Android Archive

LineageOS 16 based on Android Pie is here

LineageOS, the successor to CyanogenMod, has released version 16 of their custom Android ROM. This new release is based on Android Pie, and will serve as the base for countless other ROMs. The project was first launched to the public with LineageOS 14.1, which was based on Android 7.1 Nougat and, by itself, was not much more than just a fork of the existing CyanogenMod 14.1 source code. It then started evolving and taking a slightly different path with LineageOS 15.1, based on Android 8.1 Oreo, maintaining their premise of a community-centered project above everything while adding a number of useful, widely-requested features such as a system-wide dark mode as well as privacy-focused improvements like the Trust interface. Today, that evolution continues with LineageOS 16.0, the newest and latest version of the incredibly-popular custom ROM, as announced on the team’s blog post. As is the norm, with a version number change comes a big platform update. LineageOS has been re-based on the latest Android Pie source code. And with this comes all of Android Pie’s new features and improvements, including the renewed Material Theme redesign, the new navigation gestures, and more. While initially LineageOS 16 officially supports about 24 devices, unofficial support will cover more devices, and over the coming weeks and months, more and more devices will become officially supported.

F(x)tec Pro 1: a slider phone for QWERTY keyboard lovers?

MWC Barcelona 2019 is well underway, and among the big companies such as Samsung, Huawei, LG, and Xiaomi are smaller start-ups. One of those start-ups is the UK-based F(x)tec, a company which intends to bring back well-loved features from the smartphones of old. The F(x)tec Pro 1 is their first device, and it features a sliding QWERTY keyboard inspired by the Nokia E7 and N950. I got to meet the team and get hands-on time with the device to gather my thoughts on it. Meet the F(x)tec Pro 1, a slider phone with a QWERTY keyboard that will launch in July. This Android device ticks so many boxes, yet it’s the price that has me concerned. The starting price of $649 isn’t actually that steep when compared to the devices Samsung and Apple put on the market, but for lower prices you can get comparable and better-specced phones from OnePlus or PocoPhone. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable spending that much money on an unproven company with possible update issues.

Android is helping kill passwords on a billion devices

On Monday, Google and the FIDO Alliance announced that Android has added certified support for the FIDO2 standard, meaning the vast majority of devices running Android 7 or later will now be able to handle password-less logins in mobile browsers like Chrome. Android already offered secure FIDO login options for mobile apps, where you authenticate using a phone’s fingerprint scanner or with a hardware dongle like a YubiKey. But FIDO2 support will make it possible to use these easy authentication steps for web services in a mobile browser, instead of having the tedious task of typing in your password every time you want to log in to an account. Web developers can now design their sites to interact with Android’s FIDO2 management infrastructure. Good move.

Samsung’s foldable phone is the Galaxy Fold

Samsung first teased its foldable phone back in November, and at the company’s Galaxy Unpacked event today it’s further detailing its foldable plans. Samsung’s foldable now has a name, the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and the company is revealing more about what this unique smartphone can do. Samsung is planning to launch the Galaxy Fold on April 26th, starting at $1,980. There will be both an LTE and 5G version of the Galaxy Fold, and Samsung is even planning on launching the device in Europe on May 3rd, starting at 2,000 euros. The technology is definitely amazing and futuristic, but this device is clearly more of a very expensive tech demo than a real, mass-market product. There’s nothing wrong with that – I like having crazy technology available, even if it’s at high prices – but a monumental shift in the market this is not. Yet.

Samsung’s new One UI Android skin

Samsung has been very slowly rolling out its Android 9 update to a very small selection of its phones, and with it, the company is introducing a fairly radical redesign of the user interface it slaps on top of Android. It’s called One UI, and it seems like people are… Actually really positive about it? Since I – and many others with me – have treated Samsung’s UIs and skins as a punching bag for almost a decade now, it seems only fair to also highlight when they seem to be doing something right. First, Dieter Bohn at The Verge: I’ve been testing One UI on a Galaxy S9 for the past week or so and thus far I really like it. In some ways, I like it better than what Google itself is shipping on the Pixel 3. If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t yet trust Samsung to deliver major software updates quickly, I would be shouting about One UI from the rooftops. As it is, I just want to point out that it’s time for us to stop instinctively turning our noses up at Samsung’s version of Android. There are still some annoying parts of One UI, but they don’t ruin what is otherwise a full-featured, coherent, and (dare I say) thoughtful version of Android. This is not the conventional wisdom about Samsung software. Second, Abhay Venkatesh at NeoWin: Samsung’s One UI is a huge step in the right direction. The fresh, fluid UI makes it a joy to use, and the addition of smart UI elements, dark mode, and other nifty improvements make for a great experience. The navigation system combines the best of either world and in true Samsung fashion, provides users with an abundance of options. The company’s efforts to continually improve its software and strike a balance between excess customization and usability is evident. However, a lot of the remnants remain from the years that have passed, and it will be interesting to see how Samsung moves the design language forward. I’m glad to see Samsung improve its software, since that will benefit a lot of people all over the world, and it’s always refreshing to have your preconceived notions challenged.

Encryption for everyone: how Adiantum will keep more Android devices secure

Adiantum is a new form of encryption that we built specifically to run on phones and smart devices that don’t have the specialized hardware to use current methods to encrypt locally stored data efficiently. Adiantum is designed to run efficiently without that specialized hardware. This will make the next generation of devices more secure than their predecessors, and allow the next billion people coming online for the first time to do so safely. Adiantum will help secure our connected world by allowing everything from smart watches to internet-connected medical devices to encrypt sensitive data. (For more details about the ins and outs of Adiantum, check out the security blog.) Encryption should be available on every single Android phone, not just the high-end, expensive models only the lucky few in the world can afford. Good move.

Android Q will include more ways for carriers to SIM lock your phone

Over the weekend, four commits were posted to various parts of Android’s Gerrit source code management, all entitled “Carrier restriction enhancements for Android Q.” In them, we see that network carriers will have more fine-grained control over which networks devices will and will not work on. More specifically, it will be possible to designate a list of “allowed” and “excluded” carriers, essentially a whitelist and a blacklist of what will and won’t work on a particular phone. This can be done with a fine-grained detail to even allow blocking virtual carrier networks that run on the same towers as your main carrier. I’m sure carriers won’t abuse this functionality at all.

Even with the Google/Fossil deal, Wear OS is doomed

It’s all being blown way out of proportion. The Fossil deal is not going to fix Wear OS. This is not the acquisition that will lead to a Pixel Watch. In reality, the deal was probably too small to really matter. Let’s pour some cold water on all this optimism. Wear OS is still doomed. I wouldn’t call Wear OS “doomed” per se, but to say it’s not doing particularly well is a massive understatement.

Early Android Q build has a system-wide dark theme, permission revamp, more

The early Android Q leaked build we have obtained was built just this week with the February 2019 security patches, and it’s up-to-date with Google’s AOSP internal master. That means it has a ton of new Android platform features that you won’t find anywhere publicly, but there are no Google Pixel software customizations nor are there pre-installed Google Play apps or services so I don’t have any new information to share on those fronts. Still, there’s a lot to digest here, so we’ve flashed the build on the Pixel 3 XL to find out what’s new—both on the surface-level and under-the-hood. This article will focus on all the surface-level changes we’ve found in Android Q. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, most notably a complete redesign of the permissions user interface, as well as even stricter limitations on what applications can do, such as only granting certain permissions while the application in question is in use. There’s also a system-wide dark mode, hints of a DeX-like desktop mode, and a lot more.

Google sets deadlines for 64bit support in Android applications

64-bit CPUs deliver faster, richer experiences for your users. Adding a 64-bit version of your app provides performance improvements, makes way for future innovation, and sets you up for devices with 64-bit only hardware. We want to help you get ready and know you need time to plan. We’ve supported 64-bit CPUs since Android 5.0 Lollipop and in 2017 we first announced that apps using native code must provide a 64-bit version (in addition to the 32-bit version). Today we’re providing more detailed information and timelines to make it as easy as possible to transition in 2019. Important information for Android developers regarding requirements around 64bit support.

“Don’t kill my app!”

With Android 6 (Marshmallow), Google has introduced Doze mode to the base Android, in an attempt to unify battery saving across the various Android phones. Unfortunately, vendors (e.g. Xiaomi, Huawei, OnePlus or even Samsung..) did not seem to catch that ball and they all have their own battery savers, usually very poorly written, saving battery only superficially with side effects. Naturally users blame developers for their apps failing to deliver. But the truth is developers do the maximum they can. Always investigating new device specific hacks to keep their (your!) apps working. But in many cases they simply fall short as vendors have full control over processes on your phone. This is a legitimate problem on my OnePlus 6T. I enjoy using this phone, but the aggressive non-standard application cycle management definitely leads to issues with not receiving notifications or login procedures being restarted as you leave an application. It doesn’t happen often enough to truly bother me, but I can definitely see how people who make more extensive use of their phone than I do run into this issue every day.

Google makes a case to never buy a Pixel at launch again

Google’s Pixel phones are far from perfect, but they are getting better year by year. Despite various flaws, they remain some of our favorite phones on the market. However, with the Pixel 3, Google has made it abundantly clear that almost no one should ever buy one of its phones at launch.

Coincidentally, I just bought a new phone to replace my iPhone X, and while the Pixel devices are not available in The Netherlands (they are only available in like 4 countries), as a thought exercise, I did include the Pixel in my deliberations as to what phone to buy. And you know what? Aside from its exceptional camera, the Pixel phones don't really seem to offer any benefits over other Android phones, while still being quite expensive.

The only redeeming quality is updates, but since OnePlus has been excellent with Android updates, I opted to buy the OnePlus 6T, which also happens to be considerably cheaper, despite having pretty much the same specifications. Virtually every single review also noted that the 6T had superior performance to the Pixel 3, which seems to have considerable performance issues.

With devices like the 6T on the market, is there really any reason to buy a Pixel at all?

The good and bad of Samsung’s One UI interface

One UI will initially be rolled out as a beta for users later this month, and in January 2019, will officially make its way to all Galaxy S9, S9+, and Note 9 devices.

What we've seen of One UI so far looks quite promising, but it's also not without its faults. Here's both the good and bad that you can look forward to when the update lands on your phone.

One UI is Samsung's new TouchWiz, and it's kind of hilarious. For a number of applications, Samsung decided to put all the content on the bottom half of the screen, while reserving the top half for just one header (like "Settings" or "Messages"). Basically, you have a huge screen and a tall display, only for literally half of it to be taken up by a massive single-word header.

Okay Samsung. Okay.

APEX furthers the Android modularization started by Treble

At a technical level, APEX has been compared to Magisk, which works by mounting folders into the system partition at boot, rather than modifying the system partition directly (which is detectable). APEX appears to extend that same functionality over into core Android packages, separating out things like the Android Runtime into their own packages, separate from the system partition. That means they can be individually and separately updated from the system image.

It's possible that modularized OEM modifications could then be distributed on top of a Google-maintained system image - basically meaning the version of Android itself on a given phone could potentially be updated by Google, but the bits responsible for an OEM skin could be present, updated, and maintained as separate components. That's not to mention how it could ease ROM development, as Treble has.

It's good to see Google working to go beyond Treble, because the cold and harsh facts are that Treble hasn't made any serious dent in the update problem at all. The problem is as big as it's ever been.

Samsung shows off its smartphone with foldable display

At Samsung's Developer Conference earlier today, the company gave a short glimpse of its smartphone with foldable display.

Samsung's folding phone will actually have three screens - a large display that will unfold the phone into a small tablet, and a smaller display which sits on the outside of the phone for use in one-handed operation. Samsung calls this smaller screen the "cover display," and it definitely seems smaller than what you get on a modern, large-display smartphone. The idea is that since the "large" tablet display can only be used in the full-size mode, you'll need this secondary display for more day-to-day smartphone functions.

The demo device was inside a "black box" to disguise the actual industrial design, but that suggests this phone is getting pretty close to being done (also, the bezels won't be that large - it's deliberate obfuscation). Samsung says production of Infinity folding panels should be ready in the coming months, suggesting the phone could launch in the early part of next year.

Meanwhile, Google has announced that Android will support foldable displays, so that applications can seamlessly shrink and expand based on the state of the foldable display.

I love the technology that makes all this possible, but I think it'll take a few generations and iterating before these foldable displays truly become useful.

Google mandates two years of Android security updates

Every month, a security team at Google releases a new set of patches for Android - and every month, carriers and manufacturers struggle to get them installed on actual phones. It's a complex, long-standing problem, but confidential contracts obtained by The Verge show many manufacturers now have explicit obligations about keeping their phones updated written into their contract with Google.

A contract obtained by The Verge requires Android device makers to regularly install updates for any popular phone or tablet for at least two years. Google's contract with Android partners stipulates that they must provide "at least four security updates" within one year of the phone's launch. Security updates are mandated within the second year as well, though without a specified minimum number of releases.

Be still my beating heart - four whole security updates in the first year, and "a" security update in the second year? How mightily generous.

Network of more than 125 Android apps used in ad fraud scheme

But an investigation by BuzzFeed News reveals that these seemingly separate apps and companies are today part of a massive, sophisticated digital advertising fraud scheme involving more than 125 Android apps and websites connected to a network of front and shell companies in Cyprus, Malta, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. More than a dozen of the affected apps are targeted at kids or teens, and a person involved in the scheme estimates it has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from brands whose ads were shown to bots instead of actual humans.

Scammers were buying applications from developers, and after adding usage behavior tracking tools to these existing applications, used said data to mimic "real" user behaviour.

One way the fraudsters find apps for their scheme is to acquire legitimate apps through We Purchase Apps and transfer them to shell companies. They then capture the behavior of the app’s human users and program a vast network of bots to mimic it, according to analysis from Protected Media, a cybersecurity and fraud detection firm that analyzed the apps and websites at BuzzFeed News' request.

Sure, this is all terrible and probably quite illegal, but honestly, you have to respect the ingenuity here.

Google app suite costs as much as $40 per phone in the EU

After news earlier this week that Google was going to make sweeping changes to how it licenses Android within the European Union, The Verge now has the prices Google is going to charge.

EU countries are divided into three tiers, with the highest fees coming in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands. In those countries, a device with a pixel density higher than 500 ppi would have to pay a $40 fee to license Google's suite of apps, according to pricing documents. 400 to 500ppi devices would pay a $20 fee, while devices under 400 ppi would pay only $10. In some countries, for lower-end phones, the fee can be as little as $2.50 per device.

That's quite a bit more than I would've thought.

The new Palm is a tiny phone you can’t buy separetely

There's a new phone with the word "Palm" on it that's tiny, intriguing, and has very little to do with Palm beyond that word printed on the back. It comes from a startup in San Francisco, which purchased the rights for the name from TCL last year. It costs $349.99 and will be available in November, but you can't go out and buy it on its own. It's only available as an add-on to a current line. Also, Steph Curry is somehow involved.

This is a rather interesting little device, as it seems one of the very phones focusing on being a small device that gets out of your way instead of trying to draw you in. I honestly don't understand the business model, though - who's going to buy a second $350 phone you can only get when you buy your primary phone? This seems doomed to fail, even though I'm sure there are quite a few people who'd love to buy a relatively cheap, well-designed full Android phone that isn't a surfboard.