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Google sued over Android location tracking

Google’s legal team will be earning their keep once more, with the search giant again in hot water over privacy concerns. Hot on the heels of the Apple iPhone tracking lawsuit comes similar charges leveled at Google, with two Michigan women suing the company for $50m and the cessation of sales of devices with software that can track user location.

According to the class-action suit, filed in Detroit, Google’s use of location tracking systems puts its “users at serous risk of privacy invasions, including stalking.” Google has declined to comment on the case, but Android does give users the chance to turn off location reporting as part of the initial setup of handsets (and then again in the settings pages).

Researchers highlighted Android’s collection of location data last week, with handsets running the OS reporting back their position to Google on several occasions every hour. Apple was challenged with the same allegations, and earlier this week released a Q&A attempting to explain how in fact the iPhone was logging the location of cell towers and WiFi hotspots, not its own position. That data, the company argued, allowed it to speed up positioning fixes in mapping apps and other LBS.

Samsung gets Galaxy S II party started (with bonus thumb research)

Samsung has given the Galaxy S II the smartphone equivalent of a champagne bottle across the bows, kicking off plans to launch the Android handset on over 140 carriers spread across 120 countries. Star of a media event in Korea this morning, the Galaxy S II not only offers a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display but the thumb-research to back up its usability. Apparently Samsung took its tape measure around Korea, figuring out that the average thumb is 58.6mm long, before green-lighting the huge display as suitable for one-handed use.

Those Korean thumbs will also get to use NFC for mobile payments and a DMB digital TV tuner; Samsung says the latter adds 1mm to the Galaxy S II’s waifish 8.89mm build. Other countries will get NFC, though Samsung is yet to confirm the definitive list. There was no sign of it in our European test model, certainly.

Nonetheless, we weren’t short on praise for the Galaxy S II when we reviewed the dual-core smartphone earlier this week; check out the full review for details. The Samsung Galaxy S II gets broad availability in the UK on May 1, though launches on US carriers haven’t been dated yet.

UK launch for Samsung Galaxy S II pulled forward to April 27 [Updated]

Last we heard, the Samsung Galaxy S II would be arriving on UK shores come May 1. Looks like retailer Phones4u managed to get the Samsung ships to speed up a little, as the company has just announced that it will have a scant three day exclusivity on the Galaxy S II from April 27.

The handset will be priced from free on new, £35 per month agreements, or alternatively offered as a pre-pay device for £499. Your money gets you a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, Super AMOLED Plus WVGA display, twin cameras – 8-megapixels on the back and 2-megapixels up front – and the usual bevy of WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS.

We gave the Galaxy S II a good going-over in our hands-on back in March, so head over there to see all the juicy details. Given the smartphone follows the wildly-successful Galaxy S, we – and Samsung – have high expectations for it.

Update: Carphone Warehouse has begun accepting preregistrations for the same price, but no word on release dates.

iPhone 5 shipping September with speedy CPU tip insiders

The iPhone 5 rumors continue, with the latest leaks suggesting that Apple will begin production of the fifth-generation smartphone in July this year. Reuter‘s trio of anonymous sources – all supposedly “familiar with the matter” – claim the Apple iPhone 5 will begin shipping in September, as well as throwing out a few tidbits about the specifications.

The new iOS handset, they reckon, will “look largely similar” to the existing iPhone 4, rather than mark a significant change in design direction. However it will have a faster processor.

That’s presumably the dual-core 1GHz Apple A5 chip found inside the iPad 2, which we’ve expected to form the heart of the iPhone 5 for some time now. As for the similar aesthetic, last we heard Apple was looking at replacing the iPhone 4′s glass back panel with a more durable metal panel.

iOS ecosystem still overshadows Android tips research; iPad will dominate slates

Android‘s dominance in smartphone popularity may be squeezing Apple, but that pattern of user preference hasn’t spread to tablets yet – and may not for some time. They’re the opinions of several new reports out this week, with comScore discovering that, unlike when solely phones are considered, Apple’s entire iOS range beats out Android in popularity by 59-percent.

That difference, particularly when it comes to tablets, looks unlikely to change other experts reckon. Goldman Sachs released a 68-page report on the state of the tablet ecosystem, Business Insider reports, concluding that Apple is likely to dominate proceedings for at least the next two years.

In fact, Goldman predicts that Apple could well hold 71-percent of the tablet market in 2012, despite the growing number of Android 3.0 Honeycomb models. It’s a shift that will see Microsoft and Intel particularly undermined, they claim, as ARM-based models continue to oust x86 tablets running Windows.

A Half-Baked PlayBook is the tip of the Firmware Nightmare

If there’s one message that comes through loud and clear about the BlackBerry PlayBook – both in our review and in others – it’s that RIM’s first tablet is half-baked in its current state. The 7-inch slate is dependent on a phone for half of its key apps, glitchy in more places than it should be, and has left reviewers warning would-be early-adopters that it might even be too early for them to consider, well, adopting. Welcome to the firmware nightmare, where every device is a work-in-progress and nobody is ever quite satisfied.

The PlayBook is just the latest in a growing number of devices pushed to market before they’re fully cooked, with manufacturers selling us on the promise of what their shiny hardware will do however many months down the line, after they’ve had a chance to similarly buff the software. Motorola’s XOOM is another good example, with a non-functioning memory card slot and missing Flash support at launch, but we’re increasingly seeing it in phones and other devices too.

Once upon a time, we’d buy a phone, live with it – and its stock feature-set – for the length of whatever agreement we’d signed up to, and then upgrade to The Next Big Thing. Now, there’s an expectation that our devices will evolve in features, functionality and stability over time: become better tomorrow than the gadget it is today.

That accelerated software cycle has, however, given manufacturers a green card to release before things are entirely ready. Consumers are treated as beta testers, hooked in with hardware and the promise of what that hardware is capable of, with the firmware to actually make all that a reality delivered somewhere down the ownership line. As our own Vincent Nguyen said, buying RIM’s latest is very similar to buying on credit: “Buy our PlayBook now, and we promise to deliver later.”

On the flip side, meanwhile, there’s a fresh sort of upgrade anxiety, a sense that the next great firmware for our phone, or our tablet, or some other gadget is just around the corner. It’s the new obsession, and it leads to all manner of paranoia when that next update isn’t quite as timely as we’d like it. Most carriers and manufacturers have told me horror stories of frenzied consumers baying frantically for the newest software release, whether that be Gingerbread on their phone or iOS on their tablet. The device you have today – the device you chose to buy in the first place – isn’t good enough any more; it’s a short, if obnoxious step to blaming OEM and network for purposefully undermining your user experience. I know of at least one PR person who, after a disgruntled and impatient smartphone owner managed to discover their direct number, called them repeatedly throughout the day accusing them of deliberately withholding their upgrade.

We’re all complicit – users chasing the holy grail of functionality, manufacturers chasing sales – but I can’t help but think that the pendulum has swung too far. When impatience, our own and that of vendors, shifts us from the occasional glitch to entirely absent apps, when we have hardware proudly mentioned on the spec sheet and yet that we can’t actually use, that’s not future-proofing but a false economy. Give me a device that serves its purpose 100-percent of its life, rather than something I’m expected to coddle until the potential catches up to the promise. In the meantime, I’m going to try to expect less from tomorrow and insist on more – even if that means more moderation – from today.

Nokia Windows Phones detailed: X7-based W7, 12MP N8 variant, more

Nokia’s Windows Phone ambitions have been prematurely previewed, with rumored details of four handsets supposedly in development being leaked. The company has apparently bypassed the so-called “chassis 1″ format – the tightly spec-constrained handsets we’ve seen so-far – and, according to Mobile-review, dived straight into developing “chassis 2″ prototypes which will allow Nokia greater flexibility in the design and components it can use. The initial four designs reportedly consist of X7 and N8 variants running Windows Phone, along with a QWERTY touchscreen candybar device similar to the E6 and a “cheap” all-touch device for the entry-level price point.

The Windows Phone X7 – which Mobile-review calls the Nokia W7, though it’s unclear if that name will stick – supposedly has a WVGA display and Qualcomm QSD8250 chipset. The chassis is the same, angular casing as we played with last week, with an 8-megapixel camera paired with autofocus and a flash. The screen is not reportedly AMOLED, though that could change, and Nokia apparently intends to push the W7 out to the market first: as early as fall 2011, if the company can get its act together.

As for the N8 variant, that will apparently carry over the Symbian handset’s imaging capabilities with a 12-megapixel camera or similar. It will also be targeting the high-end market, with a dual-core Qualcomm CPU and Adreno 320 GPU, and a final design that will apparently look relatively different from the N8. It’s expected to drop in late Q1 or early Q2 2012, and is still for the most part in very early developmental stages.

The final two devices will probably be based on existing Symbian prototype hardware. The QWERTY handset will supposedly come with a Nokia-developed enterprise-focused service of some sort, though details are still scant, while the “cheap” phone is tipped to be based on the W7 design but with cheaper materials, an EDOF full-focus camera and an early 2011 release date.

In fact, these are just four of a total of 12 Windows Phone handsets Nokia is tipped to be working on for 2012. Among the second wave will reportedly be a new flagship, along with another high-end camera phone. Interestingly, the Finns are also supposedly continuing their Android evaluation, with everything supposedly depending on Windows Phone sales in the first half of next year.

HTC Sensation offers just 1GB of 4GB ROM to users

HTC has confirmed that, while the HTC Sensation has a 4GB ROM, only 1GB of that will be user-accessible. The dual-core smartphone reserves 3GB of the ROM for the Android install and the latest version of HTC Sense.

The news is likely to disappoint long-time Android users, who had hoped that more of the 4GB ROM would be available to install apps from the Android Market. While the OS now has support for Apps2SD, allowing software to be shifted from the phone’s ROM to a memory card, not all apps support the system.

It remains to be seen how straightforward the Sensation’s bootloader is for third-party hackers to tinker with the OS. Sense is looking increasingly bloated – though still fast-moving on the Sensation’s 1.2GHz MSM 8260 processor – and stripping that out for a vanilla Gingerbread install would likely free up plenty more than 1GB of ROM.

LTE iPhone 5 in time for Holiday 2011: Apple Rumor Roundup

With it looking unlikely that Apple will be bringing the iPhone 5 to WWDC 2011 in early June, speculation has returned to circling how the company’s hardware plans may shape up for the rest of the year. Rather than a June launch, there are suggestions that Apple will release the white iPhone 4 later in the spring and use that to prolong the handset’s shelf-life until a Q4 2011 refresh. That later date might allow for the inclusion of 4G LTE connectivity, in an attempt to better take on what’s expected to be a growing number of LTE-equipped Android devices.

 

According to Macotakara, Apple is yet to order components for the iPhone 5, and sources claim the fifth-generation smartphone will not contribute to the company’s fiscal 2011; that period ends on September 24. Their sources also claim an early 2012 release for the new phone, though AppleInsider joins several sites in suggesting Apple would be unlikely to bypass the 2011 holiday shopping season.

Meanwhile, as for iOS 5.0, TechCrunch claims that Apple has been hard at work integrating Siri technology into the new version, with the team brought over to Apple following the “virtual personal assistant” startup’s acquisition busy polishing the WWDC demos. It’s also suggested that Apple may open up the voice-control system to third-party developers. Last week an analyst suggested that Apple might use its new data center to run Siri-powered search, LBS and mapping services. Assuming a familiarity period following WWDC to allow developers to ready iOS 5.0 compatible apps and services, that could well mean that the iPhone 5 would launch simultaneously with the updated platform.

Finally, a Q4 2011 iPhone 5 release might allow Apple more flexibility in including LTE functionality, with Qualcomm’s newer-generation 4G chipsets available by that point. Apple claimed that the compromises inherent in first-gen LTE radios led them to bypass the technology in the Verizon iPhone 4; however, Verizon has also been vocal that it was its LTE network that attracted Apple’s attention, and has since said that Apple LTE devices are indeed in the pipeline.

AT&T Motorola ATRIX 4G on sale now

Motorola’s ATRIX 4G has gone on sale, arriving on AT&T’s network for $199.99 with a new, two-year agreement. As we found in the full SlashGear ATRIX 4G review, the new dual-core Motorola is one of the fastest Android handsets around, with its Tegra 2 processor and qHD adding up to a great smartphone experience.

However, it’s the accessories that many people are most excited about, with a Laptop Dock intended to replace your MacBook Air and a HD Multimedia Dock for taking advantage of the ATRIX 4G’s high-definition support. The outlook on the Laptop Dock isn’t so great, however, at least at this early stage, and we’d recommend checking out the review if you were considering junking a netbook for it.

Those doubts aside, we can’t complain too much about the ATRIX 4G itself, and we have to give Motorola and AT&T some credit for getting it to the market in a little over a month since it made its debut at CES 2011 in January.

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