Tag Archives: smartphone

Your smartphone can tell when you’re drunk — and this might save lives

Credit: Pixabay.

Not everyone gets intoxicated from drinking the same amount of alcohol. Some feel tipsy after a single drink while other, more experienced, bar-hoppers can go shot after shot and still keep a straight face. However, once a person truly becomes intoxicated, it’s hard to keep it a secret — especially if you have to walk from point A to point B.

In a new study, researchers at Stanford University and the University of Pittsburgh have used smartphone built-in hardware to identify ‘drunken gaits’ with up to 92% accuracy. In the future, an app may be able to send notifications to intoxicated users that it is unsafe to drive or that they should be more careful in public, potentially saving lives.

The walk that doesn’t lie

The fact that a person’s gait can be tied to their level of alcohol toxicity is by no means a novelty. Police officers routinely employ so-called field sobriety tests to determine if a person suspected of impaired driving is intoxicated with alcohol.

The gait sobriety test has now been integrated into a smartphone, whose accelerometer can determine if a person is walking ‘funny’.

For their study, the researchers recruited 17 volunteers (12 male and 5 female) and served them vodka cocktails (for science!). After an hour of drinking their first serving, the participants had to complete a walking trial consisting of 10 steps forward and 10 steps backward every hour for seven hours. During this entire time, their smartphones were strapped to their lower backs, which is where the accelerometer can most accurately determine a person’s gait.

Their height and weight were also measured in order to determine how much alcohol would be required to intoxicate them — this is equivalent to a breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) of 0.08. Speaking to Inverse, lead study author Brian Suffoleto says that one shot of vodka raises the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) by 0.02 for men and by 0.03 for women.

The smartphone accelerometer recorded lateral movement corresponding to a back-and-forth swaying motion, which is a key sign of intoxication. Based on this recorded motion, the researchers could determine if a person’s BrAC was above 0.08 with 92% accuracy.

As an important caveat, these results are valid in a highly controlled research environment. In the real world, people’s gaits will naturally vary much more as they move around obstacles or in a crowded environment like a bar. Also, people don’t wear their smartphones on their backs, although Suffoleto says that they can adapt their analysis algorithms to data recorded from the trouser’s pocket.

The biggest challenge, according to Suffoleto, is designing a communication strategy that might convince a person impaired with alcohol to respond positively to supportive messaging.

In order to reduce alcohol-related traffic accidents and deaths, some have previously proposed embedding breath analyzers inside vehicles. If the exhaled breath contains alcohol levels past a legal threshold, the car won’t start. However, this is unrealistic, says Suffoleto — at least in the U.S. where consumers would not purchase a vehicle that would lock them out of their own property.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more persuasive methods. Suffoleto envisions a system where people can pay significantly less for their car insurance as long as they agree to this sort of monitoring.

The findings appeared in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Credit: Pixabay.

Constantly checking your phone reduces wellbeing, makes you less mindful

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

It has never been easier to connect with friends or stay informed — just a few perks of carrying a mini computer connected to high-speed internet in your pocket. Yet being constantly plugged in can also be harmful, researchers report. One new study found that people who spend a lot of time checking their phones and browsing online are more likely to lack mindfulness (attention directed towards experiences occurring in the present moment) and are more easily distracted.

Psychologists at Radboud University, Netherlands, and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany, surveyed 371 people about their digital consumer habits but also performed cognitive tests. Being constantly preoccupied with online streams of information, such as always checking for notifications on your phone or returning to social media for the latest updates, is a psychological phenomenon called ‘online vigilance’. The researchers found that participants who qualified for online vigilance behavior were more likely to mind-wander and be less mindful.

The lowest score for mindfulness was reported among people who would automatically monitor or text on their phones without being aware of their feelings or thoughts. According to the study’s results, low mindfulness was also associated with decreased wellbeing. So excessive online communication doesn’t only make people unhappy — it’s insidious, making them unaware that it’s stressing their lives.

“Those mentally preoccupied with online communication were overall less satisfied with their lives and reported less affective well-being when they also experienced reduced mindfulness,” researchers write in the study.

Previously, studies have linked excessive phone use with a number of negative psychological effects, such as depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and interpersonal sensitivity. People who overuse their cell phones may also exhibit escapist behavior — using their phones as a way to avoid addressing real-life problems, such as anxiety and depression.

If you feel the urge to check your phone very often, it might be a good idea to resist that urge from time to time. Instead, choose to be more mindful of the moment and the people around you.

Smartphone microscope.

With a few cheap changes, your smartphone can now detect lead contamination in water

Researchers at the University of Houston want to help you avoid lead intake from drinking water, so they’re working on an inexpensive system that turns your smartphone into a detector for the metal.

Smartphone microscope.

Researchers built a self-contained smartphone microscope that can operate in both fluorescence and dark-field imaging modes and paired it with an inexpensive Lumina 640 smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera.
Image and caption credit University of Houston.

Following the Flint debacle — when insufficient water treatment capabilities flooded the city’s pipelines with contaminated water — public attention to the health risks posed by lead have soared sky-high. In a bid to protect people from events like this in the future, the team developed an inexpensive system using a smartphone and a lens made with an inkjet printer that can detect dangerously high levels of lead in tap water.

Pb solved

“Smartphone nano-colorimetry is rapid, low-cost, and has the potential to enable individual citizens to examine (lead) content in drinking water on-demand in virtually any environmental setting,” the researchers wrote.

Lead is quite toxic, even in small concentrations, and especially for young children. EPA guidelines state that levels under 15 parts per billion are safe to drink but, according to Shih, consumer test kits on the market today aren’t sensitive enough to accurately detect lead at that level.

To address this problem, the team equipped an inexpensive smartphone with an inkjet-printed lens and, using the dark-field imaging technique, produced a system that is both portable and easy to operate. But, more to the point, the team’s rig can detect waterborne lead in concentrations as low as 5 parts per billion in tap water, and as low as 1.37 parts per billion in deionized water.

The work draws heavily on a previous open-source dataset that Shih and his students published last year. That paper explained how to convert a smartphone equipped with the elastomer lens into a fluorescence microscope (and has since become the most-downloaded paper in the Biomedical Optics Express journal’s history). The present work also incorporates color analysis into the mix, which the device uses to detect lead nano-particles.

As per the previously-published dataset, the team built a microscope that can operate in both fluorescence and dark-field imaging modes. They then paired it with a (relatively cheap) Lumina 640 smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera.

In order to test their device, the team spiked tap water with various levels of lead — from 1.37 parts per billion to 175 parts per billion. They then added chromate ions, which react with the lead to form lead chromate nanoparticles — the latter being what the microscope actually detects. The analysis process itself is more complicated but suffice to say that by the last step of preparation, the team obtained a solid sediment that contained all the lead from their water sample.

The microscopy imaging capability proved essential, Shih said, because the preparation process resulted in so little sediment that it couldn’t be imaged with an unassisted smartphone camera, making it impossible to detect relatively low levels of lead.

“We wanted to be sure we could do something that would be useful from the standpoint of detecting lead at the EPA standard,” Shih said.

The paper “Smartphone Nanocolorimetry for On-Demand Lead Detection and Quantitation in Drinking Water” has been published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Scientists designed a nerve agent detector using LEGO bricks and a smartphone. Credit: American Chemical Society.

Scientists build chemical weapon detector with Lego

War is no child’s play, but that didn’t stop researchers at the University of Texas at Austin from being creative. They used LEGO bricks — popular children’s toys — and a smartphone to develop an optical sensing method for detecting nerve agents.

Scientists designed a nerve agent detector using LEGO bricks and a smartphone. Credit: American Chemical Society.

Scientists designed a nerve agent detector using LEGO bricks and a smartphone. Credit: American Chemical Society.

Chemical weapons are arguably the most gruesome kinds of weapons man has devised. They work by shutting down enzymes that control the body’s nervous system functions, inhibiting respiratory and cardiovascular capability. Death follows within minutes from contact with the chemical agent — which is either inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

The use and possession of chemical weapons are prohibited under international law. However, several nations continue to maintain active chemical weapons programs, despite a prevailing norm against the use of chemical weapons and international efforts to destroy existing stockpiles. Recent events in Syria suggest that chemical weapons have been deployed there, for instance. Then, there’s the threat of terrorist attacks.

Besides their potential for causing horrific mass murder, chemical weapons are also extremely easy to conceal. Generally, the compounds are odorless, tasteless, and highly difficult to detect because of their low lethal doses. Even a fraction of a milligram of some chemical agents is enough to kill a person.

Current methods for detecting nerve agents involve bulky and expensive equipment that isn’t suited for the field. To complicate matters further, there are two main classes of such lethal chemicals, each with its particularities, making it challenging to differentiate between them.

The two main types of nerve agents are G-series and V-series. G-series are phosphoryl fluorides, such as sarin (GB), soman (GD), and tabun (GF) gas, while V-series are phosphoryl thiols, such as O-ethyl-S-(2-diisopropylaminoethyl), methylphos-phonothioate (VX), O-isobutyl-S-2-diethyl-aminoethylmethyl-phosphonothioate(RVX), and O-butyl-S-2-diethyl-aminoethyl methylphosphonothioate (CVX). V-agents are more toxic and of lower volatility than G-agents, making them far more dangerous.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin not only found an efficient way to detect and differentiate between various nerve agents, they did so using cheap and readily available materials. The method doesn’t involve any direct chemical analysis, instead relying on image analysis.

“Traditionally, to record and interpret the optical changes, spectroscopy measurements such as fluorescence spectroscopy, ultraviolet−visible absorption spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, circularly dichroism spectropolarimetry, etc., utilizing sophisticated instruments are required,” the authors wrote in their new study published in ACS Central Science. 

The team developed a cascade of reactions that amplify an optical signal resulting from a byproduct of the decomposition of the nerve agents. The mixture changes color and intensity of emissions relative to the amount of chemical weapon agent. It’s then only a matter of recording this visual change of emissions  — which can be read with a smartphone’s camera, placed within a LEGO box. The only other components in the chemical weapon detector are a UV/visible lamp and a 96-well test plate.

The resulting image is analyzed by free-software and to encourage others to adopt and improve their technology, the researchers uploaded all of their work (code, image guides, and a demo video) to GitHub.

“We show that the two different amplification routines are selective for their analyte class and thus successfully discriminated the G- and V-series nerve agent mimics. Further, accurate concentrations of the analytes are determined using the chromaticity and LEGO
approach given herein, thus demonstrating a simple and on-site constructible/portable device for use in the field,” the authors concluded.

Put your phone away if you want to enjoy your night out, study suggests

Smartphones and dinners don’t mix, researchers say.

Dining table.

Image credits Helena Lopes.

Hello, girlfriends past. I know we have debated this during the times we enjoyed together. I also know that we decided, alas, that I found myself on the wrong side of the Snapchat barricade at the time. Yet I come bearing dire news: pulling out a smartphone at dinner might help you stay connected (or depressed), but according to new research from the University of British Columbia, it will make your face-to-face interactions less enjoyable.

 

“As useful as smartphones can be, our findings confirm what many of us likely already suspected,” said Ryan Dwyer, the study’s lead author and PhD student in the department of psychology. “When we use our phones while we are spending time with people we care about — apart from offending them — we enjoy the experience less than we would if we put our devices away.”

For the study, the team asked some 300 people to go to dinner with friends or family at a restaurant, with a caveat: some participants were randomly assigned to use their devices while out, others to stow their devices away. Afterwards, the team asked them several questions, including how much they enjoyed their time. The questions were designed in such a way as to hide the study’s focus on smartphones.

Online, but disconnected

The participants’ answers suggest that when phones were present, they felt more distracted, which reduced their enjoyment of the dinner by about half a point on a seven-point scale. They also reported feeling slightly more bored during the meal when the devices were present — a find which the researchers call surprising.

 

“We had predicted that people would be less bored when they had access to their smartphones, because they could entertain themselves if there was a lull in the conversation,” said Dwyer.

Next, the team wanted to see if the results hold true in other settings — so they expanded their study to day-to-day life. For this second step, they recruited more than 100 participants and sent a survey to their smartphones five times a day for a whole week. The questionnaire asked about their mood and what activities they’ve engaged during the past 15 minutes.

The team says the same pattern emerged: participants reported enjoying their in-person social interactions less if they had been using their phones. Elizabeth Dunn, the senior author of the study and professor in the department of psychology, said the findings expand on the ongoing debate around the effects of smartphones on public health.

“An important finding of happiness research is that face-to-face interactions are incredibly important for our day-to-day wellbeing. This study tells us that, if you really need your phone, it’s not going to kill you to use it,” she said, adding:

“But there is a real and detectable benefit from putting your phone away when you’re spending time with friends and family.”

I know that disconnecting isn’t only daunting in this day and age, it’s rapidly becoming impossible. But I also feel that we should all take that half hour a day to enjoy those close to us, in the flesh, without a bunch of pixels mediating our interaction — it’s those times that we’ll remember later on, not the thumbs up we sent in the group chat. Social media will still be there to shower you in emojis when you return.

The paper “Smartphone use undermines enjoyment of face-to-face social interactions” has been published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

 

Closeup of a bee's amazing eyes. Credit: Flickr, USGS Bee Inventory.

How bees might help smartphone cameras snap more natural-looking photos

Most cameras, whether their embedded into your phone or drone for that matter, are crap when it comes to rendering colors as vibrantly as the human eye does. One team of researchers, however, argues that we would take far better vacation photos if cameras were built more like a bee’s eye.

Closeup of a bee's amazing eyes. Credit: Flickr, USGS Bee Inventory.

Closeup of a bee’s amazing eyes. Credit: Flickr, USGS Bee Inventory.

The problem with modern commercial cameras is color constancy. That is, the ability to identify and distinguish color in any variation of light. It’s what helps us humans identify objects even in dim light. For instance, we know that a banana is yellow even though it’s sitting in a basket in the low light just before dawn. You look at the banana and you know it’s yellow but if you look at a picture of the banana taken in the same light that’s another thing.

“For a digital system like a camera or a robot the colour of objects often changes. Currently this problem is dealt with by assuming the world is, on average, grey,” said Adrian Dyer, an Associate Professor at RMIT.

“This means it’s difficult to identify the true colour of ripe fruit or mineral rich sands, limiting outdoor colour imaging solutions by drones, for example.”

It’s not just people that have good color constancy, bees do too. What’s more, they have five eyes, two of which are dedicated to sensing color which is mighty useful when foraging flowers is concerned. The other three eyes are not as specialized but can still sense color through receptors called oceli, which focus on the color of light. These oceli are always pointed to the sky.

Australian researchers at RMIT University, Melbourne, think it’s these oceli that relay information on light to the right parts of the brain responsible for processing color. This is to ensure the bee knows what’s it doing and approaches the right flower, unlike a camera which can be pick up the wrong colors.

For this to happen, information from the ocelli would have to be integrated with colors seen by the compound eyes. Indeed, this seems to happen after the researchers mapped the neural tracings from ocelli and showed neural projections fed into the processing areas of the bee brain. “It is rare that physics, biology, neuro-anatomy and ecology all fit together, but here we have it,” said Professor Andrew Greentree from the ARC Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at RMIT, in a statement.

This discovery on color constancy could be implemented into imaging systems to enable accurate color interpretation. One day, we might all take better, sweeter pictures. And it’s thanks to bees.

The findings appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 

 

Smartphone.

You’re dumber when your smartphone is within reach

Your smartphone might be making you dumb, a study from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin found. It doesn’t have to ring, buzz, or vibrate either — just having your device nearby is enough to reduce your cognitive capacity.

Smartphone.

And we would’ve gotten away with it if not for you meddling scientists!
Image credits Alexandr Borecký.

A team of researchers from McCombs, led by Assistant Professor Adrian Ward recruited almost 800 participants to measure if and to what degree the presence of a smartphone nearby can influence a person’s ability to solve tasks — even when the devices aren’t in use.

The participants were required to take a series of tests on a computer, designed to require full concentration on the part of the testee. The final score would reflect the participants’ available cognitive capacity, a measure of how much information a brain can store and work with at one time. Before taking the test, however, they were randomly asked to place their phones either face down on the desk with the computer, store it in a bag or pocket, or just leave it in another room. All groups were asked to turn their phone to silent so any observed effects would come down to the presence of the phone alone, not random notifications.

Who’s smart now?

 

Overall, the team found that testees who left their phones in another room “significantly outperformed” those who had placed the phones on the desk, and these in turn slightly outperformed the participants who had their phone in a pocket or bag. The results suggest that the mere presence of the devices is enough to drain somebody’s mental resources and impair their cognitive capacity, even though the participants felt that they were completely immersed in the task presented to them.

And that feeling of single-minded concentration could be exactly why the participant’s processing power dipped.

“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” says Ward. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.”

After establishing what the baseline smartphone-effect looks like, the team investigated how someone’s self-reported feelings of smartphone dependence (how strongly he or she believes to need the device to pass a regular day) influence cognitive capacity. For this step of the study, different participants were asked to take the same computer tests as the first group and were randomly assigned to keep their smartphones either face-up on the desk where it would be easily visible, in a pocket or bag, or in another room. Some participants were also asked to turn off their phones.

Those who reported higher levels of smartphone dependency fared worse than the other participants, the team reports, but only when their devices were kept on their person or on the desk. Whether the phones were turned on or off didn’t seem to matter, nor if it was placed on the desk lying face up or face down — all that was needed to reduce a participant’s ability to focus and perform a task was to have a smartphone somewhere visible and within reach.

Unlike other similar research, however, the team says it doesn’t come down to us delegating some cognitive processes over to the devices and losing on brain ‘exercise’ in the meantime — rather, it’s a matter of self-control. It’s a bit scary to think that we’ve become so attached to the things that your brain actually has to give up part of its processing power to keep the urge of picking them up at bay.

 

“It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” said Ward. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.”

The full paper “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity” has been published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

fingerprint authentication.

Fingerprint authentication for smartphones isn’t secure at all. Some of the enrolled prints are like ‘1234’ PIN codes

fingerprint authentication.

Credit: NYU Tandon School of Engineering

No two fingerprints are the same, which is why a lot of people feel very confident that their high-end smartphones can’t be unlocked without their touch of approval. But that’s just wishful thinking since the technology manufacturers use creates vulnerabilities that a hacker can exploit in order to ‘guess’ the fingerprint similarly to PIN code brute force attack.

Meet the MasterPrint

The fingerprint-based authentication systems you find in smartphones use very small sensors that only partially record and verify a person’s fingerprint. The smaller the area or resolution, the greater the likelihood that some of the patterns match features from another person’s fingerprint. Researchers at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering and Michigan State University College of Engineering claim these similarities could be enough for a hacker to create a ‘MasterPrint’ that has a chance to unlock devices given a large enough sample pool.

Nasir Memon is a professor of computer science at NYU Tandon and the study’s team lead. He says a MasterPrint is akin to the ‘1234’ PIN code password because both have a ‘4 percent’ match. Some 4 percent of PIN codes have the password ‘1234’ which is why hackers try this value first when attempting to guess the password. A MasterPrint matched at least 4 percent of other prints in a randomly selected batch.

It's true that no two fingerprints are the same but smartphone fingerprint sensors only partially record the area. Multiple partial fingerprints are captured for the same finger during enrollment by the smartphone. Credit: NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

It’s true that no two fingerprints are the same but smartphone fingerprint sensors only partially record the area. Multiple partial fingerprints are captured for the same finger during enrollment by the smartphone. Credit: NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

Memon and colleagues analyzed some 8,200 partial fingerprints with a commercially available fingerprint verification software and found 92 potential MasterPrints for every randomly selected sample bath of 800 partial prints. However, there was only one full-fingerprint MasterPrint in a sample of 800 prints, the researchers reported in IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics & Security. 

“Not surprisingly, there’s a much greater chance of falsely matching a partial print than a full one, and most devices rely only on partials for identification,” said Memon.

After this first round, the researchers then designed an algorithm that can create synthetic partial MasterPrints. Remarkably, these had an even wider matching potential with experiments findings a successful matching between 26 and 65 percent of users. The matching varied wildly based on the number of partial fingerprint impressions stored for each use, all assuming a maximum of five authentication attempts. Specifically, the more partial fingerprints a smartphone stores, the more vulnerable it is to an attack.

fingerprint sensor hack

Credit: NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Although the synthetic MasterPrints were simulated, the researchers emphasize that it’s not difficult for an attacker to transfer the print to physical artifacts to spoof a device. Moreover, the techniques involved in creating synthetic fingerprints can be refined for better results.

Sample fingerprints vs MasterPrints. The solid lines indicate a match.

Sample fingerprints vs MasterPrints. The solid lines indicate a match.

Manufacturers should take note, Memon and colleagues say, especially considering the fingerprint sensors are becoming increasingly smaller.

 “If resolution is not improved, the distinctiveness of a user’s fingerprint will be inevitably compromised. The empirical analysis conducted in this research clearly substantiates this, said Michigan State University Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Arun Ross.

Previously, fingerprint authentification came under a lot of fire after the iPhone’s TouchID fingerprint authentication was hacked using lifted fingerprints. According to the study’s results, 40 to 50 percent of iPhone TouchIDs could be unlocked within the 5 tries if an attacker somehow wore a ‘glove’ with a MasterPrint on each finger. Apple, on the other hand, told the New York Times that “the chance of a false match in the iPhone’s fingerprint system was 1 in 50,000 with one fingerprint enrolled.” But since their fingerprint technology and records are secrets, there’s no way to verify this claim.

Besides adding a larger fingerprint sensor, the researchers recommend newer biometric security options, such as the iris scanner in Samsung’s new Galaxy S8. As for users, they recommend people disable fingerprint authentication for their most sensitive apps, such as mobile payments.

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smartphone PIN

Security experts crack smartphone PIN using only the motion sensor data. By the third try, the algorithm was 94 percent accurate

smartphone PIN

Credit: YouTube.

Is your smartphone really a phone or just a tinier computer? It’s a question that’s getting increasingly harder to answer as the people engage with their handheld devices more in areas that were traditionally reserved for desktop or notebooks. To support a wealth of rich features and technologies like sharp graphics and tactile feedback, smartphones have grown to be very well equipped with all sorts of sensors. The more complex the machine, however, the greater the security risk.

Case in point: British researchers from Newcastle University showed that simply by monitoring and interpreting data recorded by a phone’s sensors like the accelerometer, gyroscope, or magnetometer, they could infer a person’s four-digit PIN. When people tap in their PIN, the phone has a distinct orientation and motion which can be used to guess the code.

The team led by Maryam Mehrnezhad developed an artificial neural network — algorithms loosely modeled after the neuronal structure of the human brain — to guess the PIN from input sensor data. The team proved last year that they could access it by attacking the phone through a javascript exploit delivered through the phone’s browser. A user only had to click on a link for an attacker to get hold of all the sensor data, and this worked even if the phone was locked after the link was clicked on for some browsers like Apple’s Safari.

The system was initially trained with sensor data sourced from controlled smartphones where the PIN was known. After a couple of rounds, the researchers were able to figure out a user’s PIN 74 percent of the time on the first try. On the third try, the number rose to 94 percent, the researchers reported in the International Journal of Information Security. Does that shock you? I’ve heard crazier things. Last year, researchers stole data from computers by using little more than the sound emitted by the cooling fans inside.

Mehrnezhad says they’ve informed all the browsers of the exploits and these have reportedly been fixed but that’s not to say there aren’t other loopholes.

“A combination of different approaches might help researchers devise a usable and secure solution. Having control on granting access before opening a website and during working with it, in combination with a smart notification feature in the browser would probably achieve a balance between security and usability,” the researchers recommended in their paper.

The study clearly shows smartphones are a lot more vulnerable than some people care to think. The fact that smartphone data is so tempting will make attacks even more common and sophisticated. Ten years ago, if your computer got hacked you risked a lot of damage like having your emails scrapped or credit card information stolen. When this happens to a smartphone today, you lose that and much more. That’s because our smartphones are far more intimate connoisseurs of our lives. We bring them with us everywhere, use them to instant message friends, buy things online, navigate surroundings, and so on. If someone knows what they’re doing they can learn more about you and your darkest secrets maybe even better than yourself.

It’s not only smartphone users that should be worried. Everything is getting ‘smarter’. All major cities, especially those that are designed from the ground-up today like some experiments in Dubai or Singapore, will be crowded with sensors that record everything from pollution, to the weather, to traffic. Then, there are networked driverless cars, thermostats, fridges, or even toasters collectively classed under the Internet of Things (IoT). This huge wealth of data will make our lives better but at the same time companies need to be aware of the rising security vulnerabilities.

New method piggybacks data on radio waves to make singing posters and smart cities

A new technique developed by University of Washington engineers will allow “smart” objects to communicate directly with your car or smartphone.

Image credits JudaM / Pixabay.

A bus stop billboard could do much more than just advertise local attractions — why not enable it to send your smartphone a link with directions to the venue, maybe even a discount for your ticket? A t-shirt could do more than just clothe you while you run — why not have it monitor your vital signs, keeping an eye out for any emergency? Well, that’s exactly what one team from the University of Washington wants to do.

The problem is that up until now we didn’t have any viable way to power these devices for any meaningful period of time. So the team decided to swap out internal power sources for a ubiquitous form of energy in modern cities — ambient radio signals.

“The challenge is that radio technologies like WiFi, Bluetooth and conventional FM radios would last less than half a day with a coin cell battery when transmitting,” explains co-author and UW electrical engineering doctoral student Vikram Iyer. “So we developed a new way of communication where we send information by reflecting ambient FM radio signals that are already in the air, which consumes close to zero power.”

“FM radio signals are everywhere. You can listen to music or news in your car and it’s a common way for us to get our information,” adds co-author and UW computer science and engineering doctoral student Anran Wang. “So what we do is basically make each of these everyday objects into a mini FM radio station at almost zero power.”

They’re the first research team to ever prove this method of harnessing existing radio signals — called “backscattering” — actually works. Their system transmits messages by encoding data into these waves and then reflecting them without affecting the original transmissions.

Singing posters

To prove that their technology works, they created a “singing poster” for band Simply Three and placed it at a bus stop. The poster could transmit an ad and sample of the band’s music to a smartphone up to 12 feet away (3.6 meters) or to a car up to 60 feet (9 meters) away. The audio and image data were transmitted an ambient signal — a news broadcast from a local NPR radio station.

The poster uses a low-power reflector that can tap into the radio broadcast and manipulate the signal in such a way as to piggy-back the desired data on top of the signal. This data is distinct enough from the original wave to be picked up by a smartphone receiver on an unoccupied frequency in the FM radio band, not interfering with any other technology.

“Our system doesn’t disturb existing FM radio frequencies,” said co-author Joshua Smith, UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and of electrical engineering. “We send our messages on an adjacent band that no one is using — so we can piggyback on your favorite news or music channel without disturbing the original transmission.”

“Because of the unique structure of FM radio signals, multiplying the original signal with the backscattered signal actually produces an additive frequency change,” adds co-author Vamsi Talla, a UW postdoctoral researcher in computer science and engineering. “These frequency changes can be decoded as audio on the normal FM receivers built into cars and smartphones.”

Beyond this method of adding data to an unused frequency, the team demonstrated two more methods for transferring data using FM backscatter: one which simply overlays the new information on top of the existing signals, and one that relies on cooperation between two smartphones to decode the message.

In the team’s demonstrations, the total power consumption of the backscatter system was 11 microwatts, which could be easily supplied by a tiny coin-cell battery for a couple of years or powered using tiny solar cells. Connectivity requiring such a low level of power can also be used to create smart fabrics and clothes. The researchers from the UW Networks & Mobile Systems Lab used a conductive thread to sew an antenna into a T-shirt which was able to similarly backscatter data at rates of up to 3.2 kilobits per second.

The end game isn’t to make smart posters of clothes alone — but entire smart cities which can talk to you for almost no power requirement.

“What we want to do is enable smart cities and fabrics where everyday objects in outdoor environments — whether it’s posters or street signs or even the shirt you’re wearing — can ‘talk’ to you by sending information to your phone or car,” concludes lead faculty and UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering Shyam Gollakota.

The full paper “FM Backscatter: Enabling Connected Cities and Smart Fabrics” will be presented in Boston at the 14th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation this month.

‘Find my Phone’ documentary spies on thief through stolen phone for weeks

Today’s smartphones aren’t just devices — from photos to e-mails and contacts, these tiny devices hold information that is deeply personal. They’ve become a nexus of bits and pieces of what makes us, well, us, which is terrifying because phones can, and oftentimes do, get stolen.

Image credits Johan Larsson / Flickr.

This is exactly what happened to 23-year-old Willem de Kooning Academy film graduate Anthony van der Meer in 2015. The breach of privacy, the thought of someone having access to all the personal data on his iPhone was a huge concern for him. And, in the end, he wanted answers.

“Besides losing your expensive device, a stranger has access to all of your photos, videos, e-mails, messages and contacts,” the video’s description reads.

“Yet, what kind of person steals a phone? And where do stolen phones eventually end up?”

So Anthony bought a new phone, installed a hidden tracking app on it, and tried his hardest to have it stolen from him. He put the story to film under the title ‘Find my Phone’, a video that documents the entire process from trying to (unsuccessfully) have his phone stolen to tracking the thief. All of this was possible using an app called Cerberus, which van der Meer installed in such a way that it could not be wiped from the phone, that allowed him to log onto and use the device whenever it was connected to the Internet.

Considering the simple premise, the end result is amazing. The conversations, phone call recordings, pictures, and locations Anthony obtained and compiled make for a truly captivating, if unorthodox, documentary. It has been viewed almost 2.6 million times on YouTube in just 6 days — it is currently the number 12 trending video on all of YouTube.

 

Anthony’s video raises questions on privacy in an ever-more connected world. It asks what it truly takes to know someone — is knowing what he looks like, who and how talks to, where he goes, or what kind of pornography he watches enough to know someone? It’s a deep psychological dive, looking at just how much of ourselves we leave in the silicon memories of our devices.

In the end though, even after seeing the thief in the flesh, van der Meer never truly answered his own questions.

“Although you’ll meet the person behind the theft up close and personal, the question remains,” he writes.

“How well can you actually get to know someone when you base yourself on the information retrieved from their phone?”

Latest update shows that the phone resurfaced in Romania.

Portable smartphone laboratory can detect cancer with 99% accuracy

A Washington State University team has created a portable, low-cost smartphone lab which can analyze several samples at once for a cancer biomarker.

A schematic of the device.
Image credits WSU.

Waiting for your medical results can be a harrowing experience. All you know is that you’ve been to the doctor when something in your body went wrong. Now you have to wait, powerless, for a phone call that could set you free from worry or thrust your next few years in a jumble of tests, procedures, and medication. Even if it turns out to be nothing, that waiting time will feel like hell on earth.

Especially with cancer.

Now, a WSU team lead by Lei Li, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, brought the technology used in lab settings to an average smartphone, to offer on the spot cancer tests to doctors’ offices, ambulances, and the ER. Their system consists of an eight-channel smartphone spectrometer which can pick up on human interleukin-6 (IL-6), a biomarker for a host of cancers.

It’s not the first smartphone spectrometer out there, but previous versions could only measure one sample at a time, making them too slow for field applications. The WSU multichannel device can analyze up to eight different samples at once using a test known as ELISA — colorimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. This has been described as the “gold standard clinical diagnostic tool for the detection and quantification of protein biomarkers,” (Thiha A., Ibrahim F., 2015), and it uses antibodies and color change to identify a substance.

“With our eight channel spectrometer, we can put eight different samples to do the same test, or one sample in eight different wells to do eight different tests. This increases our device’s efficiency,” said Li, who has filed a provisional patent for the work.

After testing the device with standard lab-controlled samples, the WSU device achieved up to 99% accuracy. The researchers are hopeful it will be just as reliable in the field, and have started applying the portable spectrometer in real world cases.

“The spectrometer would be especially useful in clinics and hospitals that have a large number of samples without on-site labs, or for doctors who practice abroad or in remote areas,” he said. “They can’t carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device.”

Right now, Li’s spectrometer is available only for the iPhone 5. He said the team is working on making the design compatible with any smartphone.

A paper describing the device titled “A multichannel smartphone optical biosensor for high-throughput point-of-care diagnostics” has been published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

zme science on smartphone

New class of transparent metal films could make smartphones a whole lot cheaper

Researchers have discovered a new material that’s both transparent and electrically conductive that might make smartphones, TVs, smart windows and solar cells a lot cheaper, and maybe even more efficient.

zme science on smartphone

Most touch screens are made from a transparent metal called indium tin oxide (ITO). But while the cost of processors and memory in smartphones has gone down year after year, indium price hikes jumped the cost of touch screens with each generation. Today, for a medium-priced phone the cost of the touch screen makes up 40% of the production value.

Pennsylvania State University researchers led by Roman Engel-Herbert investigated various alternatives to indium compounds. Previously, little progress was made elsewhere by other groups who tried to replicate ITO’s seemingly perfect combination of optical transparency, electrical conductivity and ease of fabrication.

The researchers employed a different strategy, however, and worked with an uncoventional class of materials called correlated metals in which the electrons flow like a liquid. In most metals, like copper, gold, aluminum or silver, the electrons flow like a gas.

“We are trying to make metals transparent by changing the effective mass of their electrons,” Engel-Herbert said. “We are doing this by choosing materials in which the electrostatic interaction between negatively charged electrons is very large compared to their kinetic energy. As a result of this strong electron correlation effect, electrons ‘feel’ each other and behave like a liquid rather than a gas of non-interacting particles. This electron liquid is still highly conductive, but when you shine light on it, it becomes less reflective, thus much more transparent.”

 A figure showing the crystal structure of strontium vanadate(orange) and calcium vanadate (blue). The red dots are oxygen atoms arranged in 8 octohedra surrounding a single strontium or calcium atom. Vanadium atoms can be seen inside each octahedron. Image: Lei Zhang / Penn Stat


A figure showing the crystal structure of strontium vanadate(orange) and calcium vanadate (blue). The red dots are oxygen atoms arranged in 8 octohedra surrounding a single strontium or calcium atom. Vanadium atoms can be seen inside each octahedron.
Image: Lei Zhang / Penn Stat

With the help of  Professor Karin Rabe of Rutgers University, the researchers devised a mathematical model that rendered the optimal design for transparent conductors in the form of a correlated metal. Eventually, they manufactured 10nanometer thick films made from strontium vanadate and calcium vanadate. When tested, these “worked really well compared to ITO,” said Engel-Herbert.

Samples of the correlated metals strontium vanadate (two squares on left) and calcium vanadate (two squares on right) with two uncoated squares in center. Image: Lei Zhang / Penn State

Samples of the correlated metals strontium vanadate (two squares on left) and calcium vanadate (two squares on right) with two uncoated squares in center.
Image: Lei Zhang / Penn State

Indium is priced at $750/kg, while  strontium vanadate and calcium vanadate sell for less than $25/kg each.

The researchers from Penn State have found a great alternative to ITO touch screens. It remains now to be seen whether these can be manufactured with the same ease. From what they gather at the moment, the researchers say “there is no reason that strontium vanadate could not replace ITO in the same equipment currently used in industry.” If so, then smartphones could be made really, really cheap. Same goes for any device that requires a touchscreen display.

Engel-Herbert says their exotic transparent metals could also be used in solar cells. Since 2009,  a new type of solar cells made from perovskite — a mineral able to transport solar energy and convert it into electricity — has been catching everybody’s eyes in the industry. In only a couple years of research, the  rated efficiency of such solar cells has soared from 3.8% to 19.3%, a pace of improvement unmatched by any other solar technology.Strontium vanadate, also a perovskite, has a compatible structure that makes this an interesting possibility for future inexpensive, high-efficiency solar cells.

Findings appeared in Nature.

 

This simple code can increase your smartphone battery life by 16% – and yes, it’s free

Let’s face it: we’re never going to be happy with our battery life. Even if it’s better, it will still run out (usually when you need it most), but even a slight improvement is still an improvement: researchers at Purdue University in the US have developed a new tool for Android users that could increase your battery life by 16%.

Image via Be Free Every Day.

Together with Intel and Indiana-based battery startup Mobile Enerlytics, the researchers studied the use of 2,000 Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 smartphones across 191 mobile carriers in 61 countries, finding that almost half (45.9 percent) of the battery drain happens while the screen is off and we’re not actually using the phone. Most of this (28.9 percent) is guzzled up by apps that run in the background.

“This was the first large-scale study of smartphone energy drain ‘in the wild,’ or in everyday use by consumers,” said Y. Charlie Hu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a press release.

While some of these apps are important and ensure that your communications systems are working properly… not all of them are.

“During screen-off, the phone hardware should enter the sleep state, draining close to zero power,” Hu said. “Apps wake the phone up periodically during screen-off to do useful things, but then afterward, they should let the phone go back to sleep. They are not letting the phone go back to sleep because of software bugs and, specifically, due to the incorrect use of Android power control application programming interfaces called wakelocks.”

Now, in a paper they presented at the Association for Computing Machinery MobiCom 2015 conference in Paris this month, they demonstrated a code-based solution, HUSH, that extends battery life by a sixth (16%). HUSH works by identifying which apps are useful for users and which aren’t. For example, frequent Facebook updates during screen-off may be useful to a user who checks Facebook feeds and reacts to notifications often, but maybe useless for someone else: HUSH analyzes your behavior and treats apps accordingly. The best part of all this? It’s completely free for download!

Here’s the code on GitHub. It hasn’t been packaged in the form of an app yet, but you can still use it. You can either use it now as it is, or wait until they turn it into an app. Enjoy your extra battery!

Your smartphone will be able to tell if you have blood parasites

Scientists have managed to use a simple smartphone to test for blood parasites; the device and app was successful in small trials in Cameroon.

Image credits: BBC.

Parasitic worms cause many problems in several areas of Africa, especially in central Africa, where tropical diseases are running rampant. There are many issues with detecting and treating these diseases, especially diagnosing infections in the early stages, while treatment can still be effective. With this new app, with only a finger prick, you can find if your blood is infected with a worm. But it gets even better.

Among the problems in dealing with such diseases is the fact that some people react well to treatment, while for others, the treatment can be fatal. This app can also detect who will react well and who won’t.

“With one touch of the screen, the device moves the sample, captures video and automatically analyses the images,” said one of the researchers, Prof Daniel Fletcher.

The trick is that the app doesn’t try to actually detect the worm, but it focuses on detecting movement within the blood. The whole system is very efficient and it was praised by experts in the field.

“This is a very important technology,” said Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Peter Hotez, a well-known specialist in neglected tropical diseases who wasn’t involved in the new research. “It’s very practical,” by eliminating the need for specially trained health workers and pricey equipment in remote villages, he added.

Now, researchers are wondering if a similar system could be used to detect other diseases, including TB, malaria and soil-transmitted parasitic worms. Considering other recent advancements in using smartphones to detect diseases, there’s reasons to be optimistic – Columbia University scientists created a device that can detect HIV or syphilis and are pilot testing it in Rwanda, while at the Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors are researching a tool that clips over a smartphone camera to detect cancer in blood or tissue samples. To me, using advanced, yet commonly accessible technology to detect such serious diseases is a spectacular achievement.

Prof Simon Brooker from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, commented:

“I think it’s one of the most fundamental advances in neglected tropical diseases in a long time. In the 21st Century we are using 20th Century technology to diagnose these infections, this brings us into the modern world. It really is exciting; when you see it you just go ‘wow’; hopefully it will transform efforts to eliminate diseases,” he added.

smartphone dumb people

Your smartphone might be making you stupid

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Image: TFL Guide

People who excessively rely on their smartphones scored lower on tests which gauged cognitive abilities like analytical thinking than those who use their smartphones less frequently. The results  reported by psychologists at University of Waterloo suggest that using smartphones to find answers to questions – difficult or not – via search engines makes you lazy and less apt at solving problems.

In three studies involving 660 participants, the researchers examined various measures including cognitive style ranging from intuitive to analytical, plus verbal and numeracy skills. They then assessed the volunteers’ smartphone habits.  Based on the results, the participants were classed as either intuitive thinkers (more prone to rely on their guts to make decisions) and analytical thinkers (more prone to approach problems in a logical process). Intuitive thinkers frequently use search engines to solve problem, while analytical thinkers tend to rely on their own brainpower, as reported in Computers in Human Behavior.

“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it,” said Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study, and a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Waterloo.

“Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind,” said Nathaniel Barr, the other lead author of the paper, and a postdoctoral researcher at Waterloo.

 

smartphone dumb people

Pennycook’s research suggests that smartphone users who excessively rely on their devices have a lower intelligence (the kind of intelligence they gauged, at least), but that doesn’t mean that smartphones make you dump per se. It might just be the case that less intelligent people excessively use their smartphones in the first place, not the other way around. More research is required to settle the question.

“Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise,” said Barr. “It’s important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it’s hard to recall what life was like without them. We may already be at that point.”

Barr has a point. Why learn to read a map when you’ve got Google Maps? To me, however, this doesn’t seem like a new dilemma. Technology is making our lives easier by taking load off, be it physical or cognitive. Sure, you don’t have to know to solve a third order equation when you can plug in your data entry in a software and instantly get the results, but you should at least know how these work – in principle. The researchers’ findings seem to suggest that smartphones and, by extension, other technologies are making us stupider. I would argue however that the adverse effects of technology mostly surface in lazy people. Proactive individuals will use technology to their advantage by freeing cognitive space and concentrating a more important problems, otherwise unapproachable without technology in the first place. For instance, a study I reported earlier found that when people know they can store information on a computer, they can form memories much easier.

A software corrects blur and makes photos taken with the same smartphone a lot clearer and sharper. The technology allows for lens designs to be less complex, smaller, lighter and cheaper. Image: Algolux

Software makes phone pics clearer and sharper without changing hardware

A software corrects blur and makes photos taken with the same smartphone a lot clearer and sharper. The technology allows for lens designs to be less complex, smaller, lighter and cheaper. Image: Algolux

A software corrects blur and makes photos taken with the same smartphone a lot clearer and sharper. The technology allows for lens designs to be less complex, smaller, lighter and cheaper. Image: Algolux

There aren’t that many people who imagined that in only a couple of years we’d see smartphones with 40MGpx cameras. Amazingly as that may sound, manufacturers are nearing a stand-still as far as optics miniaturization is concerned and even so, high end camera phones don’t come near the quality of a dedicated optical hardware. A new software developed by a company called Algolux is set to cover some of the lost ground by correcting optical aberrations and in the process making photos taken by your smartphone or tablet a lot sharper or clearer without any hardware modifications.

algolux

Image: Algolux

 

Algolux Virtual Lens corrects optical aberrations through software, for sharper photos. Algolux Virtual IS corrects motion blur and shutter shake, which may be experienced in low light conditions. Virtual Lens takes care of image quality while Virtual IS software takes care of image stabilization. All in all, the company has software and computational imaging techniques that correct for blurring, distortion and other aberrations.

“We are currently focusing on smartphones and tablets, a fast-growing market where cameras and computational power are tightly intertwined. As smartphones attain a certain level of parity across vendors, camera quality and device design have become very strong differentiators.” said the team.

The algorithms will be especially useful for low-end phones. It’s enough to see these sample before and after pics to understand what I mean. For the smartphone industry this should be a fantastic addition, one that will allow manufacturers to keep lens design simple, by substituting complex lens systems with smart software. This means cheaper, better and smaller phone cameras.

Bra Sensors Could Monitor Overeating

Despite all the related problems which contribute to obesity such as stress , the main cause is… eating too much. Recent studies have shown that people tend to overeat when they are stressed out – often creating a negative cycle of eating more, gaining weight and then getting stressed out about gaining weight – especially during the holiday season with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

bra

Credits: Erin A. Carroll et al.

“We eat not just because we are hungry and craving nutrients, but also for a host of emotional and habitual reasons. There is no single term that encompasses the combination of lifestyle, hedonic, emotional, or habitual over-eating that leads to obesity.”

When traditional methods pretty much failed, scientists started thinking out the box, designing new, innovative ways to help anxious overeaters get rid of this habit, or at least be more aware about it. Along with stress and eating apps engineers and designers at Microsoft Research recently invented a stress-busting bra made with special material that monitors the wearers moods and helps reduce stress eating.

“It’s mostly women who are emotional overeaters, and it turns out that a bra is perfect for measuring EKG (electrocardiogram),” said Mary Czerwinski, a cognitive psychologist and senior researcher in visualization and interaction at Microsoft. “We tried to do the same thing for mens underwear but it was too far away (from the heart).”

The stress monitoring bra, which was initially presented at the Society for Affective Computing conference was recently tested by a group of volunteers, who reported getting accurate information about their moods. The results seem promising enough to see it on the shelf in the near future, especially considering that it’s probably going to be pretty cheap. Microsoft built it with a standard microprocessor powered by a 3.7-volt battery. It’s able to simultaneously monitor up to eight bio-signal channels simultaneously, according to Czerwinski’s research paper, “Food and Mood: Just-in-Time Support for Emotional Eating“.

The sensors track heart rate and respiration with an EKG sensor, skin conductance with an electrodermal activity sensor, and movement with an accelerometer and gyroscope – and they can do all of this from a bra. All this information can, when taken as a whole, accurately depict if the user is stressed and stream the results to a smartphone app or a computer.

The only bad thing is that the battery life is pretty small – they only last for about 4 hours, and then they have to be changed, but researchers are currently trying to find a way around this – they’re trying to find alternative ways to monitor these parameters, in a way that requires less energy.

Scientific Reference:

Erin A. Carroll, Mary Czerwinski, Asta Roseway, Ashish Kapoor, Paul Johns, Kael Rowan. Food and Mood: Just-in-Time Support for Emotional Eating.

LG-G2-Lizzy-the-chicken

Chickens and high-tech or how the LG G2 won the camera smartphone market

LG-G2-Lizzy-the-chicken

What happens when you combine a chicken, a man cave, and one of the most advanced and awesome smartphones out there? Simple: a brilliant ad that explains the LG G2‘s most complex features through the eyes of a man-cave engineer and his pet chicken, turned prized invention, Lizzy.

lg-g2

Marketing aside, this smartphone truly delivers. Here are some stats at a glance:

  • Quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor from Qualcomm clocked at 2.26GHz with an upgraded Adreno 330 GPU
  •  5.2″ FHD display
  • 2GB RAM
  • 13MP camera with OIS (optical image stabilization)
  • 4G LTE
  • 32GB of storage
  • 3,000mAh battery
  • Unique UI features: Qside Function ( layers two different apps over the main screen in special windows), rear keys, Slide Aside (quickly switch between as many as three different open apps on the phone just by swiping and tapping the screen), ClipTray, QuickRemote (operate your compatible TV, set-top box, audio system, DVD or Blu-ray player, or even an air conditioner, all right from the phone.) and many more.
  • Everything tucked in a casing just 8.9mm thick!

There are two key aspects, however, that makes the LG G2 absolutely shine. First, the display. With a resolution of 1920×1080 with 423ppi, the G2 boasts one of the sharpest displays you’ll see in a smartphone today. The vivid colours, the amazing detail, all combine for one beautiful integrated user experience all on 5.2″. Second, and most importantly, the camera.

LG_G2_Camera

The G2’s camera, the smartphone’s ultimate leverage and subject of the brilliant Lizzy marketing campaign, is maybe the most complex we’ve seen yet. Of course, there are a lot of phones on the market now with 13 MP, but it’s the other built-in specs and in-house built features that puts it on top. The  Sony IMX135 Exmor sensor  allows for almost instant capture of images without any loss of quality.  It also boasts Multi Points Auto Focus (AF) – a feature which enables fast and accurate focus for multiple faces or objects that are moving. Setting options like  focus, brightness, ISO, and white balance, which also come with pre-set modes like  Burst, Beauty, Dual camera, etc allows the G2 to perform like a stand-alone digital camera. The OIS (optical image stabilization) allows for stabilizing the focus less for less blurry photos and less shaking in videos. At the same time, the OIS  is also great for taking photos in the dark or in places with limited light source.

The LG G2 is offered from all four major U.S. carriers, and pricing start at $199.99 with a two-year contract for a 32GB model. T-Mobile doesn’t subsidize the cost of its phones, so the phone costs $99.99 down plus an additional $21 for 24 months.

This post is sponsored by LG G2.

What to Expect From the New Blackberry Phones

The hype about the Blackberry 10 models became stronger when Research in Motion (RIM) sent out the invites for their January 30 launch at the Big Apple. While the event will surely be star-studded, the true stars of the show will be the “comeback” models of the brand that took the world by storm a few years back. Aside from the invites, the company also commenced the testing of the new phones mid-December of last year. One hundred twenty companies are taking part in the trials, with more than half belonging to the Fortune 500 group. Only a handful has talked about the testing publicly; however, all the companies are surely looking forward to what the new units have to offer.

 Blackberry_STYLE_9670_Purple_Flip_BB-6_OS_Smartphone_(Sprint

What exactly do the Blackberry 10 models offer? And will these new features be enough to bring the brand back to the big boys’ game that is being dominated by tech giants Samsung and Apple? Below are three of the most sensationalized features to date.

 

Touch screen models

 

This is the feature that I am not sure if most people are ready for – the touch screen. Sure, the brand had already released touch screen models before, but only now does it offer phones that are fully operated by touch. Over the years, Blackberry has gained a reputation (and market) for its sophisticated QWERTY design. In fact, many would attest to the idea that the QWERTY keypad gives the Blackberry its “professional” look. And despite other brands replicating what Blackberry has started, only RIM was able to pull off the elegant feature. Now we have to watch out for two things: First, if the new design will exhibit the same cleverness as the QWERTY; and second, if the touch screen model will be a notch above the competition that seemed to have mastered touch screens for quite some time now.

 

New Software Developers Kit (SDK)

 

Shortly before the trials began, RIM announced the completion of the SDK exclusively for Blackberry 10 models. Of course, changes in the hardware will not be as exciting if the software is outdated. Good thing RIM did something about this and introduced a new operating system. Consumers expect the system to be faster and more effective. New applications are also expected to be offered through the revamped platform. This will surely be a breath of fresh air especially for business owners who use their Blackberry for accessing their e-mail through the Blackberry Internet Service. Aside from that, they also use applications like Word to Go which allows editing of documents using the phone, and can easily integrate with third-party services like the RingCentral business phone package that gives access to calls and messages sent and received through a business phone number.

 

Video Calls for BBM

 

The Blackberry Messenger Application is, and will always be, the crowning glory of Blackberry phones.  Now, leaked photos posted by Crackberry last December 26 shows that the BBM could just have gotten better. The photo shows a video conference, with the BBM application running alongside it. RIM neither denied nor confirmed the rumor, and just told spectators to wait until the January 30 launch.

 

The Blackberry 10 may just be RIM’s Final Fantasy as it can make or break their niche in the mobile market. With half of new features still rumors, no one knows what exactly to expect from the new models. But with the hints I’ve given you above, would you be waiting in line come February?