Shop Safe this Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us, and for many that means that online shopping will see an uptick in numbers, not only from Black Friday deals, but also Cyber Monday and beyond. Just last year consumers spent $3.45 billion on online shopping on Cyber Monday; Black Friday’s online sales trailing behind that figure by only $110 million less. To keep your money and information from ending up in places where it shouldn’t be, here are some best practices to keep in mind when online shopping this holiday season (and beyond):

Use “https” encrypted websites

Look for “https” in the web address (the “s” at the end of “http” stands for secure). This should be in the web address of every page you’re on (especially ones which ask for personal information) and not just on Sign In pages. This is an added level of protection which encrypts any information you submit.

Protect your passwords

Harder passwords may be more difficult to remember but it makes them more difficult for outsiders to crack. Avoid using things which can easily be found online like names, birthdates, phone numbers, and addresses. And don’t tell others your password.

Only give them the information that’s required

If you can get away with not filling out every field, like optional phone numbers, don’t bother giving them any extra information. The less you provide the less someone could possibly swipe and the great thing is this can help save time, too.

Skip debit cards

Use credit cards or services like PayPal to protect yourself. Debit cards link directly to your bank account and we don’t want any strangers getting their hands on that. Credit cards can offer a certain amount of protection and lower liability should your card number be stolen.

Do a little research

That ad or email offering a deal too good to be true? It just may be. Check to make sure the company you’re dealing with is reputable. Type in the company name into a search box and try out keywords with it like “complaint,” “review,” or “scam” and see what comes up. Then decide if you feel secure enough providing them with your information.

Avoid clicking links and attachments

This goes along a bit with the last point. When you open emails, check the sender’s email address. If it looks suspicious, you can delete the email or mark it as spam or perhaps a phishing attempt depending on the content of the email. Phishing is an identity theft crime where an email or website looks like a legitimate site or person but is in fact there to collect your information by asking you to do simple things like: update your account information, reset your password, or verify your address. If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email do a quick search to see if it might be a scam and/or (without clicking any links in the email) access the website (by typing it into your browser) and check that the legitimate site is indeed asking for your information.

Don’t overshare on social media

You got a super ginormous HD television for $100? That’s great, but not everyone on social media needs to know. Publicly announcing purchases is a good way for thieves to know where to get the goods. Be sure to check your privacy settings on social media, as well. Can only your friends see your posts? Can your friends’ friends? Can EVERYONE see them? How well do you trust all of these people? – Privacy settings are also important because the things you post to social media are clues for people to hack your accounts. That fancy boat “windwalker” that you took a picture with better not be one of your passwords.

Make sure your virus protection is on and software up to date

Having up to date software can give you a base level of security against viruses. Having anti-virus is helpful, but it’s malware that you have to watch out for. Malware has to be downloaded to your device, it’s not something you can just “catch,” but it’s usually attached to a legitimate-looking program or download. To guard yourself against this, only download applications from a legitimate, trusted source like Google Play or the App Store.

Avoid using unsecured networks or public hotspots

If you don’t need a password to get onto the WI-FI, identity thieves don’t either. Public networks can leave your information exposed. The safest method is avoiding wireless altogether.

Avoid saving your credit card information on the site

It can be helpful to have a site you use often to store your information, but that also makes it a bit easier for people who get into your account to purchase things. – This doesn’t even have to be a stranger, say you left your browser open and a child or family member decided to do a little shopping.

Check your financial statements regularly for odd charges

This is good practice any time. If odd charges come up, its best to know sooner better than later in order to minimize possible damage.

Check the company’s privacy policy to see who they share your information with

A lot of people skim over the fine print when they sign up for things, but it doesn’t hurt to know what you’re getting yourself into by signing up. Check to see if they share your information with any third parties and decide if that’s something you’re okay with.

 

Hopefully these tips will help you have a less stressful online shopping season, so shop smart, stay safe, and enjoy your holidays everyone. 🙂

 

 

Tumbles of the iPhone X

The iPhone X.

In the adage of toast falling off tables, you better hope this phone lands butter (screen) side down.

This isn’t to say we hope anything bad happens to any of the iPhone X’s now popping up in consumer’s pockets now – in fact, we’d love to hear about them having long, fulfilling lives – but being a primarily glass construction, they’re not doing so hot. Social media is already swimming in posts about unfortunate individuals whose devices have already humpty-dumptied.

Screenshot from Apple's iPhone X webpage
Screenshot from Apple’s iPhone X webpage

Several websites this week have posted about how easily the iPhone X’s supposedly ‘most durable glass ever’ breaks. (And let’s be honest, anyone saying “most ____ ever” is basically a challenge to test its claim. This same drama was happening with the Galaxy S8+ when it came out.) It comes as a surprise to no one that glass breaks, however, if it’s going to be touted as the most durable, it should hold up to a fair amount of abuse… which doesn’t seem to be the case for the iPhone X.

From the articles I’ve sifted through online this week, the most prevalent “tests” to be mentioned were those by CNET and SquareTrade. In all fairness, these tests were not highly scientific (CNET just dropped theirs outside on the sidewalk a couple times at about pocket height to see what would happen) or generally applicable (Squaretrade used a mechanical device to standardize the conditions of the drop, but then dropped it from a height of 6 feet); the take away you’ll want to glean from their experiments is that you need to baby this device.

Get the case. Get the screen protector. Get the insurance.

As I generally disapprove of Apple’s authorized repair service model where you’re supposed to take/send it to an authorized Apple repair center to keep your warranty intact – let us fix it ourselves, Apple! *shakes fist angrily* – it may have become fiscally responsible to purchase AppleCare+ with the device.

With a glass front and back, you’ve doubled your chances for damage. The fancy bezel-less OLED screen on the iPhone X is actually developed and manufactured by Samsung (and then tweaked by Apple) and they’re not cheap. Apple reporting it’s iPhone X service pricing at $279 for the screen repair only; other damage, which would be if the glass back panel shattered, is a whopping $549. That’s half the original cost of the phone! Purchasing AppleCare+ for $199 and paying the service fee for replacing a broken screen ($29) twice cost less than repairing the screen once without it, and AppleCare+ with the $99 other damage coverage is significantly less than $549.

So when that device drops, for the sake of your wallet, you better hope it cracks the screen.

Why is the back glass so bothersome? It’s not really repairable. With the way that the device was designed, the back-glass panel is actually welded to the metal frame beneath it where the camera bump is located. From iFixit’s teardown of the iPhone X, they’re speculating that in order to repair the back glass, you’ll need to remove all of the internal components of the phone and reassemble everything in an all new chassis.

But let us not forget that if the phone was better designed to take damage, many of these extra expenses in protecting the device wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.

What I personally find ironic about designing a glass phone to look sleek and beautiful is that it inevitably will be covered up with a case to protect it, so aside from taking it out of the box, you likely won’t see that sleek glass panel again. Want to protect those corners? You’re going to have to cover at least some part of that swanky bezel-less screen to compensate. I understand that Apple didn’t switch to glass backs as purely for aesthetic reasons, glass is better for wireless charging than aluminum or plastic, but you have to ask yourself, is this trade-off for wireless charging really worth it in the long run?

 

Why I Can Never Have Oreo

Android droid and Oreos

I love my Galaxy S5. Thanks to a case, screen protector, and a fair amount of luck, my phone has survived three years of abuse by me and is still in like new condition. Yes, I’ve had to purchase a replacement battery. Yes, my internal storage on my device has been eaten through by system memory and apps so I occasionally have to delete things. No, my phone is not sleek, new, or exciting, but after all this time it does the jobs I need it to do.

The problem I’m facing now doesn’t lie with the device itself, but with the software. My Galaxy started off its life with KitKat (Android version 4.4) and got upgraded the next year to Lollipop (5.0) and then to Marshmallow (6.0) the year after. I was running through the whimsical gamut of delicious upgrades, ever awaiting the next delicious version… but that’s where the magic stopped.

Nougat (7.0) was released and I waited.
Waited.
Waited.
It became fairly apparent when they announced the release of Oreo (8.0) a few months ago that my phone wasn’t going to be getting sweet new versions any longer.

While this is a bit disappointing in itself – I will never have Oreo or whatever delectable version comes next (Pancake? Parfait? Pumpkin Pie? Pop Tart? Popcorn?) – what is more disappointing is that the useable life of my phone is now ticking down to a close. While my phone may have another year or two of software and patch support as it made it to Marshmallow (6.0), many devices currently in use do not, and users of devices currently running KitKat will soon be unsupported like the many sweet themed iterations that came before it. According to an Android version distribution survey, as of August 2017 KitKat users and versions below that make up a quarter of devices still running that use unsupported operating systems.

UNSUPPORTED? SO WHAT?

The problem with devices losing support and running outdated versions of their operating systems is that it makes them more vulnerable to the contagions of the internet: viruses, malware, hacks, etc. This can put your personal information at risk, and if you use your device for work related activities – for example, if you’re logging into your company’s networksHacker with code and apps with a vulnerable device – you could put the whole company at risk for an attack.

While operating systems are supported, developers keep an eye out for bugs and vulnerabilities in the code where it may be easy for hackers to infiltrate and they then create patches (code corrections) to fix or improve the weak points in your system which helps keep your system from being exploited. Criminals will compare newly released patches to the existing code to find out what changes have been made, so they know where the holes are to exploit in software that hasn’t been updated. Unsupported systems don’t receive these patches and make easy targets for criminals.

Having unsupported software can also be a problem when it comes to third party software support. Third party phone applications get updated with new software to keep up with technology trends; over time, they’ll stop adjusting their application to cater to your device’s operating system in favor of providing better support to most users with supported systems. So, some of your favorite apps may become obsolete or never again see an update.

*This is becoming an increasing problem with the amount of “Smart” technology being produced without easy and continuous access to updates or things that we simply don’t consider updating. Ever think about the operating system on your e-readers, smart watches, home security systems, smart appliances, streaming devices like Rokus, listening devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, digital cameras, and GPS navigation systems? Perhaps not until now. But keep in mind, if it can connect to the internet, its able to be hacked.

WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

Android droid and marshmallows

The problem of becoming unsupported isn’t unique to Android, this happens to essentially all software as it’s developed, as it evolves with device hardware and user wants and needs. IPhone users may get a generous 5 years of support. Android users may get 3 years, if we’re lucky. Windows phone users are promised a minimum of 18 months software support, but software upgrades can only be achieved through the purchase of a new device.

Android doesn’t have a one shoe fits all approach that it can use like Apple does. When Apple does updates and software support for their devices, they know what hardware specifications they’re working with because they’ve made all of the devices that run iOS, the same can’t be said for Android. Android is an open source code which is used as a software base for a variety of different manufacturers like Sony, HTC, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, etc., who then take that base code and customize it to their device adding features and software to make their devices more appealing. Customizing it to their device and their brand often ends up with the software being closed-source (we don’t want the competitors using the same stuff we do, right?) which means that updates to Android have to be run through the manufacturers for re-development and distribution and this comes with a lot of caveats.

  • Many manufacturer’s will typically only expend the effort of updating newer and popular devices, generally their flagships (the phone they’re most known for). Lesser known and purchased devices will be slow in getting updates if they decide to roll them out at all.
  • The manufacturers can be held up by cell phone carriers who can delay updates by months on their networks in testing for compatibility. CDMA (US) and GSM (Global) radio systems used for sending and receiving calls and data (and vary depending on device and carrier) are developed differently and tweaking Android to the way these devices operate takes time to make it compatible.
  • And there’s isn’t a great amount of interest in keeping the devices updated after they’re released. With the sheer volume of phones being released and consumed by the public (phones having an average lifespan of just 21 months in the US), there’s greater profit in selling a whole new device than keeping your existing device running.
  • Software can be incompatible with a device’s hardware.

WHAT TO DO

The best thing that can be done currently is to make sure your devices are up to date with updates. If the software updates are no longer being extended to your device, you may consider seeing if your device can handle a community built upgrade to the next version. Or remove your operating system and install a custom Android ROM like LineageOS (formerly CyanogenMod). – Technology will keep progressing forward, but we can encourage manufacturers and developers to extend the length of time they keep device operating systems supported. Aside from directly demanding longer support, keeping our devices in use longer rather than purchasing new each year would theoretically lead to longer support for our existing devices and vice versa.

Staying Alive: Smartphones

The average lifespan for a smartphone in America these days is about 21 months. If you’ve spent a small fortune on a new smart phone, 21 months can feel like a ridiculously short amount of time before shelling out another small fortune for the next working model and over time, these numbers add up. At a 21 month lifespan, an individual will go through 5-6 phones in 10 years… which means if each device cost a flat $600 you’d spend $3,000 in ten years time. If we’re looking at repeatedly buying iPhone X type phones then that figure goes up to $5,000 and none of this cost even includes the service fees, this is just the phone itself.

Phone and dollar bills

So what can be done to keep some of our hard earned green? Try to treat it like another large purchase, like your vehicle, rather than the recyclable cardboard box your device came packaged in. Your phone can last you longer than 21 months, but it’s going to take a bit of care on your part to do it. Just like cars need oil changes, batteries, and tires to keep chugging along, some TLC for your phone can keep it in working order. Here are a few basic ways to keep your smartphone kicking.


Use a device with Removable Batteries (if possible)

When shopping for a phone, it’s a great idea to look for a device to that has a removable battery that you can easily access. Many phone manufacturers these days seal the batteries into their devices to make them more water and dust resistant, but also because they know that once that battery doesn’t hold a charge after two years or so that you’ll be shopping for a new device. When you don’t have easy access to a changeable battery, it can lead people to believe the phone has reached the end of it’s usable life; this practice by manufactures is called planned obsolescence where items are deliberately designed to fail so that you’re encouraged to go purchase new items from them.

If you’re unable to purchase a device with a removable battery or currently have a smartphone with a battery sealed in, there is still hope. When your battery eventually wears down, you or a local repair shop can open your device and swap out the old battery for a new one.


Use a Case

pexels-photo-937652

Once you have your new device, it’s important to do what you can to keep it from being damaged. Accidents happen, no doubt, but being prepared can help to avoid some of the worst of them. With glass as the exterior for the front and back of many of today’s smartphones, you want a case that can take an impact, and considering the cost of your new device, it’s well worth it to spend some money protecting your investment. More common brands like OtterBox, Spigen, and Speck are likely to have different lines of protection that will fit your wants and your device’s needs from basic and slim clear cases to more rugged and water resistant designs. Whichever case you decide on purchasing, it’s a good idea to read customer reviews to see how effective other individuals found the case to be in protecting their device.


Use a Screen Protector

While they’re not as necessary now as they were with earlier model phones as many current smartphones are being developed with scratch resistant Gorilla Glass, it’s still an extra layer of protection available to you. It’s important to remember that even though the Gorilla Glass is designed to be susceptible to fewer scratches than the average glass screen, it’s still made of glass, a very fragile substance. Scratches or imperfections in the glass make it more susceptible to cracking, much in the same way that glass cutters score glass sheets in order to make a clean break. It’s also worth mentioning that if you find yourself frequently around sand, a screen protector is a great investment as sand is enough of an abrasive that it can easily damage even Gorilla Glass.


Charge your Phone Appropriately

Close up of hands charging mobile phone

The lithium-ion batteries found in most smartphones today don’t like being drained completely – or charged completely for that matter. They act a bit like Goldilocks and function optimally at the “just right” range for them which is between 40 and 80 percent. Lithium-ion batteries like little charges during the day to keep it in it’s “just right” range. Constantly charging your device to a full 100 percent isn’t great for your lithium ion battery either; it’s not inherently fatal, but done repetitiously it will cause a reduction in the battery’s overall lifespan. However you end up charging your device, it’s best not to let lithium-ion batteries drop below 20 percent. Exceptions to this rule are when you cycle the battery, which is essentially a recalibration. When cycling a battery – which should only be done maybe once a month – you drain the battery to 0 and then charge fully to 100 percent. It’s also important to try and keep your battery away from too hot or too cold conditions for optimal performance.


Use the Correct Charger

This may not seem like something important, but it can be very helpful to your device. The charger that comes with your device is designed specifically for your device and your battery. If you purchase a secondary cable, make sure the power supply is compatible with what your device requires and what your battery needs. We’ve had a few individuals stop into the Garage who were convinced that their devices were dead, but just were using a different charger that didn’t provide enough power to the device.


Clean up the Internal Clutter

Apps on a smartphone

Aside from battery failure, most people decide to get new devices when they’ve run out of space on their device. Sometimes this means simply going through and deleting old apps that you no longer use; other times, it may involve transferring your apps, photos, videos, music, etc. to an external memory resource like an SD card, Mophie case, or a cloud application like iCloud or Google Drive to store them. Freeing up space can help your device run faster and gives you space to do important software updates that keep your device functioning longer.

*A way to free up a bit of space quickly is by clearing the system cache (pronounced cash). Cache stores information from things you’ve pulled up on your device, like background information on webpages, images, etc. so that they’re ready to load quickly should you need them again. – You can think of cache as something like your kitchen countertop. When you’re cooking you’re getting out all the ingredients and tools you need to make a meal. Once the meal is prepared, all of the stuff just sits out on the counter waiting for you to use it again. So, clearing the cache is essentially clearing off the countertop.


Last but not least, Repair!

Time and use will wear out your devices; things will break. Keep your devices running by having them repaired or repairing them yourself. Some models and replacement parts are easier than others to find, purchase, and repair, but keeping the device running longer keeps a substantial amount of money from being spent on a new device. Not to mention that keeping you phone in your pocket helps to keep them from ending up in landfills.

 

 

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

With the release of the iPhone 8 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 anticipated this month, it’s a little hard to ignore the hype that new reveals can bring in the technology world. As consumers, we tend to want the latest and greatest devices, not wanting to be left behind the ever increasing technological curve of obsolescence, and the manufacturers know we’re willing to pay a premium for these brand new items. Preorders for the Galaxy Note 8’s start at $930 and iPhone 8’s cost is being estimated to be the first iPhone to go for over $1000. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that’s a pretty hefty price tag for a device that may last you 2-3 years due to planned obsolescence or less if you’re one of the few individuals who buys each year’s model new regardless if the previous phone works or not (please stop).

So, I wanted to take a look at some of the features of smartphones that sound new and exciting and level the playing field a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love new technology as much as the next person, but the big developments these devices tout aren’t really game changers… especially when comparing them to the last models that were released.

Smartphone

Screen resolution
1080p is losing out in favor of 4K for televisions and larger displays but still is at the high end of the screen resolution spectrum for phones… at the moment. But consider the size of your smartphone for a moment, is 1080p really necessary for a handheld device? Higher screen resolutions require more power to operate, not only because of the screen, but also the processor, draining your battery faster than lower resolution screens like those set to 720p would. Screen resolution isn’t the only factor to be considered when looking for a quality image, screen size comes into play as well. There is a big difference between having 1080p on a 5 inch screen versus a 72 inch screen; this is because the factor you want to look at is pixel density – or how many pixels there are per square inch. 300ppi (Pixels Per Inch) or so exceeds what the human eye is able to distinguish at a normal viewing distance. Many devices nowadays tout high ppi in their screens: the iPhone 7plus has 407 ppi and the Galaxy S8 has a whopping 570 ppi… that means you’d have to hold the phone closer than 6 inches to your eyes to make out the pixels on the screen. Basically, if you typically hold your phone over a foot away from your face when you’re looking at it, anything over 300ppi is just gravy.

Broken Glass back phone

Glass backs
Sure, they look absolutely beautiful from a design standpoint, but do little to protect your device should it be dropped. Gorilla glass, the type frequently used in smartphones, is designed to be damage resistant. The problem is it’s glass and any small surface marring – those tiny scratches your phone gets from everyday wear and tear – can weaken the overall structure of the glass making it more likely to shatter. Not to mention that glass on both sides of a device can make for a slippery surface conducive to jumping out of pockets with little warning; even a short drop to the carpet can have bad results and many glass back devices rely heavily on adhesive to hold the device together and this can make repairs quite a bit more stressful depending on how the device was designed.

image of smartphone

Curved-edge screens
While comfortable to hold and allowing for extra display area, curved-edge screens are some of the most difficult to repair and/or replace. Not only that, but according to a 2015 article from Tech News about the creation of 3D thermoformed glass used for the Galaxy S6 almost half of the screens produced were unusable… which means for every screen made another was thrown away. Also, that curve to the screen adds considerable cost to it; the cost of a flat gorilla glass screen can start at around $3, but curving the display runs the cost up to around $25 a screen.

Smart phone with water dropsWater resistance
Water resistance is great for those who are accident prone, but water resistant does not mean the device is water proof and issues can still arise with the device, most commonly problems with the speakers and ports. Although it’s a touted selling feature in many smartphones these days, there’s no warranty to back up the water resistance claims.

charging low battery phone

Internal batteries
Long battery life is what everyone looks for in a phone, but what happens when that battery wears out after two years of recharging? Many devices nowadays have sealed in their batteries in order to get higher water resistance ratings and subtly force you into purchasing a new phone every few years when the battery just won’t hold a charge anymore.

Finger print in blue

Fingerprint readers 
To be fair, these have come quite a ways since they were first introduced, but identity theft through fingerprint replication can be done albeit a bit troublesome and unlikely. But consider if someone did manage to duplicate your thumbprint, what can be done about keeping your device secure? It’s not like you can get a new thumbprint, that’s unique to you as an individual. Changing a password seems far simpler.

Take your time when deciding to make a device purchase so that you can evaluate your wants and needs and distinguish between the two and we at the Gadget Garage encourage you – whenever possible – to prolong the use of a device you own, because the most sustainable device you will ever find is the one that you already have.

*Links found in this article are provided for reference purposes and are not an endorsement by the Illini Gadget Garage or any outside entities.

Fall 2017 Open Hours

Welcome to another school year! Update your calendars-we’ve adjusted our open hours! We will now be open:

Monday 11:00-3:00
Tuesday 6:00-9:00pm at the UIUC Undergraduate Library
Wednesday 11:00-3:00
Thursday 11:00-3:00

Looking forward to seeing you this Fall semester!summer-hours-20_22443036_fb48ce33293d2da963410eaed13a63e990c6f057