Month: July 2015

Silent Circle’s Blackphone 2 to support Android for Work

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Android for Work will be running on the Silent Circle Blackphone 2 this fall.
Silent Circle

Silent Circle, a small handset maker that builds devices aimed at maximizing privacy, has signed on with Google’s new business-focused Android tool.

Silent Circle’s Blackphone 2 smartphone will support Android for Work, the company announced on Thursday. The feature will allow Blackphone 2 owners to separate personal apps and information on their phone from apps and information used for work, eliminating the need to carry two devices.

The move is part of a broader strategy by Silent Circle to expand its presence in the enterprise, where it believes its privacy-focused devices can have the greatest impact.

The Blackphone 2 was announced in March and will launch in the fall. The device comes with a 64-bit eight-core processor, a 1,920×1,080-pixel 5.5-inch screen protected by Gorilla Glass 3, 3GB of memory, a non-removable quick-charging 3,060mAh battery and expandable storage through a microSD port.

However, like its predecessor, the Blackphone, the device is designed for privacy-seekers who want to keep their information secure. The device runs a Silent Circle-developed version of Google’s Android operating system called Silent OS that encrypts voice and video chats, text messaging and contacts management. A new feature, called Silent Meeting, allows for encrypted conference calls.

At an event in March unveiling the smartphone, Silent Circle said the Blackphone 2 would be especially useful for companies. While individuals will still be able to buy the Blackphone 2, the device will be focused on the corporate world. The move was a logical one for Silent Circle, which acknowledged in March that despite its first handset being designed for privacy-seeking individuals, three-quarters of its sales revenue came from the corporate world.

The partnership with Android for Work is an expansion of Silent Circle’s attempts to appeal to enterprise customers. Unveiled in February, Android for Work is Google’s attempt to get more Android devices into the office. The platform is designed specifically to appeal to a company’s IT department that may have stringent requirements on security and the sharing of data between personal apps and company apps.

Google’s Android for Work creates two user profiles for Android owners — one for their work life and one for their personal life. Those two profiles work together, without requiring people to toggle between the two accounts. Each work-centric app has an orange briefcase badge on the icon, and is labeled “Work Mail” or “Work Chrome,” referring to Google’s Web browser. Google also said that Android for Work would include a new version of its Google Play app marketplace, allowing IT personnel to manage and deploy business apps on all products running its platform.

Silent Circle said in a statement that Google’s platform is an extension of its own desire to create “privacy without compromise.” The company added that Android for Work will run in tandem with Silent OS and its own built-in privacy features.

“It’s a significant step forward in Silent Circle’s development which enables us to deliver privacy and security to a broader enterprise customer base, while meeting their need for the wide-ranging apps and services provided by Google,” Silent Circle CEO Bill Conner said in a statement.

September set for new Parrot mini drone range invasion

Parrot has revealed that Australians can expect to be guiding a new hydrofoil quadcopter hybrid – that uses the aerial drone’s fans to scoot it across the water – sometime in September.

This new addition to the line up will launch alongside upgraded iterations of the existing Jumping Sumo and Rolling Spider mini-drones.

After selling over 600,000 mini-drone units in the nine months since their launch last year, Parrot’s new mini-drone range will expand to 13 products within five new categories: the Jumping Night and the Jumping Race, the Airborne Night and the Airborne Cargo and the Hydrofoil.

The new range features upgrades to engine efficiency and will now include onboard memory allowing you to play with the devices for longer and capture and store photos directly on the drones themselves.

Polly want a cracker?

The Jumping Night and the Jumping Race land-based drones, come with 4GB onboard flash memory, a 0.3 megapixel video and photo compatible dashcam and will cost AU$279.99 and AU$289 respectively.

The quadcopter Night and Cargo models have 1GB of flash storage, but can only take photos using the same forward mounted dashcam and will cost AU$199.99 or AU$149.99 each.

The Hydrofiol quadcopter will retail for AU$239.99 and reaches speeds of up to 10km per hour using a similarly specced airborne drone to power it.

The entire minidrone range will connect to the Android, iOS and Windows smartphone and tablet app FreeFlight 3 and yes … with a built in microphone and speakers, both the new land-based Parrots can now talk.

A candle and some water could keep your phone charged in an emergency

During a disaster, there are few options for charging the electronic devices that are so important to our modern lives. But now there’s one more, courtesy of a company called Stower, and this one depends on very basic elements.

It’s kickstarting a ‘Candle Charger’ that exploits a nifty physics trick to charge any USB-powered device using just fire and water. That trick is the thermoelectric effect – a property of certain semiconductors.

The effect turns a thermal gradient – when one part of the material is hot and the other is cold – into electricity. It’s simple, safe, and has been used widely for more than twenty years in cars, fridges and more.

Smart circuit

The tricky bit comes in converting that electricity into a form your smartphone can handle without blowing it up. That’s where Stower’s innovation comes – creating a “smart circuit” that matches the requirements of whatever’s plugged in.

At the time of writing, the company has raised almost $12,000 of a $30,000 goal with 41 days still to go.

If you’d like to get hold of one (bundled with a six-hour candle), you’ll need to pledge at least $65. Delivery is due in December.

HTC gets a Grip on wearables by delaying its fitness band

Every tech company and its four-legged subsidiary is looking to get in on the wearables hype train, so it was far from surprising when HC announced the HTC Grip back at Mobile World Congress this year.

But today the Taiwanese phone maker has confirmed that the fitness band – which was being created in conjunction with fitness company Under Armour – has been delayed from launch until later on in the year.

According to a statement from HTC, the reason for the delay is not one born of production problems, but a decision based in offering a more complete suite of fitness-related products later in the year.

Getting a grip on the market

“Through our partnership with Under Armour, we have continued to refine our vision and approach to the health and fitness category. Our goal is to offer best-in-class products for our customers and partners,” the statement reads.

“After extensive wear testing and user feedback, we have decided to align GRIP with the entire product portfolio for health and fitness launching later this year. This will be a state-of-the-art comprehensive portfolio of products for this category powered by UA RECORD. We are excited to launch this new comprehensive product suite and will share further details as we get closer to launch.”

Given the wearables market is already pumped full of fitness trackers offering comprehensive data on everything from heart rate to REM sleep, as well as standard steps counted and calories burnt, having a comprehensive product lineup will definitely help HTC compete.

  • If you can’t wait for the HTC Grip, you might want to check out the Jawbone UP3

Fund this: NanoHold suctions your smartphone to nearly any surface

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Look, ma, no hands! NanoHold suctions your phone to any non-porous surface. Selfie-time!
Eoseek LLC

This is going to take a leap of faith, because, well, gravity.

Indeed, if you’ve ever experienced the horror of your smartphone getting bumped from a table or tumbling from your hand, you know that gravity is not your friend.

But Kickstarter project NanoHold aims to help your phone defy that destructive law, without all the usual hassles of mounts or special cases. The campaign is looking to raise a mere $3,000, and as of this writing it’s just past the halfway point.



Eoseek LLC

The NanoHold is a credit-card-size nano-suction pad designed to stick to the (must-be-flat) back of your smartphone and virtually any smooth surface: glass, metal, tile, plastic and pretty much anything else that’s nonporous. It’s removable and repositionable, and it comes with a cover of sorts so you can keep it stuck to your phone full-time.

To my surprise, the pad measures a mere 0.5mm thick, so it’s actually thinner than a credit card. And yet it can hold “hundreds of times” its own weight, according to developer Eoseek LLC.

In fact, the developer says NanaHold works with tablets as well, though you should use “at least two,” and three for heavier tablets.

It’s important to note that the pads aren’t meant for long-term use: “NanoHolds stick temporarily, and like all suction devices, the duration of suction cannot be predicted.” OK, but does that mean it’s good for 60 seconds, enough time to snap a selfie? Or 60 minutes, long enough to cook something while scrolling through an onscreen recipe? That’s what freaks me out a little; I’d constantly worry that my phone (or tablet) was about to detach and hit the floor.

Even if you have similar concerns, it won’t cost you much to put NanoHold to the test: early backers can get a single pad (in black or white) for a mere $5 shipped, with estimated delivery in October. Or pony up $9 for a pair or $14 for a three-pack.

What do you think? Would you trust a suction pad with your smartphone? Like I said: leap of faith.

Presto finally getting HD streams

Presto has a pretty impressive lineup of content on both its TV and Movies service, but since it launched, the service has been stuck in the standard definition past. But that’s all about to change, according to a post on its community forums.

As picked up by Gizmodo, the post announces that the team has been testing HD streams, rolling out 1080p programming in a test phase to the service. This means Presto customers could potentially find some HD programming on their device right now.

According to Presto, “Our plan is to progressively upgrade our content to be available in HD (where possible) and to also upgrade the enablement of HD on the devices and applications which Presto is currently available on – this may take some time, especially for some devices. We want to be sure our HD service is up and running before we start shouting about it!”

Double the data

Of course, all that extra quality doesn’t come without its own cost, in this case significantly increased data consumption.

Presto says that an HD stream will consume about 3GB per hour, compared to 1.5GB per hour for SD, but on the upside, Telstra home broadband and Foxtel Broadband customers will get the increased quality included as unmetered data.

There’s also going to be a boost to include 5.1 sound on HD streams, with Presto confirming there will be an announcement coming in the not too distant future.

Neil Young pulls music from streaming services, says their quality is terrible

If Taylor Swift has the power to make corporate giants change their way with an open letter online, why not folk rocker Neil Young?

The creator of the high-res PonoPlayer has sent a message to fans on his Facebook page announcing that “Streaming has ended for me. I hope this is ok for my fans”, and that he will be removing his catalogue from streaming services immediately.

Young points out that his reasons for doing so are less about the money, and more about the quality of the streams, claiming, “I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution.”

Pono’d

As the creator of the Pono Player, and the FLAC music Ponomusic store, Young’s war on MP3s has been ongoing for a few years now, so it’s hardly a surprise that he would take this stand against the lower quality of services like Apple Music.

Young points out that he’s not against the idea of his music appearing on streaming services at all, should they bring the level of quality he is after to his audience: “For me, It’s about making and distributing music people can really hear and feel. I stand for that.

“When the quality is back, I’ll give it another look. Never say never.”

Currently, Young’s music can still be found on Spotify and Apple Music at least, and it will be interesting to see if his tune changes in regards to Tidal’s high quality option as well.

Apple just released a new iPod touch – in case you still care about iPods

Apple has just updated its lineup of iPods, bringing some hardware improvements to the iPod touch, and some new colours to the entire range.

The new touch gets a camera upgrade from 5MP to 8MP, putting in line with the iPhone 6, as well as a new image processing chip. Burst mode is supported at 10fps, as is slow-motion video capture.

Aside from trying to replace your camera, the new iPod touch gets a flashy new 64-bit A8 chip that will ensure it’s ready for future iOS updates as well as more intensive games.

Old school

Thirdly, Apple is empowering the new iPods with fitness and elevation tracking thanks to the introduction of the M8 motion co-processor.

The new 16GB model arrives at $199 (£159), the 32GB version at $259 (£199) and the 64GB version at $299 (£249). There’s a new 128GB model too, priced at $399 (£329). All will be available in space gray, silver, gold, pink, red, and blue.

But the iPod touch isn’t the only model getting an update; the iPod Shuffle and Nano will now come in gold, space grey, silver, blue, pink and red, though neither are getting any hardware updates.

Stop your gadgets from keeping you awake at night

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Josh Miller/CNET

Have a hard time falling asleep? It might be time to stop falling asleep with your gadgets. Study after study after study has shown that light given off by electronics affects our sleep health.

The consensus is that the blue light that LED screens give off can slow or halt the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals our brain that it’s time for bed.

Without melatonin, we stay awake and alert, keeping us up later than intended. If you really want to get deep on this topic, read up on retinal ganglion cells, the sensors in our eyes that may be to blame for this phenomenon.

The simplest solution is to shy away from your phone or tablet before bed. But what if you can’t give up late-night Netflix sessions on your tablet, or thumbing through Instagram on your phone? Here’s help to stave off some of the negative effects of your screen addiction.

Apps for your weary eyes

Several apps have made it easy to battle the dreaded blue light using a warm red filter that changes the color temperature of your screen.

Flux adapts your device’s screen to the time of day, changing the hue of your screen when the sun sets. The subtle orange-red filter is easier on the eyes and automatically disappears when the sun rises again in the morning. Once you set up Flux, it runs in the background and adjusts based on your location and the time of year. The app is available for free for Windows, Mac, Linux and iOS devices and it’s easy to install.

The only catch is that on iPhones, iPads and iPods, you’ll need to jailbreak your device to use Flux, which can be a tedious and intimidating process that can void your warranty, so proceed with caution.

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Twilight adjusts your screen temperature to block out blue light.
Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Also free, Twilight works a lot like Flux, but it’s built for Android devices. You get a bit more control with the app over the hue and intensity, using sliders in the app to adjust the color from deep red to pale yellow. You can opt for Twilight to stay on at all times, set specific times for it to run or let it work automatically, by coming on and shutting off with the setting and rising of the sun.

Finally, e-book subscription service Oyster recently added a nighttime setting called Lumin to its iOS and Android apps that counteracts blue light. With it turned on, your screen color will adjust over time, going from a soft amber in the early evening to a deeper amber at night. Since many dedicated e-readers don’t have a similar red-hued night mode, Oyster is a good alternative for reading books at night.

Hardware help

Software isn’t the only tool you can use to fight the dreaded blue light. There are a few external products promising to help too.

Though they are hardly fashionable, some research suggests wearing glasses with amber- or orange-colored lenses can block out blue light. These are usually sold as safety goggles and you can pick them up at most hardware stores or online for a couple bucks. They have an added benefit of blocking out blue light from your entire environment, including house lights and your TV.

You can also opt for a screen protector that combats blue light from your screen at all times. There are several options out there, and the highest-rated ones are from Tech Armor for the iPad and iPhone. These work just like other screen protectors, though reviews are mixed on how well they block out blue light.

Shut off and go to sleep

Despite all these efforts, some studies suggest that simply staring at a screen before bed, whether it’s giving off blue light or not, can keep you awake longer. Bright light in our environment can signal our brains to stay alert and we get a direct dose of it by looking at a phone or computer. Do yourself a favor and put down your tablet or phone at least 1 hour before bed — it could help you get a more restful night of sleep.

Commodore returns with an emulator-equipped smartphone

People of a certain age *awkwardly tugs collar* tend to get a little misty-eyed when talking about the great Commodore 64, as it was the machine that helped usher an entire generation into the world of personal computing.

Now, after changing hands several times over the last two decades, Wired is reporting that the Commodore name is back – as an Android-powered smartphone.

The Commodore PET (named after the Commodore’s first full-featured computer from 1977) has a 5.5 inch display, a 1.7GHz octa-core Mediatek processor, a 13-megapixel rear facing camera and a 3000 mAh battery.

Sorry mum, can’t talk – playing LeMans

The PET also comes equipped with two custom emulators that allow us nostalgic-types to revisit our favourite Commodore 64 and Amiga games (I’m coming for you, California Games).

It will be priced at around US$300 (approx. AU$400/£190) for the 16 GB model (which comes with a 32 GB microSD card), though true Commodore fans will want to spend $US360 (approx. AU$485/£230) for the 32 GB version which, when combined with its included additional storage, kind of makes it a Commodore “64” once more…

The phone will initially be available to buy later this month in Italy, France, Poland and Germany, and is expected to be released to the rest of the world in the not-too-distant future.