Hugo Barra Debunks Microsoft Partnership with Xiaomi

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In a G+ post, Hugo Barra has come up to clear the air regarding Xiaomi’s apparent defection to Microsoft Mobile that has been aired all over the Internet.

In a strongly worded post, Hugo had this to say.

– This is an experimental program led by Microsoft, working directly with the Mi fan community in China.

– Microsoft is working on a build of Windows 10 specifically for Mi 4 devices. This Windows 10 build will not be running on top of Android nor be available as a dual-boot option. A small number of Mi 4 power users from the Xiaomi Forum in China who choose to take part in this experimental program will have to manually re-flash their Mi 4 devices with this Windows 10 ROM, in the same way they would re-flash other Android ROMs.

– At Xiaomi, we are very supportive of users trying new things and we encourage them to do so all the time! That’s why all of our devices ship with unlocked bootloader, for example. That’s also why Xiaomi welcomes Microsoft team members to interact directly with members of the Xiaomi Forum in China. More details will be announced by Microsoft in the coming months. This program will only be available in China.

This shows that Xiaomi has no official relationship with Microsoft as portrayed by the Tech Press and isn’t planning on releasing any Xioami phones running Microsoft for the global market. As is, Microsoft has teamed up with the Chinese user group to test their Windows Mobile 10 on Mi phones. It’s not going global even if it can run Windows Mobile as there are patent issues that has to be resolved in specific countries.

Xiaomi has introduced its brand into the US and has not officially open a channel to sell their smartphones because of patent issues. In India, Xiaomi is faced a nasty lawsuit from Ericsson AB. So far it has not encountered similar problems during its release in Singapore and Malaysia but it remains to be seen if Xiaomi has the clout to withstand challenges from the likes of Apple, Google or Microsoft should it ever attempt to go global.

Xiaomi phones can run stock android from Google should it be released in the global market. However it still has to pay a minor licensing fee should it adopt Google services and apps running within its Mi launcher. Xiaomi runs a forked version of Android as Google’s services do not work in China. This forked Android operation system however does not include the patent protection it needs to sell hardware outside of the Chinese market.

– Xiaomi continues to fully embrace the Android ecosystem through our MIUI software platform and we’re moving ahead full steam building many exciting new Android-based features and services.

Offload your images and video to The Egg

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Billed as the portable network storage drive for the iOS totting masses, this little device is precisely what the doctor ordered whenever you complain of not having storage space on your iPhone. Now as you may have guessed, someone in the US has sued Apple over the claims of usable storage space on base iOS devices recently. A 16GB iPhone has 23 percent of its storage taken over by the operating system. Though not exactly cybersquatting, Apple’s iOS occupancy cannot be evicted from storage, thus making it difficult for people with borderline budgets to buy an iPhone with larger storage capacities.

The Egg helps you sort this mess out as it operates as a virtual network drive with WIFI/USB connection to offload your images and videos you have on the device without having to resort to messy Cloud storage. Now, we all know that Cloud is great but the slower upload speeds often gives a bitter sweet after taste upon backup. Upload speeds are often a third of what you get with download speeds for either WIFI or 3G and since 4G is not an ever present option, people often struggle with slow uploads for back ups.

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Right now, this Egg is still finding support on Kickstarter.  Based on the prices advertised so far, it’s not cheap. The 64GB version cost you US$199 and for the price of a 128GB version, you can virtually buy yourself a portable WIFI HD with 1TB of storage.

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Yes the Egg can work for both iOS and Android but from the looks of it, iOS users are the main target since storage is not expandable. The network storage is itself a computer using Samsung’s Tizen operating system. Just read the tech specs below to get a better idea.

TECHNICAL SPECS
Application Processor and OS
Intel® Atom™ Processor
1GB RAM
64/128/256GB eMMC
OS: Linux (Tizen)
Connectivity
WiFi a/b/g/n, BT4.0
Micro-USB 2.0 type-AB with USB charging
Audio
Vibra motor (haptics + silent ringtones), Speaker notifications
Display
Size: 2.4” Multi-Touch capacitive touch TFT
Resolution: 240×320; 262K colors
Sensors
Accelerometer, Compass, Ambient Light Sensor
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Now with WIFI, you can virtually connect to any device that supports it, including GoPro and DSLR cameras. But would you? The makers of the Egg will give you a website on eggcyte.com if you back them early but there is no mention of functionality or would this be another Cloud based storage should you want to back up that ‘backed up’ album already on your Egg.
Storage Alternatives
WD already makes a Network Drive that is mobile and portable and for 1TB of storage, it cost less than US$199.
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The only difference is that there is no user interface on the WD drives as compared to the Egg. Price wise per MB, it is of course cheaper with WD Passport WIFI drives but it’s also a bit larger too. Women might find the Egg a better option (no ovulation pun intended) as it would fit nicely in a Prada handbag.
For the rest of us who take loads of videos and photos, the WD drive would be a better option. With 1TB storage, you can probably shoot till the cows come home and still have plenty left over for the next.
Li-Ion Battery Pack, 1800mAH

NEXUS 6 or iPhone 6+?

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For the longest time, I have always suspected that Google harboured a secret love relationship with anything robotic and hence they doubled down on Android as an operating system. In Geek speak, what could be closer to the future than the sci-fi fantasy Blade Runner? In the movie, the test product of the Tyrell Corp goes rogue. It had cutting edge technology to boot too. The product was a Nexus 6 replicant (which Deckard is long suspected to be one as well) So does the Nexus 6 live up to that expectation?

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In smart phones, it was the Apple iPhone that broke new ground or did it? Wasn’t the User Interface eerily similar to the Palm Pilot? The only difference was that you only needed to stab the iPhone screen with your finger instead of a stylus. So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that Steve Jobs was a genius. Nor can Tim Cook be responsible for the success of the iDevices.The cunning marketing ploys by Apple has of course played to the dark side, encouraging you to ante up on Hardware that at best, is only useful for them to make even more money out of you.

NEXUS 6 Versus iPhone 6+

Big screen devices dominate. No point giving credit to Apple when Jobs himself hated that. He was in denial that a bigger iPhone screen is what people wanted. Today we have the iPhone 6+, a huge…almost iPad Mini like device which kicks butt. Or so it seems.

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Apple Pay is No Ace

Cash is king. No doubt about it and Apple Pay offers American societies to pay via NFC terminals—which a merchant must invest in. Can you use this outside of the US? Apparently not. NFC capabilities are nothing new of course but presently, using this is locked into Apple. It does nothing for you if you live outside of the US. Apple Pay is touted as a secure service, but for the average user who doesn’t need to go to get his daily highs on Starbucks, Apple Pay is a only useful for those who want cashless POS.

Fingerprint Sensor Saves your Ass

A good way to lock in your product and get another layer of security authentication. Is this big deal? Apparent so if you happen to work for some secret intelligence agency or have your credit card hijacked by crooks with the regularity of your own bowel movement. Fingerprint sensors are the way forward if you are prone to such unfortunate incidents. But the hardware has to be written off anyway once you lose your device.

Health Apps

An apt reminder to the majority of Americans who are overweight—you may view this as Tim Cook’s legacy to get you into shape. This applies to the rich Chinese too who love spoon feeding their overweight children until adult age.  If you love the way you are without having to go to the Gym. Health apps can be a waste of time and an insult to your self belief. However if you are fat, overweight and hate yourself for it, then maybe the iPhone will do you some good.

iOS 8 versus Lollipop

For iOS nothing has really changed since Steve passed on. Is there a new way to notify you? Sure. But that’s a Cydia clone. For the longest time, iOS was trying to compete with Cydia Jailbreaks that offer so much more than the stock standard version from Apple. Free apps are the draw of any OS. Both have a suite, Apple has given Pages for free for work use while Google as Docs Apps.

Lollipop seems like a good step forward but remember this is Google. They basically auction you as a piece of data for advertisers to buy into. Do I have a preference for either? Sorry not really. Both have their caveats.

Fast Charging

Nexus 6 wins this one. I need fast charging. Nexus gives you 6 hours of use with just 15 mins of charging. iPhone will not give you fast charging. Furthermore, Nexus 6 supports Qi Charging, which is a wireless charging method reviewed here some time back. I am not totally sold on Qi charging as it is more convenient. Nexus 6 fast charging is via cable use only.

Big Screen Display

To an ant, this is IMAX cinema. For the rest of us, screen density is what determines the quality. That said Nexus 6 has a way better screen than the dated retina technology hogged by Apple. Nexus 6 pixel density is higher than the iPhone so let’s leave it at that. No more BS on retina display from Apple.

Camera

Apple is offering you what they gave people back on the iPhone 5S. It’s a decent camera and it is by no means innovative. The problem I have with the stock camera app is the limited capture options. You may have 240fps slo-mo video in 720p but the Nexus has 4K video in 30fps viewable on that UHD widescreen TV you just bought home. What’s more, Google’s new HDR+ feature on the stock camera app rocks! It kicks Apple ass anytime! So what all this means is that you are not getting a better camera app on iOS.

Conclusion by Images

When the iPhone first came out, it was sold based on a unique user experience. This is no longer true since Google released Android. The idea that something like the iPhone 6 is cutting edge is probably true if you live on a desert island surrounded by Elvis impersonators.

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For the rest of us. we are proud that Motorola (Lenovo) has given life to a product worthy of the Nexus 6 namesake. That’s all we were asking for. Hardware innovation. Apple has failed to deliver that. It’s ok. I can live with it. As for firmware innovation, how far has it gone? If it made a goose step, would that count as a leap?

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Time to say Goodbye to the 3.5mm Audio Jack

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Recent announcements by both Apple for it’s iOS8 and Google’s Android 5.0 hints clearly at the possible demise of the humble 3.5mm audio jack and that’s troubling

Both operating systems feature a new API that allows for audio to be passed through digitally thereby bypassing the Digital to Analog Converter (DAC)  found on current handsets. The reason? Better sound quality they say.

This might sound like an audiophile’s dream but trust me, it’s not good news for you and me. First let me clarify that I am very fond of the 3.5mm audio jack. Back in the days of the Sony Walkman craze, I have found that the jack delivers and depending on how your file was digitally encoded, it was nothing short of marvelous.

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I had for a brief period flirted with the MiniDisc system from Sony and loved it. The ATRACC encoding was nothing short of excellent and it delivered the quality I expected from the humble 3.5mm audio jack—the quality is far better than the highest MP3 encoding found today.

To say that smartphones can do better by going all digital with a digital output is nothing short of a political travesty.

Android’s USB Audio

Google announced the USB Audio API for handset makers to dabble in and in doing so, has opened up a can of worms. I remember once I had a Sony Ericsson P1i and it didn’t have a dedicated 3.5mm stereo jack. Instead, what they gave you was a proprietary adapter and with it an external cable that housed the 3.5mm jack socket. It was a nuisance to use, fell out when you least expected it and flimsy in construction.

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Here, I am reminded of this same possibility, that people from Samsung, HTC to Motorola will start to implement their own proprietary socket to get you to buy into their digital audio accessories.  Digital files, especially those MP3 files aren’t necessarily better in quality. You could have FLAC based files which are excellent for audiophile use but take up a warehouse of storage. Handsets are not made to handle audiophile quality digital files so it will not satisfy the purist.

Audio accessories that plays digital music must have a built-in DAC. The DAC has to convert incoming music data  before you hear anything that remotely sounds like music. This also means that headsets would  need to have their own power source to drive the DAC process. Siphoning power from a cable plugged to your smart device could work but this will affect your battery life, which at best is just enough for a 12 hour day.

And because the audio data is totally digital, your headphone or audio device must provide for the DAC process. So speakers which worked on the traditional analogue audio input will be made obsolete. That Altec Lansing speaker system you got for last Christmas is now a massive door stopper. We have all seen how that happened when audio devices which pandered to the iOS socket of old were beaten out with a new lightning connector. The same is going to happen once the 3.5mm audio jack is tossed out with the bath water.

March with the Beat

Well know you know why Apple bought out BEATS audio for a song. It’s not just for the streaming music service alone but for the hardware technology behind it. Beats headphones (yes those all too popular headgear worn by sports stars) has its own power source in the form of a battery to give you those great sounding bass beats. These headphones can be transformed to carry and process digital signals without relying on the iPhone or iPad for power.

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Lightning connectors used on Apple’s iOS devices will be the future digital audio source and by saving on the DAC chipset, Apple has effectively made it impossible for you to downgrade to analog earphones or headphones.

Why Digital will be more Expensive

It is an ecosystem that is suppose to bind you in, and not let you out. Analog in this case is an open system, digital however makes more money. Apple can license the lightning connectors to third parties and make a killing from it. You as a user would have to buy only those products that interfaces with your iOS device. Apple hopes to enslave you with their paper thin logic for better sound as long as you ante up to a digital listening apparatus.

Google’s USB Audio API also does the same thing but Google themselves are not in the accessories business. Instead, they have given out a blank cheque to handset manufacturers to create their own audio ecosystem.

I want to be using my favorite headphones for many years to come but with such a possibility looming on the horizon, your headphones could be toss onto a dung heap at your next hardware upgrade.

The only other way to interface your old world analog audio device is to get an external DAC unit that pushes analog signals thru a 3.5mm headphone jack…but why in the world would I do that? This would mean carrying another accessory just to listen to music. Sounds like a bummer doesn’t it?

Handsets will continue to have a DAC but you may not access it

As much as handset manufacturers would want it, it is virtually impossible to remove the use of a DAC in the first place. Games, movie playback and streaming audio data has to be processed and output via a device speakers. The initial fear here is that the DAC will coexist with your device but there is no way to output analog sound via a 3.5mm jack. This rather inconvenient way will mean that you have no other choice but to ante up on a digital accessories or a Bluetooth speaker that works wirelessly. Now that’s a scary thought if I may add.

 

 

 

Did KitKat decimated Apple’s hold on Mobile Photography?

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I have for the longest time felt that the Instagramers of our generation really had it good on iOS until it made its appearance on Android a few years back. Even then, Android ICS and JellyBean could not match the technical capabilities as there were hundreds of photography apps compared to a few that really stood out. iOS 8 has unwrapped two new features, namely selective focus and exposure and time lapse video. Ho-hum. I think I felt asleep waiting for that one to happen.

By the time KitKat arrived, things started to change. Apple’s iOS camera capabilities were finally dethroned. It has taken more than fives years for Android to catch up with Apple’s strangle hold on mobile photography.

Sure, there are premium type features found on the Windows Nokia Lumia 1020 phone that beats them both down but the performance of the camera is a one off and is not found in all Lumia products. For Apple at least, you could download an photography app that will run across all devices on iOS 7. Google has done the same for KitKat in the form of the Google Camera App.

Now Google’s Camera app isn’t new. It is a standard feature found on all Android KitKat releases but it has some rather fussy requirements, like maybe a gyro sensor for Panorama mode and at least 1GB of RAM free (which means you technically need 2GB of RAM onboard) for Lens Blur Bokeh. But it will work on devices running KitKat in the same way iOS8 camera capabilities will do on required hardware.

Apple hasn’t really upgraded its camera features. It has in iOS7 given new meaning to the term ‘idiot proof’ with a slew of visible selections, like crop size, video and photo mode, HDR. On the iOS store, there are several apps that makes the camera do more, like Time Lapse photography, Panorama and manual controls for advanced mobile photographers—so what was unveiled for iOS 8 isn’t ground breaking. To really know the difference, you need to go down to your respective appstores and see what those apps can do for you in respect to what the standard iOS or Android app is capable of.

Immersive Bubble Photography

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Google’s Android already could do panorama for some time now. Its only weakness was in producing bubble photos whereas iOS had two, Bubbli (now owned by Yahoo) and Microsoft’s Photosynth. With KitKat, Google introduced Photosphere to counter any iOS offering—with hardware demands found only in midrange and premium Android models. The Apple iPhone no longer owns this space. Trusted that Bubbli is now owned by Yahoo, future updates could tie it to yahoo’s Flickr cloud storage—similar to what Microsoft has done with Photosynth. Google on the other hand has countered this with Photosphere that has become a standard feature for KitKat. Anyone running the latest Android will be able to download and use Photosphere—and share it on Picasa, Drive or G+. Where is Apple in all this? I frankly do not know.

High Dynamic Range Photography

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Done to death in the past, there are numerous HDR capable camera apps offering true HDR capabilities (captured with either two or three frames). Apple’s own HDR takes only two frames and merges the two frames into one. True HDR processing is omitted from the Google Camera App for good reason—it is not effective. Whereas for faux-HDR, where a tone mapped image is generated from one still frame is catered for by several apps found on both the Google Play and Apple Appstore. I won’t go into detail on this one but to say that it doesn’t really work that well for multiple exposures. Apple’s iOS camera API only allows for a fixed 1 sec maximum exposure in low ISO. So unless it is incredibly bright and contrasty, you won’t claw much dynamic range back from the rendered JPG files. The same goes for Android. Shutter speeds are capped to prevent you from getting a 1 sec exposure. True HDR for now remains to be elusive on both platforms.

3D Parallax Photography

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The third dimension is often the most rewarding and for this, I think that iOS could do no more than to thank the guys at Seene.co for this feature. It takes a huge chunk of RAM to do something this spectacular on iOS7 and I think Apple should snap up the company before anyone else does. However Google isn’t far behind, you can upload a picture shot on KitKat enabled Google Camera app (with depth information) and have that processed at depthy—a third party site that renders those 3D parallax photos.

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Seene on the other hand uses WebGL for rendering the 3D parallax photos with some constraints. The problem now is to transition to a sharable image like what Seene has done. Google’s KitKat camera app already captures depth information but it hasn’t gotten round to processing them onboard a device. Apple on the other hand has no such capability. The iOS camera app is totally devoid of features such as Volumentric Stereo processing for images.

 

Bokeh Lens Blur

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Left is the depth map, the right is the static picture. Combined, they allow users to specify the amount of blur they want from their photos

One of the often lamented feature that was missing on mobile photography is the ability to render a shallow depth of field on a image. Lens Blur is effectively an after effects filter applied on to a photo and for this, many apps can be found with this one feature alone on the iOS store. The problem with this feature is that it is often faked to the point of no return.

The KitKat Camera app has detailed depth information which is used to render the blur,

Having played around with numerous apps that offer this feature (including TADAA SLR on iOS) I found it less than satisfactory in application and in use for generating depth or focus blur. Google’s Camera app triumphs over iOS 7’s camera feature in this one area which I think will be addressed in the coming iOS8 update.  If it doesn’t. Apple risk losing more ground to Android.

Camera Battle Rages On

The struggle right now is two folds. To make a better camera (read idiot proof) or to create a new line of features that maxes out the potential or the mobile operating system? The camera battle is now in Google’s court. Apple has so far invested heavily on hardware performances but that hasn’t translated to giving more features to the user. Google on the other hand has made it so rudimentary that the future updates will carry  endless options for photography that is missing from professional cameras. Will these forks converge into a better camera experience? Or will there be another technology in waiting that allows Apple to claw back it’s lost pride?

We only need to wait for an answer as Android, iOS and to some extent Microsoft Windows have savaged the traditional camera markets to the point where overall sales of digital cameras have fallen. People want more from their cameras and this is one thing that straight up digital cameras cannot offer. After all, the best camera to shoot with is the one you have with you by your side…always.

 

KitKat Update: Freeing up Storage on Galaxy Note 2 for Noobs

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This is an exasperated post for those thinking of upgrading your Galaxy Note 2 to KitKat with the official Samsung update. As some of you may have been forced to notice, Samsung GN2 on Jelly Bean is a mouthful. There are many bloatware apps from Samsung to get you to buy books, movies, apps while coercing you to use their  ChatON app. I had two choices, that is to kill off the system with a Cyanogen Mod technique while risking some app incompatibility or use the official Samsung KitKat with all their customized nonsense thrown in. I decided on the latter since reselling an old device would be made easier if it had stock a standard operating system.

First, let’s examine the GN2 with KitKat. It was supposed to be spiffy but a warning came up on my device telling me that I have roughly 1.9 GB of internal storage all a sudden after completing the installation process….so I said…WTF??

 

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I have  16GB internal storage of which the new KitKat occupies 5.54GB! Yes, I know. Koreans are not known to be fat but this is seriously super sized. Compare it with Apple’s own iOS7, I think system use is kept at a minimum at 3.1 GB of storage which is a good thing considering the antiquated features it has, iOS 7 keeps humming.

Now Bloatware from Samsung is not new. Samsung has a host of services like Samsung Hub, Samsung Appstore, Samsung Print Services, in-app Services, ChatOn and a host of other stuff which you don’t use like Music and Movies. What I hate about it is that the Samsung Appstore doesn’t quite function as well as it should. Some of the apps point right back to the Google Playstore and though Samsung Appstore does have some gems, like the Moleskine App for GN series that is full featured app not found on the Playstore. However I don’t use that much often. The inbuilt stylus type apps was more than enough for me.

Spring Cleaning is a Chore

Spring cleaning. Think of it as a memory game and you’ll have some fun while doing it. The first thing you should know is that you CANNOT touch the system memory. This stuff is reserved for running KitKat.

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STEP ONE:

Go to your Settings>MORE>Storage and start cleaning out those files! Remove Apps you don’t use!

STEP TWO:

Proceed to USED SPACE. Click and Clean up the Applications list. Take a long hard look at the Apps you don’t need, don’t use or have downloaded but forgotten about.

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STEP THREE:

Go next to INTERNET DOWNLOADS and select OTHER DOWNLOADS. Here are all the APK files you have downloaded but not removed after installing. You can also find files like forgotten PDFs on those “How To” moments, as well as songs and porn images you have downloaded that you have no idea that you were responsible for. Snuff out those you don’t want.

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STEP FOUR:

Go back to Storage settings and now purge Cached Data. Those data which are not needed will be cleaned out while essential data will be kept to a minimum.

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 STEP FIVE:

Under Storage you will find Miscellaneous Files, here you will find a lot of folders for apps you have deleted. Remove the ones not in use.

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 STEP SIX

Lastly, go to Settings>More> Application Manager and Uninstall all updates for Samsung type apps like Samsung Apps, Chat On, Chrome, Game Hub and Samsung Link. Once you are done uninstalling, make sure your turn it OFF as the same time! I recommend kicking out all the Samsung related apps as long as you don’t use them. However if you have bought into the Samsung eco-system, well. I can’t help you. 

As much as I like Google’s Chrome as the browser of choice, it is still very buggy. It can’t handle WebGL very well and that was what I needed so I took it out and made it dormant. What’s more, when you have browsers such as Firefox and Opera, it makes very little sense to use Google’s chrome.

Total Space Saved?

I manage to claw back about 1.1 GB of space from so from my cleaning alone, I now have 3.14 GB of free space. It still is very small compared to what I have but the problem of resolving the storage issue has come a long way.

RAM versus Internal Storage versus External Storage

One of the consistent problems with Google is that since its transition to Jelly Bean, apps must reside in Internal Storage with a RAM footprint for it to remain active for alerts and notifications. External storage is only used for storing images, music and video. So for this, you have to take note of the following:-

  • Camera settings should be set to “save to” external storage

  • Video settings on any third-party app should be set to “save to” external storage

  • Move eBook files that may reside on your Internal Storage to External Storage using a File Manager

  • Clean your download folder on your internal storage using a File Manager regularly if you happen to love downloading files such as PDFs, music or images.

Internal Storage is used to store all the important files needed to run apps. As many Android apps are getting bigger (namely games and freemium content) much of these new files have to reside within Internal Storage to work. This leaves your External Storage completely free for you to load up on your music, movies and ebook files. When you run out of Internal Storage, you can’t install any more apps. In Android, Google has enabled a low memory task killer for RAM usage but that doesn’t mean you should not close your apps once you stop using them.

Apple iOS doesn’t have this problem as all storage is taken as one big chuck of real estate. It does however have a RAM problem as apps competing for that miserly RAM space don’t have enough of it to run smoothly— like a real estate boom where too many people move into a building and not having enough space to move around.

Android has its own kinks. That said, I don’t have a problem with it as I know what I can do with the given space and where to store the miscellaneous media files without hogging on the limited internal storage. This is why I would suggest that if you are getting your next device, ensure that your Internal Storage is at least 32GB if you love downloading new apps to test.

Finally, external storage has also been sealed up to make third apps more accountable for its files. This means that any app without the proper permissions cannot download files to be stored on the SD or microSD card. This could be a hassle for some who use cloud storage to download file to their own devices but there should be a work around to this soon. Apps must have  external storage access permissions before doing so and at the same time, creating their own folders within external storage. To bypass this block, at least for now, is to root your device and use the SDfix app found on the Playstore to restore previous privileges.

 

Anti-Malware: Why Scam Apps are not Covered

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For fear mongers, this is probably the first and last place to be when it comes to detecting malware on your Android device. AV-testgo.org is an independent antivirus testing lab that does one thing, review and text Android anti-malware apps for effectiveness. Nice place, but does it work for Scam ware? Sorry, I am afraid not.

Scamware Doesn’t quite Count as Malware

One of the problems with a listed apps directory is that Scamware doesn’t quite get detected in the first place.

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We all remember the scam camera apps from iOS. These blokes passed off the same app with different names and promised you the sky. People who paid for it found it to be sub par in quality and your only way to get your money back was within 15 min of downloading the app. So if you were one of those who downloaded the app, and didn’t check on it fast enough, you would have lost your money.

Google Android has the same problem, it can’t weed out the Scam Apps fast enough. But there is room to maneuver if you made a direct request to Google Playstore.

There is a developer policy which has to be understood by all. And this is very simple.

Section 3.4 of the Android Developer Distribution agreement authorizes Google to provide returns of apps that cannot be previewed for up to 48 hours after purchase:

3.4 Special Refund Requirements. The Payment Processor’s standard terms and conditions regarding refunds will apply except the following terms apply to your distribution of Products on the Market.

Products that can be previewed by the buyer (such as ringtones and wallpapers): No refund is required or allowed.

Products that cannot be previewed by the buyer (such as applications): You authorize Google to give the buyer a full refund of the Product price if the buyer requests the refund within 48 hours after purchase.

Why Aren’t they Stopping the Scams?

This is the most difficult part. They can’t. Malware is easier to deal with, they infect your handset with a virus or get it to send expensive SMS to a foreign country. This sort of double-dealing is all in the code. Scam apps don’t rely on code or APIs to cheat you. They win your confidence over like a trickster.

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Apple iOS has a built in set of APIs which you cannot change. You are not allowed to develop an app using your own API routines but even this is no promise of safety as Scam apps basically pretend to be something they are not. There is nothing in the code that yells “CHEATER” in the app. Android is more lax, there isn’t such restrictions so any badly made app can be labeled a scam app if it doesn’t work on your device. What’s more, Google was late to the party when it came to parsing code for malware whereas Apple has locked down the APIs as far back as five years ago.

Difference between Scamware and Malware

Malware comes in a few guises, some steal passwords while others will run background apps in secret to mine Bitcoin without you ever knowing it. Finding them isn’t easy unless you have a Malware or virus scanner. Scam ware is even harder to detect. You can only bring such apps to the attention of Google or Apple and ask for action. From a legal standpoint, when an App does not work as advertised on your device, it cannot be automatically assumed to be scamware.

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The problem is further compounded by the absolutely giant market place on the App and Play store. Badly designed app isn’t a crime and if that app suddenly tells you that it can grant you wishes at any Vegas slot, well who are you to disagree? You are already assuming that Apple has protected your interest so it must be true that this app will work.

Google has made it clear that the Playstore is an anything goes place, and they have taken some steps to stop the malware apps but not the Scam ware.

Scams are omnipresent all over the world, there is even an App that tells you about the other worldly scams but not the apps that scam you.

No Solution

The only solution is to have an app depositary that blacklist the very people who sell such apps online. Don’t count on Apple or Google to do this for you. It’s not their beef.

Scam apps are made by snake oil salesmen, they want you dollar and the only way to get it back is to ask for a refund after the first 15 minutes of downloading the app from the Apple Appstore. Apple will not entertain any refunds thereafter unless the purchase was made by a kid. If you were an adult, I think you will have to convince them that you had a child even when you don’t have one to get your money back.

There is still hope for Google if you found out that you have been scammed. Just tell them the app don’t work and doesn’t launch, and you will have your money back as long as it is reported within 48 hours of purchase.

Beware of the in-App purchases

There are loads of in-app purchases that can be classified as scam ware. They don’t offer you anything that works beyond the freebie you just downloaded. I know it sucks but that’s how the way it is. There is no 15 min grace for testing the in-app purchase. So once you hit the buy button, you’re shanghai-ed into another world.

Reading reviews on the app doesn’t always help to validate what it does. These reviews can be manufactured and all you have to do to get a gig going with them is to rate an app advertised on  numerous freelancer sites around the world that are looking for mobile app reviewers. These freelancers get paid to list such reviews and upon doing so, misleads the whole world into a scam trap.

I have Kingsoft’s mobile security install and running all the time on Android. I would recommend you to do the same if you happen to like downloading lots of apps to play with. It is by no means the most secure net, though it is highly rated, since there is no way to protect yourself from scams in the first place.

Your best bet is to read reviews on trusted mobile app review sites to get an idea if this does what it claims to do before buying them online.
 

 

Android Holo User Interface Craze

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When one speaks of design, the Android platform is a wild place. I have written previously about getting custom ROMs and launchers for your device but the one that stumps people most these days is the use of the term ‘holo’ for User Experience (UX) and User Interface  (UI) Design. The UI is open to manufacturers to determine, thus you have TouchWiz, Sense UI and even Xperia UI just to name a few.

Google on the other hand presents its own stock standard UI which is still evolving and one of the design principles behind the UI is the Holo design theme. You can browse this site to find out more about how the Holo theme is implemented by third party app developers. You can also add your own custom Holo theme app from some weird folks who just ‘skin‘ a current app by taking it apart and reapplying the Holo theme but do beware, these have to be downloaded outside of the Playstore so you have to enable app installations from a third party in your settings menu.

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Note the icon changes and tiny design modifications to the official Instagram App

How Holo can it Be?

Design fragmentation is a bad thing but not entirely so. You get a personalized look and feel and it makes it pretty unique except that Google doesn’t like it. Since ICS 4.0, Google has added pressure on manufacturers to conform to certain design rules. These Holo design rules are to be applied across board to any manufacturer that ships Google Android with the official Playstore. The Holo design API is standard with the SDK and cannot be removed by manufacturers so any app developer can make use of these design APIs to create a Holo-fied app.

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Holo is very similar to Apple’s iOS 7, and Jonny Ive was reported to have ripped design elements from Android to fit the new Apple UI. Chief among the elements is the flat design look, where colors are muted and cooler in appearance.

Custom ROMs are not Spared

Even custom ROM developer, Paranoid Android is moving to that sphere with design elements implemented using Holo Theme. These guys rock. They have redesigned the whole UI to give a different experience to the user. The main difference as you can see here is the use of a PIE type navigation where you can touch and hold the screen to bring up a PIE type navigation wheel.

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But before you jump in to download this particular custom ROM, let me remind you that it is only applicable for the Google Nexus line of devices. Putting it into your Galaxy or HTC device will probably brick your set.

Changing the Look and Feel

There are still  other ways to change the look and feel of your User Interface without resorting to a custom ROM job. The folks at mycolorscreen.com have a beta app which is nearing completion. It has a tonne of User features for your home screen to give it a more personal touch with the Themer App. Zooper Widgets, which are highly popular and customisable, has been integrated into the Themer App fold. So you can literally design a Zooper widget to fit any Android screen and sell it as your own on the Playstore.

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So far, the app has yet to exit Beta testing after a copyright claim from Apple threw a spanner in the works. Apparently someone had ripped off icon elements from iOS7 in one of the home launchers and Apple took action. There are plenty of Holo type home screen launchers available but you have to wait till the Themer app goes prime time. Until then, your best option for a custom UI is to flash a custom ROM.

VPN: Do you really need it?

InternetAccessVPN_thumbVirtual Private Network or VPNs have been around for ages. During the dawn of the Internet, VPNs were the only way to access the Internet for countries that didn’t have such a service. You paid a subscription and dialed in to a local number to get Internet access.

These days, it is much simpler. You can subscribe to a VPN and use the given IP address to log in.

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Why VPN?

Since the Snowden affair, some parties are getting very anxious that maybe some of their emails have been compromised, these bunch of folks include lawyers, politicians, arms dealers, bankers, stock traders, drug dealers, money launderers, pedophiles  and pretty much everyone else in the world who have something to hide.

If you happen to fall into one of the said categories, please read on. For everyone else, you can skip this post and wait for the next.

Not all VPN will Protect You

A VPN may help you get around unnoticed but I am sure the NSA has a back door to accessing your stuff even if you tried to hide it. That’s because FISA can subpoena an Internet host to surrender any emails or messages as long as the server is located on US soil. VPN services based out of the US need not obey this court order so you’d be better off with a Malaysian VPN.

VPN on Mobile

Of late, there is interest on how secure your communications is with the outside world on a mobile device. 8

Personally, I think that VPNs are good only for corporate use. It is a savvy way to monitor the online presence of staff members to ensure they are using a secure channel to communicate with the world. This is relatively easy to set up, and even if you don’t belong to the shader side of world economy, you could still use a VPN by subscribing to a service.

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VPNs are available for iOS and Android via the settings tab so be sure to look out for them.

VPNs for other Naughty Things

Yea, I am aware that some of you are browsing location specific content from the US or UK. That said, you need a VPN or Proxy Server to give the impression that you are from the same locality.

There are a few ways of doing this which I will narrow down to two.

  • Use a Proxy Server Setting that Spoofs any location login
  • Use a VPN to spoof a location Login

It works for the Google Playstore but you have to remove your SIM card as that is tracked by Google. You cannot buy apps from the specific country store unless you have authorized payment for that country.

To spoof your IP location just to watch movies, well it’s easier. I have done this successfully with TunnelBear VPN, which is really neat to use.

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Say you have Hulu or Google Play on your device and you need to spoof the IP from legit location. You can fire up Tunnelbear to give you a fake login location in the US or UK and stream your media to your Android device.

Tunnelbear is free for the first 500MB and gives you a further 500MB if you tweet about them. Beyond that, you need to get a subscription. Hotspot Shield is another service you could try. So far, I have not had the time to test them all but I can assure you they work as I have streamed TV programs from the US through Hulu on desktop. The mobile version shouldn’t be any more complicated. You will need to pay to subscribe to the service after the trial runs out.

How Secure is Secure?

There are four different VPN platforms, the most popular for mobile use is Open Connect, which offers point to point protection of data. You need to connect to a compatible network to secure any communication channel. There are three other VPN platforms to choose from so knock yourself out if you don’t think Open Connect is for you.

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If you want secure, look for the encryption level. 256-bit is the best foot forward.

Encryption Technology  Summary (Geek Porn)

With the NSA prowling the Net for juicy bits of data, people have been asking how does the NSA beat the encryption technology used today. Well, apparently they know it takes far too much computation power so they decided to use a back door by forcing ISPs to surrender their data instead. For trivia, here’s what I found out.

A 128-bit key cypher would require 3.4 x1038 operations to reliably break.
In 2011 the fastest supercomputer in the word (the Fujitsu K computer located in Kobe, Japan) was capable of an Rmax peak speed of 10.51 petaflops. Based on this figure, it would take Fujitsu K 1.02 x 1018 (around 1 billion) years to crack a 128-bit AES key by force.
In 2013 the most powerful supercomputer in the world is the NUDT Tianhe-2 in Guangzhou, China. Almost 3 times as fast as the Fujitsu K at 33.86 petaflops, it would ‘only’ take it around a third of a billion years to crack a 128-bit AES key. That’s still a long time, and is the figure for breaking just one key.
A 256-bit key would require 2128 times more computational power to break than a 128-bit one as 265-bits is roughly equal to the number of atoms in the universe!

VPN for Facebook in China

This is bound to crop up. Facebook is banned so you want to find out which service to use while in China to post? Unfortunately, Tunnelbear and Hotspot Shield is blocked in China, so no point trying.

The Chinese authorities are constantly looking for new VPNs to block and the free ones are the first on their list. There are two VPN services that offer this service but at no time would there be a guarantee that it won’t be blocked by the time you read this. So I am not giving any links here for good measure.

It would be easier if Facebook sold to China and that would solve the problem for good. Right now subscriptions to VPNs cost between US$10 to US$20 a month. Now if you are willing to pay that much just to access Facebook in China then you have a very serious social media addiction. I’d save that money for some social  therapy instead of having to ante up on a VPN.

Let’s Try Tor!

No, it’s not about summoning an old Norse God with a Sledgehammer to unblock an IP but rather rout your data to secure Tor channels that exist in China. Tor uses a bridging system to connect data to the outside world and for the system to work, you need to root your device. There are several Tor apps on the Playstore but you need to root your Android device for it to work.

tor_in_chinaTor is very slow. It bounces data all over to confuse the ‘enemy’ and if you are ever thinking of streaming TV shows and movies illegally, you better forget it. Edward Snowden uses this all the time to get around data detection by the NSA. So if you happen to wear the same shoes, well this could be an option for you.

Google exits the Nexus Sphere?

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For the longest time, I have been waiting for the Nexus 6 from Google. Now Geeks around the world know that there is something special that should come with the Nexus 6 after all, it was strongly associated with the cult hit “Blade Runner” where replicants (codenamed Nexus) were bred to operate as humans. The Nexus 6 was supposed to be the most advanced version of all replicants, thus Google had a name to live up to as users waited with bated breath for the Motorola Nexus 6. Previously, Google had partnered LG and Samsung to give life to the Nexus. But not anymore.

Google sold its entire mobile unit to Lenovo for a princely sum of US$2.91 billion while keeping almost all of its trove of patents. This effectively marks the end of Google’s foray into the smartphone business as it concentrates on the core activities of producing a better Android operating system.

Red March from China

The anti-Chinese sentiment is strong in the US, and with the mid-term elections coming up, there will be more Chinese bashing to come but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Lenovo has made a name of itself in China but it hasn’t got the same muscles as Samsung to crack the international market. Even Asus has done better and now that the Oppo has also made its foray into the Global market with CyanogenMod, we can only expect to see more China brands invading the US market.

Going global for the Chinese is all about cracking the most difficult foreign markets. Having a go at the US market without the distribution, retail and service infrastructure is tantamount to suicide. This is what Lenovo bought into. Anyone can buy a brand name, but core assets are infrastructure are vital in a war against the likes of Apple.

Lenovo’s own K series and VIBE models haven’t score much of a hit globally and with the Motorola name in its best, it could finally develop a phone that people will rave about.

Nexus Users feel Cheated?

Eric Schmidt was seen sporting a Motorola X and from that day, Android fans were excited about the prospect of having a Motorola Nexus 6.

Well it might as well be a Lenovo Nexus 6 if you get my drift but you won’t be seeing that way as Lenovo intends to use the Motorola brand name to extend its reach. Google will continue to use the Nexus name, and the Nexus 6 will live on. Motorola will continue with the X2 or X3, and it will be no slouch.

The biggest manufacturers of handsets in the world are the Chinese. Regardless of your brand, you manufactured in China to get the best possible deal.

Google has never been a hardware manufacturer, its core strengths has been in firmware and software. I have always suspected that when Google bought up Motorola, it was for its patents and not for the physical assets so with this out of the bag, Google will continue to make a better Android for everyone.