Archive for Apple

Review: Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Posted in Products with tags on February 24, 2017 by itnerd

I needed a new phone for a few reasons. First, I have been bouncing between a couple of phones over the last year. Specifically, the Apple iPhone 5s and Apple iPhone 6. Second, I wanted a phone with more storage as 16GB (the iPhone 6) doesn’t come close to cutting it from a storage perspective and 32GB (the iPhone 5s) is usable but doesn’t give you much runway for the future. Finally, I wanted a bigger screen as that would be much easier on the eyes as using a 4″ screen when you have 40+ year old eyes which also are affected by Keratoconus isn’t workable. But a 4.7″ screen at the very least is workable. After much deliberation and even enlisting the help of my followers on Twitter, I got an Apple iPhone 7 Plus unlocked from the Apple store. Specifically the matte black 128GB model. I went for 128GB because that would give me the room for whatever I needed to install or store on the phone for the next couple of years that I own the phone. But you’re likely asking “why did you go for the Plus model?” The answer is a bit more complicated.

The first reason is the screen. Now Apple was late to the game when it came to a big screen “phablet” style phone. But at least in the iPhone 7 Plus, that delay seems to have been worth it. The 5.5″ screen does 1080p and colors are sharp and vibrant. Plus text is easier to read and I really appreciate that the entire user interface rotates when I rotate the phone from portrait to landscape. That helps to make this the “device to rule them all” that those in the market for a “phablet” are looking for.

The second reason is battery life. This thing lasts and lasts and lasts. For example, I can easily make it through a full day with plenty of charge to spare. As in something north of 65% of a charge. That’s something that I was never able to do with any other iPhone that I’ve owned. On top of that, when I use apps like Runtastic Pro to measure my efforts while cross country skiing, the battery hit after a two hour workout still leaves me with a 70% charge. Of course the fact that this is a bigger phone allowed Apple to shove a bigger battery into it, which of course helps with that. But you have to imagine that there are some power saving tweaks that work into getting results like this as well.

Now over to the size of the phone. One of the main reasons why I have resisted getting a phone with a screen over 5″ is that I always thought it would be difficult to hold and use. Having used the iPhone 7 Plus for a week, I can say that I was mostly wrong. It is easy to hold and use for the most part. And the fact that Apple has a gesture called Reachability that slides the entire user interface downwards so that you can get to the top part of the screen one handed helps greatly. It also fits into loose fitting pants fine, but is snug in shirt pockets. I also had issues popping it into my cross country ski jacket which has pockets at the back that now just hold the phone without becoming uncomfortable. I should also mention that the phone is lighter than I anticipated which is welcome as I try to travel light whenever possible.

I can’t review this phone without touching on the one thing that caused the Internet to explode when it was announced. The removal of the headphone jack which apparently required courage on the part of Apple to do. Apple claims to have done this to facilitate IP67 water and dust resistance (in the case of water it means submersion in up to 1 metre of water for 30 minutes as opposed to being waterproof). And Apple would rather that you use wireless headsets like the AirPods or BeatsX which leverages their new W1 chipset which makes using headsets that support this chipset painless, or a set of Bluetooth headsets to extract more cash from your bank account. To be fair, Apple did include a Lightning to 3.5 mm adapter in the box which of course won’t help you if you want to listen to music and charge the phone at the same time without resorting to using a dongle like this one. This is likely to create two camps. One will go the wireless route and not complain. I however am in the other camp who won’t do that because I often take flights that last 14+ hours where I often listen to music while charging the phone. Most wireless headsets won’t last that long. Thus on my next flight I suspect I will be living the dongle life. Plus I will not replace my great sounding RHA’s that I own simply because Apple thinks I should.

Other things that changed include the lack of a physical home button that does Touch ID. Instead, you get a “button” with haptic feedback. Meaning a fake button click is generated to fool you into thinking that you pressed a real button. This is the expansion of the 3D Touch features that were introduced with the iPhone 6s series which I am using for the first time and I growing to like. You can customize the feel of it and once you get used to it, you don’t really notice it. But it is kind of weird for the first day or so. You also get dual speakers on this iPhone as well. They are loud, but there’s very little if any stereo separation. Likely because they are too close together which is understandable. They’re decent, but the lack a bit on the low end. Thus audiophiles will want to invest in quality external speakers and use the built in ones in a pinch.

Performance from the iPhone 7 Plus is pretty impressive. It has the new A10 Fusion core processor which has four cores. But it doesn’t use all four of them at once. Two of the cores are powerful and used for things like 3D gaming, multitasking and the like. The other two are low powered and are used for less demanding tasks. But it all comes together very nicely to make the iPhone 7 Plus the fastest iOS device I’ve ever used. Particularly with games. The fact that the iPhone 7 Plus also comes with 3GB of RAM which is 1GB more than the iPhone 7 comes with likely helps with that.

The biggest change is the camera. Both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus utilize the same rear facing 12-megapixel camera and front facing 7 megapixel camera. They can take 1080P and 4K video and Apple has jacked up the brightness on the flash too. Finally, both models include optical image stabilization (OIS). But things get more interesting with the iPhone 7 Plus as it has a second telephoto lens that serves two purposes:

  • 2x optical zoom function as opposed to doing “math” to simulate zooming in which can negatively affect the quality of the picture.
  • It allows for “Portrait Mode.” By capturing photos with both lenses simultaneously and analyzing data from the resulting images, the iPhone 7 Plus can create a blurred background effect similar to what you get when shooting portraits with a DSLR camera.

So, how well does this all work? To find out, I first went to Pearson Airport in Toronto to shoot some stills and video. First let’s look at some stills. Click to enlarge:

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Now here’s a video shot in 4k resolution. One thing to note is that you can take stills at the same time you are shooting video. Set it to full screen and 4K to view:

Back to the stills. Here’s two more stills to demonstrate portrait mode. First one with portrait mode. Click to enlarge:

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And the same picture without portrait mode. Click to enlarge:

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The difference between the two is easy to spot if you look at the legs of the woman in the top center of the photo.

In the end, the iPhone 7 Plus is clearly the iPhone Apple wants in your hands and that goes beyond the fact that Apple makes more money on each one that they sell. It’s also because the iPhone 7 Plus is pretty much better than the iPhone 7 in every way possible. Camera, speed, screen, it’s all top shelf stuff. If you have to choose between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, go for the latter unless you find it too big for you in terms of size or price seeing as my particular iPhone 7 Plus is $1179 CDN. Trust me, you will not regret it. At least not until the next iPhone comes out.

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Cellebrite Claims To Be Able To Get Data From iPhone 6 & Older Models

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 24, 2017 by itnerd

Israel based iPhone hacking firm Cellebrite is now making the claim that they can extract data from iPhone 6 and older models. This is interesting as it was thought that anything from the iPhone 5s or newer was difficult to hack. Here’s what CyberScoop had to say about this:

Cellebrite, the Israel-based firm that makes millions selling smartphone cracking tools to governments around the world, announced Wednesday that it can unlock and extract the full file system from locked iPhones including the 6 and 6+ with their Advanced Investigative Service (CAIS) product in which their customers send phones they urgently need unlocked.

Every version before the 6+ can also be unlocked by Cellebrite whose forensic researchers say they have successfully bypassed Apple’s security and encryption.

And:

Cellebrite’s ability to break into the iPhone 6 and 6+ comes in their latest line of product releases. The newest Cellebrite product, UFED 6.0, boasts dozens of new and improved features including the ability to extract data from 51 Samsung Android devices including the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, the latest flagship models for Android’s most popular brand, as well as the new high-end Google Pixel Android devices.

“In the majority of devices, Cellebrite’s proprietary boot loader can bypass all security mechanisms, even if the device is locked, without jailbreaking, rooting or flashing the device,” according to the company. Newer devices, particularly iOS devices, present evolving challenges.

It’s interesting that they don’t have the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, 7 or 7 Plus on their list. I am guessing that those phones are different enough that these guys haven’t figured out how to break into them yet. Regardless, this is sure to put them into the crosshairs of Apple who I am sure is going to do their best to figure out exactly how Cellebrite is doing this and then develop countermeasures to stop them from being able to extract data from their shiny iDevices.

Let the arms race begin.

iPhone 7 Plus Catches Fire On Video…. Apple Is Investigating

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 24, 2017 by itnerd

A viral video is of a smoldering iPhone 7 Plus is making the rounds around the Internet. The video made by Brianna Olivas, shows the device burning to the point that the case is melting away and smoke is seen coming out the side of the phone. In a statement to Mashable, an Apple spokesperson said that the company has been in touch with Olivas and is investigating. “We are in touch with the customer and looking into it,”

Here’s the video in question via her Twitter feed:

Now, does this mean that there’s a problem with the iPhone 7 Plus? Likely no. Any device that uses a lithium based battery has a risk of exploding. And iPhones have caught fire every once in a while. The thing to watch for is if this becomes a trend. As in like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 debacle where phones were blowing up at a rate that has never been seen before or since.

Another thing to consider is the fact that maybe there’s another cause for this other than a design defect or something similar. Like using a third party charger as it has been found that these can be really dangerous. Or perhaps the phone was dropped which damaged the battery. I’m not trying to blame the victim here. I’m simply providing some perspective that we need all the facts at hand before coming to a conclusion. What will help with that is if Apple shares these facts in a complete and robust manner with the public once their investigation is complete.

Macs Targeted By Malware Made By 2016 US Election Hackers

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 17, 2017 by itnerd

Mac users need to read this and take precautions.  Bitdefender has shared on a new form of malware that targets macOS devices. Apparently it can monitor everything that happens on the infected machine. It can log keys strokes, harvest passwords, see running lists of active processes, index files, take screenshots, and even copy iPhone backups. The malware isn’t entirely new however. It is apparently based on the X Agent malware that targets iPhones and Android phones. For that reason, Bitdefender believes it was created by APT28, also known as Fancy Bear, the same Russian government-affiliated group behind the 2016 election hacking and leaks. That shouldn’t make you sleep well tonight if you are a Mac user.

So… how do you protect yourself. Here’s my suggestions:

  1. macOS machines should be prevented from downloading and executing programs that don’t come from the App Store or another approved source.
  2. The malware is usually distributed through “Spear Phishing” attacks. That is a social engineering attack targeted at a specific individual. This article from CSO can help you mitigate these kinds of attacks.
  3. Make sure you run some sort of anti-virus on your Mac. These days, it’s not optional. It’s a requirement.

#Fail: Apple Suspends Sales Of LG’s UltraFine 5K Monitor Over WiFi Interference Issues

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

After reports of the Apple recommended LG UltraFine 5K monitor having issues when placed near WiFi access points, and reports of a fix being inbound, we now have this ebarrasing situation for Apple. According to AppleInsider, sales of this monitor have been halted:

Separately, AppleInsider has confirmed the organized removal from sale of the Thunderbolt 3 display. Sources inside Apple not authorized to speak on behalf of the company indicated that retail locations are retaining demonstration displays, but not selling any stock on-hand that it may receive that may actually have the shielding fix, nor filling any pending orders until otherwise informed.

This is now an #EpicFail for Apple. They exited the monitor business and got LG to build a monitor for them which has promptly proven to be unusable in a use case that a lot of people, myself included, would use the monitor in. You have to wonder what conversations are going on at 1 Infinite Loop right now. After all, it is not as if users of the new MacBook Pro have many other options for a monitor that’s well suited for their shiny new notebook from Apple.

Why Is Apple iCloud Storing Your Deleted Safari History For A Year?

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 10, 2017 by itnerd

That’s the question being asked after this Forbes report hit the streets. According to Vladimir Katalov who is the CEO of Russian hacking tool creator Elcomsoft, Apple is storing Safari histories in iCloud going back more than a year, even where the user has asked for them to be deleted:

Elcomsoft chief Vladimir Katalov told FORBES the iPhone maker kept a separate iCloud record, titled “tombstone,” in which deleted web visits were stored, ostensibly for syncing across devices. Katalov told me he came across the issue “by accident” when he was looking through the Safari history on his own iPhone. When he took Elcomsoft’s Phone Breaker software to extract data from the linked iCloud account, he found “deleted” records going back a year. (Apple calls them “cleared” in Safari, not “deleted”).

“We have found that they stay in the cloud, probably forever,” Katalov claimed.

Your reporter tried clearing his Safari (version 10.0.2 on Mac OS X) history and then ran the Phone Breaker tool on his iCloud account. It returned nearly 7,000 “deleted” records going back to 27 November 2015. They were accompanied by a visit count as well as the date and time the history item was deleted. There were also Google searches, the full terms of which were visible in the Elcomsoft control panel. Fresh Safari activity that I hadn’t cleared was given the status “actual.”

Well… That’s not cool. And what’s worse is this:

Shortly after publication, FORBES was contacted by Katalov and another source, who claimed that their old records were disappearing. It appears, they said, that Apple is purging. There was no update from Apple, however.

So it seems that Apple is covering its tracks. That too is not cool. What would be cool is if Apple explained this in a complete and robust manner. But given the fact that Apple isn’t exactly known for that, I’m not expecting that to happen. That means that conspiracy theories will continue to circulate the Internet. That doesn’t help Apple to put this to rest, or anyone who uses their products feel like they can use Apple products in confidence. In the meantime, I would take this advice from the article:

In the meantime, it’s possible to turn Safari syncing off to avoid the problem altogether. Apple has a good guide about how to turn iCloud features on and off here.

I did that and you should too. Really. You should do that right now. Seriously.

 

#Fail: LG’s UltraFine 5K Display Is Useless When It’s Within 2M Of Router

Posted in Commentary with tags , on January 31, 2017 by itnerd

You have to wonder if anyone QA’s their products these days. I say that because this story from 9to5Mac details how the LG UltraFine 5K Display which is Apple’s recommended monitor for their new MacBook Pro notebooks is pretty much useless when it is within 2M (about 6 feet) of a wireless router:

The problem is UltraFine 5K Display becomes unusable when positioned within 6.6-feet of a router. I discovered this issue after purchasing my own UltraFine 5K Display last week and thinking something was defective with my hardware.

Right out of the box, UltraFine 5K Display was hardly usable as it would consistently disconnect and even freeze my MacBook Pro which made it unusable for work on Thursday and Friday. Connecting it to my MacBook Pro consistently resulted in needing to reboot my machine to continue working.

And:

I moved my router from the office to the living room and tested UltraFine 5K Display with my MacBook Pro on my desk and found that it stayed connected  in this spot for the first time.

Since moving the router to another room, UltraFine 5K Display has remained connected without issue.

I’d bet that other products besides routers will trigger this behavior. Nobody has stumbled upon them yet.

Given the amount of money and time poured into these products, you’d think they’d have done proper EMI susceptibility testing at some point. It’s moderately expensive, but easy enough for LG to afford. But clearly they didn’t do that, and now it’s an issue. If I owned one of these, I’d have to be pushing for them to take it back. Plus, Apple must have some egg on their faces as well seeing as they’ve recommended this monitor as they’re out of the monitor business. Perhaps they should choose their partners more carefully?