Review: The Essential Phone & Essential 360 Camera

Posted in Products with tags , on October 16, 2017 by itnerd

If you’ve heard of Google, you’ve likely heard of Andy Rubin. He was the guy behind the Android operating system. That worked out well for him. For his next trick, he’s making a phone that runs Android. And it’s called the Essential Phone which is being carried by Telus exclusively in Canada. Here’s what you get under the hood:

  • 5.71-inches, Quad-HD display, 2560 x 1312 resolution
  • 8MP Front camera
  • 13.1MP Dual rear camera
  • 128GB storage
  • 4GB RAM
  • Rear Fingerprint Sensor
  • Android 7.1
  • USB-C

First off, this phone feels solid. That’s due to a titanium frame and ceramic back. The flip side is that this phone is a fingerprint magnet. You’ll need to put it in a case if you want to keep it clean. Another point to make. this phone is neither dust proof or waterproof unlike the likes of the Apple iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S8. Nor does it come out of the box with wireless charging. Oh yeah, the memory is non-expandable. Those could be fatal flaws for a smartphone these days. But strangely I can overlook all of that.

Now one thing that is different is the fact that it has a magnetic connector on the back with wireless data transfer. The first accessory that utilizes this is a 360 degree camera which I will get to in a bit. Then next that’s coming soon is a wireless dock that promises cordless charging to address the fact that it doesn’t have it at present.

Back to the phone. The star of the show is the Quad-HD screen which is in a word, stunning. Except for that cutout for the front facing camera that looks kind of weird. But seeing as the iPhone X has a similar cutout, is this a big deal? Likely not. I should note that Google apps like Maps work best with the cutout. However other apps from developers outside of Google are hit and miss. When it misses, there’s a black bar on the top of the screen. You are either going to love or hate that. In terms of the rest of the phone, it’s insanely minimalistic. Power and volume controls on the right. The SIM tray and USB-C connector are at the bottom which is where the only speaker is. In other words, there’s no stereo speakers. There’s also no headphone jack as well. But there’s a USB-C to 3.5″ adapter in the box if you wish to live the dongle life. If you don’t, there are many Bluetooth and the USB-C headphone for you listening options. On the back is the fingerprint sensor. If that doesn’t minimalistic, I don’t know what does. Good thing the battery isn’t minimalistic as it will last almost two days of usage between charges.

The software is stock Android. And I do mean STOCK with the only non stock apps being the Camera app which is made by Essential and the Telus My Account app. That I love. So is the fact that the phone is quick and everything that I did to the phone couldn’t slow it down.

Speaking of the camera, I’ve got two cameras to cover off today. The stock camera is 13.1MP dual rear camera that’s capable of 4K video. To test this out, it required a trip to Pearson Airport in Toronto to get some shots of planes landing:

All these pictures were easy to take thanks to the simple yet effective camera app. There were no issues in quality. And in terms of video, here’s one shot on 4K:

Again, it was easy to get this video thanks to the easy use camera app. No issues here with the video.

Now onto the party trick that the Essential phone which is the Essential 360 camera.

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It attaches magnetically and it uses the smartphone to capture 360-degree stills and 4K video using the camera app. While it’s on your Essential phone, you can’t use the built in camera. It features two 12MP sensors, a pair of fisheye lenses, each with a 210-degree field of view. Now to be honest, going into this review, I have to admit that this camera seemed like a party trick to me. But maybe there’s a use case for it given these results, starting with this 360 degree video which you can interact by clicking and dragging the video. For best results, I’d recommend using the Chrome browser:

It’s an interesting feature is easy to use and works well. But I have to admit that I am still undecided if this is a feature that will set the Essential Phone apart from its competition. And I don’t think that the Essential Phone will appeal to everyone the way an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy will. But I suspect that it will find a market for those who want a powerful yet minimalistic phone that comes with stock Android and a few tricks up its sleeve. Telus is offering up the phone for $1050 outright, or up to $0 on a 2 year term. The Essential 360 Camera goes for $270. Check it out if you want a different sort of Android phone.

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“KRACK” WiFi Exploit Affects Every WiFi Device Out There

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 16, 2017 by itnerd

This isn’t good. There’s a exploit that affects any device that uses WiFi and the WPA2 security protocol. Dubbed “KRACK” or Key Reinstallation Attack, it is scary for this reason:

The bug, known as “KRACK” for Key Reinstallation Attack, exposes a fundamental flaw in WPA2, a common protocol used in securing most modern wireless networks. Mathy Vanhoef, a computer security academic, who found the flaw, said the weakness lies in the protocol’s four-way handshake, which securely allows new devices with a pre-shared password to join the network.

That weakness can, at its worst, allow an attacker to decrypt network traffic from a WPA2-enabled device, hijack connections, and inject content into the traffic stream.

In other words: hackers can eavesdrop on your network traffic.

This affects everything from your iPhone to the debit card machine in a restaurant, not to mention IoT devices. That’s not good. Here’s what’s worse. Patches are slowly rolling out now. But it’s an open question as to when a device might get a patch. Assuming that it gets one at all. So you may end up with a device that never gets patched and is at risk for pwnage via this exploit. Hopefully device manufacturers get it in gear and protect their users quickly.

Subaru Cars Can Be Easily Pwned Via $37 Of Hardware

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 16, 2017 by itnerd

If you own a Subaru, you might want to read this as there is an unpatched exploit that is now out there that makes it very easy to clone key fobs and open cars:

Tom Wimmenhove, a Dutch electronics designer, has discovered a flaw in the key fob system used by several Subaru models, a vulnerability the vendor has not patched and could be abused to hijack cars. The issue is that key fobs for some Subaru cars use sequential codes for locking and unlocking the vehicle, and other operations. These codes — called rolling codes or hopping code — should be random, in order to avoid situations when an attacker discovers their sequence and uses the flaw to hijack cars. This is exactly what Wimmenhove did. He created a device that sniffs the code, computes the next rolling code and uses it to unlock cars…

The researcher said he reached out to Subaru about his findings. “I did [reach out]. I told them about the vulnerability and shared my code with them,” Wimmenhove told BleepingComputer. “They referred me to their ‘partnership’ page and asked me to fill in a questionnaire. It didn’t seem like they really cared and I haven’t heard back from them.”

That’s a pity. I guess they didn’t see this as something to be concerned about. I bet that once people read the story above and see the video below demonstrating the pwnage, they might change their tune:

Here’s the kicker, the pwnage was accomplished using a $25 Raspberry Pi B+ and two dongles, one for wifi ($2) and one for a TV ($8), plus a $1 antenna and a $1 MCX-to-SMA convertor. In other words, $37 of hardware was used to pull this off. Subaru really needs to step up and disclose how they are going to protect owners from this. And they need to do it quickly.

Pizza Hut Pwned…. Credit Card Info Swiped

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 16, 2017 by itnerd

This is quickly becoming the year of pwnage. The latest pwnage victim is Pizza Hut who not only got pwned, but did a craptastic job of telling the 60K or so who got affected that they were affected:

Pizza Hut told customers by email on Saturday that some of their personal information may have been compromised. Some of those customers are angry that it took almost two weeks for the fast food chain to notify them.

According to a customer notice emailed from the pizza chain, those who placed an order on its website or mobile app between the morning of Oct. 1 and midday Oct. 2 might have had their information exposed.

The “temporary security intrusion” lasted for about 28 hours, the notice said, and it’s believed that names, billing ZIP codes, delivery addresses, email addresses and payment card information — meaning account number, expiration date and CVV number — were compromised.

The fact that they took that they didn’t disclose the pwnage right away is problematic to say the least. There should be a law that requires companies to immediately disclose that they’ve been pwned. In this case, the hackers who did this have a one week head start on whatever chaos they want to cause using the credit card info they swiped. Hopefully someone on Capitol Hill takes notice of this and asks the top brass at Pizza Hut not to deliver a pizza, but to deliver some answers instead.

Urban Armor Gear Releases Plasma Series Case For Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 14, 2017 by itnerd

Urban Armor Gear have announced the release of their best-selling Plasma Series case for the all-new Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

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Built to meet or exceed U.S. Military drop-testing standards, the ultra-slim case offers high quality protection to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Customers can rest easy knowing that their flagship Google phones are safe and secure from the rigors of an active lifestyle.

Plasma Series Case for Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Available in: Ice and Ash From: $39.95

  • Armor shell and impact-resistant soft core
  • Feather-light composite construction
  • Oversized tactile buttons and access to touchscreen and ports
  • Scratch-resistant skid pads and screen surround
  • Compatible with Android Pay

Meets military drop-test standards (MIL STD 810G 516.6)

More Than Meets The Eye: The New Oslo Wireless Speaker By Vifa

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 14, 2017 by itnerd

Being genuine. Being authentic. Being essential. Vifa’s new loudspeaker has been carefully modelled around the Vifa brand’s core values.

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The design language is distinctively Nordic with an intriguing, raw simplicity, but Oslo is so much more than meets the eye. Designers and engineers at Vifa have indeed collaborated to obtain an impressive, large-scale sound from this uniquely ear-blowing Bluetooth loudspeaker – while still keeping it at an accessible, acceptable size.

Tailor-made quality

Oslo is a unique loudspeaker-experience, but still it carries the same DNA as the other loudspeakers in Vifa’s acclaimed Nordic series. The materials have been carefully chosen in order to convey the core value of true Nordic authenticity: A special-designed textile cover from Kvadrat gives the loudspeaker a genuinely groomed look. And its solid aluminum frame underlines the idea of a robust premium product. Colorwise, Oslo is available in a range of timeless shades: Sunset Red, Sand Yellow, Ocean Blue, Ice Blue, Anthracite Grey, and Pebble Grey. Finally, the discretely embossed logo and embroidered interface that has become Vifa’s signature in the Nordic series, allow Oslo to blend discretely in to any interior.

Years of experience

Oslo is the fourth wireless loudspeaker launched by Danish manufacturer Vifa in only three years. It continues to build on the solid experience and the proud craftsmanship of the Vifa brand that has its roots back to the early 1930’s where the company was founded. The strive for exquisite quality and superior, technological know-how has been dusted off over the later years where a stronger focus on product-design and Nordic elegance has been added to the Vifa products. Without compromising on the authentic sound which has been a core value for the brand throughout the years.

Distribution and price

Oslo is available at www.vifa.dk and through selected dealers. The recommended retail price is 399 EUR (incl. VAT).

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AirDroid Arrives For iOS

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 13, 2017 by itnerd

AirDroid, the popular cross-screen management application, today announces its debut on Apple Store, making it possible for users to transfer files wirelessly and remotely between iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android devices for free! AirDroid brings a lighter version to iOS, sporting its signature features including “File Transfer”, “Files” and “Nearby” to empower iOS users first time ever transferring and managing files freely across screens and OSs even without the internet. To kick off, users who download AirDroid on iOS from today to 24:00 15 October (GMT+0) will get a one month premium for free to celebrate the big step for AirDroid to reach out to all iOS users.

As the demand for working across multi-screens and OSs increases, iOS users are still struggling with transferring files to or manage iOS from non-iOS clients. Building upon its commitment – “Delight your multi-screen life” – AirDroid’s launch on iOS responds to growing requests from multi-devices owners, bridging the social and the continuity gap for iPhone, iPod, and iPad users.

Inheriting its wireless tradition, AirDroid on iOS empowers users to transfer photos, URLs, screenshots, and files from iOS devices to any of their other screens using the “Transfer Files” feature without a USB cable. Moreover, via web.airdroid.com, users are able to organize files and photos from desktops anytime, no installation needed, solving the hassle iOS users always have.

Meanwhile, AirDroid beats its competitors by adding powerful features such as “Nearby”and add “Friends”. These features further enhance the social experience of sharing documents with friends without limitation of the proximity or restriction of the internet.Other features such as “Clipboard,” “Videos,” and “Photos” further refine the continuity of the cross-screen experience for users on Android or iOS devices.

The latest version of AirDroid advances the seamless experience for its users and serves a wider range of users. AirDroid iOS 1.0 is now available from either one of the links below: 

https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1194539178 (Browser)

itms-apps://itunes.apple.com/app/id1194539178 (iPhone)