TV-Emmy Predictions

If you've been pining for HBO without having to splurge for a cable subscription, you may soon be in luck. At a Time Warner investor meeting today, HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler announced that the company would flip the switch on a web-based streaming service next year. The over-the-top option will leverage HBO's current partners and offer access to its content without the need for a full cable package. During his remarks, Plepler mentioned that there are 10 million homes that only pay for internet rather than a bundle, and the figure is only expected to grow. Of course, there's no word on pricing or any of the finer details right now, but we expect to hear much more in the months to come. If you'll recall, reports indicate that ESPN is also working on an NBA streaming option, serving up a slate of live regular-season games to folks who don't pay for cable service.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/HBO, Michele K. Short]

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Fairphone

While big smartphone makers, like Apple, are actively trying to reduce the amount of conflict materials used in their devices, others pride themselves on being 100 percent ethical. Fairphone is a prime example. After a successful crowdfunding campaign allowed it to develop a new smartphone that meets both ethical and environmental standards, the company is bringing the device to the UK. It'll be exclusively offered by The Phone Co-op, the UK's only consumer-owned mobile carrier, starting at £22 per month with no upfront cost or £250 to buy outright. The Fairphone itself features a quad-core Mediatek 6589 chipset, Android 4.2 (with a custom Fairphone launcher), 8-megapixel rear and 1.3-megapixel front cameras, 16GB internal storage, and a 4.3-inch qHD display protected by scratch-resistant Dragontrail glass. While it's not going to win awards for the best smartphone, it'll meet the requirements of most users. Although it might be impossible to be totally conflict-free, Fairphone works with manufacturers to ensure better working conditions and fairer wages. It also donates three euros from each phone sold to a program that attempts to reduce electronic waste in Ghana.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What began in 2011 as a brand-new phone category has flourished into one of the most popular in the world. Smartphones with big screens (phablets, to some) are now ubiquitous, but it all started with an odd device called the Samsung Galaxy Note. At 5.3 inches, it was a behemoth for its day -- and yet, it sold like hotcakes thanks to its unique S Pen stylus, which provided users with extra functionality, and a copious amount of screen space.

Four iterations later, the Note series has continued to grow, mature and dominate the genre. Not only does the latest version, the Galaxy Note 4, come with the snazziest spec sheet on the market, but it also ushers in a fantastic new direction in Samsung's design. It sure sounds like an improvement over last year's model, and it is. Now that Apple's ready to tackle the Note with a large-screen phone of its own, however, is Samsung's baby still the best in its class?

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Image from Halo: Spartan Assault

Apparently Halo's top-down mobile version was successful enough to warrant a second go, as Microsoft's planning a December launch for Halo: Spartan Strike. But what is Halo: Spartan Strike? It's a direct sequel to last year's Spartan Assault, and it features an unnamed Master Chief-esque super soldier shooting, driving and grenading his way through a variety of Halo-flavored worlds. To be totally clear: it's a twin-stick, top-down shooter made by the same folks who made last year's mobile Halo (Vanguard). You'll see New Mombasa! You'll see a Halo-based area! You'll see...some jungle! Sadly, we can't actually show you any of that, as Microsoft's worked out some form of exclusivity with another outlet. We even played a bit of it, but we can't actually tell you how that went because of the aforementioned exclusive. Pretty dumb, right?

What we can tell you is that Halo: Spartan Strike will cost $6 when it arrives on Windows 8 devices (from Surface to phones to PC) and Steam this December 14th. The marketing gentleman from Microsoft said the game will remain exclusive to Windows 8 and PC -- unlike the previous game, which ended up on consoles as well -- but we don't believe him. You probably shouldn't either.

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Vodafone Sign

Are you a Vodafone 4G customer? Good news, your downloads could soon get that much quicker. As part of a billion pound investment into its network, the carrier has begun rolling out the UK's first widely accessible LTE Advanced network. LTE-A, as it's known, will go live in Birmingham, Manchester or London in the coming weeks, promising to boost signal and improve 4G speeds thanks to increased network capacity. LTE-A is actually capable of blistering maximum download speeds of 300Mbps, but that requires a Cat 6 LTE smartphone, which aren't sold in the UK currently (though you can import a compatible device from somewhere like Korea if you're so inclined). Faster 4G will come to more cities by the end of the year, allowing Vodafone to increase its lead over EE, which is currently conducting closed testing of its own LTE-A service.

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Even deaf people who excel at lip reading need a bit of help when it comes to meetings or group conversations. The developers of a new app called Transcense claim it's the hearing impaired's answer to understanding hard-to-follow chit-chats where everybody's talking almost all at once. How? Well, Transcense can translate speech into written words and transcribe it on screen in near real time. To make that possible, the app connects to several phones and activates their mics to capture what everyone's saying, then it uses voice recognition to assign each person in the group a color for their speech bubbles. Also, the user can ask the program to speak for him using a digital voice or get everyone's attention through the app when he wants to say something.

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Google Glass Explorers will soon be able to see all their phone's notifications (not just the ones from compatible apps) right on the eyewear's screen. It's the same feature that comes with Android Wear, which allows the platform to forward each and every notification to smartwatches, so users won't have to take out their phones unless it's for something truly important. Explorers have to wait for the latest MyGlass software to arrive sometime later today to be able to glimpse each ping with just a flick of the eye. Once they've installed the update, they'll need to activate Notification Sync in their phone's settings. There are a few pages to go through during the process, but nothing overly complicated, so long as they follow the video after the break.

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ASUS PadFone X mini for AT&T

If you liked ASUS' PadFone X but weren't willing to pay that much for the combination of an Android smartphone with a tablet shell, AT&T might soon have what you're looking for. The carrier is bringing the PadFone X mini to the US on October 24th, when it will sell for $200 to GoPhone's prepaid customers. There's a lot of hardware here for the money, although it won't surprise you to hear that ASUS makes sacrifices to give you two devices for the price of one. The smartphone half is a bit better than the regular PadFone mini thanks to its larger 4.5-inch screen, but you're still looking at a dual-core Atom processor, a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front shooter. You're also docking into a 7-inch tablet which houses little more than a front camera and an extra battery, so don't expect a night-and-day difference when you use the bigger screen. With that said, the PadFone X mini beats getting a budget smartphone by itself -- give it a look if you'd rather not buy a separate tablet.

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.klatz smart bracelet serving as a handset

More than a few smartwatches will let you make calls, but that doesn't mean they're elegant substitutes for your smartphone -- you're going to look at least a little dorky bringing your wrist up to your face. The team behind the .klatz smart bracelet thinks it has a more elegant approach. Their wearable flips open, turning into a makeshift handset for your phone; you can take a call with your wristwear while hopefully maintaining some shred of dignity. The device's crude 384-LED display won't come close to what you'll get on a Moto 360 or Pebble, but the developers are promising a giant battery (at least 600mAh) that lasts for 10 days.

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FM radio on a Lumia 1020

You may think that radio is dying in an era when on-demand music streaming is nearly ubiquitous, but some of the world's biggest broadcasters (unsurprisingly) disagree. The BBC, Clear Channel, HD Radio's Ibiquity and a handful of others are researching a "hybrid" radio format that would give smartphone users the advantages of reliable, low-intensity digital or FM radio with the interactivity and "enhancements" of internet streaming. In theory, this would keep your costs down and your battery life up without giving up the creature comforts of modern technology.

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There's been a bit of speculation as to what moniker version 5.0 of Google's mobile OS would take on when it arrives this fall. In a new promo video, the Android faithful are taunted with possibilities like Lemon Meringue Pie, Lemon Drop, Lady Finger and Lava Cake. Oreo is mentioned as a dark horse candidate, and it could be an option if Google decided to stick with the branded snack theme (and skips a few letters). A couple of rumored names are noticeably absent, too: Lollipop and Licorice. Of course, we'll know soon enough when a new statue is installed in Mountain View.

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Pressy

The Pressy one-button Android controller found an eager audience when it debuted on Kickstarter in August 2013, overshooting its original funding goal of $40,000 to the tune of almost $700,000. Inserting the Pressy into an Android phone adds an extra button that can be set for one specific action of the user's choosing -- you can take a photo, start an audio recording, enable WiFi or even turn on the flashlight. Backers were initially given a delivery date of March 2014, but shipments didn't actually go out until June. Though that's a fairly modest delay for a Kickstarter project, was it worth the wait? Critics weren't exactly thrilled with the final product, with AndroidBeat saying it "isn't a dependable button" and "doesn't fulfill its job of quick access to shortcuts." But with over 28,800 backers pledging to the original project, a handful of critics is far from the final word on Pressy. Over the summer, we've watched the reviews trickle in, and the verdict is... well, a bit mixed, to say the least.

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EE's Tottenham Court Road Store

How long does it take for a successful phone retailer to enter administration and then be completely sold off? For Phones4u, it's taken exactly a month. The Financial Times reports that EE, the UK's biggest operator (which has been accused of contributing to Phones4u's downfall for not renewing its deal), has reached a agreement with administrators to snap up the remaining chunk of its former partner's business: its Life Mobile MVNO. The carrier reportedly beat Argos and Talk Talk to the deal, paying around £5 million to add 85,000 mobile subscribers to the 58 Phones4u stores it grabbed last month. EE already provides connectivity for Life Mobile, so merging the networks should be a lot easier than getting money back from a Phones4u iPhone 6 preorder.

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Pop quiz, hotshot: When's the last time you saw a Sharp phone in the United States? The Sharp FX from years back? Maybe the FX Plus? If you're anything like me, your mind will hearken back to chunky clamshell classics like this one. Long story short, it's been ages since Sharp has had any kind of mobile presence around these parts. That's something the Japanese company is finally ready to change, and it's aiming to do it with a splash. Enter the AQUOS Crystal, one of the most striking phones you'll ever see. It's finally available for $149 on Boost Mobile now and Sprint will get it come October 17th, but we have questions -- so many questions. Has Sharp figured out a way to crack the all-too-fickle US market? Are we looking at a classic case of style over substance?

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A new messaging and VoIP app called Shuv boasts a special feature not found in its competitors: ring forward tones. Remember how ringback tones take the place of the typical ringing you hear when you call someone? Well, ring forward does the opposite, as it lets you set the audio your friends will hear when you call them up or send them picture messages via the app. You can choose from among the free tunes or from the 15,000 songs in Shuv's library filled with Sony Music-licensed tracks by Beyoncé, Adele, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Pharrel and Miley Cyrus, among many others. It'll cost you $1.99 per month to access the Sony library, though, so we wouldn't be surprised if you choose to record your own rendition of JT's SexyBack instead. If you're not married to any messaging app yet and want to try Shuv, you can download it right now for both iOS and Android devices.

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