smartphones

Samsung answers critics: Galaxy goes Metal with the Galaxy Alpha

For years, Samsung has been criticized in the mobile marketplace for the cheap plastic construction of it's premium Galaxy line of phones. The main competitor for the Galaxy series, Apple's iPhone, has had a premium solid metal and glass design for years. And while the numbers on paper show that the Galaxy line still sells insanely well, even outselling the iPhone in most cases (S4, S5) it still left a portion of the marketplace in the cold and siding with Apple, solely on the merits of a more quality feel of it's product.

While Samsung frequently spouts sales numbers and profit as a means of detracting from the consumer complaints about build quality and to defend their lack of innovation, it appears they actually do listen to the customer. Either that, or in the face not only customer complaints, but the overwhelming tech press preference of the quality of construction of phones like the iPhone and HTC's One line, Samsung decided to answer the call. Because, who wants to be "that" kid on the block?

Enter the Galaxy Alpha. The first metal bodied Galaxy phone.

Meet the Galaxy Alpha

Meet the Galaxy Alpha

The specs on the new Alpha fall in line mostly with the S5, however it is worth noting, that Samsung is NOT trying to win major points here with a new "Flagship" Premium Phone. While the Alpha has a metal FRAME instead of a full Metal Body (more on this in a minute), it also has a smaller, slightly lower resolution screen than it's big brother, the S5. So while Samsung is capitulating and offering a more premium body, they are skimping in other areas. All in all, this feels like nothing more than a half measure to appease the critics.

Back to the body, the entire casing won’t be metal. The metal frame is confined to the four edges of the phone. On the front, of course, is a glass screen measuring 4.7 inches diagonally, while the “tactile soft back cover” boasts a stippled pattern reminiscent of the Galaxy S5.

The company said in its statement that it took “a fresh approach” to the hardware design, but remained virtually silent on software features. Most of the gadget’s specs, Samsung said, were the same as those on its flagship Galaxy S smartphones, with newly-unveiled features, including a battery-saving mode and a fingerprint scanner, part and parcel of the new Galaxy Alpha.

Samsung's Press Release states the following:

Setting a New Standard for Samsung Galaxy Design
Concentrating on elegant aesthetics and compact construction, Samsung has taken a fresh approach to design with the Galaxy Alpha. Created to help consumers express their unique style without sacrificing functionality, the refined Galaxy Alpha features a sophisticated design with a metal frame, elegantly curved corners and a tactile soft back cover. In addition, it is visually balanced, with the perfect contrast of both a calming, soft matte finish and an eye-catching reflection from the metal frame. At less than 7 mm thick, the Galaxy Alpha is also one of the slimmest Galaxy devices ever, and its uniquely compact construction and light weight provides consumers with maximum in-hand grip and control.

Powerful Samsung Galaxy Experience
Despite its slim and light design, the Galaxy Alpha provides users with the same powerful hardware and features users expect from a flagship Galaxy mobile device. The device is equipped with a brilliant 4.7-inch HD Super AMOLED display as well as an advanced camera and real time HDR for an unrivaled viewing and photo experience. The Galaxy Alpha also includes innovative and popular features such as Ultra-Power Saving Mode, S Health, Finger Print Scanner, Private Mode and connectivity with the latest Samsung Gear Fit, Gear Live and Gear 2 wearables.

The Galaxy Alpha will be available at the beginning of September. At launch, it will be available in Charcoal Black, Dazzling White, Frosted Gold, Sleek Silver, and Scuba Blue, with available colors to be determined by market. 

There's currently no word on how much the Samsung Galaxy Alpha will cost, but some rumours suggest it could well be around the same price as the Galaxy S5.

That would place the Alpha right a the top of the smartphone market, where it will be outclassed in many departments by the range of flagship Android handsets currently available. We're keeping our fingers crossed for a slightly cheaper price tag.

While we are as excited as anyone else at the idea of a manufacturer stepping up to criticism and answering those complaints with a new or improved product, this fails to cut it. Instead of taking the S5, improving on it's weaknesses and packing it all into a metal body for a more premium construction and offering it at the same price point or even at a small premium, they have actually just scaled back in size and screen quality to compensate for manufacturing costs. Apple has proven for years that if you make an exceptionally well designed piece of hardware, with a genuine premium build, people will pay far more than the device is actually worth as a sum of all it's parts. And they have made a FORTUNE doing so. If Samsung wants to stay relevant, and competitive, they will need to step up their game for sure. Especially with Apple's newest Flagship launching in less than a month.

 

If you forget to WIPE your old phone, your data is a sitting duck

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Over the last year, The big 4 US mobile carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — all have introduced shiny new programs allowing users to upgrade their cell phones far mmuch sooner than the standard two-year cycle, and do it quite affordably. 

The biggest takeaway of these programs? More new phones = more old phones. The EPA estimated that in 2010, 152 million mobile phones were thrown away, with only 17.4 million being recycled. Since then, the secondary market for used cell phones has boomed, with big-box stores offering buy-back programs and a multitude of online options luring those looking to cash in.

Whether an old phone is donated, sold or recycled, one crucial step of this process is often overlooked: securely “wiping,” or deleting, the personal data contained on the old device. Most phones have a 'Factory Reset' option that allows the phone to be reset to it's original factory settings —however, as a recent experiment by security software company Avast demonstrated, that doesn’t always do the trick. 

Avast purchased 20 different phones on eBay and put some of their off-the-shelf data recovery and forensics tools to work to see what they could dig up. From those 20 phones, Avast recovered 40,000 photos — including 1,500 family photos with children and hundreds of embarrassing pornographic images — 750 emails, 250 contacts with names and addresses, SMS and chat messages, and even private financial and legal documents.

How was this possible? Wiping a device often means only cleaning a device at the application layer, or rearranging where the data is stored, not necessarily deleting it. Apple was quick to point out that all of the phones in the Avast study were Android devices (iPhones overwrite encryption keys, not just data, when wiped and reset), and BlackBerry has relied on its own trusty secure wipe tool for years. But many of the secure-wipe apps offered through Google Play for the Android platform come with “we cannot guarantee that all free space will be sanitized” disclaimers. However, there has been software available for public purchase for several years that allows recovery of images and data from iPhone even when the passcode is not known and the iPhone has been reset. 

So how can you more vigilantly delete data on an old device?

• Pursue all channels of smartphone security while you’re using it so they will be in place when you decide to get rid of it. In May, a Consumer Reports study revealed that 36% of users set a screen lock with a 4-digit PIN; 29% backed up their data; 22% installed phone-location software; 14% installed a mobile security or antivirus app; 8% installed software that could erase their phone’s content; 7% used security features other than screen lock — and 34% took none of those security measures. Almost all of these options are free and easy to implement, but if you need help, call in a trusted IT service provider.

• Once you’re ready to sell, recycle, or donate, remove your SIM card (and micro SD card, if your phone has one). Most data is kept in internal storage, but some contacts or call logs can end up on these cards. It’s common practice for anyone buying or refurbishing a used cell phone to supply their own new SIM or micro SD cards before using, so there’s no need to risk the security of your data by leaving the old one in.

• On iPhones, use the Default Erase Setting — on Androids, encrypt your phone manually, and then erase. Apple’s Default Erase setting uses hardware encryption to scramble your phone’s specific key, while on the Android platform, this step must be done manually. This Lifehacker story from October 2013 explains both processes in great detail.

• Rely on a trusted IT service provider to keep up with evolving best practices and tools for mobile security. The landscape surrounding the privacy of cell phone data keeps shifting; in June, the US Supreme Court ruled that police must get a search warrant before delving into the contents of a person’s phone, so, for all intents and purposes, that data is now considered sacrosanct.

The technology surrounding data encryption will surely continue to evolve — wouldn’t you like to leave your worries about it to someone invested in the industry? Smart business owners concentrate on building their companies and caring for clients — and leaving IT worries to a partner they can trust. 

If you have security questions call us at Rethink Associates in order to leverage our expertise and knowledge to help provide you with solutions for security that won't leave your data "exposed"