Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

Samsung Galaxy 8 Iris Scanner hacked!

Samsung just brought out its newest phone, the Galaxy S8, touting the new "iris-unlocking" feature as one of the safest methods of securing a mobile phone.

Quite unfortunately, it is incredibly simple to fool this as "the safest way to lock a phone" method, as the
Chaos Computer Club has found out.

Have a look at
this video by German Hacker Starbug - it shows how simple circumventing S8 security really is. The solution: don't let anyone steal your S8 after they take a picture of your face!

Samsung Kies - Just not Apple Quality!

The connectivity software Samsung supplies (“Kies” - who thought of that name??? In German it means either “Pebbles” or “Money”) looks quite nice from the GUI but turned out to be a complete disaster.
There are two Mac versions you can download from the website: if you go to the direct download on the support site, you’ll get a version which shows a copyright of 2012 in the loading splash window and a copyright of 2011 in the “About” window. I hope product management does a better job with the hardware than with the software.
After several tries and finally doing a Tools -> Reinstall Driver (whatever that is supposed to do), I got the phone to connect. Connection is flakey - sometimes it doesn’t see the phone even though the phone itself shows that it is connected via USB, then you unplug and plug back in and it connects to the software. Weird.
The first thing I wanted to do is back up the phone, something the software seems to make extremely simple (just select “Backup all” and click on “Backup” and off it goes), unfortunately it just didn’t do anything.
You get a spinning symbol on the first item to be backed up, but no data transfers; not even after waiting for a good 15 minutes. The software isn’t hung up, however, as it is possible to cancel the backup, after which the software informs you that everything backed up (it didn’t). Deselecting the first item that is backed up (which isn’t the first item in the list, mind you) doesn’t change anything - the same issue crops up with the next item in the list.
Trying to select a Podcast then ended up crashing my Mac in a manner that was so fierce, the poor GPU didn’t even have time to clear the screen: the restart information got written over the display! The system forced an fsck and found a load of orphaned files and directories, which really made me nervous. Also, my desktop picture was changed to the Mavericks standard...! Crazy!
I tried the Podcast subscription again and the system stayed stable; Kies, however, didn’t do squat with the Podcast - the subscription wasn’t registered. Crap!
If you look in the download - files section of the website, you are presented with a version 2.x of the software, and a clear statement that the software is only available for MacOS 10.5 - 10.7! I send an email to Samsung support in Germany, asking wether this was a negligence on part of the web admin or if the software really wasn’t made for any Mac OS junger than two years old.
I quote from Samsung’s reply:
Derzeitig wird Kies, wie angegeben, nur für Mac OS 10.5 bis 10.7 unterstützt. Leider liegen uns keine Informationen über ein geplantes Update vor.
Translated, this means that the software really is only compatible with 10.5 to 10.7 and there apparently are no plans to update the software to run on current Macs!
So I fired up Windows 7 in a VM and installed the Windows version of Kies. It’s a workaround I can live with, since I would only use the software to back up the phone and update it to a new version of Android.
Unfortunately, the freshly downloaded Windows version of the software seems to be similar crap to the Mac version: while the download actually did start moving some data across the USB cable (veeeery slowly, mind), it stopped at the third item with the same effect as on the Mac: it just kept the rotating symbol on that item and would probably still be there now, hadn’t I stopped the software after about an hour.
2014-01-22 - Kies Windows

Interesting is also, that after stopping, the software correctly indicates that finishing the sync was interrupted; incorrect is the statement that the data was successfully stored (“erfolgreich gesichert”).

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active - First Impressions

Since updating my company iPhone 4 to iOS 7, the thing has basically become unusable. Since even the new iPhones sport a screen size that isn’t of much use to me, I finally decided to go for a 5” Android phone.
My first experiences with Android were - with the exception of the greatly underdimensioned Xperia Pro hardware - quite good, after all, so I wasn’t afraid of the switch.
After getting my contacts (that I had moved back to iCloud after switching back to the iPhone) moved to Gmail, I was good to go.
A colleague has a predecessor of the Note 3 and is very happy with it, so I was swaying in that direction, but when I saw that there was an “Active” version of the S4 with a slightly “smaller” screen, that seemed the ideal solution.
The Active has the same internals as the regular S4 but with an LCD screen instead of an AMOLED, as the latter is often too dim for use in bright sunlight. Also, the Active is rated IP67, which means you can actually take pictures under water (down to 3 feet). It also has a metal frame, which - I would hope - will make it a bit sturdier in case of a drop. On the negative side, the camera in the Active has a lower pixel count than on the regular S4.
Also, the Active is available in orange, which to me seemed a nice complement to the red case of the
Xperia Pro. Speedy as always, Amazon Prime delivered on the day after it was ordered.
My first day with the phone wasn’t, however, so positive.
See my separate review of Samsung Kies, the connectivity software available for the Active.

Burning through the Battery

The main problem I had with the phone on the first day was an android service called CloudAgent, which apparently is used for all cloud sync activities such as backup to the Samsung account as well as Dropbox. This ended up using a major portion of the battery’s juice:

2014-01-22 - CloudAgent 30p

Just before the phone gave out (which wasn’t much after this screenshot was taken; don’t be fooled by the “3h 53m on battery” - it was charged in-between), CloudAgent had kept the CPU active for over 2 hours! Needless to say, the phone could have been used as a pocket hand warmer the entire 3 1/2 hours it stayed on.

Luckily, I got that fixed relatively quickly: I turned off all dropbox syncing and the problem went away.

The second issue on the first day was that it wasn’t able to get a GPS fix - seemingly at all. One of the reasons for wanting a phone with a bigger screen was to replace my 2005 TomTom XL (shelling out 70€ for a new map for a device this old really bakes my cake!). My colleague had shown me a free-to-use navigation software that stored its maps on the device SD card, and this was one of the reasons for me to switch to Android.

However, the phone simply wouldn’t get the GPS fix. Okay, I was indoors, but right next to a very large window wall; the iPhone likely would have gotten the fix quite quickly.

On-Phone OS Update
One of the settings (About Device -> Software Update) showed that an update was available for installation. It turned out to be a 192 MByte download, quite a sizable package, considering I’ve read that Android 4.4 is “only” 56 MByte in size.

Comparison to iPhone 4

Besides the screen size (which is the reason I left the Apple universe in the first place), there are other, major differences to the iPhone 4 (and 5c, which I’ve used quite a bit).

For one thing, the phone is nicely and completely unexpectedly light in comparison. I’m not going to bother with gram figures; it’s the haptic experience I’m interested in. This thing weighs nothing in comparison to the iPhone 4!

The screen is great; one thing Android really does much better than iOS (even version 7) is to provide selectable font sizes that really work. Great for someone that needed his glasses on to use the iPhone - with the larger fonts and the larger display, I can read everything on the screen without glasses!

The display is, of course, much brighter and “prettier” than that of the iPhone 4, but that isn’t a fair comparison. But even comparing it to the 5c, it stands out.