Category Archives: Gear & Gadgets

Google Play is fighting an uphill battle against Android adware

Enlarge (credit: SophosLabs)

Google's official Play marketplace is waging an uphill battle against Android apps that display an unending stream of popup ads even when users try to force them to stop, researchers said Friday.

The researchers, from UK-based SophosLabs, said they have found a total of 47 apps in the past week that collectively have racked up as many as six million downloads. They all use a third-party library that bombards users with ads that continue to display even after users force close the app or scrub memory. In a blog post, SophosLabs said Google has removed some of the privately reported apps while allowing others to remain.

The MarsDae library that's spawning the popup torrent supports Android versions 2.3 through 6, as well as Samsung, Huawei, Mizu, Mi, and Nexus devices. One app that incorporates MarsDae, SophosLabs said, is Snap Pic Collage Color Splash, which remained available on Google servers as this post was being prepared. Snap Pic has been downloaded from 50,000 to 100,000 times. Once installed, it displays ads on the Android home screen. Even after a user uses the Android settings to force close the app, the ads resume a few seconds later.

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Mini-review: The 2017 MacBook could actually be your everyday laptop

Andrew Cunningham

The MacBook Air has been one of Apple's most popular, most enduring laptop designs, but that wasn't always the case. When the first version of the laptop was released back in 2008, you had to pay too high a price for its thinness and lightness. And I'm not just talking about the literal price of the thing, either, although its $1,799 starting price was steep by any standard.

No, the main problems were that its anemic port selection made it annoying to use with the accessories of the day, while the available processors and hard drives made for a really slow, frustrating computer. It was way thinner and lighter than anything else you could get at the time, but most of the compromises weren't worth it.

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US gov’t taps The Machine to beat China to exascale supercomputing

HPE

With China threatening to build the world's first exascale supercomputer before the US, the US Department of Energy has awarded a research grant to Hewlett Packard Enterprise to develop an exascale supercomputer reference design based on technology gleaned from the The Machine, a project that aims to "reinvent the fundamental architecture of computing."

The DoE historically operated most of the world's top supercomputers, but in recent years China has taken over in dramatic fashion. China's top supercomputer, Sunway TaihuLight, currently has five times the peak performance (93 petaflops) of Oak Ridge's Titan (18 petaflops). The US has gesticulated grandiosely about retaking the supercomputing crown with an exascale (1,000 petaflops, 1 exaflops) supercomputer that would be operational by 2021ish, but China is seemingly forging ahead at a much faster clip: in January, China's national supercomputer centre said it would have a prototype exascale computer built by the end of 2017 and operational by 2020.

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Huawei Matebook X review: The cost of a Windows PC with a MacBook design

Video shot/edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

Huawei has been slowly pushing its way into the PC market. Its first attempt came in the $699 Matebook, a two-in-one device that couldn't stand up to similar devices due to its lackluster performance, bad battery life, and tendency to overheat.

While in the same device family, the new Matebook X is very different from the original Matebook. It's a true Windows ultrabook whose design inspiration borrows heavily from Apple. With its super-thin frame, brushed metal finish, and overall minimalistic construction, the Matebook is challenging Apple's MacBook not only in design, but in performance as well. The Matebook supports up to a Core i7 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, and up to 512GB SSD. But Huawei has to prove that all the power it has packed into the tiny laptop can make the Matebook X a better option than other competing Windows notebooks.

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Hands-on with Chrome’s wild new mobile interface

As phones get bigger and bigger, putting all the controls at the top of the display—Desktop OS style—becomes less and less ergonomic. Phones like the Galaxy S8 Plus have displays that are about six inches tall, so there is no way most people can reach the top of the display one-handed. It's with this in mind that Google is totally rethinking the Chrome mobile design with a new layout that puts all the controls—even the address bar—at the bottom of the screen.

For the past few months, Google has been experimenting with several new layouts, but these have all lived behind special settings flags. The above design just rolled out, by default, to the Chrome "Dev" channel on Android. We expect it to be headed to the Beta and Stable versions once all the bugs get worked out, and it should eventually see a release on iOS.

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Surface Pro review: Incremental improvement isn’t enough

Enlarge / Surface Pro with a Cobalt Blue Type Cover.

Every new Surface Pro has been the best Surface Pro yet. The new fifth-generation Surface Pro—unnumbered, Microsoft having dropped numeric suffixes—continues that trend. It is as good as or better than its predecessor, the Surface Pro 4, in every way.

And yet, the new machine strikes me as unambitious in a way that older models weren't.

The 2017 Surface Pro is an extremely incremental update. What was once a Skylake processor is now a Kaby Lake chip, which brings a healthy improvement in battery life and additional GPU features such as accelerated 4K HEVC video decoding. Overall, the new Surface Pro runs a bit faster and lasts longer away from the wall socket. The screen size and resolution remain the same (a beautiful 12.3" display with a strange 2736×1824 resolution), pen latency is lower, and parallax error seems improved. The pen itself is better.

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Mini-review: How much faster have high-end iMacs gotten in the last 5 years?

Andrew Cunningham

Apple seems committed to the Mac Pro and iMac Pro for now, but the company says that its most popular desktops with pro users remains the 27-inch iMac.

Unlike phones and tablets, which can still post big performance gains from year to year, desktops age more slowly and gracefully. A typical replacement cycle in many businesses and schools is three or four years, and, as long as they don’t break, you can easily keep using them for years after that.

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Firefox 54 finally goes multiprocess, eight years after work began

Enlarge (credit: Mozilla)

Firefox has finally been outfitted with simultaneous multiple content processes, a UI process, and a GPU acceleration process— eight years after the project, codenamed Electrolysis (E10S), began. Mozilla is calling Firefox 54 "the best Firefox ever," and they're probably not wrong (though Firefox 3.5 was pretty good, in my opinion).

In theory, moving to multiple content processes will improve stability and performance (one bad tab won't slow down the rest of your computer). Electrolysis is also a prerequisite for full security sandboxing in Firefox, which is currently only available for a few media-decoding plug-ins such as Flash.

The trade-off with multiple processes, though, is memory overhead, because each process contains an instance of the browser's rendering engine. Mozilla says they've worked hard to avoid increased memory consumption, but as a result you only get four content processes by default. Apparently that's the sweet spot between using too much RAM while still taking full advantage of multi-core CPUs. If you want to be more (or less) aggressive, you can visit about:config and tweak dom.ipc.processCount. By default Google Chrome starts a new process for every tab, which is one of the reasons it's such a memory hog.

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Play Store downloads show Google Pixel sales limited to 1 million units

Enlarge / The Google Pixel XL. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

The Google Pixel, Google's first totally self-branded phone, launched about eight months ago. Google declared itself a smartphone OEM and jumped into the world of manufacturing, but while the company's software and optimizations have made the phone a critical success, how have the sales numbers been?

Unlike just about every hardware manufacturer on Earth, Google doesn't share official sales numbers for the Pixel phones, choosing to bundle the income under Alphabet's "Other Revenues" during earnings reports. We do have one very solid signal for Pixel sales, though: the Play Store, which shows install numbers for apps. If there was an app that was exclusive and install-by-default on the Pixel phones, like say, the Pixel Launcher, the install number would basically be the number of sold activated phones.

This calculation is complicated by the fact that Google Play doesn't show exact install numbers; it shows installs in "tiers" like "100,000-500,000." So most of the time, we won't have an exact Pixel sales number—except when the Pixel Launcher crosses from one download tier to another. So guess what just happened? The Pixel Launcher just crossed into the "1,000,000-5,000,000" install tier (you can see some third-party tracking sites, like AppBrain, still have it listed at 500,000). So for this one moment in history, eight months after launch, we can say Google finally sold a million Pixel phones.

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Pixel 2 leaks show Google still moving between OEMs to make its phones

Enlarge / The original Pixel was made by HTC and looked a lot like an LG phone, so maybe the Pixel 2 will look like this LG G6?

Google's official bug tracker seems to have spilled the beans on the manufacturer of the next Pixel phone (or at least, one of the next Pixel phones). A post—which was first spotted by 9to5Google—indicates that the lucky manufacturer is none other than LG.

When we last checked in with Google Pixel 2 rumors, there were going to be three devices, all with the usual fish-themed code names of "Walleye," "Muskie," and "Taimen." Walleye was pegged as the smaller Pixel successor, Muskie was the Pixel XL 2, and Taimen was rumored to be something even bigger than the XL. A report just yesterday from Android Police claims the XL successor, "Muskie," is cancelled, and that Taimen, previously pegged an "XXL" device, will be handling the big phone duties. The extra-large size is probably a reference to the screen size and not the body size, as slimmer bezels mean OEMs can squeeze ever-larger screens into the same size phone bodies.

It's "Taimen" that was leaked in this bug report. An LG employee is discussing a device's USB-PD compliance and is told by a Google employee to reopen the bug under "Android > Partner > External > LGE > Taimen > power." There's our "Taimen" codename, right in the directory structure, and in addition to the filing employee being from LG, the directory structure shows "LGE," which is short for "LG Electronics." It's not clear if this means both phones or just Taimen is being made by LG.

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