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The best of MWC 2019 – TechCrunch

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After years of promises, 5G finally arrived at MWC 2019 — kind of, sort of. Barcelona served as the launching pad for several 5G handsets, set to arrive later this year. Though your actual 5G mileage may vary.

Foldable displays, another long-promised smartphone tech, also had its moment in the sun. Several companies debuted foldables — some were actual handsets with actual price tags, while others fell firmly within the concept camp. And pretty much all of them were behind glass.

Other notable trends for the event included cameras, AR/VR and security of all sorts. Here are the highlights and lowlights from the world’s biggest mobile show. All in all, we’re here for the weirdness.

5G comes of age

It’s been an MWC talking point for years now, but at this week’s show, the first 5G handsets finally arrived.

–Huawei Mate X
–LG V50 ThinQ 5G
–Samsung Galaxy Fold
–Samsung Galaxy S10
–Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
–ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G

OnePlus, which promised last year that it would be among the first to hop on the 5G train, didn’t have a handset to announce, but it did demo a prototype and announce an initiative for 5G app devs.

Unfolding the future 

Time to unfold the checkbook. The first foldables are here, carrying an average price of ~$2,000. That’s like two phones for the price of, well, two phones. Whether or not the phones will be worth it, however, is another question entirely.

–Huawei Mate X
–Samsung Galaxy Fold

TCL showed off a prototype at the show, promising to deliver a more affordable take on the space at some point next year. Oppo, too, is still very much in the prototype phase.

AR/VR/MR

The biggest hit of the world’s biggest phone show may not have been a phone at all. Microsoft used the event to launch the second generation of its HoloLens, a headset firmly focused on business.

–Microsoft HoloLens 2
–Microsoft Azure Kinect
–Vive Focus Plus
–Qualcomm XR chips

Security

Huawei had a lot to say about accusations of security threats around its 5G equipment. Ditto for the European Commission’s digital commissioner. Android, meanwhile, will be getting more password-less logins.

Misc

–Energizer’s 18,000 mAh phone
–Light is expanding from smartphone cameras to self-driving cars
–HTC’s blockchain phone can now be purchased with fiat currency
–Sprint to launch 5G service in 4 cities in May
–Facebook expands its internet infrastructure projects
–New microSD format promises insane transfer speeds, better battery life
–Nubia’s ‘wearable smartphone’ might be the next step for flexible displays

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Google Fi turns 6 and gets a new unlimited plan – TechCrunch

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Google Fi, Google’s cell network, is turning six today and to celebrate, the team is launching a new pricing plan, dubbed ‘Simply Unlimited’ starting at $60 per month for a single line (down to $30 per line for 3 lines or more). The new plan features unlimited calls and texts in the U.S., plus unlimited data and texting in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Image Credits: Google

You may recall that Fi’s original promise was a single, affordable pay-as-you-go plan where you would pay a fixed price per month for the basic call and texting service and then pay an extra $10 per GB of data you used per billing cycle, capped at $80 per month. In 2019, Google then turned this into what is essentially an unlimited plan, dubbed Fi Unlimited, starting at $70 per month for a single line, with discounts for additional lines.

The new ‘Simply Unlimited’ plan is a pared-down version of the original Unlimited plan, which is now called the Unlimited Plus plan (yeah, that’s a lot of names). Now, that plan has still a lot of extra features that power users aren’t likely willing to give up for a slightly lower price. In addition to everything in the new Simply Unlimited plan, this plan still features free international calls to more than 50 countries and international data in more than 200 destinations, plus full-speed hotspot tethering and 100GB of Google One cloud storage.

The Flexible plan is also still an option, with its base fee of $20 per month for texting and calling for a single line (down to $17 per month for three lines) and $10 per GB of data, no matter whether you use if abroad or at home — or for hotspot tethering. Google says that’s the plan to choose if you’re mostly on WiFi — as most of us are right now.

Basically, if you’re not planning to use your phone outside of North America, the new Simply Unlimited plan looks like a good deal that, depending on your use case, compares favorably with similarly priced plans from other carriers — especially if international data is important to you.

Image Credits: Google

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Samsung opens beta on Galaxy Upcycling to breathe new life into old phones – TechCrunch

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Samsung announced Galaxy Upcycling a few years back, but has largely been quiet on that front, aside from some stage time at CES back in January. Today the company announced that Upcycling at Home is being opened to beta today for users in the U.S., Korea and the U.K.

It’s a pretty novel program, in a world where consumers are encouraged to scrap their old devices every two to three years for something shiny and new. The program is designed to breathe new life into handsets that might otherwise be tossed in a landfill or stashed away in a drawer.

Image Credits: Samsung

“We are rethinking how we use existing resources, and we believe the key to upcycling is to enable solutions that transform old technology into something new by adding value,” VP Sung-Koo Kim said in a release tied to the news. “We are committed to integrating sustainable practices into our day-to-day lives, and through Galaxy Upcycling at Home, users can join our journey toward a more sustainable future.”

Specifically, the products can be revamped into smart home devices, like childcare and pet monitors.

The feature can be accessed within the SmartThings Labs feature found in Samsung’s SmartThings App. When enabled, the product can send alerts when things like a crying baby or barking dog are detected. The recorded sound will be sent as part of the alert. Another feature uses built-in sensors to turn on a room’s lights when things get dark. The service will optimize device battery so it can operate for an extended period while detecting these inputs.

 

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UK’s IoT ‘security by design’ law will cover smartphones too – TechCrunch

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Smartphones will be included in the scope of a planned “security by design” U.K. law aimed at beefing up the security of consumer devices, the government said today.

It made the announcement in its response to a consultation on legislative plans aimed at tackling some of the most lax security practices long-associated with the Internet of Things (IoT).

The government introduced a security code of practice for IoT device manufacturers back in 2018 — but the forthcoming legislation is intended to build on that with a set of legally binding requirements.

A draft law was aired by ministers in 2019 — with the government focused on IoT devices, such as webcams and baby monitors, which have often been associated with the most egregious device security practices.

Its plan now is for virtually all smart devices to be covered by legally binding security requirements, with the government pointing to research from consumer group “Which?” that found that a third of people kept their last phone for four years, while some brands only offer security updates for just over two years.

The forthcoming legislation will require smartphone and device makers like Apple and Samsung to inform customers of the duration of time for which a device will receive software updates at the point of sale.

It will also ban manufacturers from using universal default passwords (such as “password” or “admin”), which are often preset in a device’s factory settings and easily guessable — making them meaningless in security terms.

California already passed legislation banning such passwords in 2018 with the law coming into force last year.

Under the incoming U.K. law, manufacturers will additionally be required to provide a public point of contact to make it simpler for anyone to report a vulnerability.

The government said it will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Commenting in a statement, digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman added: “Our phones and smart devices can be a gold mine for hackers looking to steal data, yet a great number still run older software with holes in their security systems.

“We are changing the law to ensure shoppers know how long products are supported with vital security updates before they buy and are making devices harder to break into by banning easily guessable default passwords.

“The reforms, backed by tech associations around the world, will torpedo the efforts of online criminals and boost our mission to build back safer from the pandemic.”

A DCMS spokesman confirmed that laptops, PCs and tablets with no cellular connection will not be covered by the law, nor will secondhand products. Although he added that the intention is for the scope to be adaptive, to ensure the law can keep pace with new threats that may emerge around devices.

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