smartphone

The Galaxy S6: What you need to know

Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S 6 smartphone today. And it may indeed be something special. After years of disappointing customers with premium priced phones made of cheap feeling plastic and loaded with crappy 1st party software, Samsung has made the very first steps to recovering from declining sales and profits: They made fundamental changes to their design philosophy, and they listened to their customers while doing it. 

The changes start with with construction.  As opposed to the all plastic Galaxy S5, the S6 is wrapped in a slim frame made of reinforced glass and aircraft-grade aluminum. Samsung has also split the new flagship S6 into two premium phones: The 5.1" Galaxy S6, and the S6 Edge, throwing in a curve to both sides of the front glass. Switching to a metal and glass design is a major shift for Samsung after the last 5 phones in just as many years constructed from 90% plastic. 

The major changes here happen under the hood, and they are more than a design change, they are a culture change at Samsung. Before I get to those, let me drop the whole spec sheet on you.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT FROM THE NEW GALAXY S6* 

  • Quad Core 2.93 GHz Exynos 64bit Processor
  • 5.1 Inch QHD SUPER AMOLED Display (577ppi making it the highest resolution phone screen on the market)
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 32GB, 64GB & 128GB of Storage
  • 16MP Rear Camera with OIS, 5MP Front Camera (f1.9 Low Light Sensitive Camera, Auto HDR)
  • Wireless Charging (BOTH Qi and PMA Wireless Charging)
  • Fingerprint Touch Authentication (in contrast to the S5's Swipe Sensor)
  • PayPal Certified, Samsung Pay (NFC or MFT LoopPay)
  • Fast USB Charging (1.5 Times faster than the S5 charging speed)
  • LTE Cat.6 High Speed
  • All Four Major US Carriers, AND US Cellular
  • AVAILABLE APRIL 10TH
    *US VERSION

In terms of price, it's going to be the same as before, according to the rumours - although it could be a little more expensive given the improved materials used. The WSJ spoke with Young-hee Lee, Samsung's head of mobile marketing. In today's article they stated: "The curved variant will retail for about $100 more than the Galaxy S6, and will be “in the same price bracket” as the Galaxy S5, Ms. Lee said. The Galaxy S5 sold in the U.S. for about $200 with a two-year contract."

Under the hood, is where the Galaxy S6 get interesting. In a move to begin keeping more of the profit from the devices sold, Samsung is putting it's own Exynos 64Bit processor in the S6, instead of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810. The S6 and S6 Edge both support Samsung’s new mobile payments program, called Samsung Pay. Utilizing the technology Samsung acquired when it purchased LoopPay, the S6 will let you make purchases at any retailer that has a standard credit card swipe machine. It also works with NFC tap-to-pay systems and is authenticated with the new touch based fingerprint sensor in the phone’s home button. Between the two systems, Samsung says it will be accepted at 90 percent of retailers. Samsung Pay will work with both MasterCard and Visa, as well as American Express, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and U.S. Bank. It’s very obviously Samsung’s answer to Apple Pay, but it won’t be available until later this summer, a few months after the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge hit store shelves. To address complaints that Samsung phones were bogged down with little-used software, the company removed many of its apps and streamlined the user interface. Samsung states that the Galaxy S6 has 40% less 1st party software than the S5. 

Those of you who have been reading through this have probably noticed at this point that the phone will be uni-body, with no Micro-SD slot or removable battery. While this revelation may cause concern, it's worth mentioning that since the Android Kit-Kat rollout, 3rd party apps cannot even use your external Micro-SD card anyway. Most people use streaming music services instead of storing thousands of songs on their phones, so moving to internal storage is actually a customer first philosophy.  

At this point, it is more than obvious that the Galaxy S6 is by far Samsung's most significant phone release ever. It is a shift of internal company culture, and design philosophy as well. Whether or not this phone can turn things around for Samsung remains to be seen.  



Xiaomi: The revolution no one saw coming

In 2011, I purchased a shiny new Galaxy SII smartphone, and almost immediately rooted it (hacked it) , to put a custom ROM on it that was more beautiful than any Android interface I had ever seen, called Miui. It's smooth, beautiful interface was a truly unique design that was ahead of it's time. The fully customizable interface allowed for you to apply an endless supply of themes or skins to it, allowing you to completely change the look of your phone whenever you wanted. I changed mine almost every day. And the skins were gorgeous, especially those with the unique, FLAT design that we would later see deployed by other manufacturers years later. 

MIUI V1 Interface

MIUI V1 Interface

I knew I loved the interface, and I knew how revolutionary it was. What I didn't know, was how to pronounce the name of it's creator, Xiaomi. At the time, Xiaomi was literally an unknown outside of the Android hacker community. They were a little known Chinese company with nothing more than a free custom Android interface that rocked. We had no idea, what they become. In 2010 it was an unknown, in 2014, it became the world's the world’s most valuable technology start-up after it received $1.1 billion funding from investors, making Xiaomi's valuation more than $46 billion. Yeah, $46 Billion. And MANY people outside of China still don't know the name. 

As of January 2015, Xiaomi is the world's 3rd largest smartphone distributor, followed by #4 Lenovo, and 5th place LG, with Samsung still in the #1 slot and Apple at #2. Xiaomi designs, develops, and sells smartphonesmobile apps, and consumer electronics

Xiaomi is on every tech manufacturer's radar, because they are not just a threat in the smartphone arena, they also make products like LED Lightbulbs, Streaming media players, smart remotes, webcams, 3D TV's, headphones and even a Humidifier. And Xiaomi shows no signs of stopping. Xiaomi announced yesterday a new flagship mobile phone, the Mi Note. The Mi Note is a 6.95mm-thick smartphone with a 5.7-inch 1080p display, a 13-megapixel camera, options for a Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, a 3000 mAh battery, and curved glass on both the front and back panels; the company refers to the front glass as "2.5D" and the rear glass as "3D." All of this hardware, lighter & thinner than an iPhone 6 Plus (It's size/performance competitor), and just as beautiful. And the price of entry? $370, OFF CONTRACT for the 16GB version, and $450 for the 64GB version. There will even be a "Pro" model, boasting  4GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 810 processor, and a 1440p display for 3,299 yuan (about $520). For comparison, the iPhone 6 Plus off contract costs $749 for the 16GB unit and $849 for the 64GB variant. If you look at the math, that puts the the 16GB variant under HALF the costs of Apple's offering, and the 64GB version just over half. Did I mention that the Mi Note also packs in High Definition Audio? Yeah. Sony just released a Walkman last week that Runs $1,200 for the same Audio Playback Quality. 

It bears mentioning, that there are a ton of Chinese companies making knockoff products or inexpensive small electronics devices for virtually everything. Where Xiaomi differentiates itself though, is the Quality and performance of their products considering the low prices. Impressions from reviewers are frequently favorable, noting the quality of the build and the surprising performance of Xiaomi products. And it took 4 years to get here. 4 years. Apple, Samsung, LG, Lenovo, all of these companies took over a decade to establish themselves as serious players. And Xiaomi has managed to join their club in less than half that time. 

Meet Xiaomi. And the hits just keep on coming...

10 Essential Smartphone Security Apps

10 Essential Smartphone Security Apps

Some data security programs are free, and some cost money. But if they can protect your important data, then they are worth any investment.

  • Lookout Mobile Security - I love Lookout Mobile Security because it remembers who you are and locks out anyone who steals your phone or tries to use it without your permission. How does it do all of this? If I told you, then that would take all of the fun out of it
  • Avast! Mobile Security - One of the top free data security programs for years has been the Avast! program. Now, smartphone users can take advantage of this program and use it to protect their privacy. The makers of Avast! offer regular updates and a very robust free version of their software.
  • AVG Antivirus - AVG is another popular and free antivirus program that sits on millions of desktop computers around the world. AVG not only scans for viruses, but it can also stop programs that are causing your smartphone to freeze up.
  • Norton Mobile Security - When it comes to complete data security, I have no problem recommending the reliable and venerable Norton programs. There are a variety of smartphone security apps available with the Norton name on them, and they all do a great job.
  • WebRoot Secure Anywhere - WebRoot Secure Anywhere is a bit more proactive than many of the other smartphone protection programs available. This program will not only scan data that comes into your phone, but it can also block you from going to mobile websites that are phishing for data.
  • Kaspersky Mobile Security - As someone intimately familiar with the virtual security world, I have been utilizing and working with Kaspersky programs for years. These tend to be higher-end programs that can cost a pretty penny, but they are hard to beat when it comes to protecting your virtual privacy.
  • .Security Cam - So far, we have done a lot of talking about apps that protect your phone. Let's take one second to talk about a program that helps your phone to protect you. Security Cam utilizes your phone's video features to capture footage either automatically or when it is triggered using settings you create. The images can be exported to your computer or just used on your smartphone to solve the mystery of who took the last piece of pizza.
  • 360 Mobile Security - This is a relatively new security program that has been getting a lot of attention lately, mostly due to the developer's persistent boasts about how effective the program is. To be fair, it is extremely effective at scanning and preventing malware from getting loaded onto your smartphone. Since the program is free, it is at least worth checking out.
  • Avira Antivirus - Avira will scan existing programs to see if they pose a threat and is especially on guard when you update your phone. You can also count on Avira to check every new program you download to make sure it is safe.
  • AVL - AVL is nice because it does not have all of the bells and whistles that normally come with antivirus programs. It is a stripped-down program that detects malware and warns you. That is all it does. AVL does not slow your smartphone down, which is why so many people are utilizing it these days.

Fire Phone - What you should know

Amazon held their much anticipated press conference today, and as was expected, they unveiled a Smartphone. Keeping with the "Fire" nomenclature, the phone is named the Amazon Fire Phone. Obviously not intended to be left behind in a market they are late to, Amazon went big in the specs department, stepping toe to toe with the big players in the space like the Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5s. Packing a "13MP camera with optical image stabilization for stunning photos and 1080p HD video, a 2.2 GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM for fast, fluid performance, a beautiful 4.7" HD display, dual stereo speakers, and Dolby Digital audio", Amazon obviously wanted to make sure potential users didn't feel they had to make sacrifices in power and performance if they opted to make the switch. Here is how the Fire Phone stacks up: 

It's obvious that the Fire Phone isn't a top tier phone from these specs, with the bewildering choice of Bluetooth 3.0 instead of 4.0, and the last generation Snapdragon 800 processor. But the phone is certainly no slouch in the specs department. It is obvious Amazon came to play. 

But as always with Amazon, the true point to this device is the experience, and Amazon aims to make it like no other.  

Fire Phone will work with the Amazon Appstore, but will not use any Google Apps. Running on the FireOS fork of Android that Amazon built for  the Kindle, expect a similar experience here. While it does not have access to Google Apps (NATIVELY, we installed Google Apps to our Kindle FIRE HDX the day we got it through sideloading), don't expect that to hold the experience back TOO much. Navigation in FireOS is a smooth, fluid experience. Game changing features like Firefly: a tool that lets you identify songs, shows or movies via the microphone, then queues up the content or product on Amazon's site to buy it, are certainly going to wow consumers. It's like the Google Goggles app on Android, times 100. It will even recognize phone numbers in text to let you dial or store in your contacts. In addition, Amazon brought the much beloved Mayday feature from the Kindle Fire HDX. Hitting the Mayday button summons a personal tech support concierge that connects within 15 seconds to your device, who can remotely guide you through any feature, even drawing on your screen to highlight the way. Having used this feature extensively with our HDX, we can attest to just how helpful and cool this feature is. The multiple cameras on board aid in creating an experience Amazon calls "dynamic perspective", a sort of parallax effect where images on the screen move and shift in a 3-Dimensional space in relation to where the user is looking. It is a striking effect that has to be seen to be believed. Whether this is merely a gimmicky feature of the lock screen only, or if it makes it's way into other features of the phone (aside from maps) remains to be seen. Either way, it's cool. 

Knowing that in order to compete in a space completely dominated by Apple and Google, Amazon knew they had to be prepared. Completely disassociating themselves from Google apps was a risky move. Android is well renowned for it's Google Apps, with the industry recognized best Maps and Email apps, among others. Jumping into this space without a quality replacement would be suicide in the smartphone arena. If initial impressions are to be believed, the Amazon Maps app with incorporated 3D visuals is a winner, with a competitive Email app as well. Packing in all the expected Kindle related features including X-Ray, and adding accelerometer powered scrolling and navigation, this looks to be one of Amazon's most ambitious and promising products ever.

With 32 and 64GB models selling at $199 and $299 respectively, and an off-contract purchase price of $649 for 32GB and $749 for 64GB, the Fire Phone aims to remain competitive in pricing as well, given that is double the storage most phone offer at their respective price points. Currently Fire Phone is available on AT&T only and comes with a free year of Amazon Prime. 

Can Amazon take on the mobile market and revolutionize it? That remains to be seen. But it is definitely clear with their aggressive entries into multiple product categories with the Kindle e-Readers, FireTV and now a smartphone, Amazon is certainly on "Fire". 



Samsung's Galaxy Experience: Meet the Galaxy S5 Interface

Samsung admitted the error of it's ways with it's over-bloated user interfaces and the especially heavy handed Galaxy S4 hardware weeks ago, and assured customers of a "return to basics" for the Galaxy S5. Well, yesterday EVLeaks posted pictures of the new, Google Now -like interface of the Galaxy S5, and it is an interesting change. Though there is so much more to be seen, I am curious to see this story continue to develop.. For now, feast your eyes on these shots. 

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Reinventing the iPhone....

Rumors have floated for 3 years that Apple was designing and testing larger screens on the iPhone, but many felt it was always more speculation than truth. Especially with Apple's continued adherence publicly to their claims that consumers did not want anything bigger than the iPhone's current screen. However, as more and more "leaks" and talk surfaced, the industry has wondered. 

Bigger iPhones coming? We hope so!

Bigger iPhones coming? We hope so!

If an article from the usually reliable Bloomberg is on point, Apple is indeed working on 2 new models for release in the latter half of 2014, both with larger displays with glass that curves downward at the edges. Though their source declined attribution because these details are not public, they also stated the phones will be equipped with more advanced touchscreen sensors that are pressure sensitive and can "distinguish heavy or light touches on the screen". The screens are to clock in at 4.7 and 5.5 inches, putting them in the range of the HTC One and Galaxy Note 3 screens respectively. 

With revenues for Apple on the rise, but profits at their lowest since 2011, it is the perfect time for Apple to rethink one of the few areas where they have not remained even remotely competitive with the demands of users in the market: Screen Size. As Apple has watched their market share in the smartphone arena drop drastically over 4 years, they have continued to innovate like mad scientists, packing many amazing features and patented technologies in the iPhone. But one area they have never budged on was screen width. All the while, the competition chipped away at their user base, as consumers increasingly looking for their phones to start replacing their computers.  

This news should be more than eyebrow raising to Apple's competition though, because as Apple has proven time and again, when they set their mind to truly innovate and improve a product, they do it faster, more powerful and with a sense of style that has consumers BEGGING them to take their money.