Features

6 tips to make your phone more private and secure

Exercise caution during these times

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Your smartphone is capable of gathering and collecting personal information. As such, malicious hackers are always looking for ways to break into your phone to gain that valuable information. Meanwhile, big tech companies and governments are actively developing discrete methods of tracking you through your smartphone.

Thus, it is important to protect your smartphone’s privacy and security. However, it can be daunting to do that if you don’t know where to begin. With many privacy and security guidelines out there, it can be confusing where to look for protection.

Luckily, it’s easy to make your phone more private and secure. These tips are easy to do, and can be accomplished in an hour. Remember though, that the level of protection varies for different people.

These tips aren’t intended for the privacy paranoid. Instead, they act as tips on ensuring that you have the baseline privacy and security protection for your smartphone.

1. Change your device’s privacy settings

“It starts with you,” so the saying goes. The same tip also applies to making your device more private and secure. You have to start by changing your device’s setting.

Unfortunately for you, some default settings actually harm your device’s privacy and security. For example, your device may have analytics turned on by default — this violates privacy by sending data to third-party companies without your consent.

Changing the default privacy settings in iOS is simple and intuitive. All you need to do is to head over to the Settings app and scroll to the Privacy menu down below. Here, you’ll see a lot of things that you can change.

On the Android side, you’ll usually find the privacy settings for your device on the list of menus under your phone’s settings app. Like in iOS, you’ll see a lot of things that you can change to make your device more private.

These include limiting or opting out of ad personalization, turning off analytics, and changing notifications to display only the app name.

2. Review individual app permissions

Most apps that you use every day ask for permissions. These act as barriers that stop apps from mindlessly retrieving sensitive data.

Treat permissions as a powerful tool for safeguarding your privacy and security. Likewise, most permissions are important enough that you need to be more mindful of what apps you’re allowing and not allowing.

Common permissions include access to the camera, microphone, contacts, SMS, and location. There’s no exact rule to determining what permission should be allowed for an app.

However, as a general rule of thumb, know first the advertised function of a certain app. A calculator app shouldn’t ask for your microphone if, in the first place, it doesn’t tout voice input as a function.

For messaging apps, you’ll obviously need to allow contacts and SMS access. These apps will also need the camera and microphone access for video calling purposes.

Social media apps commonly require access to contacts, camera, and location. Meanwhile, utility apps should have minimum permissions from the get-go.

3. Use a VPN

You may have heard about someone using a VPN to unblock shows from Netflix or view restricted websites. Basically, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) routes your connection to multiple servers around the world. As such, you also end up with an IP address that hides your real location.

This is a huge deal especially for some websites or services that hide content depending on a user’s location. It’s also a boon for your privacy and security.

VPNs also protect your privacy by feeding false location information to most advertisers on the web. Most websites today have ads that track users wherever they go. Companies have sophisticated methods of tracking and building user profiles. This violates users’ privacy and security.

There are a lot of VPN services to choose from in this day and age. However, some VPN services actually leak sensitive information. On top of that, some of them have monthly data allocation and speed caps.

Some of the reputable VPN services out there include ProtonVPN, Private Internet Access, TunnelBear, and NordVPN. It’s also worth checking out Mullvad, SurfShark, and IPVanish.

Configuring VPNs is easy. You just have to follow the instructions given by your selected VPN provider.

4. Install messaging apps with encryption.

We use messaging apps to stay connected with our friends and families. However, not all messaging apps are built equally.

Some messaging apps don’t implement end-to-end encryption (E2E encryption), allowing malicious hackers and third-party companies to access your valuable information without your permission.

End-to-end encryption protects your valuable data by making your messages hard to read for hackers and companies. That means that even if a company that owns a messaging app gets hacked, they will only see random blobs of data instead of other people’s messages.

By now, most messaging apps in the market use end-to-end encryption. However, most apps only encrypt your data while in transit, which means that your message is safe while it travels across servers.

The messages that reside in your device aren’t encrypted at all, so hackers and companies can retrieve any information using sophisticated methods such as apps that harvest data in the background.

There are quite a good number of messaging apps that offer full E2E encryption. One of the most popular is Signal — a messaging app used by the famous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. You only use a mobile number to create a Signal account, mitigating the need for emails and passwords. It also has quite an extensive list of features that even rival Facebook Messenger.

Other apps that offer full E2E encryption includes ThreeMa, WhatsApp, Wire and Viber.

5. Consider using a secure browser

Chances are, the browser that you’re using today is Google Chrome. Many people use Chrome since its fast, simple, and just works.

However, it’s also one of the worst browsers to use for safeguarding personal privacy and security. After all, it is owned by Google. It’s common knowledge by now that Google thrives on a business that doesn’t totally safeguard your privacy and security.

There are other browsers out there that offer a better private browsing mode. Among them is Mozilla Firefox, which offers tracking prevention by default. Firefox’s tracking prevention blocks ads and other web elements that try to gather personal information as you browse the web.

Other browsers that have tracking prevention includes Microsoft Edge and Brave Browser. Safari also blocks trackers now, and you’ll see privacy reports in the future as part of macOS Big Sur.

You may have also heard of Tor Browser. Using Tor Browser is recommended if you want your browsing activity to be more private and secure. Keep in mind though, that browsing is much slower since it routes your network connection to different servers all around the world.

6. Store passwords with a password manager.

In this day and age, you should be using a password manager to manage your website logins. After using one, you’ll wonder why you haven’t used one sooner.

Password managers are convenient. Most of them feature one-click autofill which automatically fills in your username and password in the corresponding field. You’ll no longer have to enter your information manually. On top of that, you protect your privacy against snoopers.

Most password managers can also generate strong passwords for you. You don’t have to think about what unique word you’ll use when asked for a password.

More importantly, you no longer have to reuse an old password which just increases the chances of a hacker gaining access to your accounts. Some even have a password monitor feature, which alerts you if the password you used was retrieved by hackers.

Some of the best password managers out there include LastPass, Dashlane, and Bitwarden.

BONUS: Don’t give your personal info in an instant

This sounds simple but it’s something that we need to share with everyone. Especially our loved ones who don’t know better about giving out their personal information.

This not only applies in the digital world but also in the real world. After all, someone is bound to mishandle or abuse your personal data. The best course of action is to always ask if sensitive information is needed at all.

In digital terms, that means checking out an app or a website’s privacy policy for any mention of what data is needed to gain access to their service. However, privacy policies tend to get long, so we might be lazy enough to know why a piece of data is needed.

As a rule of thumb, always exercise caution when giving out personal information. If possible, limit any personal information to your name, email address, mobile number, and approximate location.

Making your device more secure and private doesn’t have to be tedious. These simple tips are easy enough to follow but will ensure a more private experience for you and your device.

These tips, however, only scratch the surface. Ensuring your device is private and secure is a proactive approach that requires one to be cautious of their data at all times.

Apps

Ultrahuman: The essential app to get you through quarantine

Getting through isolation days through workout and meditation

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Taking care of our physical and mental health is very much important now more than ever. With everything that has been going on in the world, it’s not surprising that people are taking extra steps to advocate and practice self-care.

One way to do this is by adding good habits everyday and being disciplined to sustain these habits.

With self-care as one of their ultimate goals this year, Martynne and MJ decided to try Ultrahuman: an all-in-one fitness app that includes all the good habits they are currently incorporating in their lives — from workout to meditation.

For a few weeks, they put the app to a test and this is their verdict:

Meditation

Martynne: I am a huge advocate of meditation and it has been a life-changing practice for me, as someone who finds a hard time focusing and being in the present.

Ultrahuman has a wide range of course options that can match a specific mood or emotion. One of my personal favorites is the Managing Anger course, which helped me take a step back, consolidate my feelings and give compassion to myself throughout the process.

The Singles option with one-time meditation tracks helped me become more mindful and grounded whenever I feel overwhelmed in the middle of a workday. The productivity course, on the other hand, kept my eyes glued to my laptop screen until I finished what I needed to do.

The only thing I didn’t like about it, though, is the visuals seem basic to me, and the “dark” interface is much more fitting for the workout option.

Workout

MJ: When gyms are closed and home workouts aren’t fun anymore, how do you remain committed to your fitness goals? That’s what Ultrahuman did: Filling the gap by providing fun workouts and challenges that you can do in a span of weeks. It’s similar to how Nike Training Club presents their videos albeit more personalized.

The Ultrahuman app comes with guided videos from renowned trainers, and watching their instructions during your exercises felt like having a live session with a personal trainer. Unlike most fitness apps that offer video-on-demand workouts, Ultrahuman remembers that we are all beginners, offering a collection of videos through challenges that suit different levels.

After living a sedentary lifestyle, I knew I have to ease up when working out again. The app did wonders in helping me stay active by gradually increasing the difficulty of my challenges, without straining my body or having myself complain about how difficult a certain workout routine is.

Sleep

Martynne: There was an instance that I had a bad case of insomnia and I needed something to put me to sleep.

I tried listening to Ultrahuman’s Bedtime Stories and it reminded me of the sleep podcasts I used to listen to on Spotify.

The voices are relaxing, and the stories come with meditation and sound effects, but I realized I can be impatient with slow stories. I resorted to the app’s soundscapes and brain music, and they helped a lot to relax my brain and finally shut my eyes off.

I don’t exactly know what’s the science behind brain music, but they really work sometimes.

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Accessories

Nokia E3100: Trying new buds for work to workouts

Yes, Nokia has earbuds now

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Nokia E3100

Nokia and I go way back. It was the mobile phone brand of my youth. Our history includes a series of phones that predate the existence of touchscreen ones we use now. Everyone had a Nokia device then. In recent years, it’s become a rarity. So imagine my surprise when I first heard that Nokia is now making earbuds. How did it fare against the audio giants of our time?

First impressions

I got a hold of the Nokia E3100 Essential True Wireless Earphones. Compared to my old set of earbuds (Anker Zolo Liberty+), this one’s battery case and earbuds are extremely light, almost the same weight as a tube of drugstore lipstick.

The buds can operate up to 2.5hrs with a single charge, and up to 10 hours with help of the rechargeable battery case. Super convenient to pack if we still had our old lifestyle of going out daily.

On the job

I used to be able to maximize my earbuds on my commute — listening to music or watching series whenever I’m in transit. Nowadays, I mainly connect my headset to my laptop for Zoom meetings and other virtual work calls.

The Nokia E3100 did not disappoint on the sound side. Audio from the people I’m in the call with was always clear and crisp. But, it can be a hit-or-miss as a mic. The earbuds have a built-in microphone on the right side, but my experience with it left me wanting. There was a point when I had to switch back to the laptop microphone in the middle of a call just so people can hear my voice clearly.

Nokia E3100

On the mat

I also tried the Nokia E3100 for a few home workout sessions. Since the earbuds fit my ears perfectly, there’s no fear of it falling out in the middle of jumping jacks.

Another nice surprise is how you can easily skip or repeat tracks via push button controls on the earbuds. Less distractions to your exercise momentum! The only time I have to reach for my phone is when I want to switch to a different playlist.

Nokia E3100

Is the Nokia E3100 your GadgetMatch?

It’s reliable as an earpiece for listening to music, working out, and watching series. But when it comes to the demands of working from home, the current built-in mic just won’t do.

Nokia has to work on the voice sensitivity and responsiveness of the earbuds’ mic in order to take on this new age of virtual calls and meetings.

The Nokia E3100 retails for PhP 1,999 (US$ 41)

Buy here

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Hands-On

OPPO A74 Hands-On: The 7 things I love about you

A budget smartphone that doesn’t feel like one

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The OPPO A74 was announced not too long ago. While the OPPO A94 is just around the corner, the A74 comes with a lesser price tag — but that doesn’t mean they scrapped a lot of features.

Frankly speaking, I’ve enjoyed using it for about a week now. For the record, this is actually my first time trying an OPPO phone. I’d say, it’s not a total slouch because (in Miley Cyrus’ voice), “there are 7 things I love about you”.

1. Premium-like design and feel

First thing’s first, the phone’s back is made entirely out of polycarbonate plastic. While it’s not prone to cracks and shatters, the phone simply scratches too easily — regardless if you safely put it on tables. Fortunate for clumsy users, there’s an included clear case inside the box.

That said, I still like its premium-like look. As I always say, I’m not the biggest fan of flashy, gradient smartphones but this Midnight Blue colorway looks elegant on its own. I’d pick it over the blander-looking Prism Black option (even if black is one of my favorite shades).

On hand, it feels slim and lightweight. I barely felt the heft when holding the phone with my one hand despite that large display. The curves flow well with your hands, too. Most smartphones these days have a slightly uncomfortable feeling due to sharper phone corners.

2. Crisp and vibrant display

As we’re already on the topic, the A74 packs a 6.43-inch AMOLED display — the same display found on the A94.

The display is vibrant enough even under the harsh sunlight. While it only has a Full HD+ resolution, it still looks crisp. The only downside of this one is the lack of faster refresh rate. I know what you’re thinking. Some affordable smartphones offer faster 90 to 144Hz displays. In return, you get a less bright and vibrant IPS-LCD display.

I’m not complaining with the A74’s conventional 60Hz refresh rate. For one, it saves battery power, and two is because I value a more color accurate display than the latter. But hey, take my opinion with a grain of salt as it’s just my preference in smartphone displays.

Another thing that makes it look “premium” is the inclusion of its punch-hole camera. That simply looks better versus a dewdrop notch.

There’s always an in-display fingerprint scanner which might not be the fastest, but it still gets the job done and is more reliable than a Face Unlock especially in this particular time.

3. Great for multimedia consumption

“Love resembles misty dream” – IU (2021)

This is already a given since it has an AMOLED display. But other than that, despite having just mono speakers, it’s surprisingly loud with a full sound that doesn’t sound tinny and distorted.

Watch Law School on Netflix if you want your mind to F(ail or function)

While it doesn’t feature any HDR10 capabilities, it’s still a viewing pleasure when watching YouTube videos (especially K-Pop music videos) and Netflix series and films.

OPPO was also able to put a 3.5mm audio jack in such a slim  form factor. There’s a set of earphones inside the box. This is great for users who already have an existing pair and also don’t want to spend fortune for another wireless earbuds.

4. Less-confusing Android User Interface

Out of the box, it already runs Android 11 with the ColorOS 11.1 skin. Over the years, I got used to Xiaomi’s MIUI and Samsung’s One UI but as I get to use their interface for long, the more it gets confusing.

To my surprise, the ColorOS looks clean and tidy. It’s not bombarded with unwanted UI elements and at the same time, I love the overall look and feel of the icons and the interface. I also commend how organized the settings are that aren’t as cluttered as other Android skins.

5. Optimum performance

On paper, the A74 is packed with a Snapdragon 662 chipset, 6GB of memory, and 128GB of onboard storage with an option to expand with a microSD slot through its Hybrid SIM tray. Opening basic apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more are quick. Even switching between apps is snappy fast as long as you don’t get too hard on it.

While it may not sound like a lot, it still is a smartphone capable of running popular titles such as PUBG, Mobile Legends, Genshin Impact, and Asphalt 9.

It also has this handy Game Focus Mode which basically is a game sidebar tool when playing games that turns off unwanted notifications and boosts performance so you can enjoy the game you’re playing.

When I played Call of Duty: Mobile, I was able to play with no stutters or lags. While the graphics setting isn’t maxed out to high, medium seems fine already especially that you can see game artifacts and farther enemies in this setting anyway.

6. Large battery capacity and fast charging support

To makes this a lot better, it packs a bountiful 5,000mAh battery — which is very surprising for me considering it has a slim and lightweight form factor.

If your phone already ran out of juice, there’s a bundled 33W fast charger out of the box. OPPO is true to its words as it’s capable of filling it up for around 54 minutes — same as advertised. And for everyone’s convenience, it’s equipped with a USB-C port.

7. Decent main camera

The OPPO A74 packs a trio set of cameras: a 48-megapixel f/1.7 wide (main) camera, and two 2-megapixel f/2.4 depth and macro sensors. I would’ve wished for an ultra-wide camera instead but they decided to put one on the A94.

While video recording is limited to just 1080p Full HD, its HDR and AI work wonders when shooting photos indoors.

Samples look better when they’re shot outside in broad daylight. If you’re always into posting your photos in social media, the A74 won’t disappoint.

Zooming in on the subject with 2x zoom is still doable but sometimes, it has a hard time focusing. This is already given because it doesn’t have a dedicated telephoto lens. Nevertheless, images still look great even if it’s an accidental bokeh shot.

Just don’t use the 5x digital zoom as it’s not helpful at all. It’s either grainy or blurred with a too healthy helping of HDR processing.

Wide | 5x zoom

Wide | 5x zoom

For night mode, don’t get your hopes up as it’s barely usable in low-light conditions. At first, I thought it was just the blurry camera lens, but after taking two more night shots at around three seconds in wide (1x) mode, nothing has changed.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re a long-time OPPO user and you just want to upgrade your OPPO experience without sacrificing too much on money, the A74 is simply a great smartphone to get. With a price tag of PhP 11,990, it’s simply isn’t the cheapest budget smartphone you can buy right now.

Get the OPPO A94 if you can shell out an additional PhP 2,000 — only if you want a Mediatek chipset, an additional 2GB of memory, and the inclusion of an ultra-wide camera. But if we’re talking about better features, you can’t go wrong with the A74 simply because it has a competitive Snapdragon chipset, bigger battery with faster charging, and most of all, a cheaper price tag.

If you’re keen on trying another smartphone brand, there’s the Redmi Note 10 that has a cheaper retail price of just PhP 9,990 (6GB/128GB variant) with an upgraded Snapdragon 76 minus the ColorOS experience.

If you don’t care about design and just want a smartphone of the same kind, there’s the POCO M3 with identical hardware, but with an IPS-LCD display, a slightly larger battery capacity minus the fast charging — all for a pocket-friendly price of PhP 7,990.

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