Archive for the ‘Smartphone’ Category


Best new Android & Windows smartphones at MWC 2015

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Samsung, HTC, Sony and others debut brand new smartphones at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

Best at MWC 2015
Samsung, HTC, Sony, Microsoft and others are using the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona to debut their latest smartphones and other gear. Here’s a look at the new Android and Windows devices.

Samsung Galaxy S6
The latest Galaxy Android phone swaps out its plastic frame for one made of metal and glass. The 5.1-inch screen size hasn’t changed since the S5, but resolution has been improved to 1440×2560. Other features: 5mp camera on front, 16mp camera on back; Samsung octo-core processor; 32/64/128GB storage options; 3GB RAM; integrated wireless charging. Missing: water resistance, microSD card slot and user-replaceable battery. Available globally April 10. Pricing hasn’t been disclosed.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
This premium edition of the S6 has most of the same specs as the regular S6, but sports a screen that curves around its left and right sides.

HTC One M9
The company’s flagship Android 5.0 phone is based on a Snapdragon 810 processor running at 2GHz, includes 3GB of RAM and boasts a 5-inch screen. It features a 20mp front camera and 4pm rear one. HTC has partnered with Dolby to provide great sound. Best Buy lists a 32GB version for use on AT&T’s LTE network in the US for $650.

Silent Circle Blackphone 2
The Swiss company’s privacy-focused device will be targeted at enterprise customers in July, probably for about $630. The phone will have an 8-core processor, 32GB of memory and a 5-inch screen. What separates it from other phones is a hardened Android-based operating system dubbed PrivatOS as well as Silent Meeting, a secure conference-calling system, and a company-vetted app store. A new Blackphone+ tablet is on the way as well.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
This waterproof device is a midrange Android offering that will cost about $335 when it launches in Q2. It has a 5-inch, 720×1280 pixel screen, a Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor and integrated support for LTE. The phone has a 13mp camera on the back and a 5mp camera on the front. Sony boasts of a two-day long battery life, but didn’t get into anymore specifics.

Acer Liquid M220
Acer says its new phone will come with Windows Phone 8.1, but will be upgradeable to Windows 10 when the operating system is released later this year. This $89 phone has a 4-inch screen, dual-core processor, 4GB of storage, 512MB of RAM, two SIM slots, and 5mp rear camera and 2mp front camera. It comes chock full of Microsoft apps like Cortana and OneDrive. It does not support LTE.

ZTE Grand S3
The unique thing about this phone is its biometric authentication system, which enables users to log in via eye scanning using EyeVerify technology. Down the road, the feature could work with apps. The smartphone runs Android 4.4, has a 5.5-inch screen, a Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage that can be expanded to 64GB via a microSD card. The back camera is 16mp and the front one is 8mp. The phone is initially available in China for about $480.

Microsoft Lumia 640 and 640 XL
These midrange Windows phones have 5- and 5.7-inch screens, respectively, and are upgradeable to Windows 10 when it is released later this year. Other specs: 1GB of memory, a quad-core Snapdragon processor running at 1.2GHz, an 8mp camera on the 640 and 13mp camera on the 640 XL. LTE support available on dual-SIM models. The 640 rolls out in April, the XL – a small phablet — in March. Pricing is expected to be in the $300 range for both.

LG Magna
LG revealed this new phone ahead of MWC, but gave people a first chance to play with it at the show. This Android smartphone has a 5-inch, 720×1280 pixel screen and 1.2GHz or 1.3GHz quad-core processor. It has an 8mp front camera and 5mp back one, plus 1GB of RAM and 8GB of integrated storage. Extended battery life and support for LTE are also touted by LG, which is expected to price the phone no higher than $250.

Lenovo A7000
This Android 5.0 smartphone has a 5.5-inch display, plus Dolby Atmos technology for audio. Powered by a MediaTek True8Core processor and supporting LTE, the phone has a dual SIM card slot for allowing use of separate phone numbers. The A7000 goes on sale in the US in March for $169.

Lenovo VIBE Shot
This is a camera-first Android phone that includes a 16mp rear camera with a six-piece modular lens and superfast shutter speed, as well as an 8mp selfie camera. Powered by a Snapdragon processor, the phone has 32GB of storage expandable to 128GB. It will sell for $350 when it becomes available in June.

BlackBerry Leap
OK, this isn’t an Android or Windows phone, but it bears at least a mention among the devices launched at MWC. BlackBerry is targeting young professionals (at start-ups!) with this $275 all-touchscreen phone that runs the BlackBerry 10 OS and features a 5-inch screen, 16GB of storage upgradeable to 128GB, an 8mp camera and 25 hours of battery life.

Alcatel OneTouch Hero 2+
This $300 6-inch phablet is the result of an Alcatel OneTouch partnership with Cyanogen, whose OS is based on Android. The unlocked phone is powered by a 2.0 GHz octa-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor, supports 4G LTE connectivity and features a 13mp back camera and 5mp front camera, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, expandable to 32GB via MicroSD.


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Using a smartphone as a hotel room key: What could possibly go wrong?

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If you stay at one of 11 brands of hotels in Hilton’s portfolio, you can choose your room online now; by 2015 you can bypass the front desk and use a smartphone to unlock the door to your hotel room.

If you have an Apple or Android smartphone and stay at one of 11 brands of hotels in Hilton’s portfolio, then your smartphone will soon double as your hotel room key. Imagine using a smartphone as room key for more than 650,000 hotel rooms, at over 4,000 hotels in 80 different countries…what could possibly go wrong?

Hilton Worldwide has upgraded its technology to the tune of $550 million and announced that by the end of 2014 guests will be able to use their phone to select their exact room from digital floor plans “for over 650,000 rooms at more than 4,000 hotels across Hilton’s portfolio of 11 brands.” Guests can also “customize their stay by purchasing upgrades and making special requests for items to be delivered to their room, on their mobile devices, tablets and computers.”

The ability to bypass the front desk and use a smartphone as a room key will roll out in 2015; “all U.S. hotels across four of its brands will have this capability by the end of that year. By the end of 2016, the majority of its rooms system-wide will be equipped with this functionality.”

Is it secure or will this feature become the next hotel hacking case? Would it stand up to the likes of Jesus Molina, who will present Learn How to Control Every Room at a Luxury Hotel Remotely at Black Hat? Molina exploited vulnerabilities in the KNX communications protocol that St. Regis ShenZhen hotel in China used so guests can control the features in their room with the supplied iPad and digital butler application.

“Using protocols like KNX for home automation makes no sense for wireless,” Molina told Wired. “This guerrilla war we’re playing with the Internet of Things can get dangerous. This is not something I say lightly.” He claimed that an arbitrary attacker could control virtually every appliance in the hotel remotely. “The KNX/IP protocol provides no security, so any hotel or public space that have deployed it on an insecure network will make it easy to exploit.”

A spokesman for the KNX Association said “the most recent version of the standard did feature authentication and encryption and that it was ‘essential that separate Wi-Fi networks are used’ for the purposes of guest internet access and automation.”

St. Regis Shenzhen said Molina’s claim that he took control of the automation system was “unsubstantiated,” but it had “temporarily suspended the control system of the in-room iPad remote controls for system upgrading.” Since this allegedly includes taking down the whole system and rewiring everything for every hotel room, the ability to exploit the fatal flaws hardly seem “unsubstantiated.”

The Starwood chain, which owns St. Regis, as well as the Marriott and InterContinental Hotel groups, are in a mobile services race along with Hilton. The Wall Street Journal reported that Starwood is already testing mobile phone room keys; Marriott allows guest to use mobile check-in and check-out, and InterContinental sends out push notifications to guests, such as two-for-one drink specials at the bar.

Hilton launched Conrad Concierge in 2012, allowing guests to use the hospitality software app to check-in through their mobile device. “Going forward, Hilton anticipates delivering further digital advancements to guests every six to eight weeks.”

Regarding room selection, Hilton said that by the end of summer, Hilton HHonors members can check-in and choose their room “via the Apple and Android HHonors apps across the following U.S. brands: Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites.”

At 6 a.m. the day before a booked stay, Hilton HHonors members can sign into their account via their mobile device, tablet or computer to check-in and choose their preferred room through floor plan maps or lists populated from the hotel’s available inventory. Photos of rooms are also available to help with their selection. Hilton’s digital lobby function is updated in real-time, so guests no longer have to wait until they are physically in the hotel lobby to be assigned a room.

Next year, Hilton guests can skip the lines at the front desk and use their smartphones to unlock the doors to their rooms. If Hilton currently uses NFC for the door locks, with an NFC tag embedded in the keycards that can unlock the door, then it might be reasonable to assume the hotel’s app would tap into NFC-enabled phone capabilities. It remains to be seen if some curious hacker will find a way to exploit potential flaws in these new features.

It was two years ago when we learned 4 million hotel rooms were insecure due to Onity programmable keycard locks. With under $50 in off-the-shelf hardware, Cody Brocious opened a Onity lock in only 200 milliseconds. Inspired by Brocious, hackers then cut costs to about $30 and created a pen-sized device that looked like a dry erase marker. When the “James Bond” pen was pushed into a DC port on the underside of a hotel keycard lock, it instantly popped the lock open.

Time and technology marched on, creating new ways to hack hotel features, as will be highlighted by Molina next week at Black Hat. Let’s hope that Hilton’s implementation will be secure or hacking it to open other guests’ doors might end up as a presentation in Black Hat 2015.

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