7 Days: A week of Windows phones, Microsoft teamwork, and virtual delights

7 Days is a weekly roundup 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.

After the excitement of last week’s big announcements, you might have been expecting things to be a whole lot quieter this week – but you’d have been wrong. It’s been another action-packed week across the tech world, and 7 Days is here to make sure you’re up to speed with what’s been going on.

We begin this week with LastPass, which made a major change to its service, allowing users to manage their passwords across all of their internet-enabled PCs, tablets and phones free of charge. Previously, use of the password management tool across unlimited devices required a premium or business subscription.

In the US, Comcast is expanding its Xfinity gigabit internet service to 15 cities by early next year, charging users around $140 a month for the service - but the activation and installation fees will set you back $1,000 (!).

Over in Europe, International Airlines Group - parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling - announced that it's launching onboard Wi-Fi on its shorthaul flights from next year.

Meanwhile, Apple is reportedly preparing to drop the prices of its Music subscription service, which could see a regular monthly subscription reduced from $9.99 to $7.99, undercutting many of its rivals.

Apple attracted widespread criticism and derision with the recent launch of its new MacBook Pro notebooks, as users quickly realized that they would need to purchase all sorts of new dongles and adapters to be able to use their devices and peripherals through its Thunderbolt 3 ports. The company responded this week by cutting the price of those adapters.

Apple also quietly reduced the cost of storage upgrades across its entire Mac line, bringing those prices in line with its new MacBook Pro models.

But despite various criticisms against the new MacBook Pros - including the need for all those dongles, the 16GB RAM limit, and lack of SD card reader - along with concerns about the usefulness of the thin touch-sensitive display above the keyboard, Apple said they're its fastest selling Pro notebooks ever.

Apple has again been hard at work pushing out previews of new versions of its operating systems. On Monday it released the first developer betas of iOS 10.2, macOS 10.12.2, tvOS 10.1 and watchOS 3.1.1.

The iOS 10.2 Public Beta arrived a day later, while non-beta users were upgraded to iOS 10.1.1, bringing a range of fixes.

In the UK, Samsung launched a refrigerator that features a 21.5-inch 'family hub' touchscreen on the front, offering a range of smart features - but at £4,499.99, it won't appeal to everyone. The same fridge went on sale earlier this year in the US, where Samsung dropped its price by 33% this week.

Image via ABC News

But Samsung's domestic appliances made much bigger headlines this week as it recalled 2.8 million washing machines sold over the last five years, after numerous reports of them 'flying apart' during the spin cycle, and blowing off their lids.

Samsung is already dealing with another high-profile recall, of course. In an effort to force users to return their Galaxy Note7 handsets more quickly, the company is now preparing to block the devices from accessing mobile networks.

Samsung revealed a new high-end flip-phone this week, featuring flagship-class specs, including two Full HD AMOLED displays, priced at an eye-watering $3,000.

The rollout of Android 7.0 Nougat has been underway for Google's Nexus devices for several weeks, but other manufacturers are now preparing for their own upgrades. Samsung is getting ready to release an Android 7.0 preview through its Galaxy Beta Program in the UK.

And Sony released a Nougat preview for the Xperia X Performance on its Xperia Beta Program this week.

The latest data from Strategy Analytics shows that Android has expanded its global smartphone market share, growing to a whopping 87.5%.

Huawei revealed its new Android flagship, the Mate 9, on Thursday, featuring all sorts of high-end specs, including the company's latest Kirin 960 system-on-a-chip, 4GB of RAM, 64GB storage and a 5.9-inch Full HD display. A luxury Porsche Design model will offer even more premium specs, including a dual-curved 5.5-inch Quad HD screen, 6GB RAM and 256GB storage - but at a much higher price.

Huawei also debuted its new fitness-focused wearable device, the 'Fit'. Priced at $129, it promises up to six days of use on a single charge, and includes a real-time heart rate monitor and water-resistance.

Meizu is hoping to appeal to value-focused buyers with its new M5. The Android device has a 5.2-inch display, octa-core processor, up to 3GB RAM and 32GB storage, 13MP camera, dual-SIM support and a fingerprint sensor, priced from just $103.

It looks like Lenovo is preparing to unveil two new Android handsets next week. Details emerged this week of the new Lenovo P2 and Moto M, and were soon followed by official-looking renders of the latter device.

Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro - the first smartphone to support Google's 'Project Tango' augmented reality efforts - finally went on sale, priced at $499.

It seems Google is struggling to keep up with demand for its new Pixel flagship phones, built by HTC. Google offered $50 Play Store credit to those whose handset shipments have been delayed, and those who place a new order face a wait of up to six weeks for it to arrive.

The Pixel and Pixel XL are among the few devices to support Google's new Daydream View virtual reality headset. Google announced on Tuesday that the headset will launch in five markets on November 10 - here's how much it'll cost.

And almost six months after it was first announced, Google finally began shipping its $129 voice-controlled Home speaker hub this week.

Google has been facing increasing scrutiny in the European Union over antitrust concerns. The company hit back at the European Commission this week, claiming that it's doing nothing wrong, and that Brussels bureaucrats simply don't understand how competition works online.

Google announced on Wednesday that it's ending support for its Eclipse developer tools for Android, telling devs to switch to its Android Studio suite instead.

Google's Threat Analysis Group published details about a serious Windows 10 vulnerability, just ten days after notifying Microsoft about it. Microsoft's Terry Myerson responded publicly, saying that Google's decision to publish was "disappointing" and needlessly put consumers at risk, adding that the vulnerability will be patched in the coming week.

Microsoft released its latest Windows 10 Insider Preview on Thursday, the first since last week's announcement of the upcoming Creators Update, formerly known by its development codename 'Redstone 2'. Build 14959 brings a couple of new features to Insiders in the Fast ring, along with various fixes and known issues both for PCs and for phones.

As part of the build 14959 announcement, Microsoft also introduced the new Unified Update Platform. Rather than requiring users to download an entire Windows build when upgrading to a major update release, future updates will allow them to only download the changes made since the last update, making the update process far quicker and more efficient... in theory.

Microsoft has begun testing the UUP with Insiders running Windows 10 Mobile devices, but it will eventually also work across PCs, HoloLens and Internet of Things devices too.

Buyers on the lookout for a mobile bargain might be interested in the Lumia 640 XL, which is currently on sale for just $79.99 unlocked in the US. The device, which launched last year, scored highly in our review and is eligible for a free Windows 10 Mobile upgrade.

In the UK, the newer Lumia 650 launched earlier this year, priced at £159.99 - but you can now get one for just £89.99 unlocked.

WhartonBrooks said in August that the innovations in its new Windows 10 Mobile device "will be the most disruptive since the advent of the smartphone in 2000". But after cancelling an event at short notice in September, which hasn't yet been rescheduled, the company said this week that its new handset has been delayed "due to regulatory hurdles".

WhartonBrooks still hasn't revealed any official images of its new handset - so far, it's only shown pictures of various Coship Windows phones - but on Friday, it announced the cellular bands that the device will support.

Five years after first confirming its plans to launch a Windows phone, Lenovo's new Windows 10 Mobile device will finally go on sale next week - but the new handset bears a suspicious resemblance to a phone built by Coship.

Curiously, Lenovo said last month that it had no plans to launch a Windows phone, months after the device had already been revealed.

Nine months after its launch, T-Mobile US has dropped the Alcatel Fierce XL with Windows 10 Mobile, leaving the carrier with no Windows phones in its range.

That will change next week though. On Tuesday, Alcatel unveiled the IDOL 4S with Windows 10, its new flagship phone with a wide range of high-end specs, which will launch exclusively on T-Mobile on November 10. It looks like the device won't be offered in any other markets.

Priced at $469.99, the IDOL 4S with Windows 10 comes with a virtual reality headset, although it's not yet clear what VR experiences will actually be available to buyers.

Microsoft Research has been working on bringing high-quality VR to mobile devices, including low-cost handsets with modest performance.

Meanwhile, researchers in Japan and Singapore have been developing technology that can 'trick' your brain into believing that it's tasting, and even chewing, food while in virtual reality.

Eve released more details on its new 'Surface-killer', which will launch through Indiegogo later this month. The V promises some pretty meaty specs, including a high-resolution 12.3-inch display with stylus support, 7th-generation (Kaby Lake) Intel processor, up to 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, and lots more.

And after Microsoft unveiled its Surface Studio all-in-one desktop PC last week, Dell briefly showed a rather intriguing new Windows 10 device designed for creative professionals, including a similar input tool to Microsoft's new Surface Dial.

The Surface Studio appears to be doing well so far. After opening pre-orders last week for delivery from December 15, those who now place an order will have to wait until 'early 2017' for it to arrive.

Microsoft announced an improved version of its Surface Book with a new 'Performance Base' and Core i7 processors at its Surface Studio event last week. But as we spotted on Monday, the company quietly introduced a new model to its standard Surface Book range too, with a Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD, but no discrete GPU.

But Microsoft's more affordable Surface devices are quickly reaching the end of the road. Microsoft said in June that it would end Surface 3 production by the end of the year, and now, the device is sold out in the US, the UK, and various other markets around the world.

Microsoft is currently offering up to 42% off dozens of Windows 10 PCs and tablets in the US, from the likes of Alienware, Dell, HP, Lenovo, VAIO, and more.

But you won't be able to buy a new PC with Windows 7 or 8.1 any more. Microsoft is no longer selling licenses for the older operating systems to its hardware partners.

If you just can't live without that familiar look and feel of yesteryear's Windows, you can always try WindowBlinds. Stardock's customization software allows you to skin Windows 10 to make it look completely different from the standard release, and the latest WindowBlinds version now includes support for skinning Universal Windows Apps.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced Teams, its new chat-based collaboration tool that integrates with the Office 365 ecosystem, with extensive functionality to boost workplace productivity. The new service will compete head-on with Slack, and Microsoft made some rather dismissive comments about its closest rival shortly after its Teams launch.

Microsoft introduced a new scheduling assistant to its Outlook Mobile app, launching first on iOS. The new feature is designed to make it easier to arrange meetings and events with other busy people.

And while Outlook has been available on Android devices for some time, Microsoft has now launched its mobile app on Amazon's Android-based Fire OS too.

On Monday, Microsoft announced general availability of Flow, its IFTTT-style cross-platform automation tool; and PowerApps, which allows businesses to rapidly develop web and mobile apps with no coding required. On Tuesday, the company said that PowerApps would be available as a preview for Windows 10 Mobile very soon.

Microsoft also released an update to its Windows Camera, bringing UI improvements to all Windows 10 PCs and phones.

After a tiny decline in September, Windows 10 increased in usage again over the last month on Steam, reaching its highest share ever among users of Valve's gaming platform.

Social media giant Facebook is taking on Steam with the launch of its own PC gaming platform. Facebook describes its new Gameroom service as "a better place to play".

Slightly later than originally planned, Microsoft released its new Minecraft: Education Edition on Tuesday in 11 languages and 50 countries around the world. It will allow teachers to use the popular, blocky game as an educational tool, priced at $5 per user per year.

There's good news if you've been planning to buy an Xbox One or Xbox One S in the US. When you buy any bundle - which already includes a free game - Microsoft will give you another free game of your choice, from a list that includes some of the newest titles, such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Titanfall 2, and FIFA 17.

Atari brought 100 of its much-loved classic gaming titles to the Xbox One, in two 'Flashback' collections priced at $19.99 each.

Two more Xbox 360 games joined the list of those playable on the Xbox One this week: Blue Dragon was added on Tuesday, followed on Thursday by Limbo.

The Xbox One and Xbox One S will soon get improved Blu-ray capabilities, with new support for BD-R and BD-RE discs.

And if you're on the lookout for more storage for your Xbox One, you may be interested in this new offering. Seagate has launched an official Xbox-branded 512GB external SSD, priced at $199.

In the UK, Microsoft's Xbox One consoles extended their recent sales lead over the PlayStation 4, grabbing 56% of sales there in October.

Sony's new PlayStation 4 Pro - described by the company as its "most powerful games console ever" - will launch on November 10. Here's the list of the games that will be "optimized" for the new console on launch day, and beyond.

A report claimed that Nintendo was planning to end production of its slow-selling Wii U console this week - but the company later said that that claim was untrue. However, Nintendo has a habit of denying reports only for them to be proved accurate soon afterwards.

The end of Wii U production would make a lot of sense, given its dismal sales, and the fact that Nintendo's new console has already been announced. Ubisoft's CEO described the new Nintendo Switch this week as "ultra-accessible", adding that it offers "great, true innovation".

Before the Switch launches, Nintendo will release its greatly anticipated NES Classic Edition - but it looks like US buyers won't get to pre-order the retro console before its release.

Whether you like it or not, a big-budget, "live-action and animation hybrid" movie is coming based on the adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Unexpectedly, the director of the hugely popular (and R-rated!) Deadpool joined the Sonic movie as executive producer this week.

Perhaps the Sonic movie won't completely suck after all.

Razer - which specializes in high-end gaming PCs and peripherals - sparked outrage across social media on Tuesday, as it attempted to poke fun at Apple for removing the SD card slot from its new MacBook Pros. "You call yourself Pro?" Razer's tweet said, adding, "S my D."

The tweet divided opinions across the web as many criticized the company for using tasteless, immature humor unbecoming of a brand, but some people encouraged others to try to see the funny side. Razer later deleted the tweet, apologizing and admitting that it "missed the mark".

Image via Digital Spy

But our odyssey across the tech world ends this week in Birmingham, England, where 26-year-old Sharakat Hussain was denied a refund by Apple for an iPhone 7, unless he could prove that he wasn't deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

I think that says it all.

Bonus content

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

Rich Woods got his hands on Alcatel's new IDOL 4S with Windows 10, following its unveiling earlier this week. Check out his unboxing video and first impressions of the new Windows 10 Mobile flagship.

And Timi Cantisano shared his impressions of LG's new V20 flagship, after his first 24 hours with the device. Like its predecessor, the V20 features an unusual secondary display above the main screen, along with plenty of high-end specs.

Stay tuned to Neowin in the days ahead for what’s sure to be another exciting week, filled with official news, lots of updates, and plenty of insights from around the world of technology.

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

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

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