Owners of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note8 smartphones can now modify the behavior of their handset's dedicated Bixby button. The hardware key, located on the left edge of the phone, automatically calls up Bixby Home with a short press or Bixby Voice with a long press. A new software update that recently hit S8, S8+, and Note8 phones adds a toggle for controlling the Bixby button. Owners of these phones can opt to disable the short press function, which launches Bixby Home. This prevents accidental presses from opening the app. A long press still calls up Bixby Voice. The Bixby button has been a point of contention with some S8, S8+, and Note8 owners who'd prefer the button handled other tasks. The update from Samsung also makes a few performance tweaks.
Powermat, which has deployed PMA-compliant wireless chargers at thousands of Starbucks locations around the U.S., plans to update its charging pads to support the iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone 8 from Apple. At the moment, there are two competing wireless charging standards, PMA and Qi. Handsets from Samsung and others typically support PMA, though some (Galaxy S8, Note8) support both PMA and Qi. Apple's new iPhones support only the Qi standard, which makes them incompatible with the wireless chargers at Starbucks. Speaking to Slashgear, Powermat CTO Itay Sherman explained that its Starbucks charging pads are connected to its cloud. This gives Powermat the ability to update them when necessary. "If there's a new standard, a new variant of the standard — you have PMA, you have Qi, you have Samsung’s Wireless Fast Charging — we can download new software to our points and support them," said Sherman to Slashgear. "The biggest difference between PMA and Qi is the communication protocols. We designed a controller which is software programable so we can integrate new communication protocols on this platform." Further, Powermat "designed the magnetic part to be as generic as possible to cover all standards if possible." Sherman did not say how quickly it will be able to update its Starbucks Powermat chargers with support for Qi, and conceded it will rely in part on the individual venues in question. This upgrade will not impact stand-alone, consumer Powermat chargers, which will remain limited to the PMA standard.
Samsung is developing a variant of its Galaxy Note line that will have a foldable screen. Koh Dong-jin, head of Samsung's mobile business, said the phone will arrive at some point during 2018 and will feature a bendable display. Koh also noted that Samsung is working intently with Harman to bring artificial intelligence to a speaker-style device. The speaker will be able to play music, as well as conduct other tasks. Koh didn't say when the speaker device will reach the market. The comments were made during a press conference concerning the Galaxy Note8 handset, which recently went on sale on Korea. The phone has garnered praise from the press. It goes on sale in the U.S. for $930 starting September 15.
Netflix recently added the Samsung Galaxy Note8, Sony Xperia XZ1, and the LG V30 to the short list of those able to play back high-definition video in HDR. High-dynamic range content offers better contrast than standard content. The only other handsets capable of supporting Netflix HDR are the LG G6 and Xperia XZ Premium, which have the needed HDR displays. In order to view HDR content on these handsets, owners have to subscribe to the $12 premium Netflix plan (streaming on four screens and ultra HD resolution). They'll also have to ensure the latest version of the app is installed on their phone, and select "high definition" for video playback quality.
Samsung today announced several new wearables at IFA. They include the Gear Sport smartwatch, the Gear Fit2 Pro fitness band, and the Gear IconX 2018 wireless earbuds. With an expanding range of devices, Samsung hopes people will find the wearable that suits them best. Here are our initial thoughts on these new accessories.
Samsung today introduced the Gear Sport smartwatch. The watch includes a 1.2-inch OLED display and measures 42.9mm, which Samsung says should fit most people well. It is powered by a dual-core 1 GHz processor and includes 768 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage for music and other files. The device packs a 300mAh battery that Samsung says is good for about two days of use, though tracking workouts via GPS will cut down battery life. Other specs include Bluetooth 4.2, accelerometer, barometer, light sensor, and optical heart rate monitor. It can charge wirelessly and includes NFC for Samsung Pay mobile payments. The device runs Tizen OS 3.0 with some tweaks from Samsung. In particular, Samsung has refreshed its Health and Nutrition platform with more advanced calorie counting and workout tracking. The wearable can automatically track a wide variety of workouts and provide data such as step counts, distance traveled, floors climbed, and more. The Gear Sport includes Samsung's rotating bezel to manage the user interface. Two musical buttons along the side also help manage the UI. The device relies on standard 22mm bands and Samsung will provide a variety of straps in materials such as plastic, leather, and woven fabric. The Gear Sport is waterproof to 50 meters and can handle salt water swimming. It also meets mil-spec standards for protection from abuse, such as drops and shock. The Gear Sport is compatible with most Android handsets and even the Apple iPhone. Pricing and availability were not disclosed.
Samsung today updated its dedicated fitness band, the Fit2 Pro. This wearable features a 1.5-inch curved OLED display and runs Samsung's Tizen operating system. The device features a plastic build with a buckle-style strap to keep it firmly in place. The wearable is water resistant to 50 meters and can tackle salt water for ocean-based swimming. Samsung says it meets mil-spec certification for protection from abuse, such as drops, shock, temperature extremes, and high altitude. The Fit2 Pro includes an optical heart rate monitor and can check the wearer's heart rate as often as every second. Other features include GPS for tracking workouts and a bevy of fitness apps, as well as integration with Samsung's Health and Nutrition platform. The wearable includes 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage for holding up to about 500 songs for listening on the go. The Fit2 Pro will be available for preorder starting August 31 and it ships starting September 15. It will cost $199 and will be sold by Samsung as well as Best Buy, B&H, and Macy's. It comes in black and red.
Samsung today announced the Gear IconX 2018 wireless earbuds. These Bluetooth headphones are separate buds that come in a charging case. The new model resembles the previous generation but makes dramatic improvements to battery life. Where the originals had just 1.5 hours of playback time per charge, the IconX 2018 offers up to 4 hours of talk time and 5 hours of music streaming. The charging case can replenish the earbuds once, and supports rapid charging to deliver an hour of play time after just 10 minutes. The earbuds include personal coaching (via mobile app) that can help track and guide owners through workouts. The buds can store about 500 songs thanks to 4 GB of storage. Users control volume and other actions via capacitive buttons placed on the outside of each bud. The IconX supports Samsung's Bixby voice assistant (or Google Assistant and/or Alexa) based on user preferences. The IconX will go on sale later this year. Pricing wasn't disclosed. They come in gray, black, and pink.
Samsung is back with the Note8, a wholly reimagined handset when compared to the disastrous (and fire prone) Note7. This year's Note smartphone takes cues from Samsung's existing Galaxy S8 devices thanks to the Infinity Display with curved edges. The Note8 manages to carve its own path, however, thanks to a twin camera array and new S Pen powers. Here are Phone Scoop's first thoughts about the Galaxy Note8
Samsung today announced the Galaxy Note8, its top-end flagship smartphone with a huge display and S Pen stylus. The Note8 eschews the blockier design language of previous generations for the svelte look of the Galaxy S8 and S8+. The phone has two curved pieces of glass mated to an aluminum frame. The Note8 jumps to Samsung's Super AMOLED Infinity Display. It measures 6.3 inches across the diagonal with quad HD+ resolution. The Note8 is among the first from Samsung to move to a dual-camera configuration. The handset has twin, full-color 12-megapixel sensors with one wide-angle lens (f/1.7) and one telephoto lens (f/2.4). The cameras make use of optical image stabilization and electronic image stabilization, with the telephoto lens providing 2x optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom. Some of the unique shooting modes include Live Focus for selective focus (bokeh) photos that can be adjusted before or after the image is captured, and dual capture, which lets people simultaneously take a zoomed shot through the telephoto lens as well as a wide-angle shot through the main lens. Samsung updated the S Pen stylus: the tip now measures 0.7mm and provides the same feedback as most ballpoint pens. The phone is able to detect 4,096 different levels of pressure to record exactly what the user scribbles on the screen. On the software front, the S Pen can create animated memos through a feature called Live Message. The messages can be transmitted and opened by most platforms/apps that support GIFs. The existing screen-off memo tool now lets people create up to 100 pages of text without waking the screen, and supports dynamic use cases, such as crossing items off a shopping list. The S Pen function can translate entire phrases now, as well as access more templates in the PenUp mode. Most of the phone's other specs mirror those of the S8 devices. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with 6 GB of RAM, Gigabit LTE, 3,300 mAh battery with rapid wireless charging, and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. The Note8 and S Pen are waterproof, and security features include iris/face unlock, as well as Knox 2.9. The phone has a dedicated Bixby key and upgraded DeX software that improves multitasking when used in PC mode. Preorders for the Samsung Galaxy Note8 begin August 24 and the device will go on sale September 15. Samsung said an unlocked variant will go on sale when the carrier models do. Carriers will charge $930-960 full retail price. Samsung plans to sell the black and gray versions in the U.S., while blue and gold versions will also be sold overseas.
Google today announced the final release of Android 8.0, and also named this version "Oreo". Members of the Android Beta program will receive an update to the final version today. Nexus and Pixel users will receive the update "rolling out in phases over the next several weeks". Google has been working with all of its partners to enable updates for other phones. In the coming weeks and months, other manufacturers will roll out the update to many recent phones. By the end of the year, phones from Essential, Huawei, HTC, Kyocera, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Sharp and Sony will have Android 8.0 Oreo. The update includes some minor new features, such as picture-in-picture and improved auto-fill, plus many important improvements for developers and overall performance.
Xfinity, Comcast's wireless service, today said it has expanded its availability to every market in which Comcast has a presence. The low-cost service launched in April, but was limited to just a small selection of markets. Now, Comcast customers can take advantage of the wireless offering and tie it to their existing internet and television service. Xfinity has also tweaked its service plans. Moving forward, the company offers unlimited service (up to 20 GB of high-speed LTE 4G) for $45 per line per month. It also sells access for $12 per 1 GB, which can be shared across all the lines in a plan. Xfinity offers all customers unlimited talk and text and a base 100 MB of data to get them started. Taxes and fees are included in the pricing structure. Xfinity operates on Verizon's network, but will offload data traffic to Comcast-owned WiFi hotspots when they are available. Xfinity says it has 18 million such hotspots positioned around the country. Xfinity offers a number of popular phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Apple iPhone 7. Customers can pay full price up front or over time via monthly installments.
T-Mobile today said it has activated its first 600 MHz cell site in Cheyenne, Wyo. T-Mobile is using Nokia equipment to provide LTE coverage across Cheyenne in the 600 MHz band. The Un-carrier plans to light up 600 MHz service in rural areas around the country first. Markets that can expect to see 600 MHz service by the end of the year include Wyoming, Northwest Oregon, West Texas, Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, Western North Dakota, Maine, Coastal North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Central Virginia, and Eastern Washington. T-Mobile says deploying LTE on 600 MHz in these markets will improve its coverage from 315 million POPs today to 321 million by year's end. T-Mobile won the spectrum licenses in the reverse auction that concluded earlier this year. The government gave T-Mobile the licenses just two months ago. The company plans to deploy service on the 600 MHz airwaves as quickly as it can to help shore up weak coverage areas. The service may be up and running, but there are no devices yet that can use it. According to T-Mobile, Samsung and LG plan to release compatible handsets during the fourth quarter of the year.
Samsung has made a version of its mobile browser available to non-Samsung handsets. The company has been beta testing Samsung Internet Browser on Nexus and Pixel phones since April. The latest build, v6 Beta, is compatible with all Android devices running version 5.0 Lollipop and up. Samsung says its browser can sync bookmarks with Chrome on desktop machines, or other machines via the Samsung Cloud. The Samsung browser also includes content blockers, high-contrast mode, CSS Grid (for control over certain layouts), and the latest Chromium engine. Advanced users might take advantage of several beta features, including WebVR, web-based Bluetooth, WebGL 2, and Gamepad extensions. The Samsung Internet Browser Beta can be downloaded directly from the Google Play Store.
T-Mobile today improved its Jump On Demand program with the introduction of T-Mobile Smartpicks. The Smartpicks program is a leasing option that lets people score affordable phones with low monthly payments. The company described Smartpicks as "exactly what a huge portion of our customer base are looking for — these are devices with awesome screens, great cameras, and powerful processors that can run all the latest apps." T-Mobile says most Smartpick devices cost $7 or $8 per month with a small down payment. Alternately, the devices can be paired with the Jump On Demand program, which allows people to upgrade their phone more often. Customers who keep their Jump On Demand phone the full 18 months can return it for a new one or pay off the remaining balance to own it out right. Some of the phones available via the Smartpicks and Jump On Demand program include the new T-Mobile Revvl for $0 down and $5 per month, the Samsung Galaxy J3 Prime for $0 down and $7 per month, the LG K20 Plus for $0 down and $8 a month, the LG Aristo $0 down and $7 a month, and the ZTE ZMAX Pro for $0 down and $8 a month. The T-Mobile Revvl goes on sale August 10. All the other phones mentioned above are already available.
Samsung today announced the Galaxy S8 Active, a rugged version of the S8 that will initially be sold by AT&T. The phone does away with the attractive, curved design of the S8 in favor of a more rugged metal frame with bumpers that are able to withstand drops up to 5 feet. Samsung says the phone meets mil-spec 810G for protection against abuse. The S8 Active offers the same protection from water and dust as the standard S8 thanks to an IP68 rating. The phone carries over the S8's 5.8-inch quad HD+ display with 18.5:9 aspect ratio, but relies on a flat piece of hardened glass. Other features unique to the S8 Active include a larger 4,000mAh battery, and Samsung's Activity Zone software for tracking workouts and other activities. The S8 Active carries over the S8's Snapdragon 835 processor, 12-megapixel main camera, 8-megapixel front camera, and dedicated Bixby key. The Samsung Galaxy S8 Active will be available for preorder from AT&T starting August 11. AT&T is offering a range of promotions and deals along with the S8 Active. It includes discounts on DirecTV service, as well as myriad AT&T apps and services, such as NumberSync, Advanced Calling, Advanced Messaging, and push-to-talk. The phone costs $28.34 per month for 30 months, or about $850.
Verizon Wireless says it has attained peak download speeds as high as 953 Mbps in a field test conducted on Boca Raton, Fla. The test was completed with commercially available equipment from Ericsson and Qualcomm using Verizon's cell tower and backhaul. The companies took advantage of four-channel carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, and 256 QAM on a device equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and Snapdragon X16 LTE modem. Verizon says it reached those speeds via LTE-LAA (licensed assisted access), which bundles together Verizon-owned spectrum with unlicensed spectrum, such as that used by WiFi networks. This type of gigabit LTE service will bridge today's LTE 4G networks with the 5G networks of the future. Verizon says multiple gigabit LTE devices are already available in the market, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, but it did not say if or when it might begin deploying LTE-LAA across its own network.
Samsung's Galaxy S8 and S8+ are now compatible with Google's Daydream virtual reality platform. According to Google, an update should reach both handsets this week that initiates Daydream services. Daydream is Google's VR program that brings together content from varied sources, such as YouTube, Netflix, CNN, and much more. It requires two separate apps, including Google Virtual Reality Services and Daydream. Daydream content is accessible only from Google's own Daydream VR headset. The S8 and S8+ are already compatible with Oculus VR content and the Samsung Gear VR headset.
Samsung has breached 1.2 Gbps downloads with its latest LTE modem. The new radio is intended for Samsung's next-generation Exynos mobile processor and is the first to support six carrier aggregation (6CA), according to the company. Carrier aggregation involves using multiple spectrum bands to send data upstream and downstream. The Cat 18 6CA modem includes 4x4 MIMO and higher-order 256 QAM to tap into the high speeds available from technologies such as LTE-LAA. The new modem from Samsung is 20% faster than the one found in the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+. Samsung expects to see the new modem reaching volume production by the end of the year. Samsung didn't provide specifics about the next-generation Exynos processor with which the modem will be paired. Many of today's wireless network operators are looking at LTE-LAA and LTE-U to bridge the gap between LTE 4G and what will eventually be 5G.
The FCC today approved a new high-end Samsung phone that is almost certainly the company's forthcoming Note 8 flagship phone. If Samsung chooses a new branding for its Note series, this phone will be the spiritual successor to the ill-fated Note7. This new phone bears the model number SM-N950; the previous two Note models were the SM-N930 and SM-N920. As with the company's Note7 and S8, one hardware model will fully support all US carriers' networks, although software may differ. The FCC approval documents reveal no surprises. The new model appears to support all of the same basic features and radio bands as the Note7, plus the new band 66. There is no mention in this initial FCC approval of band 71, the new 600 MHz band that T-Mobile has said it plans to launch with Samsung and LG devices next month. It is possible for FCC approvals to be amended, however. Samsung has scheduled a major launch event for August 23 in New York City. Invitations to the event show an outline of a phone with a stylus, clearly indicating a Note-like device.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company's handset partners have new Daydream-compatible devices in the pipeline and there should be a total of 11 such phones available by the end of the year. At the moment, only four phones are able to use Google's virtual reality headsets, including the Pixel and Pixel XL, ZTE Axon 7, Motorola Z, and Huawei Mate 9. It's not clear if Pichai was including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, which are primed to receive Daydream compatibility through a software update. The figure likely does include Google's 2017 Pixel devices, whatever they may be. Daydream has certain hardware requirements, particularly where the display is concerned. For example, the display must be between 4.7 and 6 inches, must have a 60 Hz or greater refresh rate with low-persistence mode, and must have at least full HD resolution, with quad HD preferred. Companies including Motorola, HMD Global, Samsung, Sony, Huawei, and LG all have major device announcements lined up between now and early September. It is possible these forthcoming handsets will be among those supporting Google Daydream.
Samsung today added the Galaxy J7 and Galaxy J3 to its list of unlocked smartphones. The two inexpensive handsets will be available to purchase directly from Samsung's web site as well as select retailers starting July 28. The J7 (pictured) is the larger, costlier of the two with a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen and $220 price tag. It also has a 3,300mAh battery, 8-megapixel main camera, and 5-megapixel front camera with flash. The smaller J3 has a 5-inch 720p HD display and a $150 price point. The J3 also has a 2,600mAh battery, 5-megapixel main camera, and 2-megapixel front camera. Both phones support expandable memory cards, support U.S. 3G/4G networks, and run Android 7 Nougat. They have been available from several U.S. carriers (AT&T/Cricket, T-Mobile/MetroPCS) for several months.
Cricket Wireless today annouced new service and handset promotions meant to entice customers to sign up for the prepaid carrier. To start, Cricket is offering new and existing customers two lines of unlimited service for $80 per month. That includes unlimited mobile data, messaging, and voice calls. Cricket caps data speeds at 3 Mbps, and will throttle unlimited customers who exceed 22 GB of data per billing period. In addition to the new service promo, Cricket has a number of deals on smartphones. For example, the Alcatel PulseMix is $80 with a new activation, or just $30 with a port-in. Similarly, the LG x charge is $130 with a new activation or just $100 with a port-in. Other phones with available discounts include the ZTE Sonata 3 and Blade X Max; LG Fortune, Harmony, and Stylo 3; and the Samsung Galaxy Amp 2. Cricket said the promos are available for a limited time.
T-Mobile today said it plans to begin offering service through its 600 MHz spectrum next month. The company revealed the news in its second quarter earnings statement. T-Mobile claims it will have 10 MHz of 600 MHz spectrum with LTE service blanketing 1.2 million square miles by the end of the year, with devices from LG and Samsung on deck to take advantage of the airwaves. T-Mobile says it plans to deploy 5G service on its 600 MHz spectrum holdings in the 2019/2020 timeframe. T-Mobile claims its 700 MHz deployment is essentially complete, with some 575 markets live around the country. T-Mobile's LTE network covers a total of 315 million people, and the Uncarrier will push coverage to 321 million across its various spectrum bands by the end of the year. The company is on target to open 3,000 stores this year, with 1,500 T-Mobile-branded locations and another 1,500 MetroPCS-branded locations. T-Mobile will have 17,000 points-of-sale available throughout the country by the end of the year. During the second quarter, T-Mobile says it added 1.3 million net connections, with 786,000 postpaid phone customers. The company recorded revenues of $10.2 billion with net income of $581 million.
Samsung today said the Coral Blue variant of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ handsets will become available to U.S. buyers starting July 21. According to Samsung, carrier-specific versions for AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon will be available at Best Buy stores, while the unlocked version will be available at Best Buy and Samsung.com. Customers looking to save some money can take advantage of a promotion at Best Buy stores between July 21 and July 29 that offers up to $400 off the cost of the handset with a carrier activation. Samsung said consumers can save up to $150 of the price of either handset when purchasing the phone directly from Samsung, as well as take advantage of Samsung's trade-on promo. Details concerning the promotions are available from Samsung's web site. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are already available in black, silver, and gray.
Samsung today said Bixby now speaks English well enough and is ready for launch in the U.S. Bixby has been available in Samsung's home market of Korea since earlier this spring, but had been delayed in the U.S. because the company didn't have enough data for English. The company opened an English preview of Bixby to select testers in the U.S. last month. A software update will be available to owners of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ as soon as today, which installs the "consumer" version of Bixby on Samsung's smartphones. With Bixby Voice is installed, Galaxy S8 owners will be able to press the dedicated Bixby button and talk themselves through the entire user interface of select apps, rather than just issue short commands for one-time actions. Bixby Voice fully supports 10 apps at launch, including the gallery, messages, settings, phone, contacts, weather, calculator, reminders, Bixby Vision, and the camera. Samsung is preparing more apps for Bixby, including Samsung Pay, Samsung Health, notes, My Files, email, and the internet browser, along with third-party apps such as WhatsApp, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and YouTube. Samsung didn't say when Bixby compatibility will reach these apps on consumer devices. Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners can expect to see Bixby Voice arrive shortly.
Google has updated its Play Music app for Android devices and made it possible to play songs directly from search results. Now, when users search for a song, album, or artist, the top three results include a "play" button that lets them jump immediately to those songs. Google's own auto-generated search suggestions now appear further down the screen. Playing any of the results pushes the music player controls to the bottom of the screen. Google added this functionality to the Play Music web site earlier this year. In another change, Google Play Music has expanded the availability of the New Release Radio playlist tool (initially an exclusive to the Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+) to all Android devices. Google Play Music is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Samsung plans to extensively reuse, recycle, and recover, parts and materials found in last year's failed Galaxy Note7 smartphone. The company confirmed plans to recycle the phone earlier this year, but has now provided more details on exactly what it hopes to accomplish. Samsung said it will reuse parts such as the OLED display, memory components, and camera modules in future devices. Other components will be sold. Further, Samsung claims it can recover some 157 tons of gold, silver, cobalt, and copper from the recalled handsets. The company says it is committed to pursuing these efforts in ways that are eco-friendly. Samsung will begin the process of recycling the Galaxy Note7 this month. The phone was recalled last year after manufacturing flaws led to overheating batteries and fires. The news comes mere weeks before Samsung is expected to announced the Galaxy Note 8.
Samsung and PayPal today announced that Galaxy smartphone owners can now use PayPal as a funding source for Samsung Pay. Samsung said all Samsung Pay users in the U.S. will have access to PayPal as a funding source, and it can be used to make purchases anywhere Samsung Pay is accepted. Samsung Pay uses both NFC and MST technology and works at most retail credit card terminals. Beyond retail locations, Samsung says a partnership with Braintree means Samsung Pay users can take advantage of PayPal to fund in-app and online purchases as well. PayPal support is being rolled out to the Samsung Pay service this week. Samsung Pay is available to Samsung's high-end handsets, such as the Galaxy S6, S7, S8, and variants, and Galaxy Note 5. Apple added support for PayPal to Apple Pay earlier this month.
Sprint plans to expand its phone leasing program to all the handsets in its lineup. Until now, Sprint has reserved its leasing program for Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies. The new program, called Sprint Flex, provides customers with several options. The iPhone Forever and Galaxy Forever leasing programs remain in place as-is and offer annual upgrades at no extra cost. For every other device, Sprint will allow customers to upgrade after 12 consecutive on-time lease payments for an extra fee of $5 per month. Those who don't want or need to upgrade each 12 months can revisit their phone lease at the 18-month mark when they can return the device for a new one, pay the phone off in a lump sum to own it, or make six more payments to own it. Sprint is also rolling out a program called Sprint Deals, which offers low-cost monthly payments on Sprint's selection of affordable phones. This program lets people finance handset costs with or without a credit check. Entry-level devices require a $25 down payment and $5 payments per month, while pricer phones will require a $30 down payment and $10 per month. Those with poor or no credit can score a discount on some of these phones if activated on a Sprint Forward prepaid plan. Sprint hopes affordable lease rates on its handsets will entice customers to sign up. "We want to give full flexibility to our customers because you don’t want to get stuck with an old phone," said Sprint SVP of Leasing Robert Hackl in an interview with Reuters. Sprint is the nation's fourth-largest carrier in terms of customers. It has rolled out a number of promotions and changes to its service plans in an effort to gain more subscribers.
Sprint has pushed a firmware update to its variant of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and in so doing improved the phone's LTE download speeds by about 20%. According to PCMag, the update resolves a software bug that prevented the S8 from properly connecting to Sprint's Band 41 LTE. Sprint says about 85% of its S8 customers have already applied the update, which was pushed last month. Sprint delivered a similar update to the HTC U11, which also gained a performance boost in download speeds.
Samsung's new semiconductor fabrication line in Pyeongtaek, Korea has kicked off production of memory products and is shipping its first batch of modules to customers. Samsung broke ground on the plant two years ago to help expand its production capabilities of V-NAND chips. The company has invested about $13.5 billion in the plant and said it will pump another $18 billion into Pyeongtaek to ensure the facility can meet future demand for memory products. Samsung's memory chips are used by other manufacturers in devices such as smartphones and tablets. Samsung also plans to improve its manufacturing capabilities across a number of other business lines, including semiconductors, extreme ultra violet equipment, and OLED displays.
The FCC recently approved a Samsung handset that has all the basic markings of an "Active" variant of the Galaxy S8. The SM-G892A supports AT&T's LTE bands, in addition to Bluetooth and WiFi. The documentation concerning the FCC label location depicts a drawing of the device in question, and the shape clearly resembles that of previous Active-branded handsets from Samsung. The drawing also includes the AT&T logo. Samsung's Galaxy S Active handsets are typically AT&T exclusives. The FCC documents don't reveal any other details about the phone, such as the screen size, processor type, or even the operating system. Samsung and AT&T have over the past few years bought an Active variant of the Galaxy S series to market several months after the regular model arrives. The timing is about right for the S8 Active to make its debut, but so far AT&T and Samsung have remained quiet about the phone.
Samsung has brought the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 back from the grave as the Note 7 Fan Edition. The Note 7 is infamous for battery problems that led to smoke, burns, fires, and other catastrophes. Samsung was forced to recall the phone and later determined two separate flaws impacted the battery, one pertaining to design and the other pertaining to manufacturing. Samsung decided to scavenge the recalled devices to create a new handset with a new, smaller 3,200mAh battery and its latest software, including the Bixby voice assistant. Samsung is manufacturing only 400,000 Galaxy Note 7 Fan Edition handsets, which will be made available exclusively in Samsung's home market of South Korea. The company is widely expected to announce the Galaxy Note 8 within the next two months, which will serve as Samsung's high-end, professional-grade smartphone with stylus pen input.
Cricket Wireless recently added the Samsung Halo to its collection of inexpensive smartphones. The Halo harkens back to the design language of older Samsung handsets. It features a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen and it is powered by a 1.6 GHz octa-core processor with 16 GB of storage. The main camera captures 8-megapixel images and full HD video assisted by an LED flash, while the front camera snaps 5-megapixel pictures. Other features include Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, WiFi, and LTE 4G. Cricket said the phone is compatible with most of its data plans and it supports HD Voice. The Samsung Halo runs Android 7 Nougat and costs $180.
Samsung today introduced a range of camera modules in its Isocell series of imaging sensors. Samsung's Isocell technology isolates individual pixels from one another with physical barriers. This prevents color crosstalk between neighboring pixels, increases light sensitivity, and improves color fidelity in all lighting conditions. The four new sensors target different use cases. For example, the Iscocell Bright sensor is meant to deliver sharpness and color in low light; Isocell Fast is meant to sharply focus on moving objects; Isocell Slim targets the thinnest smartphones; and Isocell Dual sensors can be mixed and matched with other sensors to create unique camera experiences. Samsung didn't specify when these camera sensor groups will reach consumer devices.
Samsung recently seeded a software update to its Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones. The update applies the June security patches from Google, stabilizes memory card performance, and adjusts some user interface elements of Bixby. The update comes in at about 150MB and can be downloaded and installed over the air.
Samsung today announced that U.S. owners of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones can begin to test the voice powers of Bixby. Bixby is more than a simple voice assistant, as people can use it to interact with all facets of the phone's user interface. Samsung calls Bixby an intelligent interface, one that it hopes will help people interact with various types of technology and not just phones. Anyone who owns the Galaxy S8 or S8+ can register with Samsung to test the early preview of Bixby. According to Samsung, the number of testers will be limited. The sign-up is available from Samsung's website. Bixby was originally intended to launch on the Galaxy phones when they went on sale earlier this year. Samsung was forced to delay Bixby, however, and has since said Bixby will arrive later this summer.
T-Mobile said shoppers will be able to score a free Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+, or LG G6 or V20 (pictured) through a new buy-one, get-one offer that kicks off June 16. Existing T-Mobile customers need to buy both phones on an installment plan and subscribe to an unlimited data service plan in order to qualify. New T-Mobile customers will need to activate both phones on the T-Mobile One plan. The BOGO offer requires customers to mail in a rebate form. T-Mobile will then mail a prepaid gift card within about eight weeks to cover the cost of the second handset. T-Mobile says it will reimburse customers for the cost of the lesser of whichever phones they purchase, up to $500 for the LG G6 or V20 and up to $790 for the Galaxy S8 or S8+. Customers will need to pay sales tax on both devices at the point of sale. The offer is contingent on customers staying through the 24 month installment plan. Those who leave T-Mobile before 24 months will need to cover the remaining balance of the two phones. T-Mobile warns that video is streamed at 480p and the top 3% of users may experience reduced speeds during network congestion.
T-Mobile today said it plans to begin testing its newly acquired 600 MHz spectrum as soon as this summer. The FCC granted licenses for the spectrum this week following the years-long incentive auction process. T-Mobile won an average of 31 MHz (ranging from 20 MHz to 50 MHz) of the 70 MHz low-band spectrum auctioned off by TV stations and the FCC earlier this year, giving T-Mobile 100% coverage of the U.S. and Puerto Rico. T-Mobile had already voiced its intent to use some of its 600 MHz holdings for LTE service, and it is now preparing to do exactly that. The company expects to test LTE 4G on its 600 MHz this summer and commence commercial operations later this year "when new 600 MHz smartphones from Samsung and other manufacturers are anticipated to arrive." T-Mobile didn't say anything specific about the devices that will be able to access the 600 MHz spectrum, but the Samsung handset in question may be the Galaxy Note 8 flagship, which is expected by the end of summer. T-Mobile plans to cover more than 1 million square miles with LTE 4G in the 600 MHz band by the end of the year. T-Mobile is reserving some of its 600 MHz spectrum to operate some form of 5G service beginning in 2019.