• Commentary and Analysis

    by Published on 02-22-2016 07:00 AM
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    No, this isn't LG's 2016 G5, it's Handspring's 2000 Color Visor with an attached mobile phone module—essentially, a VisorPhone. It was technically my first-ever smartphone (PDA phones qualified as smartphones back then) and has long since been my avatar on Howard Forums.

    What does any of this have to do with LG's new flagship? Well, the more I read about the promise of the modular G5 the more I recall the Achilles' heel of my old Handspring Visor. ...
    by Published on 02-18-2016 07:17 AM
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    I can still remember Dan Bader's anti-modding screed on Mobile Syrup back in 2013, which got him a lot of notoriety and ultimately a guest spot on TWIT.tv (the link to that episode is unfortunately down at the moment). It was the reaction to his post that was so surprising to me—Android users everywhere seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief, as if to say: "Finally, someone's saying what we're all thinking...!"

    In the years that followed I've observed a growing derision of custom ROMs and such on the various Android-centric blogs and forums that I follow. There's even an xdacirclejerk board on reddit, filled with in-jokes like How do I partition sim card? and BATTERYGUIDE[SUPERPOWER][100 hrs SOT]—all good fun, until you read the rant that XDA editor-in-chief Mario Tomás Serrafero wrote about people buying Nexus phones and doing absolutely nothing with them.

    It's true that with full disk encryption turned off the Nexus 5X is an entirely different—that is, much faster—phone. It's also true that your technology is yours to do with as you see fit. Or not. I just have to ask, are there still Android modders amongst us? ...
    by Published on 02-17-2016 06:57 AM
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    There has been a federal court order handed down in California, one that could set an important precedent for your privacy rights in regards to your mobile phone.

    Thanks to the Snowden leaks of 2013 both Android and iOS now have full disk encryption enabled by default. It's being widely misreported that a magistrate judge has ordered Apple to break that encryption for an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the accused San Bernardino shooters. This, of course, is technically impossible. What the government and its investigators are really after is a backdoor to bypass Apple's additional security measures. ...
    by Published on 02-15-2016 06:32 AM
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    Over the weekend I went to my local Best Buy to get an accessory strap for my new Pebble. Not only was it hard to find the band, it proved quite the challenge to find anything related to Pebble in the sprawling wearable tech section of the store.

    In this particular location smartwatches (and their accessories) were vastly outnumbered by specialized fitness trackers. Some of the brands I immediately recognized—Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone—and others not so much (Withings?)... But what nobody's telling you about any of these products are the security issues inherent in pretty much all of them, along with the growing and questionable use cases for the technology. That is, until now. ...
    by Published on 02-08-2016 06:42 AM
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    OpenSignal has come out with their latest report on the global state of LTE, using data collected from its Android and iOS apps. I've already published a few data points in the daily news round-ups, like how T-Mobile has the fastest LTE network in the USA and Canadian carrier SaskTel has the third-fastest LTE speeds of any carrier worldwide.

    Would you like to know more? I know I would. So let's take a look at the bigger picture. ...
    by Published on 02-05-2016 07:01 AM
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    Yesterday YouTuber Marques K. Brownlee posted his latest video, positing that tablets are a dying product category. According to MKBHD—backed up by an article I found from the International Business Times—worldwide tablet sales were down 20% in Q3 2015 from the previous year.

    An obvious reason for this is that phones have become phablets, so there's less of a need for bigger screens. Another is that tablets aren't so much mobile as they are immobilizing—most tablets end up using an external fixed source for Internet and pretty much every tablet requires you to stop whatever else you're doing and operate it with both hands.

    But tablets are far from dead. And I've got proof. ...
    by Published on 02-03-2016 07:45 AM
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    4. Apps
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    First reported as a rumour by Android Central yesterday (since updated) and confirmed by the company itself overnight, popular Android software keyboard SwiftKey (also available for iOS) has been acquired by Microsoft. As of this morning, the app has been uninstalled from all the Android devices I own. Why?

    Because Microsoft spies on its users, that's why.

    But doesn't every software or services company track its users? Isn't that the deal we've have made, giving up our online habits in return for cool, free stuff? Perhaps, but I submit that Microsoft respects your personal data significantly less than other companies. I'll show you the evidence I've found and let you decide for yourself. ...
    by Published on 01-29-2016 06:15 AM
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    I saw signs of the smartphone market contracting while in Hong Kong this past January. While visiting the famous Sin Tat Plaza in Mong Kok—an entire mall devoted to mobile tech—it struck me that a significant number of shops were closed, with most of the activity limited to the lower floors of the building.

    Yesterday Android Authority added some hard numbers to my anecdotal observations, nicely summarizing recent smartphone sales data from both Strategy Analytics and IDC. The good news: 1.4 billion smartphones were shipped globally last year, a 10% increase over 2014 and the most units shipped in the market's history.

    The bad news: The rate of growth is down significantly—12.3% for all of 2015 vs. 31% for 2014, and just 6.4% in Q4 2015 compared to 31% in Q4 2014. That's the worst growth rate that the industry has ever seen.

    Samsung's profits are down 40%, and Apple is predicting its first drop in sales since 2003. So what's going on? ...
    by Published on 01-26-2016 06:35 AM
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    ... Be grateful you're not a Xiaomi user.

    Back in the day when their "flagship killer" slogan actually had some merit, OnePlus took a fair amount of heat for the way they sold phones, and deservedly so. The dreaded invite system was bad enough, but a would-be customer would often have to jump through additional hoops just to get an invite—retweeting an ad, liking a Facebook Page, posting on their forums, that sort of thing.

    It's recently come to light that fellow Chinese OEM Xiaomi is also making users jumps through hoops, for phones that those users already own. ...
    by Published on 01-21-2016 07:00 AM
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    I've been reading snippets about the latest Android vulnerability here and there, but have never fully understood it—that is until yesterday, when Android Central's Jerry Hildenbrand posted his excellent breakdown of CONFIG_KEYS to that site.

    The attack vector was recently discovered by a security company called Perception Point. It's an issue not with Android itself but with the Linux kernel that lies underneath, potentially affecting up to 66% of all Android devices along with tens of millions of Linux-powered PCs and servers.

    Sounds scary, right? Fortunately, like Stagefright, the only successful attacks using this exploit have been carried out in security research firm labs, and the aggregate risk to Android users is low. ...
    by Published on 01-14-2016 01:09 PM
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    Here’s my review of Microsoft’s Lumia 950. I’ll be honest, I normally carry an iPhone (6s Plus) and some sort of Android device (lately a LG G4 or Nexus 6P) around with me. I only play with Windows Phones when I have a unit that I’m reviewing. This will help you understand the type of shades I’m wearing when I look at a Windows Phone - you'll understand where I’m coming from.
    ...
    by Published on 01-08-2016 12:48 PM
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    I’ve been trying out Microsoft’s Lumia 950 Windows Phone all week. The fact that it runs me Microsoft's Windows made me get a bit nostalgic. I’m a bit of an old-school gadget nerd. I’ve been working on HowardForums for over 15 years now and while I’m a huge phone nerd who always regrets not keeping every single phone I’ve ever owned, my original love will always be desktop computers.

    My memory is a bit hazy but around the time I started the site I had an Intel Pentium 133MMX laptop running Windows ME which was soon to be replaced with an Athlon 600 which I built myself. Here’s a bit of trivia, the first computer HowardForums had all to itself was a Celeron 300 (or was it a 600) which was overclocked. It ran Linux and had a 40GB hard drive. It was cobbled together from new and existing parts I had lying around.

    Over the years I would replace my computer as often as I could afford. Fortunately I had a girlfriend (now wife) who was okay with this. However, a few years back something happen; My interest in computers started to wane. Instead of replacing my computer every year I’d start replacing it every 2 years. Then I went through an almost 4 or 5 year stint where I didn’t change it and really didn’t think twice about this.

    Last year I built myself an 8 core Intel computer and unless it breaks I really don’t see myself getting rid of it unless it breaks.

    I guess the reason why I stopped caring about computers is that newer versions didn’t really do anything my old computer could already do. Mind you with desktops you can always upgrade it incrementally. Want more space? Buy a new hard drive. What better speakers? Swap those out.

    It makes me wonder, are we at that point with phones? ...
    by Published on 01-04-2016 11:53 AM
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    Recently, I started cooking with my cast iron cookware. Unlike 'regular' Teflon coated pans, cast iron can handle temperatures of 600+ degrees. While cooking at 600 makes for some tasty, juicy food, the heat blows more smoke than a politician.

    There's enough that it usually sets off my smoke detector. This is a problem when you have young kids in the house as the beeping from the detector will wake them up/scare the hell out of them. Still, I put up with this until one night at 5AM one started to beep because the battery needed to be replaced. That was the last straw - I decided I needed a smarter smoke detector that would politely alert my phone when there was a problem rather than me having to figure out what's going on. Oh and in case you're wondering, I have a fancy range hood fan.

    We don't make the greatest decisions when we're woken up in the middle of the night so in my sleepy haze I decided to pick up a Nest Protect, or rather 3 Nest Protects for my house. My house has 3 floors so I replaced the old detector(s) on each floor. ...
    by Published on 12-15-2015 02:01 PM
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    Last year, OnePlus made a big splash with their first model; the One which they dubbed the “flagship killer”.

    However, the ‘almost flagship’ market has matured considerably in 2015 and now, there is quite a gap between the the One’s follow up; the 2 and an entry level handset.

    With that in mind, here’s the OnePlus X which is designed and priced to fit neatly in this gap.

    It basically has the guts of a late 2014/early 2015 flagship with an upper-midrange price tag.
    ...
    by Published on 12-04-2015 06:50 AM
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    I've twice had the pleasure of using Roam Mobility in the United States. This MVNO uses the T-Mobile network to provide Canadians visiting the USA with unlimited LTE data for $4 USD per day. At current exchange rates that's not as cheap as Rogers' Roam Like Home, but if you have an unlocked phone and are not a Rogers customer I think it's your best bet.

    Now Roam Mobility is available for Americans visiting Canada. You can tell that they've partnered with a Big Three Carrier because (1) they're offering LTE data, and (2) the plans are absolute s**t.

    If you're having trouble reading the screen grab here, I'll spell it out for you:

    7 days - 500 MB of data - $26.95 USD
    14 days - 500 MB of data - $37.95 USD
    21 days - 500 MB of data - $49.95 USD

    With 500 MB of data you can perform up to 5 speed tests (if you turn the graphics off) and then regale friends back home with stories about how our LTE networks are slightly faster than yours. Seriously, as someone on vacation I'd be okay with 500 MB per day, but per week? This is madness.

    But this is also Canada, where carriers regularly advertise monthly plans with 500 MB of data per month, as if everything's fine and we're all still in 2006 using BlackBerries on BIS. ...
    by Published on 12-01-2015 06:56 AM
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    No, not Marshmallow... monetization.

    Almost two weeks ago to the day Pushbullet decided to go pro. This clever system for mirroring Android notifications on a desktop computer—one part Android app and one part browser extension—had become invaluable to me as a means to administer SMS from my desk. And wouldn't you know it, within a week after the new pro tier was announced this feature suddenly and suspiciously became unreliable.

    I'm pretty certain it's because the "added functionality" of Pushbullet Pro includes stuff that users were previously getting for free. That's mistake number one. ...
    by Published on 11-25-2015 04:26 PM
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    Here I am, almost a full year later when Howard asked me if I wanted to try out the new Motorola 360 2nd Gen. I immediately said yes because I still use my 360 Gen 1 daily.

    So let me get into this with you and come at this from a slightly different angle then the other 2:
    Howard Reviewed the 2nd Gen 360 already. He basically gave it 3.5 out of 5 saying it could look better and was expensive.

    acurrie also had a look and shared his thoughts as well and being a self admittedly non wearable guy didn't really like it.

    Bollocks to them I say! I am a wearables guy when it comes to watches. ...
    by Published on 11-17-2015 09:16 AM
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    One of last year’s most interesting phones was the OnePlus One. It was tailor made for enthusiasts; it packed flagship level specs with the popular Cyanogenmod operating system all for a very palatable price.

    To top it off, you needed an invite from OnePlus before you could buy one.

    Of course, one requirement to being an enthusiast is having a short attention span so now we have the One’s follow-up: the predictably named OnePlus 2.

    Let’s check it out:
    ...
    by Published on 11-10-2015 08:37 AM
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    The last few ZTE phones that have come across my desk were all outstanding phones for the money. The problem with this is that the people that typically buy those kind of phones have no idea who made it.

    If ZTE wants to move upmarket, they’ll need to replicate their formula of offering more phone for less dough.

    ZTE’s budget line is called “Grand” so here’s their range-topper, the Axon. You can find at Fido for a very un-ZTE $400. I can’t think of any other $400 phones that come with a Snapdragon 801 SoC, 32GB of storage and a metal body. They’re definitely off to a good start; let’s check out the rest of the package. ...
    by Published on 11-04-2015 01:47 PM
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    I don’t use tablets very often. There are 2 main reasons why; First off, there’s no nice way to put it but when it comes to tablets, I’m a cheapskate. While I’m fine spending top dollar on a flagship phone, I’m hesitant to open my purse strings - sorry man’s bag - when it comes to a tablet.

    Secondly, if I do get a tablet it must have LTE. I’m too lazy to tether off my phone, it has too much of an impact on my battery plus I use way too much data to leave it on anyways. Don’t even get me started as to how many days it takes me to realize I forgot to turn it off. However, LTE usually commands quite a price premium - something my wallet is allergic to.

    My parsimonious purse strings purse strings simply won’t allow me drop a stack on a tablet with LTE, I’d rather having no tablet than have an expensive one with LTE.

    Fortunately, ZTE’s Grand X View might be just the answer for me. It's only a cheque book friendly $240 straight up on Bell. I can dig that price.
    ...
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