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Archive for the ‘Mobile Computing’ Category

In 2017, I was looking for a wrist-based device that would do three things:

  • keep an eye on my heart rate at all times;
  • serve as a subtle alarm clock;
  • last longer than 24 hours on a single battery charge.

I was lucky to find a refurbished Huawei Fit with standard warranty for little money, and I must admit that it did exactly what I wanted. The heart rate numbers registered by the device were pretty close to those that appeared on the cardiologists monitor. I only overslept when I really wanted to, ignoring the gentle buzz of the Fit. Just having a black and white screen was good enough for me, and that screen clearly helped to realise my third requirement: it would easily last for 5 to 6 days on a single charge without being too big and bulky. The Huawei Health app was (is) not ideal but certainly sufficient for my purposes.

Since a few months however, the Fit slowly started to degrade. Not by failing, no, but the battery performance started to get worse. And energetic physical exercise, like working in the garden, resulted in water vapour (sweat!) on the inside of the glass, rendering the screen unreadable for many hours. Time to look out for a replacement.

I surveyed the large field of activity trackers, sport watches and smart watches (if only because it is hard to distinguish those categories and the devices in them). I have no need to add applications to my watch, but I do want a measure of interaction between the watch and my phone – hence a certain measure of “smarts” is required in the watch.

Finding a replacement turned out to hard: the number of available smartwatches and activity trackers has grown, as have their features. But when you look at the battery life, the manufacturers seem to have problems extending the battery life of those new devices substantially. The Apple Watch hardly lasts a day. Android Wear devices can get you through two days if you’re lucky. Garmin has a few devices that do (much) better – if you are an athlete, you can do worse than pick one of their watches.

In the end, it turned out that the real champion of battery life is still Huawei, with the GT 2 series devices. By the way: the Honor MagicWatch 2 is almost identical to them. I saw the Huawei GT 2 on the wrist of a colleague, who spoke very favourably of it. My wrist is rather thin, so I chose the GT 2e for a better fit. 46mm is large, but I wanted to maximise the battery capacity.

I had to wait a few weeks to get it delivered (so much for webshops that promise stock availability and overnight delivery!) but I will say that so far I am quite happy with it.

The Huawei GT 2e is a large device, but it just fits my wrist and is quite comfortable. The sporty strap is a lot better and less sweaty than the one on the Fit. There is currently no real choice in alternative straps, and that is one thing I look forward to: for a more formal occasion I would like to be able to change the strap, but it would have to be a strap that closely fits to the watch’s body, like the original.

Old and new on the same arm ;-)

The screen is very nice, although not as bright as I expected: in bright sunlight some effort is needed to read all details. Functionally, it does more than what I want or need, so I have no complaints there. Did I mention that it is a relatively cheap device, compared to similar sport watches? I hope this one will last at least 3 years as well, and possibly more.

I do have a wish, though: Huawei should work on the iOS version of its Health app. Compared to the Android version, the iPhone version is missing more than a few things that I would like to use. Being able to tune the app notifications in more detail is my most important request. So there you have it, Huawei: the watch is good enough, but it will take an extra effort on the iOS app to make it even better!

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My setup has been the same since quite a few years now: I have a Keepass file on Dropbox, and I use several different applications and apps on multiple devices to access and update that file. Which applications, you ask?

On my Macs as well as on my Xubuntu machines I will use Keeweb. Despite its name, it gives you a desktop application that natively accesses (and syncs) files on Dropbox. This is the application I go to for when I want or need to reorganise the Keepass file, e.g. to rearrange groups or import lots of account data.

I would use Keeweb on a Windows PC as well – if I had one. At work, we have no free choice of which application to use to store passwords, but luckily we do have the “official” Keepass Password Safe at our disposal.

On Android my favourite Keepass app is called Keepass2Android. I will admit that I made that choice a few years ago, and haven’t checked on its competitors recently (are there competitors of note, by the way?). But it does what I need it to do; it accepts Dropbox as cloud storage and it will even merge changes from the local version and the Dropbox version when it detects differences between the two during the synchronisation process. That last one is a killer feature, and it hasn’t failed me a single time in the years I have been using it.

On iOS the situation is a little more complicated – at least, that how it feels to me. I wrote earlier about KeePassium, and that is still my app of choice. I like the interface, and it does all I need when I look for account info (you can store more than just passwords there!).

But in order to sync my central file on Dropbox, on iOS the app has to go through the “Files” app from Apple. Files-the-app is capable of showing files of all kinds on the iOS device, as well as the files on several cloud file systems, like Dropbox. What is less clear to me, however, is how quickly “Files” notices changes on Dropbox and picks up the latest version of my central KeePass file. I also have had trouble getting the latest version of my file (as changed on Android, for example) onto my iPhone. Although I must admit that the last few weeks fared better: I haven’t noticed anymore missing syncs lately. What I can’t say is whether the issue was/is with Files rather than KeePassium or even my internet connection…

Anyway, when it comes to passwords I want to be sure that I’m not missing any information – or worse: I don’t want to overwrite my updated central file with an older version on iPhone! That’s why I currently always check the “last updated on” date of my Dropbox file in Files before opening the file again. Of course my Dropbox account is protected with a password, but I don’t think that is what Andrei Popleteev means when he’s writing about “How to sync KeePassium with Dropbox“.

Manually checking the file date on iOS is not an ideal situation, I know, but to me that check is a small price to pay for the greater good of having my account data available on all the platforms I use! And for me, KeePassium is still the way to go on iOS.

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Here in Europe, thanks to the surge in homeworking, there is no way to get your hands on a new webcam – they’re sold out everywhere. So I tried another solution for my older desktop machine running Xubuntu.

While installing Droidcam on Xubuntu, I encountered the following message:

gcc: error: make: No such file or directory

Strange, since I had just installed the complete GCC.

But while the GCC may have been complete, ‘make’ is a separate tool. The simplest way to install it is:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

It’s easy, once you know – but I can imagine that it’s not that easy if you’re not a developer (or a seasoned Linux user). But neither is getting Droidcam to work on Ubuntu, by the way – it takes a lot of tinkering to get it to work over USB, including the right developer mode settings on the phone as well as installing the ADB tools on Xubuntu with:

apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

Now I just need a longer USB-C cable to position the phone above my desk rather than below it!

Can’t use this camera position in Skype – where’s that long cable?

As an aside: the lsusb on Xubuntu recognizes my Samsung Note 10+ as a “Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd GT-I9300 Phone [Galaxy S III] (PTP mode)“. I never connected my S3 to this copy of Xubuntu, so there must be another explanation for that weirdness…

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I have written about my tribulations with the Xerox Phaser 3260 laser printer earlier this year. All in all, I’m happy with the machine: it’s probably not the cheapest option but it worked without fail for many years now, mainly helping my children with their homework and their university courses.

The trouble I wrote about earlier was in fact solely due to the appearance of Mac OS “Catalina”: this version of Mac OS requires 64-bit drivers, which were unavailable from Xerox for a very long time. During the whole process of trying out how best to work with different versions of Mac OS and the corresponding drivers I also turned on AirPrint in the printer settings. I did not hope to solve our problems that way, but in house full of iPhones and iPads AirPrint comes in handy. And turning it on for the Xerox is just a matter of clicking once:

As it turns out, this is actually the easiest way to get any Mac to print to the Phaser – even without any printer driver software. So here’s my tip of the day: if you are the owner of one or more Mac’s or iOS devices, make sure your printer understands AirPrint and turn it on! As long as you don’t need any fancy features of your printer, say for printing photos, this is the easiest and quickest way to get your printer working for you.

If I ever need to buy another printer, I’ll make sure it understands AirPrint ;-)

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I may not have much faith in Samsung’s will to do what I think they should do: keep the software of their devices up to date for more than 2 years. But I must report that the Galaxy S7 received another update to its OS: at least the Android security patch level has been upgraded to the version of March 1, 2020. Keep it up, Samsung!

Minor updates only – but that’s better than nothing!

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Somewhere in the second half of January, Samsung managed to publish another software update for the Samsung Galaxy S7 – I was late in installing it, but here is the resulting situation:

The latest situation on the S7 in terms of software

At least the machine now has the December 1, 2019 security patches.

By telling you this you know that I’m still using the S7 occasionally, although mostly as an alarm clock (there is no longer a SIM card installed in it). It’s a bit a shame not to use such a capable device; with better software support many smartphones, this one included, could have a longer productive life.

For those of you who care: the Samsung Galaxy S Plus (SGS+) I wrote about in the past (5 years ago, that is!) is still somewhat usable. That means nothing more than that it still starts up, running CyanogenMod 12, and its battery still holds out for a substantial time: it just dropped from 100% to 60% overnight – not bad for a device bought in December 2011!

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A few days ago I tried to use KeePassium on the iPhone. Yet another KeePass app, you say? Yes – because it pays to be open to change, and in this case because KeePassium promises to sync automatically with any of a list of cloud storage providers. That promise means you can not just use DropBox, but also Google Drive, iCloud Drive, Synology NAS, and more, to store your file(s). It’s nice to have more choices when it comes to safely storing your passwords.

My current KeePass app, MiniKeePass, requires an explicit manual “Save to…” and “Open in MiniKeePass” actions to keep your cloud copy in sync on multiple devices. I tend to forget those “Save“s and “Open“s now that a iPhone is my daily phone; on my Galaxy S7, Keepass2Android requires just a “Sync” to figure whether to save its local copy to the cloud or to get the cloud version if that is more recent (and vice-versa, of course).

So I downloaded KeePassium, and pointed it to a copy of my .kdbx file. Unfortunately, the app wouldn’t / couldn’t open it, although it claims to compatible with all versions of KeePass files. Strange – or perhaps a bad copy on my side? I don’t know, since the error message wasn’t very clear. This means I will stick with MiniKeePass for the time being, knowing that I will have to look out for another KeePass-compatible app soon…

Why should I replace MiniKeePass? To begin with, the MiniKeePass app is no longer actively maintained, going by the updates to the source code on Github: the latest updates are from late 2017. And it shows: in iOS 13 I can see a few mix-ups in the user interface. For example, look at this:

Is MiniKeePass in Serious Trouble?

It’s not the only KeePass-compatible iOS app that is getting (too?) old to be worthy of attention. Check out the list of ‘Unofficial KeePass Ports‘ and even a cursory glance at the majority of entries will turn out to be (very dated). One version even goes back to 2010 – that’s almost the prehistory in IT terms. Others are more recent but require payment to get rid of ads – without any guarantee that the app will work with my files.

Let me be clear: I don’t mind paying for an app, especially for an app that will guard the hundreds of passwords I have to store. But then I want an app with a better-than-just-good UI, since I will be using it every day; I want automatic syncing with a choice of cloud storage providers; I want serious support, at least in the form of regular and continuing updates to comply with Apple’s progress. And ideally the source code of that app should be audited by independent security specialists, to make sure that it is indeed a secure and safe implementation, worthy of a user’s trust. I’ll keep looking! Your suggestions are most welcome, too.

 

Update on 2020-02-02: I revisited the app and changed my recommendation

 

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Two months after the previous software update Samsung has published another 125MB package for the Galaxy S7. This time, it brings the S7 in line with the September 1st security patch level. It’s always a good idea to keep up with system software for any device you own – so get it onto your S7 if you haven’t done it yet!

The G930FXXS6ESI4 / G930FLUX6ESI4 / G930FXXS6ESI6
update installs quickly…

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Since a few months I have been using Cloudflare’s “1.1.1.1:Faster Internet” app on my iPad. I like the idea of having more privacy while surfing the Web, even though it’s hard for me to verify what the app is doing exactly. At least I never had the impression that the iPad got slower because of the app – but your mileage may vary, of course.

Icon of the 1.1.1.1 app

Anyway, what I wanted to mention is that the upgrade to iPadOS 13.1 posed a problem for the network connection on the iPad. Some applications, Safari included, had no problem accessing the internet, but my main banking app continued to report “You have no internet connection – please try again later’. Puzzling and frustrating, since a second banking app (for a different bank, of course) had no problems whatsoever. I’ll leave it to the specialists/hackers to figure out what that means about the safety of that second app ;-)

In the end I removed the 1.1.1.1 app completely, and reinstalled it from the App Store. This did the trick: the application installed its VPN Configuration and hey presto, all my applications found the way to the web without any trouble. So even if you have configured your iPad to update all apps automatically, I recommend having a look at the 1.1.1.1 app directly after upgrading to iOS, sorry: iPadOS 13. If it has trouble establishing a VPN connection, just remove it from the device and reinstall it – that should do the trick.

Now I’ll take some time this weekend to read up on Cloudflare’s extension of the 1.1.1.1 app, called Warp. I was already intrigued by earlier articles about the WireGuard protocol, and Warp seems to give us a possibility to try it out without costs. I might well do so; if I do, I’ll report on it later.

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I was not planning on continuing my reporting on Android updates for the Galaxy S7, given that Samsung clearly considers this device too old to be worthy of attention. But for completeness’ sake I will tell you that a new update did arrive a few days ago (I missed the exact date, since I’m no longer using the device on a daily base). Basically, it’s a security update, bringing the S7 in line with the June 1st patch level update from Google.

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I wanted to try Android Auto now that I drive a car that is capable of doing so. In theory, that should be simple, no? Unfortunately, no it isn’t simple. First hurdle: officially speaking Android Auto is not available here in Belgium and the Netherlands. But apparently this does not mean that a car salesman has to tell you that: (s)he will tout the availability of Android Auto as an fine feature of the car.

So I downloaded and installed an Android Auto .apk file and installed it on my Samsung Galaxy S7, only to find that the application started up and immediately presented me with the dark message “Google Play services doesn’t seem to be working at the moment“. I tried a few of the “solutions” offered on the internet, but none worked, whether the S7 was connected to the car or not. So I wonder: does this message occur because I’m trying to use the AA mode in Belgium, or is it a Samsung issue?

It’s not really news, of course, but the update stream for the S7 from Samsung seems to have dried up completely. It’s June 17 today, and the latest security patch occurred in March: my machine is still on Android security patch level “1 March 2019”. I suppose an update to Android 8.1 or 9 is completely out of the question…

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I know it’s already April, but I did not want to publish the low solar energy production numbers of March on April 1st. Many readers might have thought I was joking, and that is not the case. Here’s why: March only produced 133.760 Wh of electricity, and that is just a fraction above last years March numbers and 25% below what I expected. Let’s just hope that this is not setting a trend for the future.

Another update is worth mentioning, at least for users and fans of the Samsung Galaxy S7: I was able to install the March 1, 2019 Security patch and the assorted updates on March 26th. This is what your S7 should tell you about its software, at least here in Belgium:

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A few days ago, on Jan. 17 to be precise, my Samsung Galaxy S7 received a software update. Considering the limited info available in the ‘What’s new” section of the update, I’m assuming that the update is limited to the January 1st security patch level…

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Samsung is fast this time: the December Security Update is available to Galaxy S7 devices in Belgium. Let’s call it an early Christmas gift ;-)

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On Monday, my S7 indicated that a new software update from Samsung was available for download and installation. This time I didn’t wait. The installation went smoothly, and there you have it: the November 2018 security patch is now on my phone. Too bad even Samsung (in Belgium) is not capable to give us a few details about what the update entails – you’ll have to visit the SamMobile website for that. According to them, the 227 MB download contained only security updates.

The G930FXXU3ERJE software update for the Samsung Galaxy S7

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