If you’re wary of the NSA but still want to keep in touch with your family and friends, I’ve got a cell phone for you. FreedomPop recently launched the Privacy Phone, which the company says is the only smartphone and mobile service that allows for encrypted communications. Nicknamed the “Snowden Phone,” the phone – which is a Samsung Galaxy II that costs $189 – can be purchased with bitcoins to help further protect your identity. FreedomPop says all voice and text messages are locked down with 128-bit encryption, and all app and internet data will be sent through a secure encrypted network. Still not sold on the idea? FreedomPop will let you can change your phone number anytime you want. The Privacy Phone has no contract, and comes with three months of unlimited voice and text plus 500 MB of data. After that, it’s just $10 a month, which – you guessed it – you can pay for in bitcoin. If you’re looking for a little bit more privacy, FreedomPop’s Privacy Phone is available for purchase today.
Sending a text message is easy – but what if sending a smell through your phone was just as easy? A research team at Harvard University has designed a new device called the Ophone that transmits smell signals through smartphones. The device uses a small cartridge that attaches to your smartphone and lets you send the smell you want the cartridge to produce through a companion app called oTracks. It may sound strange, but the lead designer says the idea was not just to reproduce an existing way of communicating, but instead to create a new language and a new way of communicating with people around the world. The Ophone not only makes it possible to accurately send and receive smells, but also lets you pair them with images on your smartphone’s screen. Eventually, the team says, the Ophone can transmit up to ten thousand smells and may even be able to capture new smells. Until then, though, we’ll have to stick with boring old words.
T-Mobile recently “outraged” BlackBerry’s CEO John Chen when the wireless provider emailed its BlackBerry customers, encouraging them to upgrade to an iPhone 5S with no money down. After an angry blog post by Chen, T-Mobile apologized for the email and offered BlackBerry owners a big-time trade-in credit if they wanted to upgrade their phones – $250 toward a new BlackBerry or $200 toward any other new phone. This move did lead to lots of upgrades – but didn’t lead to very many new BlackBerrys. The recently-ended promotion saw 15 times more BlackBerry trade-ins than usual, but 94 percent of those upgrades saw customers leave BlackBerry for another platform. Even with an extra $50 on the table to upgrade to a Q10 or Z10, nearly 19 out of every 20 upgrading BlackBerry owners decided to jump ship. Is this, once again, the beginning of the end for BlackBerry? Not quite. T-Mobile’s BlackBerry options are pretty slim, and Chen said his company would focus on AT&T and Verizon, where his company’s phones do much better.
A new Apple TV is coming soon, and it may even let you watch cable TV and play games. But any new hardware is a few months away, so here are some tips to get the most out of your current Apple TV. If you hold down the menu button while doing anything, you’ll get back to the Apple TV dashboard instantly. If you’re browsing through a video app – like Netflix or HBO Go – pressing “play” on what you want to watch will load the video immediately; there’s no need to go to the summary page to start playing your video. And during video playback, holding “Up” shows info about the video, then holding “Select” while that info bar is up gives you audio options, like closed captioning. Finally, if you’re tired of that tiny Apple TV remote, you can control your Apple TV with any iDevice through Apple’s Remote app, which makes it easier to do a lot of things – especially searching for that next movie you want to watch.
Spring is almost here, but if you feel trapped in a winterscape and need to get to somewhere warmer, head over to Google Maps. Google recently released a ton of “Street View” images of the Hawaiian Islands as part of its Trekker Loan program. Google’s Trekker, which was first shown off two years ago, is a wearable backpack that houses a camera system with more than a dozen 5 megapixel lenses, allowing for 360 degree images. Google loaned the Trekker cameras to the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, and the team just released its first set of images, which features plenty of shots of Hawaiian beaches, trails and other sights. These images came from the first partnership in the Trekker Loan program, which Google plans to open up to more organizations in the future. Google Trends says that searches for “Hawaii” have nearly doubled in the last month, right in the middle of a particularly brutal winter. Being stuck in a wintery New York never felt so tropical.
Look out, Google Chromecast: there’s another cheap media streaming HDMI stick in town. Roku’s new Streaming Stick packs almost all the functionality of a full-sized Roku box into an HDMI device slightly bigger than a USB flash drive. The Stick is powered with a micro-USB cable that plugs into a USB port on the TV or the included power adapter. At $50, Roku’s device is $15 more than Chromecast, but well worth the upgrade. The Streaming Stick comes with a traditional remote and on-screen interface, which is very similar to a traditional TV watching experience. You can still “push” content to the device from your phone, like on Chromecast, but you can also navigate exclusively with your remote. The Streaming Stick also comes with access to all 1,200 of Roku’s channels, including just about every major service – things like Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, Amazon Instant, MLB.TV and more. If this sounds like a device you’ve just got to have, Roku’s Streaming Stick is due out in April for $49.99.
While the next iPhone might be able to quantify your health and fitness, your current one cannot. A new iPhone case called Wello, however, plans to change all that. Wello has built-in sensors that give you a glimpse into your overall health simply by holding your phone in a certain way. The case can measure your heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and blood oxygen levels. It can even display the ECG waves from your heart or test your lung function with a small attachment that you blow into. Thinner than most mainstream iPhone cases, Wello is able to pair with your Wi-Fi scale and regular fitness trackers to help you keep an overall picture of your health. Wello’s creator says additional add-ons, which could let you do things like test your glucose level, may come in the future. Pre-orders for the $199 device are available now, and will ship to more than 30 countries this fall for use on the iPhone 4S, 5 and 5S.
If you’ve ever had trouble flagging down a server at a restaurant, you might want to head over to Buffalo Wild Wings. The restaurant chain recently announced that it’s set to put tablets on each of its tables that will let you order food and drinks without having to get a hold of your waiter or waitress. The tablets will also double as entertainment devices, giving you the option to play games, request a channel change on a TV and more. And, when you’re all done, you can even use the tablets to pay your bill! The devices are all 7-inch Samsung Galaxy units, powered by a platform called BEOND. Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t the first chain with an idea like this; similar tablets can already be found in Applebee’s and Chili’s nationwide. Buffalo Wild Wings says about 150 locations already have these tablets installed. The company plans to get them into about 500 restaurants by the end of this year and into every U.S. location by the end of 2015.
After shutting down its music streaming service in January, Samsung is back with a brand new way for you to rock out. ‘Milk Music’ is a newly-launched, free streaming radio service available to everyone with a Galaxy phone. Powered by Slacker Radio, Milk Music was built to be simple, interruption-free and user-friendly. Ad-free – at least to start – the app is centered around a large circular dial in the middle of your phone’s screen that you can touch to change stations, just like turning a dial on an actual radio. Milk Music automatically downloads the first eight seconds of every song on the dial, which means you’ll never again have to deal with buffering. The dial shows up to nine genres at a time – with individual stations in-between, that you can start based on a single song, artist or genre. Don’t like a song? Skip it! Milk Music lets you skip up to six tracks per hour, per station. One big question remains, though: how many music streaming services do we actually need?
If you’ve used Gmail on an iDevice before this week, you know the experience was less-than-ideal. The app was sluggish and could take a while to load your inbox. The app’s newest update, however, makes waiting a thing of the past. Update version 3.0 finally includes full support for iOS 7’s background app refresh, meaning that your Gmail app can now automatically download your email in the background, even if you don’t have the app open. Whenever you want to check your mail, your inbox is up to date as soon as you open the app. To cut down on wasted time waiting for your inbox to load, make sure you turn on background app refresh and notifications for Gmail in the Settings app on your iPhone. The update also brought support for sign-in across all of Google’s iOS apps, like Maps, Drive and YouTube. Signing into one of them means you’ll be signed into them all. It may sound minor, but it’s definitely a boost in the convenience department.