• Commentary and Analysis

    by Published on 05-03-2016 06:35 AM
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    The Guardian, the UK news site most famous for releasing the Snowden Leaks, posted yesterday about an apparent deal between Microsoft and Google to cease all regulatory complaints against each other worldwide. Writes The Guardian: "The common corporate line is that the companies want to compete on products, not court cases."

    Microsoft still makes more money than Google, but the gap has steadily gotten smaller and Redmond clearly needs to adapt. The company has focused its crosshairs on what CEO Satya Nadella calls systems of intelligence—continuous and connected looping data streams, providing greater insight into the world around us.

    Harvard Business School Professor Shoshana Zuboff has a more sinister name for it: surveillance capitalism. ...
    by Published on 05-02-2016 06:35 AM
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    The LA Times ran an interesting story over the weekend about yet another iPhone-related court case in California.

    Paytsar Bkhchadzhyan, the girlfriend of a suspected Armenian gang member (and a convicted felon herself) was ordered to unlock her iPhone with her finger via Apple's biometric security feature, TouchID.

    The order got the go-ahead thanks to a warrant signed by a U.S. Magistrate Judge, and therein lies the problem: U.S. law sees fingerprints as evidence, not testimony; but personal data provided through fingerprint authentication on a smartphone is tantamount to testimony. Some legal experts worry that this violates every citizen's 5th Amendment rights. ...
    by Published on 04-22-2016 03:36 PM
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    Yesterday I wrote about Desjardin Insurance’s Ajusto app and wasn’t planning to write about it again for a while but I wanted to mention a few more things I forgot to yesterday.

    First up though, since I’ve been using it for more than a day I got my first score (as opposed to a trip score) on my iPhone.

    After a day of very careful driving I managed, wait for it, 89 out of 100. ...
    by Published on 04-21-2016 02:58 PM
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    Before my kids came, I used to really enjoy driving games. Forza 2 on my Xbox 360 was my favorite but no matter the game, the goal was typically the same, get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

    That is till now. I just downloaded Desjardins’ Ajusto app to my iPhone (also available for Android). It’s an app which analyzes how you drive and gives each trip a score out of 100. You get points for driving smooth, not cornering too hard, not speeding and not accelerating too quickly. Sounds like the recipe for the most boring car game ever.
    ...
    by Published on 04-20-2016 03:22 PM
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    The other day, I wrote about my Nexus 4 and how it’s still able to get the job done. What I didn’t mention was that I was also fiddling with my Nexus One from many years ago. While a bit smaller, feature wise, it’s not all that far from the current crop of Nexus’.

    Oh and before I continue, all the pictures here were taken with the very same Nexus 4 I wrote about yesterday. It’s old, not obsolete!

    I mean the recipe for a smartphone hasn’t changed all that much. They’re still basically just a processor, touch screen, RAM, storage, camera(s), speaker(s), radio and software, all crammed into a bar like device. Despite manufacturer’s best efforts, this recipe probably won’t change for a while.

    Along the way, companies have tried to mix things up. Samsung includes a heart rate sensor on many models. The Note series includes a stylus. They also included a UV sensor on the Note 4.

    A few have tried infrared blasters. There are a handful of phones with dual rear cameras, for various reasons including 2 different focal lengths, fake bokeh effects, 3D, you name it.

    Call it innovation or running out of ideas, but there is one feature which is slowly becoming a standard feature which I absolutely love; the fingerprint reader.
    ...
    by Published on 04-18-2016 07:43 PM
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    Forgive me for the provocative title, but I was doing some spring cleaning the other day when I stumbled across my old LG Nexus 4. Released in late 2012, it’s now a little over 3 years old and no longer gets the latest version of Android from Google.

    I turned it on and it still works just fine. It got me thinking; just how fast is it compared to something more contemporary? And since when is something barely 3 years old not contemporary?

    Since the Nexus 4 came out, it’s seen 3 generations of successors. After the 4 came the LG Nexus 5 in 2013. 2014 saw the Motorola Nexus 6 while 2015 saw a pair of Nexus (Nexi?); the Huawei Nexus 6P and LG Nexus 5x.

    If I may jog your memory, the Nexus 4 came:


    • quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Pro 1.5Ghz SoC
    • 2GB RAM
    • 8GB or 16GB storage
    • 4.7” 1280x768 LCD
    • 8MP rear camera
    • 1.3MP front camera
    • 2100mAh battery
    • Android 4.2 at release now at 5.1.1


    Aside from lacking official LTE support and the slightly lower resolution display, the 4 doesn’t seem very far off from the latest Nexus devices. So, what kind of jumps in performance do we see from one generation to the next?
    ...
    by Published on 04-15-2016 11:05 AM
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    Previously I discussed the merits of both the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and HTC 10’s speakers. If you missed it, both have different strengths but are excellent in their own way.

    To make things more spicy, I figured I’d toss the iPhone 6s Plus and Huawei Nexus 6P into the equation.

    Next up, let’s talk screens; The HTC 10, Edge and Nexus all have 2560x1440 displays while the iPhone gets by with a more modest 1920x1080. If you look really closely there is a small difference in sharpness between the Androids and the iPhone’s display. However, all displays have more than 400PPI which to my eyes is enough that I don’t really care about having more.
    ...
    by Published on 04-14-2016 02:43 PM
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    Since Andrew is off for a couple of weeks, I’m going to try to take over and share some thoughts each day. Recently, I’ve been playing with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and HTC 10 (LG G5 is coming but not here yet) so I figured I compare the 2. I’ll have full reviews for all 3 phones eventually but for now I’m just going to focus on specific areas.

    As a reviewer, one of my jobs is to figure out if newer models are better than previous ones. However, when it comes to features, once they’ve reached a point where they’re “good enough”, most people stop caring about them.

    A good example is screen size. Once phones breached 5.5ish inches most people stopped clamouring for bigger screens. It’s not to say that future phones won’t get bigger, just that the current crop of screens are large enough for most. If we find new ways to use our phones that require a bigger screen, this will obviously change.

    Another thing people don’t really about anymore is camera resolution. As long as you have more than 10 megapixels (enough to also capture 4K video) most people don’t really care about having more. It’s enough for Facebook/Instagram and thus enough for most.

    Still, there are still areas which can use some improving. Areas which I’ll be focusing more on.



    First up are the speakers. The 10 and Edge both have 2 speakers; one on the earpiece and a bigger one on the bottom. ...
    by Published on 04-12-2016 07:46 AM
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    I had a chance to play with the HTC 10 the other day. Here are some first impressions:



    While the 10’s predecessors, the M7, M8 and M9 all shared a common design language, the 10 takes a different approach. The speaker grill stickers are gone in favor of a more minimalistic all-glass front. I don’t know about you but the grills starting to get long in the tooth so this is a welcome change.



    That said, looking at the pictures I kind of wish the silver version came with a white front as the black front is a bit bland but maybe that’s just me. ...
    by Published on 04-12-2016 06:40 AM
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    Sometimes pictures speak louder than words. This is one of those times.

    But sometimes pictures need a bit of context. And sometimes you're looking at an enormous infographic on a mobile device and for whatever reason you can't zoom in. In either case, I got you.

    Someone on the Canada reddit assembled a bunch of screen grabs from Canadian carrier websites into a very telling display, clearly showing how plans and pricing across our Big Three carriers and flanker brands are exactly the same. It shouldn't really be that surprising to Canadian mobile users, but it doesn't make me any less angry when I see it, either. ...
    by Published on 04-11-2016 07:29 AM
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    But our beloved Howard Forums is safe... I think?

    I've become aware of an escalating pushback against ad blocking technology. It may or may not have began with Apple supporting Safari extensions like Adblock Plus in iOS 9—if you didn't know, the iPhone's default browser is said to be responsible for over half of all mobile web traffic in the USA.

    We're now at a point where some sites and advertisers have become openly hostile towards ad blockers. Read on for the grisly details. ...
    by Published on 04-08-2016 06:50 AM
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    The Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA) (a lobby group) has commissioned a new study about zero-rated mobile content. The results? An overwhelming 94% of millennials surveyed were more likely to try a new online service if it were part of a free data offering.

    "It is no surprise that Americans embrace free data services that offer wireless consumers more data, more competitive choices and more flexibility to try new mobile applications and content. Free data services empower consumers with the freedom to choose what works for their mobile life, and that’s an outcome that everyone should support,” says CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker.

    For advocates of net neutrality, the news is less encouraging. ...
    by Published on 04-06-2016 06:58 AM
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    I'm not yet sure if this is going to end up being a regular feature or not, but for the next couple of Wednesdays I'm going to devote this space to smartwatches and other wearables. Let me know if you like this idea or not.

    Today I'd like to discuss a subject that's rarely reported on in the gadget-sphere: smartwatches for women. According to Wikipedia wristwatches were made exclusively for women up until the early 20th century (men used pocketwatches), yet many modern smartwatches (Android Wear) look comically large on the female wrist.

    With fashion in mind, Kelly Boyle has posted a very thorough round-up of smartwatches for women. Elsewhere, Erica Griffin laments the lack of innovation in the wearable space. ...
    by Published on 04-04-2016 06:58 AM
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    To call award-winning tech journalist Walt Mossberg "influential" would be a an understatement; WIRED Magazine has dubbed him "The Kingmaker", explaining that "few reviewers have held so much power to shape an industry's successes and failures". For whatever reason, like fellow tech writer David Pogue, much of Mossberg's career has been inextricably linked to Apple, Inc.

    To celebrate Apple's 40th birthday Mossberg appears in a new Verge Video talking about a few of the Cupertino-based company's most influential products—including, of course, the original iPhone. There's one thing he says about that game-changing mobile device that I must respectfully disagree with. Read on and see if you agree with me, or with him. ...
    by Published on 04-01-2016 12:44 PM
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    Until last year, the previous couple of iterations in the Galaxy S lineup were pretty predictable. They were all plastic bodied phones with removable batteries and memory. Then last year, they took the Galaxy S line in a new direction. The GS6 had an all glass and metal body and they did away with the user changeable battery and MicroSD. The last change struck a chord with users because you had to decide how much storage you’d ever need when you bought the phone plus you’d have to pay an inflated price if you needed more than the base model - just like you do with an iPhone.

    Fortunately, the MicroSD is back with the latest version along with water resistance - a feature which took a hiatus last year.

    Otherwise, the GS7 is an evolution of the GS6. The look follows Samsung’s latest design language, the camera has been improved, you get a more powerful processor a bigger battery. That sort of thing. Is it worth the upgrade? ...
    by Published on 04-01-2016 12:42 PM
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    I’d never really cared much for the BB10 O/S, but I was most certainly looking forward to seeing what sort of Android phone Blackberry could produce. Clearly they needed to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Android rabble, but at the same time they couldn’t substantially change the O/S without taking away what makes it Android. They also wanted to reintroduce the physical keyboard, which has mostly disappeared from Android. As far as I can tell, the keyboard is there mostly to appease old Blackberry fans, who were used to typing on physical keyboards in older Blackberry devices. ...
    by Published on 03-23-2016 06:45 AM
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    Ars Technica reported yesterday that every Nexus phone ever made, plus millions of others, are vulnerable to a newly-discovered exploit that can root your hardware and permanently compromise it. The vulnerability, identified as CVE-2015-1805, stems from the Linux kernel that powers Android. Linux developers patched it in 2014 but, for reasons unknown, it wasn't fixed for Nexus until last Friday's security update, and might still be a problem for other affected devices.

    Does this mean you should immediately unroot your Nexus, or avoid the brand altogether? Nope. Not now, not ever. For me root remains the defining feature of Android; if I wanted a locked-down Internet appliance I'd buy an iPhone. Seriously. ...
    by Published on 03-18-2016 07:05 AM
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    Telcos must have been thrilled when the Obama Administration nominated Tom Wheeler to chair the Federal Communications Commission in 2013. AT&T called it "an inspired pick" and Comcast noted Wheeler's "proven leadership". Why all the praise? Because Wheeler used to be a lobbyist for both the cable and wireless industries.

    Fortunately this story has a happy ending; instead of the big incumbents getting their every evil wish granted, Wheeler has become their worst nightmare. It was always thus, as he tells Ars Technica—he's been fighting for the little guy his entire career. ...
    by Published on 03-15-2016 06:50 AM
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    XDA has published an unusually-detailed post on their front page, all about their community's so-far thwarted attempts to unlock the bootloader and obtain root on North American variants of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. I think it makes an excellent addendum to what I previously wrote here about those devices.

    The biggest issue that modders face with the SGS7 is the two chipsets. In the Americas—Canada and the United States, anyway—the phones are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820; everywhere else you'll find Samsung's own Exynos 8890. I think I heard on the XDA podcast that Exynos versions of Samsung phones are actually more developer-friendly, in that they ship with their bootloaders already unlocked. Unfortunately that same Exynos chip means that you'll never be able to use an AOSP-based custom ROM (something without TouchWiz) on an Exynos-powered Samsung. Why? Well, that's another story.

    As for the Snapdragon SGS7 the XDA community's frustrations boil down to this simple fact: Carriers ruin everything. ...
    by Published on 03-14-2016 08:46 PM
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    In the past, I’ve written about my new hobby, wearing ‘dumb’ watches. You’d think that a phone nerd like myself would be all over smartwatches but in fact, I was so annoyed by the ones I’ve tried, it actually caused me to start wearing regular watches again.

    Between the constant charging, the poor ease of use, questionable styling and finishes, and inability to do anything well, smartwatches in general left me wanting.

    However, they did remind me that I like wearing something on my wrist so I went from wearing nothing on my arm to wearing something again.



    Since then, I’ve picked up a few pieces - divers watches, pilot watches, chronographs, automatics, manual winders, radioactive (that’s right), military style, skeletons, etc.



    However, something happened. Getting all these watches made me more open to watches in general and thus more open to smart watches. Talk about drama!



    But that’s not all, the soap opera that is my left arm isn’t over yet. How do I choose which watch to wear? While my regular watches can sit in my watch box just fine for a few days here and there, it’s best to wear a smartwatch daily. What to do? What to do? ...
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