Category Archives: Android

Macate Genio Coming To UK



US multinational Macate are coming to the UK with the intention of launching their secure smartphone here later in the year. Setting up in Kensington, London, the Genio smartphone is a mid-range Android device with an emphasis on security.

The bare specs are a 5″ HD screen driven by a 1.3 GHz quad core processor with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, though this can be expanded with a microSD card. The Genio has two cameras: a 13 MP rear camera and a 5 MP front selfie shooter. For lovers of stock Android, it’ll run Nougat 7 out of the box.

The Genio is encrypted as standard (AES256) and comes with secure messaging app NetMe from Macate’s software development team Codetel. The NetMe supports all the usual features of text, audio and video messaging and attachment sharing. They’ve also an encrypting email app too which I imagine will be pre-installed too.

The new UK team will be headed up by Darren Gillan, previously of Vertu, and he said, “We’re excited to be adding a UK base to our growing global network. Mobile security is a big issue for many consumers; they need a device that operates seamlessly but also securely. At Macate we’re dedicated to the development of cybersecurity and we’re delighted to be bringing that expertise to the UK mobile market in the form of Genio.”

Once on sale, the Genio will come in four colours, white, light golden, black and (pink) champagne, and will retail for £249. Obviously at this stage it’s hard to tell what the phone will be like, but hopefully we will get more details closer to the launch.


OnePlus 5 Lands



After months of speculation, a trickle of teasing and a bucketful of leaks, the OnePlus 5 has landed. Much as expected it’s a strong evolution of the brand, following on thematically from the 2, 3 and 3T with a 2017 design makeover.

Running through the main specs, it’s  a 5.5″ full HD 1920 x 1080 AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass 5 powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octacore processor running at up to 2.45 GHz. There are two memory and storage configurations; one 6 GB RAM, 64 GB storage and one 8 GB RAM, 128 GB storage. The storage memory now uses UFS, which will give a significant speed boost over eMMC.

The OnePlus 5 is expected to have a 20% improvement in battery life over the 3T with a 3,300 mAh battery. Despite being only 7.25 mm thick, OnePlus have managed to retain the stereo audio jack and no-one needs to rush out and buy USB C or Bluetooth headphones. Phew.

The big news is the dual camera system developed in conjunction with Sony and DxO. A custom-made 16 MP sensor is supported by a 20 MP sensor with a telephoto lens which measures the distance between the OnePlus 5 and the subject of the photography. A large f/1.7 aperture allows for faster exposures and helps compensate for stuttering to improve image stabilisation. There’s even clever processing to eliminate noise from low-light photographs.

In a special portrait mode, the both sensors work together to create a focal separation between faces and backgrounds, while a custom software algorithm makes subjects clear and well-lit. This results in a the now well-know depth-of-field (bokeh) effect that blurs the backdrop while keeping the subject in focus. Even with strong backlighting, the OnePlus 5’s high dynamic range (HDR) reveals the subject clearly and avoids turning them into silhouettes.

The OnePlus 5 showcases our obsessive attention to detail and our focus on delivering the best user experience possible,” said OnePlus Founder and CEO Pete Lau. “We have applied this approach to all aspects of the OnePlus 5. For example, the dual camera provides some of the clearest photos on the smartphone market today and gives users more control to take stunning photos in all conditions.” I don’t think he’s kidding either, going by some of the images shown off in the launch video.

The fashionistas might be slightly disappointed as at launch there’s only two finishes, Midnight Black and Slate Gray. You can only choose the finish via spec too. For black, you need to splurge on the 8 GB / 128 GB version, whereas the gray finish comes with the cheaper 6 GB / 64 GB edition.

In welcome news, the increase in price has been nowhere near some of the rumours. The Midnight Black version (8 GB RAM / 128 GB storage) will sell for  US$ 539 / €559 / GB£ 499 / CA$ 719. The Slate Gray version (6 GB RAM / 64 GB storage) is US$ 479 /€499 / GB£ 449 / CA$ 649.  On sale via the OnePlus store.

The first shipments will begin on 21  June  though you’ll need a special code to get in on the first drop. The code’s in the launch video. General sales begin on 27 June. The OnePlus 5 will be available for direct purchase at one-day pop-up stores in New York on 20 June and in London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Copenhagen on 21 June.

Overall, the OnePlus 5 looks to be a great new flagship phone. Can’t wait to get my hands on one.


PlayOn Cloud comes to Android



If you aren’t familiar with PlayOn, It is a portal to over 100 streaming websites, allowing you watch multiple shows. And the Cloud acts as a DVR, allowing you to download shows and then watch, even offline.

Now that Cloud capability comes to the Android platform. This includes shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Yahoo View, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO NOW, PBS, The CW, and YouTube.

The company announces “We have officially launched PlayOn Cloud for Android. Now you can record and download any show or movie from top streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and more, with a simple touch of a button on your Android device.

There is more good news. Thanks to new optimizations and processing improvements that are designed to bring down the cost for all of this. The company claims it will now be $0.20 per recording. You’ll have to buy credits from the website.

If you have severed your ties with cable and satellite TV then PlayOn may be something you want to look at. That said, there are plenty of others as well.


Google’s Round Icons Are Rubbish



Android LogoMy Pixel C upgraded to Nougat 7.1.2 at the weekend and after the obligatory reboot, I was presented with Google’s best efforts to enforce round icons across their own suite of apps. It’s embarrassingly bad. It’s one thing to create circular icons with roundness in mind, but to make round icons by slapping a white disc into the background is lazy, looks rubbish and is confusing to the user. I know Todd likes to keep GNC G-Rated but this really is a PoS. Here’s a selection of icons from my app drawer, which has a white background.

Look at Google’s icons and the way they’ve shoe-horned triangular icons into their new circular standard by putting them on a white disc. It’s sheer laziness and the design has prioritised circular compliance over aesthetic. The white disk looks indistinct against the white background and simply makes the icons appear small. Inbox and Gmail apps have suffered the same fate as well with tiny envelopes inside white circles. What were the designers thinking? At least they made some effort with Sheets and Slides…

And it’s confusing too. Compare an icon with white disc with the previous look of folders. Both are small icons inside a circle so the new icons look like old folders. On the right is what my folders look like on my phone which runs an older version of Android. Compare the folders with the new icons. Pretty similar and it confused me the first time I saw the new Inbox logo. I thought, “What’s Inbox doing in a folder?” It’s badly thought out and bad for users.

Finally, what is it with this push to round icons over all other considerations? What’s wrong with square icons, round icons, irregular icons? I don’t want my phone or tablet to look like a game of Dots with every icon a neat circle and I sincerely hope that the app developers tell Google where to shove it.


Have You Been Gooliganed?



Check Point LogoA quick public service announcement….at the end of November security firm Check Point and Google announced that a variant of Ghost Push malware called Gooligan had infected over million Google accounts, with numbers increasing every day. The malware is present in apps typically downloaded outside of Google Play and infects devices on Android 4 (Jelly Bean and KitKat) and 5 (Lollipop).

Gooligan
Courtesy of Check Point

If infected, the malware exposes “messages, documents, photos and other sensitive data. This new malware variant roots devices and steals email addresses and authentication tokens stored on the device.” so it’s not very nice.

Fortunately, the team at Check Point have developed a tool which checks if your Google account has been compromised. All you have to do is enter the email address associated with your Android device.

While we are on the subject, if you want to check if your email address has been garnered in any of the recent security breaches, check out haveibeenpwned.com which tells you who’s been sloppy with your details (thanks, Adobe and LinkedIn).


Bluetooth Versus Wired



Coloud The Snap Active EarbudsFor some months now, persistent rumors have been flying that the next iPhone will do away with the 3.5mm wired headset port. There have been plenty of people arguing both against and for this idea. Some people say that the demise of the wired headset port is inevitable.

As an over-the-road truck driver, I’ve been using Bluetooth devices for years. To be perfectly honest, the majority of Bluetooth headsets suck, regardless of price. They typically suffer from poor audio quality, especially those intended for phone calls.
I have yet to find a Bluetooth microphone that produces anything approaching acceptable quality for anything other than phone calls.

Bluetooth stereo is great for certain uses, such as in the car or for use with certain Bluetooth speakers intended for casual listening.

With this in mind, let’s examine how a smartphone would work without a 3.5mm wired jack for the way people use these devices today.

I see plenty of people using wired headsets, day in and day out. That tells me that, unlike the floppy drive, which was dropped because most software was being shipped on CD-ROM’s, the wired 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT obsolete. The 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT falling into disuse. There are still millions and millions of people using wired headsets with their smartphones on a constant basis. Wired headset use is NOT dropping off.

Modern smartphones are also extremely good high-definition video cameras. While they have built-in microphones, because of the 3.5mm headphone jack it is also possible to plug in a wired microphone. Wired microphones on traditional consumer camcorders have either been absent or an option for costlier prosumer models. Take the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away and the option of plugging in a superior wired microphone goes away with it.

If Apple takes the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away, it doesn’t matter to me, because I don’t have an iPhone and don’t want one. There will be plenty of remaining Android models to choose from that keep their senses.

In fact, there have already been Android smartphones available on the market that leave out the 3.5mm wired headphone jacks. The Chinese company LeEco released three jack-less phones in April of this year. Ever heard of them? Me neither, until I did a search. I don’t get the impression they are burning down the barn with popularity.

I make extensive use of Bluetooth as well as the 3.5mm jack on my phone. I will never buy a phone that doesn’t offer a 3.5mm jack any more than I would buy a phone that doesn’t offer Bluetooth or WiFi.


Losing The Signal



Losing The SignalWe often end up thinking we know the stories behind major and/or tumultuous events that happen during our own lifetimes. One of those revolves around the story of Blackberry. The rise of the iPhone is often thought of as the big downfall of Blackberry, the once wildly popular Canadian phone manufacturer from Waterloo, Ontario. Indeed, the iPhone was involved in Blackberry’s problems, but not in the way people commonly think it was.

I recently listened to the unabridged version of the Audible audiobook “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” written by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. The book tells the story of the seemingly overnight rise of the popularity of Blackberry devices, and recounts the often fascinating step by step details of its spectacular fall into relative smartphone obscurity.

For example, were you aware that Blackberry had two CEO’s? Not one, but two. This highly unusual two CEO arrangement may have served Blackberry well at certain times in the beginning, each CEO having his own respective strengths, but in the end it is generally agreed that this odd two CEO arrangement caused inevitable confusion and dangerous, very damaging paralysis as their personal relationship with each other dangerously deteriorated.

I take from this book that Blackberry happened to come along with the right thing at the right time – a device that could reliably and securely put email in the smartphone user’s pockets on early networks. Blackberry was driven to success by sheer market demand for their product, in spite of their missteps. Blackberry’s success was due in part to the fact that because of the way its system was constructed, it could reliably and securely handle email on highly bandwidth-starved networks. Its popularity started as a business device, and ended up with major consumer crossover demand.

A better idea came along – Steve Job’s iPhone. The iPhone essentially put an entire shrunken computer in the user’s pocket, and started a revolution that changed the face of the market itself. Even so, the iPhone didn’t inflict the most damage on Blackberry, but rather the iPhone concept.

The iPhone reached about 25% overall market penetration in developed markets when at the same time Blackberry was able to sell its less-expensive units into price-sensitive world markets that could not afford the high price of the iPhone. In essence, Blackberry was able to keep going even after the iPhone’s obvious success by replicating its early developed-market successes elsewhere in the world.

What inflicted the most damage on Blackberry sales was the incredible spreading dominance and popularity of Android, which could sell cheaper Android-based smartphones into Blackberry’s price-sensitive world markets, thus ultimately rendering Blackberry irrelevant.

Along the way, Blackberry made a couple of serious, self-inflicted missteps with Verizon that it never recovered from. Blackberry, which had been known at one time for rock-solid hardware, realizing it was losing market share, foolishly started selling faulty products into the marketplace that clearly weren’t fully developed and were highly unreliable.

If you enjoy these kinds of non-fiction books that tell behind-the-scenes stories of things that happened in your lifetime, I highly recommend you give this book a try.


Archos 80b Helium 4G Tablet Review



Archos LogoTablets have become ubiquitous over the past five years to the point that Android devices are almost a commodity item in the smaller screen sizes. Regrettably favourites such as the Nexus 7 and Tesco Hudl have been discontinued and the Amazon Fire tablets are tied to their own ecosystem. What’s a geek to do for a secondary tablet or younger family member?

Fortunately there are other models and suppliers. Here we have the Archos 80b Helium 4G tablet for under £100 online. On paper it seems like a great deal – 8″ HD screen, quad core processor, 4G connectivity, 16 GB RAM, microSD slot and dual cameras. Let’s take a look and see whether it lives up to expectations.

Archos 80b Helium Tablet Box

Opening the box reveals the 80b Helium tablet plus a USB travel charger with UK and continental adapters. The charger manual does mention a US adapter but there wasn’t one in the box I received. There are two booklets, though one is only warranty and legal information. The other is a Quick Start Guide in a dozen languages.

Archos 80b Helium Tablet Front

The 80b tablet has a white screen surround on the front and a silvered back panel on the rear. The top above the camera on the back pops off to reveal the slots for the microSD card and not just one, but two SIM cards. The part that comes off is a little flimsy, so I wouldn’t expect to be switching memory cards or SIMs on a regular basis. (The dirty smudges in the picture below are where I’ve blurred out IMEIs).

Archos 80b Helium Card Slots

The 80b Helium feels good with slight texture to the metal back: it’s easily held in one hand. There’s a small ridge round the edge of the screen and a microphone and camera at the top. There’s a single speaker on the rear, plus power button and volume rocker on the upper right hand side. Finally the top side has the micro USB port and 3.5 mm audio socket. The top micro USB port may not be to everyone’s taste and the slight downside of a single speaker on the rear is that it can be easily muffled when the tablet is on a soft surface.

Archos 80b Helium Tablet Rear

Turning the 80b on, the tablet runs largely stock Android 5.1 Lollipop and you have to look fairly hard to find the Archos customisations. As a bonus, Archos has pre-installed a selection of software including Angry Birds, Asphalt O, Green Farm 3, Little Big City, News Republic, Jamendo and MobiSystems’ OfficeSuite, to name a few. There’s also Archos Video player and FM Radio. As the 80b has a SIM slot, there’s a phone app too, and the tablet can be used as a giant phone. Probably best used with a headset as aside from not looking like an idiot, there’s no proximity sensor and ears press the screen.
(Note: some of the online specs say that the 80b runs KitKat but the version sent for review had Lollipop both installed on the tablet and printed on the box).

In addition to making phone calls, having mobile connectivity on-board was handy and meant that I wasn’t always having to look for a wi-fi hotspot to download my latest email or news feed. Obviously there’s the cost of the extra SIM plan though I found that having the extra screen real estate over my phone meant that I was more inclined to get a little real work done on email.

The screen is an 8″ 1280 x 800 IPS display with a plastic surface and this gives screen a slight soft or diffuse appearance at times and benefits from having the backlight turned up. There’s no ambient light sensor in the 80b Helium so it’s a manual adjustment. Depending on the expected use of the tablet, having a plastic screen may be a benefit as perhaps it’s more robust than a glass one. In terms of resolution, 1280 x 800 is the same as the original Nexus 7, though the 2013 model upped it to 1920 x 1200 in a 7″ screen. I like that extra inch in screen size and it’s just enough to make reading magazines a bit more comfortable.

Performance-wise, the 80b is not the fastest tablet in the world. Running Geekbench 3 benchmarks shows that the 1 GHz quad-core MediaTek ARM CPU runs somewhere between the original Nexus 7 and the 2013 revision. Having said that, I felt that Archos tablet responded well and played games like Alto’s Adventure well enough. What I did notice was that loading times were a little slow and switching between apps wasn’t that nippy. The solitary 1 GB of main RAM probably has good deal to do with this.

Archos 80b Helium Single Core Archos 80b Helium Multi Core

Although I didn’t do a full battery test, in normal use the tablet seemed to get through the power source at the expected rate. It neither lasted ages or burned up quickly, though playing any high powered game reduced the charge fast.

The cameras are specced at 2 megapixels (1600 x 1200) for the rear one and 0.3 (640 x 480) for the front facing camera. The camera app has a couple of interesting features. First, a picture can be taken using the “V for victory” sign which is handy for group shots where everyone needs to be in the frame. I found it worked best in well-lit situations and it was a little hit-or-miss where the light levels were low. Second, there’s a “live photo” feature, which is a 5 second video with an inset, perfect for uploading to social media sites. In the live photo mode, the camera is constantly recording, so the clip is the 5 seconds before the shutter button is pressed. Other than that, there are a few controls for white balance, exposure, scenes and effects. Below is an untouched picture (click through for the full image) taken with the 80b’s rear camera on high sharpness.

Archos 80b Tree

Way before Android 6 Marshmallow introduced adoptable storage, Archos had Fusion, a clever OS mod which melded internal storage with a semi-permanently installled SD card. Inserting a 32 GB microSD card and formatting it for Fusion gives the 80b an effective internal memory of 48 GB and the Fusion system is completely transparent to installed apps. It’s neat idea, especially for pre-Marshmallow tablets.

I think we’ve covered all the main bases and it’s time to review the findings. In summary, the Archos 80b Helium is not a flagship device by a long way but as it only costs £92 it would be unfair to expect it to be. This is a budget tablet with 4G mobile connectivity which makes the 80b a bit of a rarity and a useful one too.

For example, I would see the 80b Helium being good for travel where undemanding usage as an ereader and media player along with the bigger 8″ screen make it a suitable choice for entertainment on the go. It’s robust enough to be thrown in a bag and paired with a suitable data plan (such as Three’s Feel at Home), there’s no need to pay for expensive hotel wifi. And at less than a hundred quid, it’s not a disaster if it’s damaged or stolen.

To hit that price point, the Archos 80b Helium is all about compromise. On the downside, it’s slow, the screen quality’s not great and the camera’s poor. On the other hand, the screen’s bigger at 8″, there’s expandable memory with Archos Fusion and 4G mobile connectivity for information on the go. Ultimately, I liked the 80b and it migrated to my bedside, but it’s not going to be replacing my Nexus 9 anytime soon.

The Archos 80b Helium 4G tablet is available from Ballicom and other online retailers.

Thanks to Archos for providing the 80b Helium for review.


Hack May Have Allowed Pizza Buyers to Eat For Free



Dominos Pizza logoIf there’s one connection that was inevitable to happen it would be the joy of home-delivered pizza being paired with the convenience that only the internet can provide. First, it became possible to order pizza direct from a restaurant’s website without having to even place a phone call. And now it’s even easier to purchase a pie online using mobile apps on a smartphone or tablet. While pizza makers have been quick to embrace new technologies, Dominos Pizza might be a little gun shy to jump on the next bandwagon.

Earlier this week, a UK security consultant named Paul Price blogged about an order he’d place with Domino’s using the pizza chain’s Android app. Price was curious to understand more about how the app worked. Using the skills he’d developed as a consultant, he was able to access the app’s source code and watch what it did while processing his order. He was surprised to find that the app was actually handling his payment locally, on his device, as opposed to sending the information to the Domino’s server. By implementing a relatively simple hack, Price was able to circumvent the payment system by sending a signal back to the Domino’s site indicating that his order was paid for when in fact, no payment information was given.

This effectively gave Price the ability to order potentially unlimited amounts of pizza for free! Price contacted the store he’d ordered from and they confirmed that his pizza was baking and would soon be on its way. But honesty got the best of the man, and when his pizza arrived, he informed the delivery driver of the hack, and he paid in cash for the total cost of the order.

Domino’s has since closed the hole in its app that allowed for this exploit. But it did so quite some time after Price alerted the restaurant to his findings. There’s no telling how many others might’ve also discovered the hack and enjoyed free pizzas because of it.


Atheer Uses Android for AiR at WTS



logo_atheerAtheer‘s AR smart glasses provide an interactive experience for industry, overlaying digital information for manufacturing, construction and medical uses. Andrew explores Atheer AiR and augmented reality with Theo from Atheer at the Wearable Technology Show.

Atheer has worked hard to develop a set of easy-to-use and self-contained augmented reality smart glasses with a familiar user interface. Simply, the glasses run Android with familiar apps and navigation, though Atheer have built additional features and apps, such as 3D depth. Atheer have used their experience in UI to ensure that the digital world doesn’t interfere with reality, positioning content on the periphery while keeping central vision clear. The built-in camera detects hand motion and gestures. Tap on a virtual icon and the app launches.

AtheerAir AR Googles

I tried out Atheer’s first generation smart glasses and I was surprised at the experience. While there’s a certain element of novelty, I could see how they’d be useful in a range of industries and beyond that, I don’t think it’ll be too long before AR is common in the office and at home.