Hats off to the UK for smartphone unlocking laws, and more tech news today

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Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Tuesday, 27 October 2020

1. UK bans locked phones, hooray!

The UK has announced a ban on the sale of network-locked phones, finally ending one of the vices that carriers try and use to keep you loyal to them.

  • The BBC reported that while it typically costs about £10 to get a locked smartphone unlocked, studies showed that’s not the full story, with half of all those who try to do so experience difficulties:
  • “These [difficulities] can include facing a long wait to receive the code needed to trigger the process, as well as then finding that the code does not work.”
  • “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked. So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort — and help them unlock better deals,” Ofcom connectivity director Selina Chadha was quoted as saying on the regulator’s website.

Finally: 

  • This is a welcome change, with most reactions saying finally, this is long overdue, and so on.
  • While some carriers in the UK were already keeping phones unlocked, the likes of giants including Vodafone and BT were not, and will now need to comply by December, 2021. Which isn’t soon enough really, but at least it will come into place.
  • The whole practice was a great scheme for carriers but really made little sense in any other business model in the world, where consumers pay for devices they can only use while paying a certain company. Telecommunications is unique, and carriers will always wield power when they can get away with it.

Elsewhere?

  • In Europe, this is generally the case already, and in Singapore, for example, locked phones are banned.
  • In Australia phones are generally unlocked too, except in some cases with prepaid phones where phones are often affordable but made cheaper through locks.
  • In South Africa, major carrier Vodacom started adding locks as recently as a year ago, reversing previous unlocked phones.
  • And of course, there’s the US, where locked phones are much more common. Some devices may only be compatible with specific networks too. For example, some phones like the OnePlus 7T require a specific Verizon variant as the standard unlocked model doesn’t work on Verizon. Which is strange!
  • Verizon, for example, keeps a lock for 60 days after purchase before then unlocking. And it’s completely legal to unlock a phone, which leads to guides like ‘How to unlock a Verizon phone’ being popular, for Verizon’s pre-paid devices.
  • Otherwise, unlocking a phone locked to AT&T on a contract may require that you’ve paid out a 24-month plan already and jumping through various hoops.
  • It may be that moves like this commendable one from the UK regulator heaps pressure on other countries, too.

2. The OnePlus Nord N10 and N100 were announced yesterday with the leaks right on the money. They’re more affordable or budget phones with headphone jacks, and with microSD card slots for the first time for OnePlus phones. We don’t know pricing yet but it’s going to be in a battle with the likes of the Google Pixel 4a and iPhone SE for the N10 (Android Authority). And wait, wasn’t every OnePlus phone supposed to have a high refresh rate screen? (Android Authority).


3. Samsung Galaxy S30 Ultra specs leak: An S20 Ultra with a new coat? Oh, and don’t expect a charger or earphones in the Galaxy S30’s box (Android Authority).


4. Fairphone 3 Plus review: Sustainability comes with compromises (The Verge).


5. Facebook is the latest to jump into mobile cloud gaming. I had a look, the games on offer are …extremely Facebook. Plus, digs at Apple’s iOS policies (Android Authority).


6. Microsoft adds mouse and trackpad support to Office apps on iPad (Engadget).


7. iPhone 12 drop test confirms the new screen helps durability, to an extent (Engadget).


8. Roku Ultra 2020 review: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, which makes it a tough sell over the Roku Streaming Stick Plus which is half the cost (CNET).


9. AMD agrees to buy Xilinx for $35 billion in stock, which may open up 5G and automotive electronics as Xilinx invented the FGPA (NY Times)


10. “Sometimes I think of how cakes are a miracle.” (Twitter)


11. Moon holds more water in more places than ever thought — but don’t overdo it. “To be clear, this is not puddles of water,” stressed lead researcher Casey Honniball (AP).


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