Features

Project Ara’s story is all about wasted potential

Published

on

After rumors recently surfaced about the cancellation of Project Ara, we now have confirmation from Google that their highly ambitious modular phone will no longer reach the consumer market. Reasons were somewhat vague, but what we do know is that it’s being done to “streamline the company’s hardware efforts.”

It was only last May when we witnessed a revived desire from Google to push the product, complete with a cool trailer and announcement of a possible consumer launch next year. Progress before and after the unveiling was typically silent, and we’ve finally confirmed that it’s been an internal structure issue all along. Now, we think about what could have been a savior for the smartphone industry.

The beginning of the end

Imagine presenting a prototype of your company’s next big thing in front of a worldwide audience, only for it to freeze during bootup and fail to even reach the home screen. No, I’m not talking about an episode of Silicon Valley. That’s actually the nightmare Google experienced back in 2014 when it presented a “working” prototype of its first modular smartphone. Thinking about it now, the incident summarizes the current situation really well.

Project Ara (1)

In the most recent build of Project Ara, you had all the functions you’d expect from the modern-day smartphone you’re accustomed to, along with the ability to plug in your choice of modules to add greater functionality. Upgrades ranging from cameras to replaceable batteries stylishly fit into the main frame to create one unified pocket computer. If you think the process is as simple as playing with Lego blocks, you’re absolutely right.

An eternity in the tech world

What could this have meant for consumers had it become a commercial product? It would have been a possible game-changer in terms of phone upgrade cycles. With a smartphone having limitless module options to keep you busy, ordering that newly launched Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone wouldn’t be as tempting anymore.

However, it’s been a long two years since the initial reveal, and much has changed.

It’s important to take note that Project Ara was no longer a fully modular smartphone as of May 2016. The Google phone had its core components fixed into the main frame, meaning you couldn’t touch the processor, internal storage, RAM, and front display. This became a potential deal-breaker for enthusiasts wanting a PC-like handheld gadget they can fiddle around with on the go. The development led to disappointment from the community and the product’s eventual downfall, but it might have also been able to entice a more mainstream market wanting a simpler package.

Project Ara (2)

In exchange for the loss of complexity, the last build came with welcome refinements. Plug and play was possible with certain modules, wherein you could hot swap the unit while the phone was on and even share with other Ara users on the spot. If you wanted to get fancy, saying “Okay Google, eject the camera” commanded the phone to do as it’s told.

Google’s very own

Looking back, it’s easy to forget how big of a deal Project Ara was when it was first announced at Google I/O 2014. Modular phone schematics were tossed around brainstorming sessions prior to that, but it was only when Google unveiled a (partially) working prototype that this concept became closer to commercial reality. Still, the fact that it froze shortly after being turned on established how much of a pipe dream it was back then, and how it continues to be one now.

During Project Ara’s downtime, a couple of companies took a crack at modular designs in attempts to overshadow the hype Google built and lost. The Fairphone 2 was the first modular phone to officially hit the market, and the LG G5 garnered even bigger headlines as a totally revamped flagship device with modular Friends you could attach to its Magic Slot. Most recently, Lenovo launched the Moto Z series, which proves that even partial modularity is still alive and kicking.

And yet, the latest announcement from Google I/O 2016 was more than just about a potential date and a sweet new trailer for Project Ara. Google was finally going to release a smart device that’s truly theirs – free of any partnership from the likes of Huawei or HTC in their long-running Nexus program.

The company’s previous attempt at controlling the hardware process came when it acquired Motorola in 2012. Google then became a competitor for a long list of smartphone brands that rely on Android as their sole operating system. This didn’t fly well with major players such as LG and Samsung, who subsequently secured backups in WebOS and Tizen, respectively, in case Google would suddenly favor its own manufacturing process for the latest Android updates, ultimately discriminating against loyal associates.

It’s uncertain how Project Ara would have impacted the search giant’s relationship with hardware partners as an indirect competitor, since modular phones might create a category of their own some day.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves

Ironically, the highly customizable Project Ara proved that you didn’t have total control over the aesthetics and feel. While the dimensions and weight of the device vary depending on the components equipped, you’re going to end up with a bulky, blocky handset no matter what. LG saw through the weaknesses of a largely modular phone to produce the G5 we’re enjoying today. By allowing only partial modularity from the bottom end of its current flagship, the primary build remains largely intact, so there’s no need to worry about assembling a hideous product.

Our recent unboxing and hands-on review of the G5 and its add-ons showcased how much promise there is in upgrading your handset before committing to a completely different phone the following year or two. Lenovo followed shortly after with the Moto Z and its growing lineup, but it’s too early to gauge its success.

lg-g5-mwc-20160328-02

We’ve been wanting these possibilities for a while now. Smartphone technology in general has stagnated in the past years, with every manufacturer heavily focusing on simply improving on the touchscreen-optimized formula Apple established nearly a decade ago with the original iPhone. If your current smartphone already has a high-resolution display, fast-acting camera, accurate fingerprint scanner, and either a glass or metal physique, there isn’t much more you can ask for outside the realm of modularity. Well, probably better battery life, but we’ll never be satisfied with that, right?

Speaking of batteries, with news of entire Samsung Galaxy Note 7 units being recalled because of a single part, swappable components might be the solution to new-age manufacturing woes.

Or maybe, we simply aren’t ready yet for the complexity of a fully modular smartphone. Consumers have finally moved past DIY solutions for PCs in exchange for the simplicity of owning a razor-thin notebook or all-in-one laptop with as much, if not more, power. Complicating the everyday smartphone could just as easily backfire, and discriminate against users who aren’t that tech-savvy.

It’s not just about the modules anymore

Going back to Google I/O 2014, one of the presenters posed this question: Why choose a phone for its camera, when you could choose a camera for your phone? Project Ara’s vision remained the same until its demise, but we now have a more daunting question to ask: Since we’ve already reached the pinnacle of touchscreen-smartphone convenience, when will we be ready to embrace a more complex form factor?

Project Ara’s Twitter account once wondered if fans were still around after one of its long hiatuses. We, the consumers, haven’t left yet, and taking a look at the official website shows how the developers themselves haven’t let go of the project either.

[irp posts=”7634″ name=”Cancelled Project Ara prototype shows up, reveals specs”]

Image Credit: Maurizio Pesce

Hands-On

Samsung Galaxy M31: How long does a 6000mAh battery lasts?

We took the phone out for a spin!

Published

on

Having long-lasting device is a must when you need to stay connected.  When Samsung proudly introduced the Galaxy M31 with a  6,000mAh battery, it’s like god heard my woes. No more reliance on power banks and hogging wall sockets!

But how long does a 6000mAh battery last, especially for someone who’s overly attached to his smartphone? To find the answer, we fully charged a Galaxy M31 to see if it will last more than my ex-flings (or a day, in this case).

Hour 00: Making you mine

It was 2:20 PM when I took the fully charged Galaxy M31 to finish setting it up, and personalize it as my new daily driver for god knows how long. If you’re familiar with Samsung’s One UI 2.0, navigating the phone is a breeze.

I installed my essential apps — particularly Spotify — and spent at least an hour and a half to finish personalizing the phone. It was almost four in the afternoon when I decided to take a nap, with the battery currently sitting at 96 percent.

Hour 02: Vibing with your quirks

Thirty minutes later, I woke up from incessant sweating caused by a vexatious, humid atmosphere. When I checked the phone, I wasn’t surprised to see it drop to 95 percent. After all, Spotify was still playing on the background. I started prepping up to take a bath while dancing to “Mamma Mia” (I do hope youngins still know this classic).

Most of my Sundays are usually spent doing different hobbies, but having to test a phone’s battery life derailed my perfectly laid up weekend plan.

In lieu of doing things that feed my soul, I watched The Half Of It on Netflix and played Mobile Legends: Bang Bang in between supper, hourly snacks, skincare, and prepping myself to sleep.

Hour 08: Quarter good

Even with an annoying notch, watching and playing on a Super AMOLED screen is still a treat. I’m accustomed to using flagship smartphones, but the Galaxy M31 packed a punch for a midrange phone.

It’s powered by an Exynos 9611 chipset (which caused some heating), and a 6B RAM, and 128GB internal storage. A hiccup-free experience is guaranteed!

It was 10:10 PM when I turned the Wi-Fi off so I can sleep peacefully. The battery currently sits at 76 percent.

Hour 15: Staying strong

My nights are constantly haunted by my crushing regrets. In between interrupted periods of sleep, the phone’s battery sat at 75 percent. I decided to get out of the bed around 5 in the morning, planning a full day ahead.

I started catching up with news while hydrating myself with lemon water. Afterward, I opened my favorite app — Nike Training Club — to perform morning stretches. It offers quick, guided workouts for different purposes: strength, endurance, mobility, and flexibility.

Before I start my workout, I brought along my Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Fit E. If you’re deep into Samsung’s ecosystem, you’ll be disappointed with the unavailability of Galaxy Buds’ plugin, so no wireless listening for you. Although, you can rely on the Galaxy M31’s loudspeakers. Thankfully, the phone still connects seamlessly with my Galaxy Fit E.

At 6:25 AM, the battery dropped to 70 percent after conducting my morning routine. Do note that Spotify is constantly playing, even when I’m not actively using my phone. (Life without music sucks.)

Hour 17: Picture-perfect memories

It was almost seven in the morning when I started shooting a friend’s baked goods. As I sung to Taylor Swift’s “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, I let myself have fun using the Galaxy M31’s quad-camera setup.

I wrapped up around 7:19 AM with a 67 percent battery life. I took a bath and drove to Starbucks to get my favorite cold brew. Along the way, I took some selfies and snaps and uploaded them to Instagram Stories.

Hour 20 to 28: The last hurrah

I was back at my desk around 10 AM and started my daily grind. The phone sat at 43 percent after heavy and constant usage. I pulled my laptop and started working. Even with a bigger screen, I still used my phone to respond to messages, moderate social media pages, and watch on Netflix while eating.

The phone’s battery dipped to 15 percent at 6:48 PM, when my shift was about to end. To my astonishment, the Galaxy M31 lasted more than 28 hours on a single charge.

I charged the device at 7:08 PM and left it while I had dinner, took a bath, and did some house chores. It took at least three hours to fully charge the device from 15 to 95 percent, using its 15W fast charging adapter via USB-C.

On a side note, the Galaxy M31’s battery is such a rocker when left on standby mode. On a Tuesday afternoon, I left a fully charged Galaxy M31 in a safe. I checked back Saturday afternoon, and I was surprised to see its battery dipped from 100 percent to 33 percent.

Is it your GadgetMatch?

Summing it up, the Galaxy M31 is a capable and dependable midrange smartphone. It offers reliable performance with a battery that can keep up with you for more than a day. If you’re a power user looking for an affordable handset with no bells and whistles, this one is for you.

The Galaxy M31 is currently available in Black and Blue and retails for PhP 13,990 (US$ 283). It’s online-exclusive and will be available for purchase at Samsung’s Online store.

Continue Reading

Features

6 tips to make your phone more private and secure

Exercise caution during these times

Published

on

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, and Wire. Telegram and Viber also offer E2E encryption by default.

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.

Continue Reading

Reviews

LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

Published

on

Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

Continue Reading

Trending