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printed July 28, 2015
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OnePlus Announces Its Second-Generation Flagship

Yesterday, 9:50 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 10:24 PM

OnePlus today revealed the OnePlus 2, its second-generation flagship Android smartphone. The OnePlus 2 features a 5.5-inch 1080p HD IPS LCD display with 178-degree viewability, and is powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage. The main camera captures 13-megapixel images with laser-assisted focus, f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization, and larger pixels to aid with low-light performance. The user-facing camera features a 5-megapixel sensor. Other hardware features include a slider switch for controlling alert profiles, a fingerprint sensor for security, 3,300mAh battery, and USB Type C for reversible connections. The handset will offer swappable rear covers, including some made from bamboo, black apricot, kevlar, and rosewood. The OnePlus 2 runs OnePlus' version of Android 5.1 Lollipop, which it calls Oxygen OS. The OnePlus 2 will be available August 11 in the U.S., Canada, India, Europe, and China, with other regions to follow later in the year. It costs $389. A version of the phone with 3 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage costs $329.

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Nextbit Targeting Android Phones

Yesterday, 9:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nextbit, a small San Francisco-based startup, today announced that it plans to build smartphones. The company is only teasing an Android handset at the moment, and said it will reveal more details about the device and its plans in the weeks ahead. Nextbit is run by CEO Tom Moss and counts among its staff at least two former HTC employees, including Scott Croyle, HTC's former head of design. "We want to set this off as something different," said Croyle, speaking to Recode. "We don't have to be for everybody." Nextbit already offers cloud-based storage. The company remained mum on the specifics regarding its smartphone plans, such as whether it will target the entry level, middle, or top of the market.

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T-Mobile One M9 Scores Modest Update

Yesterday, 3:14 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC has made a system update available to the T-Mobile variant of the One M9, and the phone earns some significant improvements with the new code. To start, it gains the camera enhancents given to the international edition earlier this year, as well as the kill switch required by California law. It also adds battery improvements and new support for Google Wallet. The update is being pushed out over the air.

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Google Promising More 'Focused' Google+ Experience

Yesterday, 11:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said some changes are on the way for its Google+ social network. To start, people will no longer be required to create Google+ accounts to access all of Google. People will be able to maintain separate Google+ and Google profiles, though some information will be shared between them. YouTube will be the first product that separates Google+ profiles from Google accounts. Google also said it wants to make finding content in Google+ easier, and new features, such as Google+ Collections, allow people to do that. Collections let users organize posts by topic. Similarly, Google believes removing Google+ Photos from Google+ helps to streamline the core Google+ offering. Moreover, functions such as location sharing will be moved to Google Hangouts. "We think changes like these will lead to a more focused, more useful, more engaging Google+," said Google. "As always, your underlying Google Account won't be searchable or followable, unlike public Google+ profiles. And for people who already created Google+ profiles but don't plan to use Google+ itself, we'll offer better options for managing and removing those public profiles." Google said the changes will roll out slowly over the next few months.


Microsoft Debuts Android Launcher

Yesterday, 10:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft recently released a launcher for Android smartphones that delivers a different take on the home screen. The launcher, which replaces the standard Android home screen, uses three panels to display various information. The left-most panel focuses on people, including recent contacts complete with addresses and numbers. The central home panel is where users can put their apps. It also includes a section for recently-used apps so people can jump back into those apps quickly. The last screen is for notes and reminders and can display calendar items as well as personal reminders. Microsoft's Arrow Launcher is available in a closed beta, which means people need to join the Google+ community in order to access the launcher. However, the APK is available directly from Microsoft, as well, for those who want to bypass the community aspect. Arrow Launcher is free to use. Microsoft has created a wide range of apps for Google's Android platform. Arrow is the latest.


LG Terra, Flip World Phone, Lands On Verizon Wireless

Sunday, 6:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless recently added the LG Terra to its lineup of basic feature phones. The Terra is a flip phone that runs a simple operating system with features such as text-to-speech for listening to text messages and photo ID for identifying incoming calls. The handset operates on Verizon's CDMA 1x network in the U.S., but includes quad-band GSM/EDGE radios, too, so it can be used when roaming abroad in more than 200 countries. Other features include a 2.4-inch main display, 1.77-inch secondary display, and a 1.3-megapixel camera. The LG Terra cots $96 at full price, or $4 per month with a Verizon Edge payment plan.


AT&T Completes Purchase of DirecTV

Friday, 3:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it has completed its acquisition of DirecTV. The FCC approved the acquisition earlier today, and AT&T was quick to finalize the paperwork. "Combining DirecTV with AT&T is all about giving customers more choices for great video entertainment integrated with mobile and high-speed Internet service," said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO. "This transaction allows us to significantly expand our high-speed internet service to reach millions more households, which is a perfect complement to our coast-to-coast TV and mobile coverage, We're now a fundamentally different company with a diversified set of capabilities and businesses that set us apart from the competition." AT&T said current customers will not need to take any action now that the deal is complete. It will take several months to fully merge the operations of both companies. AT&T said it will roll out new television, internet, and wireless packages in the months ahead.


FCC Officially Approves AT&T/DirecTV Acquisition

Friday, 1:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 3:39 PM

The FCC today gave formal approval to AT&T's proposed acquisition of satellite TV provider DirecTV. The FCC believes that as long as AT&T adheres to the conditions of the deal, it will serve the broader public interest. Specifically, AT&T will be required to expand its deployment of fiber-optic broadband service to 12.5 million customer locations, as well as to eligible schools and libraries. Further, AT&T will be prohibited from using discriminatory practices to disadvantage online video distribution services. Last, it will be required to offer broadband services to low-income consumers at discounted rates. The merger improves the reach of AT&T's cable television business. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had floated a draft approval of the acquisition earlier this week. Today's decision, following a vote of the remaining commissioners, makes it final.


BlackBerry All But Gives Up On Smartphones

Friday, 12:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen said the company plans to reduce the number of handsets it makes each year to one or two. Chen said the company will make a couple of flagship-class devices and ignore the low-end of the market. "We make four phones a year. We are not going to do that anymore," said BlackBerry CEO John Chen to Fox Business. "We are going to at least cut it down to maybe two, maybe one and [shift] those resources [to] the security and software side" of the business. BlackBerry has spent the last few years cutting costs and refocusing its business on providing mobile device management and security services to its business customers. Just this week, BlackBerry announced plans to buy AtHoc, a crisis messaging product. Earlier this year, BlackBerry revealed plans to further trim back its hardware team. The one or two devices BlackBerry brings to market will "be a high-end phone that you can walk into AT&T and get it, as a professional," said Chen to Bloomberg. "The low-end phone is not BlackBerry's sweet spot." Several of BlackBerry's most recent handsets have targeted the low end of the market, such as the Leap and the Classic. Chen did not say when the company might next release a handset.


Verizon Adding Carrier Aggregation to 20x20MHz Channels

Friday, 11:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless is upgrading its LTE network with several different technologies meant to boost capacity and speeds. Mike Haberman, Verizon's VP of network support, said the company is deploying carrier aggregation in its 20x20MHz channels. It expects this will let it offer paths wider than 20MHz to help increase peak speeds. Moreover, Verizon has begun deploying 4x4 MIMO at cell towers to help boost coverage. Combined, the efforts will have a significant impact on the performance of Verizon's LTE 4G network. Verizon has other technologies, such as small cells, distributed antenna systems, and macro cells, on deck to further improve network performance. Verizon did not provide a timeframe for completing these upgrades, nor did it tie them to any specific geographic areas. Earlier this week, Verizon said it is using only about 40% of its licensed spectrum assets for LTE, mostly in the 700MHz band. Verizon is supplementing the 700MHz-based LTE with AWS-based LTE.


Review: LG Tribute 2 for Boost Mobile

Friday, 10:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

This low-cost Android smartphone targets the budget buyer with its entry-level specs, but the LG Tribute 2 is hardly an upgrade from last year's model. Find out if we recommend the Tribute 2 in this full review.

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Honda to Put Android Auto and CarPlay in 2016 Accord

Friday, 7:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Honda has committed to supporting Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay platforms in the forthcoming 2016 Honda Accord sedan. With the two platforms on board, owners of Android and iOS handsets will be able to connect their devices to the Accord's in-dash unit for safer interactions with their apps. A number of other carmakers have committed to supporting the smartphone platforms, including GM's Buick,Cadillac, and Chevy brands, and Volkswagen.


Google Overhauls YouTube App

Friday, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google released a revised version of YouTube and the updated app focuses on improving usability. The user interface now focuses around three tabs: Home, Subscriptions, and Account. The first lets people explore and discover videos with recommendations based on viewing history, the second features all the videos from favorited channels, and the third helps people manage their own content and history within the app. In addition to the tabs, YouTube has new editing features, such trimming clips, adding tints and music, and uploading straight from the camera. The new YouTube app is available for Android devices and the web, and will reach iOS devices soon.


Europe Approves Nokia's Purchase of Alcatel-Lucent

Friday, 7:07 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The European Commission today gave Nokia permission to move forward with its acquisition of rival Alcatel-Lucent. Following its initial review, the Commission approved the deal without placing any conditions on the terms. The acquisition still needs to be approved by Nokia's shareholders and antitrust regulators in a handful of other countries. Nokia expects the complete the deal during the first half of 2016.


Google Says Google Voice Transcriptions Won't Be So Bad

Thursday, 4:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 4:15 PM

Google today said it has updated the voicemail transcription feature of Google Voice to improve accuracy. Google employed technology called a long short-term memory deep recurrent neural network to reduce transcript errors by 49%. Google was able to make the improvements by studying the incorrect voicemail transcriptions shared by select Google Voice users. Google said all Google Voice and Project Fi users should automatically see improved accuracy in transcriptions moving forward. No action need be taken on the part of users.


Google Brings Spotlight Stories to iOS Devices

Thursday, 12:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today offered its Spotlight Stories app to the iPhone and iPad. Google Spotlight Stories began life on the Motorola Moto X as a 360-degree animated story. The app includes 2D/3D animations that take advantage of the iPhone's sensors to allow users to interact with them. At the moment, the stories are view-only; people can't create their own. Google Spotlight Stories only contains a few stories at the moment, but the selection is expected to grow over time. It is free to download from the iTunes App Store. The app has been available to Android devices since May.


Sen. Al Franken Wants Apple Music Antitrust Probe

Thursday, 7:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Senator Al Franken believes Apple may be violating antitrust laws with its Apple Music service and has asked the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to look into the company's practices. At issue is how Apple Music and competing services are priced. Apple charges $10 per month for Apple Music. Many of Apple Music's competitors, such as Spotify and Rhapsody, charge this same monthly fee. Apple lets competitors offer their apps and services through the iTunes App Store; however, because Apple takes a 30% cut in app revenue, Spotify and others are forced to raise their prices to $13 per month in order to make up the difference. Spotify is available for $10 per month to anyone who initiates the service online directly with Spotify, but Spotify is not allowed to advertise that in its iTunes App Store listing. Franken alleges that this results in consumers over-paying for music services. The FTC is already probing Apple's app store policies, but it has yet to open a formal investigation. Neither the FTC nor the Justice Department responded publicly to Franken's request. Separately, a consumer watchdog organization wants the FTC and Justice Department to examine the agreements between Apple and the big music labels. It alleges Apple has exclusive access to some artists and is trying to eliminate free streaming services. Apple did not comment on the allegations.


Dish Unhappy About FCC's Position On Auction Discounts

Thursday, 7:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Dish Networks has confirmed the FCC plans to deny it $3.3 billion in discounts on spectrum licenses. Dish used three small companies — called designated entities — to place bids on its behalf during the AWS-3 auction earlier this year. Small entities are generally given a discount of 25%, which would have reduced the combined total of bids from $13.3 billion to $10 billion. However, the FCC concluded Dish had an 85% controlling interest in the three smaller companies, making them ineligible for the discounts. "We respectfully disagree with the proposed denial of the bidding credits," said Dish Executive Vice President Stanton Dodge. Dish maintains it followed the rules properly. Dish met with the FCC regarding the matter and was told the agency "will not designate the matter for a hearing or refer it to the enforcement bureau or Justice Department." FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated the draft order last week, but it has yet to be approved by the full commission. It's unclear what remaining legal courses of action Dish might follow. The FCC recently altered the definition of designated entities to ensure it doesn't run into this problem in future auctions.

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