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17
Feb

Android Auto: A driver’s dream app


Overview:

Android Auto is an app that enables “driving mode” for your android device, simplifying the UI and granting quick and easy access to music, maps, and phone functions so you’re not distracted swapping apps while driving.

Developer: Google Inc.

Cost: Free

Impressions:

Driving while distracted is very dangerous, no doubt about that. However, life doesn’t stop just because you’re in the car, calls, texts, and tons of other messages on your phone will come through regardless. So, instead of reaching for your phone and fumbling through those apps, endangering yourself and others, use Android Auto instead. Phone calls, GPS, text messages, and music control are all displayed on the app in a simplified and intuitive UI that reduces the time spent looking at the screen and allows you to focus on driving while still being connected to your phone.

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Android Auto is probably most popular as a built-in feature on many new cars today, where you just plug in your compatible phone and the car’s infotainment system is converted to Android Auto, with your phone as the car’s UI. Recently, Google has made Android Auto a standalone app on the Play Store, allowing those of us with older cars or those who are unwilling to splurge on a new Android Auto-enabled head unit to gain access to the experience. The app on your phone is identical to the in-car equivalent, with the simple unified UI and voice and touch controls. Auto makes using your phone while driving a dream, allowing you to control phone calls, Google Maps directions and music playback from any app without fumbling with the main app versions. The home screen for Auto provides a “recents” list of calls, locations, and music you were using last, for quick access. The app has three sections for each of the main functions, and a sub-menu for each one for more options in each. It’s an easy to navigate and elegant solution for those of us who juggle multiple apps on long car trips.

Android Auto is also fully voice-controllable, allowing full hands-free control using the familiar “OK, Google” commands. My favorite feature is voice texting; Text messages are read aloud to you, and you can reply using your voice or set a “driving mode” auto response. Speech detection is excellent, as long as you speak clearly, and I’ve had zero issues with my dictated messages so far in my weeks of use. Voice control also works for music playback, simply request an artist or playlist and it’ll queue right up.

There are a few quality-of-life settings in the app that make the transition to Auto really easy, including auto-on for Bluetooth connection so when you connect to your car’s Bluetooth the app will launch. Also, “wi-fi suspend” mode will disable wi-fi while in the car so you don’t have to worry about wasting battery searching for signal. You can also choose to keep the screen always on, so you don’t have to worry about sleep mode during a long trip. These settings make it a rather seamless transition when getting in and out of the car.

Conclusion:

Android Auto is a very solid experience and I’ve had very few problems with it in my time using it. I do wish there was a way to get some more in-depth control of the music app for selecting a specific song in a playlist without having to search through the queue but I suppose that it’s better that I look at the road rather than my phone. Also, Android Auto is really best used with a phone mount in your car, so there is that additional cost for the best experience.

Besides that, Android Auto is an excellent app that I would recommend to everyone for driving. The convenience and added safety it gives you are second to none and if you are a heavy phone user in the car you really can’t afford to not use this app.

Download Android Auto from the Google Play Store

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17
Feb

New Android virus poses as an Adobe Flash Player update


Why it matters to you

If you’re an Android user, think twice before installing an Adobe Flash Player update. It might be a virus.

If you use an Android device and happen upon an update for Adobe Flash player, you’d best not download it. A new strain of malware posing as an innocuous software upgrade is spreading like wildfire via social media and compromised websites.

It looks legitimate enough to fool, at first. A malicious link directs unwitting users to a download page that instructs you to “upgrade” Adobe Flash, a browser plugin designed to run multimedia games and apps on the web. In truth, it downloads a malicious application called “Android/TrojanDownloader.Agent.Jl”.

More: New Android malware uses your phone to attack your wireless router

A second message, which appears after several seconds has elapsed, falsely warns users that their device’s battery-saving mode has been disabled, and prompts them to toggle a switch to enable it again. Users who do so are redirected to the Android Accessibility settings page, where the malware overlays a fake “Saving Battery” option.

If the fake option is toggled, the malware’s effectively granted permission to monitor actions, retrieve window content, and turn on device features at will. It will contact a remote server, sending the compromised device’s details and initiating the download of more apps, adware, and even spyware.

The damage can be difficult to undo. A false device lock screen prevents users from uninstalling the app. And even if it’s bypassed, removing the trojan from the Settings menu doesn’t remove any apps it installed surreptitiously.

More: Your Android might be controlled by a malicious Twitter account

Lukas Stefanko, an ESET malware researcher, told Neowin the best way to remove the trojan is to use a mobile security solution.

The best way to protect yourself is to avoid downloading and installing suspicious files from the internet. The malware’s references to Flash Player should be a tip off, too — Adobe discontinued support for the plugin on Android as a result of stability and security concerns.

The malware’s far from the first of its kind. “Gooligan,” an app which which can steal your Gmail account and authentication information, install apps from the Google Play store, rate them without consent, and install adware, infected more than one million devices last year. Another, “Humingbad,” which fraudulently injects third-party ads into applications, was detected on as many as ten million devices in July 2016.

More: Google’s virus-scanning Verify Apps feature for Android reveals its secrets

Luckily, Google’s taking charge. At the recent RSA security conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, the search giant announced that Verify Apps, an Android security feature which automatically scans devices for viruses and malware, checked more than 750 million Android devices each day last year. And Google said it’s working with 351 wireless carriers to improve the time it takes to test security patches before deploying them to users.

17
Feb

Kodak follows the Ektra with a tablet thanks to new license agreement


Why it matters to you

Just because something has the Kodak name on it doesn’t mean it was actually designed by the historic camera company, and its new tablet is no exception.

After introducing a smartphone at the end of 2016, Kodak’s next venture will be into tablets — sort of. On Thursday, February 16, the Eastman Kodak Company announced that it would license the Kodak name to Archos, a European company, for tablets.

The company has licensed its brand name to several different products since filing for bankruptcy back in 2012. The Kodak Ektra smartphone, for example, is designed and manufactured by the Bullitt Group. By licensing their brand name, the company puts its stamp on products that may not have otherwise come to light, or at least not with the trusted Kodak name on it.

More:  Want more gigs? Kodak’s new online, on-demand photography platform could help

The upcoming tablet is expected to use an 8-megapixel camera and 3G for sharing those photos. The Kodak-branded tablet will also come preloaded with several photo and video apps. The tablet will use a “chic design with the latest technologies,” the company says.

While specific details were limited with the new brand license announcement, Archos expects to bring the tablet to market before this summer.

”We are excited to be adding Archos to our portfolio of brand licensees,” said Brian Cruz, vice president and general manager of Kodak’s Consumer Products Group. “Archos has a strong track record in the computer tablet sector. The French brand was the first to introduce a Google Android tablet in 2009 and is recognized as a key player in the European tablet market with broad retail presence.”

Kodak’s range of branded products that don’t actually come from the company ranges from printers to camera accessories, flashlights to eyeglass lenses. According to its website, each product Kodak licenses from other companies is vetted to adhere to Kodak’s standards even though they don’t come from the company’s development team.

Kodak says the brand license is for the European tablet market. It’s unclear if the branded tablet will also make it’s way outside of Europe.

17
Feb

Build a smartphone ring light with a 3D printer and $60 in parts


Why it matters to you

If you like to get a hands-on look at how gadgets work, this smartphone ring light offers some insight if you have some extreme DIY skills.

Ring lights offer nice, even lighting with minimal shadows — and now you can design one for your smartphone. That is, if you have a 3D printer and some mad DIY skills.

The project comes from Adafruit, a company that designs electronics specifically for learning — and for crafting DIY rigs like the ring light. The light will cost around $60 in parts, excluding the cost of a 3D printer and materials.

More: 3D-printed miniature camera sees the world the way a bird of prey does

The project uses RGBW LED lights, which produce more accurate colors without needing to custom set a white balance. Unlike inexpensive selfie ring lights on the market, this DIY surrounds the entire smartphone and uses a tripod mount for hands-free shooting.

The Neopixel Ring Light isn’t a use-a-milk-carton-as-a-flash-diffuser sort of DIY — it involves soldering, electrical circuits, and minor coding. Like other Adafruit projects, it’s designed both as a learning experience and to produce a usable gadget.

The light uses two different types of Neopixel kits. That lighting is connected to an Adafruit Trinket micro controller. The unit is powered by a lithium battery that slides into a lipo backpack, also an Adafruit Trinket.

The circuits, batteries, and lights are all wired into a frame that’s 3D printed. The print file is designed for the latest iPhones, but adjusting the print file could adapt the light to other models, since the smartphone simply snaps into the printed base once everything’s wired up. The base is designed to snap the smartphone in “screen out,” so the light is for the front-facing camera, not the rear one. The files take about five hours to 3D print.

With the parts in and the mount printed, the DIY takes some soldering, wiring, and a good old-fashioned screwdriver to put it all together. A standard-size tripod ring mount on the back allows you to use that light for hands-free selfies, videos, and other shots.

17
Feb

Build a smartphone ring light with a 3D printer and $60 in parts


Why it matters to you

If you like to get a hands-on look at how gadgets work, this smartphone ring light offers some insight if you have some extreme DIY skills.

Ring lights offer nice, even lighting with minimal shadows — and now you can design one for your smartphone. That is, if you have a 3D printer and some mad DIY skills.

The project comes from Adafruit, a company that designs electronics specifically for learning — and for crafting DIY rigs like the ring light. The light will cost around $60 in parts, excluding the cost of a 3D printer and materials.

More: 3D-printed miniature camera sees the world the way a bird of prey does

The project uses RGBW LED lights, which produce more accurate colors without needing to custom set a white balance. Unlike inexpensive selfie ring lights on the market, this DIY surrounds the entire smartphone and uses a tripod mount for hands-free shooting.

The Neopixel Ring Light isn’t a use-a-milk-carton-as-a-flash-diffuser sort of DIY — it involves soldering, electrical circuits, and minor coding. Like other Adafruit projects, it’s designed both as a learning experience and to produce a usable gadget.

The light uses two different types of Neopixel kits. That lighting is connected to an Adafruit Trinket micro controller. The unit is powered by a lithium battery that slides into a lipo backpack, also an Adafruit Trinket.

The circuits, batteries, and lights are all wired into a frame that’s 3D printed. The print file is designed for the latest iPhones, but adjusting the print file could adapt the light to other models, since the smartphone simply snaps into the printed base once everything’s wired up. The base is designed to snap the smartphone in “screen out,” so the light is for the front-facing camera, not the rear one. The files take about five hours to 3D print.

With the parts in and the mount printed, the DIY takes some soldering, wiring, and a good old-fashioned screwdriver to put it all together. A standard-size tripod ring mount on the back allows you to use that light for hands-free selfies, videos, and other shots.

17
Feb

U.K. hospital uses 360-degree video to reassure kids ahead of MRI scans


Why it matters to you

Virtual reality and 360-degree video are often used for entertainment, but projects like this one further demonstrate how experiential tech can be used to help people.

Virtual reality and 360-degree video can allow people to experience things that would be otherwise impossible, like getting an up-close view of the Super Bowl, or exploring a floating village. However, these technologies can also be used to give people a preview of something they’re going to experience in real life, as evidenced by a project being implemented at King’s College Hospital in London, England.

MRI physicist Jonathan Ashmore observed that children who needed to undergo an MRI scan were often very anxious about the process. When he received a 360-degree camera as a gift, he decided to give patients a way to become familiar with the procedure before doing it for real.

More: You won’t watch a live NFL game in VR this year. Here’s why

Ashmore put the camera inside the scanner to gather footage, before collaborating with Jerome Di Pietro to turn his work into an app. Now, anyone that’s preparing for an appointment with an MRI scanner can use a VR headset or a mobile device to preview the experience.

The app helps children prepare themselves to keep completely still for the duration of the procedure, which is required for a successful scan. It also helps familiarize them with the loud tapping noises caused by the electric current in the machine’s scanner coils being turned on and off, which often upset younger patients.

“I was really worried before my first scan because I didn’t know what to expect, even though my dad explained I couldn’t imagine what it would be like,” said Matthew Down, a 10-year-old who trialed the app. “I think that the app is really helpful as it shows you what to expect and it really feels like you are inside the machine.”

The My MRI at King’s app is available now from the Google Play Store for Android devices, and will soon be available on iOS devices via the App Store.

17
Feb

USB Killer V3 now comes with even more power and an ‘anonymous edition’


Why it matters to you

USB Killer is back with an even more dangerous version. All the more reason to be skeptical of mysterious USBs.

USB Killer, the USB stick that scorches your device with a lethal dose of voltage that renders it useless, has just become even more treacherous.

The new third iteration of the dastardly hardware, USB Killer V3, claims to be 1.5 times more powerful with twice as much surge power as its predecessor, sending 8 to 12 surges into a device once it is plugged in. The USB Killer charges its capacitors from the USB power lines at a super-fast pace sending 200-plus volts through a computer or phone.

More: Watch what you connect! ‘USB Killer’ fries almost anything it’s plugged into

And it gets better or worse, depending on your perspective, as the maker is also selling adaptors for connecting to USB-C, Lightning, and MicroUSB ports. To make it even sneakier, the Hong Kong company behind the device is selling an “anonymous edition” that comes without the logo or any branding so it just looks like any old USB.

USB Killer, which has FFC and European approvals for retailing, is advertised as a testing device and costs about $50. The approvals essentially mean that the device is safe for human handling and won’t electrocute anyone. In other words, the actual use cases of the USB Killer haven’t been approved or endorsed by any authority.

The makers added that they have come across copy devices being sold by other vendors that “should be considered as dangerous to the user.”

The company goes on to warn users against anyone tinkering with the device and trying to take it apart.

Things can get a little shady with USB Killer. The company is marketing it as a testing device and there are legitimate use cases for that. However if anyone can buy the USB, then anyone can put it to any use. The availability of an “anonymous edition” makes things look even more suspicious; why would a testing device need to be disguised?

Either way the company is avoiding any responsibility. “Willful destruction of third-party material with this device is illegal and not condoned by USBKill.com,” it says on its website.

17
Feb

Need a new computer? Acer Aspire E5-575-33BM laptop just $350 on Amazon


Acer is a well-known manufacturer of computer hardware and has made an especially big mark on the budget laptop market, proving that you don’t need to break the bank when you’re shopping for a new PC. One popular and well-reviewed model is the Acer Aspire E5-575-33BM laptop, which is now available for $350 with free shipping from Amazon.

Acer Aspire E5-575-33BM laptopThe Acer Aspire E5-575-33BM laptop runs on Intel’s seventh-generation Core i3-7100U processor which boasts a 2.4GHz clock speed. This dual-core CPU works together with the integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 GPU and 4GB of DDR4 RAM (expandable up to 32GB), and the 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 LED display features Acer ColorBlast and ExaColor for a vibrant picture while gaming or watching videos. Acer BluelightShield automatically filters any harsh light emanating from the screen during extended periods of use, preventing eye-strain and helping you to wind down in the evening hours.

More: Carry your devices with ease with the Ecosusi vintage-look laptop bag (51 percent off)

The computer comes equipped with a 5,400rpm SATA hard drive which gives you 1TB of internal storage. Four USB ports include one USB 2.0, one USB-C 3.1, and two USB 3.0 for peripheral connections. The laptop also features an 8x M-DISC enabled DVD drive and an SD card slot. A VGA and HDMI port provide video output while two built-in stereo speakers and a 3.5mm audio jack deliver crisp, clear audio via Acer TrueHarmony technology.

A six-cell lithium ion battery offers up to 12 hours of energy, giving you enough juice for a day’s work on a single charge. The 802.11ac Wi-Fi card provides dual band wireless and the laptop is Bluetooth-capable as well. The wireless card also supports MU-MIMO, optimizing your connection for faster speeds and fewer drops when multitasking or performing bandwidth-heavy jobs like online gaming and streaming.

The Acer Aspire E5-575-33BM laptop comes with Windows 10 Home pre-installed and is a solid general-use personal computer for work, study, and entertainment. This PC goes for as high as $440 from some retailers, but is currently available from Amazon for just $350.

$350 on Amazon

17
Feb

What did you think of the Pixel’s design? Google wants to know


Why it matters to you

If you’re a Pixel user with something to say, Google is taking your praises and criticisms to heart as it prepares the next iteration of its Android flagship.

The Pixel marked the beginning of a new era for Google as a smartphone manufacturer in the very same right as Apple and Samsung. Now, the company is hoping to gain feedback from that experience, as indicated in a post by Pixel Product Lead Krishna Kumar on Google’s own user community site.

Kumar took to Google’s forums Thursday to ask customers what they liked and didn’t like about the design of its first handset. The criticisms mostly struck upon the same notes, with many users requesting water resistance, front-facing speakers, and thinner bezels.

More: Common Google Pixel problems and the solutions to deal with them

“Missing waterproof is … way behind the times,” one person responded, while another added “knowing my phone can survive a little water is reason enough for me to want this in a phone.”

The iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 lines both sport water resistance — the iPhone with an IP67 rating, allowing it to withstand being submerged in water for up to 30 minutes at 1M depth, and the Galaxy with an IP68 rating, good for the same length of time at 1.5M depth. The Pixel’s lack of protection against splashes and swims was seen as one of the phone’s major disadvantages compared to its two most significant rivals.

Still, many users praised the premium look and feel of the device. Though some noted similarities to the iPhone’s design at the front — a point we made in our review last year — the build quality and wedged form factor were considered some of the Pixel’s greatest strengths. Google’s phone is slightly thicker at the top than the bottom to accommodate space for the camera sensor, and several responders remarked that the trade-off was a smart way to eliminate a potential lens bump.

Unsurprisingly, some sidestepped Kumar’s question about design altogether and complained that the greatest problem facing the Pixel was lack of availability. Many configurations are still listed as out of stock on the Google Store more than three months since the device’s launch — especially those with 128GB of storage. The limited release of the “really blue” color, along with its restriction to 32GB models only, was also brought up as disappointing on several occasions.

As Google reflects on the execution of its first smartphone, feedback like this will be instrumental in the development of the Pixel’s successor. It’s encouraging to see Google reach out to the community in a direct way, and if the most frequent complaints relate to a supply shortage, that shines pretty positively on the company’s design prowess.

17
Feb

Google effectively ends support for Android 2.3 Gingerbread


Why it matters to you

With the release of the new Google Play Services, devices running Android 2.3 Gingerbread are unlikely to receive updates.

It’s the death knell for a deprecated operating system. On Friday, Gingerbread, version 2.3 of Google’s mobile platform, is no longer officially supported.

That’s due to a previously announced update to Google Play Services, the core Android component that synchronizes contacts, keeps privacy settings up to date, drives lower-powered location-based services, and provides third-party apps with invaluable resources. Google Play Services 10.2.0 drops support for API level 9, the most recent development resource library supported by Android Gingerbread. The new minimum API — level 14 — was introduced in 2011 alongside Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

More: Big day for Android 7.0: Nougat finally cracks 1 percent of Android devices

That doesn’t mean Gingerbread devices — or apps that have already been installed — will suddenly stop working. Rather, they’re likely to see fewer updates as developers migrate to newer devices and versions of Android — going forward, apps will still have access to Google Play Service’s older libraries, but those updated to 10.2.0 and newer will lose Gingerbread compatibility.

Gingerbread wasn’t the only version of Android to receive the ax. Honeycomb, the first tablet-optimized version of Android (3.0), will lose support, too.

More: When is your phone getting Android 7.0 Nougat? We asked every major phone manufacturer

That’s not exactly cause for worry — Gingerbread is far from ubiquitous. It represents about 1.3 percent of Android users, as of Google’s last usage report. Honeycomb’s share is an estimated 0.1 percent. And Google says it believes “that many of these old devices are not actively being used.

In fact, Android version 6.0 Marshmallow represents the vast majority of users, with a 30.7 percent share of the market. Android 5.1 Lollipop has the second-largest slice with 23.1 percent, and Android 4.4 KitKat takes third place with 21.9 percent.

More: Get the most out of Android 7.0 Nougat with these tips and tricks

In other news, Google Play Services 10.2.0 brings welcome additions to Android’s growing feature roster. Developers using Google Fit, Google’s eponymous workout platform, can now monitor health data like blood pressure, blood glucose, oxygen saturation, body position, body temperature, and reproductive health data. Games on Google’s cloud-powered gaming platform, meanwhile, can now tap a more efficient method to sign users in. And there’s an improvement to Ads tools, including support for video assets.

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