Tag Archives: Android

OnePlus News Round-Up



With only about a week to go before the launch of 6T, OnePlus have been busy keeping themselves in the news. Here’s a quick round-up of the latest tidbits on the smartphone front.

First up, OnePlus have brought forward their showcase event by a day to 29th October to avoid being overshadowed by Apple’s autumn announcement which was scheduled immediately after OnePlus’ original event. The location is unchanged and it’s still at 11am EDT/ 1500 GMT, Pier 36, New York City. Graciously, OnePlus has offered to cover the additional travel costs of ticket holders who need to change their arrangements.

Secondly, OnePlus have announced a slew of pop-up events in India, Scandanavia, Western Europe and North America. These start from 29th October and the 6T will be available for sale at the pop-ups.

Next, a leak on a German retailer’s website has confirmed that the 6T will come with a larger battery. The listed specs suggest that 6T will come with a 3,700 mAh battery rather than the 3,300 mAh of the 6. The listing mentions microSD for expandable memory which would be a first for OnePlus, so take that with a pinch of salt.

Finally, even though the 6T isn’t out yet, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has been commenting on the OnePlus 7 which will be one of the first phones to support 5G in 2019…whatever that means.


Android Phone Apps Used in Ad Fraud Scheme



BuzzFeed reported, in an extremely detailed article, information about their investigation into a fraud scheme that involved more than 125 Android apps and websites, some of which were targeted ads.

Google has responded in a blog post on the Google Security Blog, with details about what they have done after BuzzFeed informed them about the ad fraud scheme.

In short, the scam involved the TechSnab botnet, which operated by creating hidden browser windows that visit web pages to inflate ad revenue. Google says that malware contains common IP based cloaking, data obfuscation, and anti-analysis defenses. Google also stated that the fraud primary impacted mobile apps. According to Google, those apps were monetizing by using AdMob.

So, basically, what happened was some nefarious people put a ton of effort into finding a way to make money by artificially inflating ad revenue in mobile apps. I find it disgusting that someone out there is so selfish and greedy that they felt the need to do this. I understand that people want to make money – but most people don’t assume that means it is ok for them to commit fraud.

Garbage like the malware used in the fraud scheme clutters up the internet. It has no legitimate purpose at all, and I’m glad that Google is actively tracking this operation.

The only good thing that has come from this situation is that it involved a collaborative effort between BuzzFeed and Google in order stop the problem. Google stated: “Collaboration throughout our industry is critical in helping us to better detect, prevent, and disable these threats across the ecosystem.” I’m hoping the collaboration will make it much harder for people to pull these kind of shenanigans in the future.

Image from StockSnap.io


OnePlus 6T Launch Event Announced



Right on schedule, OnePlus announced the time, date and place for the 6T launch event – 11am EDT, 30 October, at Pier 36, New York, USA. That’s 1500 GMT or 1600 BST for folks in the UK.

As usual, it’s a fan event with tickets available from the launch website. but you’ll need to get in quick. These typically sell out and are priced at UK£16 for early birds. Looks like you get a goodie bag and a free gift in the shape of Bullets Wireless (to complement the Bluetooth-only 6T).

Doors open at 9am, keynote starts at 11am and the event closes around 3pm.

Can’t get there in person? The event will be livestreamed, though I’d advise you to put your own reminder in the diary – the “Add to Calendar” feature seems to want to book 1/11/18 rather than 30/10/18.

And if that’s not enough, join the OnePlus 6T Launch Megathread.

Update: there’s a second launch site – 8:30 pm IST at KDJW Stadium, in New Delhi, India.


OnePlus Teases 6T on Twitter



OnePlus continues to build the hype ahead of the 6T smartphone launch with a teasing tweet on Twitter. Posted at noon GMT, the message simply says, “Check back in 24 hours for an exciting announcement. #OnePlus6T“, along with a photo showing the lower rear of the new smartphone. There’s not much to be gleaned from from the picture as it only shows the USB C port, a speaker grille, part of antennae and “Designed by OnePlus” written on the back.

Sticking to its biannual smartphone release strategy, OnePlus’ CEO Peter Lau all but announced the new device in an interview with CNET last week. The latest tweet reaffirms the new phone is expected to be formally revealed this month.

Ever since the 3 was followed by the 3T (which I currently own), OnePlus has followed a pattern of spring and autumn releases, with the later smartphone mainly being a boosted model with a faster processor. In 2018, it looks like the 6T will be arriving a month earlier and will be significantly different from the current 6.

Most notably, the 6T is coming with an in-display fingerprint sensor, Screen Unlock, but will be losing the headphone socket. After being a staunch support of the 3.5mm audio socket, it seems that this will be removed to make way for the fingerprint sensor. The headphone socket itself moved from top of the phone to bottom between the OnePlus 2 and 3 models, and with the fingerprint sensor moving from the rear of the phone to the display on the front, the space below the screen is needed. Goodbye headphone socket.

Diehards will be disappointed in the loss of the headphone socket but I moved to Bluetooth headphones at least a year ago and haven’t looked back. My latest tablet, the Huawei Mediapad M5 doesn’t have a socket either.

Fans of wireless charging won’t fare any better. OnePlus still haven’t included wireless charging in the 6T, claiming that the wireless charging needs to be on a par with their wired fast charging technology, Dash Charging. Lau says, “We’re working hard on this. When we get to the day that the wireless charging can get up to speed without the implication of heat that we expect, then I believe we can integrate the technology.

I think that’s a complete cop-out. Surely I can judge for myself whether I need slower wireless charging versus fast wired charging? I can’t believe that it’s been nearly ten years since the Palm Pre came out with wireless charging and it’s still not a standard feature on smartphones.

Flagship killer or not, the 6T can’t have everything and still be delivered at mid-range price, so it’s not unexpected to see some features left out. Nevertheless, the 6T is expected to see a small bump in prices, somewhere in the US$25 range, which still prices the smartphone very competitively. OnePlus is the now #4 smartphone OEM in Western Europe after Apple, Samsung and Huawei.

I’m hoping for a “just one more thing” moment and OnePlus introduces a decent spec tablet for half the price of the Samsung Tab S4!


LineageOS Breathes Life Into Old Phones



Android smartphone and tablet manufacturers are notoriously bad at providing OS updates to their hardware, leaving owners without new features and vulnerable to security flaws. While several OEMs now guarantee updates for two years, most devices are still very capable well beyond this artificial obsolesence.  LineageOS, a flavour of Android built from Google’s AOSP,  continues to support devices that have been disowned by their makers.

When it comes to keeping older devices up-to-date with the latest versions of Android, some OEMs are better than others at pushing out updates. Samsung‘s well known for a lack of updates but even Google only commits to two years of updates for new features and three years for security updates. OnePlus has recently committed to a similar support schedule. Overall, that’s pretty bad when iOS 11 still supports the iPhone 5S from 2013.

My particular gripe is with the Nexus 9 from late 2014. Launched with Lollipop (5.0.1), the Nexus 9’s last update was to 7.1.1 back in 2016 and while it was never a great tablet, it has a very capable CPU in the form of the nVidia Tegra K1 which continues to cope well with today’s apps. The particular problem with the Nexus 9 is that the 7.1.1 release really wasn’t very good and the device became prone to freezing and random rebooting. I’ve previously written about my problems with the Nexus 9 on GNC and while my previous efforts did help in the short-term, the tablet was back to its old ways in a few months.

If the name LineageOS is unfamiliar, CyanogenMod might ring some bells. After Cyanogen Inc decided to closedown the CM distro, it was forked, rebranded and taken over by the community as LineageOS. It now supports nearly two hundred smartphones and tablets, with the vast majority on 7.1.2 but an increasing number on Android 8.

Converting a smartphone or tablet to LineageOS can be a little daunting and there’s always that niggling fear of bricking the device. However, there’s generally good instructions for each model and there’s an active online community. All the tools are available online for download – Android Studio or ADB Tools, LineageOS, TWRP, GApps…

After a particularly annoying day when I wanted to throw my Nexus 9 out of the window, I decided to convert the tablet from Google’s 7.1.1 to LineageOS’s take on 7.1.2. It was either that or buy a new tablet so I took the plunge….The key to a successful transition is preparation: read the instructions, download all the software and get it installed before doing anything at the command line. The Android device is going to be completely wiped so make sure everything important has been copied off.

It doesn’t take long to do the work but can be a bit nerve-wracking if you’ve never unlocked a bootloader. The worst bit is when you’ve done all the work and have rebooted the device for the last time. It can take several minutes to finalise the install and present the “Getting Started” screen.  Tense moments watching the boot animations.

The good news is that I’ve been using LineageOS for at least three months now and I’m very pleased with the change. The Nexus 9 is much more reliable than it was with stock Android. Yes, I still get the occasional random reboot but reliability is way better than the original. Weekly OTA updates keeps the 9 up-to-date with the latest patches.

And LineageOS isn’t only a port of 7.1.2: the distro has additional features not found in standard Android, including system profiles, app locking, PIN scrambling and custom button placement. Nothing strays too far from stock but there are additional benefits.

If you’ve got an older device that’s been left for dead by its manufacturer but you want to keep it alive for longer, I’d recommend you take a look at LineageOS.


OnePlus 5T Drops In NY



OnePlus has officially unveiled its latest flagship, the OnePlus 5T at a live event in Brooklyn, New York. In a change from the usual on-line reveal, the OnePlus team were live on stage to give an insight into their relationship with users, the benefits of OxygenOS and developing the 5T before the big reveal.

As expected, the 5T sports a large 6″ AMOLED screen with an 18:9 aspect ratio, face unlock and a secondary low-light camera. Compared with the OnePlus 5, the internals are largely unchanged – Snapdragon 835 and a choice of 6GB  RAM / 64GB storage or 8GB RAM / 128GB storage – and it still has a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Hurrah!

The new AMOLED screen is 1080 by 2160 giving 401 ppi. It’s a 6″ screen but the exterior dimensions (156 x 75 x 7.3 mm) of the 5T are only millimetres bigger than the 5 and its 5.5″ screen (154 x 74 x 7.25 mm). This has been achieved by moving the fingerprint sensor to the back which gives more real estate over for the display without needing to increase the phone’s size. Sadly, it’s the end of the line for the capacitive buttons.

While the fingerprint sensor will unlock the phone in under 0.2 seconds, new to the OnePlus range is the face unlock feature, which uses 100 identifiers to ensure that it’s really the right person holding the phone before it unlocks. Hard to say how it will stack up against another flagship phone.

Disappointingly the 5T will ship with Android 7 (Nougat), though Oreo is expected to arrive on both the 5 and 5T in early 2018.

However, the 5T isn’t without software tweaks. A new feature called “Parallel Apps” clones certain apps, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Skype, so that each copy can be run with a different profile, without needing to logout and then login as a different user. Think of being able to have personal and business versions of the apps. That’s pretty neat.

On the camera front, the OnePlus 5T has a high resolution dual camera system, with a 16 megapixel main camera supported by a 20 megapixel secondary camera for enhanced low-light performance and beautiful portraits.

Battery and power are unchanged from the 5, with a capacity of 3300 mAh and Dash charging, which will charge the phone in half an hour. In further good news, OnePlus have retained the alert slider.

The 5T will be available from the OnePlus on-line store from 21 November for US$499 / EUR 499 / GB£449. No invites required these days. In the UK, O2 will be hosting pop-up events in Oxford Street London, Westfield Stratford and Manchester Arndale and, for the first time, one in Castle Lane, Belfast (Yay!) from 2 pm on Wednesday.


Small Size, Small Price – RCA Mercury 7L Tablet



The RCA Mercury 7L Pro tablet is a 7″ Android tablet with budget specs and a price to match, at just GB£49. That’s about US$65 and it’s right in there as an impulse purchase. But is it a case of buying in haste, repent at leisure? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Mercury 7L is the little sister to the Saturn 10 Pro and both carry the RCA branding: I reviewed the 10 Pro a couple of weeks ago here on GNC and I’ll confess upfront to lifting parts of the Saturn’s review: unsurprisingly, the 7L shares many of the 10 Pro’s traits. There are two other models in the line up; a 7R which has double the internal storage at 16GB and 7 Pro with a folio Bluetooth keyboard.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, the first impressions is how small it is. It’s a 7″ 1024 x 600 screen and the device is 8.25″ across the whole diagonal. For metric people, the Mercury 7 is 185 x 113.8 mm and is 12.5 mm deep and as expected, it’s all pastic. In places, it actually feels that someone thought about how it might be used but in other areas, gets it totally wrong. For example, the bezel on one side is slightly thicker and if you hold it in your right hand in landscape mode, the front-facing camera is neatly positioned to the top right, away from your thumb. Briliant….except that the same hand covers up the microphone. So close….

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button and volume rocker. The single speaker round the back is loud. It’s not terribly clear from the website but I think microSD cards up to 128GB can be used. It’s light at 280g.

Despite the name, speed is not one of Mercury 7L’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. Once apps get going, they’re fine, but starting a new app or switching between apps can be a little slow. For whatever reason, Geek Bench 4 refused to run so I can’t give a definitive comparison. Having said that Alto’s Adventure play surprisingly well (once it started).

The display could be better too but at this price, it’s in-line with expectations. 1024 x 600 on a 7″ screen is acceptable, the colours are strong and it’s reasonably bright. My only real criticism is that the viewing angle is a little narrow – it’s most noticeable when holding the tablet in portrait mode.

And as for the camera, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the one megapixel but for a bit of Skype, it’s ok.

As on the Saturn 10,  the user interface for the Mercury 7L would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) with a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred as my muscle memory expects it in the middle.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Mercury 7L is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

After owning the Mercury for a couple of weeks, I think the niche for this tablet is in the portable media space. It’s fine for listening to Spotify, watching Netflix and reading ebooks on OverDrive, plus the microSD card slot gives plenty of room for media. Switching apps can be slow, so if you’re a social butterfly mixing Facebook with Twitter and Instagram, you might need some patience. Overall, it’s a budget tablet for a budget price. Understand this and you won’t be disappointed.

If the Mercury 7L is of interest, it’s available from Asda for GB£49 at time of writing. Thanks to Venturer for supplying the tablet for review.