• Commentary and Analysis

    by Published on 02-11-2019 03:50 PM
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    Statista is back with yet another infographic about smartphones around the world—or in this particular case, the lack thereof. Here's what you need to know about what they're calling The Mobile Disconnect:

    Pew Research conducted an analysis of smartphone ownership rates in several countries in 2018, finding that they vary considerably, even across advanced economies.

    Thirteen percent of their U.S. respondents owned a basic mobile phone while only six percent did not own any handset at all. Surprisingly, it's a very different story north of the border with a quarter of Canadians saying they did not have any mobile phone.
    The infographic shows that a full thirty-four percent of Canadians didn't own a smartphone in 2018. You might not think that's so bad—Japan has the same percentage, and they're a fairly tech-savvy nation, right?

    Right, and that's why you need to look specifically at the numbers for "mobile but not smartphone" (green) versus "no mobile at all" (blue-green). Remember that Japan was already enjoying the world's first successful mobile Internet at the dawn of this century, and with fast data speeds, mobile payments and the like, even their dumb phones are pretty damn smart.

    As for Canada, well... in terms of mobile penetration we're doing slightly better than Indonesia. So, yay for us?

    Source: Statista via Alan Cross

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    by Published on 02-04-2019 05:17 PM
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    So apparently we're just now discovering that Canadian Internet traffic was diverted from Ottawa to a server in China over a six-month period during 2016. The Toronto Star explains:

    The incident involved the surreptitious rerouting of the internet data of Rogers customers in and around Canada’s capital by China Telecom, a state-owned Internet service provider that has two legally operating “points of presence” on Canadian soil, said Yuval Shavitt, an expert at Tel Aviv University.

    Shavitt told The Canadian Press that the China Telecom example should serve as a caution to the Canadian government not to do business with another Chinese telecommunications giant: Huawei Technologies, which is vying to build Canada’s next-generation 5G wireless communications networks.

    “It’s too dangerous to let them in,” Shavitt said. “You can just imagine how Chinese companies are co-operating with the Chinese government.”
    Okay, so I guess we have to imagine because we have no actual facts...? It's especially odd, because this somewhat contradictory sound bite from the same researcher is buried at the bottom of the piece:

    “It’s not that the Chinese are bad, or doing bad things in the U.S.,” Shavitt noted. “I’m sure that the U.S. and Canada are trying to do the same also to China. It’s a spying game that everybody’s trying to play.”
    With Canada set to inevitably follow its Five Eyes partners in banning Huawei from our wireless networks, I couldn't tell you how much of this Canadian Press story is spin; I can only verify that Professor Shavitt does at least seem to be a real person.

    Source: Toronto Star

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    by Published on 02-01-2019 04:25 PM
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    David Ruddock has just posted an interesting editorial to Android Police, wherein he argues that North America's inevitable migration to 5G networks means big trouble for three already-struggling OEMs. Why?

    Frankly, it’s the money.

    5G is expected to far outstrip 4G in terms of cost to carriers in deploying the necessary technology and equipment to get networks online. That cost will fall on consumers and partners as operators attempt to recoup their large capital expenditures over the coming years. That means carriers will want higher prices on 5G phones and lean inventory, in order to offset the risk inherent with any first-generation technology. Because carriers will be demanding 5G handsets - oftentimes in the form of operator exclusives - LG, HTC, and Sony will almost assuredly bet the farm on 5G to reverse their failing fortunes. And equally assuredly, I believe, they will be unable to do so.
    He goes on to point out that 5G modems will only be available from Qualcomm who, as the de facto market leader in such things, can set the price for their 5G radios at whatever unreasonable amount they see fit.

    Now I myself feel obliged to point out that all this can be considered a fairly myopic America-centric point-of-view; each of these OEMs could still thrive in markets closer to home and without Qualcomm tech. Of course, then you'd have to consider the new crop of upstart manufacturers—Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and the like—that are already stealing sales from the legacy handset makers across all Asian markets.

    Anyway, have a read below and see what you think!

    Source: Android Police
    by Published on 01-23-2019 04:20 PM
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    Here's a VICE video report on China's social credit system, which I first posted about here in early 2017. It really is, as I wrote back then, a Black Mirror episode come to life.

    Surely such a technological dystopia could never take root here in the west, right? Well, after reading a brand-new feature on WIRED, I'm not so sure.

    Some key data points:

    Apps that snoop on our daily habits—like tracking our location—are a booming business, and accordingly becoming ever-more accurate and invasive.

    For spy agencies like the NSA, data fusion is the new buzzword. It's their process of ingesting vast pools of information from around the world and dumping it into a massive data lake—all to more quickly connect the dots on a given target. This data lake, by the way, is powered by Amazon Web Services.

    Though Google has promised to abandon its controversial Project Maven, there's no shortage of other tech companies hungry for defence contracts.

    Google's parent company Alphabet spent over $16 million buying influence in Washington, DC last year. Amazon, AT&T and Facebook were also among the top twenty spenders in government lobbying.

    To see where this all leads have a read through the source, directly below.

    Source: WIRED

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    by Published on 01-21-2019 01:31 PM
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    It wasn’t that long ago that Google would partner with an Android OEM to release a high end phone priced hundreds cheaper than similarly spec’d phones. However, since then Google has shifted strategies and began designing their own Android phones.

    They’ve followed a similar strategy that Apple and Samsung have been using by releasing a regular sized version; the Pixel and a larger Phablet; the Pixel XL.

    The line is now in their 3rd generation. Let’s check out the Pixel 3. ...
    by Published on 12-21-2018 03:55 PM
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    3. Carriers

    The CRTC released its 2018 Communications Monitoring Report yesterday (direct link to the 34 page PDF right here), and we already have an expert reaction to it, from Dr. Michael Geist:

    The data points to a market dominated by three big carriers, with retail pricing that creates all the wrong incentives for a country focused on innovation. Rather than encouraging data use, the current marketplace forces consumers to ration their data and to subscribe to cheaper data plans with the hope of not running into overage charges.
    He's not wrong; I had a quick look through the report myself, and found this graphic to be especially telling:



    I'm thinking that 5G is going to be a really tough sell in this country if over half of its mobile subscribers have a monthly data bucket of 2GB or less.

    It could be that we're just a nation of cheapskates, who simply don't see much value in mobile data. But the long lines at carrier stores for that 10GB holiday miracle this time last year would seem to suggest otherwise.

    Source: Michael Geist

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    by Published on 12-19-2018 04:08 PM
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    As a third Canadian citizen has now been detained in China, in what is almost certainly a tit-for-tat response to the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, I feel compelled to write something about this escalating and nasty situation we seem to have gotten ourselves into. It's a complicated issue, to be sure, so I'm going to try my best to stick to the facts.

    FACT: Canada is not America's stooge.

    The demands to free Huawei's CFO fail to recognize this country's rule of law. Canada has a long-standing extradition treaty with the United States, and we had a legal obligation to make the arrest on their behalf.

    FACT: Other parties have violated sanctions without facing arrest.

    Meng and Huawei aren't the only parties guilty of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. As discussed in a recent episode of the CANADALAND Short Cuts podcast, up to five financial institutions in North America have violated of these same sanctions:

    Bank of America
    HSBC
    ING
    JP Morgan Chase
    Toronto Dominion Bank

    At present I can only confirm HSBC and Iran. But if even they're the only other guilty party here, where are the arrests at HSBC? Just something to keep in mind when we get to the end of this.

    FACT: The feared "backdoor" in Huawei equipment has yet to be proven.

    The usually media-shy Chinese company has issued a public challenge to prove that there's a security risk present in their equipment. While it is true that Nortel was at least partly undone by corporate espionage at the hands of Chinese hackers, to my knowledge there has been no direct link to Huawei.

    OBSERVATION: We seem to have conveniently forgotten Snowden.

    Mising in almost every discussion of Huawei are the 2013 revelations of Edward Snowden. Whether you think he's a hero or a traitor, no one has denied the warrantless surveillance that he revealed to the world only a few years ago.

    I'm not saying that China's spying is better or worse, only that we've got some backdoor issues of our own.

    OPINION: This is as much about preserving the tech hegemony as anything else.

    If you're seeking for a wider perspective on this story I would recommend looking beyond Canada and the United States. Here, for example, is an instructive video from DW News:



    The gist of the interview presented here is that there is unquestionably a trade component in play. China continues to rise as a formidable tech power in the wider world, and the United States has a lot of its own interests to protect. Exactly how much this factored into the Huawei extradition request, that's the billion dollar question.

    Links cited in this post: Al Jazeera, CANADALAND, CBC News, National Post, The Guardian, Toronto Star, Wikipedia

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    by Published on 12-02-2018 01:50 PM
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    It doesn’t seem that long ago that you’d need a crowbar to pry a Blackberry out of an addicts hands. However, since then, most of us have grown accustomed to on-screen keyboards. Still, for some, there’s no replacement for a physical keyboard. Fortunately, for them Blackberries have managed to stick around and even better, the keyboards are still being refined with each new generation.

    These days BlackBerry OS is long gone so if you want a BlackBerry, it’s going to be running Android. While it says BlackBerry on the phone, it’s actually made by TCL who also makes phones under the Alcatel and Palm brand names.

    If you want the latest, there’s the upper midrange Key 2 and the midrange Key 2 LE which I’m reviewing today.
    ...
    by Published on 11-21-2018 12:34 PM
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    LG has always had an interesting place in the Android marketplace. I get this feeling like they’re always trying to offer a slightly different take on the Android flagship. The G3 had rear mounted volume and power buttons and higher resolution display while the G4 retained a removable battery. The G5 also had this feature but also allowed you to expand it with attachable accessories like a larger speaker. It also included a second, super-wide angle camera. The G6 was more about bringing it in line with other flagship phones with a more premium feel.

    So what is LG’s take on the 2018 flagship? Let’s check out the G7 ThinQ. ...
    by Published on 10-18-2018 04:40 PM
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    As this Canadian patiently awaits his Pixel 3 he cannot help but reflect on the other Google phones ordered in years gone by—and, to the point, what he paid for them.

    Here's what my loyalty to Google hardware has cost me over the past five years:

    January, 2013 - Nexus 4 (16 GB) - $359 CAD (+ tax)
    November, 2013 - Nexus 5 (32 GB) - $399
    August, 2015 - Nexus 6 (64 GB) - $649
    January, 2016 - Nexus 6P (64 GB) - $749
    October, 2018 - Pixel 3 (64 GB) - $999

    The one silver lining this year is that my almost-thousand-dollar phone comes with a free charging stand from Google Canada. Woo?

    Even before I started using Android I could already foresee what I thought was the inevitable commoditization of smartphone hardware. Just like the PC market, Moore's Law would see cheaper yet more powerful components with every passing year. And when I first flashed a custom Android ROM I immediately recognized what I saw as the mobile equivalent of a desktop Linux distro. So, yeah, the future of smartphones would be easy... Just pick a phone with an unlockable bootloader and official support for Cyanogen (now Lineage) and you'd be good to go. And if ever Google started being evil you'd still have F-Droid.

    There was just one impediment to this bright, open future: camera APIs.

    Ask a OnePlus enthusiast why they won't go near any custom ROM not based on that brand's native OxygenOS and they'll likely tell you that it's because of those proprietary camera blobs. It's not that OnePlus phones take the best photos; it's just that without those native camera APIs the photo captures would be even worse. Ditto for Samsung—plus whatever hell breaks loose when you trip Knox (which is apparently important). And even on Sony's stock ROM some Xperia devices will go ahead and bork your camera software when an unlocked bootloader is detected.

    On the flip side, Google's Pixel phones rely so much on computational photography that developers at XDA have ported Google's camera app for other devices (with varying degrees of success).

    If you don't care about photos or video on your smartphone—or, conversely, if you care enough about it to carry a standalone camera—then commoditization is pretty much here; just grab any Lineage-supported Motorola or Xiaomi and you should be good to go. Unfortunately for everyone else, whose best available camera is the one with the SIM card in it, it looks like we'll have to ride the wave of ever-increasing prices to get the best possible results.

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    by Published on 10-18-2018 01:38 PM
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    Sonos has been around for some time for a while it felt like they owned the whole home audio market. However, there are now alternatives and many of them are not exclusive to a single manufacturer. Google’s Home, Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Homepod devices are marketed first as speakers that have microphones/voice assistants which can also provide whole home audio.

    With that in mind, Sonos has released the One, a Sonos with built-in microphones. Out of the box it has support Amazon Alexa’s voice recognition. Presumably it also has the capability to recognize Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri commands if Sonos can work out necessary licensing deals. ...
    by Published on 10-17-2018 04:00 PM
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    Remember that ruling from the European Union last summer, the one where Google was to be fined the Euro equivalent of about $5 billion USD if they didn't unbundle Android's Google Play Store from its Chrome and Search apps within 90 days? Well, some 89 days later Google has revealed their rather cheeky solution:

    Android OEMs in the EU will soon be able to put Chrome and Search on their hardware for free, but for any other Google Mobile Services—the Play Store, Gmail, Maps, YouTube—they'll have to pay.

    UK's The Register has what I think is the best analysis of Google's counter-proposal:

    Google knows weakness when it sees it, and is effectively challenging the commission to double or quit. The weakness in Brussels' approach is that it's the very opposite of "speak softly but carry a big stick".

    The commission barks loudly, but rarely follows through with anything effective. In July, it imposed a "record fine" of €4.34bn on Google, which grabbed the headlines for a day, but then invited Google to come up with its own solution. As we wrote at the time, the fine doesn't carry much threat, can be delayed for many years, and "a huge well-resourced company can use the European bureaucracy against itself". That's just what Google has done.
    While I get what the EU is trying to accomplish here, the way in which they've gone about it seems to have backfired. Hopefully this will all get sorted out before it adversely affects the Android experience for European users.

    Sources: Android Police, The Register

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    by Published on 10-16-2018 09:24 PM
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    Apple iPhone XS Max

    Here’s the Apple iPhone XS Max. According to Apple, “XS” is pronounced “Ten S”. However it’s hard for me to not see it as “iPhone Extra Small Max”. Silly name aside, the most striking thing about the Max isn’t its notched, large 6.5” display, dual cameras or even the cutting-edge 7nm A12 processor. No, it’s the Max’s breathtaking price tag; the 512GB variant costs a heart stopping $1999 Canadian before taxes. Let’s check it out. ...
    by Published on 10-01-2018 03:50 PM
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    No, wait... that's not right.

    It is, however, the correct acronym for the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, which will replace NAFTA as the new trade deal between the three nations. So what exactly does it mean for Canadian smartphone enthusiasts? I've three ideas, to which I'd welcome your thoughts.

    1. No Tariffs on Gmail

    Let's be honest, this was probably never going to happen, yet Canada-U.S. relations never seemed so frosty as they were this past summer. I even saw—and subscribed to—a new subreddit promoting Canadian-made products. And yes, I'm aware that reddit is an American site.

    With this new trade deal in place Canadians should, for the foreseeable future, still be able to enjoy all the best services that the USA sends this way—Amazon Prime, Apple iCloud, Google apps and the rest.

    2. A Joint Committee on Telecommunications

    Mobile Syrup's Sameer Chhabra has all the details about a new committee that will oversee mutual concerns like roaming and 5G. TL;DR expect at least the same level of co-operation between the three countries as we've enjoyed thus far.

    3. A Decent Exchange Rate

    This could be a big one... Our loonie is already soaring on news of the new deal, and if it stays strong it could have a positive effect on new hardware pending release. It's possibly too late for the LG V40 ThinQ, which is set to be made official in only two days—but the Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL and OnePlus 6T might carry a more reasonable price tag thanks to a strong Canadian dollar.

    What do you make of the new USMCA?

    Links: CTV, Global News, Mobile Syrup, r/BuyCanadian

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    by Published on 08-14-2018 04:15 PM
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    4. Apps



    By now you've probably seen some version of the AP exclusive about Google and your location history. In a nutshell, Google services continue to track your whereabouts, whether you want them to or not. And to be perfectly clear, this happens on both Android and iOS.

    Among smartphone users I can picture a spectrum of reactions, from a dismissive shrug to a tinfoil hat:

    "Who cares? I've got nothing to hide."

    I can't say that I 100% agree with this; to paraphrase Ed Snowden, dismissing privacy because you've got nothing to hide is like dismissing free speech because you've got nothing to say.

    But it does remind me of a chat I once had with a so-called security expert, who at the time insisted that his clients refrain from using any of Google's products. "Wouldn't that make you more suspicious?" I asked him, and he eventually came to agree with me that security through obscurity is a defensible strategy to protect one's privacy.

    "Granting Google access to some of my personal data in order to use their services is a fair exchange."

    This is where I currently find myself on this particular issue. Not only do I keep my location history turned on, but I share it with the girlfriend on an ongoing basis. That way both her and Google know if I stop in at Dairy Queen when I'm not supposed to.

    That said, if you do opt out of location tracking then it's a reasonable expectation that you shouldn't be tracked.

    "Of course Google is spying on you. Don't you know they're funded by the CIA? Wake up, sheeple!"

    That's certainly possible, but... I dunno.

    What mostly concerns me about surveillance in this part of the world is that it's not at all transparent. Everybody knows that WeChat shares user data with the Chinese government, yet it takes a Snowden to reveal it here. I'm not saying that China is better, only that North America seems to be about as bad.

    So that's my two cents. What do you make of this latest revelation about Google and location tracking?

    Source: Associated Press

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    by Published on 08-01-2018 07:45 AM
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    A new report from IDC claims that Huawei has surpassed Apple in global smartphone shipments, and is now second only to market leader Samsung.

    The bad news is a 1.8% decline in overall sales compared to the same period last year, the third consecutive decline for the global smartphone market in as many quarters. The good news for Q2 2018, however, is all Huawei—here are some numbers to help you make sense of the chart above:

    Samsung - 20.9% market share
    2017 Q2 shipments: 79.8 million
    2018 Q2 shipments: 71.5 million
    Year-over-year change: -10.4%

    Huawei - 15.8% market share
    2017 Q2 shipments: 38.5 million
    2018 Q2 shipments: 54.2 million
    Year-over-year change: 40.9%

    Apple - 12.1% market share
    2017 Q2 shipments: 41 million
    2018 Q2 shipments: 41.3 million
    Year-over-year change: 0.7%

    For further insights into the current state of the global smartphone market, see the links immediately below.

    Source: IDC via The Next Web

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    by Published on 07-23-2018 09:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis



    Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo has written an in-depth post about Google's iron grip on Android. Despite its open source nature the world's dominant operating system isn't at all the same beast if you strip out the proprietary Google bits, as the screenshot above illustrates.

    Oh, and I should probably mention, the article is actually from 2013. So why republish it now, five years later? From Ars:

    In light of the $5 billion EU antitrust ruling against Google this week, we started noticing a certain classic Ars story circulating around social media. Google's methods of controlling the open source Android code and discouraging Android forks is exactly the kind of behavior the EU has a problem with, and many of the techniques outlined in this 2013 article are still in use today.
    Over the ensuing five years Google became a Platinum Member of The Linux Foundation, but has also pulled Android even further away from AOSP. Some examples:

    1. The camera app for Pixel phones uses proprietary algorithms for its enviable results;
    2. Gboard has built-in search, GIF support and the ability to toggle language inputs;
    3. Google's recommended solution for SMS has gone from Hangouts to Allo to Android Messages with RCS.

    In fairness, there is one wildly-successful fork of Android out there. Last spring Xiaomi announced carrier partnerships in Europe and the UK, but Mi-powered devices sold outside of mainland China tend to also ship with Google services on-board.

    Sources: Ars Technica, Engadget, TechCrunch

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    by Published on 07-19-2018 08:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Carriers



    OpenSignal has just published another report on mobile network speeds in the USA. Here's the brief:

    The U.S. mobile industry has gotten a jolt of bandwidth in the past year, causing average 4G download speeds among all four operators to climb. T-Mobile and Verizon have now crossed the 20 Mbps threshold for average 4G download speeds in our measurements—a milestone that seemed quite distant a year ago.
    And here are the numbers, from over 8 million measurements on almost four hundred thousand devices, collected between mid-March and mid-June:

    4G Download Speed
    T-Mobile - 21.57 Mbps
    Verizon - 20.56 Mbps
    AT&T - 15.08 Mbps
    Sprint - 14.46 Mbps

    3G Download Speed
    T-Mobile - 3.64 Mbps
    AT&T - 2.77 Mbps
    Sprint - 0.98 Mbps
    Verizon - 0.85 Mbps

    Overall Download Speed
    T-Mobile - 20.57 Mbps
    Verizon - 19.23 Mbps
    AT&T - 13.69 Mbps
    Sprint - 12.57 Mbps

    4G Upload Speed
    T-Mobile - 7.45 Mbps
    Verizon - 6.94 Mbps
    AT&T - 4.51 Mbps
    Sprint - 2.52 Mbps

    4G Latency
    AT&T - 54.05 ms
    T-Mobile - 56.42 ms
    Verizon - 61.92 ms
    Sprint - 64.29 ms

    3G Latency
    T-Mobile - 85.05 ms
    AT&T - 98.46 ms
    Sprint - 131.01 ms
    Verizon - 139.6 ms

    4G Availability
    T-Mobile - 93.67%
    Verizon - 93.67%
    AT&T - 88.43%
    Sprint - 87.74%

    Note that these numbers are national averages; for regional results, consult the link below. And don't forget to add your device to the test pool with the OpenSignal app for Android or iOS.

    Source: OpenSignal

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    by Published on 07-18-2018 09:00 AM
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    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis



    Blancco Technology Group, apparent specialists in mobile device diagnostics, have released a report naming and shaming the least reliable smartphones and smartphone brands. The report includes both Android and Apple devices, and all results are based on data collected during the last quarter of 2017.

    Top 10 Android Models by Failure Rate

    Xiaomi Redmi 4 (9%)
    Moto G5 Plus (6%)
    Lenovo K8 Note (5%)
    Nokia 6 (4%)
    Samsung Galaxy S7 (3%)
    Samsung Galaxy S8+ (3%)
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Active (3%)
    Xiaomi Redmi Y1 (2%)
    Samsung Galaxy S6 (2%)
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2%)

    Top 10 Android OEMs by Failure Rate

    Samsung (34%)
    Xiaomi (13%)
    Motorola (9%)
    LG (7%)
    Lenovo (6%)
    InFocus (4%)
    Nokia (4%)
    Huawei (4%)
    OnePlus (3%)
    ZTE (2%)

    Keep in mind that the top two offenders also have the lion's share of the global Android market.

    Top 5 Android Issues Worldwide

    Performance (27%)
    Camera (5%)
    Microphone (4%)
    Headset (4%)
    Speaker (3%)

    Top 10 iPhone Models by Failure Rate

    iPhone 6 (26%)
    iPhone 6S (14%)
    iPhone 6S Plus (9%)
    iPhone 7 Plus (9%)
    iPhone 6 Plus (9%)
    iPhone 7 (8%)
    iPhone 5s (6%)
    iPhone SE (6%)
    iPhone 8 Plus (2%)
    iPhone 5 (2%)

    It's unclear from the report whether Apple's failure rates are compared against just other iPhones, or all devices tested.

    Top 5 iOS Issues Worldwide

    Bluetooth (3%)
    WiFi (3%)
    Headset (2%)
    Mobile Data (2%)
    Reception (1%)

    Failure Rates by Market

    Asia
    Apple (26%)
    Android (21%)

    Europe
    Android (40%)
    Apple (36%)

    North America
    Apple (12%)
    Android (9%)

    Feel free to add your own anecdotal observations below!

    Source: Blancco PDF via TechSpot

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