• Commentary and Analysis

    by Published on 12-29-2016 07:30 AM
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    Our year-end retrospective continues with a look back at the notable carrier-related stories of 2016. Note the strong bias towards the Canadian market in what follows, as that's where I happen to live. Sorry, eh?

    CANADA

    Bell Acquires MTS

    Our biggest story of the year had to be Bell's takeover of Manitoba Telecom Services, a deal that was recently approved by the CRTC. This regional carrier was at least partly responsible for one of the most popular Canadian plans on Howard Forums, the $55 (now $48) Manitoba/Saskatchewan (now just MB) plan from Koodo. Some links:

    BCE Buys MTS: Some Notable Quotes

    Winseck and Klass Weigh in on BCE and MTS

    How The Colony Could Learn from The Empire

    Competition

    Wireless plans in Canada continue to mimic gas prices; the guy on one corner continues to raise or lower prices (mostly raise them) to match the guy on the opposite corner. The one bit of good news: WIND—I mean, Freedom Mobile now supports LTE data, albeit on only two devices.

    This is What Wireless Competition Looks Like in Canada

    Egregious New Data Overages Coming to Fido; Other Carriers to Follow?

    Freedom Mobile’s LTE Network Now Live in Toronto and Vancouver

    S**t Guy Laurence Says

    Notable Plans

    Queuing for SIM cards? Only in Canada.

    USA

    Zero-Rated Data

    In studying the U.S. wireless market from afar it seems to me that this was the most contentious issue of the year. I myself am a strong believer in net neutrality; zero-rated services are awesome if you're subscribed to the carrier that offers them, and awful if you're not... which is kind of the point.

    The Dangers of Zero-Rated Data

    Netflix Video Throttled on AT&T and Verizon

    Ars Technica Profiles FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

    Notable Plans

    How to get Unlimited Internet on Sprint for $500/year (tax-deductible)

    If there are any big carrier-related stories that I've missed—particularly from the United States—feel free to add them below!

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    by Published on 12-28-2016 07:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis



    I'm using a year-end retrospective post on Wareable as the inspiration for my own year-end retrospective on smartwatches. But this isn't just a reblog—I think there's at least one big story missing in that post, which I'll tell you about at the end of this one.

    Apple Watch Series 2

    I do agree that the second-generation Apple Watch is a big deal, but probably not for the same reasons as most people think. With its refocus on fitness tracking we suddenly saw a $500 USD (on average) luxury item chasing a $100 USD Fitbit. For me, there was no better indication that smartwatches had lost the plot.

    The Death of Pebble

    The smartwatch pioneer also doubled down on fitness in 2016, but it was too little, too late. If you were interested, there's one more factor that likely contributed to the company's demise: Japan Display, Inc., the supplier of Pebble's e-paper screen, is having its own financial woes.

    The Rise of The Hybrid

    Fossil Group reportedly began 2016 with a promise to launch 100 wearables by year's end. Unfortunately their Android Wear products all include Motorola's contentious flat tire as a standard design aesthetic. But they've also popularized an entirely new class of smartwatch: the hybrid. These devices are light on smartwatch features—basically a vibration motor and, if you're lucky, a programmable light or subdial to track your steps—but big on battery life and traditional watch movements. Nokia also got in on this nascent product category with its acquisition of Withings.

    Android Wear

    2016 ended without the release of Android Wear 2.0, but what everybody seems to have missed is a major tipping point in the platform. Android-powered smartwatches are now available from no less than four traditional watch companies—Casio, Fossil, Nixon and even Tag Heuer. I still expect Android Wear to eventually capture the bulk of the smartwatch market, just like Windows did with personal computers in the 1990s.

    Hopefully along the way we'll find something more useful for them to do than show notifications on our wrists and track steps.

    Source: Wareable

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    by Published on 12-13-2016 07:30 AM
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    Hey everybody, check this out... The OnePlus 3T smokes the much more expensive Google Pixel XL in a real-world side-by-side speed test. HAH!

    There's just one problem: according to this sober editorial on XDA, "real-world" side-by-side comparisons like these are inconclusive at best. The author, Daniel Marchena, likens them to an episode of Top Gear—or rather, The Grand Tour—that is, entertaining to watch, but not at all instructive:

    Applications like Geekbench 4 are tests done in a specific testing environment. They are self contained, and thus are less likely to be affected by the environment directly. Contrary to this, a speed test is open to a host of variables like touch response times, background processes, the amount of user data synced, which side of Google’s beloved A/B testing a phone could be involved in, the application state, the unavoidable human error…
    To illustrate his point, Daniel ran five separate side-by-side comparisons between the Pixel and the LG V20. To see the wildly-varying results, check out the link immediately below. And to see more side-by-side videos, I'm afraid that you'll have to look elsewhere from now on.

    Source: XDA Developers

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    by Published on 12-08-2016 07:00 AM
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    Exhibit A: The original iPhone, running iOS 1.0, vs the T-Mobile G1, running the first release of Android. These two revolutionary devices could not have been more different—despite Google famously going back to the drawing board when the iPhone made its début.



    Exhibit B: The current iPhone vs the Google Pixel. The software and ecosystems are distinct but not dissimilar—both have their own app stores that run the same popular apps, albeit on different codebases. Design-wise they're largely the same, both slabs of mostly screen. And the prices? Well, the prices are identical.

    Don't get me wrong, smartphones have gotten exponentially better over the past decade. What I'm saying is that they've progressed to the point where they've largely become boring. At least for me.

    There is still innovation to be found, but you have to look for it. The notion of modular phones is interesting, but the execution of that idea by the likes of LG and Motorola is little more than a gimmick; Fairphone's proposition of upgradeable and recyclable phone parts is much more sustainable. Too bad you can only get one in Europe.

    Then there's Google's Project Tango, bringing augmented reality to the palm of your hand. But at present it's available on only one device, and reviews of that device aren't very good.

    Are my expectations for smartphones too high? Always. And I find both Google and Apple guilty of chasing profits more than innovation. To both of them I have this to say: Stop being boring!

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    by Published on 12-01-2016 09:26 AM
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    I’ve been using my iPhone 7 Plus for a few weeks now and since I don’t have time for a full review, I thought I’d share some observations and compare it with my 6s Plus.

    First off, Apple finally ditching the 16GB base model. These days, you can do so much with a Smartphone, it’s irresponsible to sell such an expensive phone with such a skimpy storage configuration. It’s like selling a minivan that only has 1 seat in it.

    Models start with 32GB which is a useful start. The other configurations have 128 and 256GB of storage, up from the 6s Plus’ 64 and 128GB respectively, at the the same price points, which in a way, makes them a better deal - if you could call a $1000+ phone a good deal.
    ...
    by Published on 11-17-2016 10:58 AM
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    I just checked out Motorola’s JBL Soundboost speaker, and Easy Share Projector Moto Mods for their Z series phones. Next up is their camera accessory; the Hasselblad True Zoom.

    Hasselblad is known for their professional grade medium format cameras. So what is their logo doing on this decided un-professional looking camera? Did they really help Motorola develop a camera accessory or did they just have a bunch of extra Hasselblad stickers laying around?
    ...
    by Published on 10-31-2016 07:00 AM
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    So I'm going to be away for a few weeks—after I post the news round-up later today you won't hear from me again until Monday, November 21st. As a parting gift I'd like to share an excerpt from a fantastic book I've just finished, Losing The Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry. Whether or not it qualifies as a Halloween ghost story isn't for me to decide.

    I'll set the stage for you: The year is 2010, and a delegation of RIM executives is at Mobile World Congress to meet with Verizon, their biggest carrier partner. Their relationship by that point is already strained, and Verizon is doing quite well with the Moto Droid. Anyway, in preparation for the rollout of their new 4G network the carrier is meeting with OEMs to see what 4G-capable hardware they have available.

    To borrow a hackneyed phrase from BuzzFeed, you won't believe what happens next! ...
    by Published on 10-26-2016 07:30 AM
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    Before you start saving up for that jaw-dropping Mi Mix, there's something you should know: someone has found a backdoor in MIUI, the Android ROM that runs on Xiaomi phones and tablets.

    The Libre Guy grabbed this screen from a terminal app on his Mi Pad, running the netstat command. What does it mean? I'll let him explain:

    What this means is that Xiaomi has a background app constantly running which establishes a connection with some backend servers as soon as you connect to the Internet. For example, as shown on the first line, an app is listening on the XMPP port and connected to the IP 111.206.200.2. When I looked up this IP Address on the Internet, it was traced to some Chinese ISP, thus confirming my suspicion.

    What this essentially means is that the person on the other end of this connection may be doing anything to our device through this established tcp connection. Now, it could well be the case that the app is genuinely listening for an update or something, but as we all know, a backdoor such as this can be exploited by any hackers and used in unintended ways.
    Recalling that time I found ES File Explorer phoning home to China I immediately pulled my Redmi 1S out of storage and installed OS Monitor to see if I could find the same thing. Spoiler alert: Not really. ...
    by Published on 10-20-2016 07:00 AM
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    Wareable posted a feature this week using data gathered from various studies to paint a picture—in broad strokes—of the current wearable market. Sources include CCS Insight, NPD and First Insight (direct link to PDF).

    I'll admit that precious few of these "insights" are in any way surprising; the most encouraging data point for me is that there's a large potential market out there for cheaper hardware. And who doesn't want cheaper hardware?

    Anyway, read on for more! ...
    by Published on 10-19-2016 01:49 PM
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    I’ve been playing with the Motorola Moto Z and some Moto Mod accessories for it. I recently checked out the JBL SoundBoost Speaker Moto Mod. Initially, I was unsure of how much sense a proprietary accessory would make, but Motorola managed to make it work and I loved the SoundBoost.



    Next up is their Moto Insta-Share Projector. It’s a pic projector that attaches to the back of a Motorola Moto Z family phone (currently there are 3 compatible Z family phones with presumably more to come). There are pogo plugs on the back of the projector which mate to connectors on the back of a Moto Z. It uses magnets to hold it in place which I assure you, hold it very securely. ...
    by Published on 10-19-2016 07:00 AM
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    Some embargo must have been lifted yesterday; around lunchtime my RSS feeds and YouTube queue were suddenly filled with reviews of Google's new iPhone, like the video you see here from The Verge's Dieter Bohn.

    This morning's plan was to post some links for your reading pleasure, but this longtime Nexus fan couldn't resist the urge to throw in his own snarky comments along with them. Let's start with Dieter, who says that the Pixel phones go "toe to toe" with the iPhone, and that the Pixel "doesn't fall down". This gets right to my fundamental problem with Pixel. It copies the iPhone so much, from its exorbitant price right down to the long-press actions on app icons, that it begs the question: Why wouldn't someone just buy an iPhone? ...
    by Published on 10-13-2016 08:44 AM
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    I’ve been playing with a Motorola Moto Z and a few Moto Mod accessories for a few days and thought I’d share some thoughts on how they work together.

    But first off, I have to mention what really jumps out about the Z is just how thin it is. I mean how can something this skinny pack flagship specs? What’s more impressive is that they managed to do this without having to resort to a gigantic bezel or skimping on the battery capacity.



    They didn’t skimp on features either, on the back are series of 16 pogo pins which allow you to attach a variety of add-ons called Moto Mods. Motorola isn’t messing around either, they sent me 4 different Mods with the Z including:


    • a serious sounding speaker from JBL
    • external battery pack for extended Pokemon Go so I can finally catch enough Dratini to evolve it
    • Camera with 10x optical zoom from Hasselblad
    • Pico Projector so the wife and I can watch Brooklyn Nine Nine on the ceiling




    These can all attach to the back of the Moto Z using magnets. In case you’re wondering; Yes, they attach very securely - they won’t come off unless you want it to and even then it takes a bit of coaxing.



    As it turns out the thinness, allows the Z to stay manageable even when you have a Moto Mod attached.



    So, far the one I’ve used most is the JBL speaker. I’ll talk more about the other mods in another write up. It’s considerably thicker than the Z and at 145g it basically doubles the weight of the package. Fortunately it’s very sculpted so it doesn’t feel too strange in my hand when I have it connected.
    ...
    by Published on 10-13-2016 07:30 AM
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    $1,179 CAD. That's what Google Canada wants for a 128 GB Pixel XL. To say that I'm not interested would be a massive understatement.

    And it's not like I don't love gadgets; it's just that I buy enough of them to have a pretty good idea of what I'm willing to spend. As a reference, here's my own personal computer allowance:

    Desktop computer - $2,000 - upgraded every two to three years
    Laptop computer - $1,000 - upgraded every two to three years
    Smartphone - $500 - upgraded every year
    Smartwatch - $250 - upgraded every year

    But wait, you say, you can get a 32 GB Pixel for only $899 CAD. Yeah, no thanks... over the summer I bought a ThinkPad for the same price. ...
    by Published on 10-11-2016 07:00 AM
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    Samsung's strategy of beating Apple to market with their own flagship phablet has now completely, irreversibly and permanently backfired. Early this morning The Wall Street Journal reported that the product has been discontinued altogether.

    In Canada and the USA it was the carriers who bore the brunt of Note7 returns during the initial recall, and when it became clear that replacement devices were also faulty it was time to cut their losses—on Sunday AT&T decided to stop selling the Note7, followed soon after by Best Buy, Sprint and Verizon.

    For Samsung it's been a disaster on three fronts—manufacturing, sales and PR. A user of a faulty replacement Note7 received a text message from Samsung that was clearly not meant for him:

    Just now got this. I can try and slow him down if we think it will matter, or we just let him do what he keeps threatening to do and see if he does it
    All this has at least one mobile industry expert—Tomi Ahonen—to wonder if this is the end of the Note line altogether. According to him, the damage to Samsung's brand will last for at least a year, if not more. ...
    by Published on 10-06-2016 07:00 AM
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    Yesterday BGR found AnTuTu's listing for the top ten smartphones of September on their Chinese site—they should be published in English anytime now. Anyway, the story, according to BGR, is that the new iPhones "crush" the iPhones from Google (aka Pixel). Thing is, the Google iPhones haven't even been benchmarked yet; the claim is based solely on the fact that the number three handset is powered by the same Snapdragon 821 processor as the Pixel (aka Google iPhone).

    Sure, that's fair. But when I look at these results I see a completely different story. I see a chart that's dominated by Chinese OEMs, and of the seven Chinese brands in this list, only one of them—the OnePlus 3—is available for purchase here in the Americas. ...
    by Published on 10-05-2016 07:30 AM
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    After all the Pixel-related hoopla yesterday Android Police confirmed with Google that the Nexus brand is effectively dead. I think I've come to terms with it; Nexus hasn't really been the same since late 2013 anyway, when the Nexus 5—codenamed hammerhead—went on sale.

    The Nexus 5 finished what the Nexus 4 started, offering high-end specs at an affordable price. The final pieces to this puzzle that were added by the 5 include a full HD screen, LTE radio and optically-stabilized rear camera. Battery life wasn't spectacular, but this was offset somewhat by the convenience of inductive charging.

    And, of course, being a Nexus meant that hammerhead was a modder's dream. It was my first testbed for Xposed Modules, ran one of my all-time favourite custom ROMs, SlimKat, and was even compatible with MultiROM, allowing me to boot into Android, Sailfish and Ubuntu all on the same phone. Hammerhead continues to be useful to this day; it's currently the only device that can run Maru OS, transforming a humble smartphone into a fully-functioning Debian-powered desktop computer.

    You could go so far as to call The Nexus 5 the anti-iPhone. Where Apple's flagship was locked down and expensive, Google's alternative was open and affordable. It seems to have sold pretty well, too; I still see the occasional Nexus 5 when I'm out in the world. 2013 actually saw two Nexus successes: the second-gen Nexus 7 tablet was (and is) also pretty great. ...
    by Published on 09-23-2016 07:00 AM
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    Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have just published the results of a two-year study on wearable technology and weight loss. A total of 471 participants in the study, men and women aged 18-35, were weeded down into two groups; the group using fitness trackers lost less weight on average than the ones that didn't.

    All of the initial subjects got six months of a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity and group counseling. From that larger group subjects were selected at random for an additional 18 months of phone counseling, SMS reminders and access to either a website or a wearable device.

    The results: After 2 years, the non-wearable group lost 13 lbs on average, and the wearable group only 7.7 lbs. ...
    by Published on 09-21-2016 07:30 AM
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    Sometime overnight Allo, Google's mobile-first messaging app, went live. Available for both Android and iOS, it may or may not be ready for download in your country or to your specific device—but Android users can at least grab the officiall package from Android Police's APK Mirror.

    Reading through the feature list on the official website I can already tell that this app is not for me; it's meant for a user whose primary—possibly only—connection to the Internet is through their smartphone. There's currently no desktop client for it, nor do there seem to be any data portability options. You register for Allo with a Google account and a phone number, though the Google hook-up is only necessary if you want to interact with Google's chatbot, @google.

    Out of the gate Allo faces some stiff competition from more established players in the rich messaging racket, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and a slew of alternatives whose popularity will depend on what part of the world you call home. So why even bother? ...
    by Published on 09-15-2016 07:30 AM
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    "There isn't really going to be much if any involvement from the Inc this time around and I'm taking on a lot of stuff on my own to try and keep us moving forward."

    That's an uncharacteristically candid Steve Kondik, commenting in a commit thread for CyanogenMod, the first and most famous custom ROM for Android devices. It was discovered by Android Police earlier this week, and if nothing else is an indication that the Nougat-powered version of CyanogenMod, CM14, might face some delays.

    To Kondik's credit, CyanogenMod development was largely unaffected by the folly of the corporate counterpart, Cyanogen, Inc. A quick summary of how that went: What I initially saw as a savvy move to bring a Western-friendly OS to the rising tide of Chinese Android phones was squandered through arrogance and the downright sleazy deal with Micromax that got OnePlus banned from India. At the end of it all, "the Inc." had little to show but a few custom apps and a questionable deal with Microsoft. ...
    by Published on 09-12-2016 07:30 AM
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    XDA was the bearer of bad news for Pokémon GO players over the weekend; the latest update to the game locks out Android users with root, and jailbroken iPhones as well. The official line from Niantic Labs is as follows:

    "We continue to focus on eliminating bots and scrapers from Pokémon GO. Rooted or jailbroken devices are not supported by Pokémon GO. Remember to download Pokémon GO from the official Google Play Store or iTunes App Store only."

    Okay, fair enough... Niantic wants only to keep an even playing field for everyone participating, right? It's a noble idea, but there are at least three problems with the way they've chosen to implement it. First, the game's root-block can be bypassed—I wouldn't call it easy but for someone hell-bent on being a Pokémon cheat it's certainly doable. Second, there's the rather insulting presumption that a user who has taken full control of their Android or iOS device has done so only to punk the game. And third, there is the continuing, if unspoken, narrative by software companies that rooted or jailbroken phones are somehow unsafe. If you've rooted or jailbroken your own device then this is just not true.

    So now, if you're a Pokémon player with root, your only choices are to give it up or bypass the root/jailbreak checks. The game itself is almost certainly compromised already and will continue to be; Niantic has really accomplished nothing here. ...
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