I saw a news story this morning where the lead was that SnapChat had been hacked and people’s photos are being distributed. Here’s what you need to know:
1. What is Snapchat? Let’s start there. Snapchat is a messaging app that sends self-deleting messages. Just like Mission Impossible, this message will self-destruct in five seconds. Most people use it as a more benign messaging app. Since the messages automatically delete, there is no need to keep cleaning up your inbox. However, some people use it as a way of sneaking around parents, spouses, teachers, bosses, etc., since the messages cannot be (easily) recovered. There are ways to screenshot a Snapchat message, and there are even third party apps that can help log those messages. While Snapchat claims the messages are deleted from their servers once they are delivered, their legal terms and conditions state that any media delivered across their servers is their property. To be fair, those terms are often vague, so Snapchat probably isn’t compiling a database of photos.
2. Who got hacked? Snapchat themselves were not hacked. There are two services, SnapSave and SnapSaved (notice the ‘d’) that can save Snapchat messages. There are ways to screenshot messages, but because Snapchat messages delete themselves quickly, manually saving them is tricky. Automated apps help, but some of them, like SnapSave and SnapSaved, store those images not just on your phone, but on their servers.
3. Should you be concerned? That’s hard to say. If you have sent pictures or messages via Snapchat that you did not want others to see, and either you or your recipients used one of the SnapSave(d) apps, then your data may be compromised. It appears that the release of the hacked photos is a case of “hactivism,” where hackers break a system and release a dump of photos and data just do prove a point, in this case, that Snapchat may not be as secure as one may think. The initial hackers may not have any ill intent, but of course if someone else gets ahold of those messages, they could do whatever they want with them.
While I certainly do not endorse the actions of these hactivists, we ought to remember that much of what we do on our phones is monitored. Most of the time it is relatively benign. I placed an order for a pair of shoes a few months ago, and for the next few weeks, all I saw in ads on my phone were photos of the shoes that I had removed from my cart. Somehow that information got from my Amazon cart to advertisers. I don’t mind that; I’m sure that by the time it got to the web advertisers, most of my personal information that could identify me had been scrubbed out. Three things to keep in mind: first, use a bit of common sense and discretion when sending messages or posting online. Second, use sufficiently complex passwords and security questions. Third, have a backup plan in place if your data were to be compromised. ID Restoration through LifeLock is one of the benefits of your Protect Cell membership, and could certainly come in handy if your financial information were compromised. Of course, another option would be to remove Snapchat entirely, but whether you keep using or stop using Snapchat, don’t think that you’re invulnerable to a data breach.
Once we crossed over the 5 megapixel mark with smartphone cameras, the question of which camera is the best became less of a concern. Sure, there are some great cameras out there, and some that aren't great, but for the average point, shoot, and share person, the differences are minimal. The next big question is usually how to print pictures. Until recently I've been telling people to take out their SD cards and put them into an adapter of some sort and print from there. However, just about every new production phone, save for the Samsung Galaxy line and a few entry LGs lacks an external SD slot. Even then, removing the SD card and carrying an adapter just seems like a lot of unneccessary work.
Well, as the saying goes, there is an app for that. Walgreens has an app that, among other things, allows for photo printing. If you get your perscriptions filled at Walgreens or do other shopping there, you can take advantage of some of the other features of the app, but for the purpose of this post, I'll be covering photo printing.
From the main app screen, tap the photo icon. If you can't see it from this picture, it is the top middle icon. The next screen asks where you want to get your photos from. You can either choose photos from your phone's memory (and memory card), Facebook, or Instagram (as long as you log into your accounts through the app). Next, select which pictures you want to print and the size and quantity.
Once you pick the size and quantity of photos, you select what Walgreens location you want to pick your photos up from, and you are notified via email when the order is received and when the pictures are ready for pickup. The best part, one 4×6 print only cost me 29 cents! Of course, price may vary depending on size, quantity, and location, but still, 29 cents is pretty darn reasonable. One other benefit, you can send these prints to be picked up at any location. So if you have a family member that wants pictures of your kids, for instance, you could send the order to a Walgreens near them (assuming they are OK with paying for the prints at the time of pickup).
Of course this is not an endorsement of Walgreens and there may be other print-to-pickup apps and services out there. However, if you want prints of your photos from your smartphone, I found the Walgreens app to be hassle-free, decent quality, and very affordable. Hard to ask for more! The Walgreens app is available for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
If you're like me and you've stuck with basic, texting, or Android phones that use the micro USB charger, you have probably accumulated a collection of wall chargers and USB cables over the course of your upgrade cycles. Hopefully you haven't thrown them away, as they are still useful. Here is what I use them for:
1. Office charger. Keep one at home and one at the office.
2. Garage/Spare room charger. I have an old boom box with an aux in that I use when I'm working in the garage. It's nice to have a charger at the ready there. Same story with spare rooms or home offices.
3. Luggage charger. I like to put one spare charger in each suitcase I travel with, or at least in my carry-on or toiletry bag. That way, if I forget to bring a charger I'm not scrambling for a replacement when I get to my destination.
4. Overnight charger. I usually don't recommend charging your phone overnight, but the old chargers typically have a lower output, in the 500-700 mAh range. Newer chargers can be over 2,000 mAh. The higher the number, the faster it will charge your phone, but overcharging can wear your battery out quicker. But a slow charge running overnight might not be as bad for your battery as a newer one.
Keep in mind that those old chargers will probably charge slower, and they may not work on tablets. But if you have a box full of a spaghetti mess of chargers and cables, you may as well put some of those old ones to good use!
I have been on a quest for a decent pair of earbuds. The ones that come packaged with the iPhone 4 and 4s are about the worst sounding pieces of audio equipment around. Other pre-packaged earbuds follow similar trends, the exceptions being the earbuds that come with the iPhone 5 and its variants (5s and 5c), and the Samsung Galaxy phones. I tried the Apple earpods, the headphones from the Galaxy, and a pair of Skullcandy earbuds, all with their included silicone covers and a few aftermarket silicone and foam covers, and I keep running into the same problem: they all fall out. Most will stay in if you are sitting still, but if you are jogging, lifting weights, or otherwise moving during a workout, they will eventually fall out, or at least work themselves out to the point where they no longer sound good.
So I was naturally intrigued when I saw the Jabra Chill headphones. I didn't want to add to my menagerie of earbuds, but at under $30 (in our store they retailed for $24.99) I thought I'd take the risk. What sets them apart is a small silicone tab that sticks inside your ear to hold the earbuds in place. They don't jam in like a traditional pair of earbuds, but they don't fall out either. Included in the package are the headphones with a mic, an alternate set of gel tips, and clip to fasten to your shirt.
About the only drawbacks I can think of are the cord is certainly not a tangle-free cord (I would have gladly paid an extra few bucks for tangle-free), but that's only a problem when unraveling them and setting them up, and since they do not seat all the way into your ear, there is a little bit of noise that leaks out. If you need to isolate your music so others can't hear, you may need a different pair of earbuds, or at the least, try the smaller set of tips that comes in the package that does not include the bigger silicone tab.
And speaking of noise, these things are LOUD! On my bike ride to work (yes, I ride in winter) today I listened to "Jealous Again" by the Black Crowes, and I could hear both guitar parts, vocals, bass, drums, piano, hand claps, etc. all with exceptional clarity. I have used Bluetooth headphones before, and I have always had to crank the volume up to max. On this one I got about two or three clicks away from max and it was too loud for my liking.
If you are looking for a high-end pair of headphones or earbuds, stick with Bose, Beats, or the Jabra Revo headphones. However, those will cost you up to ten times more than what the Chill earbuds will. But if all you need is a good pair of workout 'buds, at $24.99 the Jabra Chill will fit your ears and your wallet.
I know I'm late to the game, but it's finally time to deliver a review of the Samsung Galaxy S4! At launch I wanted to make sure I had enough inventory for customers, and since then time on the sales floor has taken some of my time. The short story: it's awesome but not without a few drawbacks.
Upon unboxing the S4, a few things are apparent. Included in the box is your standard wall charger/USB cable and a pair of earbuds of average quality. First of all, it looks like a slightly bigger S3. That's not a bad thing, as the S3 largely worked, but with the HTC One phone (hopefully coming to Verizon soon), and other models from Windows and Blackberry taking new approaches to hardware and software design, the Samsung Galaxy S line might be in need of a refresh. Also, this phone feels cheaply made. The battery door is thin plastic, and even fully assembled, the phone doesn't have the same heft as a Droid RAZR HD (it does, however, sport the new Gorilla Glass 3, the most durable and scratch resistant screen made by Gorilla Glass). While I don't have the budget to whimsically destroy phones, the folks at cnet.com apparently do, and their side-by-side test has the S4 besting the iPhone 5 in water submersion, impact, and scratches. So maybe Samsung is onto something with their design and construction. That being said, regardless of phone model, a case, screen protector, and Protect Cell coverage plan are all recommended ways to best protect your investment and data.
For those of you coming from a Galaxy S3, you'll feel right at home when the S4 powers up, and other Android users shouldn't be too far behind. My one beef here is Samsung customizes their menu tree by some sort of categorical grid where most other Androids are alphabetical. To remedy this, from the inside of the app menu tap your menu/settings button, tap "view type," and select "alphabetical grid," which will rearrange the main menu like most other Androids. Other than the usual icon and widget setup, this is about the only other bit of leg work you have to do beyond the traditional Google account and Backup Assistant login.
What I really like: the camera is amazing. I don't know if I really need all 13 megapixels and all the fun extras Samsung threw in the mix, but it takes amazing pictures, only bested by the Nokia Lumia 928 in my camera comparison article. And the Lumia won by a hair. The processor is zippy. While some carriers included an 8-core processor on the S4, Verizon only went with a quad (last I read, our LTE networks are barely optimized for dual and quad core processors, so we might not have even been able to use all 8 cores yet). At any rate, there is barely any lag when changing between apps, and some games I played that caused the frame rate to drop on even the S3 are handled quite well on the S4.
In addition to a super processor and camera, Samsung put some other great hardware under the hood. There is a hygrometer and barometer built in, which doesn't seem like much right now, but developers now have access to those tools, so expect enhanced weather, GPS, and fitness apps in the future. But my favorite extra is the infrared blaster. I've tried other apps on phones and tablets that function as TV remotes, and they always needed some sort of wifi connection and they were cumbersome. If you want to do the TV-remote-from-your-phone thing, you need to have IR built into your phone. Not only is there the hardware necessary to run the remote included, but the software app is pretty easy too. Powered by Peel, it forgoes the traditional channel and time grid for a list of shows that it thinks you might like. Tap the show, and it automatically changes the channel to that show. You can like or dislike the show, kind of like a Pandora station, and customize the channels (so if you don't subscribe to a channel package, you can remove it) you see, and if you do want the traditional grid layout, it's there too. I like the layout about as much as I like the guide that is built in to my Dish subscription. The TV remote app is called WatchOn, if you want to fire it up.
Samsung also packed in a host of motion and eye features. shaking or leaning the phone can move between screens. Waving your hand over it can check your alerts. There is a Smart Stay feature that watches your eyes and keeps the screen lit or the video playing while you're looking at the phone and pauses video when you look away. Some of the features like the hand wave to quickly access your notifications aren't the easiest or most intuitive. Others, like scrolling around on a web page by moving your eyes or having videos pause when you look away are errily accurate. A review of all those features is an article in itself. So stay tuned for that, it's on my list of things to write about.
The neutrals: Battery life is about as expected, not remarkably good or bad. Reception is pretty good. I occasionally flip between 3G and 4G in my basement, not as often as the S3, but it's not as good as my Droid RAZR.
What I don't like: I already covered how the design feels kind of cheap and also like a rehash of the S3. The screen isn't quite as visible in direct sunlight compared to the Motorola Droid RAZR line or even the S3. Not bad if you crank the brightness up to the max, but if direct sunlight operation is your thing, there are better choices.
Some of the extra goodies like motion, gesture, and eyesight control are buried deep within the phone, take a LOT of digging to find, and don't always work as advertised (by which I mean they don't make the phone inherently easier to work). I get that a lenghty feature set can make a phone stand out from its competitors, but I'd like to see manufacturers pick a smaller set of enhancements and really make them shine.
The bottom line. At the time of this writing, the Galaxy S4 retails for $199.99 after rebate with a 2-year agreement. While it certainly is worthy of its price tag, one of my favorite things about the S4 is that it pushed the price down on the S3, which is a perfectly capable phone. My verdict: if you're looking for a top-shelf new smartphone, the S4 delivers at the traditional top-shelf price. You will be pleased. If you're shopping on a budget, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the S3. Both are excellent choices.
A few years ago, buying a phone for friends, kids, grandkids or other relatives was easy: come in, buy the phone, sign the contract, and wrap it for Christmas day. While smartphones have made the whole phone-owning experience more fun, they have also made it more complicated. As a first general rule, be sure the recipient wants a new phone in the first place. Follow these other steps and you'll be sure to make the gift a great match.
I remember when I first started working at Wireless World, the must-have phone of the holiday shopping season was the Samsung Juke. It was the first phone to truly function as an MP3 player–while other phones incorporated music playing capabilities, the Juke really was a music player first (2GB of onboard storage–wow!–and an included USB cable and pair of headphones were revolutionary back then) and a phone second. Unfortunately it also suffered from a tiny screen and smaller buttons and it was about the size of a pack of gum.
Oh how things have changed. Instead of asking how small we can make phones and still interact with them, the pendulum has swung the other way. Now we are asking how big we can make phones and still comfortably carry them. Below are my top five phones with the absolute biggest screens. I'm not listing size as a drawback for any of these phones; I'm assuming that if you're after a phone with a ginormous screen that size is a non issue. I've included the screen resolution (the bigger numbers the better) and type of screen (I'm not going to get into it, but Super AMOLED usually is the best) for reference as well.
1. Samsung Galaxy Note 2, screen size 5.5 inches 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED screen. Currently the Note 2 is available for preorder at Wireless World, so my pros and cons are based a bit off of the review from cnet.com. When the phone launches I plan to give it a full review. At 5.5 inches, this is the biggest screen out there, and it still maintains its 16:9 aspect ratio (a rectangle like a big screen TV). It also boasts a quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, and Google's Jellybean OS. This should make the tech-heads drool as at least on paper it is the most powerful phone out there. The cons are the S Pen is somewhat glitchy (if it's going to be a different way of interacting with the phone, it's got to be easier and it's not), and even with a battery on par with the RAZR MAXX HD, it's questionable whether it will last all day on a single charge given its screen size. Samsung has also tried to solve the question of how to protect a large phone by releasing a fold-over case like the GS3. I'm anxious to see what I can do with this phone and case.
2. LG Intuition, 5 inches 1024 x 768 TFT screen. Pros: best screen-per-dollar deal, thin. Cons: audio quality is a bit quiet. As far as the audio goes, who really is going to use a 5 inch phone without a Bluetooth headset? One other idiosyncrasy of the Intuition is its 4:3 aspect ratio (the thing is a square). It's great for reading and writing, but video playback and gaming is going to have some bars on the screen or it'll look stretched or squashed.
3. Samsung Galasy S3, 4.8 inches 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED screen. I've raved a lot about the GS3: NFC, a slew of motion controls, in short the best phone in Verizon's Android lineup (and potentially best period). My only complaint is S Voice, Samsung's voice-activated assistant. It's just not ready for prime time. But there are always other voice command apps from the Play Store, or you can skip voice controls altogether.
5. LG Spectrum 4.5 inches, 1280 x 720 TFT screen. Just a few months ago, it was noteworthy to have a 4.5 inch HD screen and a dual core processor. Now it seems practically industry standard. The price is nice for such a big screen, but Gingerbread OS? C'mon LG, give us some new goodies to play with. Is the Spectrum going to get Ice Cream Sandwich, or are you just going to leapfrog to Jellybean? Either way, this phone needs a software update sooner than later. The Spectrum is good if you want a big screen for a low price and don't mind being behind the curve for the OS.
Some of these phones are almost too big to fit into a pants pocket, and the Note and Illusion are beyond practically managing on a belt clip case, so if you have any doubts, stop in at a Wireless World and try them on for size.
So far, the Droid Razr M, Samsung Galaxy SIII, and HTC Incredible 4G all come equipped with the newest technology in cell phones: NFC. But really, what is NFC? What can you as the average user do with an NFC-equipped phone that you can't do with anything else?
First, NFC simply stands for Near-Field Communication. Your average smartphone already comes equipped with a bevy of radios: 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, and even in some cases, FM radio. NFC has a much smaller-radius. The most common usage for NFC right now are sharing of media, like playlists, pictures, and videos, credit card payments, and a "switch" of sorts (more on that in a bit).
What you need: in short, NFC works like a walkie-talkie, meaning one NFC device isn't much fun. You need two. They can be anything from two phones to a phone and a credit card payment machine, Bluetooth headset, or an NFC "tag." With two NFC-equipped phones, you can share things like playlists, contacts, photos, video, or other data. NFC tags are programmable pieces of hardware that can trigger various things on your phone. You can put one on your desk and have it change your ringtone to something more professional-sounding while at work. Put one at home and program your phone to connect to your home wifi network when you tap the tag at home. Eventually, we'll see the tags trigger things on the other end: an NFC tag could change your home thermostat or lighting, unlock your car door or start the engine, or do just about anything that a key, a switch (either physical or digital within your phone), or plug can accomplish.
For now, NFC is a double-edged sword. The wonderful part is that the possibilities of using NFC are nearly limitless. The downside is that those limitless possibilities mean you're doing a lot of the setup and legwork (and imagination). Until NFC becomes more of a standard and third-party, non-cellular companies start integrating NFC into their products (like an NFC-enabled car, thermostat, or light switch), and using NFC becomes easy, it will still be marginalized to the techies who like to play with new stuff. Credit card companies, as well as Google and cellular carriers, have been working on using NFC as a form of mobile payments, but until consumers are confident that they won't lose both their phone and their wallet at the same time, NFC-assisted payments will remain somewhat of a limited market.
If you'd like to play with NFC right now, the good news is that it's not that difficult to get started. Sharing photos, videos, playlists, contacts, or practically anything else between NFC-enabled phones is easy, especially if the phones are the same make and model. NFC tags can be purchased at Wireless World, though since they are a newer technology our stores may need to special-order them. NFC apps like Samsung's TecTile app are mostly free. The TecTile app gives you the ability to program those NFC tags to different functions on your phone. Also, the NFC tags are rewriteable, so if you decide you want to make the NFC tag you purchased do something different, you don't have to throw it away and buy a new one. Finally, since NFC tags only do what you tell them to do, if you feel that using NFC as a form of mobile payments is too risky, don't set that part of it up. Stay tuned to the blog, as soon as I switch to a phone that has an NFC radio, I'll be getting a few packs of NFC tags and experimenting with them.
Are you the type who loves to work on electronics yourself? Do you void warranties first and ask questions later? Maybe you have an old MP3 player or phone with a broken screen and a failed repair attempt leaves you no worse for the wear or you broke your phone and don't have insurace and you don't want to pay retail for a new one or pay a technician for his or her time working on your phone. The iFixit app is your new best friend.
iFixit has a website and an app that shows you how to repair or modify your gadgets. Everything from adding more RAM into a laptop to replacing the screen on a smartphone is covered. They even tell you what parts and tools you need and how difficult a task is. Some jobs, like patching a bicycle tire are relatively easy but require more parts, and some things like replacing the thermal paste on the heat sink of your XBox (don't worry if you don't know what that means) require very few parts but are rated at a much higher difficulty. It's all relative, of course: if you're an avid bicyclist, changing a tire is a snap, if you've built your own computers, it might be more difficult while the XBox repair would be simple.
If you need even more assistance, you can go to www.ifixit.com, jump on their forums, or order parts. Whether you want to tinker with stuff for the fun of it, or circumstances have thrust you into the need for a DIY repair job, check out the iFixit app. It is available for both Android and iOS.
You get out of your car, come home, reach into your pocket or purse, and….no phone! You start mentally retracing your steps since the last time you used your phone at the same time that you try and get your heart beating again. If this has happened to you, you know the feeling. There are a few ways to help locate and wipe the phone (if you feel that remotely erasing the phone is a necessary measure). All of these solutions require the phone to be powered on and getting some sort of signal (cellular data, wifi, or GPS) and most of them involve installing some apps and setting up accounts before losing the phone, so here's hoping that you still have your phone in your posession.
1. If you purchased Protect Cell as your phone's coverage plan, part of that coverage includes an app called Digital Leash, which can be downloaded from the Play Store. Digital Leash allows you to remotely track, lock, and wipe your phone. The standard package gives you the ability to back up your contacts (usually they're backed up through other accounts like Backup Assistant, Gmail, or Facebook, but having an extra channel for backup doesn't hurt) but you have to pay to upgrade for media backup. I couldn't for the life of me recall any of my passwords for Digital Leash, but after putting in my email address and phone number, I had them mailed and texted to me. Write them down or change them, as the stuff that was sent to me was odd, randomly generated passwords that without a photographic memory you'll never remember, and you'll need that information to access the locator app. (If you had a photographic memory, you wouldn't have lost your phone in the first place).
Backing up my contacts from the phone was a snap. Locating my phone worked well enough, though it wasn't an exact science. The locator got the phone within a half mile of my actual location. That's good enough to make sure the phone hasn't skipped town, but not good enough to call the police on the address or, use it to prove that your kids or employees or whoever might be using the phone is somewhere they're not supposed to be. But it would at least be good enough to see if your phone has skipped town or not. Buying Digital Leash as a standalone service costs $30 for two years, or is part of your Protect Cell membership package, and upgrading to the premium plan that includes backing up data costs an extra$20, which puts it square in the middle of the cost spectrum.
2. So far the most accurate locator app I've tried comes from Lookout Mobile Security. The free version gives you antivirus, location, and alarm services. The big difference here is that this app actually toggles on the phone's GPS services for more accurate location. Of course, this uses more battery once GPS is enabled, but battery consumption isn't much of an issue if you need to find your phone. Upgrading to the Premium service gets you safe browsing, remote lock and wipe, and advanced backup of contacts and photos, but it will cost $20 a year. I uninstalled it mostly because the antivirus service slowed down the download speeds of my apps, but if antivirus software is important to you, Lookout should help. Also, like Digital Leash, you do need an account set up to locate your phone.
3. For free, you can't get get much better than Where's My Droid. Download the app, follow the setup prompts, and you're ready to go. No need to create an account or remember passwords, but you do need somebody else's smartphone to locate yours. From your friend's phone, send a text message to your phone that reads "wmd gps" (short for where's my droid gps, minus the quotes of course). You'll shortly get a text message back with longitude and latitude, an approximate address, and a link to Google Maps. There is a computer-based app that you can download and locate the phone, but when I downloaded it, the installer tried to put so much bloatware and search toolbars on my computer that I cancelled out of the install. A $4 fee will upgrade you to the premium version that includes remote lock and wipe and a few other features. The location accuracy on Where's My Droid is about as accurate as Digital Leash, good enough to know if your phone has left town, but not good enough to tell whether it's in between the couch cushions or in the cup holder in your car.
4. Lastly, if you haven't installed anything on your phone before losing it, there's Plan B. Plan B is made by the same people that developed Lookout, and it is supposed to locate the phone after the fact. Simply go to the website linked from the last sentence, enter in the Gmail address associated with the phone or tablet, and it pushes the app to your device, locates it, and sends your Gmail address the location. You can also send your phone a text message with the word "locate" in it, and Plan B should find the phone. The only problem: I can't get it to work. I can push the app to the phone, but none of the location services seem to work. Obviously, like anything called "Plan B," it isn't your first choice, but if you've got no other options there's no harm in trying.
I reviewed each of these options in order of my preference: Digital Leash is the best deal since you get that as part of Protect Cell's membership plan, which includes device replacement,Digital Leash, ID Rescue, Rewards Mall, and Device Buyback if you don't request a replacement. Lookout is my next favorite since the location is the most accurate and you get virus protection. Where's My Droid is a close third place since you don't have to hassle with creating more accounts and passwords, and Plan B is just that: a hail-Mary if you didn't set anything up before losing the phone.