring Android 8 Oreo to the LG G6. The update will reach G6 devices in Korea later this month with other key markets to follow. LG first launched the G6, a flagship phone, in February 2017.

Spotify and Hulu Offering Combined Service for $13 Per Month

Apr 11, 2018, 10:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Spotify and Hulu have introduced a promotion that will give people access to Spotify Premium and Hulu's Limited Commercials service for $12.99 per month. Customers new to Hulu can score the first three months of Hulu for just $0.99 on top of their Spotify Premium account, after which the $12.99 combined monthly price will go into affect. Hulu's basic offering includes unlimited streaming of series, movies, originals, and more on supported devices. Hulu says it is not possible to upgrade to the Hulu No Commercials or Live TV plans, nor to any Hulu Premium Add-ons, from this promotion. Separately, Spotify Premium costs $9.99 per month and Hulu Limited Commercials costs $7.99 per month. The combined bundle saves people $5 per month. The Spotify and Hulu mobile apps are available to Android and iOS phones and tablets.

Instagram Debuts Advanced Portrait Mode

Apr 10, 2018, 11:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today announced a new feature that makes it easier to capture artistic selfies or portraits. The tool, called Focus, lets people take pictures or video of people using either the front or rear camera with gently blurred backgrounds. Focus seeks out faces in the viewfinder and locks on to create sharp focus on the face. Once the media is captured, users can then apply stickers or otherwise dress up their portraits or videos before sharing. Focus is available on the iPhone 6S, 6S+, 7, 7+, 8, 8+ and X, and select Android devices. Instagram is also rolling out a new @mention sticker feature for iOS devices. iPhone users can capture pictures or video and then tag friends using the sticker creation tool. Stickers with @mentions can be resized and moved around as users deem fit. Instagram is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.

Autoplay Comes to YouTube On Android Phones

Apr 10, 2018, 7:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

YouTube has rolled out a new autoplay behavior on Android devices that automatically starts playing video with the sound off when you open the app. YouTube has been testing the function since last year and it is now being pushed to most Android users. The feature is called Autoplay on Home and it is on by default. Upon launching YouTube, the top-most video starts playing immediately in silent mode. Tapping the video turns the sound on. The video will continue to play as you browse for other content. Users can manage the tool in the Autoplay section of the YouTube app settings. It can be set to be always on, WiFi only, or off.

Latest Update for Essential Phone Adds Bluetooth 5

Apr 9, 2018, 12:39 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Essential Products is rolling out a new software update for its PH-1 smartphone. The system upgrade boosts the core code from Android 8 to Android 8.1 and includes a number of performance tweaks. For example, the phone should now properly interact with external game controllers. The update includes the April security patch from Google and also introduces support for Bluetooth 5.0. Essential said the update is available to download and install over the air.

Google Testing WiFi Calling for Google Voice

Apr 5, 2018, 12:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is soliciting help testing WiFi calling in Google Voice. The company is asking Google Voice users to sign up for and trial WiFi calling through their Voice account. Google says WiFi calling will let people reduce roaming charges, keep in touch via WiFi when cellular isn't an option, and make calls from most any device, not just phones. The beta supports WiFi calling on Android, and the web (Chrome to start, Firefox, Safari and Edge to follow). Support for iOS is on the way. Those interested in testing WiFi calling through Google Voice will need to fill out a form and update to the latest mobile app. Google warns there are a handful of known issues, such as Bluetooth incompatibility, and no support for call recording or transferring features. Google Voice customers can learn through the Google Voice forums.

Facebook Makes Sweeping Changes to Data Collection Policies as It Admits Cambridge Analytica Breach Impacted 87M

Apr 4, 2018, 3:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today made significant changes to its platform as it continues to deal with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica breach. To start, the company now believes Cambridge Analytica was given improper access to the data of as many as 87 million people, mostly U.S. citizens. The data was passed to Cambridge through a third-party app that had access to user profiles before Facebook changed its policies back in 2014. In order to help people understand how Facebook handles data, the company has rewritten its terms of use and privacy policy so it is easier to understand. The company is not changing its terms or policies, but the revised text should be simpler for most to digest. More importantly, the company has huge changes in store for how apps and services access and use your data. For example, Facebook Messenger and Facebook Lite will no longer continuously upload call and text history form Android phones, and will delete all data older than one year. Facebook plans to limit the scale of some APIs. Apps using the Events API will no longer be able to access the guest list or posts on any given event wall. All third-party apps using the Groups API will need approval from Facebook and an admin to ensure they benefit the group, and the apps will no longer be able to access the member list of a group. All future access to the Pages API will need to be approved by Facebook. The tool is meant to help developers create tools for Page owners for things like scheduled posts. Facebook discovered, however, that it also lets apps access more data than necessary. Similarly, Facebook said it will need to approve all apps that take advantage of Facebook Login, particularly if those apps request access to likes, photos, posts, videos, events, and groups. In the next few weeks, Facebook will remove developers' ability to request data at all if people haven't used their app in the last three months. Facebook-owned instagram has accelerated its plans to deprecate the Instagram Platform API, which will cease working effective today. The company is also making moves to protect against certain searches. For example, people can today search for others via phone number or email address. Facebook admits that malicious actors take advantage of this feature to scrape public profile information. For now, Facebook has disabled this search tool and made changes to account recovery to further reduce the risk of scraping. Last, the social network plans to roll out a new tool for controlling third-party applications. The link will appear at the top of users' News Feed. They'll be able to easily see what apps are using their data and remove those apps from Facebook if they so wish. This tool will go live April 9.

AT&T Now Selling the Rugged Sonim XP8 and XP5s

Apr 4, 2018, 11:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T recently added the Sonim XP8 and XP5s to its roster of rugged phones. Both devices are intended to be used by FirstNet customers (first responders), though they are also available for consumers to purchase. Each meets mil-spec 810G for protection from abuses such as drops, impacts, temperature extremes, and vibration. They also offer IP68 protection from water and dust. Other shared features include dedicated push-to-tak buttons and compatibility with AT&T/FirstNet's e-PTT service. The phones support microSD memory cards for expanded storage.

  • XP8: This Android smartphone has a 5-inch full HD display and a Snapdragon 630 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. It includes a 12-megapixel main camera and an 8-megapixel user-facing camera. A 4,900mAh battery delivers up to 30 hours of talk time and a 100dB speakerphone ensures that calls can be heard in even the noisiest spaces. Other features include dual-band WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, and a bevy of internal sensors. It runs Android 7 Nougat. The Sonim XP8 sells for $699, or $23.34 per month for 30 months. Orders placed online now will ship in early May.
  • XP5s: This bar-style feature phone has a 2.64-inch screen with 320 by 432 pixels. It is powered by a Snapdragon 427 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. It has a 5-megapixel camera, 3,180mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.3, dual-band WiFi, as well as apps including email, media player, and a browser. The Sonim XP5s costs $339. Orders placed online will ship within a week.
Both the Sonim XP8 and XP5s are backed by a three-year warranty.

Searching for Movies in Google Search Just Got Better

Apr 3, 2018, 10:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today improved the way it displays search results for movies on mobile devices. The latest update to the Google app now lets people compare ratings, showtimes, theater locations, and other details in a new result card. People can easily purchase tickets directly from search results, set favorite theaters or locations, and more. Google says people should search for "showtimes" or "movie times" along with the theater name, movie name, or general location. The improved movie search results are available in Google Search in mobile browsers as well as the Google app for Android devices. Google says this feature will come to the Google app for iOS soon.

Snapchat Adds Group Chats for Up to 16 People

Apr 3, 2018, 8:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Snapchat updated its mobile app today with a new feature. Users can now video chat with up to 16 of their friends at one time. A new video camera icon is visible in the Group Chat function. When someone initiates a video chat, others in the group will be asked to join. Invitees can join the video chat, join with only their voice, or send regular text messages that others read during the video chat. The new feature is rolling out to the Android and iOS mobile apps starting this week. Snapchat is free to download.

Google Details April Security Patch with Pixel Fixes Aplenty

Apr 2, 2018, 1:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today shared information about the April security patch headed to Pixel handsets over the next few days. The update tackles dozens of vulnerabilities. Google is pushing two separate updates, dated April 1 and April 5, that improve Google Play Protect, Google Mobile Services, the Android media framework, Android runtime, and the core kernel. In particular, Google says it worked with Qualcomm to resolve scores of existing vulnerabilities impacting Qualcomm hardware and drivers back to 2016. The April security patches are being made available to Google’s Pixel and Nexus phones first. It is up to individual device makers to implement the fixes on their own hardware.

Most US Galaxy Note8 Owners Receiving Android 8 Oreo

Apr 2, 2018, 7:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung's U.S. carrier partners are rolling out Android 8 Oreo to the Galaxy Note8 handset. AT&T kicked things off last month and was followed by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. In the last day, T- Mobile, too, has begun pushing Oreo to the Note8. With the carrier variants picking up Android 8, only the unlocked version remains. Samsung said people who own the unlocked Note8 (and S8, S8+) can expect to see Android 8 in the next few weeks. The update includes the core Android 8 code (notification dots, autofill, picture-in-picture) in addition to the latest version of Samsung's user interface. Samsung released the Galaxy Note8 last September.

ZTE's Android Go Phone, the Tempo Go, Now Available for $80

Mar 30, 2018, 10:07 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE made the Tempo Go available for purchase from its online store. The Tempo Go is a version of the Tempo X that runs the Android Go Oreo platform. Android Go is Google's slimmed-down version of Android for ultra low-cost devices with RAM of 1 GB of less. The Tempo Go has a 5-inch display with 854 by 480 pixels and it is powered by a Snapdragon 210 processor with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. Other features include a 5-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front camera, microUSB, 3.5mm headset jack, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and a 2,200mAh battery. The Tempo Go is sold unlocked with support for the LTE 4G networks of AT&T and T-Mobile. The phone costs $80.

Nokia 5 and Nokia 6 Phones Now Receiving Android 8.1

Mar 30, 2018, 8:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HMD Global today said that it is rolling out the Android 8.1 Oreo update to the Nokia 5 and Nokia 6 phones. The company has been beta testing Oreo for these devices for the last few months. The update is available over the air. The Nokia 5 and Nokia 6 are inexpensive Android phones released by HMD Global last year. They are available unlocked from Amazon.com.

Razer Phone Picks Up Android 8 Oreo Developer Preview

Mar 30, 2018, 7:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Razer is offering an early build of Android 8.1 Oreo to developers for the Razer Phone. The developer preview must be installed manually and will erase all data from the phone. This preview is not intended for owners of the device. Critically, Razer points out that the build does not include any carrier-specific features, meaning network connectivity, signal strength, enhanced voicemail, VoLTE support, and Wi-Fi calling support may not work with the developer preview. Further, there will be no over-the-air updates for the developer preview program and new builds will need to be manually installed each time. Developers interested in testing Android 8.1 on the Razer Phone can snag the preview from Razer's web site.

AT&T's LG V30 Wins an Oreo Treat

Mar 30, 2018, 7:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T this week released Android 8 Oreo for the LG V30. The phone shipped last fall with Android 7.1 Nougat. The latest software from LG and AT&T boosts the core platform to Oreo, with notification dots, autofill, and picture-in-picture, and the security patch level to March 1, 2018. Neither AT&T nor LG called out any additional features for the phone, though the update includes general bug fixes and performance tweaks. AT&T says V30 owners can download the update via WiFi. Sprint and Verizon variants of the V30 have already received Oreo.

Googles Adds to Audiobook Features, Including Routines

Mar 29, 2018, 12:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 29, 2018, 1:21 PM

Google today expanded the playback tools available to those who enjoy listening to audiobooks via Google Play Books. The latest version of the app for Android and iOS devices includes a smart resume feature that takes listeners back to the exact word they last heard before being interrupted. A bookmarks feature lets people tag spots in audiobooks for revisiting their favorite sections. Google Assistant's routines function now supports audiobooks, meaning people can score their early morning traffic and weather report and then transition into listening to their book where they left off the previous day. Further, audiobooks now support playback speeds between 0.5x through 3x for varied listening, and audiobooks can be shared within family libraries in 13 new countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Chile, Mexico, Japan, and South Africa.) Google says the new features are rolling out to Google Play Books mobile app starting today.

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