Thursday, 28 July 2016

Four-Feet Wide Footprint of a Dinosaur Believed to be Abelisaurus Discovered in Bolivia

A Bolivian tour guide has discovered a giant dinosaur footprint measuring over a metre wide in his own country Bolivia in South America.

Image by Murray Foubister [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The footprint measures about 1.2 meters (4 ft) wide and is believed to have been created by a biped, meat-eating predator Abelisaurus that roamed South America about 80 million years ago.

The footprint was found earlier this month in a soft clay ground area in Kinsa Saruska in Maragua region. This area is located about 40 miles from the city of Sucre in central Bolivia, and is well known for dinosaur tracks. Many skeletal remains of dinosaurs have already been found in this area.

According to experts, abelisaurus existed during the Late Cretaceous Period, and probably reached 7 to 9 meters (23 to 30 feet) in length. Skeletal of an abelisaurus was first discovered by Argentine paleontologists Fernando E Novas and José F Bonaparte in 1985. Later a complete skull of abelisaurus was discovered in Río Negro, Argentina, which led experts to conclude that the dinosaur belonged to a new family of predators. This skull lacked the lower jaws, and most of the connections between the back of the skull and the snout were absent. As only the skull was found, it became difficult for experts to provide a reliable size estimate of Abelisaurus. The length of this creature was estimated to be as low as seven meters. In 2010, Gregory S. Paul, a paleontologist, estimated the body length of Abelisaurus at ten meters and its weight at three tonnes.

According to experts, the footprint found in Bolivia is one of the largest of its kind ever found in this region. "This print is bigger than any other we have found to date in the area" said Argentine paleontologist Sebastian Apesteguia, who is studying the footprint. "It is a record in size for carnivorous dinosaurs from the end of the Cretaceous period in South America" he added.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory Captures Strongest Solar Flare of 2016

Last week, the sun fired off its strongest solar flare of 2016 that was captured on video by NASA's sun-watching satellite - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The event occurred on July 22 and 23, with sun unleashing three relatively moderate solar flares.

Image credits: NASA

According to scientists, the sun is currently passing through a period of low activity. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation emitted by the sun. Although harmful radiation from a solar flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere, but intense radiations can affect GPS and communications signals traveling to Earth. Three solar flares unleashed last week were just 'mid-strength' of M class. The most powerful solar flares classified as X-class eruptions that can cause disruption to communication satellites and can also pose a risk to astronauts in space. Intense solar flares also produce spectacular northern lights display.

"These flares were classified as M-level flares. M-class flares are the category just below the most intense flares, X-class flares," NASA officials explained in their statement. "The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc."

The first solar flare was registered as an M5.0 sun storm, which peaked on Friday night at 10:11 p.m. EDT (0211 July 23 GMT). The second, more-powerful flare, registered as M7.5-class solar storm, peaked on Saturday at 1:16 a.m. EDT (0516 GMT), which was followed by third, M5.5-class flare, with peak observed at 1:31 a.m. EDT (0531 GMT).

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was launched by NASA in February 2010, and the satellite has been observing the Sun then. This mission was part of Living With a Star (LWS) program, which aims to develop the scientific understanding of those aspects of the Sun–Earth system, which directly affect life and society on Earth.



The SDO was designed and developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The primary mission is scheduled to last five years and three months, but can be expanded to last for ten years if everything goes perfectly. Since its launch, the SDO has been analyzing the influence of the Sun on the Earth and near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere. Using SDO, scientists at NASA are also trying to investigate how Sun's magnetic field is generated, and the star converts and releases this stored magnetic energy into the heliosphere and geospace in the form of energetic particles and solar wind.

The SDO is carrying with it three scientific instruments: the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager, and the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. The spacecraft is moving in an inclined geosynchronous orbit around Earth.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Ancient European Communities might have Used Passage Graves as Telescopes

A new study carried out by researchers from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the Nottingham Trent University suggests that ancient humans might have used entrance passages to 6,000-year-old tombs (passage graves) as "telescopes" to see the rising stars.

Image by Karsten Wentink [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Such passage graves are scattered across Europe, and researchers believe the dark, narrow entrances of the graves might have provided viewers a clear, amplified view of the night sky - allowing them to detect stars rising at twilight sooner than other members of the community.

In particular, researchers reveal that the orientation of the dark entrances to passage graves in Portugal suggests that they were aligned to give a view of Aldebaran, the red star and the brightest body in Taurus constellation. Researchers believe this star probably had a special significance for preshistoric communities who used to move their sheep and goats to mountain pastures for summer grazing each year. The study argues that this annual shifting event could have coincided with the first appearance of Aldebaran in the morning twilight each year.

"This first rising of Aldebaran occurred at the end of April or beginning of May 6,000 years ago, so it would be a very good, very precise calendrical marker for them to know when it was time to move into the higher grounds" said Dr Fabio Silva of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

The team says the conditions within the chambers could have provided viewers an early view of Aldebaran's first appearance before those outside. Researchers also believe that these passage graves were probably linked to some ancient rituals involving revelation of an astronomical secret. "There is a wealth of evidence now that these passage graves were not only used as tombs for burials, but they could also be used for rites of passage," said Silva.

Ancient European communities placed their dead within passage graves featuring single or multiple chambers, and a long, straight corridor to connect the underground tombs to the outside world. Mounds or earth or stones were used to cover the entire structure. These tombs were widespread phenomena in Spain, Scandinavia, Portugal and the UK. According to researchers, many tombs also featured engravings or paintings. "Imagine a young boy forced to spend the night in the passage – probably scared to death," says Silva. "In the morning he would see this star rise days before the rest of his tribe. That may have been presented as secret knowledge."

According to Frank Prendergast at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland, the finding of the new study is definitely a reasonable hypothesis. "The purpose of these tombs is not just funerary, there's a lot more going on," he says. The detailed findings of the study will be presented at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Nottingham.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

11 Reasons Why You Should Root Your Android Smartphone Immediately

Android phones are known for their customizability and versatility when it comes to features. However, gaining root access opens up more possibilities and more settings to tinker with.

Image by mammela-686310 [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

The average Android phone user does not even know what rooting can do to their phone. It can potentially speed up the tasks and even save some battery life with the help of a few tweaks that would be impossible to do otherwise on an un-rooted phone.

Rooting Allows Installation of More Apps

No, this does not mean that the user can exceed their file storage capacity. This simply means that a rooted phone will be able to install other kinds of apps that cannot really be installed without root access. Gaining root access is similar to gaining Administrator privileges on a Windows PC. All of the permissions will be given to the user and so it allows them to bypass certain security measures and checks in order to install an app. These apps and tweaks require root access because they tend to deal with deeper operating procedures with the system. They will need to modify some system files in order to do their job.

One such app that requires root access is WiFiKill. As the name suggests, it can kill the Wi-Fi connectivity of some users if they are connected to a network. The app can be useful for checking whether there are unwanted users on a private home network. They can just kill their access and also identify the MAC and IP address to determine which device is not supposed to be connected to the network. Other useful apps include WakeLock detectors that can determine which apps are causing the CPU to stay awake and drain the battery. It is useful for troubleshooting what's sucking all the juice out of the battery.

Rooting Allows Users to Uninstall Bloatware

Bloatware can be pretty annoying on a brand new Android smartphone. Most manufacturers pre-install their own brand of applications that could pose as useful but really are not. On an un-rooted phone, uninstalling the said bloatware apps is impossible. However, root access allows the user to uninstall and disable any app they please, according to Lifehacker.

Once root access is gained, the user can just simply uninstall or disable the app. This saves up on RAM allocation and storage space too. These kinds of apps can also drain the battery so uninstalling them is a wise decision if the user does not really need them. Besides, there are other lightweight alternative apps available on the Play Store.

Install Battery Checkers and App Hibernators

Rooting also allows access to some of the most useful apps on the Play Store that requires root access. One such app is the Battery Calibrator by NeMa. The app allows the user to calibrate the battery in order for it to discharge properly. Uncalibrated batteries tend to drain faster than the usual which can be troublesome for users. Greenify, one of the most popular hibernating apps, also requires root access. The app allows the user to hibernate apps that they do not really use on a regular basis.

Hibernating unused apps can lead to better battery life and more free RAM overall. For low-end phones, the app can be pretty useful to keep the performance of the phone in check and to avoid lags and slowdowns. Users can also underclock or overclock their CPU frequencies with certain apps that require root access. Doing so can improve performance or battery life whichever the user chooses.

There are also other apps that can do the same things with root access, but the two mentioned above are trusted by the Android community in general. Other useful apps can also be found on the Play Store just by adding "root" on the search strings.

Rooting Allows for Added Customizability

With a rooted Android smartphone, there are many more customizable options that will become available. Users can download popular customizable and tweaking apps such as Xposed and BusyBox. They all require root access because most of their tweaks rely on modifying system files on the phone. Some of their tweaks include changing the icons and colors on the status bar, changing LED notification colors (if the phone supports it) and many more.

There are also other apps that can just change one aspect of the phone's design. For instance, a rooted phone can change the default font and icons. Users can also choose to customize the booting animation if they are rooted. It requires the replacement of the system files so root access is essential.

Rooting Allows Users to Set Default System Apps

Since the root access allows the user to replace files on the hidden system files, users can then use that to their advantage and set system apps. In order to set an app to become part of the system, they need to copy the APK file and move it to the system apps folder. Doing so allows the phone to recognise that the app is part of the core system, and it might improve the performance and load times for some phones. It would also allow more access for the phone since it is now a system app.

System apps can't be installed either but they can be disabled. It's useful for when letting a friend borrow the Android smartphone to avoid accidental uninstallation of apps.

Rooting Allows Ad Blockers on the Phone

One of the most annoying things across all devices is distracting ads. They can come in the form of pictures or videos suddenly popping up on the entire screen. On desktop computers and laptops, ad blockers are widely-used applications. What most users do not know is that there are also ad blockers available on Android.

However, they require root access because they need to modify system files in order to block the incoming and outgoing traffic for the advertisements. It's not harmful and it allows the user to better enjoy their apps without having to accidentally tap on an ad. In addition, blocking ads can also save a bit of battery power. This is because the ads tend to connect to outside servers which drains battery.

Rooting Allows Better Backups

Backups can be a tricky thing in Android. Contacts can be automatically backed up to a certain Google account but the apps and data can be left behind. Users who tend to switch phones and ROMs usually need backups for all of their apps and data. Some apps need the data saved on the phone itself to keep the progress as they do not use cloud servers.

For instance, a game's progress could be deleted if the user does a factory reset without doing a backup. One app for doing backups of apps with data and other system apps too is Titanium Backup. The app requires root access to do the backups. Titanium Backup stores the backups on the microSD card or another storage location depending on the user. If the backups are on the microSD, it can be useful for those who need to wipe their internal storage clean. They can just download the app and restore the app and other system data so that they will be retained.

The backups are also useful for those who would like to try changing ROMs and Android versions. In order to install new versions and ROMs, the user needs to wipe the phone and its settings.

Rooting Allows Installation of Customised ROMs

The first step to installing customised ROMs on Android is to root the device first. This then allows the installation of custom recoveries that will be needed to flash the needed files. ROMs are perhaps the ultimate customizable option for Android smartphones. They may contain totally different user interfaces that will improve the look of the phone. Some ROMs are also focused on bringing improved performance for the phones. They contain several tweaks that are not readily available on the stock ROMs of un-rooted devices.

There are also ROMs that provide the famous UI skins from other phones such as the HTC Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz UI, according to PC Advisor. This means that users can experience using the UIs of other phones through customised ROMs without having to buy the expensive devices in the first place.

However, the amount and number of ROMs depends on how large the Android developing community of the phone is. For instance, a famous flagship phone would probably have more custom ROMs compared to a locally re-branded Android phone. In some cases, the ROMs are also left unfinished because there is insufficient support from other developers. Still, it can provide a refreshing experience for users with rooted devices.

Rooting Allows Installation of Custom Kernels

While custom ROMS already have custom kernels as well, they can be troublesome to install if the user does not want to be hassled. Custom kernels allow the user to bypass certain limits and to allow apps to communicate better with the hardware aspect of the phone. Some custom kernels allow the user to enable Wi-Fi tethering if the feature can't be found on the default settings. They can also allow for performance tweaks and better batter life. Flashing kernels is also much easier because the user does not need to wipe the phone in order to do so. They can also be uninstalled anytime if they have a kernel manager.

Rooting Allows Automation

Another useful app is Tasker, which allows the user to automate tasks with minimal supervision. The app does have features already available for non-rooted phones but the more powerful ones can only be accessed if the user has a rooted device. Users who are not on the latest versions of Android can choose to automatically set the phone to silent at a certain time of the night. Tasker can also automatically turn on the Wi-Fi when the phone detects that he or she is already home, according to Greenbot.

Some useful "tasks" that Tasker can do include:
  • Automatically translating text on the clipboard from English to another language or vice-versa. (requires third-party plugin). 
  • Automatically rotating the phone when a certain app is opened.
  • Playing a specific song or ring tone when a text received contains certain phrases.
  • Setup an emergency "scene" for when the phone is lost and someone finds it.
  • Set the display timeout to a longer duration when using a certain app.
  • Use the phone as a wireless remote with IR plugins.
  • Turn off autosync if no Wi-Fi s detected.
  • Automatically turn off Wi-Fi and GPS if battery percentage is below 50 percent.
  • Automatically disable wireless radios if they are open but no signal is reached.
  • Turn down brightness during a certain time period.
  • Automatically send a text message if a particular number calls and gets missed.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi when the phone is on the move.
  • Bring up Google Now cards regarding weather and events when alarm is turned off.
  • Automatically capture photo with front camera if someone else tries to open the lock with repeated wrong password attempts.
  • Turn smart TV or other wireless speaker to full volume when alarm is not closed within a certain time duration. 

There are many more Tasker tasks that can be done by the user with a little bit of imagination. These tasks can't really be done by the default un-rooted device without any of the plugins and root access.

Rooting for Other Features

Other features are also present when rooting is involved. Users can get new apps and install them even if they are deemed "incompatible" for the current Android version of the phone. Some apps like Undelete can also be useful if the user has accidentally deleted something off from the phone. Other apps can also bypass the carrier lock for some phones in order to access other app markets that are exclusive.

Should You Root Your Android Phone?

If you want to unlock the full potential of the Android system and to fully own your smartphone, rooting is the way to go. All of the functions and features mentioned above are not possible with the stock ROMs and kernels of an un-rooted device.

Author: Lord Marin

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Apple Music May Undergo Major Changes Amidst Stagnant Growth, Could be Unveiled in WWDC

Apple Music might be getting a complete overhaul after almost a year of nearly bad performance in the market and executives left their posts in the Beats-powered streaming service.

Image by Vrinda Rajanahally [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Cupertino-based company has introduced the music streaming service in June 2015. It was met with mixed reviews but users don't seem to be happy with the service now.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is reportedly planning to make several major changes to their Apple Music in order to adapt with the times and to address some of the problems the service might have. When it launched, more than 11 million users have signed up for the service because there was a free trial.

However, almost half of those users who signed up have canceled before they were going to be charged the monthly fee of $10. It means that almost half of the users were not satisfied with what the service offered. Apple Music was said to have a cluttered interface which confused most users, the upgrades were also mixed up with how iTunes libraries were stored and executives supposedly keeping an eye on the service have left the Cupertino-based company.

People familiar with the upcoming plans told Bloomberg that Apple is planning to overhaul the streaming music service by integrating it with their other download-based businesses. They are also reportedly planning to expand the 24/7 Beats One radio service that Apple has been boasting about since day one.

All of the plans are expected to be unveiled and explained with more details at their upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference to be held in June. Apple is expected to be more aggressive in their marketing campaign for the monthly $10 fee for Apple Music, which means that the company is not planning for a price deduction.

As Apple's iPhone sales dipped for the first time, it might be a good idea for the Cupertino-based company to expand their sources of income and revenue. Apple Music does have the potential to be a large income maker for the company but the streaming market is already dominated by other services such as Spotify and Tidal. Critics have even said that the service is not up to the standards of what Apple has been providing their customers in the past. They might have changed something in the history of music when they launched their iTunes service but Apple Music did not seem to have the intended effect the company expected.

Spotify continues to increase their number of users and they are staying at the top of the market even if not all of their users are subscribed to their premium service. Besides Spotify, there are also a number of free streaming services online which can be a great alternative to paid services. BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said: "When it comes to software, Apple performs with less elegance than it does when it comes to hardware. “Apple Music is underwhelming. They have subscribers because of their platform. If you have that kind of subscriber base, you should have millions of subscribers."

Another confusing bit was that Apple already had iTunes. The difference was that those who wanted to stream were pushed towards Apple Music and not the former. Juggling two music services at a time does not really seem wise considering that the streaming market is already filled with great alternatives.

People familiar with Apple's finances have also told Bloomberg that their iTunes service still generated $3.5 billion despite the introduction of Apple Music, which has not really made much of a difference with the company's revenue. The $10 price tag might be too expensive considering that Spotify charges $14.99 for two users per month.

Beats executives have left Apple which may have staggered the development or improvement of their music streaming service. Ian Rogers, the chief executive of Beats Music, has left the company in August. Product Head Ryan Walsh, VP for Engineering Bobby Gaza, Chief Designer Ryan Goodman and Senior Visual Designer Jackie Ngo also left the company. Apple has also forced other engineers to move on to other products such as their App Store and iBooks service.

Apple employees, engineers and executives have declined to comment as to why they left the company after Apple Music started. One reason could be creative differences in how the service should have been developed. Apple Music may need a lot of changes in order to become on par with their competitors. One of the most criticized parts of the service is the user interface.

The UI of Apple Music seems to be cluttered and full of options to tap on. While that may seem like a good thing, it does not translate well for smartphones with smaller screens. Apple could make the UI simpler, according to The Guardian.

Apple Music also has their Beats One radio station that is online for 24 hours a day and seven days a week. However, it can become stagnant if that is the only station users can listen to. Spotify's free ad-supported service also brings in money for the company. Apple Music could do the same and it could even lead to an increase in the number of their users.

Advertisements during the streaming experience does not seem to bother most people. The ads mostly run just a couple of seconds long compared to the minutes of free music users can listen to. Apple could also develop a standalone Apple Music application for desktop and a separate web client as well. Users who want to listen to the service on their computers need to install and run the iTunes software.

Spotify has seen success in both their mobile and desktop experience. Users can just log in their account to access the application or the web client if they do not have it installed. Marketing could also play a big role for the service. Simply pestering people to pay for the $10 per month fee may not work, however. Apple could roll out promos and services to lure customers into paying for the service. They could set out discounts or limited-time offers to attract more users.

All of the details of the iPhone-maker's plans could be revealed at the company's WWDC 2016. Apple Music can still be a great option if they have the right features.

Author: Lord Marin

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Fingerprint Security Can Actually Make Data on Phone More Vulnerable to Government, Authorities

Fingerprint security should keep data safer from everyone but the recent cases have shown that the government can actually force someone to use their own fingerprint to unlock their phone, possibly incriminating themselves in a case.

Image by National Institute of Standards and Technology [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

There is an increase in the number of smartphones today that have fingerprint sensors. In a sense, they can be safer than passwords as they can't be compromised without the physical help of the owner itself.

After the legal debacle between Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and the FBI over a criminal's iPhone 5c, there is now an ongoing debate in a Los Angeles case regarding a woman that is being forced to use her fingerprints to unlock the Touch ID to unlock her iPhone. Several experts in the legal field are now arguing whether the case is contradicting the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.

The United States Supreme Court has already ruled that law enforcement authorities can easily get a search warrant for mobile phones and they will be able to require people to hand over any physical evidence that they may have including fingerprints. This is even possible without a direct order from the judge.

Legal experts are saying that the recent case has different circumstances and factors. Forcing a person to place their fingers to access an iPhone can be in violation of the Fifth Amendment as it would be a form of self-incrimination, according to MacWorld. Some of them are even saying that it would be similar to forcing someone to testify against themselves in court.

The recent case could be a bad precedent for future cases as authorities can just force someone to unlock their iPhones, which could possibly lead to self-incrimination. In this case, passwords could actually be safer as they can't be forced to be inputted on the phones.

In the recent Farook case, Apple has consistently denied to comply with the judge's order to unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone 5c. The phone was locked by a code and not a Touch ID sensor.

If the FBI was going to try and unlock the iPhone 5c, they could risk having the data inside being wiped out after several wrong attempts. Apple was ordered to unlock the phone but they would have to get pass the encryption and security measures by developing a software that would let the authorities unlock the phone.

As Apple was not complying with the order, the FBI took the matter to their own hands by hiring third-party professional gray-hat hackers to do the deed. The hackers were able to unlock the iPhone 5c without having to wipe the data off from the phone by using a previously unknown exploit.

The authorities and the government are now discussing whether to disclose the exploit to Apple in order for the Cupertino-based company to patch it up. However, it would seem that they are reluctant to share the information as they could still use it for future cases.

If Farook's iPhone had a Touch ID sensor, then it would have been easy for the authorities to just unlock it. They had Farook's corpse and it would only take a couple of seconds to unlock the phone. Another issue is that fingerprints can also be stolen just like passwords. For some people, it might even be easier to steal as all they need is one print off a flat surface.

Fingerprints are supposed to be more secure than passwords because they can't be stolen remotely compared to passwords and PINs, which can easily be compromised through an exploit or a virus. However, there have been recent developments that can prove that fingerprints are just as unsafe as passwords too.

3D printers today can even be used to print molds of fingerprints that can be used to unlock a phone with a fingerprint sensor. Of course, this would rely on the fact that the person printing the mold should have an image or the help of the prints' owner.

However, technology today has evolved to a point that hackers can even print a 3D mold of a person's fingerprint through just a high-resolution image. In 2014, Starbug security researcher has used their technique to create a working model of the fingerprint of a German defense minister all based on a photograph, according to The Verge.

With today's smartphone cameras continuously improving, it wouldn't be long before those photographs on Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) or Instagram can be used against a person. If the image has a quality high enough for the prints to be seen and recognized, another person could also make a working mold model of their fingerprints.

Still, fingerprint security has benefits over the traditional password and PIN logins. Even if another person has the 3D printed mold, they would also have to gain access to the owner's phone itself. Hackers who would try this method need to be close to the person to actually use the mold on their smartphones. For instance, a hacker from the other side of the world wouldn't be able to use their trick if they don't have the smartphone of the victim itself. Passwords, on the other hand, can be used to login at several places at once. A hacker could use a user's password even if he or she is miles away from the actual person. This is because the accounts on smartphones can be linked to the Internet and data could most likely be saved there as well. They can just access their accounts in their own computers if they already know their passwords.

Since fingerprint molds can be made off from an image, the US government can easily make them considering that they have a database of fingerprints. The Los Angeles case was a bit difficult as the suspect was not in their databases. If a person did not want to unlock their iPhone Touch ID, the authorities can still make a mold of their fingerprint if the person is in their databases. The recent case proves that fingerprint security can be used against the owner as well.

Author: Lord Marin

Monday, 2 May 2016

Intel Drops Atom Microprocessor Business to Focus on Other Core Technology Products; No More Microsoft Surface Phone

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has recently announced that they are dropping their entire Atom microprocessors, which could negatively impact their smartphone business and spell doom for the Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Surface line too.

Intel Atom Processors, Image (c) Intel

The microprocessor giant has been late to the smartphone and mobile computing game. They tried to adjust as they entered the industry but they were already so far behind. Nevertheless, Intel has been successful in their desktop computer business as they provide powerful processors. Recently, the company has made that they are not a PC company anymore and they will go on to target a much wider range of businesses with regards to the connectedness of devices today.

Part of their plans was to drop their Atom line of microprocessors. It's a wasteful move seeing as they have already invested billions of dollars to the business and now they ultimately want to end it. Perhaps it could be the right decision to do after all. Intel said that they are focusing on a broader target and not just splitting their focus in parts of the tech industry.

The tech giant has also recently announced that they are planning to lay-off 12,000 people from their workforce. Intel did not say what positions or who they will be cutting off from the company. Intel said that their Broxton and Sofia chips, the codename for their Atom products, will have their resources diverted to other products that will prove to "deliver higher returns." It is not known whether which products they will be investing more in but it is clear that their Atom projects will be shut down.

Atom products have not been upgraded for quite some time now and it might just be a logical move for Intel. ASUS has used their Atom chipsets for the Zenfone 2 smartphones and rumors for the new Zenfone 3 line claim that the company is shifting to use Snapdragon chipsets from Qualcomm instead. Sofia is currently shipping and Broxton was delayed, according to PC World. They could be the last line of Atom products that Intel will be shipping.

Cherry Trail, the codename for the Atom X5 line of tablet chips, will also be phased out by Intel. The company will be replacing them with Celeron and Pentium chips dubbed as Apollo Lake. Intel is also aiming the Apollo Lake at hybrid tablet PCs which means that they are slowly abandoning the mobile smartphone and pure tablet business altogether. Companies such as HP and Dell are choosing the Skylake Core M processors instead of the Cherry Trail chips which could have already spelled the end of the line for the Atom X5.

The company has already confirmed that they have canceled Atom Broxton for the tablets and smartphones, according to Thurott. It would make sense if Cherry Trail comes next. Intel is also planning to shift to making 5G base network equipment, transmitters and receivers. 5G is not exactly here yet, but Intel plans to be part of the catalyst for the incoming change.

"Intel is accelerating its transformation from a PC company to one that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices. We will intensify our investments to fuel the virtuous cycle of growth in the data center, IoT, memory and FPGA businesses, and to drive more profitable mobile and PC businesses," Intel said in a statement. Atom had several billions of dollars poured into its investment. Intel made a short, good run of the chips but they failed to overthrow ARM from being the market leader.

The slowdown of the smartphone market is also not a good addition to the mix. Since there is a decline in smartphone sales, it would also affect not only the smartphone manufacturers but also the part suppliers as well. Intel launched the last Atom chip for servers in 2013 which means that it was way overdue for an upgrade considering how fast technology's evolution can be. Their failure to give that upgrade may have been a reason for its demise to day.

Now, Intel is planning on taking on the 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) market. They also aim to be a huge part of how every device can be connected through the Internet. This means that Intel could manufacture mobile modems and possibly new chips for other mobile devices as well such as drones, wearable tech and IoT products. Despite their claim that they are not PC company anymore, they would still be supporting PC products in their own way.

Atom's demise could also be the Microsoft Surface's demise as well. The Redmond-based company could still use an Intel chip but they could be out of support in few months-time considering that it will be discontinued. In addition, the decision from Intel could also kill any dreams of a Surface phone. Microsoft has already failed with their Windows Phones business and it might not gamble again considering that Intel has already dropped Atom chips.

Intel's plan for 5G seems to be interesting to say the least. The network standard is still under construction and development by network giants across the globe. It could take several more months and possibly years considering that 4G LTE isn't covered in several areas around the world yet. Even 2G and 3G connections are not finished taking over a hundred percent of the world. Still, Intel could make the transition faster with their equipment. The company hasn't revealed yet what they plan on exactly doing with 5G at the moment.

Another interesting bit is that Intel is embracing the IoT industry. It's an emerging market and Intel could be one of the largest companies to benefit from it and yet contribute at the same time. IoT products could finally be powered by Intel chipsets, or maybe Intel could also make their own products. The company will still be focusing on cloud processing tech, silicon phonics and Xeon server chips as well.

Intel has been making large decisions lately and the Atom discontinuation is just one of them. More products and plans from the company can be expected to be revealed over time.

by Lord Marin

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

10 Reasons Why Android Smartphones Slow Down

Android devices are known for slowing down after a year or two. Some users say it's inevitable, while some believe that it is just a myth. Still, there is growing evidence that more smartphones become slower as time passes by and there are several factors as to why it happens.

Image (c) Google

Too Many Apps running in the Background

When an Android phone is first opened, there are just some several apps that are installed. Some of them may run in the background, including the system apps from the platform itself.

It's not enough to slow down the phone. However, it can increasingly slow down as the user installs more apps over time. Some users don't even know that the apps they install can still eat RAM even if they are not actively using it.

Some famous examples of such apps are the social media ones. Facebook has been widely criticized for having their app eat so much resources even for low-end phones. Twitter's app can also eat too much RAM as well as the Gmail app from Google itself.

These apps run in the background because they need to constantly check if there are updates or notifications. For instance, the Gmail app would need to check every few minutes or so if there is a new email that has arrived.

The constant checking means that they need to stay on the background as they automatically sync. If they are stopped from syncing in the background, the user won't be able to receive notifications about new emails unless he or she manually syncs the app. With more apps running in the background, each of them could eat resources leaving only little for the foreground processes. The user can choose to just delete the apps and look for alternatives.

Another possible way to minimize the impact of such apps is to turn off the automatic sync. While the option is not always available for all apps, the Gmail app allows the user to turn off the option. There are also some apps that can hibernate other apps in the background. This allows the user to have more RAM which can prevent slowdowns in the Android smartphone. However, it should be noted that hibernating apps can lead to trouble if system apps are touched. Users should be careful in choosing which apps to hibernate.

Too Much Junk in the Cache

Android devices have a cache partition where some items from apps are stored for supposedly faster access overall. Like all storage partitions, it can also be clogged. Once the cache partition is full, the overall performance of the Android phone can start to slow down. Users can choose to wipe the cache partition once in a while to prevent slowdowns. The Wipe Cache Partition command can be seen from the recovery console of the Android smartphone. Methods to access the console varies from phone to phone. However, the universal way seems to be to shut down the Android smartphone first. The user should hold down the volume and power button at the same time. It would be useful to install a custom recovery mode first as they include more options to tweak the Android phone overall. One of which is the option to wipe the Dalvik Cache, which can also speed up the phone's speed.

Internal and External Storage May be Filled Up

Android smartphones have solid-state drives as their storage. As the storage fills up, they operate more slowly. It can be one reason why an Android phone may slow down over time. The internal storage may be full of photos, videos apps and other files, which could explain the slowdown.

Low-end smartphones are particularly guilty of this. Most low-end models have only about 4GB or 8GB for their internal storage which is too small for today's standards. One Full High-Definition movie with a pixel resolution of 1920 x 1080 can already reach more than 1GB in file size. A 720p movie can also reach 800 MB.

There are also mobile video games that can easily reach more than 1GB as well. With a combination of those files, a 4GB internal storage capacity can easily be filled up. The Android operating system itself also eats up part of the internal storage which means that the user doesn't really have all 4GB or 8GB. An app's cache files can also eat the internal storage. It would be wise for a user to just move the app files onto the external storage if the phone has one.

Most Android smartphones allow the user to install a microSD card for the external storage. This is especially useful for those with 4 GB or 8 GB internal storage capacities as they would be able to install more apps and download more movies and music files without having to fill up the internal storage. It can prevent further slowdowns for the phone, but it can have an impact on the performance. Since the files are not on the internal storage, the system would have to read them from the microSD card which can take more slowly.

Solid-State Drive TRIM Support

TRIM support allows SSDs, such as those in smartphones, to run at tip-top shape even if they are used every day. The latest Android smartphones have automatic TRIM support for their storage drives. However, smartphones running Android 4.2 and below has no TRIM support. It was actually one of the reasons why the original Nexus 7 tablet slowed down in a couple of months, according to How to Geek. So the tip would be not to own a smartphone or a tablet running older versions than Android 4.3. That would not really be a problem considering that most smartphones in the market today run at least Jelly Bean 4.3 and above.

Smartphone is Too Old

Sometimes, the most obvious reason why an Android smartphone slows down is because it is too old. This can be a combination of all the factors mentioned above. If a smartphone has been running constantly for more than five years or more, chances are the materials inside could be worn out already. Even if the storage device is not mechanical, it can still deteriorate over time especially if the smartphone is made from cheap parts.

Another possible reason is that the updated operating system cannot really run well on the smartphone. It was talked about earlier that the older versions had problems in the software part. While it can be remedied by a software update, the fragmentation of the Android operating system makes it hard for non-flagship phones to expect updated software every time. Locally made or rebranded smartphones often have this problem as they do not have enough engineers or software developers that can come up with updates for their smartphone models.

If there is an update, the added software code and features could eat up more space and resources. Low-end smartphones often have this problem as software updates can actually make their problems worse in the long run because the hardware cannot handle the software.

In those cases, the user can choose not to update their smartphones or tablets. However, it will still slow down over time. Sometimes the only choice is to upgrade a smartphone especially if it has been used heavily.

Weathered Damage

There are uncommon cases where physical damage from the outside causes the Android phone to slow down. It could be because the phone was once splashed by water, or it has been dropped several times from a considerable height. Whatever the reason is, it could definitely lead to the slowdown of the smartphone. One tip is to use heavy duty cases and don't really place a smartphone near a wet surface or object.

Too Much Heat

Another possible reason on why the Android smartphone runs slow is because it might be overheating. Most smartphones today have intelligent software that allows them to adjust the processing frequency whenever they need to If a phone is deemed too hot, the software could clock down the frequency to compensate with the heat. Since the frequency is lowered, the performance of the phone is also throttled. This happens every time the phone detects that the temperature is too hot. There are a couple of things that can heat up a smartphone such as playing graphic-heavy video games, watching movies at full brightness and using all of the radios (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC) at the same time.

If the user is already in a hot environment, the aforementioned activities should be avoided to prevent the slowdown of the smartphone itself. If possible, the user should refrain from using the smartphone until he or she is in a cold environment.

Bad Custom ROM

Android smartphones are known for being open for customization. One of the common customizations that users do is to try and change the ROM that it runs. Most smartphones run the stock Android vanilla ROM, which can sometimes be boring. Custom ROMS are coveted because of their added features such as tweaks, new themes and capabilities that would otherwise be absent on the stock ROM.

One problem that inexperienced Android users face is choosing and flashing a bad ROM. If it does run, it does so poorly. It impacts the performance negatively and the features would be ultimately useless. Users should properly read the instructions and notes before installing a custom ROM. They could be installing an incompatible ROM or sometimes a ROM is still unfinished. There are some Android smartphone models that have different variants. It can be confusing to know which ROM version should be used for which variant.

Bad Flashable Tweaks

For users who do not want to flash a whole custom ROM, they often choose to flash tweaks instead. These tweaks are customized versions of some parts of the operating system itself, with changed values and such. In order for them to work, the user would sometimes need to completely replace some of the sensitive files of the operating system. If the tweaks are also incompatible or unfinished, it could lead to performance issues and it could even brick the smartphone.

Paranoia and Envy

Seeing a friend's new smartphone run fast could give a user reasons to think that his or her phone is running slow. Sometimes it can just be the brain thinking that it's running slower than usual because there is a point of comparison. The user's phone could be running normally but the user can think that it's slow just because he or she saw an ad for the newer model. One tip is to run benchmarks or to keep track of app loading times just to see if the phone is really running slow compared to a few months ago.

With that said, there are a lot of possible reasons as to why an Android smartphone can run slow. The last resorts would be to do a factory reset or just to buy the newest smartphone, which would be able to last for several years if it is taken good care of.

Author: Lord Marin

Monday, 25 April 2016

Hacker Finds Traces of Another Hacker in Facebook Internal Network, Login Credentials Possibly Compromised

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) awarded $10,000 to a bug bounty hunter who discovered that there were hackers who managed to breach the company's internal network several months ago.


Image (c) Facebook

The hackers were able to access hundreds of Facebook employees' usernames and passwords without them even knowing it. Devcore security researcher Orange Tsai found out that there was at least a hacker that was able to compromise the corporate network.

Tsai said that the hacker created a proxy on the login page of the employees. This was done so that the usernames and passwords from the employees were saved on a directory which the hackers could have collected any time they wanted.

In addition, the login credentials harvested from the web directories could have been used to access email accounts, other virtual private networks and tools. The credentials for other login requirements could have been the same.

There is also the factor that the Facebook employees could have been using the same credentials on their personal accounts such as emails and accounts for other social media networks. Some of them may even use the same username which would make it easier for the hackers to gain access to their other accounts.

Even if the Facebook user data is stored on different servers or networks, the access credentials taken from the corporate accounts could have been used to access the user data either way. Tsai said that there were about 300 logged credentials when the proxy was found.

Tsai's job was to test the Facebook network for any vulnerabilities or exploits that others could use. In their line of job, the method is known as penetration testing. They need to find any valid vulnerability and report it to the company involved. It could be said that they are ethical white hat hackers.

The reward for Tsai was part of the Bug Bounty from the social network giant. Facebook pays off bounties to those who can discover vulnerabilities, bugs and glitches that could otherwise be used to disrupt the flow of the social network.

"With the growing popularity of Facebook around the world, I’ve always been interested in testing the security of Facebook. Luckily, in 2012, Facebook launched the Bug Bounty Program, which even motivated me to give it a shot. Of course, Bug Bounty is nothing about firing random attacks without restrictions. By comparing your findings with the permitted actions set forth by Bug Bounty, the overlapping part will be the part worth trying," Tsai wrote in his own blog post.

Tsai alerted Facebook regarding the vulnerability in February. After the incident was reported, Facebook conducted an internal investigation.

On April 20, the investigation officially ended. Devcore was then given permission to publish the details of the hack. Fortunately, the other hacker was also just a researcher and not a black or gray hat hacker. The other security researcher was also finding out if there were vulnerabilities in the network.

Facebook did not name who the other hacker was and if he/she was awarded a bounty. The company didn’t seem to be bothered that there was a vulnerability that could have led to billions of people's accounts being compromised to a hacker.

The company commented on Hacker News: "This is Reginaldo from the Facebook Security team. We're really glad Orange reported this to us. On this case, the software we were using is third party. As we don't have full control of it, we ran it isolated from the systems that host the data people share on Facebook. We do this precisely to have better security, as chromakode mentioned. After incident response, we determined that the activity Orange detected was in fact from another researcher who participates in our bounty program. Neither of them were able to compromise other parts of our infra-structure so, the way we see it, it's a double win: two competent researchers assessed the system, one of them reported what he found to us and got a good bounty, none of them were able to escalate access."

Despite the interesting find, both of the hackers seemed to have gone far beyond the basic penetration testing. The first hacker who got to the proxies and login credentials have already stumbled upon a large vulnerability and it would seem that he/she was still looking for something bigger before reporting to Facebook.

Even Tsai stepped out a bit of line too, according to Sophos. However, he wouldn't have found the earlier hacker's track if he didn't do what he has done. Either way, it was a risky win-win situation for Facebook.

If either of the hackers were not security researchers or were not snooping around because of the Facebook Bug Bounty program, the credentials would have been lost. It's actually one of the reasons why Facebook has a program for those vulnerabilities, to discourage hackers from using them for their own benefit.

Author: Lord Marin

Monday, 18 April 2016

Nintendo NX Updated Rumors: Second Screen Wireless Capability, More Powerful than PlayStation 4

Rumors about the Nintendo NX as starting to pile up especially as the E3 gaming convention is just close by. However, the Japanese video game company still hasn't said a word regarding the rumored console.

Image (c) Nintendo

Nintendo (NASDAQ: NTDOY) hasn't confirmed anything yet and they repeatedly refuse to comment on the speculations. However, they still haven't stopped teasing their fan base by filing for several patents that many assume are for the said console. In the recent weeks, there have been several fabricated photos of Nintendo NX controllers. Other information regarding the console does come from reliable sources.

One of the recent leaks is from a NeoGAF user named 10k. The user claims that he has information from sources that are close to the NX project. It could be that the Nintendo NX would have a screen controller that can be used by the owner to play home console games anywhere. However, the leaker said that the controller itself won't have any processing capabilities, which essentially makes it a "dummy vita".

Despite its lack of processing capabilities, the rumors say that it will have basic operating system functions in order to allow the user to access their main NX console from wherever they are. It will most likely be a similar streaming technology found in the Wii U gamepad but as an enhanced version with improvements. This means that the Nintendo NX users will be able to access their games through Wi-Fi or even personal wireless hotspots from mobile routers or their smartphones. However, the NX console will have to be in a stand-by mode and powered up.

The NeoGAF user said that the second screen functionality will be built-in the console itself and it will not require any kind of add-on. While the function will be built-in to the console, there is another speculation that the company might sell their own personal hotspot USB adapters for the users to have access to the Internet anywhere.

Nintendo's adapters could also be directly plugged into the controller itself or a wall outlet if they do not want to drain the controller's battery. This is where the earlier supplemental computing device comes in. The said supplementary computing devices could be the portable hotspot devices themselves. They could be fitted with chips in order to boost the quality of the streaming game. In addition, the user said that the Nintendo NX could actually be called the "Stream." However, no further information has been gathered regarding the name.

The new rumor sparks the possibility again that the NX console will be a handheld one, but 10K did not explicitly say that it will be an all-handheld device. There are still limitations which suggests that the feature is simply an add-on. Another rumor posted by 10K is that Luigi's Mansion 3 is currently being developed for the Nintendo NX. The user said that it was initially a rumor that came from one source, but another source has also come up to add to the veracity of the leak. Two different sources have told 10K that the game was already in development for the said console. Another source said that it is being developed by Next Level Games, who is also working on the anticipated Metroid Prime; Federation Force.

Interestingly, Federation Force for the Nintendo 3DS has been met with mostly negative reviews. There is even an ongoing Change.org petition to cancel the game, and the trailer has a 90 percent dislike to like ratio. The rumors say that Luigi's Mansion 3 was supposed to be for the Wii U, but the performance of the console and the release date did not line up. Nintendo reportedly switched the development of the game for the NX console instead. Another rumor is that the Nintendo NX will use a Polaris-like GPU, according to Forbes. 10K said that a PS4 game could be ported to the NX and the console would still have "power to spare".

"Likely will be on a FinFET 14nm fabrication node. The source told me it's on the same architecture with heavy customizations of course. It will contain the feature set of Polaris. It is "marginally better than the PS4" and theoretically could be "2x the power of PS4 GPU". I asked about PS4K being rumored to have a gpu 2x as powerful as the OG PS4 and how the theoretical performance of the NX would be and was told "Theoretically it could be close to the PS4K rumored specs". Of course, we know nothing of Polaris or the PS4K specs, but he gave that metric," said 10K on his NeoGAF post.

The rumor opens up possibilities that the NX will be able to handle PS4 games and run them more than 30 frames per second with added effects. This is for PS4 games that are barely holding up on the 30fps mark and 60fps games could run significantly better on the NX. In conjunction with the Polaris-GPU rumor, 10K also leaked that the Nintendo NX will also be using the Vulkan 3D API from Khronos. However, a developer who is porting a PS4 game to the console said that Vulkan is not ready yet. There could be an update by May.

Another rumor is that Nintendo won't be releasing most of the development kits for the NX until it has been officially unveiled to the public. This may be due to the fact that the company really wants it to be a surprise despite all the speculations, leaks and rumors already circulating the Internet.

There is also some potential good news for Square Enix fans. Besides the confirmed Dragon Quest 10 and 11 games for the NX, there are also speculations that the Final Fantasy XV will be developed for the console as well. One of the complaints from Nintendo fans and haters is that the company is just re-releasing or re-mastering all of their game franchises such as Mario and Zelda. Now, a source told 10K that there would be certainly new IPs in the works. More games are also being developed for the NX. However, no additional games have been named as of now.

Finally, the Nintendo NX would probably launch at different times across the several regions across the world. One of the said reasons for this is because there might not be enough chips that can be used in manufacturing enough models of the Nintendo NX. Nintendo could be launching the NX first in North America and Europe before it hits Asian countries, including Japan itself. All details are expected to be confirmed at the upcoming E3 2016 in June 14 to June 16 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Author: Lord Marin

Thursday, 7 April 2016

16 Tips to Improve the Speed of Your Android Smartphone

Android smartphones are becoming cheaper and more powerful each year. However, the constant thing is that they all slow down eventually.

Image by mammela-686310 [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

There are usually a lot of factors involved, such as outdated hardware, lack of software patches, storage and more. Fortunately, there are still some things a user can do to speed up their Android smartphones.

Update to the Latest Version

Most flagship phones are well-treated to several updates before the manufacturers officially drop support. If you own one of them, it's a good idea to check the OTA updates if your phone is up-to-date. Software updates often have fixes and optimizations to further make the phone faster. Security patches are also crucial so that the phone is not vulnerable to hackers and other malicious parties.

Before updating, make sure to make a backup of your phone. This way, you'll still have all the files you need if the phone runs into a problem while updating. Worst-case scenario is that your phone might get bricked. If you own a flagship phone such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, chances are that the development community will already have posted fixes and tutorials on what to do if something goes wrong.

Remove Bloatware

One of the main reasons why Android users root their phones is because they will be able to remove all the bloatware, which is basically all the unnecessary pre-installed apps from the manufacturer. These apps can range from forum apps to separate camera effects. If you won't really use them, you should get rid of them to save up on storage.

In addition, some apps can still eat RAM in the background even if they are not really used. Some bloatware can be those apps and removing them can speed up your Android phone by freeing up RAM space. Root your phone at your own risk. Rooting an Android phone often voids the warranty from the manufacturer or store where you bought it from.

Once rooted, you will be able to freely remove and uninstall any bloatware app through Settings > Applications. If you aren't rooted, you can still choose to disable them which may keep them using RAM in the background but they will still be installed in the storage of your phone.

Update Your Apps

For those apps that you really do need or use every day, make it a habit to update them if available. As usual, updates can add performance optimizations for the app which can translate into an overall speed improvement for the phone.

These updates also usually fix performance problems. If an app usually crashes, an update could fix that. It can also fix some cases where the app runs really slow on a certain device. Updating installed apps is easy to do. All you need to do is go to your Google Play Store app and go through the Installed apps tab.

If there is an update available for your apps, it will show. Alternatively, you can also choose to bulk update the apps instead of having to tap them one by one. Of course, do note that updating apps usually means they could take up more space in your phone. If your phone does not have that much space, it can be something to consider first.

Upgrade Your External Storage

Most low-end phones often have low internal storage spaces as well. It can be one of the main problems on why the Android phone is so slow. To remedy the situation, a microSD card is usually used. Try to choose a high-speed memory card which is usually Class 10 on all brands.

Before going out and buying a microSD card, make sure to check your phone specifications to see up to what storage space on the memory card it can support. Some phones can only support up to 32GB for the expandable memory, while others can go as far as 128GB. Once the microSD card is installed, it's better to put all of your media files in the external storage instead of the internal storage. This way, it will have more leeway when it needs space.

There are also some apps that can allow the Android phone's system to automatically install downloaded apps on the external storage instead. It can be useful but sometimes it can cause problems for the apps themselves.

Free Up Space

If you already have external storage but it keeps on getting full, it may be time to clean up your Android phone. You can usually do this by going into the Settings > Storage section. That section will also give you a brief summary of what kind of files are hogging all the space. It can show how many MB or GB pictures and videos eat up, or how much cached data is already used. You can choose to clear up cached data to free up some space if it eats up too much of your storage. However, it can mean that you would need to re-login your profile in some apps.

For a more detailed approach, you can choose to download storage analyzers. They can show the user a more detailed breakdown of which files and folders eat up most of the space in the phone, including the external storage. Be careful in deleting folders. Accidentally deleting a crucial part of the Android operating system itself on your phone can lead to it being bricked.

Disable Fancy Animations

Some Android phones have fancier animations compared to others. However, it can be the cause of a slowdown in the long run. If those effects and animations don’t really matter to you that much, it would be wise just to turn them off. They can often be found under the Developer options section. There is a list of Animation options that you can turn off. This will significantly improve Android phones in the lower-end of the spectrum.

Turning the animations off makes it easier for your phone's CPU and GPU to render the screen. The slightly less pixels and effects also mean that your battery won't be drained as much too. Besides the main transition animations themselves, you can also try to disable the lock screen animations under the Lock Screen section of your Android phone. It can drain resources such as RAM, processing power and battery quick.

Instead of having to render the effect, your GPU can focus on rendering other more important details on the screen. Animations tend to make a phone go slower as the system has to work harder to show those effects with consistency.

Only Use the Stock Launcher

It can be tempting to use third-party launchers to try out a new look for your Android smartphone. However, having two launchers at the same phone often leads to conflict. The third-party launcher would also add up to the RAM usage as it tries to render its own effects and icons on the home screen. It would also add more load to the GPU and the CPU if you try to use fancier effects and transitions.

While that may be okay for a high-end smartphone, low-end phones' performance can suffer from using third-party launchers. All of the added effects will only slow the phone down. In addition, slow transitions are also not attractive to look at. Most free third-party launchers also have ads that show up frequently. These can also slow down your phone's performance and Internet as the ads are downloaded from their servers as well.

Close Recent Apps to Save RAM

While some may argue that freeing RAM can actually be counterproductive, killing the piles of recent apps can be an answer if the phone suddenly slows down. All of the apps loaded in the background can be too much for your phone as it tries to keep up with everything. You might notice that the game will start to stutter and lag, but it can be quickly remedied by closing other apps in the background.

You can also view which apps are using the most RAM in the foreground and background through the Settings > Applications > RAM section of your Android phone. There will be an option to disable such apps, but be careful as you might accidentally disable a crucial background Android OS app.

Avoid Widgets as Much as Possible

Just like third-party launchers, widgets also suck battery power and RAM. They can impact the performance of your phone. These widgets sometimes take a heavy load on the GPU and CPU of the Android phone. If you have five widgets on the home screen and all are animated, they may most likely be the culprit on why your Android phone is so slow in the first place.

If you can't really avoid to get rid of all the widgets, at least try to keep the ones that are useful to you instead of just having them being all flashy and attractive. For instance, another clock widget can be removed seeing as you can already view the time on the top of your phone's screen. Some widgets are also much harder to render because they are animated. It would be significantly lighter for your phone's CPU and GPU if they won't have to render the widgets and animations every time you go to the home screen.

Don't Use Live Wallpapers

Similar to widgets, Live Wallpapers can also be taxing on the phone's hardware. Live Wallpapers are mostly animated and they can also move based on where the user touches on the screen.

For instance, a Live Wallpaper of a body of water would most likely be twice as hard on the CPU as it can have unique animations depending on where a tap was placed. While they may be attractive to look at, they serve no real purpose and they just make your phone drain the battery easier and make the system run slower.

Use Lightweight Apps Instead of the Main Ones

You can choose to download lighter versions of apps that you are using. Sometimes the developers know the ordeal of keeping Android phones running fast and they roll out a lighter version of their app. Of course, not every developer has thought of making a light version. In fact, there aren't many apps that do have a light version counterpart.

The main Facebook app was reportedly slowing down phones and draining the battery faster. Fortunately, there are other light versions of Facebook from third-party developers. Metal for Facebook is one such app that opens up the mobile version of the site on your Android phone. It still functions like the main app with some limitations, but it doesn't eat that much RAM and battery compared to the main FB app.

If possible, you can also choose to just login your social media accounts using the phone's mobile browser instead. Not only will this increase the free RAM and storage, it will also improve the performance and speed of your Android phone by not having to check for updates every once in a while. However, do note that using a mobile browser instead often means that social media notifications will be off. It could cause a problem for those who are waiting on notifications for their social media accounts. There are also lighter versions of music and video players. They can be used instead of the stock apps which can eat up more ram and battery.

Try Using Custom ROMs

Again, you should try this at your own risk. Improper installation of custom ROMS is one of the usual suspects in bricking an Android smartphone. You should follow every step on the tutorials properly in order for a custom ROM to be properly installed and initialized. Also, you should also have a backup before trying to flash a ROM. Having a backup means that you can always try to turn your phone back into the regular version if you don't like the new ROM. It will also be crucial if the phone is suddenly soft-bricked.

Custom ROMs often offer different experiences. Some ROMs offer a more visual experience instead of the vanilla stock themes, while some offer performance tweaks. These ROMs change how your Android phone works on the inside. There are some legit tweaks, but there are also others that only cause more harm so it's up to you to do the researching and to find if there are any negative feedbacks regarding a ROM.

Another caveat is that not every Android smartphone has custom ROMs. It would still depend on how large and active the developer community is for that phone. If you have a local Android smartphone, the change can be very limited. For some, there are no ROMs at available at all. There are some ROMs that can increase the battery life as well. Flashing a ROM is a great risk. If the ROM is not compatible with the phone, it can also be bricked. So always try to see if the ROM matches your phone or if it supported.

Try Task Killers

If you don't want to go through all the trouble of disabling apps one by one, there are some free task killer apps on Google Play. They will be able to show the user which apps are running in the background. Within that app, they can also choose to disable or stop those apps. However, the free ones usually also have ads which can make your phone slower as well.

There are also apps that try to "hibernate" the unused apps in the background, which means that they do not necessarily eat up any resources for the time being. Always be careful too in using such apps as they can also damage your smartphone's Android system.

Increase the Memory Limit of the Mobile Chrome Browser

This tip comes from Toms Guide. If you are an avid user of Chrome on your Android phone, this can make the browser run faster. The default RAM usage of Chrome browser on Android is just 128MB. If your phone has more to spare, you can change that limit from within Chrome.

First step is to navigate to chrome://flags/#max-tiles-for-interest-area on the address bar. Alternatively, you can also just go to chrome: // flags and try to scroll down to spot the "Maximum tiles for interest area" tab. Tap on the "default" drop down arrow and you can then choose to allocate more RAM or less RAM depending on your situation. The choices include: 64 MB, 128 MB, 256 MB and 512 MB. After making any changes on that page, you should tap "Relaunch Now" for those changes to apply and to be set.

Chrome is also useful for those who already use the browser on their laptops or desktop computers. They will be able to browse through other devices' recently visited webpages and use the bookmarks and stored passwords as well. Ultimately, it can be a faster experience as you won't have to type the entire address or password as Chrome can remember it for you. You can also transfer to another device knowing well that you can continue your browsing on a website.

Do a Factory Reset

If you don't want to do any of the things mentioned above, you can just do a Factory Data Reset on your Android phone. This will reset all the data and settings, which means you'll start from scratch. Doing a factory reset often solves performance problems on a phone. This is because all of the data would be deleted, all apps would be uninstalled and all the clutter would be gone.

Of course, this should be a last resort. Consider if you really want your files gone or just make a backup of them just in case. Do note that factory reset won't delete the data on your microSD card. However, you can also choose to format the card or wipe the contents off of it.

Upgrade Your Phone

Finally, if you really want a faster Android phone, the best choice would be just to buy a new one. Check the current specs of your Android phone and try to look for something faster in the market. For instance, try to buy a smartphone with a quad-core processor instead of your old dual-core one. Try to buy a phone with 2GB of memory instead of your 512MB one.

The performance improvement will be noticeable. You'll also have a cleaner-looking smartphone. In addition, the software would be updated. Instead of trying to make your way from your old Android Ice Cream Sandwich, you can just buy a phone with the newest Android 6.0 Marshmallow instead.

Of course, this option is for those who have money to spend. The tips mentioned above can be universally applied to any mid to low-end Android smartphone.

Author: Lord Marin

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Far Cry Primal Still Violent Even Without Guns, Animals Take On Larger Role

Ubisoft Montreal is taking a slightly different approach for Far Cry Primal. Instead of the usual crime lords, vehicle and gun shooting rampages, the new title would focus on hunting and avoiding poos of mammoths.

Image: Far Cry Primal (c) Ubisoft

The first Far Cry game, made by the popular Crytek, included mutant experiments on an isolated island. It was also renowned for being ahead of other 3D titles at the time in terms of aesthetic and graphics.

Far Cry 2 was literally far from the first game's concept. Instead of a beautiful, lost paradise, the setting was in a barren land somewhere in a fictional African state. Mutants were also taken out of the plot. Essentially, it was a different story from the first game. The antagonist was a wanted man who is the main reason why a civil war is made possible in the state. It was not well received by both the original and the new fans of the franchise.

Ubisoft recovered with Far Cry 3, which takes the player back in the paradise setting. Like with the other sequels, it was also a different story. It featured a plotline powered by psychedelic drugs and mystical tattoos. The recent Far Cry 4 took a similar approach by putting players in another paradise in a mountainous region. However, some critics have said that the studio was playing safe and the result was a very similar game compared to its predecessor.

New Approach For Far Cry

Now, Ubisoft Montreal is set to create another hit with Far Cry Primal. The game will put players back in the Stone Age. No modern guns and no vehicles. Players will have to do with blunt and sharp weapons instead of machine guns. The protagonist's name is Takkar, according to Digital Spy.

The setting would still be open-world and hopefully stay true to the sequels' aesthetic goals. It could comprise of jungles, caves and mountains as well. Since there would be no guns and other technological marvels present in the game, players would most likely find this as a different experience. However, it would still comprise of the same mechanics in first person shooters.

Far Cry Primal Game Mechanics

Players would need to kill to survive. This may involve melee kills in the earlier part of the game and soon evolve into shooting things and animals with bow and arrows. Of course, Ubisoft would not leave out the RPG aspect of the game as well. Levelling up and learning new skills would be part of the game, as well as upgrading weapons or customising them to an extent.

Animals have been a part of the previous Far Cry games, but they did not play a large part of the game mechanics. They were often skinned or looted for valuable crafting items and that was that. In Far Cry Primal, some of the animals could either kill the player outright or become one of the player's best assets in the game. Takkar is a Beast Master, which means that he could tame other animals to do his bidding.

Hunting for resources was quite simple in the previous games. All the player needed was a good gun and to hit them at the right spot. In the new title, players are not the only ones who hunt animals. Other predators are also present. They have the potential to hurt the player directly or by taking the supposed to be prey from them.

The tamed animals, such as wolves, could also help in the hunting part. Instead of trying to creep up on Yaks, the player can just send in a wolf to do the job. They could end up killing the prey or be killed by other much stronger predators waiting a few steps away.

Early Disappointments?

In the gameplay walkthrough posted by Ubisoft in December, it was shown that a dead goat on the ground usually meant that there are predators nearby. Ubisoft Toronto Creative Director Maxime Beland and Creative Director on Far Cry Primal Jean-Christophe Guyot played the walkthrough with their commentaries.

One disappointing part was how easy it was to tame a wolf. All the player needed to do was to toss a slab of meat on the ground near the animal and let it calm down. After calming down, the player only needs to approach it and press a button. The whole process can be done in just under half a minute.

The animation for looting dead animals is also very similar to Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4. One kind of new aspect is how predators appear. Once a prey or another animal has been killed, it could possibly attract predators in the area. Players would have the chance to run from the area to avoid being seen by the other predators or just set a trap and kill that animal too. Setting up traps could also remind players of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed III which also involved hunting animals.

Animals and the Player

Some of the tamed animals also have unique abilities. The wolf can growl to alert enemies nearby for a distraction. Meanwhile, the owl acts as the player's binoculars which allow them to tag spotted enemies. Owls can also carry fire bombs and dive attack some enemies. Jaguars can crouch and move stealthily with the player. The Sabertooth can do surprise attacks on enemies too. The walkthrough also showed that the player can summon bears.

Radio towers have been removed because of the Stone Age. However, Ubisoft decided to place bonfires instead. They will be used for fast travel as the game world map is really huge. It could also be a place to stash some of the player's inventory items. Vehicles aren't present, but the player can still ride some of the animals like the young mammoth. The player can throw spears at enemies while riding.

Far Cry Primal PC Specs Requirements

Ubisoft recently rolled out the PC requirements for Far Cry Primal. Surprisingly, the specs are not all that scary.

Minimum PC Requirements for Far Cry Primal

Video Card - NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 (1GB VRAM) | AMD Radeon HD 5770 (1GB VRAM) or equivalent.
Processor - Intel Core i3-550 | AMD Phenom II X4 955 or equivalent.
RAM - 4GB
Hard Disk Space - at least 20 GB
Supported Operating Systems - Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 (64-bit versions only)

Recommended PC Specs Requirements for Far Cry Primal

For those who want to play the game at a high setting for graphics, they may want to upgrade their computers first.

Video Card - NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 | AMD Radeon R9 280X or equivalent.
Processor - Intel Core i7-2600K | AMD FX-8350 or equivalent.
RAM - 8GB
Hard Disk Space - at least 20 GB.
Supported Operating Systems - Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 (64-bit versions only)

Far Cry Primal Release Date

Ubisoft is expected to launch the game on February 23, 2016 for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. PC players will have to wait until March 2016.

by Lord Marin