Insights For Success

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Android

Microsoft releases a news app powered by AI

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Everyone is trying to crack the automated news curation field using AI. First, there was Google News, then Apple News and Now Microsoft Hummingbird. Hummingbird is available in the US, and I was able to find the listing in Canada, but I am not allowed to download it. Reports suggest users in Germany, India are not able to download it either.

APKMirror has the APK available if you want to install it. Click here.

Once you sign in, you choose the categories you are interested in. Unlike Google news (however), you cannot select specific granular elements like sports teams, cities, etc.

This is the first attempt and will require some improvements.

You can download Microsoft Hummingbird from the Google Play store here.

OnePlus policy that makes it a better buy than Samsung, HTC or LG

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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As a security technologist, the security philosophy of the OEM is a crucial determinant of my decision to buy or recommend a device. This is where Apple shines with it's iPhone update strategy. Every single iPhone receives updates (security and version) at the same time. 

This is why I highly recommend Google's Pixel devices. The Pixel line offers the same regular and speedy update schedule. The other Android manufacturer that has shown it cares about upgrades is OnePlus. Until this week, it did a great job delivering updates quickly, but it didn't formally commit to a software upgrade schedule. 

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All of that changes this week when OnePlus unveiled its new operating system (Android) maintenance schedule. It has copied the Google Pixel model and will deliver major upgrades for two years and security updates for three years. 

As per the maintenance schedule, there will be 2 years of regular software updates from the release date of the phone (release dates of T variants would be considered), including new features, Android versions, Android security patches and bug fixes and an additional year of Android security patch updates every 2 months.
— OnePlus OS Maintenance Schedule

Conclusion

OnePlus has always offered solid well-designed devices at competitive prices. This new software maintenance schedule commitment makes their offering that much more compelling. 

I can no longer recommend devices from manufacturers that do not regularly deliver security and version upgrades. This is why I only recommend Android devices from Google, Blackberry Mobile and OnePlus. 

Google launches New Tasks App (Mobile & Web)

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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In a blog post entitled "With new security and intelligent features, the new Gmail means business", David Thacker (Google VP Product Management, G Suite) announced, "We’re also introducing a new way to manage work on the go with Tasks."

The new refreshed Tasks system will be available on the web and have accompanying mobile apps (Android and IOS). The new updated Tasks system will allow you to create tasks & subtasks with due dates and notifications. 

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The current tasks was an anemic stand-alone product that barely worked. The new one will integrate into the G Suite and allow you to drag & drop emails from GMAIL, files from Google Drive and more. 

Now you can quickly reference, create or edit Calendar invites, capture ideas in Keep or manage to-dos in Tasks all from a side panel in your inbox.
— David Thacker

The announcement is happening in the G Suite (Enterprise blog), but this update will flow to the free consumer-friendly version as well. 

The Google help centre provides additional information about how all of this will work.

Download the new Android version here and the IOS one here

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. 

OPSEC - Security when making calls

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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RELATED: OPSEC - Introduction to Malware

RELATED: OPSEC - How to securely delete files

If you are making calls using a cellphone or landline phone then you should assume that your conversation can easily be intercepted by the carrier (providing the service or a government agency that has control over that carrier). Security researchers have even proven that with $1,500 in parts, they can build a cell phone call interception device by pretending they are a cell tower.

Regular phone calls on your cell phone (including SMS and MMS messages) are easily intercepted and should be considered insecure.

What about VOIP?

VOIP stands for Voice Over IP and any app that allows you to make voice calls is typically using VOIP (Whatsapp, Skype, DUO, etc). Many carriers have started offering Voice Over WIFI and Voice Over LTE. VOWIFI and VoLTE have the same security (or insecurity) as making a regular call using your carrier's normal cell network.

Some VOIP software offers decent or good end-to-end encryption. These require both parties to have the same software and typically callout that they use encryption in their literature. But be careful, not all encryption is created equal. Telegram Messenger advertises that it is secure but a deep dive into its model shows it uses "bad" (my opinion) encryption and shouldn't be trusted. 

RELATED: Telegram Messenger isn't as secure as you think

So some VOIP services offer good reliable encryption and others don't. Here are the ones you can rely on.

Signal

I have written about the free open-source Signal messaging app for years. Signal is the defacto reference on how to build solid end-to-end encryption. Their model was so good, they helped Whatsapp when it wanted to improve its security. 

RELATED: Whatsapp to become more secure than Apple Messages

Signal is cross-platform (Windows, Mac, ChromeOS, Chrome Browser). Signal offers a simple encrypted text messaging service and secure encrypted calling service. 

Signal uses your existing number and address book to simplify your authentication and connection with other users. Therefore there is no separate username or password to remember.

I have to highlight the fact that a motivated attacker can still collect metadata from signal calls because the central management servers are still owned by Whisper Systems. Whisper Systems does not have a way to listen in on calls or read messages but they do know who you spoke to, when and for how long. Having said this though, they still offer the most secure and best build encrypted messaging app around, and it is all offered for free.

Jitsi for encrypted video chats

If you want a free open-source tool for encrypted video chats (does audio too) then take a look at Jitsi. It also supports group chats. There is no requirement to sign-up for anything and therefore your personal information isn't sitting on some third-party server, 

You visit the site, enter a meeting name (without spaces and difficult to guess) and share that link with the other participants. It's really all there is to it. Safe, Easy and Secure.

What about Skype or Google Hangouts?

Most VOIP solutions offer transport encryption (which means a third-party like your carrier can't eavesdrop) but the data is managed unencrypted once it reaches the provider's network. In most cases, I discourage the use of these services for situations where security is the utmost priority. One caveat is that Skype has announced that it will work with the Signal team to implement end-to-end encryption (like Whatsapp did) but that is still many months away.  

There are dozens of products that use security to differentiate themselves and most have not been independently reviewed. I recommend you stick to the 2 products mentioned above.

Conclusion

Good security requires some planning but is well worth the effort. Hopefully, this article helps