HTC U12 Plus camera samples hint at its photographic prowess

The HTC U12 Plus (or just HTC U12) is probably going to be announced soon, so it’s not surprising that photos seemingly taken on the phone have leaked, but they do reveal a little more about the camera.

The shots, obtained by MobielKopen, aren’t all that remarkable in themselves, though they seem fairly detailed, but the EXIF data from the images reveals that they were taken with f/2.6 and f/1.8 apertures.

What’s not clear is whether those apertures come from two different lenses or a variable aperture lens, as seen on the Samsung Galaxy S9.

Two lenses is more likely, especially as other leaks point to the HTC U12 Plus having a dual-lens camera, but we’d previously heard that there would be one 12MP lens and one 16MP lens, while these images all have a 12.2MP resolution.

Multiple cameras with multiple apertures

So it’s possible that the HTC U12 Plus has a variable aperture 12MP camera, used to take these photos, as well as a second lens, which would put it more in line with the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. But for now we can’t be sure.

The photos don’t reveal anything else, but we have previously heard that the HTC U12 Plus might also have a dual-lens front-facing camera, so its photographic capabilities could be one way in which HTC aims for the phone to stand out.

We should know soon, as current rumors point to an announcement sometime in May.

  • We’ve also seen images supposedly showing the U12 itself

Via LetsGoDigital

T-Mobile and Sprint merger promises 5G progress in the US

American mobile giants T-Mobile and Sprint have agreed to merge in a move which the two parties claim will improve services for customers and ensure the US maintains its leadership into the 5G era.

T-Mobile will be the senior partner in the merger, effectively purchasing its rival for $26 billion, and its CEO John Legere will head up the new combined company.

If approved, the transaction would combine the third and fourth largest operators in the US. It is likely this will attract the attention of regulators, but both companies have launched a charm offensive to claim why this will be a good thing for the market.

T-Mobile and Sprint

It claims the economies of scale will allow it to be more aggressive in the market, lowering prices and encouraging competition. Indeed, there is a pledge to invest $40 billion during the first three years after the merger.

Central to this claim is that neither Sprint nor T-Mobile has the means to build a truly national 5G network on their own, but their combined spectrum and network assets mean they will be able to this more rapidly than rivals AT&T and Verizon – both of whom have more customers and spectrum than the merged company.

This is because T-Mobile has long range 600MHz airwaves, whereas its rivals have mmWave spectrum which offers vast capacity but only within a limited radius. The two companies also assert that Verizon and AT&T would have to “kick” customers off LTE to facilitate the rollout.

“This combination will create a fierce competitor with the network scale to deliver more for consumers and businesses in the form of lower prices, more innovation, and a second-to-none network experience – and do it all so much faster than either company could on its own,” said Legere. “As industry lines blur and we enter the 5G era, consumers and businesses need a company with the disruptive culture and capabilities to force positive change on their behalf.”

This nationwide 5G would not only bring benefits to customers, who would get 15 times faster speeds by 2024, but also boost the entire US mobile industry, which has enjoyed significant advantages from leading the world in 4G such as job creation.

It is unclear how receptive regulators will be to the proposals, but both parties will hope the promise of investment and increased competition will see it passed. Another claim is that half of Americans can only get high speed broadband from one provider, whereas 5G will enable fixed-wireless access (FWA) services across the USA.

“We intend to bring this same competitive disruption as we look to build the world’s best 5G network that will make the US a hotbed for innovation and will redefine the way consumers live and work across the US, including in rural America,” declared Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who will join the board of the new firm.

“As we do this, we will force our competitors to follow suit, as they always do, which will benefit the entire country. I am confident this combination will spur job creation and ensure opportunities for Sprint employees as part of a larger, stronger combined organization, and I am thrilled that Kansas City will be a second headquarters for the merged company.”

 Want to find out more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G hub   

  • Check out the best mobile deals for April 2018   

Mobile Industry Awards 2018 – Finalists announced

Having recently announced the longlist for the top phones and accessories categories, we are now delighted to share who will compete for the prestigious accolades at this year’s Mobile Industry Awards 2018.

The prestige of winning a Mobile Industry Award is highlighted by the fact that previous winners have included their victory in shareholder releases, emblazoned the MIA logo on staff uniforms and even taken out billboards to spread the news of their win.

 Congratulations to those who have been named Finalists below – the winners will be presented with their trophies on the 7th June 2018 at The Brewery, London.

Technology Categories

Best Value Phone

  • Alcatel Idol 4
  • Honor 9 Lite
  • Moto G5
  • Nokia 6
  • Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017)
  • Sony Xperia XA1

Best Mid-Market Phone

  • Honor 9
  • Huawei P10 Plus
  • Nokia 8
  • OnePlus 5T
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
  • Sony Xperia XZ1

Hottest New Phone 2018

  • Huawei P20 Pro
  • iPhone X
  • Moto G6
  • Nokia 8 Sirocco
  • Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
  • Sony Xperia XZ2

Mobile Accessory of the Year

  • Amazon Echo
  • Apple Airpods
  • Apple Watch 3
  • Fitbit Charge 2
  • Google Mini
  • Logitech Ultimate Ears Wonderboom

Phone of the Year

  • Apple iPhone 8 Plus
  • Huawei Mate 10 Pro
  • iPhone X
  • OnePlus 5T
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8
  • Samsung S8 Plus

Manufacturer of the year

  • Apple
  • HMD Global
  • Huawei
  • OnePlus
  • Samsung
  • Sony

Best Manufacturer Field Marketing Team

  • Alcatel
  • HMD Global
  • Huawei
  • OnePlus
  • Samsung
  • Sony

Best Ruggedised Device

  • Cat S41
  • Dell Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme Tablet
  • Getac S410
  • Panasonic Toughbook CF-XZ6
  • RugGear RG910
  • Zebra TC25

Network and Retail categories

Best Online Retailer

  • EE
  • John Lewis
  • O2
  • Virgin Media

Best High Street Retailer

  • Carphone Warehouse
  • Three
  • Vodafone           

Best Consumer Network

  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Vodafone 

Best Business Network

  • EE
  • O2
  • Vodafone

Best MVNO

  • Anywhere Sim
  • Sky
  • Smarty
  • Tesco
  • Virgin Media

Best MVNO Partner

  • Lifecycle
  • Three Wholesale                                                                                           

B2B and Distribution categories

Business Growth Award

  • Calldorado
  • Daisy
  • HMD Global
  • iSmash
  • John Lewis
  • Sky
  • The One Point

Most Innovative Service

  • EE
  • O2
  • NET Coverage Solutions
  • Tech Data
  • The One Point
  • Three
  • Samsung
  • Sky
  • STK
  • Vodafone

Best Distributor – Consumer Technology

  • Brightstar
  • Genuine Solutions
  • Kondor
  • Tech Data

Best Distributor – Mobile Solutions

  • Brightstar
  • Data Select Limited
  • Exertis
  • Tech Data       

Best Distributor – Emerging Technology

  • Brightstar
  • Net Coverage Solutions
  • Reason8

Best Recycling & ReCommerce Service

  • Brightstar 
  • Genuine Solutions
  • O2 / Redeem
  • Tesco Mobile / Redeem

Best Unified Comms Dealer

  • Active Digital
  • Aerial Direct
  • The One Point
  • Upland  

Managed Service Provider of the Year

  • Mobliciti
  • Net Coverage Solutions
  • Uplands            

If you have any questions, would like to book your table or would like to support a category on the night as a partner, please get in touch with mark.fermor@futurenet.com. We look forward to seeing you on the June 7th!

Huawei could be working on its own OS as an Android alternative

Chinese mobile giants like Huawei aren’t having much success getting their devices out to the masses in North America, due partly to increased scrutiny from the US government. It turns out that Huawei might have a plan B ready, just in case it gets abandoned by Google and Android as well.

The South China Morning Post reports that Huawei is working on its own mobile operating system, intended to be ready to go should the friction between the US authorities and the company get even worse.

Both Huawei and ZTE have been declared threats to national security by the US government, though as yet no solid evidence has been made public to back up the claims. As a result, the Chinese firms are finding it hard to do business with carriers and retailers in the States… and Google might conceivably be next.

Not for the foreseeable

In fact, Huawei has been working on the OS and something similar for desktops and tablets since 2012, the Post reports. As it’s not yet up to the same standard as Android however, the software has remained in-house. If trade and security tensions rise further, Huawei wants a backup plan, insider sources say.

When asked for comment by the Post, Huawei said it “has no plans to release its own OS in the foreseeable future”, adding: “We focus on products powered by Android OS and adopt an open attitude towards mobile OS.”

Google’s core services are blocked in China right now anyway, but a Huawei OS would lose access to both these services and the huge library of Android apps that have been built up over the years. Still, the company might have no other option if it gets the boot from Google other than to go it alone.

  • Huawei’s latest flagship phones, head-to-head

Via Engadget

We jumped from the tallest building in the world wearing a VR headset

Burj Khalifa and HTC have partnered up to create Mission 828, a VR adventure installed at the observatory deck on the 125th floor of Burj Khalifa

The mission, should you choose to accept, takes you to the top of Burj Khalifa to intercept a satellite and then jump down. If that sounds familiar, it is because it loosely resembles the plot of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where Tom Cruise performed a similar stunt.

The whole experience has been recreated by Burj Khalifa and we got to experience it with an HTC Vive Pro – thanks to HTC and Burj Khalifa. It’s done incredibly well and makes you think twice before you jump- even though you’re fully aware that its in VR.

Watch the video below with caution in case you’re afraid heights.

  • HTC Vive Pro Review
  • The world’s best camera phone meets the world’s tallest tower

How to watch the Azerbaijan Grand Prix online: live stream F1 for free from anywhere

The battle of Baku is back! With Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton at one and two on the grid, prepare for F1 fireworks. You may remember this was the race last year where Vettel deliberately drove into Hamilton during a safety car restart. So expect tensions to be high this time around. And you can stream the whole thing live, for free, and from anywhere in the world.

This could be the big race where Mercedes and Hamilton’s poor season start takes a turn for the better as he is expected to take his first win in 2018. But with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo at the top of the podium for Shanghai and fastest on Friday, his form can’t be ignored – he’s definitely one to watch out for in Baku. And it was Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas who topped the lot in the first free practice. They’re at four and three on the grid respectively.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix in the country’s capital city Baku is a relatively young course after joining the list of F1 tracks in 2016. As a result this is a course built with modern tech know how and machine planning to get the best possible city-based race circuit. We know exactly how and when to watch all the best bits of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix so read on to find out how to live stream ALL the action.

Thanks to the football World Cup we’ve had a reshuffle of the F1 season this year, which means it’s going to be much colder in Baku than last year. This should make for some interesting decisions by the teams which will need to rethink strategy anew when it comes to tyres.

Thankfully, it’s much more simple to watch the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the comfort of your own TV, and on pretty much any device. Read on to find out how to live stream F1 coverage for free –  anywhere in the world.

How to live stream F1 in the UK for free:

If you’re in the UK then Channel 4 is the way to go for today’s free-to-air coverage. And the station’s All4 platform is free and straightforward to access on a range of devices including tablets, mobile phones, personal computers and Smart TVs.

Rather not have to sign in? Then the alternative way to access Channel 4 is by going to TVPlayer.com. It’s a free, legal, online streaming service based in the UK which offers hundreds of channels – and you don’t even need to sign in to stream F1 live.

Formula One 2018 is also being shown on Sky Sports F1. Live streaming of all F1 races is available online to Sky customers with a subscription to Sky Sports F1, as well as access to a mobile device with the Sky Go app. 

So if you already have a Sky subscription and prefer its coverage to Channel 4’s, then job’s a good. If you want the Sky coverage but don’t want to splash out on a full Sky contract you could always purchase a day, week or month pass using Now TV. A daily pass costs £7.99, and is available on more than 60 devices, including TV, mobile phones, and games consoles, and you can register up to four of them.

  • Snooker fan? See how to stream the World Championships live

How to watch Azerbaijan Grand Prix in the US for free:

In the US, NBC Sports will be showing live coverage of every race weekend throughout the season. You’ll need an NBC cable subscription to get access, but once you do, you’ll get access to NBC’s Formula One Live Extra platform, which gives you live coverage and highlights on your smart TV or mobile device.

But if you don’t want to pay for an NBC subscription, there’s a way you can watch for free. By downloading and installing a VPN, you can effectively trick your computer into thinking that it’s in the UK. That way you can enjoy the free Channel 4 coverage without having to give your money to NBC.

It’s really easy to get started with a VPN – here’s how to do it:

How to live stream the Azerbaijan Grand Prix anywhere else in the world:

Not in the UK or US? Don’t fear…what goes for US viewers goes for you wherever you are in the world. You can live stream F1 from any country on Earth by using a VPN. Just follow the three steps above and you’ll be in the cockpit in no time at all for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Stay safe during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photos courtesy of Formula1.com

Best note-taking apps for Android in 2018

Taking notes has helped humans remember and convey information and ideas for millennia. Naturally, the process of note-taking has evolved considerably since the first jottings, and it’s now firmly in the domain of the digital.

Usually, when someone writes notes, they’re attempting to capture information for future use. For instance, if you’re in a meeting or seminar, it’s crucial to take down notes so you can remember important facts and data for later usage.

Viewed by some as a form of self-discipline, taking notes has a variety of benefits. For instance, it can help you improve your attention span, retention, organizational skills and learning ability. But most importantly, note-taking indirectly helps to relieve stress. There’s nothing worse than being unprepared for a business meeting because you’re missing some crucial pieces of information.

And in the business world, note-taking forms an important part of daily life. During meetings, someone will usually take notes in the form of minutes. Whatever the case, technology makes this process a lot easier. You no longer need access to pen and paper to take down notes. There are a number of apps out there that allow you to record notes quickly and easily from your smartphone. Here are the best efforts for Android.

  • Also take a look at the best productivity apps for mobile

OneNote

For decades, Microsoft has dominated the software scene, and things haven’t changed today. Offered as part of the Office family of productivity apps, OneNote is one of the most popular and capable note-taking apps you can get. This app is capable of a great deal, whether you want to capture information from emails or embed Excel tables.

This app is a multi-platform affair which is hooked up to the cloud, meaning that if you’ve written some notes on your laptop, you can pull these up in a meeting via your smartphone. OneNote works across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.

The Android app is easy to use and works as a flexible canvas, letting you type, handwrite, draw and clip things you find on the web. What’s more, you can even scan notes made on paper and make them searchable through OneNote. To organize your notes, you can create tags, labels, to-do lists and follow-up items. It’s also possible to categorize notes based on their importance.

OneNote allows for collaboration, letting you share your virtual notebooks with anyone. People can leave comments and follow-up questions on your notes as well. The best thing about OneNote, though, is that it’s completely free to download while offering a plethora of premium capabilities.

  • You can download OneNote here

Evernote

Evernote is a well-respected and powerful productivity app. It’s described as an organization and planning app that lets you take both typed and handwritten notes, create to-do lists, scan documents using your camera, and collaborate on content with others.

The great thing about Evernote is that it makes use of a variety of media. For instance, you can create notes in text form, or as sketches, photos, audio, video, PDFs or web clippings.

Just like Microsoft’s OneNote, this app is underpinned by cloud technology. That means you can sync content across all your devices from computers through to tablets and phones. In other words, if you start a task on one device, you can complete it on another.

With Evernote, you can create, share and discuss content with your colleagues as well. The app is currently free to download, but the business package – which gives you most of the collaborative tools – costs £10.99 ($15.50) a month.

  • You can download Evernote here

Material Notes

Material Notes is a streamlined app that allows you to create notes, to-do lists and reminders. These are all color-coded and stored within a card-style interface to keep things better organised, and to make it easy to find relevant information. You also get the ability to mark important notes with stars, and these are saved within a category based on the urgency of projects.

To ensure you never misplace an important note or list, you can easily locate anything by making use of the app’s search function. Plus you can create and place widgets on your home screen, which give you quick access to your notes.

In terms of security, you can create a four-digit pin for all your notes, ensuring that sensitive information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. And the app allows you to easily and swiftly import content stored on other devices. Material Notes is free to download, with premium plans costing up to $9.29 (£6.70). You can access these as in-app purchases.

  • You can download Material Notes here

Google Keep

Google offers a highly capable note-taking app in the form of Keep, which allows you to create as many notes and lists as you want. And you don’t need to stick to mere text – you can also add images and audio to your notes.

In fact, there’s even the ability to record memos for the app to automatically transcribe. That’s particularly handy if you’ve had a light bulb moment and want to get it noted down somewhere quickly. Similarly to OneNote, you can scan handwritten notes, receipts, invoices and other documents through your camera.

Google Keep is a pretty decent productivity app for teams, too. You can easily share notes and collaborate with others. Other features include color-coded labels, reminders and the benefit of multi-platform support. The app is free to download from the Play Store.

  • You can download Google Keep here

Simplenote

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when an app is weighed down with tons of features, many of which you might never use. Simplenote is designed for people who just want a quick, easy-to-use piece of software to jot down spontaneous ideas.

Just open up the app, and right away you can create notes and lists. As you continue to use the software and amass more notes, you’re able to organize them with tags and pins. Every time you create a new note, it’s stored in the cloud and can be accessed through other devices. The app is completely free to download and use.

  • You can download Simplenote here

A super-loud Boombox Speaker is the latest LG G7 ThinQ feature to get confirmed

LG seems to be enjoying the build-up to the arrival of the LG G7 ThinQ, which gets its official unveiling on May 2. The latest feature to be teased by the company is the phone’s previously rumored Boombox Speaker, apparently ramping up the volume by 6dB and doubling the bass output from anything that’s been heard before (on an LG phone at least).

In fact LG is claiming you can crank up the volume up to ten times higher than a normal smartphone, because of the way it uses space inside the handset as a resonance chamber. Putting the phone on a solid surface amplifies the bass even further, apparently.

Another feature LG has confirmed is DTS:X 3D Surround Sound, designed to create the illusion of immersive 3D sound from your phone, as long as you’ve got your headphones plugged in (the 3.5mm audio jack is sticking around). LG is also including a Hi-Fi Quad DAC inside the LG G7 ThinQ to maximize audio accuracy.

Here’s what we know

All of which should be good news for audio lovers, and makes us wonder exactly what LG might be holding back for the LG V35 ThinQ, scheduled to arrive later in the year – these kind of high-end extras are usually held back for the V line, so perhaps the phones will be on more of an even footing this time.

As well as an official launch date of May 2, there’s lots we already know (or think we know) about the LG G7 ThinQ. It’s set to come with an ultra-bright 6.1-inch screen, an optional notch you can turn off in the software, a Snapdragon 845 chipset and 4GB of RAM.

On paper at least it looks capable of taking on the big hitters from Apple, Samsung and Google but we’ll have to wait to get our hands on the phone to judge how good it really is. If you often want to use your phone as a portable speaker though, LG just gave you another reason to put the LG G7 ThinQ on your shopping list.

  • Check out the latest leaked renders of the LG G7 ThinQ

Via PhoneArena

Listen up: Alexa isn’t spying on you, and this ‘spying’ skill only proves it

It’s fair to say there’s a certain amount of fear around smart speakers at the moment, as these tiny devices that we put on our coffee tables and bookshelves have the potential to listen in on our every conversation. 

It harks back to the fear at the center of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984. Perhaps even further back, to something more primal, to the monster under the bed, the unseen but seeing. 

It’s easy to draw the 1984 parallel because, like the ever-present screens in the sci-fi masterpiece, our smart speakers (and even more similar smart displays) are swiftly working their way into every corner of our lives.

No matter the protestations from the companies that are making these speakers that claim they are only listening for ‘wake’ words, and only send information back to their servers when they’ve been decidedly activated, we still cling to the fear that Amazon (or Google, or Microsoft, or Apple) is spying on us. 

Follow the data

It doesn’t help that there are freaky news stories like Echo devices laughing for no reason, the Echo being hacked, and even news that it’s being manipulated to be a spying device by just using a normally-produced skill. 

But here’s the thing – and try to keep an open mind when reading this – it’s more likely that they’re not spying on you, than they are. The problem is that these companies will never be able to prove to you that they aren’t spying on you, because it is almost impossible prove a negative.

That whole ‘can’t prove a negative’ thing is the exact reason that in most judicial systems around the world, the burden of proof lies always with the claimant. 

I could accuse you, dear reader, of dressing up as a giant tuna fish, and without providing footage of yourself at every moment of your life, you can’t prove that you don’t. That’s an unfair burden.

As the claimant, the burden of proof lies with me to provide pictorial evidence of your fishy endeavors in order to make my accusation stand. And so far, no one has managed to prove that smart speakers are spying on you. 

The recent news that security firm Checkmarx created a skill that allowed it to turn Echo speakers into spy devices (below) actually does more to disprove than prove the theorem. 

In the skill, Checkmarx took advantage of a vulnerability (which has now been fixed) that used Alexa’s ‘I didn’t quite get that’ feature, where it can keep listening after a request. The team muted the line from Alexa, so the speaker continued recording without audibly telling you that it was. 

The team then adjusted the recording length so that this second ‘secret’ recording could last an indefinite amount of time (although it would automatically cut out after a couple of minutes). 

The first thing worth noting is that it wasn’t totally secret, as the Echo speaker would still have its ‘listening’ light on. The second is that this would only give you a couple of minutes of information after the interaction with a maliciously coded skill that the user would have to want to use.

The third, is that the attacker would only be able to receive a written transcription of the conversation. Amazon does have the ability to receive recorded audio (stay calm), but the sheer amount of server space needed to process recorded audio from the millions of Echo speakers around the world would make constant spying an absolute technical impossibility. 

There was a patent filed by Amazon that would circumnavigate this issue by using emotive words as triggers, so every time you say you ‘like’, ‘love’, or ‘hate’ something, your Echo would be able to monitor what that was and tailor your ads based on those preferences. 

While worrying, this is only a patent not a statement of intent, and if you took every creepy patent (those are three separate links) at face value, you’d have some pretty big questions about all the companies you give your custom to. 

Put down the pitchfork

Now, that’s not to say that the requests you make of Alexa don’t get logged and your data used by the company, but that’s your choice. It’s the same thing as you giving your data to Facebook every time you share a video, or Google every time you search for unicorn onesies. 

I want to make it clear that I’m not saying smart speaker spying definitely isn’t happening, or that it’s not possible for it to happen with the advancements in quantum computing and AI we’re currently seeing, but just that if you’re currently working from the assumption that they are spying on you just because you’re afraid of it, then you should probably challenge that assumption. 

  • Want to see what Amazon is definitely working on? Check out: Amazon Fire TV Cube release date, news, and rumors

Via Wired

Google Assistant is the smartest assistant, according to a new study

If you spend much time chatting to a digital assistant on a smart speaker or your phone, you’ll be interested in a new study that put nearly 5,000 questions to Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Cortana from Microsoft.

The test by digital agency Stone Temple found that Google’s AI-powered bot was the smartest of the bunch overall, taking on close to 80 percent of queries fired at it and coming up with the right answer more than 9 times out of 10 for the questions it tried to respond to. According to the study, Google Assistant is slightly smarter on a phone than it is on a smart speaker.

In terms of questions where an answer was actually attempted, Cortana sits in second place with Alexa in third. Siri languishes in fourth place, with Apple’s digital assistant only having a go at a little over 40 percent of the questions it was given.

Gains from 2017

Siri fared better in answer accuracy – it may only have attempted a response for 4 out of 10 queries, but of the answers it gave, 8 out of 10 were accurate. That still wasn’t enough to lift it out of fourth place though, as all the other assistants still performed better.

Stone Temple actually ran the same test last year, with Google Assistant once again coming out on top. However, both Alexa and Cortana have made big strides forward when it comes to number of attempted answers compared with 2017, so there’s not much breathing space for complacency for Google Assistant.

Some of the questions the apps struggled with were “who is the voice of Darth Vader?” and “how to make sand?”, so it would appear these bots aren’t quite ready to take over the world yet. You can see the full report over at the Stone Temple blog.

  • Amazon Echo is three times as popular as Google Home, says new sales research

Via Gizmodo