7 Days: A week of the Apple Watch, Nexus woes, a pissing Android and an Elephone WinDroid

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.

How’s your week been? As far as the tech world goes, it’s been a pretty exciting one, filled with its regular mix of juicy rumors, intriguing revelations and some rather nice new products (and thankfully, Microsoft didn’t unveil yet ANOTHER cheap Lumia phone). As ever, 7 Days is here to guide you the week’s top tech news, and this time, our odyssey begins in Scandinavia.

Norway’s government announced this week that the country will become the first in the world to switch off FM radio signals. The transition to digital audio broadcasting (DAB) will begin in January 2017, and should be completed within twelve months.

Over in the UK, leading retail group Dixons Carphone announced the upcoming launch of its new mobile service. iD will be a virtual operator running its services over the Three network (which should eventually be integrated with that of O2, assuming its takeover is approved). iD promises “increased contract flexibility, greater access to data roaming and the best value 4G available on the UK market”.

The UK telecommunications market is facing some big changes, with Three’s planned purchase of O2, and BT’s proposed acquisition of EE. But in the US, a potentially market-shaking takeover bid collapsed this week, as Comcast – America’s largest internet service provider – abandoned its plans to buy its closest rival, Time Warner Cable, bringing an end to what would have been a $45 billion deal.

Leading US cable network HBO launched its new subscription video service, HBO Now, earlier this month. But to the disappointment of many around the world who enjoy HBO shows – including the likes of Game of Thrones, Veep, The Wire, Sex and the City and many more – the service is only on offer in the United States.

But that didn’t stop thousands of people from using geo-unblocking tools and VPNs to sign up to HBO Now as paying customers. However, HBO sent out some grumpy emails this week to those outside of the US who were paying to use the service, telling them that their accounts will be deactivated.

It’s worth emphasizing that these people weren’t after a free ride – they actually wanted to pay the going rate to HBO for its service. Amusingly, as a result of its actions, HBO has probably pushed a few of them into a life of TV and movie piracy.

But across the globe in Australia, Microsoft announced that it will soon be opening its first flagship retail store outside of North America. The company has previously opened ‘store-in-store’ concessions in China, but its new retail location in Sydney will be the first dedicated Microsoft Store to launch internationally.

It seems that it will be joined by another one in the near future, as images emerged this week of what appears to be a new Microsoft Store being fitted out in São Paolo, Brazil.

On Monday, Neowin exclusively revealed details of changes currently being tested on Outlook.com. New ‘Outlook Mail’ branding, updated icons and the addition of Live Tiles are among some of the tweaks made to beta versions of the site.

Microsoft updated its OneDrive app for iOS earlier this week, adding support for the Apple Watch, and this weekend, it did the same for its Skype app for iPhone. Seven months after originally being unveiled, the Watch officially went on sale on Friday:

But while Microsoft continues to make its software available for the Apple Watch, it’s continuing to develop the capabilities of its own wearable device, the Band. On Wednesday, the company delivered a bunch of updates to its Health app, as well as the Band companion app, introducing a range of new features and improvements.

Less than a month after its last round of discounts on the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft is yet again offering up to $150 off its flagship tablet, along with a free protective sleeve. It’s the third time that Microsoft has offered promotional price reductions on the Pro 3 this year (and the fifth time in six months).

That led us to ask the question: is it time for Microsoft to cut Surface Pro 3 prices permanently? Or would bundling a free keyboard (worth $130) be a better solution, adding more value to the device? Or is Microsoft’s current pricing strategy, supported by discounts every few weeks, the right way to go? Be sure to vote in our poll, and join in the discussion to have your say.

By the way, speaking of deals and promotions, don’t forget that we recently launched our new Neowin Deals store, which is absolutely crammed full of awesome offers on software, hardware, accessories, tools, services and more. Be sure to check it out.

But back to Microsoft’s Surface range, as the company announced that it will offer a ‘unique’ edition of its new, more affordable Surface 3 tablet to the education sector. This version will have 32GB of storage (compared with the 64GB and 128GB options on the ‘regular’ models), but Microsoft did not reveal how much it will cost.

If you’re thinking of buying a Surface 3, make sure you read our review of the device (specifically, the model with 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM).

We also published our review this week of the PiPO X7, a quad-core Windows 8.1 mini-PC with a tiny form factor that costs just $128 including free shipping. That’s one review you shouldn’t miss.

Image via NotebookItalia.it

PiPO isn’t exactly a household name around the world, but it’s managed to grab our attention in recent months – not just with the X7 mentioned above, but with other devices too, including one of the lowest-priced Windows tablets ever. This week, the company unveiled the X8 “Windows TV box + desktop tablet” – one of the most unusual form factors we’ve seen for a small Windows device. But priced at under $100, the 7-inch PiPO X8 might just make sense for some buyers.

We’ve been expecting Sony to announce its new mobile flagship for a while, and on Monday, it finally announced the Xperia Z4 – not with a big flashy press conference, but with a press release and a handful of photos. Such a half-hearted launch seems pretty appropriate for such a disappointing device, which isn't exactly a major leap forward over its predecessor.

But there is still hope. The Xperia Z4 was launched in Japan, and it seems that it might be exclusive to that country, with a possible new ‘global flagship’ rumored to be announced by Sony in May.

OnePlus announced on Monday that it is ditching its invite system, so anyone can buy its One handset right now – but of course, things are never quite what they seem with OnePlus. Despite saying a ‘farewell to invites’ and throwing in words like ‘forever’, The company went on to clarify that it’s ending the invite system for the One, but it will return when the OnePlus 2 goes on sale later this year.

Nokia's N1 Android tablet (pictured) may soon be joined by a new smartphone

It looks like Nokia may be preparing to make a return to the smartphone market, after selling its devices and services business to Microsoft last year. The Finnish company has already rolled out an Android tablet – the N1, built by Chinese manufacturer Foxconn – and it is reportedly also considering an entry into new product segments, perhaps including virtual reality devices and the Internet of Things.

Details emerged this week of a new flagship-class handset on the way from Chinese manufacturer Elephone, with two versions on offer: one running Android, and the other running Windows 10. Neowin published exclusive images and details about the handset, including its Intel processor on the Windows 10 version.

Microsoft itself promised that flagship-class “Lumia smartphones with Snapdragon 810 smartphones” are on the way earlier this year, and this week, new details surfaced of what the company may have planned for those devices.

It emerged this week that Microsoft has added MKV video playback support to Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2, the very latest version of the OS (excluding its preview releases of Windows 10). However, Update 2 is destined to roll out to only a handful of devices – but for those that don’t get it, the free Windows 10 upgrade will still include MKV playback support later this year.

Acer announced that its first Windows Phone for several years will go on sale at Microsoft Stores across the US for just $79.99, making it one of the most affordable smartphones in America when it launches there in June. That said, we had a chance to briefly try out the emphatically low-end Acer Liquid M220 at Mobile World Congress 2015 last month, and while the device certainly has some attractive features, its display is pretty poor. Be sure to check out our full first impressions of the Liquid M220.

But another low-cost Windows Phone – which Microsoft also announced at MWC 2015 last month – is heading to the US as well, and this one offers way more value than Acer’s Liquid M220. The Lumia 640 includes a 5-inch HD display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB RAM, 4G LTE support, NFC and a whole lot more, and it will only cost a few bucks more than the much less impressive Acer.

On Thursday, the Microsoft Store briefly published pricing for the Lumia 640 – off-contract, but locked to T-Mobile, it looks like the Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 device will cost just $89. That’s an awesome price for a handset with those specs, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that it will also include a free one-year Office 365 Personal subscription for your PC, worth $69.99.

But one thing the Lumia 640 can’t do at the moment is run the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones. The handset was previously on the approved list of devices, but Microsoft said this week that it had pulled the preview for the Lumia 640, due to issues with the process of rolling back installations to Windows Phone 8.1. This appears to be related to a similar problem that resulted in the temporary withdrawal of the preview for the Lumia 520, 525 and 526.

As Microsoft continues its development of Windows 10, we’re also seeing changes in its global design language. Earlier this week, a designer and Microsoft enthusiast, Martin Anderson (you may also know him as Neowin member mdtaUK), created a graphic showing many of the visual changes from ‘Metro’ to the new ‘Microsoft Design Language 2’.

Earlier this week, build 10061 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview for PCs leaked (directly from Microsoft’s servers, in fact), but just a few hours later, the company made its release official:

Microsoft has previously said that Windows 10 will officially launch this summer, but the CEO of AMD let slip on an earnings call that the new OS will launch at the end of July. But that’s not all we found out about Windows 10 this week:

As we reported on Thursday, Microsoft’s new Project Spartan web browser – which made its debut in Windows 10 – offers blazing performance, even in its pre-release state. In fact, Spartan manages to beat Chrome in Google’s own benchmark tests.

Microsoft is eager to prove that it can build a truly impressive browser, given how little love users have for Internet Explorer. The company announced a new ‘bug bounty’ program for Spartan this week, in which it will pay people up to $15,000 if they discover vulnerabilities in the new browser.

On Tuesday, Microsoft rolled out an update to its Xbox app on Windows 10, bringing Game DVR functionality to the PC, allowing users to easily record clips from their games and share them.

The company also launched a new Avatars app for Windows 10, which lets users design and edit digital representations of themselves and save them to their Xbox gamer profile. Make sure you check out our hands-on gallery of the new app too.

Microsoft also rolled out its first preview release of the Xbox One May Update, adding several new features, including the ability to turn your console on and off via SmartGlass and – more excitingly – Miracast wireless display support. That’s been a long time coming.

The head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, said this week that Microsoft’s presence at the E3 gaming conference this year will focus heavily on new first-party titles, including some very appealing “new exclusive” games. He added that 2015 may be the most exciting year ever for first-party games on Xbox.

Microsoft certainly needs something to help boost its Xbox division. Sales of the Xbox One continue to lag behind those of Sony’s PlayStation 4, and revenues across the Xbox division were down 24% year-on-year last quarter.

That was just one of many details that emerged from Microsoft’s latest quarterly financial report, which it published on Thursday. Overall profits were down year-on-year, but there were some success stories. It sold 8.6 million Lumias, helping the Device and Consumer business unit grow by 8% to $9bn of revenue, and Office 365 Consumer subscriptions increased to 12.4 million users.

The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, also said on an earnings call that Office has now been downloaded over 100 million times on Android and iOS.

Google also reported its quarterly results this week, and interestingly, its chief financial officer referred in an earnings call to a “decline in Nexus” revenues. That must surely come as a disappointment to Google, given that it launched three new Nexus devices just six months ago.

One of those devices was the Nexus Player, an Android TV media box priced at just $99. This week, it became the first device in the world to get an official factory image of the very latest OS release, Android 5.1.1.

While we’re on the subject of Android, it’s worth mentioning a story that certainly raised a few eyebrows on Friday. Right there, for all the world to see on Google Maps – both online and in the apps – was an image of the company’s Android mascot emptying its bladder onto the Apple logo.

Google later apologized for the image, explaining that it had been added by an individual using the Map Maker tool, but as Owen Williams (our esteemed former Neowin colleague, now with TNW) pointed out, Google’s approval process for additions to its Maps platform isn’t exactly rigorous.

But on a much more positive note, on Wednesday, Google announced the launch of Project Fi, its new wireless service, running on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks across (bits of) the United States. Available solely on the Nexus 6 for now, the service is currently invitation-only, and will cost $20 a month for unlimited talk and text, plus $10 for each gigabyte of data you use.

Over in Japan, it seems that Samsung is experiencing a bit of ‘brand shame’, as it emerged that the company will be selling its new Galaxy S6 and S6 edge flagships without the Samsung logo. The devices won’t include any Samsung branding, with their names instead being prefixed by the carrier brand, e.g. ‘NTT DoCoMo Galaxy S6’.

There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy S6, and given its sales success so far, many consumers seem to agree. In fact, there’s one guy who really agrees – so much so that he got into an intense debate with his roommate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over whether or not it’s a better device than the latest iPhone.

Unable to come to an agreement, the alcohol-fuelled debate eventually turned nasty, and the men smashed beer bottles and stabbed each other with them. Neither of them suffered life-threatening injuries, and it’s not yet clear if charges will be brought against either of them.

Incidentally, coverage of that story from Tulsa’s Channel 8 News included this great line: “Police did not respond when our photographer asked which phone is better.”

We end this week’s summary on a similarly violent note, with the brutal death of a Dell XPS 410. Lucas Hinch of Colorado Springs got so frustrated with the endlessly uncooperative PC that he eventually took it out into the back alley, and fired eight rounds from his 9mm pistol into it. However, the police weren’t impressed, and he was cited for discharging a firearm within city limits.

Despite this, Hinch said he had no regrets, adding that it felt “glorious” and that “angels sang on high”, as he ended months of misery by firing his gun into the Dell PC.

You can kind of see where he’s coming from – after all, anything beats calling Dell tech support. Anyway, from all of us at Neowin, have a great weekend!

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Image credit: Teddy bear with retro radio image and original man with broken beer bottle image via Shutterstock; Dell XPS 410 image via Colorado Springs Police (Twitter)

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