Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Opera Offers Android Users Free 'Ad Supported' VPN Service

When you think of Opera Software you likely think of their Opera Web Browser and rightfully so as it is the mainstay of the company. As of late however, Opera has been working on several new projects, one of which is a new standalone VPN service that the company has integrated into their desktop browser as well as an iOS App. Luckily for us Android users hat service has now been made available to allow us all the privacy and security a traditional VPN service can offer in an unlimited free option (well sort of!).
“The Opera VPN app for Android sets itself apart from other VPNs by offering a completely free service - without a data limit, no log-in required, advanced Wi-Fi protection features and no need for a subscription,” says Chris Houston, President of Surfeasy, Opera’s VPN division.
Announced earlier this week,, Opera's new app packs a ton of features that like most VPN services will allow people to browse somewhat anonymously, block ad-tracking cookies, access more online content, extend the geographical reach of apps and even test the security of Wi-Fi networks. Unlike most of those other services Opera is offering their for free and without any limits! But if you haven't noticed we did say ad-supported!

The major caveat to the app, which seems pretty ironic to us geeks, is that it is powered by a company that Opera acquired last year called SurfEasy. And while the app itself is free once you begin looking around, you'll notice ads that are presumably powered by another of Opera Software's latest projects. Opera also wants to share anonymous data about your mobile usage and browsing habits with third parties. Sow while you are getting a pretty nifty VPN service you might want to check the fine print!

Opera had this to say about the data it collects:
This information is made available to third parties who are interested in better understanding the mobile ecosystem and how it’s evolving. It’s important to understand that this is not data about what you do with your phone, but rather this is data about how a large group of people use their phones.”
If that doesn't bother you, and for most of us looking at free VPN services is shouldn't, here are a few more details about the app!

The app is completely standalone and is no way tied to the company’s web browser. So it will work with most Android (and iOS) devices and almost any web browser. There is no need to change your old ways and download Opera, though you might want to just to see how well your browser compares.

If you're not well-versed in VPNs, the app automatically handles almost everything including setting the Android VPN settings for you. It will also check the security and integrity of your current Wi-Fi connection. This feature may slow down your internet speed while you're using it, but not so much that it's too problematic to use while surfing.

Once you are in the app you can 'mask' several details of your online activity, such as applying new location settings across your entire device and other apps or blocking ad-trackers. Changing your regions settings is something most users will find useful when you need to bypass content restricted by location. Suck as viewing videos from other countries, watching Netflix while traveling ect. Currently the app will let you choose from five server locations: USA, Canada, Germany, Singapore and The Netherlands.

If you're interested in trying out the app, you can pick it up via the Google Play Store now.

Why Pay From A Phone When You Can Pay With A Ring?

While the mobile payment arena has certainly taken off of late, for many it still seems to be a bit more of a novelty than anything. So why not take that novelty to a whole new level? Starting today you can pre-order you up a nifty NFC payment ring, that just like your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S7, will allow you to leave the credit cards behind and make mobile payments at any NFC terminal.

The NFC Ring, as it is so aptly named, started off as a Kickstarter project a few years back. Originally it was billed as a great way "to unlock doors, mobile phones and to transfer information and link people", and while the finished product does all that it also offers a bit more via a second NFC connection that is more secure for utilizing payment options.

The concept is really unique, in that the ring has one side that is “public” and the other “private”. On the "public" side the ring can be programmed to accomplish a wide variety of tasks such as transferring contact information, links to websites, links to pictures, setting your phone to do specific things ect. While the private is used to unlock your phone, your NFC locks or other tasks you don’t want to do accidentally. With the latest version of the NFC Ring you also get the option to setup mobile payments.

The new NFC payment ring is primarily designed to work with wireless payment systems, without the need to whip out our credit card or smartphone. Once it’s all set-up, you wont even need your phone close by to use the ring, as it uses the same anonymous tokens to make payments that your iPhone or Android would. The ring meets EMVCo’s contactless performance requirements, ensuring support for a range of VISA cards from a selection of banks.

The NFC Ring made its official debut at the RIO Olympics and the team has been hard at work since then finalizing the details of the launch. So unfortunately we don't yet know which credit card companies or banks the the NFC Ring will support but keep in mind that Samsung Pay just surpassed 100 million transaction and Apple Pay is growing enormously daily. So considering they all utilize the same NFC and EMVCo style systems, support should be good!

If you’re interested, two NFC Ring models are available for pre-order in three different colors and a huge selections of ring sizes. Prices are set at $53 (£40) for the latest model, and the company is offering 50 percent of all titanium rings this summer. You can checkout their full website here

More information: Visa Introduces NFC-Enabled Payment Ring for Team Visa Sponsored Athletes to Use at Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Celebrate Madden 17 and Win A Custom NFL Themed Xbox One S

In celebration of the launch of EA Sport's Madden 17 Microsoft has teamed with EA and the NFL to give 32 lucky gamers a chance to win a custom NFL themed Xbox One S featuring their favorite team's colors and logo!

The team at Microsoft put together 32 unique custom Xbox One S (1TB) consoles – one for each NFL team – and are giving fans a chance to show off their team pride like never before and win one. So whether you’re a Cheesehead, a 12, a member of Steeler Nation or have your NFL allegiances sworn elsewhere, you’ll have three ways to enter the sweepstakes and claim a custom NFL Xbox One S as a trophy all of your own:
  • Head to and vote for your favorite console
  • Click to enter through your Xbox 360 or Xbox One dashboard
  • Follow @Xbox and RT the Madden NFL 17 #XboxSweepstakes Tweets
Each of the 32 NFL custom Xbox One S (1TB) consoles will come with a copy of Madden NFL 17 for Xbox One, letting you jump into a football frenzy right away. In addition to the 32 grand prize winners of a custom NFL team Xbox One S console, Microsoft will be giving away ten (10) runner-up prizes consisting of an Xbox One S Madden NFL 17 Bundle (1TB). The Xbox One S Madden NFL 17 Custom Console Sweepstakes runs from today, August 23rd, and will close on September 6th. The full contest rules can be seen here.
You can read more and see high resolution images of just what you can win on the Xbox Wire.

Review: XY Find It XY3 Bluetooth Tracker

Bluetooth trackers seem to be a dime a dozen these days, however as we've found (through much trial and error) not all devices are created the same. After testing out and reviewing the TrackR Bravo and Sticker, we tested out the Linquet, and while each of these devices worked decently, we still have yet to find one that fulfilled our needs. So when the guys over at XY Find It asked if we'd like to checkout their new XY3 Bluetooth Tracker we jumped at the chance.

For the most part most Bluetooth trackers on the market are going to have the same basic features. About the only major differences are going to be in the user interface and the actual design of the tracker. That doesn't however mean that they will all perform the same, but we'll get to that a bit later.

XY3 Design

As far as design goes, the XY3 is similar to the TrackR in that it features a small half dollar size shape and measures roughly 1.46" x 1.26"x .32". This means it is only slightly thicker than most of the other tracker devices out there. One major difference, and one of the big positives as far as I'm concerned, was the XY3 features a more durable ABS plastic casing. Why I say this is a positive is because not only does it give you more color options, 8 in total, but is means that it is far less susceptible to being scratched, dinged and dented. An issue we had with the metal casing on our TrackR.

XY3 App User Interface Design and Features

Within the app there’s a full range of settings including setting your own sounds for beacons that go out of range, beacons that are found, etc. You also have a few features here that many of the other trackers we've used don't have. Settings like the ability to turn the app on/off at device startup and setting device out of range sensitivity. These are both helpful as you don't have to leave the app continuously running, and you can shrink your range size so your devices don't get too far away too quickly.

Tracking is all done from a familiar Google Map interface which shows your phone's current location, the tracker's location, and/or the tracker's last known location. Each tracker features its own plot on the map and you can set photos for each device. Making it quick and easy to differentiate your devices. Each individual beacon also features a graph showing proximity with ratings of Far, Near and Immediate. These are helpful, but not even close to being accurate! You'll also see a battery life indicator giving you an approximation of how much life remains.

XY3 Range and Effectiveness

According to their website the XY3 Find It has a maximum range of about 210 ft with a suggested maximum of 150ft. This includes usage of a special set of algorithms that take effect at the edge of that range to help avoid triggering "false" out of range alerts when you simply go to the other side of your home or maybe a meeting at work. The specific total range of any of these devices vary greatly depending on the obstructions in the area that may deflect the signal so we can take those numbers with a grain of salt.

In our testing the effective range of our device was between 100-125ft (indoors to outdoors testing), meaning that was the drop off point in which the device would finally sound an out of range alert. We tried adjusting the sensitivity to see which setting would best suit our needs, unfortunately the device would not trigger the "Keep Near" alerts at any closer range no matter what settings we tried to use. I had hopped that given the name 'Keep Near' there would be some sort of alert before we were entirely out of range, this however doesn't seem to be the case.

We also ran into issues regarding connectivity once the XY3 was out of range. No matter how close in proximity to the device we were, the tracker was slow to reconnect and on occasion it would not reconnect at all. This forced us to close out the app and try to connect again. Obviously this would be an issue if we weren't certain where our device was, and how close we were, as we wouldn't then be able to try the beep button to locate it.

Luckily if you have any issues you can still use the last known location and view where your device was on them map. From there if you can't locate your item on your own you can report it as lost within the app. Then, if your item goes within range of any device running the XY app, you will get an email with the new approximate location to help you find it.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Overall we have to say were are fairly impressed with the XY3 Find It. Not only does it seem to be more durable than the other Bluetooth trackers we've tried and tested, but it also seems to be a bit more reliable. We had far fewer issues with connectivity and false alerts than we did with our TrackR devices and the casing has held up much better than both the TrackR and Linquet.

Another major plus was the beeper locator being audible enough to actually hear! That was a major complaint we had with our other devices. You won't hear it in a crowded room or from two rooms away, but you can hear it in say your car or living room (where I loose my keys the most!).

As to locating our belongings we were also impressed with the accuracy of  the locations provided on the map and the addition of the signal meter to help guide you towards the right direction. Though we think the signal meter could still use some refinement as it wasn't extremely accurate.  We didn't get to test the secondary 'crowd based GPS' feature, mainly because as mentioned with our previous reviews, this feature relies heavily on there being a lot of users in your area in order for it to work effectively. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a lot of users in our area using trackers that use this feature and we still have yet to see anyone come into close enough proximity to any of our devices to trigger them. So once again this is very much going to be dependent on your area.

Given all of the above I have to say that so far out of all of the Bluetooth trackers we've tested I think the XY3 Find It has definitely come as close as you can get to nailing down all of our must haves and meeting all of our expectations.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Microsoft Re-brands Bring Rewards Into Microsoft Rewards Promises Bigger Better Things

In a likely attempt at swaying more users away from its competition, Microsoft is making big changes to their Bing Rewards program. As announced via their Microsoft Rewards Promotional page, Microsoft will be re-branding Bing Rewards to Microsoft Rewards and adding a few new incentives as well as a few other wrinkles to the mix!
As with Bing Rewards, you’ll still earn points for searching with Bing, but soon you’ll be able to earn those rewards in more (and faster according to Microsoft!) ways. For starters they are upping the amount of points/rewards you earn just for searching. There is also an additional incentive for those of you that chose to search and browse the web with Microsoft Edge. You'll get more points for each search as well as points for every hour of active browsing, up to 30 hours a month. The new Microsoft Rewards program also offers points for every purchase made from Microsoft stores. There you'll earn at least 1 point for every $1 spent—just make sure to stay signed in with your Microsoft account.

One major downside to using Bing for rewards will be that Windows 10's diagnostic and telemetry technology must be enabled to be awarded for browsing points. In terms of what is collected, Microsoft didn't mention much. They simply state that the browse & earn program collects the amount of active browsing time on Microsoft Edge to credit your account and refer users to their Microsoft Privacy Statement.

For those of you that currently participate in the Bing Rewards program, your membership will automatically update in the next few weeks. Your current points will all be transferred over to the new points system with one credit in Bing Rewards is equivalent to 10 points in Microsoft Rewards. Your point balance in Bing Rewards will be multiplied by 10 when your membership is updated to Microsoft Rewards.

With this change Microsoft is going to offer Level 2 members a discount of 10% on rewards from Microsoft brands, as well as access to exclusive offers. We'll also see more Microsoft based rewards with promotions including Microsoft branded products, Xbox games and rewards cards as well as more Microsoft branded product giveaways. Microsoft Rewards will continue to offer gift cards from third parties, like Amazon and Starbucks, on a promotional basis.

For more details or answers to your nagging questions visit the Microsoft Rewards FAQ page.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What is Google Duo and Why Will I Like it?

For those of you looking for a simplified way to video chat with your friends and family or just some fellow geeks out there, Google has a new cross platform app that might just be the answer. Announced yesterday, Google Duo is an app similar to FaceTime and Facebook Messenger, offering users a simple 1-to-1 video calling app that, unlike Apple's FaceTime, is available on both Android and iOS.

Why you'll love Duo! It is all about simplicity!

For Duo Google kept to the geek mantra of K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid). They designed the app to be dead simple for anyone to use. So you get a no-frills app, that doesn't feature a ton of extra, but connects you directly to that one person you want to reach out to. There's barely any UI or features to speak of. But from a technology standpoint, it's meant to work for with just about any smartphone. Making it ideal for families to connect across a variety of devices and at a variety of tech levels.

Google also designed Duo to work across a variety of network connections.. The app is built to provide HD video when on good networks and to gracefully and seamless adjust quality if things get worse. You can even drop down to a 2G connection and have video pause but have the audio continue. For video calls on the go, Duo will switch between Wi-Fi and cellular data automatically without dropping your call. You can start your call at home, and continue seamlessly even when you head out the door.

The simply design also means that Google had to simplify other things like how you log-in and connect to others. To do so, they did away with needing to connect to any external accounts. That means you simply sign into the Duo app with your phone number (no Google login needed here), and you'll see your full list of contacts; if people in your phonebook don't have the app, you can tap their number to send an SMS and invite them to Duo.

Once both of you are up and running you'll see what your front-facing camera sees. Below that are a handful of circular icons representing your most recent calls in the lower third of the screen. You can drag that icon list up and scroll through through and tap the person you wish to connect with.
For those who do have Duo, tapping their number initiates a video call. Once you're on the call, you just see the person you're talking to, with your video feed in a small circle, not unlike Apple's FaceTime. Tapping the screen reveals the only UI elements: a hang up button, mute button and a way to flip between the front and back cameras.
To add a little more 'human' experience and to give users a better sense of who they are connecting with Google included a feature it is calling Knock Knock. If you're using an Android phone and someone calls, you'll see a preview of their video feed on the lock screen. The person calling can wave or gesture or make a silly face to try and draw you into the conversation.

Google says this new features makes the person on the receiving end a lot more likely to answer with a smile rather than a look of confusion as they wonder if they video is working properly. For the sake of privacy, you'll only see a video feed from people in your contacts list, and you can turn the feature off entirely if you prefer.

Duo is available in the US for both Android and iOS today, and Google says it will be live worldwide in the next few days.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Like It or Not Facebook Plans to Force Feed You Ads [Update]

[Update] Adblock Plus, one of the best-known tools for blocking ads on the internet, claims to have a workaround that can defeat Facebook new advertising system. According to an official Adblock Plus blog post, users of the software can simply add a single line of code to their filters to make Facebook's ads go away. In response Facebook states, "We're disappointed that ad blocking companies are punishing people on Facebook as these new attempts don't just block ads but "other" Facebook content as well.."

Bad news for you Facebook users out there that are trying to get a little reprieve from the incessant bombardment of ads. Starting this week the social media giant will be employing new measures to bypass and block the most popular ad-blocking technologies out there. Meaning like it or not Facebook is going to be cramming as many ads as they can down your throat!

Facebook has announced that they will be taking measure to modify the digital signature of ads on its website so they are displayed to all users - this new modification is expressly meant to bypass most current ad-blocking apps. Meaning that all users, even those running browser extensions like Ad-block will now see apps on Facebook and in their timelines.

In an attempt to just justify the move Facebook says they are continuing to build "more powerful tools" which let users control the content of advertisements they see, ostensibly allowing users to cater ads to their interests. Though you still can't remove them, or limit them in any way!
We’ve designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads. As we offer people more powerful controls, we’ll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's vice president of its ads and business platform stated, "We are making it harder for ad blockers to be effective on Facebook for desktop," describing the issue as a matter of principle.

"Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on,” said Bosworth. "This isn’t motivated by inventory; it’s not an opportunity for Facebook from that perspective. We’re doing it more for the principle of the thing. We want to help lead the discussion on this."

By continuing to force more and more ads on users Facebook ensures their cash cow will continue to be profitable. As we recently reported the company reported billions of dollars in profits this past quarter, due by and large to their ad unit. By ensuring more users see more of their ads the company stands to continue those gains.

Ads and ad-blocking are hardly new. From day one advertisers were looking for ways to monetize websites to their fullest, and ad placement was a cheap and easy option. Unfortunately, these days being bombarded with an overload of ads on your favorite websites is all too common. This has resulted in a great deal of backlash from users and a substantial growth in the development of ad-blocking technology.

In 2016, 69.8 million Americans will use an ad blocker, an increase of nearly 35% from last year, research firm eMarketer says. Next year, that figure is expected to grow another 24% to 86.6 million people. Ad-blocking software is more common on desktop computers and laptops than on smartphones. Though the number of people using ad blocking software on smartphones will jump nearly 63% this year, eMarketer projects.

From a technical standpoint, Facebook is able to circumvent ad blockers relatively easily because of the way it loads ads into the service using their own servers. Many ad-blockers rely on the fact that online publishers and media companies utilize links and scripts from third-party companies to help display ads on their webpages and services. This make those ads much more easily identifiable to blocking technologies.

By modify the digital signature of their ads Facebook believes it will be too costly and time-intensive for developers of ad-blocking software to code in a fix to the issue. For now at least, it appears Facebook as won at this cat and mouse game, though we expect developers are working at workarounds as we type! 

Samsung Wants Serbia's Youth to ‘Be Like Tesla’

In celebration of the 160 birthday of one of our all time favorite inventors and all around geeks, Nikola Tesla, Samsung launched a new initiative aimed at getting Serbia's youth interested in science and technology. The ‘Be Like Tesla’ project as it is dubbed incorporates multiple program elements designed to raise appreciation for Tesla as well as instill a passion for innovation among Serbian students.

Samsung Electronics Adria (SEAD) in cooperation with the Museum of Nikola Tesla in Belgrade, as well as the Institute for Educational Quality and Evaluation, recently organized the ‘Be Like Tesla’ project which first kicked off at the end of 2015 with the ‘Be Like Tesla’ caravan. A team of representatives from the supporting organizations along with popular young Serbian actor Biojan Dimitrijevic, who playing the part of Nikola Tesla, toured 17 cities across Serbia over a one-month period. The caravan housed interactive lectures for students utilizing the technology tools of the Samsung Digital Classroom.

The lecture and demonstrations were used to teach the children about the life and achievements of Tesla. In total, over 3,000 students visited the caravan during its tour throughout Serbia. In addition, a demo of the Samsung Digital Classroom was also organized at Kalmegdan featuring exhibits from the Museum of Nikola Tesla leveraging Samsung VR and other technology.

In 2016, the ‘Be Like Tesla’ project included a national competition for Serbian primary school students during May and June. Students were tasked to develop an invention inspired by the works of Nikola Tesla with about 150 schools from across Serbia taking part in the competition.

On July 10, the 160th birthday of Nikola Tesla, more than 5,000 people gathered at Kalmegdan to celebrate the winner of the national school competition. For the grand prize, primary school Mihajlo Pupin from Zemun, Belgrade was awarded for its project “Carousel.” The project featured operation of a toy carousel with a smartphone and sound recognition technology, leveraging wireless data transmission, one of Nikola Tesla’s inventions. As an award, the school and students received a fully-equipped Samsung Digital Classroom.

Following announcement of the winners, a Samsung representative also announced a three-year plan for continuing cooperation with the Museum of Nikola Tesla to further raise interest in science among Serbia’s youth leveraging the latest technology.


Thursday, August 04, 2016

Apple Plans to Pay Out Big Cash Rewards For Security Bugs

Big news for security researchers and would be iOS hackers, Apple has finally launched a high dollar bug bounty program that could net you a whopping $200,000!! The program, which will be an Apple first, promises big payouts for hacks and security vulnerabilities that affect the most serious aspects of Apple's iOS operating systems.

Apple announced the new program during the Black Hat cybersecurity conference when the head of Apple security, Ivan Krstic, took the stage. Kristic said the company would pay bug bounties -- up to $200,000 -- to researchers who find and report vulnerabilities in specific Apple software. Don't set your sights on a big paid day just yet though. Like all things Apple does they are keeping very tight control on the program.

For now, Apple is limiting the program to about two dozen researchers who Apple will selectively invite to help identify hard-to-uncover security bugs in five specific categories. The high dollar bounties are only being offered for a small range of iDevice and iCloud bugs. The full list is as follows:
  • Secure boot firmware components: Up to $200,000 (~£150,000)
  • Extraction of confidential material protected by the Secure Enclave: Up to $100,000.
  • Execution of arbitrary code with kernel privileges: Up to $50,000.
  • Access from a sandboxed process to user data outside of that sandbox: Up to $25,000.
  • Unauthorized access to iCloud account data on Apple servers: Up to $50,000.
The payment amounts outlined above are upper limits and not likely to reflect actual payments. Those will depend on the novelty of the issue and how likely the issue is to be exploited in the wild.
As with most bug bounty programs in order to collect the pay outs the researchers will need to submit a report to Apple with a working proof-of-concept that the exploit that works on the latest stable version of iOS. If the bugs are hardware-related, the proof-of-concept must also work on the latest shipping iPhone or iPad hardware. Additionally they are also asked not to disclose the bugs before Apple has time to fix them, though the company would only say it would fix them as soon as possible and wouldn't commit to a firm time window.

Apple said it decided to limit the scope of the program at the advice of other companies that have previously launched bounty programs. Those companies said that if they were to do it again, they would start by inviting a small list of researchers to join, then gradually open it up over time, according to Apple. Limiting participation not only gives Apple more control, but it also saves the company from dealing with a massive influx of potentially negative hacks leaking and an influx of "low-value" bug reports.

Google Search Will Help You Find 'Must-Try' Restaurants

Google is adding a few new search features that may help you locate your favorite new dinning spot or a cool new 'secret' spot that you have never tried before! Starting today, every time you use the Google Search app and search for the best spots to eat and drink, you’ll have access to reviews from top critics and best-of lists from reputable publishers.

"Picture this: you're in New York City for 24 hours," Google Product Manager Ronnie Falcon wrote in a Thursday blog post. "If you're craving dim sum, but not sure which place is a top spot, a search for 'chinese restaurant' may bring up Michelin favorite RedFarm in the West Village. Looking further at the search result, you'll see it also appears on more than 10 best-of lists, including Eater, CBS Local and Refinery29."

When using your mobile device Google already gives you plenty of information about any given restaurant, bar or business in your area, including when it’s the busiest and what other visitors thought about it. Now, however, instead of having to rely on amateurs, you will also see reviews from Michelin, Zagat, and other reputable publishers.