Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Canadians can find out what data a company stores about them

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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The average consumer is starting to realize how much personal data companies collect about them. 

RELATEDHow Target knows you are pregnant through data analytics

Consumers should be concerned about what data is collected, how is is used and who it is shared with. 

Canadian privacy laws ( like Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) allow consumers to access their information (aka companies must respond to a request for personal information held by the company).

Principle 4.9: Upon request, an individual shall be informed of the existence, use, and disclosure of his or her personal information and be given access to that information. An individual shall be able to challenge the accuracy and completeness of the information and have it amended as appropriate.
— PIPEDA

PIPEDA section 4.9 mandates that companies respond to Data Access Requests within 30 days of receipt. The information must be made available for free or at a reasonable cost.

Principle 4.9.4: An organization shall respond to an individual’s request within a reasonable time and at minimal or no cost to the individual.
— PIPEDA

Some companies use legally complex wording and vague statements in their privacy policies to hide the level of detail collected and to obfuscate how it is used. The Data Access Request allows any individual to understand (and see) what has been collected and what is being done with their information. 

What is a Data Access Request?

Toronto based Citizen Lab has created and operated a site called Access My Info. The site was created to simplify how Canadian's create and submit Data Access Requests using templates. 

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Testing it

I will submit a couple of test requests and see how companies respond. If you are a Canadian, I encourage you to try this as well.

OPSEC : Backup Strategy for the Security Conscious

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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RELATED: The best way to protect your data - images, music, documents

Even with all of the technological advancements we have made, backups are usually overlooked by the "average Joe" until something significant occurs (causing a massive shift in paradigm). 

Why backup

Traditionally we backed up our information in case the physical media we used (hard drive, DVD, ZIP Drive cartridge, Bernoulli Box, etc.) had a catastrophic incident. 

Modern headaches that we add to the justification list now include malware and cryptoware data modification, seizure at a border crossing or shutdown of a cloud service. 

When thinking about backups (as a security conscious individual), you are concerned about:

  • Recovering your files in their original format (not some compressed low-quality version of your precious originals)
  • Ensuring that only YOU can access your backed up information 

Know thyself

Before we can discuss how to protect your information, we need to know what and where that information is

Inventorying your information is not as simple as it first appears... Think of everywhere you have stored digital data. 

  • You have one or more email accounts possibly with various providers (Hotmail, Outlook, GMAIL, Yahoo Mail, your ISP, etc)
  • You could have contact information on Google, iCloud, Samsung Contacts, etc
  • You may have documents in Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, various 3rd party apps (diaries, note taking apps, etc)
  • You may have information (sometimes even forgotten) on USB keys, SD cards, CD/DVD disks, etc
  • This blog has information (articles) going back 7+ years

You get the picture. What first seems like a basic easy to answer question could quickly turn into a monstrous inventory activity. 

Once you know what you have, you then need to figure out which of these sources is the "master" copy. It is not uncommon for people to knowingly or unknowingly load duplicate information across multiple different storage mediums. This of the master as the version that you are likely to keep the most up to date. 

As an example, I recently did a photo duplicate cleanup and realized 15% of my total 1.5TB photo storage was duplicate files I had accumulated over the years. 

RELATED: OPSEC - How to securely delete files

It's time to strategize

In a previous article, I talked about the 3-2-1 backup strategy. The exact entry from my previous article was:

This is a simple way to remember the right way to backup and protect your data. 

  • You should always have 3 copies of your important data. This means one primary (aka the one you use on a daily basis) and 2 copies as backups.
  • You should always have your backups on 2 different types of media (one of your backups can be to an external hard disk while the other one should be to another type of media like DVD disk or to an online service).
  • You should always store 1 copy of your data to "somewhere else". This is to ensure recoverability in case your house or business experience a natural disaster. Now in most cases, this can be one of the popular online backup services or it can simply be you manually storing the media in another location like your office, a bank vault or leaving it in a friends house. To be extra careful, it is recommended to built-in some distance between you and the offsite backup in case a natural disaster eats a good part of your city. 

The reason we create the information inventory in the previous step is so that you can also backup your application datasets. As an example, if you use Google contacts, maybe export the file monthly in CSV format and make sure it is backed up (don't rely on the goodwill of the provider since they always cap their liability in the event of a catastrophic incident). If you use a journaling application, maybe export your entries in PDF and back that up. If you have pictures sitting on your smartphone, make sure a copy is taken and added to your backup strategy (Google Photos is good but it stored an "optimized" version which is not original). 

People often forget to back up basic information like their emails. To do this, you may need to install a "fat" email client on your computer and pull all the emails (or copies of them) from your mail provider then backup the local program database. Google isn't going away but there have been countless tales of users "losing" access to their accounts for months because Google made an arbitrary decision. Unless you are running your own infrastructure, assume the provider can stop your service and hijack your data at any time. 

A couple of years ago, I spent weeks scanning all my paper documents so that I could have digital easy to move, easy to backup versions. You will likely have to do the same.

Where to store your backups

Back to my 3-2-1 backup model, you should have 2 copies of the data you physically control and one up in the heavens we call "the cloud".

The size of your backup will dictate what kind of physical media you store it on. When backups were small, many users could get away with storing them on CD/DVD/Tape drives but these aren't practical for most modern users.

Most of you will likely store your local copies on some type of large local storage medium such as a USB key and/or hard-drive. If possible, store your local copies on 2 different mediums (USB key AND hard drive) or Spinning hard drive and SSD drives. 

You need one copy in the cloud. Local copies are great because you can restore access almost instantly, but if a major incident occurs, you may lose both of your physical copies. That is when your backup of last resort comes in (aka cloud backup). Remember to protect your cloud backups. You can do this by pre-encrypting the information before uploading it (which works if your backup is small and you are uploading to a service like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or Dropbox). The other option is to use a backup service that lets you hold on to the encryption/decryption keys like Carbonite and Backblaze.

Make sure your backup provider has version control enabled. This means they store multiple versions of files. This is useful if you are infected with cryptolocker like malware that encrypts your files, you can go back to a version pre-encryption. This is also useful if you delete a file by mistake and want to go back in time and bring it back.

It's a process

Once you figure out what your backup strategy will be, you need to ensure it is "run" regularly. Nothing is worse than having a plan and then losing six months of data because you forgot to backup. Most cloud services offer near-line backups which is a nice set it and forget it model. 

You will have to ensure your local copies are regularly updated also. On my mac, I use the built-in and free RSYNC command in the terminal to synchronize via a scheduled task. There are also a tone of reasonably priced on device backup apps (if you don't want to fiddle with the terminal). These are examples but not endorsements:

Review of the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 EDC backpack

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I evangelize the benefits of one bag travel. My go-to bag for the last ten years has been the RedOxx AirBoss, but I regularly get questions about Tom Bihn bags.

My 5-11 Rush 24 work backpack was starting to fall apart, and in my quest to find the "best" bag for me, I spend three months reviewing various bags. Here is my review of the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack. 

The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 should be considered an Every day Carry (EDC) type of bag. While reviewing the bag, I wanted to evaluate :

  • the capacity
  • will it last
  • the look
  • daily use experience

The bag

I own many RedOxx products, and they are all made from a super durable canvas like material. RedOxx bags have a particular look and are designed for adventure first and foremost. This comes through immediately when you see the bag's metal clips, crazy strong claw strap, YKK number 10 zippers and the incredible stitching. 

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Although the Tom Bihn looks more "conventional", the materials are all high quality, and you see this immediately with the zippers. The main section uses strong YKK #10 zippers Aquaguard, which are water resistant. The other compartments use YKK #8 Aquaguard.  You immediately notice that every component was purposefully chosen for looks, use, and durability. 

Color matched rubbery coating on the inside of the zippers.

Color matched rubbery coating on the inside of the zippers.

Whereas my RedOxx bag zippers' chunkiness is immediately visible, the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 design blends them into the overall bag. 

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Most backpack manufacturers throw two external size bottle holders, and the Synapse 25 only holds one bottle, but you realize why. The designers created a special bottle holder pocket in the middle of the backpack (it expands outward, so you don't lose packing space). At first, I found this strange until I realized this was done to maintain the proper balance of your backpack. As you use this bag, you realize a lot of thought has gone into every aspect of it. 

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Right underneath the water bottle pocket is a smaller throw anything type pocket. When traveling, this is a great place to throw keys, your wallet, passport, small bud style headphones at the security checkpoint. When you realize how many personal items people forget at security checkpoints, you stop throwing your stuff in those plastic bins, and you want to shove them in these types of pockets. During daily use, I have a small personal first aid kit I carry here. 

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Each side has a medium sized longish pocket where I store my beloved Julbo sunglasses. The right-hand pocket has a small organizational sinch pocket. The left one has storage for pens and a small/medium multitool. 

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There is a bottom pocket that can be used to store (while traveling) packing cubes, small shoes, snacks, a jacket, toiletry bag or other items you may want quick access to. During my day to day use, I store my laptop power adapter and sizeable OmniCharge battery here with an assortment of cables. 

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Loops, loops, and more loops (aka O rings). All Tom Bihn products are made to work together, and these loops are the key. You can use the countless loops to attack their cubes, caches or organizer bags inside any of the pockets. The Tom Bihn laptop sleeve allows me to pull out the sleeve at a security checkpoint for review, without the risk of forgetting my precious laptop at the TSA checkpoint.

The Freudian Slip

First, you have to laugh at the name and acknowledge these designers have a sense of humor. The Synapse 25 was designed to go from an EDC office bag to a travel system but how do you organize your office knick-knacks without permanently sacrificing space when traveling? You make the office organizer removable. 
The Freudian Slip 25 is designed to fit perfectly in your Synapse 25 and has 15 organizational pockets to store all of your stuff. It has two folder pockets, four open top pockets for small electronics, two mesh pockets, two pen pockets and of course a business card pocket. 

It costs $50 but can be a real organizational dream for Every day Carry. I use mine every day to carry papers, a notebook, my Skyroam Global Wifi hotspot and more. There are so many pockets most of mine are empty but still a wonderful add-on I highly recommend.

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The lighting

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They sell an Action Lights Guardian light on a strap you can hang on the inside of your bag (so you can find your items even at night). I already own a couple of guardian lights and love them for their durability, but I think they chose the wrong light for internal illumination. Don't get me wrong, the Guardian light is good for internal illumination but the GloTube is much better. There is free advice to your Tom Bihn designers. 

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The bag also comes with an external strap that blends in and is invisible when not used, but allows you to strap an external Guardian light for visibility at night (walking, bicycling, etc.)

The details

Tom Bihn offers dozens of pouches, organizers, and straps that you can add to the Synapse 25 to customize it and make it your own. Evey accessory has a strap, hook or locking system that allows you to use it with every one of their products. These hooks are always robust and easy to use. 


It is only after a couple of weeks of use that I started to realize how much thought and care was given to every aspect of the backpack. As you use the bag and realize all of the design decisions they have made to make your life a little bit better, you can't help but fall in love with the product. 

The durability

In addition to very carefully thought out design, this bag is built durable without looking like it came from an Army Surplus store. I carried this bag into executive meetings and never felt out of place. This is especially surprising when you realize the quality of the components they have used. 

Tom Bihn advertises the shell material as 400d Halcyon which is a 420 denier ultra-high-molecular polyethylene ripstop material coated with a light urethane to make it water resistant. 

It feels like a soft high-quality nylon that can withstand being overstuffed and force zipped. The stitching is hidden where possible and where you can see it, it is high quality and you know it is going to be durable.  

The straps are basic and nicely padded. It feels solid and is comfortable for extended use. Many of the tactical bags have more padding but even when loaded, the Synapse never felt uncomfortable. 

This is the type of bag that will probably last for20 years without any issues.

The look

This is a bag designed for techies and not for ultra-modern style conscious turtleneck wearing millennials. Bags like the Minaal are much appropriate for those looking for stylish minimalist bags that can blend into the snobbish New York design scene. 

The Synapse 25 isn't "sexy" because it doesn't have a "modern" look. It doesn't have any waxed canvas or leather accents. 

The Synapse 25 is an ultra-utilitarian functionality first bag. Now to be clear. I carried the 5-11 Rush 24 tactical bag, so I am more concerned with usability than looks. 

Regardless of the "lacking" looks, the bag is so wonderfully designed and put together that I am convinced you will fall in love with it. But look at the pictures and judge it for yourself. You will either love it or hate it. 

When using this bag, you realize all of the small carefully thought out design decisions the Tom Bihn team made aligned with their design philosophy. This doesn't just feel like a $40 bag quickly put together to sell in bulk at Costco. 


Every time I use this bag, it is like having a conversation with the designers and learning how to use it better. As you use it, you will change your carry model and realize they thought of optimizations you may not realize until you've carried this for a couple of weeks.

Daily use

To truly rate the usability of a bag, you have to carry it for at least a month. After a month of daily use, I can tell you that the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 is a delight to use. 

Even when carrying it for hours across busy airports, it was comfortable.

The external organization pockets mean you can easily store and find your items without having to dig into a cavernous deep main pocket. 

The bag is packed with innovation that will make travel and daily use a joy, all packed in a deceptively simple looking bag. 
 

Recommendations

Handles on bags are important when you travel, and although the belt-like carry strap is durable, I wish it was a little more padded. For a bag that is so well designed, this top carry strap felt a little underwhelming. 

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Like the carry strap, the belt strap (which is removable) is a thin strap of webbing material IT will definitely last but isn't very comfortable to use. Luckily it isn't something I use often, and I disconnect it and leave it at home

As mentioned above, I would replace the internal light (which is back ordered as I write this) to a GloTube instead.

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I bought the chest strap upgrade that includes a whistle but it is a pretty useless whistle. They should have made something that sounds more like a JetScreem whistle than a quacking duck.

Conclusions

Using this bag for a month convinced me that this is my new every day carry backpack (and not just something I test, review and forget about). 

Every couple of days I slightly optimize my storage strategy and realize that this bag was conceived by incredibly talented designers, with strong knowledge of bag design, and that everything was done with intention. 

Using this bag is like having a conversation with the designers. This is the best way I can describe it. 

As long as the look pleases you, you will be delighted with this bag. Over the coming year, I hope to get my hands on more Tom Bihn products so I can review them for you. 

When I bought my first RedOxx product, I felt like I started a relationship with the company because they had a design philosophy I agreed with and subscribed to. 

Most bags since (even the Minaal, Tortuga, AER, etc. ) didn't have this special feeling. They felt like products. 

Having used the Synapse 25 for over a month now, I feel the same attraction to Tom Bihn as I did (and do) for RedOxx. These are companies with strong design principles that permeate throughout their entire product line. If you agree with those principles (and you really should), the Synapse 25 may be the gateway drug that draws you deep into the Tom Bihn line.

So do I recommend it? Absolutely without any reservation.

Samsung Note 8 review from an iPhone user

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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You should take the time to read my article about why I am switching from an iPhone to an Android device. A summary of the situation is that I have had every iPhone since the very first one ten years ago and the spark isn't there anymore. I have been dual carrying Android phones for the last 5 years but my main personal daily driver has been an iPhone.

Looking at messages from readers, many of you are in the same boat and I will be reviewing a handful of phones for switchers with the requirements of an iPhone users looking to geek out.

The first phone I am reviewing is the Samsung Note 8 64GB North American edition. I mention this because my readers are global and you can find other derivatives (128/256GB storage, dual SIM, etc).

Last year I thought the Note 7 was the best Android phone I had ever used until it wasn't, because of the exploding battery issue. Until the recall, the Note 7 was in a league all on its own, even compared to the Galaxy S7. This year, not so much. The Gap between the Note 8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus has srunk dramatically. 

The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

The closest competitor to the Samsung Note 8 is the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. The younger sibling has almost all of the features of its big brother except :

  • Note 8 dual cameras
  • Note 8 Stylus - SPen
  • Note 8 has a 0.1" larger screen
  • Note 8 has 2 more GB of RAM

For all of these upgrades, you will have to fork over an extra $124 (USA retail based on the unlocked versions). 

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 are both rated IP67 which means they are water and dust resistant (compared to the iPhone and Pixel 2 XL's IP 67).

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SPen

Ask any note fan and the first thing they will show you is the Note 8's ability to take notes using the SPen even when the screen is asleep. Then they will open a drawing app and show you how you can use the SPen to draw with pressure sensitive brushes.

Most iPhone users look at this and call this cute and they dismiss the pen as nothing more than a parlour trick. 

The truth is that writing on a device this size with a small pen just isn't comfortable to do for long periods of time. This isn't something you will likely do daily and this won't replace your notebook but...  the SPen is useful for specific in-field tasks.

For my day job, I sign letters (PDF) once in a while and being able to do this without having to print and scan is incredibly valuable. The SPen is also a much more precise mechanism to highlight text (compared to my chunky man-fingers). 

SPen works perfectly with Google Keep

SPen works perfectly with Google Keep

I found myself using the SPen to click on tiny touch-targets on web pages, to annotate screenshots or crop with more accuracy and to resize app windows when using 2 apps simultaneously. 

Regardless of all the negative comments made by SPen haters, the SPen is truly an indispensable feature of the Note 8. It is the defining feature of the Note 8. It is what makes the Note a Note and I now understand why. 

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Samsung Note 8 cameras

The Samsung Note 8 (like the iPhone 8 or the iPhone X) has a "standard" camera and a 2x telephoto lens (both 12 MP). The usefulness of the telephoto will depend on what type of pictures you take but most buyers should find this useful.

Yes, the telephoto camera is optically stabilized and the stabilization works well. In my testing, it worked as well as its main competitors. The only phone with better stabilization is the Pixel 2 with its Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS).

What about portrait mode you ask? It can create a fake depth of field effect that is adjustable post snap (aka you can change how much the background is blurred after the fact). Like the iPhoneX, this feature is driven by software and the performance is hit or miss. To be honest, this works as well as on an iPhone X but not as well as on a Pixel 2. The success of this feature will depend on appropriate lighting, the background and foreground, etc. 

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Samsung calls it primary camera a wide angle but it only has a 77-degree field of view which wouldn't really make it a wide angle. For comparison, the LG V30's primary camera has a 71-degree field of view, while it's wide angle has a 120-degree field of view. 

How does the Samsung Note 8 camera compare to the iPhoneX? 

Most iPhone users expect a point and shoot camera that gives "good enough" pictures most of the time in automatic mode. The Samsung Note 8 will meet and exceed your expectations. The Note 8 camera will allow you to take pictures from sunrise to sunset, whether it is sunny or raining (since it is water resistant).  

The Samsung Note 8 camera won’t let you down. It is a beautiful combination of speed, reliability and performance.

 

The camera is good but not as good as the Pixel 2. 

The battery?

Die-hard Note fans love the line-up because the Note always pushed the technology boundaries. It meant Note users always had the best, biggest and flashiest toys to play with. This has always included the battery.

We all remember the issues with the Note 7 battery and looks like Samsung has taken the safe route by using a 3300 mAh battery in the Samsung Note 8. 

I have spoken to a dozen Note fan readers and every single one of them complained that the Note 8 felt like Samsung was "playing it safe" and this isn't why they became Note fans. Remember that the cheaper Samsung Galaxy 8 comes with a 3500mAh battery.

Samsung's official position is that the smaller battery was required because of a lack of space (due to the dual camera system and the SPen slot). 

To help alleviate the pain of a smaller battery, Samsung has efficient hardware and purpose-built software to help conserve power (where possible). In my 2 weeks of testing, the phone got through average days just fine but died when I was travelling (spotty reception and more media consumption). Either the battery should have been slightly bigger or their battery conservation model should have been more aggressive. 

If you need to juice up, you can use the built-in QuickCharge 2 or wireless charging now found in most coffee shops. Again I felt like the fast charging was good but not great. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro, Pixel 2 XL and OnePlus 5 all out-charge the Note 8. Why didn't Samsung go with QuickCharge 3? On a positive note, if you own a USBC PD charger (like the one that comes with the Pixel 2 or the Pixelbook), you will be able to fast charge the Note 8. This was a wonderful surprise.

Samsung does offer fast wireless charging but it costs $125CAD which seems a bit too rich for me, considering you have to buy a couple to make it really work (bedroom, office, kitchen, etc).

What about the fingerprint scanner?

The fingerprint scanner is located in the back next to the camera. This is a horrible location because:

  • it is not in a location where my finger naturally goes
  • I keep smudging the camera lens when my finger misses the scanner

The alternative is to use the "as secure" Iris scanner. The Iris scanner is wonderful when it works, but frustrating when it doesn't (e.g. outdoors under bright sunlight). 

Nothing more to say here.

The display

The display on the Note 8 is a thing of beauty and easily the best display on any smartphone (iPhoneX included). Its 6.3-inch display is bright, clean, clear and easy on the eyes. The Samsung Infinity Display stretches from one edge of the phone to the other. 

With all the Pixel 2 XL screen issues, it is refreshing to see Samsung release AMOLED screens that are so beautiful. Videos look crisp. Pictures look amazing. Web pages are easy to read.

The screen is everything you expect from the leader in screen manufacturing. The screen is bright, punchy and the size means you are drawn to whatever content you are consuming.

Phone calls

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My house is notoriously bad for cell phone reception and compared to other Android devices, the Note performed extremely well. checking cell phone signal strengh, the Note 8 consistently had a stronger signal and calls worked everytime. 

Call sound quality was excellent. The little dinky speaker did the best it could do but I wouldn't use this for multi-person conference calls using it as speakerphone. The phone supports the latest bluetooth 5 wireless technology so you can always pickup a fancy pair of wireless headphones or use wired headphones with its built in 3.5mm headphone jack. But bluetooth 5 isn't turned on yet. We expect this switch to happen with Android 8 (Oreo).

Bixby

I hate Bixby.I hate Bixby. I hate Bixby. I hate Bixby with a passion. I never wanted to use it but did press on the dedicated Bixby button a couple of times by mistake. With the latest updates Samsung will allow you to turn off the button but I would like to remap it for Google Assistant and I can't. 

Conclusion

I went into this review not knowing what to expect. Would this be a suitable replacement for a user switching from an iPhone to Android? Is this device worth the $1,000 price?

The Note 8 doesn't feel like a device built for geeks pushing the technology envelope. It just doesn't. The rowdy teenager has now grown up into a mature adult and more people want to be it's friend now. By becoming more mainstream, the target audience for the Note has grown significantly. In the last 2 weeks, I met grandmothers and other "normal" people that love their Note devices. Normies now love the Note because it is less jarring.

If you don't need the extra 2GB of RAM, the telephoto camera and the pen, the S8 Plus is a fantastic buy. But don't be too quick to dismiss the Note 8. Yes it isn't as special as it once was but it is a wonderful device.

My one major issue is the software. Android 8 (Oreo) has been out for 6+ months now, other smaller Android makers have already released their phone updates to it, but Samsung hasn't given us a release date yet. How can their 2017 flagship phone still not have Oreo? Additionally their custom launcher has dramatically improved but I still want the option to have a "stock" Pixel like launcher (similar to what Motorola does). These two issues may be what makes me switch back to a Google device next time. 

Bell Mobility to unlock all devices

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Bell is now offering to unlock all carrier locked devices, even second had devices for users that have never been Bell customers.

Prior to this policy, Bell Mobility only unlocked devices for current and former customers in good standing (you had to be the original buyer of the phone).

Telus and Rogers already have similar policies (unlocking all devices even second hand for non-customers).