Mihaita Bamburic

Microsoft unveils Nokia 215, a $29 phone with Internet access


Smartphones may be more affordable than ever, but, for quite a few people, they are still too expensive. And they offer short battery life, pretty much across the board. It is not a winning combination, especially for those living in developing markets, looking to be connected to the Internet while on the go.

Enter Nokia 215, a dirt-cheap Internet-ready phone, which Microsoft announced earlier today. It packs some of the most-important features people want in a smartphone, but without any of the major drawbacks. The software giant calls it its "most affordable Internet-ready entry-level phone yet", costing just $29.

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My favorite tech products of 2014 [Mihaita]

heart love keyboard

I'm not easily impressed. Lots of tech products see the light of day each year, but only a few I consider to be truly great. And by that I mean technology that I want to have in my life, that brings value, and, last but not least, that makes me feel good. The subjective factor is just as important, I believe, when it comes to the things that I have to look at and interact with on a daily basis. That's just the way it is, and I'm fine with it.

Because of this, a pretty long list can get really, really short in no time. My colleagues have already shared their favorite tech products of 2014 with you, and now the time has come for me to do the same. It's BetaNews tradition, after all. So, without further ado, here they are.

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Windows Phone is stuck in the low-end market

smartphone help

At the end of 2014, the Windows Phone landscape is dominated by low-end smartphones. Of the ten most popular devices that the platform has to offer, just two are high-end handsets -- however, neither is a current-day flagship. If it is not clear enough by now, Windows Phone is nothing more than a low-end affair, after more than four years down the road. Is that a bad thing?

Nokia Lumia 520 is the most-successful Windows Phone around, accounting for a whopping 25.4 percent of Windows Phones in use. Put differently, it is as popular as the following nine most popular Windows Phones put together. Altogether, the top ten makes up 67.2 percent share in this market, according to information revealed by AdDuplex.

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Samsung unveils a better Galaxy Note 4 -- faster download speeds in tow

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 N910 Black

Samsung has unveiled a new version of its Galaxy Note 4, featuring support for LTE Advanced Tri-Band Carrier Aggregation and Category 9 cellular networks. Dubbed Galaxy Note 4 LTE-A, it promises much faster download speeds over 4G LTE compared to the regular models, which the South Korean maker announced in early-September.

Galaxy Note 4 LTE-A is capable of offering download speeds of up to 450 Mbps. To put things into perspective, that is 50 percent faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805-equipped Galaxy Note 4 -- which is no slouch to begin with -- and a whopping 200 percent faster than the Exynos-powered model.

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Windows Phone's only hope is the enterprise

businessmen phones

Windows Phone has no future in the consumer market. After being around for more than four years, its market share is only at 3 percent, and declining. Microsoft might as well pull the plug now, before its nickname becomes BlackBerry. After all, no one would really miss Windows Phone. Seemingly bracing for the inevitable, even die-hard Microsoft fanboys have embraced rival platforms (you know who they are). There's nothing to be gained by being the last one on the podium, unless Microsoft is looking to become the laughing stock of the market. It'll have to fight BlackBerry for the title, but that's not hard.

The consumer market is not only tough for Microsoft, but for relevant players too. Samsung's profits are sliding, and its sales aren't doing well either. Apple may still have the highest profits, but its iPhones' market share is closer to that of Windows Phone than Android. Other players are struggling with similar issues, which will only grow larger with time. So why keep going at it? At the end of the day, Windows Phone adds little to no value in the consumer market. However, there is still hope for the platform in the enterprise market, which has a different set of priorities to consumers. There, Microsoft actually has a chance of becoming a major player.

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Apple's year-end is about security

Hidden security threat

When it comes to security, Apple can and should do better. It is one of the biggest offenders, after all, making quite a few serious mistakes in this area. One of its most-important services, namely iCloud, has been instrumental in this year's celebrity photo leaks scandal, better known as The Fappening. And, more recently, a weakness in its OS X deployment software for iOS apps has exposed hundreds of thousands of iPads and iPhones to the WireLurker malware. And these are just two examples. Unsurprisingly, as the year draws to an end, security remains a talking point in Apple's case.

Let's start with the good news, first. Apple has pushed an update for OS X 10.10 Yosemite, 10.9.5 Mavericks, and 10.8.5 Mountain Lion, seemingly for the first time, to quickly fix a critical vulnerability discovered in NTP (Network Time Protocol), a protocol which is widely used to synchronize device clocks with dedicated servers. Normally, OS X updates are not applied automatically, but this one is apparently so critical that it is.

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Samsung hopes you'll like some curves to your monitor, announces the 34-inch SE790C

Samsung SE790C Curved 34 inch

Curved displays look cool. There is no question about it. Frankly, anything that deviates from the norm in this space -- meaning, it is not flat -- tends to have a certain appeal to it. Is it a useful change? That depends. Personally, I'm inclined to believe that it has potential in certain scenarios, although there are some who believe that a curved display is nothing more than a gimmick. No matter where you stand on the matter, one thing is certain -- we will have to get used to them, as they are growing in numbers.

After first announcing TVs with curved displays, South Korean maker Samsung has started to offer desktop monitors with this feature, the latest of which is the 34-inch SE790C, rocking Ultra-WQHD resolution. In plan English, that means 3,440 by 1,440 pixels. Here is what else you should know about it.

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Microsoft rolls out Lumia Denim -- most users will get it in 2015

Nokia Microsoft Lumia Denim

Microsoft is keeping its promise of delivering Lumia Denim in the last quarter of 2014, as the firmware update is rolling out now. However, most devices which are slated to get it will only receive it starting early next year.

"The Lumia Denim update has started rolling out to a limited number of devices in selected markets, and will continue arriving in waves by device", says Microsoft's Adam Frasier. "A wider rollout of Lumia Denim to all Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to begin in early January, following partner testing and approvals". I wouldn't be surprised if the roll-out ends very late in Q1 2015.

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Microsoft introduces Nokia Lumia 638 Windows Phone in India

Nokia Lumia 638 India

With Windows Phone still struggling to gain considerable traction, Microsoft is trying to boost its operating system's market share by focusing on the low-end of the market, which has real potential of attracting consumers, especially those in emerging markets. And, so far this year, Microsoft has introduced quite a few affordable Windows Phones, with the latest of the bunch being the still-Nokia-branded Lumia 638.

Lumia 638 is a new Windows Phone 8.1 handset that is designed for India. It is touted to be one of the most affordable smartphones with 4G connectivity available in this Asian market, which is sure to attract the attention of price-conscious local buyers. What else does it have to offer?

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Interested in encrypting your data? Here's what you need to know [infographic]

padlock box secure

There is more than one way to keep your data safe from prying eyes, but the practice that is most recommended is still the use of encryption. It will ensure that only you will be able to access personal information, requiring a decryption key to unlock your data. Proving just how effective it can be, the US government basically wants both Apple and Google to allow it to bypass the encryption in the latest versions of their mobile operating systems, namely iOS 8 and Android 5.0 Lollipop, respectively, because currently it is unable to directly access that data.

However, there are quite a few things that you should also know about encryption before you decide to go down this road. To learn more about what encryption entails, you can check out the following infographic, called "Protected: A Beginner's Guide To Encryption".

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Microsoft introduces beta Gestures app for Lumia Windows Phones

Microsoft Gestures beta Windows Phone

Windows Phone started off as an easy to use smartphone operating system without many bells and whistles. Over the years, it has picked up more and more advanced features, reaching the point where it can now hold its own in a comparison against main rivals, Android and iOS. And Microsoft keeps adding to the list.

One area where Windows Phones have struggled -- against Android rivals -- is gesture-based features, like the ability to answer a call by holding the phone to the ear. (You can find that on some old Android devices, like Samsung Galaxy S3.) It is not a major feature by any means, but it is nice to have. Well, Microsoft is trying to catch up by introducing a new app, called Gestures, which enables (more) gesture-based features.

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Nokia's HERE responsible for Baidu's maps outside of China

Baidu China HERE Nokia

Detailing a partnership that was made public today, Finnish company Nokia revealed that its HERE division will provide maps to Chinese Internet services provider Baidu to use outside of its home market.

Normally, such an announcement would hardly garner any attention. However, it makes Baidu the first Chinese company that will offer location-based services to Chinese residents who are traveling abroad. That's a big deal. And Nokia is at the center of it.

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Seagate's 8TB Archive HDD ships in January, and I want one!

Seagate 8 TB Archive

I am a huge, huge fan of SSDs. They're blazing-fast, resistant to external shocks and, let's not forget, they are also energy-efficient. What's not to love about that? They're, quite frankly, the only storage solutions I want to use in my laptops, and the only type of storage solutions I can wholeheartedly recommend. (You can probably tell just how excited I am about SSDs, right?)

But, there are two (some might say major) downsides to SSDs, which go hand in hand: cost and capacity. To get a decently-sized SSD, one has to spend considerably more than for a HDD of the same capacity. In fact, the difference is huge. For instance, a 1 TB Seagate Barracuda HDD goes for around $50 on Amazon, while an SSD of the same capacity from Samsung (840 EVO family) costs around $420, on the same site. Also, SSDs don't usually go above the 1 TB mark, which makes them a poor choice for large file storage. That's where a HDD shines. And what better HDD to use for, let's say, long-term storage of movie collections than the soon-to-ship 8 TB Seagate Archive?

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United Airlines to equip more than 23,000 flight attendants with iPhone 6 Plus

United Airlines iPhone 6 Plus

Whenever I read about a company deploying a certain number of smartphones for internal use, it is usually Windows Phones which are given to employees. And Microsoft is the company that proudly does the official announcement on behalf of (or together with) its customer. This time around things are (very) different.

US airline United Airlines has announced that it will deploy iPhone 6 Plus to over 23,000 flight attendants, with the initial goal of giving them the ability to access company resources -- like email, Intranet, policies, and procedures manuals -- and also to handle retail transactions during flights.

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Xiaomi infringes Ericsson patents in India, local court bans sales until February 2015


Xiaomi has enjoyed great success in its home market of China, becoming the largest vendor in the country in Q2 2014, beating Samsung for the title. The company also was the third-largest smartphone maker worldwide in Q3 2014. And things appear to only be looking up for Xiaomi, with shipments expected to grow at a still rapid pace.

One of the reasons why Xiaomi has managed to reach the top spot in its home country is the permissive local legal system, in relation to patents. The company hasn't really been challenged locally by any of the big non-Chinese players, as quite likely any suits filed against it for patent infringement would be lost by the plaintiffs. Western companies have been dealing with this problem for (too) many years. However, as Xiaomi expands into India, it has to deal with a different legal system, one which just sided with Ericsson in a case of patent infringement. The outcome?

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