Best power banks 2015

20 best power banks 2015 UK: best portable phone and tablet chargers - best power bank reviews
20 best power banks 2015 UK: best portable phone and tablet chargers – best power bank reviews

Phones get faster every year, but battery life doesn’t seem to get any better. If you need to keep your smartphone – or tablet or other USB-powered device – going all day, you need apower bank. We’ve rounded up the 20 best portable chargers available in the UK in 2015. Also see: How to charge your smartphone or tablet faster

Update 5 August: EE is recalling some of its free Power Bars which may be a fire safety risk. Here’s how to check whether your EE Power Bar is a fire safety risk.

Power banks come in all shapes, weights and capacities, from emergency credit-card-sized devices such as the Onaji Pawa that offers a quick boost to keep you going until you get home, to the ultra-high-capacity LimeFuel Blast Pro L240X, which might charge your phone in excess of 10 times – ideal if you’re going camping or have several devices to charge. Then there are those able to recharge their own battery using solar power, which could mean you never need charge your devices using mains power again. That could save you a few quid on the electricity bill – if you have the patience.

Best power banks 2015 UK: Choosing a power bank

Several factors are important when choosing a power bank. One is portability: some of the power banks we review are small and light enough to slip into a pocket; others you’ll notice their presence even when slung in a bag. Pay particular attention to their weight and avoid bulky designs if this is a device you’ll carry every day, rather than in certain situations only.

Another factor is capacity. It’s important to note that a power bank will not deliver its full advertised capacity to your device – some of this energy is lost through heat generated and voltage conversion. If a power bank manufacturer doesn’t expressly state otherwise, expect to achieve around 70 percent efficiency. A 10000mAh power bank might therefore deliver 7000mAh of power. Some of the best power banks offer around 90 percent efficiency. Check the specification of your phone or tablet’s battery to estimate how many full charges you can expect from this.

Best power banks 2015 UK: Charging and recharging

The input rating is key when it comes to recharging the power bank – the higher is this figure the more quickly it will charge. You’ll usually see a figure in Amps, for instance 1A. You multiply this number by the voltage (5V for USB) to find the rating in Watts. A 1A input can charge at 5W, therefore, but you’d do better to look for a device that can charge at 2A (10W).

Don’t expect to get a USB charger in the box – you can use that which was supplied with your phone or tablet. Do note, however, that a power bank with a 2A (10W) input will not recharge its own battery any faster than one with a 1A (5W) input when used with an underspecified USB charger. The reverse is also true when it comes to charging your devices – a phone that supports only a 1A (5W) input won’t charge faster from a 2A (10W) output. See also: Expert tips on how to charge your phone

Some power banks support a feature known as passthrough charging, but expect to pay more for this luxury. This allows them to function as a USB hub of sorts, meaning you can simultaneously charge both the power bank itself and your mobile devices, and ensures the power bank is always topped up and ready to go when you need it. You definitely don’t want to be getting up in the middle of the night to unplug your now-charged phone in order to fill up a power bank. (If you have only one mains adaptor, consider getting a desktop charger that can simultaneously charge five or six USB devices from a single mains outlet.)

The output rating refers to how quickly a power bank will charge your devices. In most cases you’ll find 1A (5W), 2A (10W) and often even 2.5A (12.5W) outputs, the former intended for smartphones and the latter two for tablets or for fast-charging phones that support the feature. (This is not the same as the quick charging feature supported by newer phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S6.) You can use either output to charge any USB device – it will draw only the power it needs. However, you might find some tablets – usually iPads – will refuse to charge from lower-specified outputs.

Increasingly power banks feature clever technology which is often referred to as PowerIQ or similar. This allows the power bank to recognise the type of device you have connected for charging and deliver the optimum amount of power for that device.

If a power bank has several outputs then the maximum total output capacity is key. For example, the LimeFuel Blast Pro L240X has four 2.4A (12W) outputs, but delivers only 4.2A (21W) total output. With four USB devices attached you will find that each charges much more slowly.

Best power banks 2015 UK: Additional features

The best power banks support auto-on and -off functionality, although some support auto-on only and others neither. Auto-on allows them to begin charging your device as soon as you plug it in, and auto-off causes them to switch off when them to switch off when the job is done, meaning no power is unnecessarily wasted. Those that don’t support this functionality will have a small power button on their casing somewhere, which is typically also used to light up the LED flashlight (if the power bank has one) or see how much capacity remains.

In most cases you’ll find a series of LEDs used to denote how much capacity remains. This is fine with smaller-capacity power banks, but with larger-capacity models you’ll find the massive jump in capacity between each LED leaves the system rather meaningless. Look out for power banks with LCD displays that are able to tell you the exact capacity remaining, so you’ll never get caught short.

A very common feature in power banks is a built-in LED flashlight. This could come in useful on camping trips, for example, but keep in mind that unless the device is reasonably portable and has an ergonomic design you’re unlikely to use it as a torch. EC Tech’s 6000– and18000mAh power banks are perhaps the best examples here: the smaller-capacity device looks and feels just like a flashlight; the latter is big, heavy and rectangular, making it a bizarre device to use as a torch.

The ideal power bank carefully balances useful capacity with portability, value, fast charging/recharging, multiple outputs and high-end features such as passthrough charging and LCD displays. The closest we’ve found in this regard is the Zendure A2, but we highly recommend all of the devices in this round-up, so you may find one better suited to your budget or one with a design you prefer.

3DR Solo

3DR SOLO REVIEW UK

3DR isn’t a well-known name in quadcopter circles – in the UK at least. The company’s first consumer drone is the Solo and we’ve flown it. See also: Best quadcopters to buy in 2015

3DR SOLO: DESIGN AND BUILD

Compared to some quadcopters, the Solo has a more purposeful – almost military – look about it. It’s roughly the same size as a DJI Phantom 3 and also has self-tightening props which are quick to unscrew for easier transport.

And like the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional, the Solo comes with a smart controller that will accept an iPad mini, giving you a large display for composing shots. The controller takes certain cues from gamepads and has large, easy to use buttons including an obvious ‘FLY’ button which launches the bird into the air when held down and a ‘return to home’ button that brings the Solo back to you – handy if you lose sight of it.

3DR Solo review UK

The 5200mAh battery clips into the top of the craft and lasts up to 25 minutes, or 20 if you’re using a gimbal and GoPro camera. The latter two components are optional extras, sadly, so if you don’t already own a Hero 3, 3+ or 4, you’ll have to budget for one. The gimbal costs £379 and a Hero 4 Black costs around £270, so the real price is over £1,600, given that the bare Solo (with a fixed GoPro cage) is £979. Spare batteries are pricey at almost £140, too. Add a carry case and you’ll not get much change from £2,000.

3DR Solo review UK

To be clear, you don’t need to buy a gimbal. The basic Solo comes with a fixed frame and an HDMI cable so you can see the view from your Hero. It’s just that the footage won’t be stable. Whatever you choose, you’ll always see a great live view with very little latency (120ms, in fact).

The gimbal may be expensive, but it’s well designed. It has a flexible, yet sturdy micro HDMI connector which plugs into the side of your GoPro. And the camera clips into the gimbal without the need for tools, so it’s easy to pop it out and change the battery.

3DR worked closely with GoPro to ensure full compatibility. This means that as well as being able to see a high quality video feed on your iOS or Android device, you also have full control over the GoPro’s settings remotely. So if you want to change the resolution, field of view or anything else while flying, you can.

3DR Solo review UK

The controller has a ‘paddle’ on the left shoulder (to the right in the image above) for adjusting the tilt angle of the camera, and two buttons on the opposite side which put the camera at two different preset angles.

There’s a small LCD display in the centre of the controller shows the precise angle along with other useful information. One small gripe is that the controller’s entire front panel has a reflective glossy finish which isn’t ideal as you’re already getting glare from your phone or tablet’s screen, and it makes the display harder to see. Here’s what you’ll see on the display:

3DR Solo review UK

The good news is that the controller is easy and intuitive to use and offers A and B buttons which are used primarily for ‘smart shots’ which we’ll come to in a minute. It also has a built-in rechargeable lithium battery and an HDMI output for streaming your flight to a larger display or even the web.

3DR Solo review UK

There are a couple of other noteworthy design features about the Solo. One is its expansion bay which will be used for various things in the future. It could, for example, house a parachute for safety when flying the Solo indoors, and 3DR is already working on an indoor flight system which uses optical flow sensors which it says are better than sonar (which the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional have). 3DR argues that few people need to fly indoors or in areas with no GPS coverage, so it’s better to have a more expensive, higher-quality positioning system for those who really need it.

The Solo is also “built to evolve” and has swappable motor pods. In the future it might be possible to buy higher quality, more powerful motors which would be impossible to provide on a mass-produced quadcopter.

Last, but certainly not least, the Solo mitigates the possibility of flyaways by using a Pixhawk 2 flight controller in conjunction with a 1GHz Linux-based computer (and a second computer in the controller). It’s the only consumer quadcopter we know of to do this. Instead of the transmitter communicating directly with the flight controller, commands are sent via the Linux computer. If there’s a problem and the flight controller stops receiving information, it waits for the Linux computer to reboot and simply hovers in place. If it gets no further information, it’s programmed to return to the home location.

There are, of course, no cast iron guarantees that any quadcopter will always  return, but 3DR is so confident that it will replace your Solo if it malfunctions or goes missing (and even your GoPro) as long as it wasn’t your fault. Every last detail of the flight is logged and recorded by the controller so you can create a support request via the app and send all the information about the problematic flight to 3DR.

3DR SOLO: FLYING AND SMART SHOTS

Flying the Solo is much like flying a Phantom. Out of the box, the controls are the same and you can fly it manually whenever you like. Since there’s GPS and a compass, it’s extremely easy to fly. When you let go of the controls the Solo hovers and you can set height and speed restrictions in the app which make it even easier to learn.

3DR Solo review UK

The killer feature, though, is Smart Shots. Tap the button at the bottom-left corner of the app and you get a choice of Cable Cam, Orbit, Selfie and Follow.

With cable cam, you fly to a start point and press the controller’s A button. Then you fly to a finish point and hit B to record that too. Then you press the play button and the Solo will fly in a straight line – as if it was on a cable – to the start point. It will smoothly move the camera between the direction it was facing at the start to the exact framing at the finish, including changing the tilt angle. This creates stunningly smooth footage that’s essentially impossible to capture when flying manually.

3DR Solo review UK

Orbit mode does what you’d expect. The neat part is that you can easily set the centre of the orbit by switching to a satellite map view in the app and dragging it until the focal point is under the marker. You can change the radius of the orbit using the forward and back control, while at the same time increasing or decreasing altitude. All the while, the camera will remain fixed on the centre of the orbit and you can use the paddle to adjust the tilt angle (by default the camera will centre at ground level). Again, the footage looks great.

Follow me is also self-explanatory. The Solo will remain focused on your position and move at the same speed as you move. Depending on its position relative to you, it could be following behind you, panning at the side, or even in ‘push mode’ when you’re travelling towards it. Another mode within Follow me is Watch Me. This means the Solo will hover where it is, but turn to face you at all times. You could use this, for example, at a racetrack or any location where you want the drone to stay in one place but keep track of you as you move around.

Last is Selfie. When you’ve fine-tuned the starting position in the air, you can use the sliders to adjust the speed and final height: press Play and Selfie mode sees the Solo shoot backwards and upwards – a camera move called a reveal in cinema terms. Once it has reached the furthest point, the Solo keeps recording and returns to the start position on the same trajectory. This move is relatively easy to do manually, but it’s still nice to have an automatic option especially as Selfie mode tilts the camera during the move to ensure you’re always the centre of the frame.

For all Smart Shots, you can use the satellite map view to check for obstacles (it has no built-in obstacle avoidance), or to make it easier to position the Solo.  If you don’t have a cellular connection on your phone or tablet, you can use the app to cache satellite imagery of the area you’ll be flying in before heading out.

SPECS

Alcatel OneTouch Go Watch

 ALCATEL ONETOUCH GO WATCH REVIEW: HANDS-ON WITH THE BIZARRE BUDGET SMARTWATCH

The Alcatel OneTouch Go Watch is an unusual smartwatch to say the least. We’re certain how much of a good thing that is, because some of its features are completely bizarre, but it sure did make us laugh. Find out why in our Go Watch hands-on review. See also: Best smartwatches 2015

ALCATEL ONETOUCH GO WATCH REVIEW: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Alcatel OneTouch hasn’t announced UK pricing information for the OneTouch Go Watch yet, but it’s set to be around 129 Euros so you can expect it to be pretty cheap. The slightly more premium Alcatel OneTouch Watch is only £99 so that should give you some idea of how low the price tag will be. It’ll hit the shelves at some point in November, but there’s no exact release date just yet.

ALCATEL ONETOUCH GO WATCH REVIEW: DESIGN AND BUILD

As you may have already noticed, the Alcatel OneTouch Go Watch doesn’t look much like any of the smartwatches we’ve seen so far. It’s styled a bit like the G Shock and Baby-G watches, but comes complete with a full-colour touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity for pairing with a smartphone.

It’s designed to be durable, with dust and water resistance and an overall sturdy build, but that does meant that it’s pretty bulky on the wrist, to say the least. That said, it’s fun and colourful, and during our testing it felt comfortable to wear and not particularly heavy as it’s made with plastic.

Alcatel offers lots of different colour options for the Go Watch, and it’s completely customisable for any colour combination you fancy.

ALCATEL ONETOUCH GO WATCH REVIEW: HARDWARE AND SPECS

The OneTouch Go Watch is cheap, and it looks reasonably cheap, too, but it does come with a surprising number of features that make it a pretty decent smartwatch overall, particularly at a sub-£100 price point.

There’s a number of sensors including a heart-rate monitor, accelerometer, gyroscope, pedometer and more that enable the watch to track distance, steps, calories burned, sleep and more. It can also be used to track specific workouts – you can tell it that you’re heading out for a run, for example, and it’ll track that run accordingly.

There are apps that’ll show you the weather forecast, you’ll be able to see your notifications when you get a text message or social media interaction, and you’ll also know if someone’s calling you thanks to haptic feedback.

Additionally, you’ll be able to use the watch as a remote shutter button to take a photo from your phone.

Alcatel says that the watch should last for two to five days one one charge, which is a pretty broad figure so we’ll have to wait until we get one back to our labs for further testing. It charges via micro-USB.

ALCATEL ONETOUCH GO WATCH REVIEW: SOFTWARE

You can use the Go Watch with your Android or iOS smartphone, because it runs Alcatel’s own software rather than Android Wear as many rival smartwatches now do. We quite like the software – it matches with the colourful, playful design of the watch itself, and it’s easy to use with a swipe down for access to a side-scrollable list of icons representing each different feature, and a swipe up for access to notifications.

Here’s where things get weird, though. One of the key features that Alcatel OneTouch is promoting for this smartwatch is a feature that the company claims lets you ‘hack’ your emotions. Essentially, it’s a mood ring of sorts. You know the kind that changes colour depending on the temperature of your skin and that colour apparently represents the emotion you’re feeling right now. Well the Alcatel OneTouch does the same thing, but uses your pulse to decide instead. Results include Go Jam, Go Jump, Go Scream, and most bizarre of all Go Love, which judging by the illustration that accompanies it means exactly what you think it means.

That emotion can be shared or set as your wallpaper should you so desire. We told you it was weird, right?

Best products of the month

Dell Chromebook 13

The new laptop from Dell is described as a professional Chromebook. The device comes in a slim design and has up to an Intel 5th-generation Core i5 processor, up to 8GB of RAM and up to 12 hours battery life. The 13in screen features a Full HD resolution, an IPS panel and a Gorilla Glass front.

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Honor Band

The new brand backed by Huawei has announced a new wearable which is yet to be named. We’ve simply called it the band but the name will be chosen via a competition. It comes with a 1.06in circular screen, IP68 waterproof certification, three day battery life and a G-sensor.

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Epson EcoTank 2500

A printer is still one of the least glamourous tech products but we still need them. If you’re fed up of buying new cartridges, the EcoTank range lasts a whopping 2 years for the average user. The 2500 model includes the firm’s Micro Piezo technology, a 1200dpi scanner and Wi-Fi connectivity.

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AKG N60 NC

These lightweight 150g headphones will be perfect for travellers with the NC in the model name standing for noise-cancelling. AKG touts 30 hours of battery life so you won’t run out of power even on the longest flights. The foldable design is made up of leather, aluminium and memory foam for style and comfort.

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Samsug Galaxy Note 5

Although the S6 Edge+ is a new phablet from Samsung, the Note range is still around. However, the Note 5 is not planned to come to the UK at the moment. That’s a big shame because it’s got S6-like style and build, a Quad HD 5.7in screen, fingerprint scanner and 4GB of RAM.

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LG Music Flow HS8

If you’re a fan of tessellation then this new soundbar from LG will be the perfect companion for your curved TV. Not just for looks, LG says the shape also expands the sweet spot for listening. The HS8 features a 360W 4.1 system and includes Wi-Fi for multi-room audio and support for Google Cast.

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Microsoft’s Flagship Windows10 Lumias Rumored to Pack 25 Minute Charge Times

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is reportedly looking to bring its Lumia line of smartphones up to speed in one crucial metric — fast charging — according to a new report by ITHome.  The new feature will reportedly be coming to the upcoming Windows 10 powered Lumia “Talkman” (Lumia 940 … or 950 according to some) and “Cityman” (Lumia 940? XL / 950? XL ) flagship phones.  And while it’s a much overdue feature, Microsoft reportedly has found a way to push the envelope a bit further than its rivals have.

I. If You Ain’t Fast You’re Last

Back in 2012, the Lumia line was among the first to jump on the wireless charging bandwagon, adding the the Qi charging standard with the launch of the Lumia 820/920 (back when Lumia was a brand of Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V)).  But much as Microsoft’s pace of high end smartphone offerings has fallen off, so too has its adoption rate of leading edge power technologies.  Thus it’s missed perhaps the most useful recent development in the smartphone power space — fast charging.

Developed by Qualcomm Corp. (QCOM), the premise of Quick Charge is simple.  In devices with a compatible Qualcomm or licensed third party processor compatible chargers talk to smartphone over the charging cable to confirm the device is capable of handling more juice.

With standard USB 2.0 the cable can only trickle power in at 500mA (0.5A).  USB 3.0 nearly doubles this to 900mA (0.9A).  Both versions use 5 volts as their max voltage, so taht works out to 2.5 watts and 4.5 watts, respectively.

USB charger

The problem is that as our smartphones and tablets have become more powerful, they’ve acquired, bigger, more energy dense batteries.  And thus the limiting factor to better perceive battery life has in many cases become a matter of charge times.

Take the Lenovo Group Ltd.’s (HKG:0992) Motorola unit, an Android brand known for its charge lifespans.  The Motorola Droid Turbo — released in Oct. 2014, for example — packs a 4.0 Ah (amp-hour), 3.8 volt charge.  That’s 15.2 Wh!  Likewise the Apple, Inc. (AAPL) iPhone 6+ packs an 11.1 Watt-hour unit (2.915 mAh, 3.82 V).   Thus it would take the Droid Turbo 6 hours to charge on a USB 2.0 connection.  And were Apple’s proprietary connector to charge at USB 2.0-like speeds it would take the iPhone 6+ a sluggish 4.5 hours roughly to charge up.

Fortunately Qualcomm had a solution — Quick Charge.  The technology has already seen two interations.  The first bumped the amperage to a maximum of 2 amps — nearly twice the current of standard USB 4.0 charging.  Voltage stayed fixed as 5 V.  With the launch of Quick Charge 2.0, Qualcomm took things a step further with support for two classes of devices.  Smartphones fall under Class A, which can now charge at 5, 9, or 12 volts, and at up to 3 amps.

Quick Charge

The shift has required a modest amount of work on Android OEMs and Apple’s part, namely in adopting more robust charging circuit components, which tend to increase device costs.  But for consumers the payoff is well worth it.

Now in just an hour your device will be at least half charged; in two fully charged.  The technology is so successful that Qualcomm counts Apple and most Android OEMs, including Motorola, HTC Corp. (TPE:2498), Sony Corp. (TYO:6758), Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935), and LG Electronics Inc. (KRX:066570)(KRX:066575) as licensees.  Some of these — like Apple — only license the IP to bake it into their processors, and many of them rebrand it.  HTC calls these chargers “Rapid Chargers”, Motorola calls them “Turbo Chargers”, and so on and so forth.

These days it’s hard to find an Android flagship that doesn’t have fast-charging onboard.

Qualcomm is not alone in the space.  The other major solution is PowerIQ.  But PowerIQ is sort of the fallback as it only supports 5 V charging at present.

II. “I Have One Speed, One Gear — Go”

Microsoft’s new charger is intriguing as it will reportedly charge the new flagship Lumias from 5 percent to 95 percent charge in 25 minutes.  That’s eyebrow raising as the new Lumias are expected to pack some modest sized batteries.  The Lumia 929 (Icon) and Lumia 930 packed 2420 mAh batteries to power full HD (FHD) (aka 1080p) screens and Qualcom Snapdragon 800 processors.

Lumia 930

In comparison Cityman and Talkman are expected to pack QHD (quad-HD) (colloquially referred to as “2K”) screens, a resolution that packs more than 75 percent more pixels in screens of identical size, versus 1080p.  Further the devices are expected to be outfitted with Snapdragon 810 hexacore or octacore 64-bit processors, according to leaked benchmarks.

It would not be surprising to see the phones pack batteries in the 3000 mAh range.  In fact, it would be somewhat surprising to see them stick with ~2400 mAh packs.  But if they are indeed using larger batteries, the question remains how they’re charging them so fast.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, a point of comparison, has a 3,220 mAh battery onboard, and takes roughly 30 minutes to charge it halfway.  Of course one possibility is that Microsoft is simply making maximum use of the spec, with a 36 watt charger.  The Note 4’s charger maxes out (reportedly) at 15 watts (3 amps, 5 volts).  A 36 watt charger would line up nicely with a charge time that’s more than twice as fast.

Galaxy Note 4


Alternatively, Microsoft may be tapping into some sort of USB Type-C (USB 3.1) mojo.  USB Type-C can pump up to 5 amps at 20 volts (100 watts) over a premium cable.  It’s unlikely Microsoft’s devices are anything near that, but I’ll concede that the Type-C standard does give the company some wiggle room to potentially get creative, although the design of the phones’ charging circuits likely check any truly outlandish designs.

III. One More For the Road?

To speak to the elephant in the room, all this exciting progress comes at a somewhat dark time for the Lumia team after Microsoft began its latest roung 7,800 layoffs to the Nokia team.  These layoffs come on top of last year’s layoffs of roughly 18,000 former Nokia employees, cuts that reportedly axed certain high end Lumia models that were originally scheduled to launch.  In total the somewhat decimated smartphone unit is expected to only have about a third of the staff versus when the acquisition of the unit was completed in April 2014.

But if the Lumia 940/940 XL (or according to some 950/950 XL) are the last hurrah of the former Nokia unit, they certainly aren’t letting it show in their work.  The phones look impressive and based on the images we’re seeing from @evleaks, they’re very real and ready of launch:In addition to standout hardware features like iris scanning (in Cityman), aluminum hardware buttons (also Cityman), 20 megapixel Pureview camera modules with autofocus, and 3 GB memory banks, another star of the show should be Windows 10’s new Continuum feature, that allows Windows 10 phones to act like full fledged Windows PCs when hooked up to a compatible TV or monitor.

All that firepower isn’t worth much, though, if you don’t have the juice to power it.  Hence Microsoft’s report newfound alliance with Qualcomm is ultimately a vital one.

(Other rumors include that the Talkman and Cityman are head towards AT&T Inc. (T) and T-Mobile USA, Inc. (TMUS) network around the start of November.) – See more at: http://www.dailytech.com/Microsofts+Flagship+Windows10+Lumias+Rumored+to+Pack+25+Minute+Charge+Times/article37478.htm#sthash.W176VfTF.dpuf

“KeyRaider” Hits 225,000+ iPhones, Mobile Malware no Longer Just a Droid Thing


Chinese third party app stores are presenting the same headache to Apple that they do Google

Late last week a group of Chinese iOS enthusiasts and Palo Alto Networks Inc. (PANW) shared an alarming revelation.  Over 225,000 jailbroken Apple, Inc. (AAPL) iPhones — mostly in China — have been infected via a new family of Trojans dubbed “KeyRaider”.  And far from a hypothetical threat, the report went on to state that over 20,000 users appear to be actively exploiting credentials stolen by the malware to get “free” iTunes apps, books, videos, and music on the victims’ design.

I. The Chinese Connection

For some this news may come as a surprise.  Once, the iPhone was a sales laggard in China, and hardly a high profile attack target in the region.  But that picture has shifted dramatically over the past few years.  The iPhone is big in China.  Wait, scratch big — HUGE in China.  Since 2014, China has been driving Apple’s growth largely via iPhone uptake, boosting the Cupertino company to massive profits even as some of its star products, like the iPad tablet, slid in sales.

It seems that Chinese buyers can’t get enough of the iPhone, which has become a status symbol of sorts among China’s increasingly affluent professional ranks.  But for all the financial upside, China is ultimately proving a double edged sword for Apple in terms of security.

China iPhone

The world’s largest smartphone market since 2011, China has a monthly active population of 370 million app users at last count.  But in the age of mobility, many in the world’s biggest mobile market are falling back on their nation’s old ways, seeking out free software by stripping away the security on their devices.

Apple’s arch-rival Google, Inc. (GOOG) knows this story all too well.  Since surpassing Symbian in 2010-2012, Google’s Android has been labeled by many journalists and security experts as not only the world’s top mobile platform, but the least secure mobile platform, as well.  Indeed, while scattered stories of attacks on jailbroken iOS devices were occassionally reported as far back as 2009, experts agreed that the bulk of successful malware at the time was targeting Android.

Android malware

But there was a caveat.  While Android’s short-lived support for Adobe Systems, Inc.’s (ADBE) oft-vulnerable Flash rich media platform or “fragmentation” were oft blamed for attacks on Android, the reality was that in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Canada, and other developed markets, Android’s malware affliction was largely nonexistent.  Most of the reports of mass infections of hundreds of thousands of infected Android users originated in China, and similar markets with abundances of jailbroken users and shady third party apps stores.  It could be said that Android’s dominance in China to some extent gave it an undeservedly bad name in terms of security.

And now there’s big trouble in-not-so-little China for Apple, as well.

II. Malware Cometh

Since July, the researchers have been analyzing KeyRaider’s behavior and digging into its code and distributon network hunting for clues of its origin.  What they found is both intriguing and alarming, a picture of cunning, malice, and betrayal in iOS’s wild east.

The newly discovered “KeyRaider” family of iOS-specific malware may be the worst of its kind, but assuredly it isn’t the worst of its kind.  In order to understand KeyRaider, it’s perhaps best to begin with the store of Unflod and AppBuyer, highly similar malware examples.

Apple ID
There’s been a rise in malware looking to steal your Apple ID over the past year and a half. [Image Source: iMore]

Unflod (aka SSLCreds or Unflod Baby Panda)was the first major credential theft malware to be discovered on iOS.  Apparently taking hold during the iPhone 5S’s reign, Unflod was a fairly short code, which has less than 100 lines of instructions when decompiled.  It lurks in the “MobileSubstrate” collection of iOS dynamic libraries (*.dylib) on jailbroken iOS devices — an approach that would later be used by AppBuyer and KeyRaider.

Unflod samples bore a signature that indicated that it was compiled in Feb. 2014.  Just two months after its apparent compilation it was discovered and discussed by reddit users, as well as later profiled by Germany’s SektionEins GmbH.  As the Redditors and SektionEins state, Unflod appeared to originate in China and is believed to have been largely distributed by third-party iOS app stores, specifically certain app stores based on Cydia repositories.

Cydia app store


The irony is not lost that redditor Jay “saurik” Freeman was among those to first discover this growing new class of Trojan malware threats.  Freeman is the owner of SaurikIT and developer of Cydia.  Initially launched in early 2008 for the original iPhone, Cydia was among the first underground iOS app stores, and ultimately it has proven the longest lived.  When it was found, Apple wasn’t allowing third party apps.  But the launch of the iPhone 3G and third party apps with it, did not kill Cydia as some anticipated.

In the years since Cydia has morphed into a lucrative moneymaker, reselling developer paid content for jailbroken devices.  Saurik has alliances with many in the jailbreak community and Cydia is preinstalled, by default, as a part of many iOS jailbreaking programs.  A 2011 report by The Washington Post suggests that the nework fetches Freeman in excess of a quarter million dollars a year and that SaurikIT pulls in a cool $10M USD annually.  At the time Cydia had 4.5 million users weekly.

But it was Freeman’s decision to share the wealth and freely license Cydia’s framework under GPLv3 to others looking to start third party apps stores that has truly cemented its influence in the jailbreaking community.

But since the discovery of Unflod saurik has seen third party adopters of the Cydia framework increasingly playing host to user content that transform the popular content platform into a malicious attack platform.

UnFlod was deceptively simple.  It overloaded Apple’s SSL function, such that when the user attempted to authenticate using their Apple ID and password, the encryption failed.  Instead, the SSL imposter function — UnFlod — would send the user’s data to remote command and control servers. – See more at: http://www.dailytech.com/KeyRaider+Hits+225000+iPhones+Mobile+Malware+no+Longer+Just+a+Droid+Thing/article37479.htm#sthash.4q2fL526.dpuf

Translation Now a Finger Press Away in Android w/ Google Translate App



Google Inc.’s (GOOG) Translate app for Android — the twin of the Google Translate web service — was updated this week.  The update brings a notable (and much requested) new feature — on-demand translation.

The machine translation service has been around on the internet for just under a decade, launched in early form for PC users back in 2006.  In the mobile space Google’s rival Apple, Inc.’s (AAPL) iOS platform was actually the first to gain a dedicated mobile app when Google launched an HTML5 app for the iPhone’s mobile Safari browser back in 2008.  Two years later in Jan. 2010 it would make its debut on Android as a standalone native application.  A native iOS app would follow a year later.

A half decade later and Google has finally added the ability to translate on demand any text you encounter in other Android apps.  To access this feature you must start Google Translate running in the background — if you’re using it frequently you may want to configure Android to auto-launch it on startup via simple file edits or third party apps.

Google Translate

Once launched, you can trigger translation at any time by long pressing and selecting text.  Android users will recognize this is the same way copy, cut, and paste works on the platform.

Google also continues to patiently expand the scope of its app to cover more languages.  Text translation now covers a whopping 90 languages, nearly 50 percent more than the 63 languages it initially supported at launch a half decade ago.  Speech-to-speech translation is also expanded.  In Jan. 2011, when the feature was first added to the Android app, only a single language pair was supported (English to Spanish).  Now a whopping 40 languages are supported.

One of the app’s slickest features — “instant” camera translation — is still at 27 languages, the mark it hit in July.  For those who missed it Google acquired Quest Digital (makers of the “Word Lens” camera translation app) back in May 2014, and by Jan. 2015 had incorporated its technology into the translate app to enable instant camera translation.

Google Translate Lens

There’s also support for non-instant camera translation for a broader selection of languages (36+ at last check) and for handwriting in dozens of languages, as well.

The latest update with press-to-translate comes hot on the heels of Google’s addition of Translate to its latest Android Wear update, for built-in translation on your smartwatch.  The Wear version allows you to turn your wrist to show a translation to a third-party and then let’s you turn your wrist back to see their translated response (sort of similar to Apple’s attitudinal “Glances” user interface for the Apple Watch).

Google Wear translate

Google boasts that its Translate service now has 500 million mobile and internet users a month.  That means more than 1 out of every 15 people living on the Earth today uses Google Translate each month.  Google writes that every day it translates 100 billion words. – See more at: http://www.dailytech.com/Translation+Now+a+Finger+Press+Away+in+Android+w+Google+Translate+App/article37481.htm#sthash.UeyA8oMh.dpuf

Withings Aura Connected Alarm Clock And Total Sleep System Unveiled

Withings Aura

Withings has this week announced the addition of two new devices to its range of products with the launch of the Withings Aura Connected Alarm Clock which is priced at £150 and the Withings Aura Total Sleep System price to $250.

The new devices have been designed to provide a more relaxing way to go to sleep and connect to the Spotify music streaming service to provide playlists that have been created to help users sleep more efficiently, says Withings.

The Withing Aura is the perfect bedside companion when it comes to sleep, mixing the benefits of light therapy and sleep-dedicated playlists from Spotify. To fall asleep in the best conditions, Aura combines the benefits of light therapy and music specifically designed for sleep.

The red light scattered by the Aura is the only light not inhibiting melatonin secretion, and thus helps the user to fall asleep gradually. Colourful noises, nature sounds or relaxing music, as many playlists as Spotify adds to its library available from Aura to sleep on a progressive program of 20 minutes. Some coloured noises are known to have a real impact on sleep, such as pink noise regulating the brain waves and optimising sleep.

Aura Connected Alarm Clock

– Aura Alarm clock


- Wake up and sleep Programs


– Environmental parameters of the room


- Spotify Service and web radios 
- RRP: £149.95

Aura Total Sleep System

– Aura alarm clock + sensor


– Wake up and sleep Programs


– Environmental parameters of the room


– Sleep Sensor analysing nights

– Spotify Service and web radios 
- RRP: £249.95

Samsung NX1

THE GOOD The Samsung NX1 is fast, well-designed, weather resistant and feature-packed, and it produces great photos and videos.

THE BAD There’s no charger included, and USB charging takes longer than we’d like. Plus, it could use tracking autofocus when you’re shooting via the viewfinder.

THE BOTTOM LINE Fast, sturdy, well-designed and with excellent photo quality, the Samsung NX1 hits all the bases for action-shooting enthusiasts.

Samsung has been making dSLR-style mirrorless interchangeable-lens models for years, but like many competitors they’ve suffered from performance issues. The company finally steps up its game with the NX1, a high-performance, high-quality camera that goes head-to-head with models like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II — and quite effectively.

Image quality

Overall, the NX1 produces excellent photos; sharp, with a solid dynamic range and great color accuracy. The highlight detail could be a bit better, but that’s really my only quibble. Default noise processing seems to err on the side of smoothness over detail above ISO 1600. Shooting raw can usually improve the detail but only by accepting additional grain, and will sometimes gain you some improvements in tonal range.

Photos look clean up to ISO 800 and remain very good through ISO 1600. By ISO 3200, you can start to see color noise in blacks and grays in JPEGs. That can be fixed in the midrange ISO sensitivities by tweaking the settings or by shooting raw.

From what I can tell, the video quality is extremely good, with minimal artifacts and nice tonality, and 4K is really sharp. I say “from what I can tell,” because the only way to view the native HEVC-encodedvideo is with Cyberlink’s Power Media Player; player software tends to do things like bump up the contrast when it renders to screen. In order to get the bundled version, you have to connect the camera to your system and use Samsung’s iLauncher software. To edit the video, at least at the moment, you’ll need to transcode it first. We went through the same thing when HD first rolled out, but it’s never pleasant to live through the anarchy.

JPEG photo quality is quite good up through ISO 1600, though some hazy edge artifacts start to appear at that point.Lori Grunin/CNET
Noise reduction becomes a lot more obvious once you hit ISO 3200, especially on out-of-focus areas. Above that JPEGs look just OK, and highlights and shadows drop off quickly.Lori Grunin/CNET
There was enough latitude in the photos to bring this accidentally underexposed shot up by four stops without introducing noise. It’s not as good on the highlights, which seem to only have about two stops of latitude to correct overexposures without browning the whites.Lori Grunin/CNET
Both the 50-150mm f2.8 and 16-50 f2-2.8 (shown here) lenses produce very nice out-of-focus highlights.Lori Grunin/CNET
The NX1’s color rendering is exceptionally neutral.Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

The NX1 is an excellent performer, with the exception of battery life. While its 500 shots from a fully charged battery is quite good for a mirrorless model, it’s generally disappointing for a camera in its price class. Though it’s not that much worse than the 7D Mark II’s lifespan between recharges, that camera’s is pretty disappointing. (A dSLR in its class should get closer to 1,000 shots on a battery charge.)

It takes just under a second to power on and shoot; fast for a mirrorless, but not as fast as a typical $1,500 dSLR. Otherwise, it fares well compared to dSLRs and to the fastest competitor we’ve tested thus far, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (with the lastest firmware). Time to focus and shoot runs roughly 0.2- to 0.3-second in all lighting conditions. The same goes for two sequential shots, both raw and JPEG; adding flash recycle time increases it to 1.1 seconds, which is quite good.

The NX1 hits continuous shooting out of the park from a frame-rate perspective. It can sustain 14.4fps for an essentially unlimited number of best-quality JPEGs with autofocus — greater than 85, at least, under our test conditions. Under optimal conditions — greater than 1/500 sec and with a 280MB per second U3 UHS II SanDisk Extreme Pro card — it reached 15.0fps in our testing. One caveat is that it’s only capable of its fastest focus with the 16-50mm and 50-150mm lenses, which are nice lenses, but costly.

It can burst at about 14.5fps for 21 frames in raw, though when it slows it slows for 6 frames, then slows more, which I find harder to deal with than when the camera slows consistently. At least then you know how to compensate. I shot quite a bit of JPEG+raw on continuous, and though it couldn’t sustain a long burst, it was sufficient for a few seconds at a time, and recovered relatively quickly — there isn’t as long a wait for it to save as there is with the E-M1. I also found 15fps too fast in many situations, and tended to drop it to 12fps or 10fps.

The biggest continuous-shooting issue is the lack of tracking autofocus when shooting through the viewfinder. It grabs focus quickly, but you have to pan, and if you’re too fast or slow it locks on something else. If you shoot via the LCD you can use touch focus to assign the object to track, but that’s really impractical. Also, for continuous AF, unless you go into the AF Release Priority menu, choose focus priority and then further choose accuracy priority, the results can be too inconsistent and it will more-than-occasionally miss focusing entirely. However, even 12 frames-per-second panning at f2.8 using the 50-150mm lens, I was able to get more in-focus shots than I expected.

The camera uses phase-detection for movie recording and Samsung claims focusing characteristics similar to those of Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS in the 70D, and as far as I can tell there’s no pulsing or excessive hunting.

Nikon D3300

THE GOOD The Nikon D3300‘s photo quality improves on its predecessor, and while it’s not incredibly fast it performs pretty well for its price class.

THE BAD The feature set remains pretty limited.

THE BOTTOM LINE Very good photo quality for its class plus decent performance make the Nikon D3300 A solid choice for a first dSLR.

With somewhat better photo quality and slightly better performance, the Nikon D3300 delivers a modest improvement over its predecessor the D3200 — enough to bump up its rating and improve its status relative to some competitors, but no so much that it’s definitively worth the extra money over the D3200 for buyers on tight budgets. The rest of the updates, such as 1080/60p video, a redesigned beginner’s Guide Mode, plus a slightly smaller, lighter body, barely move the needle. It retains the same 11-point autofocus system of its predecessor, and lacks built-in Wi-Fi; you still have to go dongle for that.

Image quality

Photos are the camera’s strongest suit. The D3300 improves on the image quality of the D3200, with most images appearing somewhat sharper as you’d expect from the new 24-megapixel antialiasing-filter-free sensor, and the camera fares pretty compared to competitors. Also, for example, ISO 3200 JPEGs look a lot less noisy than their counterparts from the D3200, but the raw files seem to clean up about the same, pointing mostly to the inevitable improvements in Nikon’s image processing over the past two years. JPEGs look very clean through ISO 400 and display only minimal artifacts through ISO 1600. Depending upon scene content the photos are usable through ISO 6400, but above that the less-bright colors become too desaturated and the tonal ranges compress unattractively.

Click to download ISO 100
ISO 1600
ISO 6400

Colors look quite accurate, and there’s a reasonable amount of recoverable highlight and shadow detail in raw files given the camera’s price class. Its video looks good, even in low light.

Live View performance remains terrible, taking almost 2 seconds to focus and shoot thanks to slow everything — slow autofocus, slow mirror movement — and two consecutive JPEG shots takes 3.7 seconds.

The camera delivers an excellent 5.1fps burst when equipped with a 95MB/sec SD card (almost 4.4fps for raw) with autofocus and with no significant slowing — it just gets a little more variable — for more than 30 frames. However, the autofocus can’t really keep up with the frame rate so there are a lot of misses.

 The body looks almost identical to the D3200 (which had barely changed from the D3100 before that) except for a few tweaks. It’s light and a bit plasticky with a deep, comfortable grip. On top of the grip sits the power switch and shutter button, and behind that a trio of buttons: a somewhat hard-to-feel record button, plus exposure compensation and info display. The crowded mode dial serves up the the typical assortment of manual, semi-manual and automatic modes, plus a Guide mode and Effects mode (with the usual suspects).