Tag Archives: smartphones

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.

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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.

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

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

Disguise your smartphone’s phone number.

Burner screenshot on smartphoneWhile watching a Youtube video clip about the recovery of a stolen bicycle, I learned about Burner, a smartphone app that allows a smartphone user to temporarily mask his or her phone number with an alias phone number. It’s available for iPhones, but not yet for Android phones. (originally published on 31 December 2012. 9 July 2014: Burner is now available for Android phones, as well as IOS.)

Theft recovery seems like a perfect use for telephone anonymity. The victim, who’s a Portland, Oregon resident, responded to a Seattle Craigslist for sale ad for what seemed to be his stolen bike. He used Burner to make his phone calls appear to originate in Seattle.

Bike theft is a low-risk occupation. Watch a NYC resident steal bikes in public view.

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

Provide more memory to Android apps

My Android phone arrived with useless apps that were installed by T-Mobile. Some of them load at start time and needlessly consume processor cycles and memory.

I’ve found that I can free up about 60 megabytes of memory shortly after starting up the phone. I run Task Manager by holding down the phone’s Home button. Next I press the Task manager button, followed by the RAM button at the top of the screen.

image
Before
image
After

Next, I press the Clear memory button at the bottom of the screen. This stops at least ten useless apps and frees at least 50 megabytes of memory.

On my Android Gingerbread phone, these extra megabytes of available memory make the difference between long YouTube videos crashing the phone and streaming to completion. YMMV.

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

Manage your Android device’s files

Until recently I used ASTRO File Manager on my Android phone to copy, move, delete, etc files and folders. It did most of what I needed, but could be unbearably slow and resource hungry.

ES File Explorer screenshot imageI now use ES File Explorer. What a terrific program! It’s much quicker than ASTRO and its refined user interface reflects a product that’s been polished by many hours of work. I can quickly tag groups of files and move them to a new folder, even one that doesn’t yet exist. (To access the Move command, first press the Select button and select one or more files which you wish to move from the current folder to a destination folder. Next press the More button in the bottom right corner of the screen. Next choose Move and define the destination folder for the files you’ve selected.)

Versatile

imageES File Explorer includes other useful tricks. It can provide lists of folders sorted by size of folder content. (Within ES File Explorer, click on the globe/phone icon in the upper left corner. A menu should appear. Under Tools, choose SD Card Analyst.)

It can turn your phone into a wi-fi hotspot.

You can find ES File Explorer in the Google Play Store.

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

CTIA’s stolen cellphone blacklist

A stolen smartphone can fetch $200 to $300, so smartphone theft remains a problem. CTIA’s website includes tips on how to deter smartphone thefts.

CTIA logoThe CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) announced in November that it had integrated its stolen cellphone database with similar international databases. A recent Verge article describes the importance of the overseas stolen cellphone market and the controversy that surrounds a built-in “kill switch” for smartphones.

The CTIA insists that its new improved cellphone blacklist will make “kill switches” unnecessary. We’ll see what happens to the market value of stolen phones.

Microsoft, Apple et al as patent trolls

When Nortel (née Northern Telecom) went belly up, its assets went up for auction. Microsoft bought a block of more than 600,000 IP addresses from Nortel for $7.5 million. A consortium comprising Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Sony, and Ericsson was high bidder at $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio. Google bid, but lost to the consortium.

Rockstar logoThat consortium has named itself Rockstar and become a NPE (non-practicing entity – a polite term for “patent troll”). On its website www.ip-rockstar.com, it calls itself “an intellectual property (IP) licensing company”. It has sued Google, Samsung, et al for patent infringement by Google’s Android operating system. The suit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas — the favorite venue for patent trolls.

Android really bugged Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Steve swore,

I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.

The majority of the industry press disagrees with Steve:

Apparently Rockstar consists of a handful of ex-Nortel software people, who’ve spent the last 18 months diligently looking for patent infringements. Rockstar itself has few assets aside from its patents, and is clearly acting as an agent for its principals. The existence of Rockstar seems to allow Microsoft, Apple, et al to disavow knowledge of the dubious dirty work done by patent trolls . . . while still doing the dirty work of patent trolls.

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

I killed my Smartphone’s battery

I’ve had my Samsung SGH-T679 Insight II phone for about 13 months. It’s small, as is its battery. Battery runtime has never been great, but recently it’s been terrible. Last week, the phone turned itself off several times, and it refused to recharge today.

An expanded worn-out Lithium-ion battery and new one (upper-left)
An expanded worn-out Lithium-ion battery and new one (upper-left)

Jenson at the T-Mobile store tested my charger and pronounced it healthy. Kristen at the Batteries Plus store took one look at the battery, whose sides were slightly bulging, and pronounced it dead. She told me that a quick test is to place the battery on its flat side on a tabletop and spin it. If it spins easily, it’s bulging. Bulging sides = Dead battery.

I confess that I’ve left my phone on the charger for hours overnight, long after the battery was fully charged. I’ve also recharged it whenever it fell below 80 percent charge. Kristen explained that although the phone is supposed to have current limiting circuitry, it isn’t perfect. It’s much better to unplug the charger once the battery is fully charged, and to allow the battery to discharge to 20 percent or so before recharging it. I’ll follow her recommendations with my new battery.

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

Google as hardware manufacturer

With today’s introduction of the Motorola Moto X smartphone, Google has hit three consecutive hardware home runs:

  1. Nexus 7 tablet $230
  2. Chromecast video streamer $35
  3. Moto X phone $200 with cellular contract

1

2

3

Nexus 7 smartphone
Nexus 7 tablet

Chromecast video streamer
Chromecast video streamer

Moto X smartphone
Moto X smartphone

All three products set new price / performance benchmarks.

Ten years ago, who would have guessed that Google would not only be manufacturing hardware, but would be setting the pace in hardware? Kudos to Google.

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

Power to the peoples’ cell phones

The Power Matters Alliance (PMA) is a group of companies and government and academic bodies that wish to promote the concept of wireless power delivery to mobile devices. Power Matters Alliance markThe smartphone is a 21st century invention, but the dream of wireless power transmission is at least a century old. My articles Wireless hype existed a hundred years ago, also and Wardenclyffe site to be acquired for proposed Tesla museum touched on this ancient dream. Tesla and Marconi dreamed of long-distance wireless power transmission. The PMA’s goals are more modest: they want you to place your phone on a hot-plate at Starbuck’s, where it will receive power through the miracle of inductive coupling. (Discovered by Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry c 1831, electromagnetic induction is the principle behind transformers and motors.)

As part of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) Industry Connections program, the PMA is fleshing out a suite of standards that provide advanced wireless power – called ‘Power 2.0’

It sounds good, but there’s one pesky law of physics that interferes: The efficiency of inductive coupling is inversely proportional to the distance between the two coils.

Meanwhile, in the world of wired battery chargers . . .
In 2009, all GSM phone manufacturers except Apple agreed on a standard low-voltage DC charger-to-phone interface specification (GSM phones will have a standard battery charger), which was a big step forward.

The PMA has lofty goals:

It is estimated that by 2020 wireless charging could offset the equivalent of 289.4 million metric tons of CO2 and the equivalent of 482 100MW power plants. These savings could amount to a cancellation of the entire embedded energy usage of external power supplies by over 118%, thereby saving the unnecessary disposal of an estimated 4.5 billion transformers and associated toxic components into landfills.

It’s going to be tough to achieve good efficiency. I wish them luck.

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

Dodging raindrops

Wunderground LogoI’ve been riding my bike more and now that the rainy season has arrived, staying dry is often a challenge. Wunderground.com is a fantastic resource: you can display moving real-time radar scans of your neighborhood. At least here in south Florida, these give me a good idea of where it’s raining, and the direction in which the rain is moving. Wunderground has a mobile adaptive interface, so it’s just the ticket to use on my smartphone while cycling! (Of course, I come to a safe stop first, well off the roadway.)

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

Capture Screenshots on Samsung Exhibit II 4G T679 Android phone

I found this useful tip on http://droidtricks.blogspot.com recently: How to Take Screenshot on Samsung Exhibit II 4G T679. It works on my SGH-T679 phone.