Snowden in the Running for Nobel Peace Prize

A group of Norwegian lawmakers nominated former NSA contactor Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Saying that his bottomless pit of surveillance revelations contributes to stability and transparency, the lawmakers submitted the nomination to the Nobel Foundation.

President Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, meaning Obama and his secret-leaking foil could soon have at least one thing in common.

Snowden, currently holed up in Russia, is one of 259 nominees for this year’s award.

[Source: Bloomberg via The Verge]


Nintendo to Make Push Into… Healthcare?

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has announced that the long-time videogame manufacturer would make a foray the healthcare industry.

Iwata was short on details about the company’s so-called “quality of life” business plans, although he did say it won’t come in the form of a wearable device. Whatever it is, The Wall Street Journal used the phrase “nongame product.”

More details are expected later this year.

The vague healthcare announcement came during a press conference in which Iwata professed confidence about Nintendo’s prospects — this despite the company’s disappointing performance of late. Upon announcing a recent 30 percent drop in profits, top execs took a pay cut. Iwata reportedly is punting on 50 percent of his pay.

[Source: The Associated Press]

Following Surveillance Revelations, Angry Birds Website Defaced

In the wake of news that the National Security Agency and its British snooping counterpart were sucking data out of smartphone apps, hackers defaced the website of game-app Angry Birds.

Rovio, which makes Angry Birds, insists that it has not collaborated with U.S. or British surveillance outfits, so this hack job could be a bit misguided.

At any rate, the shenanigans — which included an Angry Birds character adorned with an NSA logo, as well as a mock banner that read “Spying Birds” — were quickly undone by Rovio.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which has hacked and defaced more than its share of companies and media outlets, tweeted a link to a screengrab of the defaced Angry Birds page with a message saying that “a friend” executed the hack.

[Source: BBC]

Google Packs Off Motorola Phone Biz to Lenovo

After just 22 months of making Motorola phones, Google has sold the handset business to China-based Lenovo.

The US$2.91 billion deal will allow Google to maintain ownership of numerous patents. That said, it is a noteworthy shift — Google dropped $12.5 billion on Motorola Mobility in May 2012.

Finalizing the deal with Lenovo could be delayed by U.S. regulators, who, if history is any indication, figure to cast a wary eye at the Chinese tech giant.

[Source: The Wall Street Journal]

Microsoft to Aussies: No NSA Backdoors

Microsoft told Australia’s Department of Parliamentary Services that its software does not contain “backdoors” through which the NSA can, you know, check up on the nation’s parliament.

Concerns cropped up last year after Snowden leaks suggested that the NSA had “direct access” to systems of Google, Yahoo and, yes, Microsoft.

[Source: ZDNet]


AT&T pays new and existing customers $100 to start a new line

AT&T today announced a $100 per line bill credit for any customer that starts a new line of service on the wireless network. New and existing subscribers get an automatic $100 credit on a bill when signing up for an AT&T Next, BYOD, or a standard two-year agreement. The temporary offer runs from now until March 31, 2014. The $100 credit will be reflected within one of the first three billing cycles.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Kitkat update starts spreading to more countries

Poland was the first nation to see the Android 4.4 Kitkat update for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and the latest version of Android is starting to pop-up at other points on the map, according to reports from several users. Users in India, South Korea, Netherlands, Switzerland, Singapore, and Hungary all report that their phone has been prompted to update in recent hours. That surely means that the Note 3 international roll-out for SM-N900 and SM-N9005 models is rolling out now.

Galaxy Note 3 owners in Europe and Asia should charge their phones to at least 75 percent and then see if they can install the update by launching Samsung Kies on a PC/Mac or Settings > About phone on a Note 3. Keep in mind that the update may break compatibility with third-party S View cases. If that’s not a concern for you, focus on the speed increases, subtle UI changes on the lock screen and notification window, and some small changes to Samsung’s apps.


Beats Music review: maybe the robots know music better than we do

Beats Music positions itself as the anti-Spotify. It’s also the anti-Pandora and anti-iTunes Radio because it relies less on a series of algorithms to decide what song to play next and more on the knowledge of music experts who have spent years writing about or playing the hits and under-appreciated gems. Beats still uses user feedback to inform decisions and make suggestions about what kind of songs to play, but it is a system built on human input. If you’re looking for suggestions of what to listen to, or a more diverse radio option, I’m not sure that’s the best way to go.

From a visual standpoint, Beats Music is prettier and simpler than most of its competitors. Using the Android app was very favorable thanks to its use of large icons and album covers neatly integrated into the design. I also love that instead of a progress bar, there’s a progress circle that users can drag to skip ahead or back. Launching the app reveals a Just For You tab that tries to find albums and playlists that match the clues users provide when setting up the app. Swiping right leads to further discovery options like highlighted playlists and a directory of curators and playlists organized according to genre.

It also has an on-demand element, so you can bypass the suggestions altogether and just jump directly into your favorite music collection. Beats includes support for a My Library section that stores Albums and Songs, as well as a personalized Playlists section. For the average consumer just looking for a music service, you can store any of Beats’ catalog of more than 20 million songs and have your favorite collection available. Songs can also be stored for offline listening and then filtered by tapping the icon at the top of of a playlist or album directory. That’s also where you organize by date added, most played, least played, or alphabetical listing,.

Beats Music Sentence playlist selector, Offline marking
Beats Music Sentence playlist selector, Offline marking

Beats Music on Android and iOS – the Windows Phone version launches Friday – are fluent when it comes to design; they are merely proficient when it comes to recommendations. Beats has a smart setup process that quickly gauges what kind of music to supply based on marking favorite genres and ranking some artists according to love, like, and hate. Those recommendations change as more songs are played and rated, but they are severely limited early on. Informing the app that I like The Killers, love EPMD, and hate The Game somehow convinced the app that it should recommend a strong helping of early era hip-hop and nothing else. Many of the artist suggestions are ones that I at least like, but several could easily be classified as hate, and others would be in the “Not Interested” column if such a designation existed. Several curated playlists also skewer heavily towards music from one region or era, which omits many of the artists and songs that I enjoy just as much, if not more.

Beats Music menu, Expert playlists, Artist recommendations
Beats Music menu, Expert playlists, Artist recommendations

The best feature of Beats is not the curated lists pushed to users; it’s The Sentence that crafts a playlist based on a fill-in-the-blank mood and genre setting. There are also cases where one or two songs on a set playlist might fit a theme but don’t mesh with the rest of the playlist, such as “Covered: Bob Marley.” That’s the kind of mistake I’d expect a machine to make, but I’ve never seen Pandora that far off the mark. Songza, another music service that prefers curated list, does a much better job of song selection; and it has more than the 15 to 20 songs typically found in a Beats playlist. Therefore, I can say that the problem is not necessarily the model of Beats’s inclusion of humans, but the problem is that the biases and personal tastes of experts are not as accurate to the listener’s preferences.

Beats Music works because it has most of the same songs as the competition and looks beautiful. Where the streaming service fails is that its recommendation system is too human. If you’re looking for a radio mode, your choices won’t be as personalized and informed as they are on other services. Beats is a good streaming service at $9.99 if you’re set in your listening ways, and it’s a great value if you sign-up for the $14.99 AT&T family plan. When it comes to finding the best streaming package, Beats Music still feels a little off.

Note: Beats crashes every time that I attempt to connect to its social networking features, so I’m unable to review that aspect.


Sprint LG G Flex pre-orders open, in stores January 31

LG G Flex
LG G Flex

Sprint has started accepting pre-orders for the LG G Flex, the first 6-inch smartphone with a curved display, ahead of its planned launch at the end of the month. Sprint’s website and retail locations will being selling the G Flex on January 31 for $299.99 when purchased with a two year agreement, but customers can reserve one now by visiting

The LG G Flex is an interesting piece of hardware because of its unique ability to bend when a certain amount of pressure is applied, as well as its self-healing outer coating. The G Flex is also one of the few phones capable of running the Sprint Spark tri-band 4G LTE service. Spark is only in portions of a very small number of cities, but people who happen to be in those markets can experience enhanced 4G LTE service.

Other device specs include:

– 6-inch HD P-OLED display (1280×720)
– 2.26 GHz quad-core processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 800)
– 13-megapixel rear camera, 2.1-megapixel front
– 2GB RAM, 32GB internal storage
– Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
– 1605.5 x 81.6 x 8.7mm (6.3 x 3.2 x 0.35in)

Sprint addds Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, and eight other cities to Spark 4G

Sprint today announced that 11 new cities now have access to Sprint Spark, the enhanced tri-band 4G LTE service that the carrier launched late last year. The new market enhancements will make Sprint’s service more reliable and widely available in the affected markets, as well as introduce data speeds as fast as 60 Mbps, though the consistency of such speeds may not be visible.

The following markets gained Sprint Spark today:

– Austin, Texas
– Chicago
– Dallas
– Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
– Fort Worth, Texas
– Houston
– Los Angeles
– Miami
– New York
– San Antonio, Texas
– Tampa, Fla.

Customers with Spark-compatible devices, like the HTC One Max or LG G Flex, will see a boost in network performance in the aforementioned markets. The LG G2 and Google Nexus 5 will be updated soon to be made compatible. Sprint says its prepaid customers on Boost, payLo, and Virgin Mobile USA will also benefit from the change because it is introducing overall improvements in 3G and 4G LTE service as part of its Sprint Spark vision.

Samsung confirms the Galaxy S5 might have an eye scanner when released by April

Apple and HTC chose to make fingerprint recognition the way to unlock their devices last year, but rival smartphone manufacturer Samsung might use eye recognition as a way to unlock phones. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Samsung Executive Vice President of Mobile Lee Young Hee confirmed that the Galaxy S5 will be released no later than April of this year. When it debuts, the phone might feature technology that will only unlock the screen when the owner puts his or her eye near an iris scanner. Lee explained:

“Many people are fanatical about iris recognition technology. We are studying the possibility but can’t really say whether we will have it or not on the S5.”

Though Samsung has not reached a point where its executives feel confident enough to promise eye-recognition software, the company is at least close enough to a workable solution that it is willing to publicly comment on the matter. Samsung already features eye tracking software in some devices, but they require a decent amount of light in order to function properly. It’s like that any potential unlock setting would also require suitable lighting to be effective.