The HTC U Ultra: The Birth Of The Intelligent Phone

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Tech blogs and review sites love to make mountains out of mole hills as much as they love to sing the praises of the companies that send them free handsets. Currently, most of them are all up in arms over the latest offering from HTC, the HTC U Ultra. Comments and pull quotes that highlight the fact that it would be the best phone on the market, if it was 2016, or complaining about the lack of a headphone jack right after reviewing their new Bluetooth headphones, or the choice of processor that HTC put in it when the one they “wish was in it” hasn’t come out yet. They say there’s no such thing as bad press, but when you start off with reviews that are so critical, it’s hard to bounce back. The saddest part of most of these reviews is that the majority of the people writing them have never even seen the device, let alone spent any significant time using it. Keeping that in mind, as someone that has used the device, albeit for a very short time, I have to honestly say that they just don’t get what HTC has gone for with the Ultra, or at least not what I see that they are going for with their latest design.

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Taking a look under the hood on the U Ultra, you will see a very 2016 set of specs, and that is not a bad thing at all. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor features more than enough horsepower to get you through even the toughest multitasking sessions. The 5.7” primary display is supplemented by a secondary “notification screen” that brings the rationale behind the 3000 mAh battery into perspective. The 4GB of internal RAM and 64GB of internal storage are also more than enough for keeping your Apps and basics running all day long. The expandable storage slot (which takes up to 2TB SD cards – if they ever become available) will easily save the photos and videos you take and allow you to load a very large music catalog on to your Ultra without any worry of running low on space. The front is equipped with a fingerprint sensor and 16MP/4UP camera with optical image stabilization. The back features a 12UP shooter with an f/1.8 lens for faster shooting conditions. We move around to the bottom of the device that features a powerful speaker system and that USB-C port that is a “do-it-all” port on the Ultra since there is no 3.5mm headphone jack – more on this choice later. Overall, the blogs and tech reviews have this correct, it is a VERY powerful phone for 2016.

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Unfortunately, it is 2017, which means that that Ultra is flying a bit behind the times in some of those leaked new items like new processors and GPU’s. Devices will be hitting shelves later this year with the newer Snapdragon 835, 6GB of RAM and even more storage options. Of course, the same could be said of 2018 or 2019, there will always be something bigger, better, faster and stronger in the pipeline, so why wouldn’t you wait for the HTC 11 or the Samsung Galaxy S9 instead? The answer lies in something more simple than specs, for the Ultra and for the HTC U Play for that matter, it’s all about you, the user. HTC has been pioneering the software end of smartphones going back to early 2000’s. From their ground breaking Sense OS on Windows Mobile to innovations like Sense Home and that ever popular Weather Clock, HTC has been working up to what the Ultra and Play will bring to the user. Their name for this incredible achievement is Sense Companion, but I’ll just call it what it should be – Life Organizer.

My personal favorite feature of the Ultra is Sense Companion. Sense Companion is a virtual assistant of sorts, that will remember what you do and when you do it, then remind you if you forget. For example, if you leave the office everyday at 5:30 and call your wife, that one day you forget to call, the phone will remind you that you normally call your wife when you leave the office. If you have to get the kids to practice at 4:00 on Tuesday and traffic is bad, Sense Companion will check traffic at 3:30 and let you know you need to leave if you want to be on time. When planning that weekly golf outing, it will let you know that rain is expected in the morning so you can pack your umbrella. The long and the short of it is that Sense Companion isn’t just a digital assistant that will ‘remind you’ of things, but it learns from what you do, so it can be proactive for you and save you time and energy. Imagine how simple organizing your life could be if your phone remembered what you forgot to tell it? To me, this is the future of the smartphone, and despite the fact that ‘everyone’ has one coming this year, I can’t imagine that with the head start that HTC had with their Sense system, anyone will catch them very quickly.

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Moving back to the device itself and the feel of it, I have to admit that the only thing I could say when I held it for the first time, was that the Ultra felt like it was at home in my hand. It is a huge phone, but the craftsmanship that HTC put into the Ultra made it feel much lighter and smaller than it really is. I would use the term, “Balanced,” but that word just doesn’t go far enough. Between the curved glass edges and the solid metal banding around the device, the Ultra fits so well in the palm of so many sized hands that it’s hard to imagine one person not loving the feel of it. HTC accomplished this by stretching the screen further vertically, rather than horizontally, which gives the device a taller, but narrower design. In simple terms, they made the device hand sized, but made a gargantuan sized screen that fit it perfectly. The ergonomics of the Ultra also leads us to the biggest question mark in the design of the Ultra, the 3000 mAh battery.

In a time when Phablets are getting larger and larger, their batteries are growing with them. These days, it’s not uncommon to see a 4,000 or even a 5,000 mAh battery in a 5.7+ inch screen device. When I was first made aware that the Ultra was only packing 3,000 mAh and didn’t feature wireless charging, my heart sank a bit. But after using it for a while, I realized that the secondary display really helped save on the battery usage. Instead of powering on a 5.7” display to read a text and reply, the Ultra only has to power on the tiny secondary display that sits along the top edge of the larger display. After seeing how little battery is used by the secondary display, I believe that the 3,000 mAh battery should make it through an average day of work for me without any issue. For those nights that I need a bit of a boost, the Ultra features Quick Charge 3.0 technology that will top off the battery in almost no time at all. Worse case scenario, a quick trip to the charger at lunch time or right before I head out the door for home should get me through a long evening out.

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This brings me back to what really sets the Ultra apart, and really any HTC handset coming in the near future, the Sense Companion feature. I don’t think it can ever be stressed enough that higher end smartphones will all do the basic tasks very well. Even mid-range smartphones will handle most of the day to day tasks without any headaches. This begs us to question, what’s next. How fast does an App need to open? How much better can a mobile camera get? How much more storage does a device need? The HTC Ultra has plenty of horsepower to open those apps and keep then running along at a very impressive pace. The camera on the Ultra is second to none and should provide a shooting experience that even the most demanding mobile photographers can enjoy. The 64GB of storage is starting to look a bit long in the tooth, but again, expandable memory will help this along quite nicely and it’s more than devices like the Galaxy S7 or Note 5 have on board. Sense Companion though, that’s where the action is taken to the next level. By learning from you and adapting your phone to your needs, HTC is taking the smartphone and turning into what’s next, the Intelligent Phone.

The birth of the intelligent phone takes the concept of the smartphone to the next level. It’s not a phone that needs to have monster specs or one amazing stand out feature. It’s a phone that needs to understand you and what you need. That’s what HTC has created in the U Ultra, and for that matter, in the U Play. It’s a device that anticipates you, that understands your needs. It’s a device that knows you, that helps you organize your life. Maybe that’s where the U name comes from, at least that makes the most sense to me. The U Ultra will is available for pre-order at htc.com for $749.99 and includes a crystal clear case and a pair of USonic Earphones in the box. It’s currently only being offered as an unlocked GSM device, so Verizon and Sprint users may have to wait a bit to see if a CDMA/LTE version hits the HTC store.

RingPlus To Shutdown February 10th

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UPDATED 2/17/17 – RingPlus has let members know that Ting has offered to park numbers for all RingPlus members beginning on February 21, 2017. At that time, any account that is moved will be given a $35 credit. If the top up balance of your RingPlus account is higher, you will immediately receive the $35 credit up front and $5 a month until your entire balance is recovered. Ting will email users when the process is complete.

In yet another blow to low cost cellular service, Sprint has informed one of their MVNO’s that they will no longer offer service to them after February, 10, 2017. The shutdown comes as a complete surprise to most users, many of whom are running on free or ultra-low cost offerings from RingPlus. RingPlus has been operating since 2012 on the Sprint network and will leave users looking quickly for places to port their number too before they lose service next week. Unfortunately, those tied to the RingPlus network will find their options for new MVNO’s rather limited as very few Sprint MVNO’s offer anything close to the value that RingPlus did.

For starters, there is FreedomPop, which offers users a free plan that includes 200 minutes of VoIP talk, 500 texts and 500 MB of LTE data on the Sprint network. Those old Sprint phones should transfer over without any issues once they are released by RingPlus. FreedomPop also offers various upgraded service plans and add-on services for those that need a bit more than the basic plan. There is a $19.99 charge for activating your own device on FreedomPop, but stay tuned to see if there is a special on RingPlus transfers in the coming days. Next up is Ting Wireless. Ting offers up users a pay by the usage system that can cost as little as $6 and moves up only with usage. Republic Wireless is another option that utilizes hybrid calling, or both cellular and WiFi calling. Republic plans start at just $15 a month for unlimited talk and text, but then add a flat $10 per GB of data. Both of these carriers do not offer free plans like many RingPlus users enjoyed.

RingPlus has stated they will fight Sprint to keep lines active with a 30 day notice, but chances are even with that reprieve most users will want to move on to another carrier long before then. For now, RingPlus users will need to start looking hard at the options and make a move sooner, rather than later, especially if they want to keep their numbers after RingPlus shuts their doors.

Are These “Deals” Really Deals?

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Taking a look at the latest bunch of deals from the big 4 cellular companies leaves most consumers dazed and confused. Everyone has some kind of deal, whether it’s one rate without any taxes or fees or 50% off the other guy’s bill. The bottom line is, desperate times call for desperate measures, and when you only have a pool of 300 million lines, you’ll say almost anything to get more than your share of them. To help you out along the way, here are the four majors and the promotions they are running, along with the actual cost per month – with a device, or 4 for the family plans.

T-Mobile offers up their latest uncarrier deal with the elimination of taxes and fees. Well, not exactly eliminating them, but actually treating your line like a prepaid line and building in the taxes and fees you would normally pay into the standard rate that they charge. Now, typically, fees can range anywhere from 5% to 20% of your bill. Depending on your location, this can be a huge savings, or no big deal. For example, the old $60 unlimited plan actually cost $72.60 in the Seattle area due to taxes and fees. Now, it’s just a flat $70 for the single line. See those savings adding up yet? Yes, T-Mobile raised their prices and now include tax. Your single line cost with an Apple iPhone 7 will be $96 a month instead of $98.60. A family of four will run $264 a month with four of those new iPhone 7’s.

Sprint continues to confuse the universe with their 50% off you current bill promotion and their unlimited for all deals that just seem to strange to figure out. The problem with the 50% deal is that you really don’t save a ton on the service, usually about $30 a month, but the phones will cost more. For example, the 4 line Verizon plan that costs $170 a month will only cost $65 a month with autopay. This is a pretty spectacular deal while they honor that pricing, but a phone payment is required to take advantage of that deal, so add that $110 a month to that plan for the new iPhone’s you wanted and you are right at the $170 price point, but getting 4 new phones. Their single line unlimited plan will set users back $60 a month and that same iPhone 7 will cost $27.09 on monthly payments from Sprint. This means your monthly cost actually settles at $99.69 in the Seattle area. A family of four will be looking at just over $300 with taxes and fees, or about $35 a month more than T-Mobile’s family offering with the taxes and fees included.

Verizon continues to step up the pressure by increasing offerings, but pricing seems stuck in crazy town compared to the first two value carriers. The lowest cost plan is $55 for 2GB with phone access. You then work in $27.08 per line for that same iPhone 7 and you will have a single line monthly bill of $93.63. For families, $160 will score you four lines with 20GB of shared LTE data. The data rolls over monthly and is only slowed to 2G speeds if you go over that limit. Add in the $108.36 for those new iPhone 7’s again and your monthly bill for four lines will be a scalding $301.96 after taxes. Fortunately, that’s not much more than Sprint’s deal, but with only 20GB of data (keep in mind that Sprint limits each line to 26GB of data before slowing) it’s about 1/4 the available data that Sprint and T-Mobile offer for less.

Finally, AT&T has the same old, same old running again this month. The 1GB, $50 plan is their low end offering, but you still need to add a smartphone payment to this to make it functional, which will set you back another $21.67 a month for that iPhone 7. That brings the total to $82.17 a month, but remember, that is with just 1GB of data. Bumping that offering to 6GB of data will cost you $118.47 a month for a single line. Of course, a family gets a bit better rate in that they can grab 25GB of data to share for $229.90 a month. Add 4 of those iPhone 7s again, your total comes out to $316.58.

Overall, if you are not getting “generic” phones, or another way to put it, “freebies”, you are going to be staring at a $300 phone bill no matter what the carrier says. The difference will be what amount of data do you actually get. Starting with T-Mobile, you have unlimited LTE data that is slowed at 28GB. Sprint matches that as well, but with a 23GB limit. AT&T offers a similar deal with their 25GB plan which does not end your data stream when you reach that limit, but instead, slows your connection down to 2G speeds. Verizon, despite what you read on sites like T-Mobile and Sprint, does the same action of slowing to 2G data once your cap is reached with their new Safety Mode. You also can carryover your unused LTE data from month to month to keep that built up for when you need it. Here’s the catch, every single carrier has a better deal when you purchase a lower end device and use their prepaid service instead. Even better, check out options like Cricket Wireless (AT&T), Total Wireless (Verizon), MetroPCS (T-Mobile) and Virgin Mobile (Sprint) for even lower rates and a better device selection for less money.

 

This post does not contain any links to any specific carriers. By clicking a link to the right of this article, this blog may receive a commission on that sale.

Sprint To This Great Deal On The LG V20

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Just when you thought the deals couldn’t get any better, Sprint ups the ante with the LG V20 for 50% off the normal retail price. The LG V20 is a media powerhouse that features Android 7.0 and a Quad HD, 5.7” display with a whopping 513 pixels per inch rating. The 64GB of internal storage can be supplemented with a MicroSD card of 2TB or smaller. Of course, you’ll need all that storage when you take advantage of the 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad Digital Audio Converter and snap images with the dual lens 16MP camera. To make even better use of that gorgeous display, you can shoot 720p video at 120 frames per second for the ultimate in video effects.

The LG V20 deal on Sprint gives you the $792 device for just $16.50 a month for 24 months. This works out to just $396 for the device over the life of the payments. Keep in mind, you need to keep the service for the life of the 24 months to keep this deal going, or the full price of the device becomes due. If you’ve been in the market for a new device, go grab this deal as supplies are limited and it won’t last long.

Link: LG V20 deal on Sprint

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Get The Verizon Moto Z Play For $5 A Month

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Sales on last year’s models seem to be popping up all over the internet, but when Verizon offers a good phone at a great price, it’s always worth looking at. Right now, is one of those times the Verizon has an offer on the table that is definitely worth looking at. Currently they are offering users a deal on the Moto Z Play Droid, though I’ll just call it the Moto Z Play for ease here, for just $5 a month after a bill credit that will carry on for 24 months.

The Moto Z Play features a 5.5” Super AMOLED screen, a 3510 mAh battery and a bevy of additional specs that will make the average user more than happy. The 3GB of RAM will use the 32GB of internal storage that is expandable with e MIcroSD card. It also features a 16MP rear shooter and a 5MP front camera. It also has the ability to use the MOTO MODS feature that was the big deal about the Motorola devices of 2016. With the MOTO MOD adapters, you can add a projector, extra capacity battery, a high powered camera or even a JBL powered boom box. The MODS are all about getting more out of your phone.

With a 4.4 star rating on Verizon’s website, an overwhelming 402 users out of 467 rated the Moto Z Play with 4 or 5 stars. This is a pretty stellar mark for a site where you usually hear from more users that are complaining about the device not doing something that those that praise it. This is a limited time offer, so make sure to grab this deal and maybe pair it with the $55 – 5GB plan for a great deal on the best network in the country.

 

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FreedomPop Brings LTE To GSM Services

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Last year, FreedomPop brought out their first GSM phone offerings in the form of a Global based SIM that worked on the AT&T and T-Mobile HSPA+ networks in the US. Of course, the HSPA networks only offered speeds of 5 Mbps on the download and uploads were significantly slower. 2017 sees FreedomPop stepping up to the plate with their new LTE based GSM service, which runs on the AT&T LTE network in the US only. The free plan features 200 minutes of talk, 500 text messages and 200 MB of LTE data.  The new LTE SIM is available for just $4.99 and includes a 30 day trial of unlimited talk and text with a full GB of data for no additional charge. The SIM still requires an unlocked GSM handset as the SIM cards are not issued by AT&T directly. That said, if you’ve been waiting for a FreedomPop LTE offering that didn’t involve the Sprint network, this is it.

Click to get the deal before it’s gone!

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Total Wireless Has The Totally Perfect Gifts To Save You Money

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This one day sale is perfect for those that were ready to make the jump to Total Wireless this holiday season. The $50 off any $99.99 to $298.99 deal or the $100 off any $299 or more deal will both get you started with top notch handsets on America’s most reliable network. Of course, this deal is for Cyber Monday only and expires soon! Grab your deal right now and get the phone you want for less than you can imagine!

Save $100 on the iPhone SE 16GB – Reg $399.99 – Now $299.99
Save $100 on the iPhone 6 16GB – Reg $400.00 – Now $300.00
Save $100 on the iPhone 6+ 16GB – Reg $399.99 – Now $299.99
Save $100 on the Huawei Nexus 6p – Reg $439.99 – Now $339.99
Save $100 on the Samsung Galaxy S5 – Reg $299.99 – Now $199.99
Save $!00 on the Samsung Galaxy S6 – Reg $499.99 – Now $399.99
Save $100 on the Samsung Galaxy S7 – Reg $599.99 – Now $499.99

These are just a few of the deals that Total Wireless has running today, so swing by and check them out before they are gone!