As I have said about Android and Google, and now it appears Microsoft too: You are Product.
Anyone who uses Skype has consented to the company reading everything they write. The H's associates in Germany at heise Security have now discovered that the Microsoft subsidiary does in fact make use of this privilege in practice. Shortly after sending HTTPS URLs over the instant messaging service, those URLs receive an unannounced visit from Microsoft HQ in Redmond.
A reader informed heise Security that he had observed some unusual network traffic following a Skype instant messaging conversation. The server indicated a potential replay attack. It turned out that an IP address which traced back to Microsoft had accessed the HTTPS URLs previously transmitted over Skype. Heise Security then reproduced the events by sending two test HTTPS URLs, one containing login information and one pointing to a private cloud-based file-sharing service. A few hours after their Skype messages, they observed the following in the server log:
Read the entire thing.
Bottom line: After transmitting an HTTPS: url that contained a login and password that were in the "private" conversation Microsoft's servers hit that URL on their own.
In other words the allegation is that Microsoft's servers are storing and using the contents of an allegedly-private conversation.
Note that many people believe that Skype, using allegedly "encrypted" communications, is reasonably secure and private. The evidence above seems to prove that this is not the case and that the actual contents of your communications are being logged and then used.
This is what happens when you allow yourself to be treated as product, and why you should consider using technology from firms that do not consider you as "product."
And now you know why I run my own email service rather than "trusting" gmail or simila rand in addition run my mobile traffic through a private IPSEC VPN on top of that.
Oh, one other thing: BlackBerry's new devices, when loaded with 10.1 (which started rolling out as an update today) gives you transparent cloud-style access back to your own files on your PC over a secure connection from anywhere, eliminating the need to "trust someone" for cloud or other storage. Your PC does have to be "on" (obviously) for this to work but work it does, from anywhere.
The Z-10 and Q-10 are the only devices currently available that are capable of this "out of the box" without a whole host of screwing around that most people are either incapable of pulling off on their own or simply don't want to go to the trouble to learn how to do so.
Buy what suits you best but if you buy from a company that treats you as "product" don't be surprised when they intercept and use everything you do from "their" (not your!) device.
Consumer credit increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5-3/4 percent during the first quarter. Revolving credit was little changed, while nonrevolving credit increased at an annual rate of 8 percent. In March, consumer credit increased at an annual rate of 3-1/2 percent.
Let's look at the charts:
Hmmm.... no change of measureable amount in credit cards since the end of 2011.
As for non-revolving it looks like the gains are still coming in the Federal Government "stuff" for the most part -- that is, student loans. Let's see:
Uh, yep. Most notably the actual amount of credit-card debt outstanding is decreasing and has been since December. The holiday season is of course usually heavy in this regard but there is no acceleration -- at all -- over the last two years.
As for non-revolving ex-Federal Government (read: Student Loans) of the $4.918 billion added last month $3.925 billion was accounted for there, with less than a billion taken out for other reasons.
We're still screwing our young adults and credit revulsion is still very evident.
In February, consumer credit increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 7-3/4 percent. Revolving credit increased at an annual rate of 3/4 percent, while nonrevolving credit increased at an annual rate of 11 percent.
Lemme guess.... student loans?
Well what do you know -- the rate of change on non-revolving is decreasing. Yes, it's up on the month, but the rate is decreasing. Revolving is basically flat.
On the outstanding side we have this:
Non-revolving ex-FedGov was up $4.2 billion but with it was up $2.485. People actually bought something on credit other than student loans? I'm actually a bit impressed with that figure.
However, revolving credit, non-adjusted, was down $15.53 billion, dwarfing the non-revolving increase.
In other words when it comes to actual counts without seasonal "fudge factors" credit was not up, it was down.
So I've now had and used it for most of a day.
For context, I'm an Android guy and have been for quite some time. "Quite some time" is very appropriate here, incidentally -- I was one of the folks who took a perfectly-good Windows Mobile device (the T-Mobile HD2) and ported Android to it because, basically, Windows Mobile sucked. But I tolerated it for years, going back to the T-Mobile MDA, because I wanted the capability. I used to be a hardware-keyboard guy and have always more-or-less detested soft keyboards; I tolerate them but I won't tell you I love them because that would be a lie. I have become more-tolerant primarily because when not in use the screen space is (of course) larger, and Swype has made the on-screen keyboard reasonably-tolerable. I said reasonably -- this means I still hate the idea, generally.
My "native" Android devices date back to the original Galaxy series, the Samsung Vibrant (which incidentally is a very decent -- light, small and competent -- device with a crappy base operating system.) I currently have been using an SGS-II with Android 4.0x, otherwise known as "Ice Cream Sandwich." And I ported Android 3.x to the Motorola Triumph (Virgin Mobile) mostly out of frustration that the silly thing had Froyo on it which is both dated and bites.
I am the prototypical computer geek. I use my phone for both work and play; I need to have my trading applications available from it and a few other apps, but for the most part I carry a phone because I want to be able to communicate, either textually or by voice. While Titanium Backup claims I have well north of 100 "apps" on my SGS-II in fact like most people I use less than a half-dozen of them, including Facebook and Twitter, on a regular basis. I use mapping regularly when traveling and keep track of my vehicles with a little app called "Mileage" and while attempting to actively lose weight (in which I was very successful) I used an app called "Myfitnesspal" daily. My phone is my mobile music device and I have a large SD card stuffed in my SGS-II, which I use regularly -- including through my bluetooth earpiece while cycling.
In terms of Android anything from Gingerbread forward is IMHO reasonably ok. However, all of them suck when it comes to the browser with none being adequate in my view, most of them suck when it comes to stability to the point that T-Mobile's app actually suggests rebooting once a week or so, they all suck to a varying degree with Bluetooth connectivity (which I absolutely insist must work, and work well since I detest holding a phone up to my ear) and they all blow when it comes to "multi-tasking." ICS is better in all regards but even it is "chunky" in some respects -- one small manifestation is that at times notification tunes will get "chopped up." Jelly Bean is too new for me to have a solid opinion one way or the other, but it looks incremental in terms of improvements rather than revolutionary. Most current devices, including Samsung's much-vaunted Galaxy series, have only reasonably-decent battery life and "ok" RF performance. I insist on being able to stuff a spare battery in my pocket because otherwise if I spend a day in an amusement park "on queue" (or at a jobsite where I can't plug in to recharge) by the middle of the afternoon I'll have a flat battery and dead device.
I use the camera on my smartphone but it is not and never will be a dSLR; I own two of those. I'm a critical bastard when it comes to photos and videos but for a "quick snap" what you have beats what is in the bag at the house or in the car. The SGS-II's back camera is decent with a touch-to-focus preview that is quite nice and acceptable but not stellar quality; the forward-facing camera is useful only for video chats, really; its inherent quality is terrible with nasty color fringing and a chromatic shift that is annoying even for casual snapshots. The typical "hold phone pointing at you and press button" self-snapshot, if used by a woman, will lead her to throw shoes at you. To be fair the newer SGS series (e.g. SIII) and iPhone are considerably better on the front-facing camera. None are, in my opinion, outstanding or particularly noteworthy.
Finally, I'm on T-Mobile's network. I live in an area where HSPA+ 42mbps service is available and very solid in its performance but just a few miles away the service is still EDGE -- 2.5G. Go inside and you will discover that the much-vaunted "4g" service drops back due to signal strength and coherence to 2.5G in many establishments. For voice and text performance T-Mobile has been excellent in my experience for a long time and in the last couple of years their HSPA+ light-up has radically improved data performance to the point that I can and do regularly get 10Mbps+ speeds on the downlink side. I have tethering turned on and use it on occasion.
That's the context into which the Blackberry Z-10 entered my life.
So let's talk about the buying experience.
T-Mobile had 'em in stock and the salesdude knew what it was and was enthusiastic about the device. He had one, in fact, that was his "demo" that he had been playing with and seemed to understand it. He unboxed mine, swapped the SIM on my account (required; the Z-10 uses the newer "micro" format and my Sammy uses the traditional size) and popped it in.
There came the only problem I ran into -- the unit refused to recognize data and would not initialize, as you have to sign in to Blackberry (creating an account if required) to set up the device. They (fortunately!) had a working hotspot in the store and once I paired it with that over Wifi the rest was uneventful.
I suspect the problem was that he powered up the phone with the new SIM before telling T-Mobile it had been switched, and as such it didn't think it was valid, checking it only when it was turned on. Oh, and the power button doesn't shut it off during the setup process either -- I tried that. Once I had gone through the setup and reset the phone it immediately connected for both data and voice, I got two immediate text messages from T-Mobile "welcoming" me, and I was I in business.
Back in the car my first order of business was to determine how much "fun" I'd have getting contacts, calendar and email from my various places -- Contacts, Calendar and an email account from Google, along with primary email from my self-hosted IMAP server. Here was the first pleasant surprise: Everything came across instantly and without hassle -- bang, done, 30 seconds and there it all was.
For those who have written "reviews" claiming that PUSH email doesn't work -- they're either intentionally lying or have an utterly-incompetent email provider. Push email using IMAP IDLE most-certainly does work exactly as advertised and notification and transfer is instantaneous -- emails pop up on my Z10 faster than they do on my desktop machine.
But but but.... people have said this doesn't work?
The hell it doesn't if you're coming from Android and have reasonably-competent email service(s)!
(By the way, for those who are not enterprise users and thus don't have an Exchange server but want to sync your calendar with Outlook, Google has a little plug-in that runs on your PC that sync's it to Google, so that's how you solve that problem if you run into it. Yes, it's bidirectional. As far as I know it's the only way to get Outlook to sync with Android properly too in a non-Exchange environment, which is why I use it.)
About the time you do this you'll recognize that the "soft" keyboard on the screen just works. It's not clunky, it doesn't miss every second character, it doesn't make nearly as many typos as whatever you were using before. Even if you were using Swype or one of the other fancy add-ons. That's a smile on your face, incidentally, when your password is correct as-typed the first time and your first SMS message doesn't have an embarassing auto-typed nasty in it.
Next surprise: RF performance. Simply put this device is unbelievable. I have had only a few hours with it now, and will update later, but my first impression is that the Z10 pulls a full signal and remains on 4g service where my SGS-II shows a couple of bars and/or drops back to EDGE! The difference in RF performance is not subtle -- at all.
I took the MicroSD card out of my SGS-II and stuffed it into the Z-10. All my music and photos immediately appeared. I opened the camera to play with it and got an immediate two surprises -- first, the phone asked me if I wanted my photos all stored on the memory card (it said it had detected I had inserted one) and then I discovered the camera has image stabilization! I knew about the "time shift" thing, but not this. It's not what I have in my dSLR, but it works, and well. Surprise-surprise! Image quality is much better than the SGS-II -- here's an example, both with no flash, taken of the same thing (my credenza with the TV on) at the exact same time in the same lighting. I intentionally tried to make it tough -- it is very dim in here and I prohibited flash on both.
Yes, there's sensor noise. But it's far worse on the SGS-II than the Z10. Frankly, it's not even close. There is no retouching on these images; the EXIF data is there if you click for the full-size file.
It looks like the Z10 has at least two stops of advantage over the SGS-II in sensitivity. The EXIF data reports ISO 800 and yet the noise level is considerably better at ISO 800 than the SGS-II is at its reported ISO 400. That's two stops better performance, maybe three, without flash. The SGS-II is out of sensitivity on this shot, bluntly, while the Z10 is not.
Yes, I know the SGS-II is a couple of years old but this is not a small difference folks, and I don't recall people complaining (much) about the SGS-II camera. I don't have an iPhone 5 here or a SGS-III or IV - my suspicion there is that the cameras are pretty much "on-par" with one another.
Update: Make sure that's a fast SD card if you want to shoot video in 1080p HD format. My 16GB card was rejected for the better movie quality as "not fast enough" despite allegedly being Class 10; I have a 32GB UHS-1 Sandisk card on the way.
I then decided to check out the music player performance and got another pleasant surprise.
I like to listen to my music on my Bluetooth earpiece while I'm biking or otherwise out and about pretty regularly. This works on Android to a degree but ICS and previous versions of Android is and always has contained a serious annoyance: If you pair a media device on Bluetooth and leave it connected all your notification sounds go to the earpiece! This sucks severely if you have your earpiece powered up (and thus connected) but not in your ear -- you will not hear the phone ring, you will not hear the SMS "boing!", you won't hear anything! But that's exactly what you want to do -- leave it turned on and stick the earpiece in your ear if the phone rings (to answer the call) or if you want to listen to music -- otherwise, hang it on your shirt or whatever. And when you're walking around like this if the phone notification goes off for something you want the phone itself to ring, not the earpiece that is not in your ear.
Blackberry gets this exactly right -- the notifications go where they should, to the device. Music and media go to the connected earpiece. Hot damn.
I then discovered -- by accident -- the Z10's "face". I'm speaking of the "automatic" home screen. How much time have you spent screwing with yours? I've spent a lot on Android. I don't have to any more. I opened the calendar and weather app, then swiped up. The went into the "pane" mode, re-organized what it was showing me to make sense in the little tile and stuck. Voila -- there's my calendar and weather on my "home screen." Heh, that's nice.
My learning curve thus far on the phone? Zero. Ditto on "frustration" -- zero.
Remember, all my messages, emails, calendars and music (on my SD card) magically worked without hassle too. Hmmmm....
Ok, let's look around the system menus. What's this in the settings? Payment options? Oh, here's something Google and Apple didn't think of -- I can bill apps to my carrier account. Or to PayPal. (Or to a credit card, of course.) That's nice. I won't use the carrier option but I bet it drives revenue for people who buy a lot of stuff on the Blackberry Store.
Speaking of which, in the store were things I didn't expect. First, Dropbox is integrated in the system, which is a big deal to me. I didn't have to load it -- it's just there. The Kindle app is there, as is the WSJ mobile app. And a few more I don't care about, such as Foursquare (but some people do.)
The included mapping/nav application appears to be TomTom based and it is pretty up-to-date; it has some local map updates that Google does not. That was a surprise, to be frank; I expected that I'd really miss the Google version and immediately want to sideload it given the few people who have bashed it in other "reviews." Nope. It isn't Streetview but it is completely serviceable and the GPS lock was instantaneous and accurate. No complaints there, at least not at first blush. I have to ask on these other "reviews" of the mapping system: Did these others people actually use it?
Data performance is on par with my SGS-II, which was in turn excellent. I'm getting rates anywhere from 5-12Mbps down and ~3mbps upbound here at the house, which is on UMTS+. Out and about I've seen data rates approaching 20Mbps. We don't have LTE lit here but there's nothing to complain about performance-wise on this phone. The mobile hotspot works very well and is exceptionally fast internally; I detected no meaningful overhead associated with its use.
The phone has a nice built-in clock application that includes a "nightstand" mode, turning the clock red, dimming it appropriately for a dark room (it brightens up temporarily and shows the alarm time if you touch the screen) and allowing you to silence most notifications but allows phone calls to ring through normally. Blackberry actually thought of this while nobody else has. I use my phone as a clock when I travel and have resorted to loading things like Tasker to make this reasonable under Android and not drive me nuts with a chime every time an email comes in.
The Z-10 is full of these little surprises -- things that Blackberry thought of that make the device both intuitive and easy to live with, almost like it knows what you're thinking of before you do it.
On the left side of the phone there are two jacks. The first is for USB. The second is HDMI.
I happened to have a cable laying around with the appropriate end on it so I jacked it into my bigscreen TV and plugged the other end into the phone -- and the exactly-expected thing happened -- both the audio and video showed up on the TV. Now that was a surprise, and what was an even bigger one was that it didn't downsample -- rather, it recognized the larger display device (than the phone's screen) and framed it instead.
I'm going to play with this later with video content, but if it works as I expect this suddenly makes this phone a very viable media source device much beyond simply showing off your photos. Hmmmm.... real HDMI output from a phone without hinky adapters -- plug in and go?
The next question is "can it play and route DTS and other similar high-rate, multi-channel sound?"
Update: This surprise got me interested in formats -- and I discovered that the Z-10 knows how to play FLAC files! Lossless compression -- truly unmolested music -- can be had on this phone; that's very nice (provided you can live with the filesize.)
There are a few things missing that I care about in the app department though. To fix that I had to "sideload" some things and that required plugging the phone into my PC.
As soon as I did the phone showed up as what looked like a CD drive. It had a "Start" program in it, which installed the Blackberry Link manager on the computer and which loaded without incident.
Now, as for sideloading, this is what I've got so far that I want but can't have "native":
APG (PGP for Android and now Z10!)
Google Maps (Yes, it works)
ConnectBot (very useful little terminal program)
Hilton's reservation app
KeePass (the most-important of the list)
Mileage (I track my gas mileage with it)
Flickster (what can I say?)
Schwab (Yes, it works)
ThinkOrSwim (Yes, it works)
A relatively small list, as pretty-much everything else I really care about is already there or can be grabbed from the Blackberry World store (most for free.) I can live without Fox, without Hilton, without Bloomberg (all of which are perfectly ok on the browser.)
KeePass is, however, essential and I want (bad) my mobile trading apps -- without those I'd actually return the phone.
Loading all those took about 2 minutes -- click on 'em and they're done. You can find one of several repositories of "already-converted" Android apps here: http://apps.goodereader.com/playbook/playbook-android-apps/ -- any of those can be "sideloaded" in literal seconds and once loaded look just like a native app on the phone.
Once I had KeePass I thought syncing up Facebook and Twitter would be a 30-second deal.
Here I ran into the one big problem Blackberry has -- it will not permit pasting into a password box.
That, my friends, sucks.
The problem is not with KeePass. If I open a browser I can paste in a password. But I can't into native BB10 apps, such as its Facebook and Twitter app.
And by the way, this is broken on the Playbook too -- inexcusably so.
This needs to be fixed right now in the BB10 software. It is utterly essential for those of us using reasonably-secure passwords with a password wallet that we be able to paste into a password box. Not allowing that is the one big idiotic mistake BlackBerry has made in this software.
Other than that, however, what I can complain about is niggles. The most-serious is in the Hub and email generally; there is no "bulk select" option. You can select multiple items and then delete them, but there's no facility to say "Select ALL" that I can find -- that's a needed fix. The other one, and it's a material one, is that there's no "Never" for the screen timeout when on AC power.
Speaking of that there's no second profile at all. The Playbook has two -- one screen timeout set for AC power, another for battery. Add that please; it's important. And make one of the choices for when on-AC "Never."
There are two another niggles related to this; Android apps that set the "Do not sleep" option work fine but the option is not honored, and those that want access to the GPS won't wake it on their own (start the BB internal maps app, even if you immediately tile it, and it instantly wakes up.) I'll live with both those limitations as they're relatively minor but they should both be fixed.
There was one final shocker. When I started writing this both my Android phone (with its old SIM which doesn't have service any more) and the Z10, both connected to Wifi, were sitting my desk "idle." Both had 100% power.
My android device now shows 82%, which is about right -- I've taken a couple of pictures, I uploaded them, I did things. It's been a couple of hours and ~10% an hour with the phone in moderate use is about what I've experienced over the last couple of years with Android devices generally. Thus, my desire to have a changeable battery.
Now the Blackberry. It's battery "segment meter" shows full. There are some reviewers who claim you can't see actual charge state and have to rely on the "segments." They're wrong. Go to the settings, About (first item), pull down the category to hardware and scroll down to the bottom. There it is.
The charge level, with the Z10 having an active SIM in it, also connected to WiFi, with all my apps loaded, updating, ThinkOrSwim running for the last two hours in the background and doing basically the same tasks I did on the SGS-II during the same time, with both starting at 100%?
One quarter, approximately, of the SGS-II's battery drain.
All-in-all here's my initial (first day) verdict compared against the Android universe:
Blackberry needs to issue one quick software revision that fix these last three issues -- give us two profiles for power (screen timeout, etc) and in the AC one make "Never" a screen timeout option. Enable paste for all text entry boxes in applications, including password boxes. And make it possible to do a "select all" in the Hub's component pieces (e.g. for all pieces of email in a given email inbox.)
That's all I got for complaints, and guys and dolls -- that's not much.
Verdict: Best "new smartphone experience" I've ever had, bar none, period. Sorry Samsung and Apple. Android loses to a phone with thought instead of a robot at its core.
Claimer: I bought the phone retail, at full price at the Destin T-Mobile store this morning. No gimmicks, nobody paid me to write this and nobody solicited this review. I may update this if I discover "new things" (including bad surprises) in the next few days and will write a more in-depth look back after a month of using the Z10 as my only device.
Update: The built-in "protect" function is pretty cool. Yes, you can do that with add-ons on Android, but they're subject to being erased. This is built-in. I asked where mine was and it stuck on pin through the roof of my house and pinned the desk -- spot on -- in about 30 seconds. It also knew how much battery power the phone had and offers both a remote lock and remote wipe. Nice.
PS: This phone has just turned into being officially "cute." It detected that I plugged it into AC power while locked and standing upright in portrait mode -- a little bed appeared at the top. Pull it down and the night clock mode is engaged. I'm not entirely sure what the conditions were that triggered it to offer that option, but in point of fact that was exactly what I intended to do, yet its "offer" didn't in any way intrude if you weren't interested. The little intuitive things it does like this without being "in your face" about it are something else -- I like it a lot.
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.7 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.0 percent before seasonal adjustment.
The gasoline index rose 9.1 percent in February to account for almost three-fourths of the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The indexes for electricity, natural gas, and fuel oil also increased, leading to a 5.4 percent rise in the energy index. The food index increased slightly in February, rising 0.1 percent. A sharp increase in the fruits and vegetables index was the major cause of the 0.1 percent increase in the food at home index, with other major grocery store food group indexes mixed.
Let's take a look and see if there is anything extraordinary (beyond that expressed in the headline) inside.
Gasoline was the monster, up about 10% on the month and driving the headline number. Diesel was up half that, or 4.7%. There was no material change in electricity (+0.1%) or piped gas (+0.2%)
There's a lot of noise in the detailed numbers, but nothing else stands out this month. Everyone seems to be looking at the gasoline move as a "one-off" and that it will reverse. I doubt it -- it's coming too early this year, but we shall see as we move into the "driving season."
Where We Are, Where We're Heading (2013) - The annual 2013 Ticker
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