Apple Arcade on TV: Seven months later, still not much progress – CNET

02-apple-arcade

Apple Arcade works on a TV through Apple TV, but it won't replace your Xbox, PlayStation or Switch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's been over a year since Apple Arcade was first announced and more than eight months since the subscription video game service was released. One of its big pitches is the ability to play its library of games not only on your iPhoneiPad or MacBook, but also on your couch at home with the Apple TV. I last looked at Arcade for Apple TV in October on an Apple TV 4K, paying special attention to how it plays on the big screen. Now, with the coronavirus leaving everyone hungry for new home entertainment, I decided to give it another spin to see how the platform has grown. 

I played a host of Arcade titles over the last few weeks on an Apple TV HD and a 65-inch 4K TV, primarily using the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers as well as the Apple TV remote. In short, Apple's $4.99 (£4.99, AU$7.99)-per-month service has gotten a little better and is now at over 110 titles, but it still has a very long way to go to offer a real alternative to the Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo Switch.  

Update, May 22: We discovered that the Apple TV we took from our office and used on the latest round of tests was actually an Apple TV HD, not an Apple TV 4K. This article has been updated accordingly. We've ordered a new Apple TV 4K for in-home testing and will update this article with those results as soon as possible.

Read more: All the hardware you need to play Apple Arcade games  

Now playing: Watch this: Apple Arcade is changing video games for $5 a month

6:02

What's good

03-apple-arcade

Similar to the iPhone, Arcade games on the Apple TV appear alongside other apps. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

As it was before, I suspect that many if not all of Arcade's titles are designed with the millions of potential iPhone and iPad players in mind and not the far smaller number of people who own an Apple TV. In my experience, these games generally play a lot better on mobile devices than on the big screen. 

In some cases, these games work well on the TV, too. Ultimate Rivals: The Rink, which takes star athletes from several professional sports and puts them into an arcade three-on-three hockey game, is one example of a recent game that is fun to play on mobile and also translates well to Apple TV. Racing games like Sonic Racing and Super Impossible Road still looked good on TV, and pair well with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller. 

Pairing those controllers to the Apple TV is also pretty easy. Go to Settings and then Bluetooth. There is a quick "how-to" available for guiding you on how to pair each type of controller. For the Xbox One that means holding down the main Xbox button and the "connect" button at the top, or the "share" and PlayStation button on the PS4 remote. You can also pair other controllers that are MFi -- aka "made for iPhone"-- certified.

14-apple-arcade

Playing Shinsekai Into the Depths with an Xbox One controller. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's software will automatically map the proper joysticks and buttons for each game, with the in-game controls similarly changing to adapt to your device. You can even use the Xbox or PS4 controllers to navigate the regular Apple TV interface. And you can also connect Xbox or PS4 controllers to an iPhone or iPad.

You can also use Apple's own Apple TV remote for games, but the experience is worse. In Super Impossible Road, for example, it was much harder to control the ball with the Apple TV remote than with an Xbox One controller. Likewise for Sonic Racing. Even a simpler game like Mini Motorways played better with a PlayStation 4 controller than the Apple TV's touchpad. 

Interestingly, and a sign of the platform's maturity, an increasing number of games on the Apple TV require a third-party controller. 

Arcade has other good points, too. Load times, for the most part, were also fairly quick even on the HD box, as were download times over my Altice One connection in New Jersey. Compared to other gaming services, the $4.99 price is relatively cheap and like Apple Music, TV Plus, News Plus or iCloud can be shared with up to six members of your family through Apple's Family Sharing feature. 

Read more: Game subscription services: How to choose between Apple Arcade, Xbox Game Pass and more

What still needs work: Graphics and game selection

Although there's plenty to like with Apple Arcade on Apple TV, those hoping it will turn the Apple TV into a miniature Xbox, PlayStation or Switch will be disappointed. Eight months after launch, the biggest problem is that there just aren't a lot of great games that take advantage of the TV. 

I'll start with graphics because a big TV is much more revealing than a tiny phone screen. Nonetheless, some games like Sonic, fighter game HyperBrawl and Super Impossible Road translate really well to the big screen, with Sonic Racing still looking (and playing) like a Mario Kart knock-off. (It actually plays more like traditional Mario Kart than the Mario Kart Tour mobile game.)

Other games, not so much. Playing Oceanhorn 2, Capcom's Shinsekai Into the Depths and Beyond Blue, the graphics reminded me of an iPhone or Switch game blown up to a big-screen 4K TV. They lacked the crispness I saw on the small phone screen. Adventure game Oceanhorn 2 and ocean exploration game Beyond Blue were particularly disappointing on the Apple TV HD box.

I tried more than a dozen games and none had graphics that came close to the realistic images of a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. 

Many weren't as smooth either. Playing The Rink, Shinsekai and HyperBrawl, for example, I experienced moments of lag and frame rate drops that would be tough to forgive in a major console.

11-apple-arcade

Playing Sayonara Wild Hearts with an Apple TV remote. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple Arcade's assortment of titles is still pretty narrow too. There are no video game staples like first-person shooters, few open-world role-playing games and even fewer that let multiple people play together offline, something I was hoping to do during quarantine while at home with my family. Two that I found, HyperBrawl and Super Impossible Road, didn't play particularly well, with Super Impossible Road being especially difficult to play split-screen. 

Arcade still lacks the big, iconic "AAA" titles the drive traditional consoles and has no "killer" game that makes the TV experience similar to what you'd get from a dedicated console.

On your phone, you could download some of these types of titles separately, outside of Arcade -- Fortnite, NBA 2K, FIFA and Call of Duty are a few prominent examples of AAA games -- but Arcade doesn't offer those high-profile games yet. You can AirPlay them from an iPhone or iPad to an Apple TV, but when I tried that with Fortnite and an iPhone 11 Pro Max, the experience was filled with lag despite having a strong Wi-Fi connection. 

There has been an increase in sports titles on Arcade since launch, but Sociable Soccer doesn't hold a candle to the likes of EA Sports' FIFA franchise.  

Beyond graphics and game selection, I had a few other issues:

  • Signs of mobile-first design are also present in some game interfaces. Mini Motorways and Sonic Racing, for example, have cursors that replicate your finger, either when playing the game or in the menu screens. 
  • Game continuity has improved but still had some issues syncing from iPhone to Apple TV, particularly with having to restart tutorials despite having had played the game before on an iPhone or on a different Apple TV.  
  • And if you switch the controller back to an Xbox or PlayStation you will need to re-pair the controller back to the Apple TV each time you want to use it. 
  • Online multiplayer matches were hard to find in a host of Arcade games, including The Rink, Sonic Racing and Pac-Man, at various points throughout the day. 

Even after a year it still feels like early days for Arcade on TV. It's possible we'll see advancement on Apple's vision at WWDC next month particularly with rumors of a refreshed Apple TV with an improved processor in the works. Given the progress Apple has made with its silicon in recent years, an A12X or A13X Bionic chip inside an Apple TV could make a real difference and give developers a lot more power to work with. 

But at this stage, Arcade is better suited to phone and tablet gaming. Gamers looking for a big-screen experience will be better served by a Nintendo Switch or traditional PlayStation or Xbox console.

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Apple Arcade on TV: Seven months later, still not much progress – CNET

02-apple-arcade

Apple Arcade works on a TV through Apple TV, but it won't replace your Xbox, PlayStation or Switch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's been over a year since Apple Arcade was first announced and more than eight months since the subscription video game service was released. One of its big pitches is the ability to play its library of games not only on your iPhoneiPad or MacBook, but also on your couch at home with the Apple TV. I last looked at Arcade for Apple TV in October, paying special attention to how it plays on the big screen. Now, with quarantine leaving everyone hungry for new home entertainment , I decided to give it another spin to see how the platform has grown. 

I played a host of Arcade titles over the last few weeks on an Apple TV 4K and a 65-inch 4K TV, primarily using the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers as well as the Apple TV remote. In short, Apple's $5-per-month service has gotten a little better and is now at over 100 titles, but it still has a very long way to go to offer a real alternative to Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo Switch.  

Read: All the hardware you need to play Apple Arcade games  

Now playing: Watch this: Apple Arcade is changing video games for $5 a month

6:02

What's good

03-apple-arcade

Similar to the iPhone, Arcade games on the Apple TV appear alongside other apps. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

As it was before, I suspect that many if not all of Arcade's titles are designed with the millions of potential iPhone and iPad players in mind and not the far smaller number of people who own an Apple TV. In my experience, these games generally play a lot better on mobile devices than on the big screen. 

In some cases, these games work well on the TV, too. Ultimate Rivals: The Rink, which takes star athletes from several professional sports and puts them into an arcade three-on-three hockey game, is one example of a recent game that is fun to play on mobile and also translates well to Apple TV. Racing games like Sonic Racing and Super Impossible Road still looked good on TV, and pair well with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller. 

Pairing those controllers to the Apple TV is also pretty easy. Go to Settings and then Bluetooth. There is a quick "how-to" available for guiding you on how to pair each type of controller. For the Xbox One that means holding down the main Xbox button and the "connect" button at the top, or the "share" and PlayStation button on the PS4 remote. You can also pair other controllers that are MFi -- aka "made for iPhone"-- certified.

14-apple-arcade

Playing Shinsekai Into the Depths with an Xbox One controller. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's software will automatically map the proper joysticks and buttons for each game, with the in-game controls similarly changing to adapt to your device. You can even use the Xbox or PS4 controllers to navigate the regular Apple TV interface. And you can also connect Xbox or PS4 controllers to an iPhone or iPad.

You can also use Apple's own Apple TV remote for games, but the experience is worse. In Super Impossible Road, for example, it was much harder to control the ball with the Apple TV remote than with an Xbox One controller. Likewise for Sonic Racing. Even a simpler game like Mini Motorways played better with a PlayStation 4 controller than the Apple TV's touchpad. 

Interestingly, and a sign of the platform's maturity, an increasing number of games on the Apple TV require a third-party controller. 

Arcade has other good points, too. Load times, for the most part, were also fairly quick, as were download times over my Altice One connection in New Jersey. Compared to other gaming services, the $4.99 price is relatively cheap and like Apple Music, TV Plus, News Plus or iCloud can be shared with up to six members of your family through Apple's Family Sharing feature. 

Read more: Game subscription services: How to choose between Apple Arcade, Xbox Game Pass and more

What still needs work: Graphics and game selection

Although there's plenty to like with Apple Arcade on Apple TV, those hoping it will turn the Apple TV into a miniature Xbox, PlayStation or Switch will be disappointed. Eight months after launch, the biggest problem is that there just aren't a lot of great games that take advantage of the TV. 

I'll start with graphics because a big TV is much more revealing than a tiny phone screen. Nonetheless, some games like Sonic, fighter game HyperBrawl and Super Impossible Road translate really well to the big screen, with Sonic Racing still looking (and playing) like a Mario Kart knock-off (it actually plays more like traditional Mario Kart than the Mario Kart Tour mobile game). 

Other games, not so much. Playing Oceanhorn 2, Capcom's Shinsekai Into the Depths and Beyond Blue, the graphics reminded me of an iPhone or Switch game blown up to a big-screen 4K TV. They lacked the crispness I saw on the small phone screen. Adventure game Oceanhorn 2 and ocean exploration game Beyond Blue were particularly disappointing.

I tried more than a dozen games and none had graphics that came close to the realistic images of a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. 

Many weren't as smooth either. Playing The Rink, Shinsekai and HyperBrawl, for example, I experienced moments of lag and frame rate drops that would be tough to forgive in a major console.

11-apple-arcade

Playing Sayonara Wild Hearts with an Apple TV remote. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple Arcade's assortment of titles is still pretty narrow too. There are no video game staples like first-person shooters, few open-world role-playing games and even fewer that let multiple people play together offline, something I was hoping to do during quarantine while at home with my family. Two that I found, HyperBrawl and Super Impossible Road, didn't play particularly well, with Super Impossible Road being especially difficult to play split-screen. 

Arcade still lacks the big, iconic "AAA" titles the drive traditional consoles and has no "killer" game that makes the TV experience similar to what you'd get from a dedicated console.

On your phone, you could download some of these types of titles separately, outside of Arcade -- Fortnite, NBA 2K, FIFA and Call of Duty are a few prominent examples of "AAA" games -- but Arcade doesn't offer those types of games yet. You can AirPlay them from an iPhone or iPad to an Apple TV 4K, but when I tried that with Fortnite and an iPhone 11 Pro Max the experience was filled with lag despite having a strong Wi-Fi connection. 

There has been an increase in sports titles on Arcade since launch, but Sociable Soccer doesn't hold a candle to the likes of EA Sports' FIFA franchise.  

Beyond graphics and game selection, I had a few other issues:

  • Signs of mobile-first design are also present in some game interfaces. Mini Motorways and Sonic Racing, for example, have cursors that replicate your finger, either when playing the game or in the menu screens. 
  • Game continuity has improved but still had some issues syncing from iPhone to Apple TV, particularly with having to restart tutorials despite having had played the game before on an iPhone or on a different Apple TV.  
  • And if you switch the controller back to an Xbox or PlayStation you will need to re-pair the controller back to the Apple TV each time you want to use it. 
  • Online multiplayer matches were hard to find in a host of Arcade games, including The Rink, Sonic Racing and Pac-Man, at various points throughout the day. 

Even after a year it still feels like early days for Arcade on TV. It's possible we'll see advancement on Apple's vision at WWDC next month particularly with rumors of a refreshed Apple TV with an improved processor in the works. Given the progress Apple has made with its silicon in recent years, an A12X or A13X Bionic chip inside an Apple TV could make a real difference and give developers a lot more power to work with. 

But at this stage, Arcade is better suited to phone and tablet gaming. Gamers looking for a big-screen experience will be better served by a Nintendo Switch or traditional PlayStation or Xbox console.

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Free HBO Max: All the ways to upgrade if you already have HBO or HBO Now – CNET

hbo-max-logo

HBO Max is coming. 

HBO/Screenshot by Gonzalo Jiménez/CNET

The world may still be stuck at home, but the streaming wars continue with no regard for the coronavirus. In two weeks, on May 27, arguably the biggest Netflix competitor of them all joins the battlefield: AT&T's HBO Max

The new souped-up Max service offers every show and movie available on HBO and adds a host of exclusive content from WarnerMedia and DC Comics. It will be home to popular shows such as Friends, The Big Bang Theory and Rick and Morty; classic films like Lord of the Rings, Casablanca and A Star Is Born; DC Comics movies like Joker and Wonder Woman; and kids' content from Looney Toons and Sesame Street. HBO Max will also stream originals, including a new Justice League Dark series from J.J. Abrams, a Game of Thrones spin-off called House of the Dragon and a new Sesame Street show called The Not Too Late Show with Elmo. The HBO Max catalog is simply massive.

Max is priced at the same $14.99 per month that HBO already charges for a subscription, so current HBO subscribers might expect to be upgraded to it automatically. It's not that simple. Here's what we know so far about how HBO Max will be rolled out.

What do I do if I'm an HBO Now subscriber? 

hbo-now-02.jpg

HBO Now on the Apple TV. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

AT&T says that all customers who subscribe to HBO Now directly, for example people who subscribed through hbonow.com and are billed by HBO, will be upgraded for free to HBO Max. 

An HBO Max spokeswoman says that the company will be "communicating additional details on how specific users access HBO Max as we get closer to launch." It's still unclear if any steps will needed to be taken on the user side to transition from HBO Now to HBO Max, or if your HBO Now login will simply work in the new HBO Max apps. 

If you subscribe to HBO Now through a third-party service -- such as on a platform like Amazon Prime Video Channels or Roku, or through an internet provider or if you signed up for the service via the Android app -- you won't necessarily be upgraded, as the billing there isn't handled directly by HBO. 

In late April HBO and Apple reached an agreement to upgrade those who subscribe to HBO Now through an Apple device to HBO Max. The upgrade will be available in time for the new service's launch. 

Unsure how you're getting HBO? You can check by logging in on your phone or computer. Here's how, according to HBO's help guide

1. After logging in, you need to head to the Profile section. 

i. On a computer check the upper-right corner and choose the Profile icon.

ii. On a phone or tablet tap the Profile icon, then tap the Settings icon (upper-right corner).

2. Choose Billing Information and look for the following sentence: Your subscription is billed through _________.

A full list of third-party providers can be found here

What about if I get HBO from my cable provider or streaming TV service? 

As with the third-party HBO Now subscriptions, it's not completely clear what HBO will be doing for those who get HBO from their cable TV company. It is possible AT&T will make a deal with some to push users to HBO Max, but that is still largely not known. 

As a current subscriber you will still be able to continue watching HBO and using HBO Go, but you will miss out on all the extra shows and movies being added to HBO Max exclusively. There are some exceptions, however, depending on your provider. 

Charter customers who already subscribe to HBO through the Spectrum cable service will "gain immediate access to HBO Max," according to the HBO Max spokeswoman, while new Spectrum subscribers will "be able to purchase HBO Max directly through Charter at launch."

AT&T previously announced a deal with YouTube TV in February that "will allow users to subscribe to HBO Max through that service." 

The spokeswoman says that the company has "additional distribution partners in place for HBO Max at launch, and as soon as we're able to announce those deals and outline the user experiences on those platforms we will do so."   

What if I get HBO from AT&T or DirecTV? 

HBO, like the rest of WarnerMedia, is owned by AT&T, so the upgrade process for those living in this world is a bit easier. That said, it's not completely free of complications. If you have an AT&T service you will likely get some HBO Max free, but whether that is for one month, three months or one year or is a general free upgrade will vary depending on which services you have. 

Here's a chart AT&T put together to show if you will get the free upgrade. 

hbo-max-at-t-infographic

AT&T made a chart to help show who gets an HBO Max upgrade. 

AT&T

New AT&T TV Choice, Xtra or Ultimate, and Óptimo Más package customers and new DirecTV Choice, Xtra, Ultimate, Más Ultra or Óptimo Más package customers will be eligible to receive HBO Max included for a year. 

Current subscribers with most TV packages from AT&T TV or DirecTV will be able to get a three-month free trial of HBO Max, though this excludes those on the cheapest TV packages. 

Those with AT&T's Internet 1000 home broadband or Unlimited Elite wireless plan will similarly have HBO Max included, while those with other home broadband or wireless plans will get a one-month free trial. 

So if I pay for HBO through my cable provider or a third party what should I do? 

20150820113600.jpg

If you pay for HBO Now, the switch to HBO Max is a no-brainer. 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Regardless of if you have HBO Now or HBO from a cable provider, the price is generally the same: $14.99 per month. That price is also the same as a new HBO Max subscription, so if you're paying for HBO and not getting it bundled for free, our advice is to switch to being billed directly by HBO, or just cancel it through your current third-party method and then sign up for HBO Max when it launches. 

The cost differences pretty much cancel out and HBO Max gives more for your money, particularly if you have HBO Now and are not being billed directly by HBO. The experience for watching could be as simple as just swapping the Now app for the Max app, which makes the switch a no-brainer. 

Those looking to save can cancel their existing HBO or HBO Now subscriptions and sign up for the HBO Max preorder. Under the preorder you'll be able to get HBO Now for $12 per month for the next year -- as opposed to the regular $15 per month rate -- including a free upgrade to HBO Max when it launches on May 27. If you have HBO Now or planned on getting HBO Max, this can save you a quick $36. 

For cable users, particularly those accustomed to watching TV on channels and not apps, the transition is slightly more complicated and will mean having to use a device like a Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast or Apple TV to get the service onto your TV as opposed to just changing a channel. While these devices can be found at fairly affordable prices, it does mean having to switch between different inputs when navigating between the HBO and regular TV. 

With only a few weeks until launch we expect more information to come out, and we'll update this article when that happens.

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Qualcomm adds new Snapdragon 768G processor to boost midrange phones – CNET

snap

Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 768G processor looks to be a step up for midtier devices. 

Qualcomm

Qualcomm has a new processor that should provide a performance boost for some nonflagship phones. On Monday the chipmaker introduced its latest chip, the Snapdragon 768G, which should deliver better performance on midrange phones. 

The company says that the new chip, which has a 2.8GHz clock speed compared to the 2.4GHz speed found on last year's Snapdragon 765G, will offer "up to 15% performance improvement" on the older chip. 

As with the 765G, the processor has integrated Qualcomm's X52 modem and is capable of tapping into low-band, midband and millimeter-wave 5G. Max download speeds over 5G are 3.7 gigabits per second, and 1.2Gbps over 4G LTE. 

Also notable is the support for displays with a smoother 120Hz refresh rate, a trend that has become increasingly popular in 2020. The Samsung Galaxy S20 line and the OnePlus 8 Pro are just some of the devices that offer that improved display tech, with rumors recently circulating that Apple may add the feature to its next iPhones in the fall. 

The Xiaomi Redmi K30 Racing Edition, also announced Monday, will be the first phone available with the new processor. It goes on sale in China later this week for 2,000 yuan (roughly $280, £230 or AU$435).

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Jeff Bezos called to testify by House committee over Amazon allegedly misleading Congress – CNET

jeff-bezos-crop-ben-fox-rubin-cnet.png

Amazon's Jeff Bezos is being called to appear before Congress over his company's use of third-party seller data. 

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Jeff Bezos is being called to appear before the House Judiciary Committee about his company potentially misleading when it comes to his company's business practices. At issue is a report from April 23 that detailed how Amazon would use data from third-party sellers to develop and sell its own products.  

The bipartisan committee's request, sent out in a letter on Friday, builds on its current investigation into Amazon's "role in the digital marketplace." While it expects Bezos to agree to appear on his own, the group reserves "the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary."

According to the Wall Street Journal report, the data that Amazon collected helped the company set pricing, determine which features to incorporate as well as decide on if it was even worth getting involved in a product category. The Journal said it spoke with "more than 20 former employees of Amazon's private-label business" in addition to reviewing documents that detailed the practice. 

Examples reportedly include Amazon employees accessing data about a top-selling trunk organizer from a third-party vendor, including total sales and the amount that Amazon made on every sale. The company's private-label business then rolled out its own trunk organizers.  

"If true, these allegations contradict previous testimony and written responses that Amazon submitted to the Committee," the House Judiciary Committee wrote in its letter to Bezos. 

"For example, at our hearing on July 16, 2019, Representative Pramila Jayapal asked about Amazon's use of third-party seller data, and Nate Sutton, Amazon's Associate General Counsel, responded that 'we do not use any seller data to compete with them.'"

An Amazon representative denied the assertions made in the Journal report but said the company "take[s] these allegations very seriously" and has launched an internal investigation. 

"We strictly prohibit employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch," the representative said in a statement.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Congress' Friday letter to Bezos. 

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New iOS text-bomb bug can crash your iPhone, but fix is said to be close – CNET

apple-iphones

A new texting bug is crashing iPhones. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Strings of texts that cause iPhones and iOS devices to crash isn't a new problem, but a new one has appeared in 2020. After several bugs annoyed iOS users in the last decade, a new string of text using Sindhi characters has seemingly been discovered that, when sent to an iOS device in a notification, it will cause the device to freeze, requiring a hard reset to return it to normal. 

Whereas a few prior text bugs were spread largely through the Messages app, as detailed in a Twitter video by popular YouTuber EverythingApplePro, this bug can take down an iOS device by just being sent a notification with the particular characters inside. 

As he demonstrated the effects of the bug in his video, EverythingApplePro says that posting the text on Twitter inadvertently took down "several hundred peoples' phones," showing its reach beyond messaging apps.  

Similar texting strings, also known as "text-bombs," were found in 2018, 2017 and 2015, when they crashed iPhones and iOS devices when viewed. 

If you are sent this text, or come across it on social media, EverythingApplePro says that by holding volume up, then volume down then the side button will hard reset your iPhone and turn it back to normal. 

The good news, as 9to5Mac notes, is that Apple's forthcoming iOS 13.4.5 is reportedly not impacted by this bug. That update is currently in beta and could be released soon. The iPhone-maker may similarly release a smaller interim update just to fix the issue. 

Those worried can also turn off notifications to help mitigate the risks of being hit. 

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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iPhone SE is already cheap, but there’s a way to save even more money – CNET

iphone-se-2020

Apple's new iPhone SE is priced at $399, but to making the most of your savings will depend on the carrier you pair it with. 

Apple

Apple's new iPhone SE is a long overdue update that takes the iPhone 8's design and adds modern iPhone 11 features, all while keeping a $399 starting price that's several hundreds of dollars cheaper than the iPhone 11's $699 entry point. If you're looking to maximize your savings, buying the phone is just the first step. To really get your saving on, you may want to consider switching to a prepaid carrier. 

Prepaid carriers, such as Metro by T-Mobile, Cricket, Boost Mobile and Visible, use the networks of the major providers -- T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. While they lack some of the extra features like free Netflix, HBO or Apple Music, these plans are often priced significantly less than the traditional carrier offering.

As with the regular carrier plans pricing will vary depending on how much data you need and how many lines you have. For the purposes of this piece, we're going to focus on one line. And as with any carrier, choose the network that works best where you live. 

Now playing: Watch this: Apple's new iPhone SE is basically an iPhone 11 in a...

5:46

Looking for a bundle on phone and service? Head to Red Pocket Mobile

Red Pocket Mobile, a carrier that uses AT&T's network, is offering a bundle of the new iPhone SE and six months of 3GB per month high-speed LTE data for $324 with the promo code CHEAPSKATESE at checkout. It's a nice saving especially considering the phone on its own generally costs $399. Continuing on the plan costs $15 a month, with Red Pocket also including calls to 70 international countries. As with Simple Mobile, the site will let you know which countries allow for mobile and landline calls.

Even without the discount code, the carrier is offering the bundle for $349 with six months of service for free. 

Note: If you want to avoid dealing with international calling charges, try making calls through an app such as WhatsApp, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger or Skype. 

Looking for unlimited? Try Visible

Verizon Visible

Visible is a prepaid carrier from Verizon that is managed through its app. 

CNET/Photo by John Falcone

Verizon's prepaid service that's run through an app on your phone, Visible, charges $40 a month for one line of unlimited talk, text and data, with taxes and fees included. Unlimited mobile hotspot is also thrown in, though data speeds here are capped at 5Mbps and you can only tether to one other device at a time. That said, you get Verizon's 4G LTE network for $30 less than the base Start Unlimited plan Verizon offers. 

You can buy a new phone from Visible or buy one unlocked from Apple and get a SIM card from Visible. Those looking for a deal can get the iPhone SE on Friday for $384 from the carrier, with Visible then sweetening the deal with a $200 Mastercard gift card to bring the net price of the device down to $184. 

Other options: Boost Mobile now uses Sprint and T-Mobile's 4G LTE network and offers unlimited talk, text and data for $50 a month with 12GB of high-speed hotspot data. Metro by T-Mobile offers a similar unlimited offering for $50 a month. It comes with 100GB of Google One storage but just 5GB of monthly mobile hotspot. 

Looking for a short-term plan? Check out Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile, the wireless carrier purchased last year by Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, uses T-Mobile's 4G LTE network for service and offers as little as 3GB of 4G LTE data for just $15 per month for the first three months. Larger data buckets of either 8GB or 12GB are available and as part of the coronavirus pandemic, the carrier is offering free unlimited data until May 14. Six-month and 12-month plans are also available and hotspot is included, but it pulls from your monthly data bucket. 

You can buy a new phone from Mint or buy one unlocked from Apple and get a SIM card from Mint. 

Other options: Cricket, which is AT&T's prepaid service and uses its network, has a limited-time introductory offer that offers 2GB of high-speed data for $15 per month, though speeds are capped at a maximum of 8Mbps down for 4G LTE. 

iPhone SE

The iPhone SE is available in black, white and red. 

Apple

Need international calling? Look at Simple Mobile

Those looking for a phone plan that has international calling should look at Simple Mobile. The carrier, which also runs on T-Mobile's network, has a plan with 3GB of high-speed data for $25 for 30 days and one with 5GB of high-speed data for $30 and has unlimited talk and text domestically as well as unlimited international texting. Calls to 69 locations are also included, though you can check here if that applies to landlines or mobile phones in the country you'll be calling. 

As with Red Pocket -- or any other carrier -- an easy way to make international calls without worrying about being charged is to make the calls through an app.

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T-Mobile’s 5G network will get a boost from Sprint spectrum – CNET

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T-Mobile's 5G network is continuing to grow with the deployment of Sprint's midband 5G in New York. 

Joshua Goldman/CNET

T-Mobile may have only closed its Sprint merger earlier this month, but the carrier isn't letting the coronavirus put its plans on hold. After announcing its first deployment of the newly acquired midband spectrum in Philadelphia on April 1, T-Mobile plans to redeploy the airwaves in parts of New York in May as part of the latest expansion of its 5G network. 

In turning on the 2.5GHz spectrum in New York, T-Mobile will have its first city that can showcase its 5G vision. The carrier turned on higher-frequency millimeter-wave 5G in parts of the city last summer before adding its low-band, wider-reaching 5G network nationwide last December

On Tuesday T-Mobile will also expand the low-band footprint to include the Detroit, St. Louis and Columbus areas. 

Whereas the millimeter-wave network has fast download speeds but severely limited outdoor coverage, and the low-band much better coverage but not noticeably improved speeds compared with 4G LTE, the midband spectrum allows for a combination of both with significantly faster speeds compared to 4G on service that works both indoors and outside. 

Karri Kuoppamaki, T-Mobile's vice president of radio network technology and strategy, says the carrier is seeing download speeds of nearly 600Mbps in Philadelphia in early testing of its midband 5G deployment.

Read moreT-Mobile has merged with Sprint. Here's what it means for your devices

Most of T-Mobile's 5G devices -- last year's OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G as well as this year's line of Samsung Galaxy S20 5G phones, LG's V60 ThinQ 5G and the forthcoming OnePlus 8 -- will be able to tap into T-Mobile's midband 5G network as it rolls out. 

Sprint's Galaxy S20 5G phones will also be able to start using the new T-Mobile's 5G networks later this month, with the support for T-Mobile's low-band 5G being enabled on the Sprint devices with a recent, already released software update.

Those with Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G or Plus 5G from Sprint or T-Mobile will be able to take advantage of all three flavors of T-Mobile's 5G network when available. Those with the other devices will be able to use the low-band and midband 5G but not the millimeter-wave. 

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An end for Sprint 5G and its early 5G phones

Although Sprint's Galaxy S20 phones will be brought along for the network upgrade, older Sprint 5G phones from 2019 will not be getting updates to enable access to T-Mobile's 5G network. Instead, those devices will remain capable of tapping into Sprint 5G in the markets where it's available for as long as it's active. 

To make the midband 5G spectrum work better with its other 5G networks, T-Mobile is taking the already deployed Sprint 5G and refarming it, a process that shuts down the existing network and redeploys the spectrum. 

This process will take place in New York as well as, over time, in the other eight markets (plus parts of Miami) where Sprint's 5G service is currently live. The carrier says that it will turn off Sprint's 5G network in New York City shortly before turning on its redeployed version. 

As with other Sprint 4G LTE phones, these 5G devices from last year will still be able to use Sprint's 4G LTE service and take advantage of T-Mobile's 4G LTE when Sprint's network isn't available.

Sprint users have been able to roam on T-Mobile's 4G LTE network since March as part of an agreement to help keep users connected during the coronavirus pandemic. With the merger between the companies now finalized, that roaming will continue.

Part of the reason behind the move is that Sprint's older 5G devices lack the necessary modem to connect to T-Mobile's 600MHz low-band 5G network, a chip that wasn't made available until late last year. 

T-Mobile told CNET last summer that it would allow the Galaxy S10 5G sold by Sprint to work with T-Mobile's millimeter-wave network once the carriers' merger was cleared and that its version of the S10 5G would be able to work with the redeployed Sprint midband spectrum. 

That will no longer be the case for either device. The S10 5G lacks the capability to tap into the LTE anchor band for 2.5GHz 5G that T-Mobile is using, a band combination that is different from what Sprint has done. This combination is need so that the transition won't impact Sprint users who are connected to the midband spectrum for 4G LTE. (The T-Mobile S10 5G will, however, still be able to use its millimeter-wave network where available.)

T-Mobile says it's planning to alert people who bought Sprint 5G phones about the need for new devices. It will have a number of offers to encourage these owners to upgrade to a Galaxy S20, with the offer varying slightly depending on how much they're paying per month. 

  • Those who currently own, lease or make payments on a 7 Pro 5G (256GB), S10 5G (256GB), V50 ThinQ (128GB) and are paying less than $10/mo. will get a Samsung Galaxy S20 5G for $0/mo. after $41.67/mo. credit with a new 18-month lease.
  • Those who currently lease or make payments on a 7 Pro 5G (256GB), S10 5G (256GB), V50 ThinQ (128GB) and are paying more than $10/mo. will get a Samsung Galaxy S20 5G for $10/mo. after $31.67/mo. credit with a new 18-month lease.
  • Those who purchased an HTC 5G Hub on an installment plan will get a credit of $12.50/mo. for the remainder of the term. If they purchased the hotspot outright, T-Mobile will give them a one-time credit of $300 applied to their bill.

The carrier hopes to eventually combine its network and Sprint's over the course of the next three years, a process that Kuoppamaki says is on track even amid the pandemic. 

As for future 5G midband cities, Kuoppamaki wouldn't reveal where the carrier will go next, though he says it "will move fast." 

"We're moving as fast as we can, this is what drives us," he said, adding that the carrier's "5G for all" slogan is "not a tagline without substance, we really stand behind that."

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Verizon boosts Fios remote tech support during coronavirus to help troubleshoot issues – CNET

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Verizon's latest update looks to boost tech support while still keep a social distance. 

James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Verizon is adding a new tool to its Fios tech support options as the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep people on lockdown around the US: virtual support. 

Partnering with a company called TechSee, Verizon will use rear cameras on users' phones or tablets to help provide assistance and troubleshooting remotely, helping solve connectivity issues without having to send a technician inside people's homes. 

The technology being used by Verizon has already been in place around the world, with Vodafone NZ sharing a video in 2018 of how it uses the TechSee service to help fix a router issue, circling and highlighting where things should be plugged in while also providing guidance over the phone to assist you in fixing the problem. 

As demoed in its own video, Verizon will send a technician to the site and then send the customer a text message that can open a page in their phone's browser. Using the user's rear camera, the technician can see what is going on while still being stationed outside. 

If the repair requires new hardware, like a replacement battery backup, the technician can drop off the piece at the customer's door and then continue guiding the repair from a safe distance. 

On its coronavirus site, Verizon says that it will "repair services up to where the service enters your location," so if there is a wiring issue outside your home the company will still send a technician to come and repair it. New installations can still be requested, but they will "be held for future installation on a priority basis."

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AT&T offers three free months of FirstNet service to nurses and doctors – CNET

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AT&T is expanding its FirstNet program to give three months of free service to medical professionals. 

Angela Lang/CNET

AT&T is showing its appreciation for those fighting coronavirus by giving nurses and doctors three free months of service as part of its FirstNet program. The news was announced late Sunday night on John Krasinski's Some Good News online show. 

As part of the offer, those on the front lines of the pandemic will be able to receive the free service so long as they are on one of AT&T's FirstNet first responder plans. The deal is open to all verified, state-licensed nurses and physicians in the U.S. and U.S. territories regardless of if they are new or existing FirstNet users. 

Doctors or nurses already on a traditional AT&T plan can switch to a FirstNet plan, which runs $40 per month for individuals for one line of unlimited talk, text and data. Those who also want unlimited mobile hotspot will pay $45 per month. 

Medical professionals currently on a traditional AT&T plan or on a family plan with multiple lines will need to switch their individual line to FirstNet to take advantage of this promotion. They will also need to verify that they are licensed within 30 days of activation. 

The process to switch, activate a new line and to verify a license can be done online. Additional signup details can be found on AT&T's FirstNet site

In addition to the three months of free service, the carrier is also offering $200 off a FirstNet-ready phone when activating a new FirstNet plan. Most recent AT&T phones, including Apple's latest iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max and Samsung's Galaxy S20 5G line, support FirstNet though 5G phones are still limited to AT&T's 4G LTE network.

FirstNet is AT&T's special service for first responders that takes advantage of a special band of the carrier's 4G LTE network to ensure that emergency personnel's service takes priority compared to those on regular AT&T plans during times of emergency. 

AT&T has been deploying the network around the country including adding portable sites around known hotbeds for the coronavirus, such as New York City, to boost capacity and allow FirstNet devices to be faster than traditional AT&T phones.

The announcement is the latest from a wireless carrier to help out during the coronavirus pandemic. In March Verizon announced that it would be giving extra high-speed data and hotspot data for its customers while AT&T added more hotspot data for those on its unlimited plans. T-Mobile similarly announced last month that it would be making all plans on its network, even older tiered ones, unlimited for 60 days during the pandemic in addition to giving out extra hotspot data. 

Last November, as part of its efforts to help get its then-pending Sprint merger approved, T-Mobile announced plans to give first responders free service for ten years under a program it calls "Connecting Heroes." While the merger was finalized earlier this month, the carrier has yet to announce when that program will be available.

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