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2 months ago

Everything you need to know about SD card speeds and your phone

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When it comes to SD cards, our phones have a need for speed.

An SD card is the only way to get extra storage space inside your phone. If you need an extra 256GB of storage that doesn't need any wires or anything plugged in, you have no other option. But you have to do it right to make the most of it.

The single biggest decision to make when you're buying an SD card is the speed. The form factor is easy (you need a microSD card for your phone) and we all understand that more capacity means we can put more stuff on it. But unless the card you buy is fast enough, none of that matters. Let's see what fast enough really means and how you can tell how fast a card is rated.

A numbers game

Ignore the speed listed on the package because it's not realistic, Ever.

When you get a new SD card you'll see all sorts of claims on the package about the card's read and write speeds. Forget about the actual rating for a moment because you need to know that your phone will never be able to read data from the card or write data to the card as fast as the package says. Most of the time, nothing can meet those speeds in the real world. Consider those numbers the theoretical maximums that happened under perfect conditions while a unicorn was in the lab next to the tester.

Next, you need to know that the write speed is much more important than the read speed and those blurbs that say things like "up to 90MB per second" are talking about the read speed. Like every other thing that's sold, the company making the cards wants to advertise the best features and fastest and biggest everything. But that's OK because you'll know exactly what you want when we're done here!

The speed 'class' rating

All SD cards have a rating that tells us approximately how fast data can be read from an SD card. They are, in order from slowest to fastest:

  • DS (up to 12.5 MB/s)
  • HS (up to 25 MB/s)
  • UHS-I (up to 104 MB/s)
  • UHS-II (up to 312 MB/s
  • UHS-3 (over 312 MB/s)

Don't get excited when you see those speed ratings and think you'll be able to move data at 312MB per second. Remember, those are the laboratory test maximum speeds that a computer program calculated. But those speeds are useful when you see how much faster or slower one type of card is compared to another. And to make things even more confusing there are also speed subclasses, and those are what most people use when they discuss anything to do with SD card performance.

  • DS speed cards are rated (slowest to fastest) 2,4 or 6
  • HS speed cards are rated 10
  • Sometimes UHS cards are abbreviated as U1, U2, and U3

You'll find the speed class of the SD card listed on the packaging and printed on the card itself. Look for a ②, ④, ⑥ or ⑩ printed on DS or HS class cards and the actual rating on a UHS class card. And know that a UHS-3 (I have no idea why Roman Numerals weren't used for 3 when they were for I and II) card is about 30 times faster than a class 2 DS rated card.

Here is where we are going to make things easy for you: Never buy a card slower than class 10 and always buy the fastest one you can afford.

Why your phone wants a fast card

This is simple once you stop overthinking things. The faster you can move data to and from your storage the less time it takes to do it.

A real world example would be copying a 600MB file to your SD card. A class 2 card would take about 200 seconds. A UHS-3 class card would take about 20 seconds to do it. While waiting for files to transfer is a horrible thing we go through from time to time, it matters even more to your phone.

Your phone is a computer. It is programmed to take input from you or through an app and do something cool with it. If you tell it to do something that needs it to copy a 600MB file, it has to wait until the file is copied before it can begin. Since it can't tell jokes or mix the perfect martini, it won't do anything while it is waiting. You can do something else while waiting on your phone, but nothing you can do will make the data move any faster.

While this is general information that's good for the way most of us use an SD card as a place to store media and documents, sometimes you want something even faster.

Running apps and using your camera

Imagine your SD card being used as the install location for an app and the place to store all the data for the app. You just doubled the wait time.

Realistically, you will be fine with a class 10 card most of the time even if you install apps to it. Your phone will store the parts of the app that make it run in its actual RAM so it only needs to load that once. And data created by an app is usually in very small files that can be read almost instantly. But there are apps that are huge, and some of them use many big files from their data resources when they run. You will see longer load times and wait times with something like a really big 3D game even with a UHS-3 card and they are magnified when you use one that's slower.

Your 4K videos will look better when you use a faster SD card.

Last but not least, your camera wants the fastest card available, especially if you take burst photos or shoot 4K video. Your phone camera has what's called a buffer. When you take a picture or video, the images and metadata and sound are all copied to that buffer because it's really fast to put them there. The buffer then writes all that data to the storage, and if you're using an SD card for camera storage those wait times come into play.

You'll be able to take more burst mode photos in sequence and that means less of them will be blurry. The faster the picture can move from the buffer to the card, the more free space is in the buffer for the camera to drop photos into. When that buffer is full, your camera can't do anything.

4K video will just look better with a faster card. 4K video files are gigantic and the data is pulled from the buffer a little differently. Since you're doing something live and in real time, waiting for a buffer to flush isn't an option. The movement from the camera buffer to the SD card is more like streaming video that a direct file copy. When you can't pull data from the buffer fast enough, you get fuzzy video, poor sound, skipped frames or audio and video not synchronizing very well. While 4K video is best when written to the phone's storage, you can get by with a fast UHS class SD card. You can't get by with a slower card.

If you take a lot of pictures or want to run apps from your SD card, buy a class UHS-3 card. Full stop. You will wish you bought a faster card eventually if you don't.

Don't be confused

Numbers and letters and the different ways an SD card can be used can be overwhelming if you're just buying an SD card to use and aren't worried about knowing what they all mean. But all that jazz aside, a few simple rules will make sure you don't buy the wrong thing.

  • Buy a class 10 card or faster every time.
  • If you like to take pictures and video, buy a class UHS-3 card.
  • If you want to install apps on your SD card, buy a class UHS-3 card.

We wish all tech was this easy to sort out.

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2 months ago

Home screen layouts and how to theme them

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Making your home screen look pretty is not a requirement. Putting things on it is.

Even if you don't actively theme your phone, you do actively lay out your home screen. Layouts are the way you arrange the apps and widgets on your home screen. We don't talk about them nearly as much when theming as we should. In fact, I try to avoid specific layouts in my themes so they are more accessible to users of varying tastes. But layouts are important, whether you intend to theme your phone or not.

Some people like their home screen to have as little on it as possible. Some people want everything on the home screen they possibly can squeeze in there. Some people are a little of column A and a little of column B, because we believe that the space on our home screen is meant to be used, but we don't need/want to cover up every inch of it. No matter which camp you fall in, all of us can benefit from seeing the differences and the benefits of each approach.

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2 months ago

How to save your home and work addresses in Google Maps

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Save your home and work addresses to get directions faster.

Google Maps makes it easy for you to save frequently visited addresses such as your home or work locations, allowing you to get directions quickly without having to enter them manually every single time. Doing so also allows you to use voice commands to say, "navigate to home" to get turn-by-turn directions to your house from your current location.

Then there's the ability to explore points of interest near your location. Just ask Maps, "theaters near home" to get a list of theaters in your vicinity. You can also customize the icons for your home and work addresses. Given how simple it is to save your home and work addresses, it should be the first thing you do once you get started with Google Maps.

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2 months ago

Six ways to make the Samsung Galaxy S8 work with Windows 10

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If you're getting a new Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone, these tips and tricks can help make the device work for you alongside your Windows 10 PC.

More than most Android phones, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is quite attractive to Microsoft fans.

The Galaxy S8 has plenty of Microsoft support built right in by way of preloaded apps and the Continuum-like DeX system. Aside from all that, here are some of the ways you'll be able to use your phone and PC in perfect harmony.

Note: This article was originally published on Windows Central.

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2 months ago

Samsung Galaxy S8 'Microsoft Edition:' Everything you need to know

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What exactly is the "Microsoft Edition" of the Samsung Galaxy S8 (GS8)? How is it different than the regular version? And why would you want to buy an Android phone from Microsoft?

Last week, Microsoft quietly (and somewhat curiously) said that it will sell a version of Samsung's new flagship smartphone in its U.S. retail stores. The phone, The GS8 "Microsoft Edition," immediately grabbed online headlines, and in the process created some confusion.

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2 months ago

How to view your location history in Google Maps

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See where you've traveled with Google Maps.

Google Maps has a nifty Timeline feature that lets you browse the places you've visited along with the routes traveled. The feature was overhauled in 2015, and Google has added the ability to collate images you've taken at a particular location, allowing you to get a better overview of your travels.

It certainly comes in handy if you're looking to see all the images you took at a particular location, or if you're trying to get a highlight of your weekly or monthly activity.

How to view your location history in Google Maps

  1. Launch Google Maps.
  2. Tap the more button (three horizontal lines) on the top left corner.
  3. Tap your timeline.
  4. Tap the calendar icon to view a particular day.

  5. Swipe left or right to switch months.
  6. Tap a date to view your location history. You'll see the route traveled, along with the duration and length of the overall journey.

How to disable location tracking

Timeline is certainly a useful feature if you're interested in looking at your previous travel data, but it also comes off as creepy (Google tracks everything). Fortunately, you can easily turn off location tracking in Maps.

  1. Tap the more button (three horizontal lines) on the top left corner.
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. Tap Personal content.

  4. Tap the field that says Location History is on under Location Settings.
  5. Tap the switch next to each device for which you'd like to disable location tracking.

There's also the option to pause tracking for your account as a whole. To do so, toggle Location History to off, and select OK in the dialog box that follows.

That's all there is to it! I like the feature a lot as it gives me a detailed look at where I've been over the course of the month (and how much time I wasted being stuck in traffic). What are your thoughts on the location history feature? Like it? Feel like it's an intrusion of your privacy? Sound off in the comments below.

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2 months ago

How to download and install Android 7.1.2 Nougat on your Nexus or Pixel right now

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How do I get Android 7.1.2 Nougat on your Nexus phone right now?

Android 7.1.2 Nougat is officially available for the Pixel, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player and Pixel C, but your phone may not get the OTA (over-the-air) update for another couple of days.

If you know your way around a command line, you can skip the waiting game by downloading the factory image for your particular device and flashing it on top of your software. But there are some caveats you need to know about when flashing a factory image, so read on to find out what you need to know.

Updated, April 3: Android 7.1.2 is officially available.

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2 months ago

The Galaxy S8 has face recognition and iris scanning, and you have to choose one

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There are two ways to unlock the Galaxy S8 with your face. Here are the differences.

The Galaxy S8 contains more ways than ever to keep your content safely locked behind a password: in addition to the traditional PIN, pattern or password option (cumulatively the most secure), there's fingerprint recognition, iris scanning (which debuted on the Galaxy Note 7) and, oldie-but-goodie, face recognition.

In the beginning...

Back in 2011, Google debuted support for face recognition as an unlock option on select devices. It was available on phones like the Galaxy Nexus, HTC EVO 4G LTE and HTC One X, but eventually manufacturers stopped supporting it because it didn't work very well.

The idea of face recognition is a good one: all phones have a front-facing camera, and all (most) people have unique faces, and phones are computers that can figure out that the person stored in the phone is the same one holding his or her phone in front of the camera. But two things stopped it from gaining popularity: for a long time, front-facing cameras had small, low-quality sensors, making them slow and generally terrible in poor lighting. You need your unlock method to work all the time, not just in particular lighting. The second reason is less obvious: the proliferation of fingerprint sensors made alternative forms of fast-but-relatively-safe unlock methods less necessary.

Then came Smart Lock

When Lollipop debuted in 2015, Google created something called Smart Lock, a service across its major platforms (Android, Chromebooks, and Chrome OS) to make it easier for people to unlock their devices without passwords. On Android, that early and little-used face recognition feature that debuted in 2011 eventually became just another part of Google Play Services alongside on-body detection, trusted voice, trusted places, and trusted devices. But still, even today, very few people use it.

Fingerprint sensors made face unlock less necessary — and way less popular. Until now.

To be fair, Google's implementation hasn't always been very good — in fact, it's still pretty unreliable on most phones — but most people don't even know it's there, buried as it is within Google's Play Services. It's also not included on every device, which makes advertising the feature a hit-and-miss affair. Trusted places — your house, or workplace — uses location, which is more easily detectable, and trusted devices allows a smartwatch or other Bluetooth device to act as a nearby authenticator. Again, super simple. With fingerprint sensors being integrated on most devices, facial recognition just isn't that necessary.

What's old is new(s) again

When the Galaxy Note 7 was released last year, it arrived with a fair amount of buzz surrounding its iris scanner. But because the scanner actually matched the details from the inside of your eye against a stored copy — which is nearly impossible to duplicate or imitate — it worked slowly, and often failed. So Samsung decided to bring back the face scanner in the Galaxy S8, and improve upon Google's implementation in a number of ways.

The Galaxy Note 7's iris scanner failed a lot. But it was still a great idea worth pursuing.

Face scanning works by taking a photo of your whole face, and using the front-facing camera to match specific details to the live photo in front of it. On the Galaxy S8, this works incredibly quickly — far quicker than any other face unlock method, and often more quickly than the fingerprint sensor — for a couple of reasons. First, the Galaxy S8 is just plain fast — its Snapdragon 835 or Exynos 8895 chips have incredibly advanced image signal processors that perform the work in a fraction of the time it took just a few years ago. And the 8MP front-facing camera inside the Galaxy S8, which has autofocus and is therefore much more likely to find a subject lock.

But as you may have seen plastered around the internet, face recognition is not foolproof. Indeed, it's fairly easy to spoof if you have a high-resolution photo of the subject, and some persistence. This isn't to say that opening Facebook and showing a photo of your friend to his phone while he's in the bathroom will unlock it (let's be honest, too, he's bringing that phone with him to the bathroom) but Samsung doesn't recommend you use face unlock if you have sensitive material on the phone.

That said, it's so fast, and much more likely to find a match in low-light situations, a common scenario that Note 7 owners found themselves frustrated by with the iris scanner last year.

Focusing on the iris

Iris scanning is a more secure form of biometric authentication, and is likely more secure than a fingerprint since it is basically impossible to recreate, even using the most advanced methods.

The iris scanner has made a return to the Galaxy S8 after it ignominiously disappeared in the Note 7 last fall. It's also much, much faster than before — which is good, because the damn thing needed it.

Iris scanning on the Galaxy S8 is at least twice as fast as the Note 7, and fails less in low light. In other words, you'll want to use it.

On the Galaxy S8, I've found iris scanning to be very reliable and quite fast most of the time, though not as instantaneous as a fingerprint sensor or face unlock. That said, I've been impressed with its ability to unlock in low light — the iris scanner likely uses a combination of the dedicated infrared sensor and front-facing camera to get a match — which had led to considerably fewer moments of frustration.

I've also noticed that the iris scanner, while it still needs to have your eyes in its sights, doesn't need to be perfectly aligned the way the Note 7's did; I can have my hands close to my chest and tilt the phone up towards me, and as long as my eyes are in the viewfinder it unlocks most of the time. It's still not perfect, and I occasionally find myself having to find the fingerprint sensor to finish the job, but it's rare.

You can only choose one

For safety reasons, you can only choose one method of facial unlocking on the Galaxy S8: face recognition or iris scanning.

  • If you're concerned with security above all else, use the iris scanner.
  • if you're concerned with speed above all else, use the face recognition.

Of course, either of these methods can be combined with the existing fingerprint unlock, which despite being on the back is fairly easy to reach and may end up being faster than either. The main upside to the visage-based methods is that you don't have to poke around on the back of the phone for the fingerprint sensor; you can merely turn on your phone, look at the camera, and go.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

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2 months ago

Understanding 'Assistant' in Google Photos and what it can do for you

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Understanding Assistant in Google Photos

There's lots to wrap your head around in Google Photos, but the new Assistant feature is here to help.

Whether you want to check up on the status of your photo backups, see the Creations that Google Photos has made for you, or be alerted of space to be freed up on your device, Assistant is the place to go. It's just a tap, swipe, or click away from your photo library, and it'll keep you in the loop with what's going on in the Google Photos world.

It's like an all-in-one notification center for everything that's happening with your photos, and it's quite useful. Here's how you use it.

What's Google Photos Assistant?

Google Photos Assistant

If you just opened up Google Photos for the first time and got straight into viewing photos, you may have missed the Assistant area. You'll find the menu in the slide-in left panel of the Google Photos app or website or by simply swiping to the right across the main gallery view.

The Assistant is appropriately named, as it's the one place where you'll get updates about what's happening with your Google Photos library. You'll get Google Now-like cards that show when photos are being backed up, whether the phone is waiting to charge before uploading, and when new "Creations" (formerly known as Auto Awesomes) are available to view and act on. You can even get notified when your device is running low on internal storage and with a single tap clear out local versions of photos that have already been backed up to Google Photos.

Cards will each offer you different actions, but in general they'll be pretty basic — either act on the item with a tap on the function at the bottom, or swipe away the card to dismiss it. Some notifications in Assistant such as a battery upload warning can't be swiped away but will clear on their own once the function has been completed.

Google Photos Assistant

How to view Assistant notifications

  1. Open Google Photos.
  2. Tap on the plus icon at the bottom left of your screen to open Assistant. Here you will see cards with new creations, and other notifications.

How to enable Google Photos notifications

  1. Open Google Photos.
  2. Tap the overflow button in the upper left corner of your screen. It looks like three stacked lines.
  3. Tap on the gear icon to open settings.
  4. Scroll down and tap on the toggle to turn notifications on or off.

How to disable Assistant cards

  1. Open Google Photos.
  2. Tap the overflow button in the upper left corner of your screen. It looks like three stacked lines.
  3. Tap on the gear icon to open settings.

  4. Tap on Assistant cards.
  5. Tap on the toggle to disable the type of Assistant card you don't want to see anymore.

With Assistant at the ready, you'll never be left out of what's happening in your Google Photos library.

Questions?

Let us know in the comments below.

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2 months ago

How to make your phone look like a Galaxy S8

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Say what you will about Samsung's software — and I can say plenty — it's a very distinctive look.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is here, and with it comes another update of Samsung's software UI. This year, we're seeing more of an overhaul than the usual spit-and-polish Samsung gives its flagship's UI, from the nifty new animated wallpapers to the wireframe nav buttons and system icons to a new color scheme that ditches that long-stale blue from previous versions.

Even if you pre-ordered a Galaxy S8, it's not showing up for three weeks, meaning you've got a while to wait. While you're waiting, why not get some of that modern sleekness on your own phone with our very own Samsung-inspired theme?

Launcher magic

Now, we can't get the Samsung launcher on non-Samsung phones the way that we can get the BlackBerry Launcher or the ZenUI Launcher from ASUS, but that doesn't mean we can't get what we desire from other, more customization-friendly launchers. There are a few things we're looking for here.

Gesture controls, Page indicator styles, and Icon layout settings in Nova Launcher

  • Swipe for app drawer: The Samsung Galaxy S8 ditches that hideous nine-dot app drawer icon for a swipe gesture, just as the Google Pixel did last fall. Rather than having it be a dock gesture, though, Samsung lets you open the app drawer by swiping up or down anywhere on the home screen itself. Gesture commands are available in several launchers, and for Nova Launcher Prime, you can find them in Nova Settings > Gestures. In Action Launcher, they're in Action 3 Settings > Shortcuts.
  • Page indicator style: The number of home screens on Samsung launcher are indicated by dots between the main screen and the dock. The default screen is indicated by a tiny, tiny house icon, and the rest of the pages are marked by white dots next to that home icon. You can find page indicators in Nova Launcher under Nova Settings > Desktop > Page indicator > Small dots. In Action Launcher, they'll be in Action 3 Settings > Dock > Dock separator > Style > Dots.
  • App labels: Samsung keeps apps labeled on both the home screen and dock. To turn that on in Nova Launcher, you'll turn on home screen labels under Nova Settings > Desktop > Icon layout > Label. You can turn on dock labels under Nova Settings > Dock > Icon layout > Label. In Action Launcher, you can turn it on for the home screen under Action 3 Settings > Desktop > Text Labels. You cannot turn on app labels for the dock in Action Launcher 3 at this time.

The other launcher requirement we have is that it supports third-party icon packs so we get some lover squircles on our home screens.

Icons

No one icon pack quite gets down the S8's blend of squircles and wireframe icons, so I am going to offer you a few options and let you decide which one is the most Samsung-like in your eyes.

Grace UX Icon Pack, left, and Lines Icon Pack, right

  • Grace UX Icon Pack ($1.49) is a pack based on the ill-fated Note 7. While the device may not have lasted, these icon sure have, and they're pastel, flat, and quite frankly beautiful. If you absolutely must have Samsung-inspired squircles, this is the pack for you. This developer also sports icon packs based on older versions of TouchWiz, too, if you're looking for a more nostalgic take on Samsung's UI, and has just published a beta pack based on the Galaxy S8, but there aren't too many icons in the pack yet that use the wireframe so it's a bit inconsistent.
  • Lines Icon Pack (Free, $1.99) is a wireframe icon pack that keeps things simple, elegant, and allows the true beauty of your wallpaper to shine through. It's a pack I've employed many times before because it is consistently beautiful and consistently plays well with modern and abstract wallpapers.

Wallpapers

The Samsung Galaxy S8 now boasts some awesome animated wallpapers that take on different angles and layers between the various stages of waking and unlocking your phones. While there are a lot of cool, fun, and even functional live wallpapers in Google Play, that kind of co-ordination and wallpaper wizardry can only be done by the manufacturer itself.

That said, this doesn't mean we can't get some of that magic on our home screen with some Samsung-esque wallpapers.

I present new wallpapers weekly to our readers so that you can replace that boring, old, basic wallpaper with something that speaks to you and shows your style.

But if you are dead set on having that Samsung sparkle on your phone, there are a few things you can do:

  • DroidViews put out a couple of the stock wallpapers before the Unpacked event, but they're not quite those awesome star fields or gradient glories that we've seen on the actual devices. If you like the ones offered here, great. If not, keep reading.
  • Tint Make Gradient Wallpaper lets you make a simple two-color gradient wallpaper with whatever colors you damn well feel like using, allowing you to customize your gradient to match your case, icons, wardrobe, team colors, or whatever other hues you'd like you use. It's a simple app, and you can save gradients you like and come back to them over and over again.
  • It's not quite the pitch nothingness of Samsung's star field always-on wallpaper, but we've got some out-of-this-world wallpapers that are out of this world and might encourage you to reach for the stars.

Ringtone

There's a new version of Samsung's Over the Horizon ringtone out with the Galaxy S8. As in previous years, Samsung has partnered with a top-notch artist to redo the ditty, and this year it's Jacob Collier, who has done just a bang-up job with the tone.

Stock ringtones tend to get confusing in the office if everyone's using them, so you might want to grab the new ringtone now and switch to it before any of your friends get their S8s in a few weeks. Make it yours.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

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3 months ago

How can I protect my browsing history from my ISP?

110

There's no foolproof way to be 100% anonymous, but you don't have to just give away your data without a fight.

You ISP has been given free reign to record 100% of what you do online and sell that information to the highest bidder. An FCC rule designed to at least get your permission was voted away by the people elected to represent us, and an existing FTC suggestion to allow us all to opt out will continue to be ignored.

Your personal information and data is no longer yours or personal once your ISP gets ahold of it.

There just isn't anything you or I can do to change the fact that we pay for a service and the people who collect our money every month can sell everything they know about us and they have no obligation to anonymize any of it. To the companies that provide internet access, we are cattle. Moo moo buckaroo.

We don't have to give them any useful information, though, and there are a few things you can do to make some of the data about where, when and how you use the internet nothing more than wasted hard drive space if you'd rather decide for yourself how it gets spread around.

Not all data collection is terrible

First, let's be clear on a couple things. Your ISP, whether it's Comcast or Time Warner or AT&T or whoever (including the people you pay for data on your phone every month) collecting data isn't always a bad thing and that's not what has a lot of people upset about the recent changes. Any company that provides a service can provide a better service when they know how people are using it, and there's probably not someone in a basement office watching you use the internet. Trading data for a better service is something most of us do all the time, even if we don't know it.

A service can become a better service if the people offering it know how we use it, but selling it off is a different matter.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and plenty of other companies also offer services that use your data as currency instead of charging actual cash. What they collect is every bit as intrusive as what your ISP is collecting and we all need to remember that. The difference is that we aren't paying every month and we can say no and not use their services. We're also told up front what is being collected and what is being done with it all and even your Android phone gives you the option to just say nope and not use anything from one of these data-thirsty companies. Incidentally, the companies who make the phones we love to buy don't have a similar opt-out. You either say yes to letting Samsung or HTC or whoever collect your data or you put your brand new phone back in the box and sell it on Swappa because it's now used. Another post for another time.

So if you need internet service — and we think internet service is now a need the same way electricity and potable water are — you have no option other than paying someone who will handle your personal information with zero regards to your privacy.

Your best protection

We can't stop them from harvesting our data then using it in a way that raises security and privacy concerns, but we can try and make the data worthless as possible by changing how you use the internet. There are two ways to go about this, and luckily both are pretty easy to use with our Androids. Both involve intercepting the web traffic to and from your phone.

Use a VPN

Most people are familiar with the term VPN, but not everyone knows what exactly a VPN is. Think of it as a computer on the internet that lets you connect and use its connection to send and receive web traffic. It's more complicated than that, and if you're curious how they work and why Cisco's Internet Protocol Journal will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about them and then some.

Using a VPN means a look at the data collected by your ISP will show when you connected to your VPN, what VPN you used and where you were when you used it. That sounds like the easy fix, right? Not really. There are some issues with relying on a VPN to keep you completely anonymous, and they can't be ignored.

  • Using a VPN only changes the "area of attack." You need to make sure the VPN you are using doesn't keep any records and is in a location where they aren't required to do anything extra to fulfill a request for user data. There is nothing keeping a VPN company from selling your data back to your ISP other than their own policies.
  • A VPN won't block data collection from apps and services that are probably already installed on your phone. If you bought your phone from a carrier, they probably have something in the software to tell them exactly how you are using it. They can now sell that data.
  • Not everything can use a VPN and those fancy internet-of-things gadgets can create a nice little profile about you for your ISP to sell to someone with enough cash to afford it. Many of those gadgets have an app that can collect extra data from your phone itself.
  • A VPN can't stop an evil company from injecting evil data packets to track your every move while you're online. Yes, this is what Verizon got caught doing. But don't think Verizon is any eviler than anyone else.

You can find companies who sell VPN service and provide an Android app to make using it on your phone easy. I hesitate to list the best of them because that depends on your needs. Look for a company that doesn't collect data, is in a country that doesn't require them to enable collection when asked, and has no censor in place. Right now I'm using Privateinternetaccess' VPN Tunnel service and have also had great results with BlackVPN. But am always on the lookout for something better.

You can also get super hardcore and set up your own VPN on a remote server as well as run a tunnel through your router. Those are outside of the scope of this "easy" talk, though.

Use TOR

The TOR project is a volunteer-based group of people and companies who maintain servers that route encrypted internet traffic through a randomized and complex path of tunnels. From a user perspective, it's a proxy that we point our network traffic at, and the software used by folks who keep it up and running handles the rest.

TOR is recommended by organizations like Indymedia and the EFF to help keep anonymous and safe while online. U.S. Naval intelligence, as well as hundreds of law enforcement offices, use it when they need to hide their tracks online and so do millions of people like you and me. Using TOR means your ISP will see a connection to one of a pool of random servers instead of a connection to a particular website. But it also has some drawbacks that keep it from being the perfect solution.

  • TOR won't block data collection from apps and services that are probably already installed on your phone. If you bought your phone from a carrier, they probably have something in the software to tell them exactly how you are using it. They can now sell that data.
  • Not everything can use a TOR client and those fancy internet-of-things gadgets can create a nice little profile about you for your ISP to sell to someone with enough cash to afford it. Many of those gadgets have an app that can collect extra data from your phone itself.
  • Your ISP will see a connection to a random TOR node and know you're connected to a TOR node. Unfortunately, that can be a red flag. The U.S. Government is highly suspicious of everyone who uses TOR and considers users as a foreign national and a "cause of concern" by default. People and companies hosting exit relays are always at risk of being shut down and having equipment seized. Feel that freedom wash over you.
  • TOR can be slow. As in very slow.

On the plus side, TOR is easy to set up on Android. FireOnion is a preconfigured TOR proxy and browser you can get from Google Play that just works. OrBot is a preconfigured TOR proxy for Android that can be used with any app that allows you to use a proxy service. The OrFox Browser pairs well with OrBot, and both are official products from the TOR project themselves. They too are available from Google Play.

Every little bit counts

Neither of these options is foolproof. Outside of leeching from someone else's Wi-Fi and having your browser history connected to them (don't you dare) nothing is a 100% way to hide from a greedy ISP. But every little bit counts and this is what can be done in the now while people work on better ways to protect yourself in the future.

Stay safe.

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3 months ago

Use Android to trick your friends this April Fool's Day

4

APRIL FOOLS!!

Yeah, it's coming. That holiday we love to hate and hate to love, full of pie-in-the-sky pitches, deep, deep teasing of eventual products, and things that we desperately, desperately wish were real.

It's almost April Fool's Day, and what was once a purely homemade day full of pranking friends and family and avoiding revenge has now been commercialized, not only by marketers looking to sell something, but by major corporations of all kinds putting out their own April Fool's goofs in a bid to have some fun with consumers while reminding consumers of what they can buy from them.

This year, though, I implore you to put the fake barf and whoopie cushions away. We have better ways of pranking our friends with our handy-dandy Android phones!

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3 months ago

How to use Google Maps offline

4

Download maps so you can access them even when you're offline.

Google Maps has an offline mode that lets you download maps and get directions even when you're not connected to the internet. If you're traveling abroad or heading to a location with limited internet connectivity, a good option is to save that particular area offline so you can get driving directions and view points of interest and routes.

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3 months ago

How to edit the Air Command menu on the Galaxy Tab S3

0

The S Pen is already pretty great. You can make it even better by customizing its companion Air Command dock.

The S Pen is the Galaxy Tab S3's most powerful trait. It features a clickable button that, when pressed while hovering the S Pen above the Tab S3's display, brings up the Air Command dock. You can program this pop-up menu window with oft-used S Pen actions or shortcuts to your favorite stylus-compatible apps.

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3 months ago

The Galaxy S8's new 'Infinity Wallpapers' are awesome — here's how they work

29

On the Galaxy S8, your Always-On Display, lock screen and home screen seamlessly flow into each other.

In the various online leaks leading up to the Samsung Galaxy S8 announcement, we got to see glimpses of the phone's new lock screen, home screen and always-on display, and it always seemed like there was something new going on with the way the GS8 handled the interaction between these three screens. Android has had animated home screens and lock screens for years, thanks to the Live Wallpapers feature, but the GS8 takes this a step further with its new Infinity Wallpapers.

And they're actually pretty neat.

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