Category Archives: Mobile

IoT Hall-of-Shame Facebook Page

Greetings and Happy New Year. It’s early in the month and we’ve already had our first reported IoT Hall-of-Shame entry, as you know if you follow that page or my twitter @codecurmudgeon. For those who live inside Facebook I’ve decided to make your life easier by adding a Facebook page for the Internet-of-Things IoT Hall-of-Shame as well. That way you can just follow it and it will show up in your Facebook feed.

“Things” are being hacked at a furious pace – some even call it the “Internet of Evil Things”. It’s amazing how often I find out about a new hack every single day. Is your TV going to spy on you? Is it easy to hack your phone? Is the stoplight on your corner vulnerable? Keep up to date on what’s happening.

Go check it out, like the page, follow it for the latest IoT Hall-of-Shame updates, and tell your friends. And when you hear about any IoT devices getting hacked please let me know!

Internet of Things (IoT) Hall-of-Shame

A collage of various devices that not only can be hacked, but already have been.
A collage of various devices that not only can be hacked, but already have been.
As I’ve said before, the “Internet of Things” aka IoT has become the internet of hacks. More and more devices are being internet enabled, but security on the devices isn’t keeping up. Some vulnerabilities are difficult, but many of those that have been in the news seem to have been more from either lack of training or simply not prioritizing software security.

In the grand tradition of my SQLi Hall-of-Shame, I’ve decided to start creating a list of IoT hacks that have hit the press. The list is small but will surely grow. Please let me know if you’re aware of publicized hacks on IoT devices. If this doesn’t scare you then you’re not thinking about it enough. You should be running screaming to empty your bank account, buy an old pre-70s car, and smash your phones, thermostats, and other electronic devices.

I know the answer to this isn’t easy, but I’m hoping that at least you’ll spend more time thinking about it than you have. So take a look, and let me know in the comments, twitter, email, etc. when you hear about new ones I haven’t covered. You can view it at the IoT Hall-of-Shame.

IoT Security Resources

Embedded Systems Security: Practical Methods for Safe and Secure Software and Systems Development,

Platform Embedded Security Technology Revealed: Safeguarding the Future of Computing with Intel Embedded Security and Management Engine,

Software Test Attacks to Break Mobile and Embedded Devices

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review

Front and back of samsung galaxy note 3 phoneAs you can guess from the title, I’m way behind on my mobile device reviews. But in some sense, this is a benefit since I’ve spent months rather than days with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Spoiler alert – I just traded it in on an LG G3 – so you can guess where this is headed.

Let me start at the beginning. I originally switched from iPhone to Android (Nexus 4) because I really wanted a larger screen. While the Nexus 4 was affordable with a reasonable screen, the camera was complete garbage, as well as audio recording and video conferencing, it being a combination of the two. Internal speaker output was also horrible, worse than the iPhone which was saying something.

Along came the HTC One. It had an amazing good screen, bright, sharp, and accurate color. With that you get really great built-in speakers considering the size, and good microphones for recording the occasional live band. I really liked this phone, and unlike many others I LOVED BlinkFeed. But I wanted to go even bigger and the HTC One Max was really a downgrade from the One, so I bought myself a Note 3.

Over time I found myself really addicted to the larger screen of the Note. I feel like the phone is just a hair too big for easy carrying, but man, I do like a big screen. Now in terms of screen quality, it’s above average, but like most Samsung phones not great. I know that probably sounds like heresy, since people rave about the bright colors, but I like taking photos and the color profile of the Note is terrible. You can tweak it some in the settings to remove that blue/green tint common to all Samsung phones, but you can’t make it entirely go away.

Strangely, and I can’t quantify this, I found that the HTC One screen appeared sharper or crisper than the Note, but I have no way of measuring this. The screen is smaller, but looks better.

The funny thing is that I really missed things about the HTC, which I kept around it being a developer model. I would miss BlinkFeed, or the speakers, or the better battery life, etc. So I’d move the sim and start playing with the One again, but always found myself switching back within a day or two. I finally admitted that I just can’t live in a screen that’s less than 5.5 inches, so I gave up fully on the One.

So let’s go over what’s good, bad, and ugly on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

The Good:

As I’ve already said, the screen size is great, near optimal. Overall the phone is just a touch big for me, but of course this is a feature that will really depend on your hands and pockets. Since then I’ve found the LG G3 size to be even better, though it’s just a touch smaller, because it’s really more manageable.

Samsung really nailed the size / weight profile on the Note 3. The Note 2 is a bulky thing, but the Note 3 is lean and trim. I don’t find the leather trim as nice as a high-end metal phone, but it’s not horrible and a sight better than anything Samsung has done in the past.

Overall performance was decent. The phone is fast on most things and can run some of the heavy stress apps like cool games very well. Again though while performance is normally snappy, it has random UI hangs for a couple of seconds all to frequently. And again, this is a common feature of most Samsung phones. I think more and more that this is Touchwiz rather than the hardware.

The stylus – this can be a great thing or a silly thing. I thought I’d use it a lot, but in the end I almost never pull it out. I have more than one friend who swears by it, so I’d have to say you need to figure this one out for yourself. It’s certainly not a bad thing, but I found it was not necessary for me. I suspect if you do a lot of drawing, note taking, diagramming, artwork, etc. that you’d really like this. It’s a good stylus, good response, nice size, and building it into the device is a huge plus.

I’ve come around on the idea of a removable battery. I do a lot of travel, both business and pleasure. I spend a lot of time on airplanes and in remote places away from easy outlets. I like that I can carry a couple of spare batteries with me and be good to go for days or even a week. You can even get a double-size battery for the Note that will do two days even under my heavy load. Battery life is another thing, but I like the removable battery.

The Bad:

Unfortunately this list is much bigger than I’d like. First of all, when I got the device it would full-hang once or twice a week. By that I don’t mean the usual lagginess of a second or two, I mean the device is frozen and you’ve gotta pull the battery. Add to that random reboots, again two or three times a week. Just doing whatever, frequently not even using the phone, and randomly it just reboots itself. I’m not talking a quick thing either, a full slow boot that runs two complete cycles, a double-boot. Not sure what/where/why, but it’s a part of life with my Note at least. Add those two together and it’s nearly a daily occurrence.

After I got the latest Android update most of the flakiness went out of the OS, almost never frozen, and extremely rare random reboots. This however came at a price, namely that battery life was cut almost in half. Where I was used to going a full day on a battery I now found my crash-free life including a mid-day phone charge. This is completely unacceptable to me. Phones should ideally run several days on a single charge, meaning more than two even. A bare minimum requirement is one fully day or normal use.

Now there are those that tell me if I turn this off and that off and don’t use this app or that app I can extend the battery life. This is true, but it’s a huge compromise, and one I didn’t have to make with any other phone I’ve ever had. Yah, I said it, the Note 3 in spite of it’s huge battery has the worst battery life of any phone I’ve ever owned. Take that all of you crazy reviewers who look at the size of the battery and claim great battery life based merely on size. That’s NOT how it works.

The battery life was helped along in the wrong direction by a bunch of known issues. There is a media server issue that you have to configure for, photo gallery settings, dropbox settings, etc. Way too many things that end up chewing up battery during the day. Things that shouldn’t be using much battery at all. I ended up turning off the Knox security because it’s a monster battery chewer.

I’ve mentioned the horrible screen color above, but just to put it in this section for those scanning the bad – you really need to change the profile. The closest one I found to normal color is to set the “movie” profie.

The camera – again this is something that reviewers get wrong so frequently. The camera has a lot of megapixels. This doesn’t make it good. In fact, in small sensors, anything above 8 megapixels can and does lead to all kinds of noise and artifacts in your photos. The way to make a great phone camera is to put a bigger sensor in it, NOT more megapixels.

The camera has it’s ups and downs. If everything is perfect in bright daylight it can take a great picture. It’s almost the opposite of the HTC One, which is best in poor light. But the camera is lacking image stabilization, opting instead of software stabilization that is slow and produces fuzzy images. This is one of the key reasons I started looking for a new phone, I like to take pictures when I’m out doing stuff. This camera almost never made me happy with what I shot.

And finally, all the fancy Samsung screen hand waving face detecting bloat. After playing around briefly, I turned off every funny thing I could find. It only led to extremely random behavior – the phone had a mind of it’s own because of something you’d done without knowing it. In the end it was more manageable without that junk. Somehow I must have missed a setting in there somewhere, because any time I would hand the phone to show something to a friend, the phone would end up doing something and losing it’s place. Not being able to share stuff is annoying.

The Sad:

my Magazine isn’t nearly as cool/useful as BlinkFeed. not intelligent, not blended, not filtered. But that’s not the worst part. The darn thing crashes and restarts almost every time you use it. BlinkFeed when you get it setup right is a really great way to get your news, calendar items, Twitter, Facebook, etc all rolled up in one place, which some serious intelligence filtering and prioritizing. It’s so good that if HTC would give up the Ultrapixel cameras or at least either put more of them or a bigger sensor, I’d switch back in the blink of an eye.

Another thing that the HTC One does well that the Note 3 is bad at is contact management. Now I own’t blame Samsung for this, because no one gets this right except for HTC. Not Samsung, not LG, not Apple, not Microsoft, not anyone. For those who don’t know, HTC scans your contacts from your multiple accounts and suggests links, so that your mom on Facebook is also your mom in your address book and your mom on Skype. One combined view of the three records.

Everyone else lets you do this manually, which is bad enough, but they also have limits on how many links you can make for one person. You’d be surprised how easy it is to pass the limit. The end result is that my contacts are much messier without my HTC, but I don’t blame Samsung. I just wish they’d fix it, here’s a better way to differentiate than some of their whacky ideas.

The photo gallery has this really cool feature that pulls in your pictures from your cloud storage, but you have to turn it off because it makes the gallery unusably slow. If you have it on, you can forget about trying to send photos in text messages, emails, etc., because it’s not going to happen. Good idea, bad implementation.

Now to keyboard software. Their version of finger swiping isn’t as clever about learning as some of the others like SwiftKey. It frequently gives bad auto-correct suggestions when you don’t expect it (Apple iOS anyone?) and isn’t as fluid as the others. On the plus side, they realize they’re on a big screen and give a keyboard with letters and numbers at the same time. If they could bring this up to snuff it’d be great. I suspect that someone else will just produce a phablet appropriate keyboard before Samsung figures it out.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Conclusions:

If you don’t mind carrying it, the big size is addictive. You could almost replace your kindle with it and I suspect many people do. Reading and video aren’t too bad, I find myself doing things I would normally go grab a tablet for. When you combine this with an unlimited data plan, you can watch TV to your hearts content no matter where you are.

The big screen allows you to surf more effectively and if you’re trying to get some work done, review a doc, spreadsheet, or slideshow, you can’t beat it. In short, the best value is the screen size, and nothing else. Certainly for some the stylus is also a benefit, but your mileage will vary.

Overall I’d say yes, get a big phone. But unless you know you need the stylus, it doesn’t need to be a Note – take a look around at somme of the other options, like the LG G3 or Nokia Lumia 1520.

I’d love to hear about your big phone experiences.

My Trip from iPhone 4S to Nexus 4 to HTC One

Biting Apple My experience with smartphones started with the iPhone 3G. It didn’t take me more than a couple of days to realize I was just carrying a little tiny computer in my hand and would be able to do amazing things with it. For fun (at least in the beginning) I put a mobile web interface on the company CRM that gave me access to valuable info when I was out of the office.

Figuring out that the phone was more than a computer took a bit longer. Initially I still carried my iPod on long trips, as well as my point-and-shoot camera and GPS. The iPod because I worried about battery life on extended trips like camping. The camera because the iPhone 3G camera was horrible compared to my previous LG Envy, and especially compared to my Olympus camera. GPS wasn’t even a real option, especially for off-road use.

The iPod was the first to go, I found I was carrying it an never using it. By the time the iPhone 4S came along I completely gave up on the point-and-shoot camera. The GPS was great for driving, but miserable off-road. I also started using the phone to record my sons band when they were at shows. I found the video rivaled my Flip camera, and the audio on those videos was better than the Flip.

Then big phones started coming along and I got screen envy. Not the really big ones, but the 4.7 – 4.8″ sweet spot, something that would still fit in my pocket. When the iPhone 5 finally showed up and the screen was an oddball skinny 16×9 it wasn’t for me. I don’t just watch video and pictures on my phone, I do real work and that format in that small size is just too narrow for vertical use, and too short for horizontal – a lose, lose situation. Plus that crummy iPhone slab is just uncomfortable to hold – why can’t they make them nice and curved like the iPod touch?

Along came the Nexus 4. I already had a Nexus 7 tablet, so the transition wasn’t as rough as it could have been. There was a bit of work to move my apple-centric email and calendar, but once I did that things basically worked the way I wanted. I loved the big screen, the shape was a bit better to hold, and I suddenly had access to some interesting features.

Panorama of Bellagio in Las Vegas
Panorama of Bellagio in Las Vegas shot with HTC One

One of those was Swype – when looking at Swype I never thought it would really work for me, but it turns out it just does. It take me about 5 minutes to completely fall in love with it. I still had the old iPhone 4, but swapping the chip back was unbearable between the hard angled sides, the tiny screen, and tiny non-swype keyboard. Not to mention the haptic touch. Poking keys with your fingers just seems so old fashioned.

The other thing was the widgets, as you’ve probably guessed. Not every widget is good, and in fact there are far more bad ones than good ones, but the good ones are really indispensible – more on this later because the HTC One was where things got really good in that area.

Unfortunately there were some downsides to the Nexus 4. Plain vanilla Jelly Bean was just great, but the phone has some serious limits for a high-end user, which isn’t surprising given it’s reasonable price. But here’s what didn’t work great.

First the screen, yes it’s big, and yes it’s colorful with a decent PPI, but the color accuracy was poor compared to the iPhone. The camera had some cute gimmicks, but the pictures were just awful – I went back to carrying the old Olympus, after clearing it of cobwebs. And I lost the ability to capture business cards with my phone camera – it just wasn’t up to the task. And comparing other Android cameras showed the same results. I know some say the camera is good, but they must be starting with something much worse than I could deal with.

When it comes to the built-in speaker, it was even worse than the iPhone, and everyone knows that iPhone speakers aren’t what you’d call good. It was fine for phone calls, but playing music was like the old mono AM radio in my 63 Dodge – with the volume down low. I know, you’re not supposed to rely on your phones internal speaker, but I wanted to (another thing I’ll speak of on the HTC One in a moment.)

Recording was even worse. I use my phone for audio memos and recording Webinar audio etc. It worked OK though not as clear as the iPhone. But when it came to trying to record my son’s rock band it was a complete disaster – the audio was unusable. Not bad, not usable at all – just random noise and cutting out. I tried several times, it was always a disaster. A bit of research let me to find out that this is way too common with Android phones.

The third was the storage. I came from a 64 GB phone, and I just couldn’t be happy in 16 GB. Much of my time is away from strong cellular service or wifi, and so I keep about 20 or 30 GB of music on my phone, as well as a movie or a couple of TV shows. I was OK on the Nexus 4, but not happy.

Then came the HTC One. A really solid build quality like I was used to from Apple, and a nice curved back like my old iPhone 3G, but lighter and a bigger screen. This was worth looking at. Plus actual stereo speakers, and on the front – why doesn’t everyone do this?!

So I went online and bought the developer edition. This was so I would have an unlocked bootloader for OS experiments and I thought I would probably just put straight Jelly Bean on it since I was used to it. Plus I wanted an unlocked SIM for overseas travel. I went to the HTC website and ordered a 64 GB version.

My only real complaint with HTC was their purchase process. The order took forever, and they didn’t keep me up to date on status as is now common. I had to call every few days to find out what was going on. Anyway, several weeks later I finally had my new phone. As it turns out, the AT&T online process is just as bad, in some ways worse, but that’s a story for another day.

I connected the phone to my account, loaded my Android apps from my Google account, put my photos, video and music on it and was ready to go. I was showing it to my wife and when she saw the screen and heard the music quality of the speakers she was done with her iPhone. Just that fast, no experience with Android, but the HTC One was what she wanted, so I headed back to the AT&T store the next day and bought her one as well.

So here’s what I love about it. First the screen. We compared it with an iPhone 5 and the Nexus and the color rendition was much more accurate and properly white-balanced. It’s big, it’s unnaturally sharp, and it’s bright. Much better in daylight than the Nexus was. This is the best smartphone screen I’ve ever seen, bar none.

The camera is great for snap shots, dark shots, and video. It’s only shortcomings are when you’re doing big enlargements and small up-close details. I can scan business cards again and the Olympus has been re-retired. Not only does it take good dark shots, but it’s the first smartphone or snap shooter I’ve seen that handled flash properly – not more choosing between dark and blurry or over-flashed.

Water show at the Bellagio
Water show at the Bellagio shot with HTC One

I did a dark picture test against the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 and it was really great compared to either of them. I put a black pocket-knife under my desk. Each camera was two shots – once without flash and once with. Notice if you look at the large image zoomed in on the HTC how sharp the image is, and how well balanced the flash shot is.

desk_s3_dark
Samsung Galaxy S3 no flash
desk_s3_flash
Samsung Galaxy S3 flash

desk_iphone5_dark
iPhone 5 no flash
desk_iphone5_flash
iPhone 5 flash

desk_htc1_dark
HTC One no flash
desk_htc1_flash
HTC One flash

The video camera shoots 1080p HD and it really looks quite nice, both day and night. I’ve attached a fun little video below that I shot on the airport tram at Dulles – it starts slow but you’ll see what I mean – it’s like Star Tours at Disneyland.

The audio playback is amazing, it makes me dissatisfied with my iPad and even outshines the Kindle Fire HD – why did they put the speakers on the back? Audio recording works well for memos and even recording music if you’re using the video app. Other apps so far haven’t been able to record live music well – I suspect they somehow don’t make use of the HDR microphone. I’m hoping one comes along – it seem silly to record video to just get audio. But the quality is good again.

The size and shape are good – the phone is comfortable in my hand for the first time in a couple of years. The weight is fine, and it still fits in shirt and coat and even pants pockets.

The GPS is now good enough for off-road thanks to the Backcountry app. I have to say that for navigating I’ve still personally had better luck with Apple maps than Google and I still find Magellan and Navigon are even better as I’ve mentioned before. But for off-road the iPhone can’t compete with Android.

The only downside is the battery. It’s no worse than the iPhone or Nexus but not better. I long for the old days of charging my phone once or twice a week. Heck I’d settle for two days of really solid use, or even 24 hours of heavy use. HTC I hope you’re listening.

The really unexpected pieces were because of Sense. I had planned to replace the launcher at the very least and possibly even switch to plain jelly bean. However I quickly got used to Blend, the news feed, and now don’t use Flipboard at all and News360 only occasionally. I’m a Sense fan.

The contacts widget is really great, and the contact manager is the only one I’ve ever seen in mobile (iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Chromebook) that can handle multiple accounts properly, IE Skype, LinkedIn, Google, Exchange, Twitter, Facebook, and more. All without showing you duplicates.

I’m hoping HTC is successful, because I think a tablet built with the same quality would be amazing – sign me up, I’ll pre-pay.

My son, who was instrumental in pointing the HTC One out to me in the first place and helping research what the best phone would be, has finally made the change as well. His One is on the way (you can’t get a black 64 GB in any store – why not HTC?) and he’s giving up his iPhone 5.

So that’s a clean sweep – 3 iPhones changed into 3 HTC Ones. Try it yourself – you can’t go wrong.

[update 2015-02-11 – moved the subway video to youtube for easier viewing.]

[update 2016-03-11 – Finally gave up on android – slow performance and horrible battery life compared to iPhone]