Category: Smartphones


2014 World Cup

Soccer fans around the world would rather be in Brazil right now than anywhere else. But most will stay home for the 2014 World Cup. If you’re not spending the next month in Brazil, you can still catch every game, no matter where you are. WatchESPN will live-stream all 64 games, available both online and on your mobile devices. Univision will also stream every match of the tournament’s first two rounds for free on Univision Deportes.

If you are going to Brazil – or you’re already there – here’s how to prepare your tech the trip, thanks to Verizon:

  • Make sure your phone will work. Check out Verizon’s Trip Planner to see whether your device will work abroad. Trip Planner provides information on the global services you’ll need, as well as pricing and coverage information.
  • Global Ready Check, now accessible through My Verizon Mobile, is an easy way to determine if your device is ready to make the trip with you. And you won’t need to call or visit a store!
  • Got an incompatible device? Don’t worry. Under the Global Travel Program, Verizon can ship you a device to use for the duration of the games. There are no daily rental fees or security deposits-just pay for the calls you make and receive-and you can keep your regular phone number and transfer contacts using Verizon Cloud or Backup Assistant Plus.
  • If your device is compatible, you’ll need a Global Services plan. Choose from a variety of plans for service in more than 220 countries.

And, until July 13, you can get the International Value Plan and/or World Messaging Unlimited free for 3 months.

T-Mobile Jump

Tech culture is a funny thing. If you track tech news, releases and new ideas closely enough, you’ll notice there’s a very apparent trend that pops up all the time:

  1. Some company has a truly original idea.
  2. Every competing company copies that idea.

It’s funny and sad at the same time, and it’s the same thing that happens every time there’s a truly unique idea in the tech world.

A Truly Original Idea

The most recent example of this has been the ability for tech-happy smartphone owners to upgrade their phones far more often than once every two years. T-Mobile made a big splash in the mobile market last week when it announced ‘Jump,’ which would give customers two mobile upgrades every year for an extra $10 per month. (As a refresher to the new way T-Mobile sells smartphones since they no longer have mobile contracts, you can catch up here.)

Jump is a great idea! A truly original idea. People love upgrading their phones and hate having to wait 20 months two years for a new gadget. (Let’s put aside the fact that you don’t save a much money by constantly upgrading your phones and you no longer have back-up phones to give someone or use in case of emergency. It’s still a very original idea.)

… and the Rest Shall Follow

You know what’s NOT original? The fact that AT&T just announced an almost identical program: Next. (All Things D notes that AT&T issued a memo teasing Next before T-Mobile announced Jump, so it’s unclear whose idea came first. The bottom line is still the same: derivative ideas.) Next would be slightly different from T-Mobile’s plans in a few ways: You’re eligible for an upgrade every 12 months, not six; you don’t need to put a down payment on your device; and there’s no additional monthly fee. It would be more forgivable of a copycat if it was better, but the numbers don’t add up. T-Mobile’s not scared, either, as an executive said it’s a “poor imitation” of Jump.

Want to hear a funny story? Verizon’s reportedly planning the same type of program, called VZ Edge, which would launch in August. The plan is almost identical to Next, which means it, too, is a slight derivation on Jump.

It’s just that type of copycat culture. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sprint announce something similar, except Sprint seems to be doing its own thing over there, with Unlimited, My Way essentially giving you unlimited everything forever and ever.

Not an Isolated Incident

Think back to the biggest tech breakthroughs of the last few years: iPhone, iPad, etc. Every major breakthrough has been imitated and copied and modded and tweaked by just about every company under the sun. I’ve just never seen it happen as quickly as we’ve seen phone carriers do their thing this week.

And this isn’t the last time we’ll see this type of behavior this year. The Pebble Smartwatch was last year’s Kickstarter darling, and recently hit store shelves. You know who else is interested in the smartwatch business? Oh, just about everyone: Google. Apple. Mozilla. Microsoft. TomTom. Sony. Dell. It’s amazing. For a while, I seemed to be posting a story about a new company wanting to enter the smartwatch business… and I know we’ll see the same thing once Google Glass becomes more prevalent.

Innovation breeds competition, which helps create better products for all of us to buy and use. I’d just like to see more unique ideas, rather than everyone piling on whichever bandwagon is hot this hour.

If you’ve ever wanted to take massively-sized photographs without lugging around a DSLR camera, I’ve got a smartphone for you. Last week, Nokia unveiled the Windows 8-powered Lumia 1020, complete with a 41-megapixel PureView camera and Carl Zeiss optics. Yep, you heard me right – 41 megapixels. The massive 41-megapixel images are processed by new Pro Camera and Smart Camera software, which are also hitting other Lumias soon. Since a 41-megapixel image is far too big for a mobile upload, the Lumia 1020 actually saves two versions of each photo you take: the full 41-megapixel image as well as a 5-megapixel version, which is far more conducive to sharing on Facebook. The rest of the Lumia 1020’s specs are good, not great: it features a 4.5-inch AMOLED display, a dual-core processor and 32 gigs of storage. If you’ve absolutely got to own the phone with the best built-in camera on the market, the Nokia Lumia 1020 will hit AT&T store shelves exclusively on July 26 for $299 with a new two-year contract.

T-Mobile made waves in the mobile market recently when it ended cell phone contracts and changed the way you bought new phones: no more subsidies, but rather a down payment and small monthly installments. Its new program, ‘Jump,’ takes that strategy to the next level and gives you the option to get a new smartphone twice a year. While T-Mobile customers could already buy a new phone whenever they want, they’d be on the hook for the rest of the payments on their old device. Jump waives all future payments on your old phone and lets you start fresh with a new device. For ten bucks a month – plus a trade-in of your old device – Jump lets you get a shiny new phone twice a year. The new program won’t save you much – if any – money, and you can’t gift your old phones to family or friends once you upgrade. But if you want to make sure you always have the best phone on the market, hey, you might as well Jump.

HTC One mini

Responding to the call for smaller flagship-caliber smartphones, HTC is today introducing the One mini, a 4.3-inch version of its leading Android handset, the One. The physical design and onboard software remain unchanged, however HTC is aiming to price the One mini “two price points below the HTC One” and making a few downgrades en route to that goal. Among the tradeoffs you’ll have to make with the One mini is a step down to a 1.4GHz dual-core processor (Snapdragon 400), 1GB of RAM, 16GB of non-expandable storage, and the loss of NFC and optical image stabilization for the camera. The One’s IR blaster is also gone, however none of these alterations amount to a materially different user experience when the One mini is in your hands. HTC has cut corners, but done so intelligently enough to deliver “exactly the same experience” as on the company’s current Android flagship.

Read the full story at The Verge.

Verizon

Verizon has echoed the new pricing models of rivals T-Mobile and AT&T with its very own, called Edge. The plan will offer customers more frequent upgrades, and also ease the cost of smartphone subsidies on Verizon’s balance sheet. Verizon says the Edge device payment plan spreads the retail price of a smartphone over 24 months, and allows customers to upgrade their phone after just six months, if they’ve paid 50% of the retail price of the phone. The 24-month payment period then begins again. The program works with all of Verizon’s available smartphones, including the iPhone, and becomes available to its Share Everything customers on August 25. Shares of Verizon were down 1.7% to $49.87 on Thursday afternoon in New York. On a conference call Thursday Verizon’s chief financial officer Fran Shammo described Edge as “yet another choice” for Verizon customers, though he was light on details about how the plan would work.

Read the full story at Forbes.

Nokia

Nokia’s decision in 2011 to pin the future of its smartphone business on Windows Phone has been heavily scrutinized over the years, but the reasoning behind that choice is only becoming fully clear now. When asked last week if he regretted not choosing Android, CEO Stephen Elop told reporters that he’s “very happy with the decision we made.” He added, according to The Guardian, that “What we were worried about a couple of years ago was the very high risk that one hardware manufacturer could come to dominate Android.” At the time, Nokia “had a suspicion of who it might be, because of the resources available, the vertical integration.” That company, of course, is Samsung. Elop continued, “Now fast forward to today and examine the Android ecosystem, and there’s a lot of good devices from many different companies, but one company has essentially now become the dominant player.”

Read the full story at The Verge.

Corning, the maker of Gorilla Glass, has routinely made your smartphone’s screen better and more damage-resistant, but the company is about to take things to a whole other level. Taking the stage at the MIT Mobile Technology Summit, Corning showed off new display technology that goes far beyond screen protection. Its new Gorilla Glass will feature anti-microbial coating, which will kill virtually all microbes on the screen’s surface over two hours. It’s not an instant clean, but it’s better than carrying around a filthy phone in your pocket all day. The new Gorilla Glass will also make your phone’s screen way more transparent, which means checking your phone in broad daylight is going to be much, much easier. We’ve all tried to read an e-mail on our phone in a parking lot on a bright summer day – it just doesn’t work. Thanks to Corning, borrowing a phone from a friend in the future will not only be a far better – and less icky – experience.

BlackBerry Q10

Back in the day, owning a smartphone (pretty much) meant owning a BlackBerry. If you needed to get work done on the go, a BlackBerry was THE phone to get. Being a “CrackBerry addict” was a badge of honor and, if a high school kid had one – he or she was absolutely in the “in” crowd because BBM was the “cool kids” social media tool of choice.

That was then. Today, in a world dominated by touchscreens and (most importantly) apps, having a BlackBerry screams to all the world about your “old school” roots or that the IT department at your job is so antiquated that it is forcing you to use this distant relative of a modern-day device.

Whether you’re on iOS or Android – which, according to StatCounter, combine to make up over 60 percent of the mobile market – you have access to hundreds of thousands of apps. Apps define today’s mobile experience more so than any other feature on your phone. Secondary mobile platforms, like Windows Phone and BlackBerry, simply can’t compete; their app stores are suboptimal when compared to Apple and Google.

But do they need to compete?

Back in January, BlackBerry showed off its newest operating system, alongside its new flagship phone, the Z10 (which recently had its price slashed all the way down to $49.99 after poor sales in its first six months). The Z10 was a smartphone modeled after top-tier phones like iPhone and Galaxy S III, and featured a 4.2″ touchscreen. But much like Windows Phone, a lack of app support and lackluster hardware made the Z10 a nonstarter.

Perhaps the last act of a desperate organization, BlackBerry recently launched the Q10, which is a return to the familiar BlackBerry form factor for hardcore BlackBerry fans. The Q10 has a keyboard and a small, but serviceable touch screen.

So – what makes the phone special? Is it worth buying? Should you switch from your iPhone or Android to a Q10? Is it worth an upgrade from older BlackBerry phones?

What Makes it Special?

The Q10 is the BlackBerry that should have come out three years ago. It’s the next generation BlackBerry with a keyboard, and anyone who is a BlackBerry fan is going to want this phone.

The Q10 looks like your traditional Blackberry. It has a 720 720 pixel touchscreen that takes up the top of the device, and a physical keyboard on the bottom. The phone resembles the BlackBerry Bold, the most popular BlackBerry device of a generation long past. There’s no track ball on the Q10 as the touchscreen renders it obsolete.

If you want flawless e-mail and texting with a physical keyboard – and don’t need much more than that out of a smartphone – this is the device for you. I’d forgotten how nice it feels to type on a physical keyboard. I’ve been a glass keyboard user for quite some time, between my new Galaxy S IV and the iPhones I’ve had for the past few years.

What Are the Downsides?

Try as it might, BlackBerry is not an app-driven platform. If you’re an app person, this isn’t the phone for you; you’re going to want to stick to an iPhone or high-end Android device. (But you already know this.)

We live in a world where new phones have to have all kinds of new capabilities. Apps really make the phone. Since Steve Jobs created the App Store and let third-party developers take his platform to the next level, having a bountiful app store is a necessity for a smartphone to succeed.

It is important to understand that the BlackBerry App Store does have apps for the most popular services: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sports, News, Weather, etc. It just doesn’t go deep and, to be frank, it never will.

The BlackBerry is not an AppPhone; Androids & iPhones are not BlackBerrys

If you hold up a Galaxy S IV next to the Q10, side-by-side, even a person who’s never used a smartphone before will be able to tell that the devices are very, very different.

Side by Side: Galaxy S IV and BlackBerry Q10

It’s easy to tell which is the better, more modern phone.

There’s no contest. A 720 720 screen – even with a nice, physical keyboard – isn’t enough to make up for the lack of screen real estate that the S IV (or other phones of its size) provides. The Q10 is not a device you will enjoy reading an eBook with, nor will you care for its web browsing experience. That said: in a pinch, it will do.

Should You Upgrade?

The BlackBerry Q10 has one purpose and one purpose only: If you’re a BlackBerry Bold or Curve user, and you want the next-generation BlackBerry, it’s here. The Q10 has 4G LTE, an app store with basic essentials and a decent camera. If you’re sporting a Bold or Curve – or, if you already have an iPad or other tablet and simply need the best possible typing experience available on a handheld device. upgrade to the Q10 now.

If you’re anyone else… $199 with a two-year contract will put you in a much more powerful, much more capable device running Android 4.2.x. Did I forget to mention the iPhone 5? Yep. That is not a device you should be considering right now. It’s already two-year-old technology. If you’re in the market for a smartphone or app phone right now, go with Samsung, Sony, LG or HTC. Apple has a lot of catching up to do.

Once T-Mobile unveiled Jump, its program that gives you access to a phone upgrade every six months, AT&T and Verizon answered by announcing their own early upgrade plans. Verizon Edge lets you get a shiny new smartphone every six months, while AT&T Next gives you a new phone once a year. Like T-Mobile Jump, both programs require a trade-in of your old device when you upgrade, but unlike Jump, neither program requires a separate monthly fee. And you’re not eligible to upgrade to a new device until you’ve paid off half the cost of your phone. But that’s not the whole story. T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon build the cost of phone subsidies into their monthly service fees, so with all these plans you’re actually paying for the phone twice. Once, built into your monthly phone bill and again in the installment plan. Next and Edge won’t save you money, so go pick the phone with the features you want, and get another new one for free in two years.

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