Category Archives: Cell phones

Non-Replaceable Phone Batteries Make No Sense

My recent experience with hurricane Irma confirms my scepticism of cell phones whose batteries aren’t user-replaceable.

Most of the newest phones, in an effort to make them thin, use batteries that can’t be quickly replaced. Apple began this sorry trend and Samsung followed suit.

Even in good weather, I’m often away for 14 to 16 hours, during which I use my phone. When its battery dies, I pop in a freshly charged battery and keep working.

Apple wants us to think that eliminating the replaceable battery is a step forward. Actually, it’s a step backward.

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Stop annoying pop ups on your phone’s web browser(s)

When using my Android phone, I’ve become reluctant to click on links to unknown webpages because many — maybe most — of them contain obnoxious pop ups. I’ve stopped this by disabling Javascript in my phone’s web browsers(s). Each browser is different, but in general go to the Settings for your web browser and turn off Javascript. This will work on both Android and IOS (Apple iPhone) phones. 

Most browsers will allow exceptions to this Javascript off rule. Your webmail hosting service, bank, etc. probably require Javascript. Add these sites to your browser’s list of sites on which Javascript may execute.

I know — it’s inconvenient to configure, but you’ll be glad that you did, when you’re no longer bothered by those awful pop-ups.

 

ES File Explorer devolves into junkware

I’ve become fond of — maybe addicted to — ES File Explorer on my Android phones. It allows me to quickly manage folders, files, drive space, etc. I wrote a gushing article about it in early 2014. However, the latest version (v 4.5) is a mess. Apparently the company changed ownership last year, and we now see the new owners’ values. It’s an old story in computer software: the original developer carefully perfects his baby ’til he sells it, then the new (often clueless) owner tries to cash in and ruins the product.

I’ve stored earlier versions of ES File Explorer apk files that you may download and install:

  • Version 3.2.5.5 is a rock solid release of ES File Explorer from early 2015. It’s my favorite version. Its older user interface requires fewer keystrokes than the newer user interface.
  • If you’d like, you can try the newer version 4.05. It has a new user interface, but hasn’t yet devolved to the awful state of version 4.5.

To install either of these apks, you’ll need to go to your device’s Settings / Security screen and temporarily allow installation of applications from unknown sources.

T-mobile updated my SGH-T399 phone

(Originally published December 9, 2015) Last week,  without warning,  my Samsung SGH-T399 Galaxy Light phone from T-mobile began to download and update its system software to version T399UVUAOH2. Stagefright Detector now reports that my phone is no longer vulnerable to the Stagefright virus.

My phone’s About screen reports that its Android operating system remains at version 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), but its kernel is now dated August 25, 2015 (Korean standard time).

t-mobile stagefright 480w

  • Tip: If your Android phone is vulnerable to the Stagefright virus, you can reduce (but not eliminate) its vulnerability by, within the Messaging app, turning off the Auto retrieve setting. The Stagefright virus arrives within an SMS (short message service) multimedia message, so if your phone is vulnerable, you do not want to download these messages.

Update, February 27, 2016: T-Mobile again updated my T-399 phone. It still reports Android version 4.2.2, but now reports baseband version T399UVUAPA1 and is dated January 4th, 2016, 20:32, Korean Standard Time. According to T-Mobile’s note that accompanied the update, it improves voice over LTE (VoLTE) and unspecified security features.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

 

 

Farook’s iPhone

Are you confused by the FBI vs Apple dispute regarding Syed Farook’s iPhone? I am.

In an excellent article published today, Cnet neatly summarized the delicate position in which Apple finds itself, following the issuance of a court order that compels Apple to help authorities unlock the iPhone 5c that was used by Islamic terrorist and mass murderer Syed Farook.

The nugget that surprises me is that the FBI appears to be preparing a brute force attack on this iPhone’s 256-bit AES encryption. This is a daunting task. To brute-force attack encrypted data that’s encrypted with AES-256, you need to try each of 2256 or 116,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 possibilities.  That’s more than the number of atoms in the universe.

If Farook chose a strong passphrase, it could require thousands of years for most computers to decrypt his data. It appears that the FBI has serious horsepower to throw at this task.

Restore phone orientation sensing

Last week, my Samsung Galaxy Light SGH-T399 phone with Android 4.2.2 stopped responding to orientation changes. When I rotated the phone from vertical (“portrait”) to horizontal (“landscape”), the display no longer rotated accordingly. In vain I clicked on the Screen rotation button.

sensor test screens markedupI feared that I’d physically broken the orientation sensor when I dropped the phone the previous day.  I loaded a rotation app, but found that it was a pain to use.  Eventually I discovered (thanks, Google) that by typing an odd sequence of keys, I could peek beneath the operating system and directly examine the data streams from the sensors. When I did this, the phone’s screen rotation function returned.

Here’s how:

  • Run the phone app, which displays the dial screen.
  • In sequence, press the *#0*# buttons on the dial screen.
  • A hardware test screen with 14 buttons should appear.
  • Tap the Sensor button
  • You’ll see the numeric outputs of the Accelerometer, Proximity, and Magnetic sensors
  • Press the IMAGE TEST and Graph buttons for the Accelerometer. The displays should respond to movement of the phone.
  • Cross your fingers
  • Restart phone

That did the trick for me. Your mileage may vary.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Listen to podcasts on your smartphone

I just realized that I’ve not described how I listen to podcasts, recorded audio, and live radio broadcasts on my phone.

Prehistory

Winamp website
Winamp for Windows Screenshot

My first streaming audio experience was in 2000 with the Windows-based MP3 player program called Winamp. Its Shoutcast network of streaming sites is built upon the traditional broadcast model: content on each channel is delivered in a continuous stream. A listener may not demand or replay any content. There are (or were) thousands of Shoutcast channels. I still occasionally listen to Shoutcast streams on my phone using Winamp for Android (which may no longer be available). I wrote an article or two about Winamp’s latter day rough sledding.

Content on demand

I began listening to both live and pre-recorded audio with an older version of TuneIn. Its creator sold TuneIn to a company that has ruined it with too many ads and unnecessary “features”. I’ve stored an early version for Android. This older version is much better than the new version that’s available in the Android Play Store. If you have an Android device, feel free to download and install my version.

RSS Podcast iconWhen Tunein began to degrade, I turned to Podcast Addict on my Android phone. It’s very flexible, and its many options can intimidate a first-time user. Have patience. Its power is worth climbing the learning curve. I now use Podcast Addict for most of my phone-based audio listening.

  • Tip: If one of these programs responds slowly, go to Android Settings, More, Application management. Select the sluggish program. Press the Force stop button. Press the Clear Cache button. Restart the program.

Apple iPhone or iPad?

I recommend all three of these programs for Android. If you have an Apple (IOS) device, you may find better alternatives. I see on alternativeto.net that Apple supplies its own podcast program.

Tune in, turn on, and drop out in.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Listen to articles on your Android phone

When you want to read an article but don’t have time to sit down and read every word, have your phone’s @Voice Aloud Reader text-to-voice app read the article aloud to you.

@Voice app iconFirst, display the article on your phone (probably in a web browser). Press the Share button or icon, and choose the @Voice Aloud Reader. Allow a few seconds for the @Voice Aloud Reader app to start, load the article’s text, and begin reading.

On my Android 4.2.2 phone, the female voice is remarkably clear. It tends toward a monotone, and occasionally messes up (especially abbreviations), but is quite listenable. Within the @Voice Aloud Reader app, you can pause, rewind, etc., the reader.

Just plug in your earbuds, start up the @Voice Aloud Reader, and go!

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

How mobile phones reveal your location

Obviously, when your phone’s GPS receiver is on, your location within 30 feet or so is usually available.

Cellular antenna system on monopole
photo Steve Kazella

There’s another way that remotes, your cellular service provider, 9-1-1 call centers [also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs)], and law enforcement can determine your phone’s location, even when your GPS is off, or even if your plain-Jane flip-phone has no GPS receiver. It’s called Uplink-Time Difference of Arrival U-TDOA). Here’s a brief simplified video description. Each cell tower has an antenna array with three or four 90 or 120 degree (when viewed from above) antenna sectors. Each tower knows, by comparing your phone’s received signal strength in each sector, which sector your phone is in. By measuring the propagation time for a “ping” to travel between the tower, your phone, and back again, it also knows the range to your phone. In a populated area your phone is likely to be talking with more than one tower, so all that’s needed is to know the bearing and range to your phone relative to two or more towers, and your location can be estimated within maybe a 100 foot radius. (You will be at the intersection of the two or more arcs.)

Even with only one tower talking to your phone, it knows that you are located somewhere along that 90 or 120 degree arc within the sector with the strongest signal. U-TDOA is used in Enhanced 9-1-1 Phase II systems so that first responders may be dispatched to wherever your cell phone is located when you place a 911 call for emergency assistance.

The only way to stop this is to remove the battery from your phone. (Oops. Sorry, iPhone users.) Switching it off won’t stop the communication. Switching it to Airplane Mode will prolly stop it, but there are no guarantees.

Update Here’s a clear explanation of mobile phone positioning techniques.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Restore Android contacts

I drowned my three month old Samsung SGH-T399 Galaxy Light phone. It slipped into my bath water as I was using it in the tub. I quickly rescued it, yanked out its battery, SIM card, and SD card, and tucked it into a nice dry bed of uncooked white rice for the night. In the morning it started normally, but its display flickered and failed after warming up.

Import contacts.vcf screenshotI purchased a replacement SGH-T399 phone and installed my favorite apps on it. My Google Mail contacts were restored,  but the remaining contacts were not restored. By moving quickly,  I was able to go to the Contacts app on the old phone and export them to a contacts.vcf file. Then I used a USB cable to make the old phone a slave to a Windows 7 PC host. I copied the contacts.vcf file to the host PC’s store. (The contacts.vcf file is located in the phone’s /storage/emulated/0/ folder.)

Then I removed the old phone from the USB cable, and replaced it with the new phone. Next I copied the contacts.vcf file from the PC’s store to the /storage/emulated/0/ folder on the new phone,  ran its Contacts app, and imported contacts.vcf. Done!

My new phone now has the contacts from my old phone. Both phones run Android 4.2.2.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Liberate storage on Samsung SGH-T399 phone

I discovered a method of freeing storage space on my Samsung SGH-T399 Android phone. Podcasts had stopped streaming, probably because the phone had run out of free storage space for caching. How could I create free storage space? I learned that the hidden /mnt/sdcard/.face folder had grown to 2.65 gigabytes and contained 67,000 files(!). I gambled that the facial recognition files contained there were nonessential.

I deleted the /mnt/sdcard/.face folder, then created a new empty /mnt/sdcard/.face folder. Suddenly the phone had 2.65 GB of free storage. Yesssss!

I used a terrific Android app, ES File Explorer, to discover this bloated folder, delete it, and create a new empty one. Its SD Card Analyst tool displays folders sorted in descending order by size. The .face folder was at the top of the list.

Note that the folder named sdcard isn’t actually the physical sdcard. For some reason, Samsung’s Android file system calls this phone’s internal storage folder /mnt/sdcard. The physical sdcard is named /mnt/extSdCard.

screenshot by xda-developers

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

OpenSignal app for Android

About a year ago, I wrote an article about my attempts to locate T-mobile’s nearby cell sites. I’m still having difficulty.image I’ve tried several Android apps that measure signal field strength, with varying success. I’ve had the best results with OpenSignal 2.0 (available free from the Android Play Store). This YouTube video is a good introduction to the app.

OpenSignal seems to do a good job of measuring signal strength and data transmission speed. However, its estimates of cell sites’ locations aren’t at all accurate. I think that it relies upon its own database of cell sites’ geographical coordinates — and these data are inaccurate. It’s frustrating, because everything else about OpenSignal works nicely.

Most of OpenSignal’s many features work well. It has the polished feel of a good commercial app. I gather that OpenSignal regularly updates their cell sites location database, so there’s hope. In the meantime, I give it four out of five stars.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Samsung Galaxy Light 4G LTE SGH-T399

My trusty Samsung SGH-T679 phone stopped accepting touch input last Friday. I replaced it with a Samsung Galaxy Light 4G LTE SGH-T399 for T-Mobile phone. Like the T-679, it’s small and lightweight, but it’s much more powerful. T-Mobile is discounting them for $99, unsubsidized. At this low price, I didn’t expect such a great phone.

Samsung SGH-T399The phone’s performance is amazing. Apparently it has a quad-core CPU with separate GPU, 1 gigabyte of RAM, and 8 gigabytes of storage. It includes a slot for an SD card. The phone is fast and smooth. Its operating system is Android 4.2.2, which includes many refinements. Its email client — in fact, everything — allows more tweaking than my old SGH-T679 did.

The radios include LTE (true 4G), 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC (near field communication). Ookla SpeedTest reported 14 Mbps download speed while connected via LTE with a signal strength of about -100 dBm. I’ve seen download speeds of 29 Mbps via LTE with stronger signals.

Here’s a 12 minute video review by a happy SGH-T399 owner. This phone delivers megatons of bang for the buck.

Addendum: Like my old SGH-T679, the SGH-T399 occasionally refuses to accept a battery charge. I’ve found that the same reset procedure works for the SGH-T399.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

I nearly melted down my phone

While listening to a podcast on my Samsung mobile phone via the Tunein app, a pop-up announced, “Charging paused. Battery temperature too low or too high.” The pop-up remained on screen until I unplugged the charger. The battery had only about a 6% charge, so as soon as I unplugged the charger, another pop-up warned that the battery needed to be charged. Catch 22. Room temperature was probably about 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

imageI grabbed a cold pack from the freezer and rested the phone on its icy carcass. The over-temperature warnings ceased while I simultaneously listened to the podcast and charged the phone’s battery.

Decades ago, I helped develop military radio communication hardware. The products needed to pass environmental tests for vibration, shock, high and low ambient temperatures, and humidity — while under continuous full-load conditions. We invested many hours in heat management.

My mobile phone is clearly incapable of passing such tests. It’s intended for intermittent use — what’s known as low duty cycle usage. I’d guess that my phone can handle about a 10 to 15 percent duty cycle at full output.

This is probably as good as we can expect from consumer-grade products. We just need to have frigid cold packs ready if we want more.

My phone: Samsung SGH-T679. T-Mobile Insight II 4G.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A quick fix for Android net connect problems

Airplane Mode screenshotOccasionally my Samsung Insight II phone (SGH-T679 running Android Gingerbread 2.3.6) quits communicating via IP with Internet hosts. Often, a wireless connection to a T-Mobile tower exists but there’s just no IP communication. Also, occasionally my phone insists that it can only establish a (low speed, perhaps 50 kbps) EDGE wireless connection to the tower; it refuses to connect at higher speeds (such as UMTS, HSDPA, or LTE).

A simple fix — short of shutting down and restarting the phone or system troubleshooting — is to temporarily place the phone in Airplane Mode (which shuts down its wireless radio transceivers) and then turn off its Airplane Mode (which starts its wireless radio transceivers). Your phone should connect to the cell site with the strongest signal — which may be different than the site that it was connected to before. Nine times out of ten this works for me.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695