• Tips

    by Published on 01-23-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. How-To,
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    I don't know if this will be a regular feature here, but I feel obliged to pass on any pearls of wisdom gleaned in this very specific area of expertise where and when I can. Root, custom ROMs and the like are, after all, the only thing that really differentiates Android from iOS at the end of the day.

    The video above is from a thread on the official OnePlus forums, a guide for unrooting a OnePlus 3 and returning it to stock (as in "shelf stock") condition. You would do this if, for example, you were prepping your device to be sold; you might also follow this procedure if, like me, you were flashing a major OS upgrade to your device. For anyone used to a Nexus there are some peculiarities as to how OnePlus does things, which I learned over the course of a few hours last Friday afternoon, and will now share with you.

    So let's say I was upgrading from Android Marshmallow to Nougat... On a rooted Nexus I would back up my apps and data using Titanium Backup, along with other local media like photos and transfer those files to a desktop computer. Then I would download a device-specific factory image from Google, flash all the partitions manually (I never bother with the "flash all" script) log into my new Android OS and after re-rooting the Nexus would then restore my apps with a fresh install of Titanium Backup from the Play Store.

    Like I say OnePlus has their own way of doing things; they do offer downloads of Oxygen OS (and the major revisions to it), but only as flashable zips. So how is one to restore Oxygen from a custom ROM on their OnePlus 3, or perform a clean upgrade to Oxygen v4.x (Nougat) from v3.x (Marshmallow)? The key is OnePlus' own recovery image, the one partition you can flash to your OP3 via fastboot.

    Once you've backed up your phone the procedure, in broad strokes, goes like this:

    1. Download the desired flashable zip of Oxygen OS, and also the OnePlus recovery;
    2. Reboot your OnePlus 3 into fastboot mode and flash the OnePlus recovery;
    3. Still in fastboot, re-lock your bootloader via fastboot oem lock—this will wipe your device, and also whatever OS is installed on your phone;
    4. If the phone reboots after Step 3 immediately press and hold the Volume Down key to boot into the OnePlus recovery—understanding that at this point you do not have a bootable operating system on your phone;
    5. Use the OnePlus recovery to flash your zip of Oxygen OS via adb sideload;
    6. Boot into your new OS.
    7. If you want to re-root your phone don't bother signing in to your Google account—instead go back into fastboot, unlock your bootloader, flash a custom recovery and then use that to flash a SuperSU.zip.


    The OnePlus restore method does have some advantages over a Nexus-style restore; if something goes wrong you've at least got a working bootloader and recovery partition. There's just that one tense moment when your phone will try to boot into an OS that isn't there!

    Source: OnePlus Forums

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    by Published on 12-16-2016 08:00 AM
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    2. Devices,
    3. Tips



    I don't think I ever got around to reporting on Amazon's Prime Edition of the BLU R1 HD; thanks to Brad Linder at Liliputing for reminding me of its existence. It is indeed a $50 USD unlocked Android phone—some specs:

    5 inch HD display with Gorilla Glass 3
    1.3 GHz quad-core MediaTek 6735 ARM Cortex processor
    Android 6.0 Marshmallow
    8GB storage / 1GB RAM
    8MP rear camera / 5MP front camera with LED flash
    Dual SIM and MicroSD support for up to 64 GB of expandable storage
    4G LTE plus GSM

    The catch? Lock screen ads from Amazon. And even worse, it was found that the phone was secretly sending text messages and other personal information to a server in China. Amazon actually stopped selling the R1 HD until the spyware was removed. With assurances from BLU's CEO that the backdoor is gone, the phone is now back in stock.

    So about the lock screen ads... those l33t [email protected] over at XDA have figured out a way to unlock the device's bootloader and install a custom recovery—paving the way for SuperSU and AdAway or, if you prefer, a custom ROM.

    The ad-supported R1 HD unfortunately won't ship to Canada; otherwise I would gladly have a go and report my findings for you all here. Any of our American friends up for the challenge?

    Sources: Liliputing (1) (2), XDA (1) (2)

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    by Published on 12-12-2016 08:00 AM
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    2. Tips,
    3. Apps



    Do you know someone who regularly overshares personal information on social media? If so, you might want to direct them to this post.

    Russian Art School Student Egor Tsvetkov completed a project earlier this year; he called it "Your Face Is Big Data". For the project, he took 100 photographs of random people who happened to sit across from him on the subway. Then he used an Android app called Find Face to see if he could match the strangers with their accounts on Russia's version of Facebook, VKontakte.

    The result? He was easily able to identify about 70% of his subjects, even if their morning commute face bore little resemblance to their staged profile pic. As for the purpose of this privacy invasion, here's Tsvetkov himself to justify what he did:

    “My project is a clear illustration of the future that awaits us if we continue to disclose as much about ourselves on the Internet as we do now.”
    For a gallery of Egor's subway and social media matches, check out the first link directly below. The second link has more information about Tsvetkov and his project.

    Sources: Imgur, PC World

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    by Published on 12-02-2016 07:00 AM
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    2. Devices,
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    ... Provided you meet their stringent requirements, of course.

    If you're the unlucky owner of an iPhone 6s that randomly shuts down, but lucky enough to have purchased one manufactured in the narrow window of September to October, 2015, then your affected device might be due for a new battery, free of charge from Apple.

    Here's how to find out if your 6s is eligible: Get the serial number for your device by navigating to Settings > General > About then enter that number on this site. If you get a green light you can proceed to your local Apple retail store, Apple authorized service provider or call Apple Support directly.

    There are additional stipulations, of course. Your phone must be in good working condition—a cracked screen, for example, would interfere with the battery replacement process and is therefore not eligible for the program.

    Fingers crossed that everyone affected gets a new battery...!

    Sources: MacRumors via ZDNet

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    by Published on 09-30-2016 08:00 AM
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    2. Tips,
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    I found an interesting deal on mobile hotspot Internet service from Sprint, courtesy of author and Internet freedom fighter Cory Doctorow.

    The Calyx Institute is a registered nonprofit ISP—the first ISP, in fact, to ever get a Patriot Act warrant unsealed. They're able to offer mobile Internet service through Sprint thanks to a condition of that company's 2013 acquisition of Clearwire. There was a stipulation in that deal that nonprofits get access to the network at very low prices.

    You're technically paying for a membership, not the Internet service itself. But the Internet service is a pretty sweet perk. I'll let Cory explain:

    Calyx uses the wireless data service as a membership premium to help pay for their crypto and privacy supporting activities: to pay for multiple gigabit connections, data center space, etc.. to offer a whole array of free security and privacy services to the public including our LEAP based VPN, their encrypted instant messaging service, and their many Tor exit nodes.

    The upshot? For $500, Calyx will send you a little wifi hotspot with a Sprint SIM in it that comes with a year's worth of unlimited, anonymous, unshaped, unfiltered 4G/LTE bandwidth on Sprint's network. Unlimited as in, I downloaded 60GB with mine and it didn't break a sweat.

    And it's a tax-deductible charitable donation.
    Calyx isn't supposed to call their service unlimited; they refer to it as 30GB+. The thing is, after 30GB in transfers nothing changes; the user isn't throttled in any way and there are no overage charges whatsoever. Even better, the cost of service drops to $400 after the first year, since you'll already have the hotspot required to access the network.

    Carrying around an extra piece of gear can be a burden, but has advantages as well. For example, it's generally much safer to connect your laptop to your own hotspot than to someone else's WiFi network. You'll also be the instant life of the party for your cheapskate friends who have little or no data of their own. ...
    by Published on 08-25-2016 08:30 AM
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    If you own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, I'm afraid that I've some bad news for you: Both of Apple's 2014 smartphones are susceptible to a growing phenomenon called "touch disease", wherein a grey flickering bar appears across the top of your display and your touchscreen becomes unresponsive.

    The iFixit video above details the issue and how it can be fixed. It's basically a perfect storm of manufacturing issues—inadequate protection of the Touch IC chips on the phones' logic boards, combined with the rather bendy nature of the chassis. The good news is that for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus Apple moved the Touch IC chip off of the logic board and onto the display assembly where there's less flex. But if your 6-series iPhone gets afflicted with touch disease your only options are either a board-level repair or a new phone.

    Jessa Jones of iPad Rehab, interviewed in the video, has repeatedly tried to educate iPhone owners on what she sees as a growing epidemic; she has since been banned from Apple's Support Forums. As of this writing, Apple has not officially acknowledged the existence of touch disease. ...
    by Published on 08-22-2016 08:30 AM
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    At some unknowable point in the future, someone on these forums will be looking for advice about getting a local SIM card in Norway. This person either won't have a bundled "roam like home" service from T-Mobile, or will have deduced that the $10 CAD per day equivalent from Bell, Fido, Rogers or TELUS isn't actually the amazing deal those carriers make it out to be. If you're that person, then this post is for you.

    Telenor is the largest carrier in Norway, but the best they could offer my girlfriend and I was a paltry 500 MB of data for our 8 days there. So we went instead with the number two choice, Telia. The prepaid plan that I had researched was as follows:

    3 GB data, free domestic calls, texts and MMS for 31 days @ 299 NOK

    If you were wondering 299 Norwegian kroner works out to about $36 USD or $47 CAD. Not exactly cheap, but cheaper at least than the $80 CAD that we'd have to hand over to a Canadian operator for the privilege of roaming in Europe. Our current carrier, Koodo, doesn't even offer a roam like home option, so we'd be paying an extra $5 per megabyte of data while abroad.

    Nuts to that! ...
    by Published on 03-11-2016 08:05 AM
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    I've been enjoying my Pebble Time Steel for about a month now, but just this week I've made two startling new discoveries about it.

    I had been lamenting how slow Pebble's voice dictation was. To reply to an SMS or Google Hangout message you get to the screen you see here, say what you want to say and then wait an interminable amount of time for the lowly 100 MHz ARM Cortex-M4 to process it and send it to your phone.

    Or so I thought. ...
    by Published on 01-31-2016 09:36 AM
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    One thing a lot of people wish they could get in Canada is Google Voice. Well if your one of those people ...
    by Published on 01-18-2016 07:52 AM
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    Yours truly ordered and received a Huawei Nexus last week (#humblebrag), and over the weekend set it up for use as my main device. I insist that every Android device in my household is rooted (to block ads) and I personally prefer to run custom ROMs over rooted stock firmware (for easier updates).

    This week I'd like to showcase some notable custom ROMs running Android Marshmallow—but before that I'd like to share a little discovery I made over the weekend. I've been flashing custom ROMs on Nexus phones since the Nexus One, but there was this odd term I kept coming across that I've never really understood.

    Until now. ...
    by Published on 01-15-2016 07:48 AM
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    If you'll indulge me, I've got one more vacation-related post for you...

    It was almost a year ago that I first wrote about Canadian fintech startup Zenbanx, an app and web-based service allowing users to send money to friends and family in other parts of the world and, of much more interest to me, allowing those same users to withdraw funds in local currencies while travelling.

    I've now used Zenbanx enough times abroad that I can speak with some authority about it. The first thing you need to know is that the app is a complete waste of time—at least it has been for me. Perhaps it's because I'm running a custom Android ROM on a rooted phone, but I've rarely, if ever, been able to get past this first screen you see here.

    That's the bad news. Now the good news (and maybe just a bit more bad news). ...
    by Published on 01-11-2016 08:12 AM
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    Just got back last night from a Christmas and New Year's trip to Hong Kong and Tokyo. Getting connected in Hong Kong was as simple as swapping out my home SIM for a Hong Kong Tourist one—which still worked perfectly despite the change in service from PCCW to csl.

    Japan, though, was a whole other story. And the worst part is that it could have been so much easier. ...
    by Published on 11-27-2015 06:55 AM
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    Don't think I've ever seen this before... At least three Nexus devices are being heavily discounted for Black Friday—and two of those deals are available right on Google's own online store.

    The bad news that is there's barely any love for Canada. Sure, we had our Thanksgiving over a month ago, but our consumer-driven culture has been honouring Black Friday for as long as anyone else! ...
    by Published on 11-23-2015 08:00 AM
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    One of the very first posts I wrote for the front page of these fine forums was about this hotspot, the Sierra Wireless (now NETGEAR?) AirCard 763S. I still have it and I'm glad that I do—when my DSL modem died last week the AirCard stepped up as my lifeline to the Internet for more than 48 hours. ...
    by Published on 11-02-2015 08:25 AM
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    I'm probably one of the last people to give up on the one-two punch in the mouth that is Foursquare and Swarm. What was once a single app and a handy one at that has become too cumbersome and broken to be of any value to me.

    I was first introduced to Foursquare way back in 2009. The mayorships were an obvious gimmick but I immediately saw value in the service as a way to track and time-stamp various places I've visited. What's that restaurant in Scarborough that's famous for their hot and sour soup? How do you spell the name of Helsinki's famous electronics shop? Foursquare knows!

    Foursquare also knows how to ruin a perfectly good product, apparently... which is exactly what they've done. Fortunately there are other apps and services that provide the same functionality should you decide to jump ship like me. ...
    by Published on 10-27-2015 08:20 AM
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    I've learned this lesson the hard way from a previous life as an Apple fanboy, being among the very first to purchase new computers and/or laptops only to find them plagued with early production issues—like FireWire ports that didn't work or fried logic boards out of the box.

    This was back in the early 2000s, mind you. But cut to late 2015 and it seems there are a few hiccups with Google's new line of Nexus phones. This isn't meant to scare anyone who's already pulled the trigger on a new 5X or 6P; it's more to comfort those who haven't. ...
    by Published on 10-23-2015 08:08 AM
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    You knew this was coming, right?

    Yes, I know, most people reading this probably won't care. But at some undetermined point in the future someone, somewhere out there on the internets will want to know:

    How can I get a cheap data SIM for Finland?

    A quick search on Howard Forums yielded but one result specific to this part of the world:

    I spent two weeks in Finland last year; used about 350 MB of data [...] I could have gotten a local SIM for €20 or so, with unlimited data, but that's a PITA for a brief trip. A lot of countries require you to register pre-paid SIMs and won't sell them to foreigners.
    That might be true for some places, but is not the case for Finland at all. Here's how you can enjoy fast LTE data on your Finnish holiday for under $10 USD. ...
    by Published on 10-19-2015 07:47 AM
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    It's Election Day in Canada, and our official endorsement for Prime Minister is...

    No no no no no, there'll be none of that today. Just some mobile-friendly means to help you get out to your local polling station and exercise your democratic right to vote. Why? Because this image, that's why. ...
    by Published on 10-16-2015 07:55 AM
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    It looks like iPhone 6s and 6s Plus owners have a bit of a surprise lurking beneath their screens. Apple's new A9 chip, one of the most important components in these new devices, have been sourced from two different manufacturers—Samsung and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). Depending on which chip you have, your phone's battery life may be affected by up to 30%.

    The good news is that you'll only see this disparity if you're running the Geekbench benchmarking app. Real-world differences are negligible. ...
    by Published on 10-06-2015 08:08 AM
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    Today, in other words...

    It's a pilgrimage I should have made a long time ago, but the honest truth is that it's not really a pilgrimage at all. The famous Nokia House in Espoo is no more; after Nokia sold their handset business to Microsoft the building was eventually renamed Microsoft Talo—and what Nokian in their right mind would want a souvenir photo with a big-a** Microsoft logo on it?

    No, the only news here is yet another vacation for yours truly. I hope to be back to my regular posting schedule on Wednesday, October 14th. ...
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