7 Days: A week of Android delights, the wonders of Windows 10, and a fond farewell

7 Days is a weekly round-up of the Editors' picks of what's been happening in the world of technology - written with a dash of humor, a hint of exasperation, and an endless supply of (Irish) coffee.

It’s been another insanely busy week across the tech world, with no shortage of exciting revelations and spicy rumors. And with a ton of devices unveiled at the massive Computex industry expo in Taiwan in recent days too, there’s been a lot to stay on top of this week. But now the weekend is upon us once more, and that means that 7 Days is here again to bring you up to speed. Let’s get on with it!

We begin this week with Apple, which released a new version of its iOS 9.3.2 update on Thursday, specifically for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Last month, the original version of the update bricked an unknown number of the devices; it took Apple four days to eventually pull the update for those tablets, and a further two weeks to finally get around to fixing the problem.

It should come as no great surprise that Apple hasn’t provided any explanation for what caused the problem, nor has it made any effort to compensate those whose devices were left inoperable for over a fortnight.

Of course, Apple had its hands full on the same day, dealing with a major outage that affected many of its services, including the App Store, iCloud and Apple TV. The services were fully restored within around eight hours but – yep, you guessed it – Apple offered its customers no explanation about the cause of the outage.

Intel unveiled the mighty new Broadwell-E Extreme Edition of its Core i7 processor, packing up to 10 cores and promising fierce levels of performance.

Image via The Drum

Meanwhile, global ride-sharing giant Uber came under fire this week after it announced that it had accepted $3.5 billion of financing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Critics of the deal drew attention to the country’s poor human rights record, as well as noting that Saudi Arabia forbids women from driving.

Meanwhile, there was bad news on the HTC front, as it emerged that the Taiwanese firm has delayed the arrival of its smart wearable device again.

But there was good news for those who own both Microsoft’s latest wearable device and an Android phone. Microsoft has now enabled Cortana support on its Band 2 for those with handsets running Google’s OS.

From the Microsoft Band 2 to the Mi Band 2… Xiaomi’s new wearable device sports an OLED display, offering up to 20 days of battery life, and is priced at just $23.

Xiaomi announced on Wednesday that it will pre-install Microsoft’s Office and Skype apps on its smartphones, as part of a deal in which Microsoft also sold around 1,500 patents to the Chinese company.

On Thursday, Microsoft’s new Skype preview app for Windows 10 Mobile was leaked. The new app is far from complete, but if you’re curious to see how it’s looking so far, you can follow these instructions to install itat your own risk!

Facebook’s new Messenger Beta app for Windows 10 Mobile also became available for some users on Thursday; the Windows Store listing notes that the app is intended only for a limited group of testers, but some people have succeeded in installing it by using a cheeky workaround.

It's also worth mentioning that an alleged changelog for Facebook/Messenger on iOS popped up last weekend, apparently indicating that the social network is planning to introduce end-to-end encryption for messaging.

On Tuesday, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft joined forces with the European Commission, in an effort to crack down on the spread of online hate speech, and promote the web as a safer and more civil space for all users.

Details emerged of how enterprising criminals have responded to Russia's economic woes by building an international ‘ransomware empire’. Ransomware encrypts the files of users without their knowledge, while those responsible demand that the users pay a fee to be able to access their files again.

Microsoft also warned this week of a new “type of ransomware” that can self-replicate and move from one computer to another.

Google’s Android Marshmallow update continues to slowly make its way to devices around the world. There was good news this week for some of those awaiting its arrival on Verizon, though. Android 6.0.1 is now available for Samsung’s Galaxy S5 on Big Red…

…and for the carrier’s Galaxy Note 4 too.

And those looking forward to the Galaxy Note 6 (or should that be Note 7?) also got their first clear look at the device thanks to a leaked image and video, showing the handset with a Galaxy S7 edge-style dual-curved display.

On Tuesday, Sony announced the Xperia E5, a new mid-ranger offering a 5-inch 720p display, quad-core processor, 1.5GB RAM and 16GB of storage for €199 EUR (roughly $225 USD).

Android fans with bigger budgets, though, have spent much of the week checking out some of the new flagship-class handsets on the way.

Lenovo announced its new ZUK Z2 this week, featuring a 5-inch Full HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a fingerprint sensor, for the remarkably low price of around $270 USD.

Image via @evleaks

OnePlus announced that its new range-topper – which has been extensively detailed in recent leaks – will be officially unveiled in less than two weeks’ time. The OnePlus 3 launch event will take place in ‘The Loop’, a virtual reality experience from the company, through which it will also exclusively sell the device for the first two hours after its unveiling.

But I’ve saved the best OnePlus news for last: the company has confirmed that its dreadful, and much-hated, ‘invite system’ is now officially dead.

Hooray!

Asus unveiled a range of hardware at Computex, including three high-end Zenfone handsets. The Android devices have screen sizes up to 6.8-inches, processors up to Snapdragon 820, and up to 6GB of RAM, depending on the specific model.

Asus also showed off its new Zenbook 3, a super-sleek Windows 10 Ultrabook that’s both thinner and lighter than Apple’s latest MacBook, despite featuring plenty of impressive specs, including Core i7 processor options, up to 16GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, backlit keyboard, and fingerprint sensor.

Asus clearly drew some inspiration from Microsoft’s Surface range with its new Transformer tablets. The Transformer Mini, 3 and 3 Pro will feature Intel’s next-gen processors, and while they appear similar in concept to the Surface tablets, they do offer some distinctive (and in some cases, rather appealing) features of their own.

Asus also showed off Zenbo – a $599 home assistant robot that manages to be both hugely impressive, and completely and utterly creepy, at the same time. I strongly encourage you to watch Asus’ cringe-inducing promotional video for Zenbo, if only to listen to its freaky voice.

HP’s Elite x3 is arguably the most exciting Windows 10 Mobile device we’ve seen so far. Following its unveiling at Mobile World Congress in February, and ahead of its anticipated launch this summer, HP started promoting the flagship-class handset in a series of videos this week.

And if you’d like to find out even more about it, be sure to also check out my extensive feature on the Elite x3 from earlier this year, including a chat with a HP executive about the company’s approach to its development.

Spanish hardware brand Funker is reportedly preparing to launch its second Windows 10 Mobile handset in the near future, with Continuum support. It appears that the upper-mid-range W6.0 Pro isn’t a new design though – it’s a rebadged version of the Coship Moly PcPhone W6.

And by the way, if you’re interested in finding out more about all the Windows 10 Mobile devices that have been announced in recent months, check out my handy guide from a couple of weeks ago, detailing the various phones and tablets that we’ve (officially) seen so far.

Dell unveiled its new family of 2-in-1 Windows 10 devices this week. While most of them seem like nice, but fairly run-of-the-mill ‘daily drivers’, there was one notable device in the mix: the 17-inch Inspiron 7000, which may just be the first convertible Windows notebook at that size.

Digital Storm revealed its beastly 'Aura' all-in-one PC with a 35-inch curved monitor, Intel’s 10-core Core i7 Extreme Edition processor (the one mentioned earlier in this roundup), and up to 32GB of RAM, along with the latest GeForce GTX 1080 8GB (NVIDIA Founders Edition) GPU. The price tag for all of that is similarly monstrous.

Buyers with big budgets may also be interested in a new Porsche Design Windows 10 2-in-1 that Microsoft teased at Computex. Very little about the device has so far been revealed; in addition to an Intel processor, Microsoft stated that it will also come with “hardware components”.

Helpful.

Microsoft also announced that it is opening up its Windows Hello platform, which offers alternative methods of logging into a device beyond the traditional username-and-password combo, to its hardware partners. Along with biometrics – such as fingerprint and iris scans, or facial recognition – users will also be able to authenticate using hardware such as personal wearable devices.

Microsoft announced details of its plans to open up Windows Holographic – the version of Windows 10 that runs on its HoloLens headset – to other manufacturers, for use on their own augmented- and virtual reality devices.

Microsoft said that Windows Holographic devices are now “months away, not years”, but Windows chief Terry Myerson acknowledged that the company still “needs to complete the platform” for its partners. It delivered its first major update to Windows Holographic this week – along with Outlook Mail and Calendar apps for HoloLens – but the fairly basic nature of the improvements it delivered in that update certainly says something about how much work the company still has left to do before the holographic OS is ‘production-ready’.

But as I discussed earlier this year, Microsoft has really only taken a few small steps towards its long-term vision for holographic computing. Check out my thoughts on why the little we’ve seen of HoloLens and Windows Holographic so far are really just the start of something far more exciting.

And by the way, be sure to have a look at ‘FlashBack’, a Microsoft Research project revealed this week, aiming to bring high-quality virtual reality to even the most underpowered devices.

Microsoft Research also showed off ‘Platypus’, an innovative system to help enable robots to identify and locate humans in close proximity, using technology inspired by the animal after which it was named.

Additionally – and believe me when I say that these are not words I ever expected to write – Microsoft Research is working on a way to allow you to have a (two-way!) conversation with your plants.

Yes, you read that correctly – don’t ask, just read.

But alongside all of this exciting new technology, Microsoft didn’t forget about the more immediate business of maintaining and improving its latest OS.

On Tuesday, it rolled out Windows 10 Mobile build 10586.338 to the Release Preview ring, followed two days later by its availability for PCs too. You can view the changelog for both the PC and phone versions here.

The company also released ISOs of Windows 10 Insider Preview build 14342, which it made available last month (although the newer PC build 14352 was released to the Fast ring last week).

Microsoft made a new Windows 10 Mobile Insider Preview, build 14342.1004, available on the Slow ring too – its first such release since build 14295.1005.

And for Windows 10 Mobile users on the Fast ring, it rolled out Insider Preview build 14356 on Thursday. Along with a few improvements for Cortana, the build (as ever) included various fixes and known issues.

Be sure to check out our hands-on video with that build here.

When Microsoft announced the beginning of its Windows 10 Mobile upgrades for older Windows Phone 8.1 handsets, it made it clear that those upgrades would be subject to carrier approval. That’s left many users waiting for the last two and a half months for the upgrade to be approved – but on Friday, Windows 10 Mobile finally began rolling out for Microsoft’s Lumia 640 on AT&T

…and for the Lumia 735 on Verizon.

Over in the UK, the price of Microsoft’s newest Windows 10 Mobile handset continues to fall. The Lumia 650 has now dropped to £119.95 SIM-free, 25% less than when it launched in mid-February.

The UK’s leading electricals and computing retail group, Dixons Carphone, has moved two of the three Surface 3 models that it sells to its ‘clearance stock’, indicating that the device is being phased out of its range. This could also potentially hint at a successor to Microsoft’s lower-end Windows 10 tablet arriving in the not-too-distant future.

Over in the US, Microsoft has again slashed 30% off the price of its Band 2 – and frankly, this is starting to get a bit ridiculous. The Band 2 is officially priced at $249.99, but the company has cut $75 off that amount four times in the last two months, reducing it to $174.99.

The first of those deals began on March 19; the current deal will end on July 9 – between those dates, that’s a total of 112 days. By the time the latest deal expires, the Band 2 will have been sold with 30% off its ‘regular’ price for a total of 85 of those days.

Given that it’s selling the product with “special offers” for around 75% of the time, that certainly raises some interesting questions about how Microsoft has priced the device (and it's a similar situation in the UK too).

But another Microsoft discount this week raised eyebrows for a very different reason. The company announced that it had cut $50 off almost all of its Xbox One bundles, reducing the cost of its console to as little as $299 "for a limited time". Microsoft has done that before, but only around ‘traditional’ promotional periods, such as Black Friday or Christmas.

Given that it’s rumored to be announcing a new version of the Xbox One at E3 this month, the unexpected timing of that discount is very interesting indeed.

While the prospect of new Xbox hardware coming this month has been widely reported – and independently corroborated by various sources – Microsoft hasn’t confirmed anything about that yet.

But we do know that it will be rolling out a major update to the console soon, as part of its Anniversary Update for all Windows 10 devices. Earlier this week, it hinted that a build would soon be available to those on the Preview program, and on Thursday, those invites began rolling out.

Intriguingly, the official website for the E3 gaming expo – which Microsoft will be attending and at which it will also be delivering a keynote with its latest gaming announcements – dropped a very clear hint that the company will be talking about virtual reality on its Xbox One there.

Sony will also be at E3, and on Tuesday, it announced the ‘PlayStation E3 Experience’, offering gamers the opportunity to watch its announcements from the expo live at movie theaters across the US and Canada.

Games developer Ubisoft confirmed this week that Watch Dogs 2 will get its official unveiling at E3 too.

But Ubisoft hasn’t yet confirmed a report claiming that it’s preparing to turn Tom Clancy’s The Division into a blockbuster movie, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Grand Theft Auto fans, rejoice: Rockstar revealed details of a new expansion pack for GTA Online. Known as Further Adventures in Finance and Felony, the pack will arrive for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC next week.

I hope my fellow Half-Life fans out there will enjoy this as much I did. The image shown above isn’t a screenshot from Half-Life 2 – it’s a real-world, full-scale replica of the City Scanners from the hugely popular game. It flies, and everything!

Be sure to check out the video here.

But we end this week with the news that Gabe Aul – a man who needs no introduction to those testing Windows 10 – stepped down as the head of the Windows Insider Program, passing the Big Red Button on to his successor. It’s no exaggeration to say that Gabe is greatly liked by Windows fans, as well as journos and bloggers on the Microsoft beat. He’s always approached the Windows community with warmth and good humor, and he’ll no doubt be missed by many (although he’ll still be closely involved with Windows 10 engineering, so he won’t actually be going too far!).

Stepping into Gabe’s shoes is Microsoft’s Dona Sarkar – a hugely talented engineer who’s worked on several key products, tools and features that Windows users around the world make use of every day. Her most recent role was heading up the developer engagement program for HoloLens – and by all accounts, the Big Red Button is in safe hands with her… even if Gabe wasn’t entirely keen to let go…!

I hope you'll take a couple of minutes to check out our post on Gabe’s departure, and the path that led Dona to her new role.


Bonus content

Before we wrap things up for another week, let me first highlight a few extra bits around the site that I hope you’ll enjoy reading.

Usama Jawad shared his review of Valiant Hearts: The Great War, a World War I-themed puzzle adventure from Ubisoft. He loved the look and feel of the game, as well as the gameplay and story itself – but there were a few issues that spoiled things a bit.

Christopher White published his review of the QNAP TS-451+, a NAS (network attached storage) device priced under $480. He found there was a great deal to like about the device, including its CPU and memory, virtualization features, mobile app support and a very handy remote control – but a couple of niggling issues stopped it from scoring a perfect 10.

And Vlad Dudau reflected on the prospect that the rise of robotics is having a significant effect on society, but not all of the results from that may be entirely positive. The robots are coming for many of our jobs, he says, including his own...


Stay tuned to Neowin for more official news, juicy rumors, and intriguing insights in the week ahead – it should be another exciting one across the tech world!

For now, though, there’s plenty more to read across the site – including loads of interesting discussions over on our forums.

From all of us on the Neowin team,
have a great weekend!


Additional image credit: Minions gif via unhabonita.com

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