Google's hotel-based searches in action

When you land in a strange new city, your first instinct may be to see what there is to do near your hotel. However, searching Google for nearby attractions can be a hassle if you don't remember your hotel's name or address by heart. That memorization is no longer necessary after today, though -- Google has updated its search engine to use the booking confirmation in your Gmail as a locator. If you want to look for a late-night diner, all you have to do is ask Google to "show restaurants around my hotel." You can also get directions to or from your accommodations, so you should reach a welcoming bed (or your flight) just a little bit faster. The addition makes the most sense if you're using voice search in one of Google's mobile apps, but any traveler can give it a spin.

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We knew Instagram's effort to nab a bit of Snapchat's thunder was imminent thanks to leaked promo banners, and now, the app has officially arrived... for some. Bolt, the filter-driven photo app's own ephemeral messenger has hit iTunes and Google Play for folks in Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand. The software's claim to fame is speed: instead of having to fiddle through a series of options, tapping a contact's picture both captures and sends a photo -- no further swiping required (tap and hold records video). So long as they're in your favorites list, of course. There's also an undo feature that allows you to retrieve a message in the first few seconds by shaking your phone. While Bolt doesn't require a Facebook or Instagram account, you will have to sign up with your phone number for sorting through your contacts. For now though, most of us have to find solace in just reading about it, since a select few locales are privy to the initial rollout. Instagram's word on that particular strategy is situated after the break.

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Cannes Lions 59th International Festival of Creativity - The Twitter Seminar

One of Twitter's primary concerns is that the number of active users -- those who use the network at least once a month -- continues to grow at a healthy pace, and its latest quarterly earnings confirm that the social network has been eating its vegetables. After reporting a solid growth of 14 million active users last quarter, the service brought in 16 million this time around, reaching a grand total of 271 million. This is an increase of 6.3 percent, which is an improvement over last quarter's 5.8 percent (though not quite as good as the ten percent growth the company saw a year ago). Not bad, given that it had to admit a slowing number of new users earlier this year in its first earnings report as an IPO. Of this number, Twitter acknowledged that 78 percent of them are actively using the service on mobile devices (this is reflected in the fact that 81 percent of advertising revenue comes from smartphones and tablets).

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US-POLITICS-OBAMA-STATE OF THE UNION

Getting Democrats and Republicans to pass an act of Congress is the exception more than the rule. But if there's one thing both sides of the aisle can agree on, it's that the US policy for unlocking phones is backwards. Early last year, it became illegal to unlock your handset for use on other carriers unless your provider directly gives you the permission to do so. Thanks to moves from the Senate and House this month, legislation to remove this restriction is just a presidential signature away from passing; it's not a permanent solution, but at least it's a step in the right direction for consumer freedom.

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LG Heart Rate Monitor Earphone review: good fitness gadget, poor earphones

Heart rate monitors are no longer the exclusive domain of fitness gadgets. The last 12 months have seen sensors make their way into smartphones and wearables, replacing for many of us the need for a standalone pulse monitor. The problem is a lot of these options have been unable to deliver accurate heart rate mesurements, partly because those sensors have to maintain contact with your skin; if they slip, then the readout skips. Maybe LG has the answer, then: Put heart rate monitoring technology into a pair of Bluetooth headphones. If you're like me and are constantly wired for sound during workouts, what could possibly be better?

LG's Heart Rate Monitor earphones link to an iOS/Android app, with absolutely nothing burdening your wrists. LG's fitness app can even add your exercise sessions to a step counter, so long as you buy LG's optional Lifeband Touch fitness band. What's more, the app also integrates with other fitness apps like RunKeeper. It all sounds great on paper, but there's a problem: the headphones don't actually sound good. Let me explain.

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Some of the main items that Beats Music claims set it apart from the competition are its personalization and curated content. Looking to boost both of those areas, Apple's pending purchase has tossed in a few tweaks. First, if you're familiar with the service, you know that upon launching the app for the first time, you're prompted to select a few of your favorite artists and genres to give Beats a clue to your audio sensibilities. Those selections are now editable, making adding and deleting easy for evolving tastes. You're also able to access a list of recently played tracks from the handy Sentence feature -- just in case you forgot to mark 'em for later. More playlists have also been added to the Just for You section, increasing the amount and range of recommendations. All of the recent additions are available now through the service's mobile and web apps.

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Spotify's latest iOS app update rolls out today and adds a new equalizer to playback functionality. "A lot of our users have been asking for a built-in equalizer for a while now and it's currently one of our most requested features on iOS," says Sten Garmark, VP for Product at Spotify. The update also folds the Discover function into the Browse tab on iPhones and adds a redesigned Artist page to the iPad iteration, featuring musicians' latest releases and... merchandise. Android users have been able to add third-party equalizers to music playback on dedicated music apps for years, although there's no word from Spotify as to when these new feature will hit Google's mobile OS. We're hoping that equalizer will help even out music playback -- even if you're only packing underwhelming in-box buds.

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It turns out that Microsoft had bigger plans for Foursquare than just search and maps for Bing. The check-in service is now accessible by Redmond's digital assistant, Cortana, as spotted on Reddit by Neowin. The addition apparently makes for customizable, local recommendations based on your whereabouts, and presumably, your account history too. As Winbeta notes, because the Cortana updates take place on Microsoft's servers, you won't need to download a software patch to take advantage of them either. Whether the blue helper will get to love bees, though, is up to her creators.

Update: Microsoft's Bing Blog has confirmed the change and revealed how to turn it on: "pull up Cortana's notebook go to Interests, look for "best nearby" and then toggle to ON."

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The high-tech pelvic floor trainer space just became more competitive. Remember kGoal? Well, a Kickstarter campaign's looking to fund the production of a similar device called Skea (short for Smart Kegel Exercise Aid), which boasts something kGoal doesn't offer. See, Skea's creators want to make kegel exercises more enjoyable, so they added a gaming aspect to it, turning the device into a kegel-exerciser-and-game-controller-in-one. If the start-up does raise the $38,000 it needs to go into production, a Skea package will come with an iOS or Android game called Alice in Continent (these exercises are supposed to solve incontinence in women, if you're unaware). It's an endless runner with all the usual obstacles, and to jump over them, the user needs to squeeze Skea with their pelvic floor muscles. As one tester said: "It's like playing Temple Run with Fitbit. Just that I don't use fingers but use my pelvic muscles!" Also, when the user squeezes the device, it... vibrates to confirm that she's doing things right.

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Rhapsody International, the parent company of music-streaming services Rhapsody and Napster, has just announced it is now home to two million paid subscribers. That sum may not seem like a lot at first glance, especially when compared to the 10 million figure Spotify revealed back in May, but Rhapsody still sees this as a great accomplishment. Even though it continues to play catch-up to crowd-favorite Spotify, Rhapsody claims this makes it the clear "number two" streaming service in terms of adoption, ahead of others like Rdio, Deezer and Beats Music. The two million premium subscribers to date, which combines accounts from Rhapsody, Rhapsody unRadio and Napster, have been made possible largely by the company's international expansions and partnerships with carriers -- in the US under the Rhapsody brand, Napster everywhere else.

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HTC One for Windows mockup (not real, folks)

More than a few eyebrows were raised when talk surfaced of an HTC One for Windows Phone. How close would it be to the Android original? Would it bring anything new to the table? And what's the name, for that matter? Thankfully, sources for Engadget are happy to answer a few questions. For a start, they tell us that the device (not shown here) is tentatively called the "One (M8) for Windows." Yeah, that's not exactly going to roll off the tongue -- the device's codename, W8, is considerably more elegant.

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It's been coming coming, but Facebook told TechCrunch today that the time is just about here -- starting "over the next few days" everyone will need Messenger to chat directly with their Facebook friends on mobile devices (iOS, Android and Windows Phone). Some users in Europe have seen the change for several months, but Facebook claims their positive response has led to the change rolling out worldwide. Of course, not everyone is going to be happy about downloading a second app to do what one was already capable of -- just ask Foursquare users about Swarm. Facebook says the change will let it focus its development efforts better on the two apps separately, and "avoid confusion" by users, who send about 12 billion messages a day on the platform. So, are you already in love with Chat Heads and ready to make the swap full-time, or -- assuming you still use Facebook -- is this the final straw in sending you elsewhere for your communication needs?

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Fitbit for Windows Phone

If you've wanted to use activity-tracking wearables that pair with your phone, you've typically had to use Android or iOS. Windows Phone has some third-party apps that can fill in, but they're imperfect at best. As of today, though, an official solution is at hand -- Fitbit has released its own Windows Phone 8.1 app. You can now sync trackers like the Flex, One and Zip to your Microsoft-powered device to get real-time step and sleep monitoring, complete with a step counter on your home screen if you set up the Live Tile. Other Fitbit fundamentals are also here, including food logging, leaderboards and messaging.

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NPR already has a few options for sorting its range of programming, but now the public radio outfit is looking to get more specific. The latest effort is the NPR One, which offers a local stream along with curated content that's accessible with one tap -- all broken down into short segments. For example, upon launching the app and signing in with a Facebook, Google or NPR account, pressing play begins streaming the latest update from the closest station (WUNC in my case). Swiping to the left of the Now Playing section offers a history of recently broadcast content for a quick recap, while a swipe to the right allows you to scroll through upcoming bits. There's also controls for skipping back in 15-second increments and jumping from the current story to another. Of course, if you're after the latest All Songs Considered or Fresh Air episodes, those are easily searchable as well. Both Android and iOS apps are available via their respective repositories.

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Hilton hotel room selection

Starwood isn't the only hotel chain that wants you to use your smartphone as a hotel room key; Hilton is launching an initiative that lets you use your Android or iOS device to control virtually every aspect of your stay. Later this summer, a Hilton app will let you choose your preferred room, make special requests, check in and check out. You'll only have to speak to staff when it's time to pick up or return your keys. And in 2015, you won't even need to do that much -- your phone will also unlock your room, letting you make a beeline for your bed after a long flight.

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