Category Archives: Android

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.


Keep The Note 4?



Motorola Bag PhoneSince the mass adoption of the cell phone happened starting in the 1990’s, like everyone else I’ve gone through a long succession of cell phones. My very first cell phone was a Motorola bag phone. Remember those? Analog cell phones could sound surprisingly good. Of course, in fringe reception areas, the sound quality would often become quite crackly and was prone to dropped calls. Those bag phones could output up to three watts of power, so the reception could be decent depending on the area it was operating in.

The next phone I had was an early analog candy bar style phone with a nickel cadmium battery. It had a terrible standby time of only about 30 minutes. Reception was poor in part because output wattage was cut back to about ½ a watt.

After that, the next one was a more modern Nokia candy bar style phone with better battery life and was both digital and analog. Unfortunately, the digital sound in those days was pretty bad, and the analog reception suffered from vastly diminished ½ watt of power.

The next one was an updated version of the Nokia candy bar phone. It offered somewhat better performance, and a few more bells and whistles.

Cell phone number five was a folding LG camera phone that included a color LCD and was my first phone with an integrated 640 x 480 camera. The phone also had a USB port. I was able to figure out how to plug the phone into a computer and go through a very clunky process of transferring the photos from the phone’s built-in memory to the computer’s hard drive, a process that required some hacky third party software I downloaded from the Internet. Even after I replaced this phone I continued to use it for several years as an alarm clock, a function that worked quite well.

Next came my first smart phone. It was a Windows Mobile phone from HTC with a 3.5” pressure sensitive touchscreen with WiFi and 3G EVDO. It included a storable stylus and a slide-out keyboard, features I found of little practical use.

My second smartphone was another HTC phone running Windows Mobile, this time without the slide-out keyboard. It still had a 3.5” pressure-sensitive touchscreen, WiFi and 3G EVDO.

Smartphone number three was my first Android device, a Sprint Evo also manufactured by HTC. The HTC Evo  included a 4.3 inch capacitive touchscreen and the 8 megapixel rear camera was able to record 720p 30fps video, though the video sound quality suffered compared with newer devices. The HTC Evo’s biggest problem was that it had awful battery life.

Smartphone number four was a Samsung Galaxy S3. It had a 4.8 inch touchscreen and was a better performer than the Evo while offering somewhat better battery life.

Smartphone number five was a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The Note 3 had a 5.7” 1080p touchscreen and offered great battery life. The Note 3 can record 4k video. The Note 3 has great stereo video sound. Many Note 3’s remain in use today.

The next, and my current smartphone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. I really like the Note 4. It has great battery life, fantastic performance and a Quad HD 5.7” touchscreen.

With cell phone number eleven, I find myself in a bit of a quandary regarding where do I go from the Note 4? Three of the Note 4 features I find extremely important, besides the 5.7” screen size, are the integrated Micro SD Card slot, the ability to do fast charging, and the user replaceable battery.

The fast charging feature is game-changing. If I have forgotten to plug the phone in or I find the battery is low, I can plug the phone in and quickly goose the battery. The Note 4 will charge from zero up to fifty percent in only thirty minutes which is incredibly handy. Even a quick 10 or 15 minute charge can be extremely useful in pushing the battery percentage back up to a higher level.

I recently experienced a suddenly failing battery in my Note 4. I was able to buy a high-quality replacement battery via Amazon and I’m back in business. If I had a phone such as the Note 5 with a non-user-replaceable battery, I would be forced to make an inconvenient trip to my phone provider.

I am inclined to simply keep the Note 4 that I have indefinitely. After all, it has everything that I demand. There’s nothing to be gained by switching to the Note 5 or later, and the user-replaceable battery to be lost.


Toast Custom Wood Smartphone Covers at 2016 CES



ToastScott Ertz interviews Matias Brecher, founder of Toast, a manufacturer of wood and leather covers for mobile tech devices.

From the toastmade.com website, customers can order and customize a wide variety of custom wood and leather covers for their smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles at affordable prices. Customers can provide their own graphics to be etched into the cases. The price for the plain wooden Note 4 case at left starts at $34.00. Custom graphics and text can add from $5.00 to $10.00 to the price.

The base price for a wooden top cover for a MacBook starts at $59.00. Add a bottom wooden cover for $30.00.

Walnut is the most popular type of wood customers pick.

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iOttie Qi Smartphone Wireless Charging Solutions at 2016 CES



iOttie Daniele Mendez interviews Andrew Moughalian about iOttie wireless charging and automotive mounting solutions. The iOttie iON Wireless Qi Charging Receiver Case Charger Cover is a sleek case for the iPhone 6s/6 that adds Qi wireless charging. It is available now and sells for $49.

iOttie also sells the iOttie Easy One Touch Wireless Qi Standard Car Mount Charger that will work with a variety of Qi wireless charging-enabled smartphones. It offers an Easy One Touch lock and release mounting system that locks the device into the holder with just the push of a finger. It sells for $69.95 and is also available now.

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Latitude Tour App at CES



Latitude Tour AppScott Ertz interviews Brody Horton of Latitude Tours. Latitude Tours is an app available for both Android and iOS that currently offers audio tours for New York, London and Paris.

The example given is that you arrive as a tourist in Paris. Once you are ready to take audio tours in Paris, you pay $15 dollars which gives you 24 hours’ worth of access to all of the Paris audio tour content.

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Pioneer Brings CarPlay and Android Auto to the After-Market



Pioneer logoPioneer is a brand for well-known for its in-car audio and entertainment systems so it comes as no surprise that the company is bringing a range of after-market units with Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Todd and Marlo get a demo of the latest product with Ted Cardenas from Pioneer.

On show here is the freshly-announced Pioneer AVH-4200-NEX, which is one of three products which incorporate both CarPlay and Android Auto. As a result, the display and user interface will take on the persona of the connected device. The in-dash receiver connects to the smartphone using a wired connection as the phones contribute heavily to the running of apps. Plugging in the phones avoids issues with data speeds and keeps the battery charged, though Bluetooth is used in Android Auto for calls.

Voice is heavily used by both the driver to control the NEX and for the system to respond. Voice can be used to compose and listen to text messages, to navigate and to talk to Siri or Google Now. This keeps the need to look at the screen to a minimum and enhances safety.

If your current vehicle’s in-car entertainment system doesn’t support CarPlay or Android Auto, the Pioneer NEX range offers a great way to upgrade to the latest auto technology. Priced at around $700, the AVH-4200-NEX will be available in March.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com and Marlo Anderson rounds up the latest technology news at The Tech Ranch.

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