Tuesday, October 29, 2013

4.3 Rollouts for Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 & Sony Xperia Z Ultra! 4.2 For Sony Xperia L! Get them while their hot!

Still hanging on to that Samsung Galaxy S3? Or tired of being second fiddle to the Note 3? Well if you're a Galaxy S3 or S4 owner, today may be your lucky day!

KitKat - Android 4.3

AT&T Galaxy S3 (i747)
If you have a Galaxy S3 and you're using the US AT&T carrier, you're can now download an official leaked version of KitKat, Android 4.3! Get it here. If you are on a different carrier you'll still have to wait until November, unless the Samsung leaks that have been frequent as of late continue...

Verizon Galaxy S4 (VRUEMJ7)
If you have a Galaxy S4 from Verizon then you too now have an official leaked KitKat version! Be careful though, this is a 4.3 OTA for build VRUEMJ7. If you're on the older build, you might want to stay away if treasure the ability to use custom ROMs... Get it here.

SAMSUNG USERS: Upgrading to 4.3 will install the Knox security feature, which will let Samsung know you "rooted" and more (if you do that sort of thing) if you try to send it in under warranty, essentially voiding your warranty. It is advised to wait until a "fix" is available...

Sony Xperia Z Ultra
There is no official leak of KitKat for the Xperia Z (yet), but if you like Cyanogenmod, they are now making nightlies of CM10.2 (Android 4.3)! Get CM10.2 here, and don't forget to flash Gapps immediately afterwards!

Jelly Bean - Android 4.2

Sony Xperia L
If you picked up the Xperia L (acclaimed for it's features and budget price), then you'll be happy to know you can now upgrade to Jelly Bean, Android 4.2! Why get it? It boasts improvements over Jelly Bean 4.1 including an improved camera, better UI, and apps! Get it here.

This is just a quick post I wanted to get out to the masses before my life gets too hectic, or, more hectic than it already is. I know I have been posting quite a bit on smartphones lately, but I will come out with some other technological material very soon.

Monday, October 28, 2013

LG G2 vs. LG Flex! A Battle of Non-Existent Proportions!

If you're a true Android fan, then your bound to know about the LG G2. If your a Sammy fan boy, then, in a sense, you too know about the LG G2. And if you know about the LG Flex, you definitely should know about the LG G2.

A little history...
The LG G2 comes from the Optimus G, LG's flagship line. The Optimus G was the beginning of a great smartphone line that already has two successors within less than year's time! When the Optimus G came out, people flocked to it due to its price and top-of-the-line specs. The Optimus G Pro soon (real soon, we're talking a matter of months) followed and made a few tweaks here-and-there to improve on their previous flagship model. And in even less time, the LG G2 has come out and has rightfully made itself a top Android smartphone contender with the likes of Samsung.

LG Flex
The LG Flex was announced soon after Samsung announced their Galaxy Round. The LG Flex is named so because of its flexible screen. Such flexibility insinuates a smartphone less prone to damage from falls. Furthermore, the idea is perpetuated by the fact that the LG Flex will supposedly incorporate a "self-healing" technology. Apparently, when the LG Flex is scratched in can heal itself, not unlike a gecko and a lost tail, or Wolverine (X-Men reference for all you old folk) and a bullet to the forehead.

The lowdown
While it is hard to not be intrigued and want the LG Flex, with the amount of smartphone flagships LG has been spitting out, my foot has to come down somewhere. And that somewhere is here!

LG G2 Specifications
  • Display: 5.2-inch 1080p
  • Thickness: 8.9mm
  • Weight: 143g
  • Camera: 13MP
  • CPU: Quad-Core Snapdragon 800 (2.26GHz)
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Battery: 3000mAh
LG Flex Specifications 
  • Display: 6-inch 720p (Flexible)
  • Thickness: 7.9mm-8.7mm
  • Weight: 177g
  • Camera: 13MP
  • CPU: Quad-Core Snapdragon 800 (2.26GHz)
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Battery: 3500mAh
Now that we have that all in the open, let's throw out some pros and cons...

Pros & Cons (point system)

  1. The display is always a preference game, however 5.2 inches is not that far from 6 inches. No points awarded. The LG G2 sports a 1080p display compared to a 720p display for the LG Flex. LG G2 awarded 1 point. But we're not done quite yet. The surprise advantage is obviously the "self-healing" flexible screen for the LG Flex. LG Flex awarded 1 point.
  2. The thickness of both the LG G2 and the LG Flex are almost identical. No points awarded.
  3. The LG G2 is the clear winner when it comes to weight. While phone weight would never seem like a big issue, it is often touted as a great spec to be aware of. Notice how many reviews on numerous smartphones will note how "light" a phone is. LG G2 awarded 1 point.
  4. There is not much information on the camera for the LG Flex. The LG G2 has a revolutionary camera and it is assumed that the same camera sensor will be used in the LG Flex given the speculated amount of time we will have between the launching of the LG G2 and the LG Flex. No points awarded.
  5. The CPU and the RAM are identical. No points awarded.
  6. The LG Flex is a seemingly clear winner here. As long as LG continues to use their step-design in their batteries, the LG Flex should outlast the LG G2. However, what kind of power needs do these new flexible screens have? Because I can only speculate, I will logically assume that the power needs are similar to current smartphones of the same size. LG Flex awarded 1 point.
LG G2   vs.  LG Flex
2                  2 
After thoughts...
The game is tied, love-all, but one has to be hated on! While secretly I want the LG Flex, I hate that it had to come out after I bought a G2. Putting those feelings aside, either smartphone would be a great choice. If your accident-prone, maybe the LG Flex is more your speed. If your about the best resolution, maybe the LG G2 will quench your thirst. But there are two more things thing to be mentioned...

Here are some significant items that may sway you to the LG G2 side:
  1. The LG G2 price is phenomenal when it comes to its competitors! The LG Flex's price is still unknown. But if the Galaxy Round is any indicator, it could be almost twice the retail price of when the LG G2!
  2. It is undetermined if the LG Flex will make it out of Korea. I believe the chances seem better than seeing the Galaxy J internationally, but it is still unknown. This may turn people to the Galaxy Round just because it will be available.
So, in summation, the LG G2 may be the horse - or the only horse - to bet on if you're planning on picking up a new smartphone any time soon.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why Being a Jack of All Trades Is Better than A Master of One. Or, A Crash Course on How Video Works for Lighting and Quality.

Video. The technical name of digital film. It's something very near and dear to me heart. I have worked with video for the majority of my life and have thus learned more than enough to know the ins-and-outs of what's important when making a video.

Click here or Scroll down to read some important basics about video lighting and quality.

I am a big Android fan. I like to "hack" my smartphone and enjoy frequenting the XDA community for new tricks, mods, ROMs, and Kernels. I'm not well-known in the community, but I do try to contribute as much as possible since I appreciate how everything is (mostly) free. But sometimes, I notice things that disgust me, and I wonder if it happens to other people for other situations.

My favorite mod for any Android smartphone is increasing the quality of my camera by changing certain values and testing accordingly. This is great to get the best out of your camera. I have been able to do this with every Android smartphone I have - save a Chinese Galaxy S4 Clone I couldn't get rooted.

Our adventure begins with yours truly browsing the community and finding a camera mod for my current smartphone. I was disappointed because I was just about to make my own, but had been preoccupied helping recoveries get created for my model. I flashed the mod and while it seemed better, I found that the mod I performed was fiddled with, but not at its full potential. So, I created my mod. Even luckier for the public, my mod could work with the preexisting camera mod to get the best of both worlds.

I then saw one of the posts on the preexisting camera mod where a user had asked if decreasing the bitrates video would decrease quality? The original poster (OP) replied no. That, to me, was an outrage. How could someone say that? This is where my title comes in.

Jack of all trades, master to none.

While most find this to be an insult, I find it to be a compliment. The way I see it, if I don't know at least something all the aspects of one subject, then I shouldn't be a part of it. The best way I see this is if you spent all your time learning a skill but one day that skill becomes obsolete, or the competition to saturated. Because I have no other skills, I'm essentially screwed.

Back to the story. I made a reply to the OP and disagreed. The OP responded by wondering why I cared and stating his was "better". I replied that he has "more" stuff, but then went into an explanation of bitrates.

Bitrates: Bitrates determines one major part of the quality of your video. Other parts involve lenses, audio, etc. As far as an Android smartphone is concerned, bitrate is key. The higher the bitrate the less compression artifacts noticeable in a video. Thus, higher bitrate equals better quality. Additionally, bitrate modes and codecs can also be vital in determining quality, but again, we're talking about an Android phone (and we're not going to bother with 3GP vs. MP4 here).

I also had to do a quick explanation of bitrates and 4K as the OP implied that they could be the same thing.

4K: 4K is a resolution that is a the rage for prosumer video cameras. To illustrate the size of 4K know that it is double the size of 2K, and that 2K is just a tad bit bigger than 1080P. So, 4K is a little bit bigger than twice the size of 1080P.

That being stated, bitrates and resolution do not go hand-in-hand. You can have a 4K video with a high bitrate, or a 4K video with a low bitrate. The bitrate does not determine resolution.

The OP had made some changes to how light worked which would help make the video look better when in great lighting, but come out dark (horrible) in low-lit areas. There are three areas to lighting:

  • FPS: Frames-per-second will determine the smoothness of a video, as well as how much light comes into the camera. A lower frame rate means more light but with choppier video.
  • ISO: This is known as ASA for film. ISO allows more light into the camera the higher it is, but higher values produces and increases "noise" in the video.
  • Aperture: The aperture will be ultimately determine by the lens being used. The lower the lens, the more light allowed into the camera. However, the aperture will also blur part of an image depending on if that image is near or far.
Aperture is not important to Android, or almost any smartphone, as it cannot be changed.

The OP was limiting ISO from 1600 to 1200, and the minimum frame rate for 1080P from 15fps to 30fps (and just recently 720P to 60fps only!). In adequate light, these settings would make gratifying shots, but the reason Android sets these rates are because people like to take pictures in low-lit areas without a flash. You might consider a low-lit area to be dark and gloomy, but a well-lit area for our eyes may still be considered low-lit by our cameras.

The OP wanted to due a comparison of his videos by another member, but I explained that it would be unfair. His method for using such low bitrates (lower than factory settings) was to use something similar to soft focus.

Soft Focus: Is a defect of lenses where an image seems somewhat blurry, but still has sharp edges.

The OP wasn't at an extreme with this, but what is troubling is that Android smartphone manufacturers already employee this technique on a very small scale to make photos seem better. You can normally see this when zooming in very close on a picture. The OP, moreorless, was just pulling back bitrates and making this effect more intense. To someone like myself, they are just ruining quality rather than improving it.

The main difference between their mod and mine was that I increased bitrates and they decreased bitrates. This also means that my mod increased file sizes of images and video, while his decreased sizes of images and video.

While I can rest easy knowing that I am obtaining true quality, I find it sad that people will think that somehow his mod is making their camera better when it isn't. I am a Jack of all trades. I know a bit about Android and I know a bit about video.

Friday, October 11, 2013

How to Trick Geo IP Services. Or, I Want to Do What Your Country Can Do But in My Country!

I like to travel a lot (or sometime I'm forced to!). What I have found is that certain websites, apps, and services will not be available to you because your are no longer in the country where they are supported. Even if you have an account made from that country, it will not matter. Why? Because of Geo IP tracking.

Geo IP tracking is a system that tracks where you are "browsing" from depending on your IP address. One of the best examples of this is Craigslist. Craigslist went through a transition period where they wanted people to be able to only post from within their city, as opposed to anywhere nationwide. They made this possible by initiating a Geo IP service. When someone would make a post in a city they weren't in, within the hour, that post would be taken down automatically. Smart for Craigslist, a bummer to others.

So, how has Geo IP affected me? My biggest trouble was with Amazon Appstore. In case you don't know, Amazon Appstore gives away one free app everyday. They are mostly games, but not always. My first app was Kayak Pro! Anyways, Amazon is not available in every country, therefore neither is their app store. But I wanted my free apps! Instead of giving up, I decided to trick the Geo IP service Amazon uses. I setup a free virtual private network (VPN) on my Android to bypass their Geo IP service check and allow me to download their free apps! I've been through the process so many times (as it is daily) that I know that it is quicker to get to the point of "purchasing" the app before starting the VPN. Otherwise, the VPN really slows down the WiFi connection and takes forever!

Is that it? Just Amazon Appstore? No! This works with other services as well. Pandora is not available is most countries, but you can still download and install it with a bit of know-how. After Pandora is installed you can attempt to open it, but you'll get the message that Pandora is currently not available in your country. Enable VPN, and voila! Pandora now works!

The VPN I use is not exclusive to smartphones, it also works on my desktop. I do some work with websites and from time-to-time buy domain names from GoDaddy. When I buy domain names while overseas it will allow me to get to the final page and confirm payment before bringing me to a webpage stating that there has been some issue. I have confirmed with GoDaddy several times that the reason for this issue is my physical location. But, after enabling VPN on my desktop, my payment to GoDaddy will successfully go through!

Often times the Internet service providers in a country may try to restrict people from viewing certain websites or videos. Your URL will be redirected to some message from your Internet service provider usually with some BS about it being dangerous. On the other hand, videos just tell you that the video is not allowed to be viewed in your country. I have found that while a VPN can work in these situations, it can be painfully slow. Instead, I just use a proxy service and enter websites and/or watch videos.

What's the difference between a VPN and a proxy? Basically, a VPN will secure all your information while surfing about, so you don't have to worry if your login information is being stolen and saved somewhere when logging into certain places. A proxy will not secure your information, but will normally be much faster.

I won't go into detail on how to setup your Android, IOS device, or anything else, as that information is better documented and readily available from a Google search. However, I will point you to my favorite free VPN and proxy:
I also want to add that these methods won't always work. I use PayPal every-so-often, usually when purchasing used electronics. However, because I am in a country that is considered "dangerous", I can never make payments without getting locked out from my account and having to go through a song and dance to get control of my account back and allow payments to be made directly from my bank account. I have tried VPN's and proxies to no avail. I have asked PayPal if it is okay to use them, as I did not want to have my PayPal disabled by trying, but they assured me they didn't care (probably because it won't work!). However, it is likely a good thing that a company handling money transactions has such security setups.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Smartphone Marketing: Why Companies Purposely Market Bad Selling Points (and Which Ones Matter)

When companies advertise their best and brightest new smartphone, they gauge the consumers brilliantly. Unfortunately, they do this because people are excited by "new" this, "shiny" that, and "higher" whatevers! I am here to dispel some rumors and help consumers buy the smartphone they need and can use.

The Android vs. iPhone vs. Windows 8 vs. Blackberry (OS 10) Smartphone Battle: Here are the general points of each smartphone (nothing bad).
  • Android - Inexpensive models readily available. Highly customizable. Huge line of free apps.
  • iPhone - Ease of use is amazing. Stability is top-notch. Updates apply to all iPhones at the same time.
  • Windows 8 - Ease of use can be said to be too simple. Great integration with other Microsoft products. Really nice features.
  • Blackberry (OS 10) - Still the best to text with if using a Q10 or Q5. A simple interface. Even with the availability of Blackberry World, it has the ability to use Android apps.
Each system has their benefits, what matters is what you need. Don't be afraid to try something new because that's not "your" brand. But I'm not here to tell you about what is the best smartphone (especially since most of my references are from Android and iPhone), I just merely wanted to explain what their general benefits are before we get to the nitty gritty.

New, but Old Features: A lot of companies do this, and it bugs me how easily people flock to something because of it. An old technology that has been around for quite some time is reintroduced and advertised to be this grand new feature. Maybe it is new to that line of products, but it isn't anything new.
  • Example 1 - iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner - This is not new. There are older Android smartphones with this capability. Why aren't they more popular on Android smartphones? Probably because they have "cooler" lock-systems like Facial or Voice recognition.
  • Example 2 - Android IR (infrared) Blaster - When I was a kid my friend got a watch for his birthday that could turn TV's on and off. We loved watching the teacher try to fix the TV while trying to show an educational video! So, no, this is not new.
The point is, while there may be a load of new features on a new smartphone, it doesn't mean you should buy a phone for those reasons.

New but Unusable Features: Many people think that because you have more of something, it is better. That is logical, but not sound. Android and iPhone are both notably subject to this.
  • Example 1 - iPhone 64-bit CPU - 64-bit, now that's awesome! I love almost anything 64-bit because it uses RAM more efficiently than 32-bit, and I have 32GB of RAM at my disposal. But that's for my PC... For a phone, it's not going to do a whole lot right now. It may be great for the future, but I doubt the true benefits will kick in anytime soon.
  • Example 2 - Android Quad-Core CPUs - This sounds impressive, and from an accomplishment standpoint it is. But the problem is that there are very few apps that can take advantage of a quad-core CPU beyond some benchmarks and a handful of games. Will these be helpful in the future? Yes, but again, it is a question of when?
  • Example 3 - CPU Speed - While newer generations of Androids tend to use identical CPUs, there is some variation. iPhones obviously don't have this situation. But don't think that a faster speed than an advertised competitor's means that the competitor performs worse. First off, they use different operating systems (OS) which will react differently. Secondly, a simple way to think of speed differences is that if I have an old Intel Pentium 4 chip that runs a faster advertised speed than a newer AMD Bulldozer chip. Do you really think the Pentium 4 will outperform the AMD Bulldozer? No, of course not. So when comparing competitor speeds, throw out the notion that somehow there is a fair basis for comparison.
  • Example 4 - Megapixel Myth - The higher the megapixel must mean a better camera image, right? Wrong. This is a myth. Megapixels is just about how much you can fit into a picture. A person with a 13-megapixel camera could take a picture of a kitchen and capture the cabinets, the fridge, and the counter-top. A person with an 8-megapixel camera might only be able to get the fridge and cabinets standing in the same spot. Which means if they take a few steps back, they can also fit in the counter-top. What matters is the camera sensor. This is what makes the quality of an image or video. A camera that is 8-megapixels, but from 2002, will likely produce a "worse" photo than a camera that is 5-megapixels and is the same brand, but from 2013. Why? Because the camera sensor has been improved since then, and even the cheaper products are getting better camera sensors.
Additionally, don't be confused when hearing about GPU and CPU, GPU are for graphics and normally do benefit from more cores.

What Points Do Matter: There are numerous reasons to consider why you need a smartphone, but let's not get too boring. Instead, here are some general points to build off of when considering a smartphone. (The following assumes that you are not buying a smartphone over three years old, making speed a non-issue.)
  • Work vs. Play - This is very preferential, but I would see it this way. Android is an all-around, safe bet. It will likely be able to do everything you expect from a smartphone. If you are strictly about communication, then a Blackberry is great, but all the others will suffice as well. If you are about security and privacy, then a Blackberry is best (iPhone being the worst as they will have no problem giving up your information to government agencies when needed). If you use a lot of Microsoft products, then a Windows phone would be most handy. For gaming I would go with Android, as they will likely have the most free games available. If you are new to smartphones and want a small learning curve, then the iPhone is the smartphone for you. Remember, if you need a smartphone that has an abundance of apps to help you with work and life, then Android and iPhone are going to be your best bets.
  • Smartphone vs. Camera - Nowadays, most people like to double their smartphone as a camera. The top brands will never disappoint in camera quality, but don't be fooled by the megapixel myth described above. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41 megapixel camera, but it also sports a spectacular camera sensor. If you don't care about the camera quality, then consider an Android purely out of price. An old iPhone may be great as well. An old Blackberry will be cheap and still viable for work or life.
  • Features vs. Budget - Features may be only icing, but they are great to have and muck about with. Yet, your budget may not allow you to enjoy all the best new features. The balance of these two categories of course depend on what features and your budget. In general, this is what I would do. If I don't care about the newest features, but still want some good features; buy last year's model. Sure, it might be missing IR or a fingerprint scanner, but that's what a universal remote and lock-screen is for. It will still handle almost everything new as far as apps, and it will cost a lot less. If I'm all about the features, but my budget is not great, and I don't mind "working" on my smartphone; then I would invest in an older Android (namely a Samsung Galaxy). The developer communities (especially XDA) are great about keeping older devices updated, and enabling newer features recent Android smartphones are meant to be exclusive to. If you have a decent budget and need decent features, any phone (save maybe Blackberry) should do.
There are of course other things to consider. Starting with these points will help eliminate some of the bigger steps in choosing a smartphone.

NOTE: I am biased towards Android, but I have owned all the OS smartphones mentioned here, except for Windows 8. (I do have Windows 8 for desktop, which is horrid!) I think each has their place, but I have found Android much better for my needs and wants.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Freeware, Now with Malware! Or, SUPER, the Best Video Converter That Needs an Alternative

If you are looking for safe alternatives to SUPER converter, look at the end of this post.

I had a completely different topic in mind for my first blog post, but the circumstances surrounding my SUPER converter ordeal pushed itself to the top of the pile. I should preface the rest of this post by stating that I am a huge supporter of freeware, especially those with the quality of SUPER converter. SUPER converter, to me, was a standard for free audio/video converters that only the quality of certain purchasable programs could match. Sure, the conversion could be slow as hell, but for all the ways it could be done, it was worth it. (It didn't hurt that I use an 8-core CPU either!)

For those not in the-know, SUPER converter is a freeware program. It could be downloaded in several places, including the developers' website.That used to be the hardest part of SUPER converter, going through their tricky website to find the right page with the download.

Anyways, I have been using SUPER converter for years. It always gives you a message when a new update is ready. I usually ignored this message until I felt like actually going through the download and install process again. I recently needed SUPER converter for a project my wife's boss wanted. While my objective with SUPER converter was not met - for reasons I won't go into here - I did decide to perform the update. I noticed that they had lessened the amount of webpages you had to scan through in order to download SUPER converter, which was an improvement.

After the download had finished I immediately started the install setup. The setup had some new items that had never been employed before... the installation of optional free items! It was forgivable as I could understand needing funding (or just wanting money), but certainly not an improvement.

I continued through the setup not allowing anything extra to be installed, or so I thought. Once the install was complete, I jumped back online for some reason or another and I was no longer greeted by Google but by the browser hijacker Qone8! Qone8 takes over as your homepage search browser and when a search is made it gives irrelevant results and ads. With no time to feel sorry for the corruption of what once was the best freeware audio/video converter available, I spent the next few hours attempting to bring my computer back to normal. By early morning, it seemed that the hijacker was gone...

The next day, I was out and about when my wife WhatsApp'd me and informed me she was using my computer. I got back home and began to work when suddenly my browser shut down, messages from some unidentifiable "Anti-Virus" software began to pop-up. It stated that my browser, command prompt, and any program I tried to open, was a virus. It even showed pictures from my wife's Facebook! I knew right away this was going to be an issue, but wasn't sure how big.

I tried to boot into Safe Mode, but as soon as it tried to open, it would immediately shut down and reboot into Windows. Frustrated, I searched for a solution on my phone. Apparently, you could type in an activation code that worked so it would stop preventing me from doing anything. I did so, it worked, I rebooted into Safe Mode. I then went through another length process of removing this malware.

Once that had been done, I then had a different sort of browser hijacker. I had Google as my homepage search engine, but when I would get results and click on one, the URL would redirect through MaxDataFeed and to some random website (my browser of choice). I tried numerous things to get rid of this redirect hijacker, and it took the help of a simple, yet powerful freeware program called ComboFix to remove it. Oddly this had only affected Firefox as opposed to all my browsers.

So, now you have some pretty good reasons not to use SUPER converter. But what about an alternative? What is available to you that is still free and won't harm your computer? Well there are several alternatives, and I'll list them in what I consider decent to best:
  • DVDVideoStudio - This is a decent studio of programs that can convert a lot of different formats into a lot of others. It does not have every option, but it does have some of the most popular and some cool programs worth having. If nothing else, it is safe.
  • Any Video Converter - This is a good converter. It is free, recommended by many, and safe. The interface is simple, but the many options available in SUPER converter are not present. There are A LOT of options, but they do cover everything you could ever need.
  • HandBrake - This is a great converter that is very popular. It can convert numerous formats. There are several options to alter and take advantage of. You can download it for Windows, Mac, and even Ubuntu; and if you're really serious you can compile it from source. The main issue is that it can only convert to MP4, MKV, and M4V.
  • Format Factory -  This is by far the best alternative I have come across! It does everything that SUPER converter did. The GUI looks a bit stylized, and it is not a simple interface like SUPER converter, but it took me less than a few minutes to familiarize myself. The conversion time was also incredibly short!
Well, that's it. You know the issues and the solutions available. Obviously, I would steer clear of the solution where you install SUPER converter and go through hours of time deleting malware.

If you like this post please leave me a comment, if not, to each their own.