Category Archives: Mobile phones

Texting May Work When Everything Else Fails

Our recent experience with hurricane Irma confirms the wisdom of not putting all of your communication eggs in one basket. The storm interrupted communications for hours and days. Immediately afterward, my phone had a good wireless RF connection to T-Mobile’s cell site, but no IP (Internet Protocol) connection. Text messaging using SMS (Short Message Service) worked fine. (SMS is a telephone — not Internet — protocol. It uses the telephone industry’s venerable Signaling System 7 to transport its messages.)

On the other hand, messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and SnapChat rely upon IP to transport their messages. Without an IP connection, these messaging apps wouldn’t have worked. The plain Jane texting program that’s built into my Android 5 phone doesn’t need IP. SMS originally used GSM for message transport. Now it also uses LTE, CDMA, etc.

T-Mobile provided SMS and voice calling service for days after the storm, before they restored my IP connectivity. They said that about 700 cell sites in Dade and Broward counties had been degraded by hurricane Irma. 

Caveat: SMS isn’t secure, as its transport mechanism, Signaling System 7, lacks an authentication protocol. 

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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.

Live Music Streaming Via Periscope 

I’ve been using the Periscope app on my Android phone to stream live music from Fort Lauderdale. Music genres include solo guitar, rock, reggae, and Cuban. 

South Florida has always been blessed with hordes of great musicians. These “scopes” contain some of them.

You can browse through my “scopes” by clicking www.pscp.tv/therussbellew.

What’s Periscope?
Periscope is a live streaming video app. There are both IOS (Apple iPhone) and Android versions, which can both broadcast and view video streams. Since Periscope is owned by Twitter, you may use your Twitter account to begin broadcasting your own scopes. Also, Periscope streams may be viewed within any web browser by going to www.periscope.tv.

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.

 

Dropbox Uploads (Needlessly?) Consume Available Space On Phones

I notice that the Android Dropbox app, when uploading a file to the Dropbox server, first copies the source file to a cached file in a hidden folder on your phone’s system storage. Then it uploads the cached file to the Dropbox server.

Why? I don’t know for certain. Maybe the app developers wanted to ensure that the source file isn’t altered or deleted during the upload process. First caching the file is a conservative tactic. 

So what?

The cached file consumes precious system storage space on your phone. On my phone with 8 GB system storage, this is significant.

Regain lost storage space

To regain that space, delete the Dropbox cache. You can do this from within either the Dropbox app or Android’s settings (Applications, Application Manager, scroll down to Dropbox and press the Clear Cache button).

Dropbox explains that Dropbox’s cache folder is hidden.

It would be nice if the Android Dropbox app allowed the user to choose whether the Dropbox app first cached the file before uploading it. Oh well, no app is perfect.

Speed Up Twitter On Android 

I’ve been using Twitter on my Android phone and noticed that over a period of days or weeks it slows to a crawl. A simple way to kick Twitter back into high gear is to exit Twitter and just delete all of its data, and then restart Twitter.

On my Android 5 phone, I go to Settings, Applications, Application Manager, and scroll down to Twitter, then press the Clear Data button. You’ll be asked to confirm. Click CLEAR – you do wish to clear all data.

Exit Settings and Restart Twitter. It should find your profile(s) and download your tweets. Now it should be faster.

Try this at your own risk. It works for me, but your mileage may vary.

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.

New Samsung SM-G360T phone

My trusty Samsung SGH-T399 phone began to flake out last week. First it insisted that a number of apps needed to be reinstalled, then some apps lost their data. These sound like memory failures. Within a few days, the phone refused to re-start.

samsung galaxy core prime
Samsung SM-G360T

I replaced it with a low-cost Samsung SM-G360T, for $140 from the local T-mobile store. T-mobile calls it a GALAXY CORE Prime™. It’s small (4.5 inch screen), includes LTE, a quad core CPU, 8 GB of memory, 5 megapixel camera, replaceable battery, and a slot for a micro SD card up to 200GB. To keep costs low, Samsung seems to have deleted the magnetic sensor, the automatic screen illumination control, and lighted “back” buttons. I can live without these niceties.

The phone includes Android 5.1.1, which in most respects is an improvement over my old SGH-T399’s Android 4.

I notice on T-Mobile’s website that they’re now discounting this phone for $99. I recommend it, if your needs are similar to mine.  At that price, I may buy a second SM-G360T, as a backup phone.

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

A big voice for little phones

I love my little Samsung SGH-T399 Galaxy Light phone. One disadvantage of its small size is that its tiny speaker produces a tiny sound.

Etekcity Roverbeats T30 wireless mobile speaker

The Etekcity Roverbeats T30 wireless mobile speaker solves that problem. It gives my diminutive phone a big sound, yet is small enough (about two cubic inches) so that when I’m at home I carry it with my phone from room to room.

It runs on battery power for hours, but you must provide a battery charger with a mini USB connector.

Its only problem is that occasionally it disconnects its Bluetooth connection. This suggests that it needs to be reset, but there is no reset switch. I’m not convinced that turning off its on/off switch actually resets its CPU. Nevertheless, leaving the T3 off for hours does seem to restore its willingness to remain connected.

With that one connection caveat, I recommend this neat little speaker . . . and it costs only about twenty dollars.

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

Cel-Fi LTE signal booster

T-mobile works fine for me, except in my house. I think that the nearest T-mobile cell site is about a half-mile away, but the signal path is filled with old growth (signal absorbent) trees. I can’t use my cell phone on the ground floor, and it’s usable in only a few spots on the second floor.

Neither T-mobile’s tech support people nor its store personnel have helped. I read that T-mobile is now providing “signal boosters” to customers with weak signals in their homes. Apparently AT&T and other carriers offer similar systems.

CelFi LTE booster from T-mobileOn Friday, I fetched a new T-mobile “Personal CellSpot 4G LTE Signal Booster” from the T-mobile store, after paying a $25 deposit.

My booster is the “Cel-Fi” model RS3 or DUO, manufactured by San Diego-based Nextivity. It consists of two small boxes — the window unit and the coverage unit — and their wall wart power supplies. The window unit receives T-mobile’s LTE or HSPA signal (presumably at 1700 MHz), demodulates it, and transports the data via a 5 GHz unlicensed UNI link to the coverage unit. I placed the window unit on the second floor and the coverage unit on the ground floor.

cel-fi system schematic in house

What is its theory of operation?

Apparently the system is essentially a repeater. I have no idea how completely it demodulates the tower’s signal before creating the in-house signal. Is the in-house signal that’s transmitted by the coverage unit on the same frequency as the tower’s signal that’s received by the window unit? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Nextivity merely states that the coverage unit “cleans up” (whatever that means) the signal. Neither unit has any user interface other than some front panel LEDs.

Does it work?

Placement of both units is critical. I needed about an hour to get the system working throughout my house. Without field strength measurement instruments, I relied upon the limited information that’s provided by the units’ front panel LEDs. It works.

I’ve found almost no technical information about this system except a bit in a thread on Howardforums and a press release regarding Nextivity’s use of 1/4 and 1/2 Watt output power amplifiers in this product. If you have technical information — especially antenna radiation patterns — on this product, please let us know.

What if it quits working?

Occasionally (maybe once a week) the received signal from the Coverage Unit drops to one bar and/or my phone reverts to a slow EDGE connection. I’ve found that resetting the Cel-Fi system restores signal strength and LTE speeds at my phone. Follow these steps, in sequence:

  1. Remove power to the Coverage Unit
  2. Remove power to the Window Unit
  3. Wait 30 seconds
  4. Restore power to the Window Unit
  5. Restore power to the Coverage Unit
  6. Wait a few minutes while the two units establish a good wireless link and the Coverage Unit adjusts its output level

You should eventually see a full 5 bars received signal strength at the phone.

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