Articles about Smartphones

Sony rolls out Android 4.4 KitKat for flagship Xperia smartphones

Google starts the KitKat rollout for Nexus 7 and 10 owners

Most Android smartphones and tablets do not run the latest-available version of Android, as vendors choose older iterations, even for their flagship products. As a result, it can take many months -- or it may never even happen -- for a software upgrade to finally close the gap.

One of the vendors that finds itself in this situation quite often is Japanese maker Sony, which cannot seem to release a high-end device, like the Xperia Z, Xperia Z1, Xperia Z Ultra or Xperia Z Compact, without shipping it with a dated version of Android. Luckily, KitKat commences its much-awaited roll-out for the company's most-recent flagship smartphones and tablets.

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European Union moves forward with universal phone charger initiative

smartphone charger

The European Parliament announced last year that the Internal Market Committee plans to impose a universal charger for mobile phones sold in local markets, that will replace the custom designs that are adopted by manufacturers and accessory makers. This initiative is meant to "cut costs and waste for users", according to the announcement.

The European Parliament just revealed that it is moving forward with this initiative, as the draft law has been approved by virtually every voter. "The modernized Radio Equipment Directive is an efficient tool to prevent interference between different radio equipment devices", says rapporteur Barbara Weiler. "I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger. This serves the interests both of consumers and the environment. It will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually".

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Nokia Refocus is now available for all Windows Phone 8 Lumias

Nokia Refocus Color Pop

Refocus is one of Nokia's exclusive photography apps for PureView-branded Windows Phone 8 Lumias. Its party trick is shifting the focus point to a different location or showing everything in focus, after snapping the photo. Refocus is akin to the Lytro camera, albeit at a lesser scale.

Like Nokia Camera, which has also launched with a similar availability, Refocus has broken the flagship bond and is now available for the Finnish maker's entire Windows Phone 8 lineup. This opens up the app to much more popular handsets, like the Lumia 520, which make up the bulk of Nokia's Windows Phone sales. The reason for the change is customer feedback.

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Eek! Android WhatsApp database can be stolen and shared by other apps


The Android version of WhatsApp, the cross-platform messaging tool recently snapped up for $19 billion by Facebook, contains a security flaw that means its chat database could be accessed by any app and uploaded to a web server without user knowledge or intervention. It's not clear whether this vulnerability has yet been exploited, but a proof-of-concept attack by Bas Bosschert (consultant, sysadmin and entrepreneur) shows that it is not only possible, but also incredibly simple. To cut to the chase, the answer to the question posed by Bas' brother, "is it possible to upload and read the WhatsApp chats from another Android application?", is "yes, that is possible".

In order for an "attack" to be successful, a user must have granted the app access to the SD card. As Bas points out, "since [a] majority of the people allow everything on their Android device, this is not much of a problem" for an attacker to overcome. Assuming this setting has been enabled, there really is very little work to be done. With a webserver at hand, it is quite easy to create an app that seeks out WhatsApp's database and uploads it ready for perusal.

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iOS 7.1 makes the iPhone 4 run faster


Apple's policy of updating older iPhones to the latest iOS version has its perks. Users are better protected against security exploits, get access to new features (but not all of them), and Apple can tout low fragmentation levels. However, there is also a downside. Newer iOS releases often make older iPhones sluggish.

I have first-hand experience with this, as my iPhone 3G ran slower after updating it to iOS 4.0, than it did before. The same thing has also happened with the iPhone 4, which Apple had vetted to receive the iOS 7.0 update, even though the mobile operating system was designed to work best with beefier hardware. Luckily, it looks like iOS 7.1, that was released yesterday, attempts to solve this problem, albeit not entirely.

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Pre-order an Xperia Z2, get a Sony Bravia TV for free


Smartphone penetration continues to rise in markets across the globe, as vendors compete to get more attractive devices, at increasingly lower price points, in consumers' hands. Meanwhile, the premium market is becoming a niche, as indicated by the ongoing drop in average selling price. The consumerization of smartphones also means sellers have to get creative, or at least attempt to, to get buyers to shell out a hefty sum.

Mobile operators have bundled smartphones with accessories and other smart devices in order to attract buyers. For instance, my Nokia Lumia 920 came with a free pair of Nokia Purity HD headphones. Now, Vodafone's UK arm is using a similar strategy, giving those who pre-order a Sony Xperia Z2 a free Sony Bravia TV.

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Europol warns users of WiFi hotspot security risks


Europol, the law enforcement agency for the European Union, is warning that people should exercise extreme caution when using WiFi hotspots when out and about. Citing an increase in the number of "man-in-the-middle" attacks on such connections, the head of Europol's cybercrime division, Troels Oerting, said that public WiFi connections are being used to "steal information, identity or passwords and money from the users who use [them]". The advice is to not necessarily stop using public networks, but to avoid using them for anything that involves transmitting personal data.

Singled out for particular attention is online banking, which Oerting suggests people should do "from home where they know actually the wi-fi and its security" rather than in a coffee shop. Europol is currently working with several member states of the European Union following an increase in the number of WiFi network attacks.

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Time for honesty -- Samsung seems to have stopped fiddling with benchmark figures


Benchmarks are important. With so much choice in the world of computers, smartphones and tablets, a key factor for potential buyers to bear in mind is raw performance. A few months back benchmarking stalwarts Futuremark took the unusual step of delisting a number of handsets produced by HTC and Samsung after tests appeared to show that the phone artificially boosted performance when they detected benchmarking software was running. Now it looks as though this apparent cheating has come to an end.

Back in October, results published on Anantech showed how a number of popular phones seemed to be cheating the system, giving consumers a false representation of real-world handset performance. Now, according to new tests carried out by Ars Technica it would appear that handsets are behaving in a far more reasonable fashion after being updated to KitKat.

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BlackBerry brings OneDrive to BB 10 smartphones


After being forced to drop the SkyDrive name following a legal dispute with UK broadband provider Sky, Microsoft relaunched its cloud storage service, last month, under a new, yet somewhat familiar moniker, OneDrive. Rebranded apps quickly hit Android, iOS, OS X and Windows Phone, adding new features in the process.

With the OneDrive roll-out almost complete, BlackBerry (yes, that is right) just introduced the cloud storage service on its own platform, BlackBerry 10. The move effectively gives Microsoft access to more potential customers, and allows OneDrive to better rival the availability of other market competitors, like Box.

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Where have all the fanboys gone? Is brand loyalty dead and buried?


This is a personal account of the way I have noticed the technology markets changing over the years. It is not gospel, and you are welcome (encouraged, if you like) to disagree… It's not all that long ago that brand loyalty was a given; it was almost the default setting for many people. If you got into computing -- and it was something you "got into" rather than just having as part of your life -- you stuck loyally to whatever brand you chose at the start. We could go back to the 70s and look at the birth of personal computing, but as this is my personal account, we'll have to start in the 80s.

I did just manage to sneak into the 70s -- being born in 1979 puts me in the difficult-to-comprehend position of being 34 years old but having seen five decades -- but an interest in computing didn't emerge until some time in the late 80s. I remember there being several computing camps: BBC, Amstrad, Spectrum, Vic and Commodore to name a few. My decision was made for me at an early age when my dad decided to invest in a Commodore 16 Plus 4 (the Plus 4 referring to the fact that the OS featured four built-in applications including a spreadsheet tool, the absurd simplicity of which was not lost on me even at a young age).

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Yahoo and BlackBerry worm further into your life with mobile ads

ad wall

There are few people who like ads. Sure, they can be works of art -- certainly there are some advertisements that are infinitely better than a lot of the dirge pumped out by television networks -- but while advertisements on television can be fairly easily avoided (thank you TiVo -- other PVRs are available!) it is a different matter on a computer or mobile device. "Opting" to watch a mindblowing ad for Apple, Guinness or Honda is one thing, but to have unavoidable -- and usually crappy -- advertisements forced upon you whilst browsing the web or using an application is an entirely different matter.

There are groups of people who are happy to endure these adverts because they fund apps, and make it possible for developers to provide their hard work free of charge -- you may fall into this group and have perhaps been able to configure an automatic ad filter for your eyes. But there are larger legions for whom ads are just plain, damned irritating. In some instances it is possible to pay to avoid them, but this is not always the case. If BlackBerry and Yahoo get their way, advertisements are going to become rather more noticeable.

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Lenovo, LG have a 'me too' moment, also tell Ellen they have better smartphone cameras than Samsung

Lenovo DeGeneres Samsung

Ellen DeGeneres' Samsung Galaxy Note 3 made waves at the Academy Awards after being used to snap an on-stage selfie and a group shot. Both quickly became hugely popular photos taken at the event, and target practice for the South Korean maker's rivals.

Nokia was first to take a stab at Samsung for the terrible quality of DeGeneres' selfie, implying she should have used one of its smartphones instead. The photo posted by the star even had the #blurry hashtag added on Twitter to make up for what was basically a missed shot. Not to miss this opportunity (to be unoriginal), Lenovo and LG also took to Twitter to convince us that their smartphones would have fared better than Samsung's phablet.

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Nokia wants apps for its X lineup to have an Android look and feel

Nokia UX Checklist X Android Windows Phone

When Nokia officially unveiled its X smartphones it was clear the Finnish company intended its new Android lineup to look similar to Lumia Windows Phones. The internals may be on the low-end side, but the hardware design looks just as premium, undoubtedly aided by the funky colors, and the software... well, the homescreen interface resembles the Windows Phone tiles, which is the dead giveaway as far as this writer can tell.

Some may rightfully point out that X smartphones are superior to Lumias in one major area -- apps. Courtesy of the mature Android ecosystem, Nokia's droids are compatible with hundreds of thousands of offerings, which is more than Windows Phone can tout. It would make sense for Nokia to encourage developers to make their apps more like those on Windows Phone to warm repeat customers to the idea of upgrading to one of its higher-end smartphones, which run Microsoft's tiled operating system. But, Nokia has other plans.

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Nokia subtly mocks Samsung for blurry Oscars selfie

Elen DeGeneres Blurry Selfie

Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 was the tech star of this year's Academy Awards, as the phablet was used by both Bradley Cooper and Ellen DeGeneres to snap two of the most popular pics at the event. Ironically, both photos are blurry (and, might I add, appear to be part of heavily staged acts).

Quick to take advantage of the free publicity, arch rival Nokia has subtly taken a stab at Samsung for the terrible quality of one of the photos, namely DeGeneres' selfie on the stage.

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The most popular stories on BetaNews this past week February 23 -- March 1

March 2014

Webcam porn! Spying! Cell phones! Bitcoin controversy! Just another normal week in the world of tech news! Bitcoin exchange Mt Gox disappeared offline amid concern about missing millions and then filed for bankruptcy. After panic spread through Mac users following the discovery of a serious SSL bug in Mavericks, Apple released an update that plugged the hole -- but it was also discovered that iOS 7 has a keylogging vulnerability. Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Office 2013, but anyone using Office 365 will need to force the installation of newer updates in order to reap the benefits.

Security updates are all well and good for operating systems and applications, but it will do little to protect you against the wandering eyes of government agencies. As if everything we have already learned about the activities of the NSA et al, this week's revelations about what the UK's GCHQ has been getting up to is sure to raise ire. Not content with logging emails and web searches, the UK intelligence agency apparently spent a number of years tapping into the webcam chats of millions of Yahoo users. There may be little good news in this revelation, but it was at least slightly amusing to find that the surveillers were rather taken aback by the amount of pornographic content they encountered. It makes ya proud!

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