Qualcomm Chip Flaw Could Leave 30 Percent of the World’s Phones Vulnerable to Hackers

Illustration for article titled Qualcomm Chip Flaw Could Leave 30 Percent of the World's Phones Vulnerable to Hackers

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

A recently discovered vulnerability inside Qualcomm-produced phone chips could be exploited to gain access to data on affected devices, allowing an intruder to snoop on phone calls and text messages.

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The bug, which was discovered and disclosed by security firm Check Point Research, may be exploitable on a whopping 30 percent of the world’s phones. Qualcomm contracts with major Android phone sellers like Samsung, Google, Xiamoi, LG, and others, providing chips for hundreds of millions of devices worldwide.

While researchers say that the vulnerable chips are found in about 40 percent of the global phone population, only (“only”) about 30 percent of phones in the world come equipped with a particular proprietary interface, the Qualcomm MSM Interface (QMI), necessary for attacks to be conducted.

The affected hardware—the mobile station modem (MSM)—are systems-on-a-chips, responsible for providing capabilities to a majority of the important components within the phone. The attack theorized by Check Point would necessitate access to the operating system of a targeted device, though this access could be quite easily accomplished via a malicious trojanized app or some other method that allowed an attacker to gain surreptitious entry.

Once inside, an attacker could inject malicious code into the modem to reveal sensitive information, researchers write. An attack of this kind would hijack a phone’s QMI, which is the protocol that governs communication between the different software components within the MSM. Such exploitation could allow access to text messages and call history and could also allow a hacker to listen in on a user’s calls. In some cases, they could also gain access to the contents of a device’s SIM card, researchers write.

“Cellular modem chips are often considered the crown jewels for cyber attackers, especially the chips manufactured by Qualcomm,” said Yaniv Balmas, Head of Cyber Research at Check Point. “An attack on Qualcomm modem chips has the potential to negatively affect hundreds of millions of mobile phones across the globe…We ultimately proved a dangerous vulnerability did in fact exist in these chips, revealing how an attacker could use the Android OS itself to inject malicious code into mobile phones, undetected,” said Balmas. “My main message to Android users is to update to the latest OS of your mobile OS.”

The new research has resulted in an official vulnerability classification, which you can find here. Unfortunately, it’s not yet 100 percent clear whether all of the patches for it have yet been issued. The industrial patching system works in a sort of trickle-down way—with a big distributor like Qualcomm issuing an update, followed by phone makers applying their own fixes. According to a report from The Record, it isn’t clear which or how many of the phone companies have done this yet.

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“The mobile vendors themselves must apply the fix,” a representative from Check Point told The Record. “Qualcomm says it has notified all Android vendors. We do not know who or who did not patch.” A Qualcomm spokesperson apparently told Ars Technica that he recommends consumers contact their phone manufacturer to understand the status of patches for their specific device.

Asus’ First Wi-Fi 6E Router Is a Beast for Gaming, but Struggles Everywhere Else

Illustration for article titled Asus' First Wi-Fi 6E Router Is a Beast for Gaming, but Struggles Everywhere Else

Photo: Wes Davis/Gizmodo

It seems like only yesterday that Wi-Fi 6 routers really started to hit the market, and that’s true—the first products trickled out in late 2018, and the new 802.11ax standard is only now going mainstream. But the FCC has opened up the 6 GHz band to unlicensed use, so router manufacturers are taking the ax protocol to that band with new Wi-Fi 6E hardware. But are you missing out by not upgrading? We took one of the first Wi-Fi 6E routers, the tri-band Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000, for a spin to find out.

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Ultimately this is, first and foremost, a gaming router. The Rapture GT-AXE11000 is part of Asus’ Republic of Gamers line of products: a series of devices and peripherals designed specifically to separate gamers from their money as efficiently as possible. It comes with a glut of features to that end, and a lot of them are blessedly easy to use. Pre-configured settings, for instance, give players custom port-forwarding rules for many of the most popular, demanding games the kids play these days, including Fortnite, Borderlands 3, DOTA 3, and, of course, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

This Router Is Gigantic

The updated Rapture is a massive, square-ish follow-up to 2018’s GT-AX11000. It’s covered in vents, with eight fat, articulating (and non-removable) antennas affixed to the sides and a faux brushed metal plastic plate on the top featuring a blazing LED-lit eye-shaped ROG logo. Stare too long at it, and it will begin to stare back.

On the back, you’ll find a power button, reset pinhole, four gigabit LAN ports, one gigabit WAN port, and one 2.5 Gb LAN/WAN port. Two USB 3.2 ports on the side let you connect hard drives or charge devices, while the front left corner has three buttons: one for WPS, one for toggling wifi, and a configurable “Boost” button that can be set to toggle the big ROG LED, turn on Dynamic Frequency Selection, cycle through RGB settings, or, you know, turn on Game Boost. On the right front, you’ll find small white LEDs giving you status lights for internet, gigabit LAN, 2.5 GbE LAN, and all three wireless antennas.

Illustration for article titled Asus' First Wi-Fi 6E Router Is a Beast for Gaming, but Struggles Everywhere Else

Photo: Wes Davis

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The Specs

On the technical side, Asus claims the Rapture is able to reach up to (a theoretical) 11,000 Mbps. Each of its three bands is capable of 4×4 multi user-multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO), which refers to the number of concurrent broadcasted data streams it’s capable of, which in this case is four. It’s powered by a 1.8 GHz quad-core CPU equipped with 1GB of RAM.

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As a Wi-Fi 6 device, the Rapture is equipped with Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), a complementary technology to MU-MIMO that, in some ways, solves the same problem as MU-MIMO. Where the latter is meant to help with more demanding tasks like video meetings, OFDMA works better with small-packet devices like IoT gadgets. The router also supports link aggregation, enabling users to take up two ethernet ports on the router for increased bandwidth for things like local file transfers or redundant connections on devices you’d rather didn’t fail.

Illustration for article titled Asus' First Wi-Fi 6E Router Is a Beast for Gaming, but Struggles Everywhere Else

Screenshot: Wes Davis/Gizmodo

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Other features include a gamer-focused dashboard where you can look at real-time graphs of network activity, ping, and jitter, as well as a “Game Radar” widget that shows your current connection speed to a given game’s servers across the world. You can access a more robust version of this feature from the sidebar for more detailed information. There are also four pretty easy-to-understand QoS modes—that is, modes that prioritize certain types of internet traffic. I particularly liked the ability to map the Game Boost feature to the “Boost” button on the front of the unit, which may sound gimmicky at first, but being able to modify QoS priority on the fly like that is extremely convenient.

It’s when you move past the gaming features, however, that things really start to get murky.

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Overly Technical Software

You can’t really say the Rapture is lacking in administration tools or features—in fact, one consistent thing about Asus’ router UI design is that, disorienting though it may be, it affords the user a great deal of administrative control. However, if you are hoping to play with settings beyond the specially-tailored gaming options and AiMesh/AiProtection features, you may find that unless you’ve got years of experience as either a hobbyist or networking professional, the advanced section may as well be written in another language. The options here are very technical, and while it’s improved somewhat over the years, you’ll still find settings that lack key information to explain what they do. Some of these settings are integral to the appeal of the tech, yet are disabled or hobbled by default, like MU-MIMO or OFDMA on the 5 GHz band.

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The last thing of note with the software is the spooky Trend Micro agreement you have to get past to access certain features, like adaptive QoS, or security features like AiProtection. On one hand, it’s nice to get that sort of thing for free, without needing to be technically knowledgeable enough to set up a Pi-Hole for network-level ad-blocking and such, but on the other hand, users may be reticent to share information about their network, connected devices, web-browsing habits, and more with Trend Micro. However, as I concluded in my RT-AX86U review, it doesn’t seem like the data is used for any other purpose than to facilitate network security. Additionally, you can opt out of most of the collection (though this may affect the security features’ efficacy).

Excellent Performance—for Gaming

So OK, how did it game? After being embarrassed over the course of many Counter Strike: Global Offensive sessions, I can confidently say this is a very good gaming router. Hardwired to the router, most of my games connected to the official servers showed my ping ranging from the upper 40s to low 60s. Latency on my normal Eero setup usually measures in the 70-90ms range, making the Rapture a vast improvement. Even without QoS turned on, my ping sat around the mid-60s, which has historically been, for me, about as good as it gets. When QoS was on, I had some sort of high-bandwidth activity going on on every device I could muster for the task, and the Rapture didn’t blink—gaming was smooth as could be.

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Illustration for article titled Asus' First Wi-Fi 6E Router Is a Beast for Gaming, but Struggles Everywhere Else

Screenshot: Wes Davis/Gizmodo

However, gaming devices are not the only things I need reliable, good performance out of in my home.

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With three cameras, gobs of lightbulbs, smart switches, robot vacuums, sensors, and more, I need my router to play nice with myriad devices hollering at each other all the time. This is where the Rapture and I began to quarrel. Throughout my almost two weeks of testing, I had what felt like an unending stream of network issues pertaining to all of these gadgets.

Smart bulbs, plugs, and switches became unresponsive seemingly at random, smart speakers behaved erratically, and while streaming music to AirPlay 2 devices seemed to mostly work, trying to adjust volume or skip tracks had massive delays, if those adjustments made it at all—it was like there was a hole blown in my network and packets were just streaming out. A few devices never failed, while the rest worked sometimes, but my endless fiddling with the network never satisfied all of them at once. A factory reset seemed to help, but the best solution was using my normal mesh router setup as the backbone of the network and primary connection for my smart devices, and the Rapture as an additional access point for gaming-specific or streaming purposes.

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Network Testing Breakdown

As frustrating as this experience was, it’s hard to deny the Rapture GT-AXE11000’s bona fides, otherwise. By the numbers, it truly has incredible performance—even 100 feet away in my back yard, with multiple walls, a packed-to-the-brim closet, and a few trees, the router was able to pump up to 320 Mbps to my 802.11ax-equipped M1 MacBook Air – this in either Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 mode. In fact, at that distance, outside, I found Wi-Fi 5 actually had slightly better throughput. All testing within my home, however, had Wi-Fi 6 ahead. Testing on the WiFi 6E band was even more impressive, at least at close range.

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Using the WiFi 6E-equipped Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the aforementioned MacBook Air hardwired with a 2.5 Gb USB-C ethernet adapter, and network-testing software iperf, I recorded transfer speeds in excess of 1.8 Gbps wirelessly. A little farther out, however, throughput drops dramatically—at 25 feet, it lost about 3/4 of its throughput (423 Mbps average), while at about 45 feet, only about 10% of the speed was left at 167 Mbps. With WiFi 6E being so new, it’s hard to know what to really expect at these distances, and of course, your mileage may vary, depending on the layout of your home. That said, relative to the only other router I’ve performed similar tests on so far—the Linksys Hydra Pro 6E—the octopodian Rapture did about twice as well at 25 feet indoors, but performed roughly the same at 45 feet, when I moved outside to continue testing. Both routers’ signals collapsed pretty immediately when I got farther.

Of course, both can also be used as mesh routers, which should address the range issue. I was unable to test the Rapture with another 6E router, but did do so with an Asus RT-AC88U, and as with the RT-AC86U, I found setup to be easy, and was pleased with the actual usage of the two in tandem. I rarely saw the wrong devices connected to the wrong node, and though I could actually get higher throughput with devices connected to the Rapture deep in my backyard, the connection was more stable when connected to the AC88U. Notably, once I enabled Asus’ AiMesh feature, the 6 GHz band was shifted to strictly wireless backhaul, regardless of the fact that the mesh node was not a 6E device and couldn’t use it. This is similar to the way the Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien handles its WiFi 6 band, which is also reserved for backhaul, but on the Asus, you can disable this feature.

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Do You Need to Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E?

In the end, in an increasingly complicated, multifaceted home networking future with dozens of actively transmitting devices, it is becoming increasingly likely that a serious gamer will also have a very intricate, demanding network. A router you pay hundreds of dollars for should, therefore, be capable of not just properly prioritizing and routing gaming traffic, but also of making sense of all the bits whizzing around it in a home full of wifi antennas. For gaming die-hards, I’m not sure I see a reason to recommend this router over its predecessor, which is $100 cheaper—at least not for a few more firmware releases.

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Not Everyone Is Getting Great Service With Starlink

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay.

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay.
Photo: Mariana Suarez/AFP (Getty Images)

New Starlink data out today shows where in the U.S. Elon Musk’s ambitious satellite internet service is exceeding expectations—and where it’s falling short.

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According to Ookla, the company behind a Speedtest app and website that lets anyone test the speed of their broadband and mobile connections, Starlink speeds vary greatly depending on where you live.

Starlink is currently available throughout the U.S. and Canada, and has reportedly racked up more than 500,000 preorders. (I placed a preorder a few months ago, but I have yet to receive the equipment.) But users living in certain places within those two countries will get a better connection than others. Broadly, Ookla says median Starlink download speeds in the U.S. ranged from 40.36 Mbps in Columbia County, Ore. to 93.09 Mbps in Shasta County, Calif., during the first quarter of the year.

These may seem like OK speeds, but while in some places they were a vast improvement over fixed broadband providers (545.6% faster in Tehama County, Calif., for instance), others saw a disappointing drop (67.9% slower in Clay County, Mo.).

Looking at a map Ookla provided of Starlink speeds compared to fixed broadband speeds in the U.S., users living in the northern parts of California, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, the border between Oregon and Washington, and a small pocket in the north of Vermont saw the greatest increase in download speeds. But a smattering of pockets across the same states and in other states like Wisconsin and Michigan saw a decrease in download speeds compared to fixed broadband in the area.

When you overlay Ookla’s map with a regular map of the U.S., the areas with worse performance than fixed broadband appear to be clustered around major cities and large metropolitan areas. It’s not surprising that users in or around Los Angeles, for instance, would see slower speeds compared to other ISPs in those areas. A bad satellite connection can happen for a lot of different reasons, but the perhaps the biggest factor is obstructions. Buildings, trees, bad weather—the list goes on. The ideal use case for Starlink and other satellite internet providers is to provide a fast internet connection in the countryside, with wide open spaces for miles. That doesn’t always exist in urban and suburban areas.

A place like Tehama County, Calif., where the largest city is Red Bluff (with just over 14,000 people), is an ideal place for Starlink.

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Customers in both the U.S. and Canada experienced astronomically higher latency compared to fixed broadband customers in the same areas, up to 486% higher in the U.S. and up to 369% in Canada. Latency in the U.S. ranged from a low of 31ms in Kittitas County, Wash., up to 88ms in Otsego County, Mich. Median latency from all other fixed broadband ISPs combined were between 8ms and 47ms.

Starlink is still in its early beta days, but it seems like a viable solution for many rural residents who currently lack reliable access to the internet. As SpaceX sends up more satellites into orbit and increases Starlink’s network capacity, it should be able to offer the same speeds to more people living in rural areas.

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Invest in the Internet, You Cowards

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)(L) during a listening session on broadband internet at the New Hampshire Electric Co-op in Plymouth, N.H., April 23, 2021, as she travels to the state to promote the administration’s economic plans.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)(L) during a listening session on broadband internet at the New Hampshire Electric Co-op in Plymouth, N.H., April 23, 2021, as she travels to the state to promote the administration’s economic plans.
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP (Getty Images)

Internet data usage is skyrocketing these days, to no surprise.

In 2020, the average amount of internet data usage for an individual household was 483GB per month. By the end of this year, the average broadband consumption per household per month could hit 600-650GB, according to Mark Trudeau, CEO of OpenVault, a broadband data and analytics solutions company. It makes sense that broadband consumption increased drastically during the pandemic since millions of people were working or attending school from home.

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But there’s a huge problem. If the U.S. is to keep pace with domestic broadband demand and also remain competitive with other countries that have more robust internet infrastructure, it needs to stop giving subsidies to the big internet service providers and invest in government-run and local networks instead.

The Biden administration has a grand plan to pour $100 billion into closing the digital divide. The plan promises to bring every American, specifically the more than 35% of rural Americans who lack high-speed internet, affordable, reliable, fast broadband. According to Axios, the plan would prioritize spending for government-run or nonprofit networks like municipal broadband or electric co-ops.

Unlike major ISPs such as AT&T, Comcast, and Charter, these smaller, local providers are not beholden to shareholders with their sights on short-term investments—a big reason why the big companies have not done more over the years to replace old DSL lines with cable or fiber lines, or provide more last-mile service. (You shouldn’t have to take out a $10,000 newspaper ad just to get AT&T to connect that last-mile service to your house.)

Investors get their money back in a shorter amount of time if ISPs focus on only improving and upgrading internet infrastructure in densely populated areas. This also helps major ISPs keep a tight, monopoly grip over those areas, forcing customers to use their service. It doesn’t help that 22 states roadblock or completely outlaw municipal broadband, which not only would create broadband competition but would also lower the cost of monthly internet plans. 

President Biden’s plan would also look for other ways to bring down the cost of internet services instead of continuing to give ISPs subsidies so they charge consumers less. The existing Connect America Fund (CAF), for instance, is not funded by the ISPs but by regular ol’ taxpayers—the fund shows up as a fee on phone and internet bills. And according to the Technology Policy Institute, universal service subsidies like the CAF have little to no effect on expanding broadband coverage in rural areas.

“We should take this opportunity to expect better results from universal service and continue the FCC’s newer and better ways of promoting coverage where it does not exist so that subsidies truly benefit consumers and not just rural ISPs,” wrote the TPI.

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Many lawmakers and major ISPs like the current status quo for obvious reasons. They get subsidies and can continue getting free monies from the FCC through programs like the RDOF, even though some majors telecoms have been unable to meet agreed-upon deadlines for broadband rollout, and they get to lock out competition.

Unsurprisingly, Republican lawmakers and lobbyists are strongly opposed to Biden’s plan. Michael Powell, CEO of the Internet and Television Association (NCTA) and a former Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1997 to 2005, recently told Axios he believed “the idea that the private sector and profit incentives are intrinsically unsuited to do the job is ‘surprisingly Soviet,’” and that the faith many had in the government to build and run nationwide broadband networks was “unfounded.” It seems like an ironic position to take considering some of the NCTA’s core values include closing the digital divide and maintaining an open internet. But then again, the NCTA did receive donations from various persons affiliated with major privately-owned ISPs in 2020.

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Creating government-run broadband, or even just investing in nationwide last-mile fiber infrastructure, will “create jobs in both urban and rural areas and provide a clear, tangible benefit to millions of Americans,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Not only does the CFR support Biden’s internet plan, but the organization also believes the internet should be considered a utility.

“Like electricity, water, and sewer services, high-speed, fiber-based internet access lines should be considered a utility that needs to be connected to every home. Once constructed, this network should operate under an open access policy, overseen and enforced by the government, that allows any ISP to access the infrastructure at reasonable, nondiscriminatory prices to offer its services,” said the CFR.

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A recent study from Reviews.com showed 40.2% of consumers would consider immediately switching to municipal broadband if it was available in their location. Another 10.9% of consumers said they would definitely make the switch, while 29.3% said they would at least try it out. It’s clear people want and need more affordable and more equitable access to the internet. While early adopters of SpaceX’s Starlink are having great experiences with the fledging satellite internet service, Starlink is probably best suited for rural Americans, not urban dwellers. We need a comprehensive, nationwide approach like the one outlined in Biden’s plan to ensure the U.S. closes the digital divide and keeps pace with other countries.

Broadband Providers Revolt Against New York Law That Forces Them to Offer $15 and $20 Plans

Illustration for article titled Broadband Providers Revolt Against New York Law That Forces Them to Offer $15 and $20 Plans

Photo: Michael Bocchieri (Getty Images)

A coalition of broadband associations representing providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile sued New York on Friday over a law passed earlier this month that requires them to offer affordable internet for low-income families at rates of $15 and $20 per month beginning in mid-June.

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In the lawsuit, which was first reported by Axios, the coalition argues that New York has no authority to regulate broadband prices because broadband services fall under the purview of the federal government. The suit asks the court to invalidate the New York law, rule that its enforcement would be illegal, and prevent the state from regulating broadband rates.

The coalition includes the New York State Telecommunications Association, CTIA, ACA Connects, USTelecom, NTCA, and SBCA.

Specifically, the coalition claims that the New York law is in conflict with a 2018 decision by the Federal Communications Commission that affirms that regulating broadband like a common-carrier, whose rates can be regulated, is contrary to the public’s interest. The same FCC decision changed broadband’s classification from a common carrier service to an information service. The New York law also violates the Communication Act’s prohibition against forcing information services to comply with common-carrier regulation, the group states.

In addition, although the coalition acknowledges that there is “a need to close the ‘digital divide’” and ensure broadband is available to all Americans, including low-income households, it states that broadband providers already offer low-cost plans for these groups. They also participate in federal programs that provide subsidies to help low-income households access broadband, such as Lifeline and the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, the latter of which will go into effect on May 12.

New York affirms that the new law will affect seven million New Yorkers and 2.7 million households. Members of the public that qualify for the new $15 and $20 monthly rates—for high speed broadband and higher speed broadband, respectively—include households who are eligible or receiving free or reduced-price lunch, receive supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits, Medicaid benefits, and the senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions, among others, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

In a statement, CTIA, a nonprofit that represents the wireless communications industry which is part of the coalition that filed the lawsuit, said that the New York law is overruled by federal law in the matter.

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“While well-intended, this bill is preempted by federal law and ignores the $50 monthly broadband discount recently enacted by Congress, as well as the many unprecedented commitments, donations and accommodations that broadband providers have made for low-income consumers since the pandemic began,” CTIA said. “We urge state policymakers to coordinate with their Federal counterparts, and with the broadband industry, to better serve the needs of New Yorkers.”

In a statement on Friday, Cuomo, who is currently plagued by sexual harassment allegations and revelations that his office worked to hide nursing home deaths from covid-19, said he anticipated this response from the companies. He accused the providers of putting profit ahead of “creating a more fair and just society” and affirmed he welcomed the fight.

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“Let me be abundantly clear — providing internet in the Empire State is not a god given right,” the governor said.

Here’s How AirTags Stack Up to the Competition

The AirTags are here.

The AirTags are here.
Image: Apple

In addition to new iMacs and new iPads, Apple introduced its long-awaited and much-rumored $29 AirTag at its Spring Loaded event this week. But what exactly are these trackers supposed to do anyway? How do they know where your gear is at all times? And how are they different from the Bluetooth trackers already on the market?

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Not for the first time, Apple is launching a hardware product in a category that’s already well established, but trying to make its implementation better than everything else that’s been done before. The most well-known trackers in the space are the ones made by Tile, like the $25 Tile Mate, but Samsung SmartTags and the Chipolo range (which also starts at $25) are also competing for your dollars.

The idea is simple: You attach these little gizmos to anything you don’t want to lose track of, whether it’s your keys, your scooter, your bag, your digital camera, or whatever else. Using an app on your phone, you’re able to see where your possessions are, and get alerts if you leave them behind.

Track almost anything with an AirTag.

Track almost anything with an AirTag.
Image: Apple

They’re most often referred to as Bluetooth trackers, and that’s what’s important to understand first of all—these tags don’t come with built-in GPS, and they’re not constantly reporting their location by pinging a satellite up in space. They’re traditionally reliant on Bluetooth connections to your phone, specifically Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

That limits their range of course—down to a maximum of 120 meters (394 feet) or so in ideal conditions—but that’s fine if you’re hunting for your wallet in the house or the office. The Bluetooth connection means you can get the tracker to make an audible sound, which should be enough to locate it.

As an added bonus, some of these trackers do the same trick in reverse—you can press the tracker to make your phone ring, if it’s your handset that you can’t find. Another clever feature these devices offer is pinging you as soon as the Bluetooth connection gets broken, to stop you leaving something behind when you exit.

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Samsung has its own SmartTags.

Samsung has its own SmartTags.
Image: Samsung

So how do you find your stuff when it’s out of Bluetooth range? These trackers do appear on a map inside the relevant mobile apps, but they’re using your phone’s GPS, which isn’t the most accurate way to find something, and it will only log the last GPS location recorded when your phone and the tracker were most recently talking over Bluetooth.

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That’s not enough to track your possessions in real time as they float down a river or get carried away on the subway—which is something you can do with the apps that find your phone, for example—but it does at least help you figure out if you left something at the office, or in a particular restaurant, or at the gym.

If an item is well and truly lost, there’s one more option: These trackers can anonymously enlist other users of the same brand of device to help find your missing item. So, if another Tile user sits down next to a Tile that you’re trying to locate, you’ll get an update about it.

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Tile makes a variety of different trackers.

Tile makes a variety of different trackers.
Image: Tile

That does mean your search party is limited to the number of people who’ve bought the same trackers as you, but it’s better than nothing. It’s also an area where Apple has a huge advantage, thanks to the hundreds of millions of iPhones it shifts each year—all of these devices will be enlisted in the hunt if one of your AirTags goes missing. You’ll have to put your AirTag in Lost Mode, and your iPhone will then notify you if the Find My network has picked up its location. If someone happens to spot your AirTag, they can use their phone (iPhone or Android, as long as it’s equipped with NFC) to tap it and bring up your contact number if you’ve chosen to add it.

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Another AirTag feature that Apple is heavily promoting is the inclusion of an ultra-wideband (UWB) chip called the U1, which works alongside Bluetooth. UWB has a shorter range than Bluetooth, but it offers more accuracy in reporting its location, enabling you to hunt down your items using precise AR guidance from your phone (as you can see in Apple’s product demo video).

UWB isn’t technically exclusive to the AirTag. Samsung launched a similar product, the $39 SmartTag+, just a few days before the Apple event, and it also has ultra-wideband for a more precise search experience. Tile is rumored to be working on its own UWB tracker as well, so it’s a feature that you don’t necessarily have to go to Apple for.

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Chipolo trackers now work with Apple’s Find My app.

Chipolo trackers now work with Apple’s Find My app.
Image: Chipolo

Ultra-wideband has been around for a while, but the tech is now cheap and miniaturized enough for phones. You will need an UWB phone (like the iPhone 12 or the Galaxy S21) to track a UWB device using augmented reality. It uses a wider transmission frequency than Bluetooth, with some range sacrificed along the way.

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So what else is Apple bringing to the table? We’ve mentioned the millions of users it can tap into to help you find your stuff, and it also has a well-established Find My app that you’re probably already using if you need to keep tabs on your Apple gear. That means the integration of AirTags is going to be relatively seamless.

The Find My app is also opening up to third-party products—including Chipolo trackers—so you’re not forced to go with Apple’s products. That’s a somewhat uncharacteristic move by Apple, as was the recent decision to allow users to change the default email and browser apps on the iPhone, and we suspect it has more to do with the threat of antitrust proceedings than anything else.

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Ultra-wideband enables this sort of precise tracking.

Ultra-wideband enables this sort of precise tracking.
Image: Apple

As you’d expect from Apple, the security and privacy controls are thoughtful. Location information is kept on the AirTag itself, everything is anonymized and encrypted, and not even Apple itself knows where your AirTags are or which devices they’re reporting to. If someone tries to track you by dropping an AirTag into your pocket or bag, the app is smart enough to recognize it’s not yours and send you an alert. The AirTag will also make an audible sound if it’s separated from its owner for an extended period of time, so you don’t have to have an iPhone to be alerted to its presence. (Though this unwanted tracking feature may not be entirely foolproof.)

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Tile, Samsung, and Chipolo have their own measures to protect your security and privacy of course, though as yet none of them have that unwanted tracking protection. Samsung has promised to add it soon, and we suspect the others will follow suit before too long to keep up with the AirTag.

With a massive network to fall back on, super-simple integration with other Apple products, tight privacy controls, and precision tracking via UWB, the AirTags are the obvious choice for these kind of trackers if you’re an iPhone owner—and in an instant everyone else is playing catch-up.

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Verizon’s Recalling 2.5 Million of Its Dangerously Literal Hotspots

Illustration for article titled Verizon's Recalling 2.5 Million of Its Dangerously Literal Hotspots

Photo: David Ramos (Getty Images)

Verizon, along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), has issued a recall of roughly 2.5 million Ellipsis Jetpack hotspots as they, quite literally, get too hot to handle.

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So far, Verizon has received 15 reports of the devices overheating, six of which resulted in fire damage to bedding or flooring, according to CPSC. There were also two reports of minor burn injuries. The issue appears to be with the lithium-ion battery, which can potentially overheat. Per a Verizon statement, the affected models are the MHS900L, MHS900LS, and MHS900LPP and were imported via Franklin Wireless Corp. The recalled hotspots are made of dark navy plastic, are oval in shape, and measure 3.5 inches wide and 2.25 inches tall. The units were sold at Verizon stores nationwide to customers, as well as other stores and school districts, between April 2017 and March of this year.

What the recalled mobile hotspots look like.

What the recalled mobile hotspots look like.
Image: CPSC

If you have one of these units, Verizon is offering free replacements for an Orbic Speed device. You can also visit Verizon’s recall page to find more details about how to exchange the hotspot or call 855-205-2627.

Hotspots became a popular option once the pandemic hit. In particular, they’ve served as a bandaid for schools trying to provide internet access for the 17 million students who lack home internet for remote learning. If you received one of the recalled Ellipsis Jetpack hotspots from a school, the CPSC recommends contacting your school for further instruction and mailing packages to safely return the device.

In the meantime, Verizon has pushed out two over-the-air updates for affected devices. One allows you to more easily find the device’s IMEI number—which is needed to exchange the hotspot—while the other reduces the chances of overheating by preventing the device from charging while powered on and plugged in.

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Obviously, the best course of action is to return the device as quickly as possible. However, if it’s your only source of internet connectivity, there are a few things you can do until a return is possible. After receiving the updates, the CPSC recommends, leave the device powered on while plugged in. When not in use, it says the device should be turned off, unplugged, and stored in a fire-safe area away from children. Verizon also recommends storing the device on “flat, solid, and sturdy” surfaces, and away from extreme temperatures. And while the issue is battery-related, consumers should not attempt to remove it themselves.

Samsung’s Upgraded Smart Tracker Can Help You Find Your Keys Using AR

Illustration for article titled Samsung's Upgraded Smart Tracker Can Help You Find Your Keys Using AR

Graphic: Samsung

On Thursday, Samsung announced plans to launch an upgraded version of its Galaxy SmartTag smart trackers, the aptly named SmartTag+, globally on April 16 with a U.S. rollout expected sometime “in the coming weeks.”

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These smart trackers attach to your keys, wallet, or whatever you frequently misplace to help you hunt them down via an app. The design was first popularized by Tile a few years back, and while rumors have long circulated about Apple developing a similar device, reportedly called the Apple AirTag, Samsung beat them to the punch with the announcement of its Bluetooth-powered Galaxy SmartTag in January. At the time, Samsung teased that a version powered by ultra-wideband technology, one of the latest buzzwords in consumer tech, could be on the horizon. And now we finally have a release date.

Per a Samsung press release, the SmartTag+ will offer support for both UWB and Bluetooth Low Energy, a variant of traditional Bluetooth that doesn’t drain as much battery power and is already included in the original SmartTag. The SmartTag+ is a tad more expensive than its predecessor at $39.99 versus the SmartTag’s $29.99 price tag.

In addition to being able to more precisely pinpoint your lost items, the improved spatial awareness functionality provided by the SmartTag+’s UWB tech means it can use augmented reality to visually guide users to lost tokens using their smartphone camera if they have a UWB-equipped smartphone. You can also opt to make the tracker sound off with a ring as you get closer to its location, or get other users to join in your search via a feature similar to the “community find” network announced for Tile’s upcoming UWB-powered tracker. Your location data remains protected though, Samsung said Thursday:

“All data in SmartThings Find is encrypted and protected, so the tag’s location isn’t revealed to anyone but you.”

You can see an example of how the AR feature for the SmartTag+ works in the graphic below. (It kind of reminds me of that bit in Toy Story where the Mrs. Potato Head loses an eye under the couch but, since it’s detachable and whatnot, she can still see through it).

Illustration for article titled Samsung's Upgraded Smart Tracker Can Help You Find Your Keys Using AR

Graphic: Samsung

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Similar to Bluetooth, UWB tech lets devices within a certain range talk to each other, but what sets it apart is its superior ability to pinpoint exact locations and broadcast data with minimal interference. It does this by transmitting data across a wider frequency than “narrowband” wireless technology, with the downside being it suffers from a shorter overall range. The technology has been around for decades, but it’s only recently that UWB chips have gotten cheap enough and tiny enough for companies to justify stuffing them in smartphones and other consumer gadgets.

This year is shaping up to be a big one for UWB with both Tile and Apple reportedly working on UWB-powered trackers. 

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Nokia’s Overhauled Budget Phone Lineup Has Something for Everyone

Illustration for article titled Nokia's Overhauled Budget Phone Lineup Has Something for Everyone

Image: Nokia/HMD

Sometimes it just makes sense for companies to rethink their entire portfolio instead of churning out another generation of the same old devices, which is exactly what Nokia is doing with its new X, G, and C-series phones.

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By shifting to a new naming scheme that seems loosely inspired by big name German automakers, HMD (who owns the branding rights for Nokia phones) is looking to move away from its previous one, which had become completely opaque with phone names like the Nokia 2.4, Nokia 3.4, and so on.

Nokia’s new C-series handsets are the cheapest of the bunch, and the star of the show is the Nokia C10, which costs as little as 75 euros and comes with a 6.5-inch HD+ display, 1GB or 2GB of RAM, and up to 32GB of storage. There will also be a Nokia C20 that costs 89 euros, which has the same basic design and specs, but comes with front and rear LED flash modules to help you shoot better photos.

Nokia’s new C-Series phones.

Nokia’s new C-Series phones.
Image: Nokia/HMD

HMD said the C-series will get two years of OS updates and two years of quarterly (not monthly) security patches, with all of Nokia’s new phones slated to run the Android One version of Android 11.

Moving up one tier is the G-series, which consists of the G10 and G20 (see the pattern?), with the latter offering a faster MediaTek G35 chip, 48-MP main cam, 4GB of RAM, 64 or 128GB of storage, and a larger 5,050 mAh battery that HMD said lasts up to three days on a charge—all starting for just 159 euros.

The G20 in Night.

The G20 in Night.
Image: Nokia/HMD

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As for updates, the G-series is expected to receive two years of OS updates and three years of security patches.

Finally we have the new X series, which isn’t exactly flagship level, but does include support for sub-6Ghz 5G. The 309 euro Nokia X10 and the 349 euro Nokia X20 follow the same naming pattern—the X20 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G processor, a 6.67-inch FHD+ screen, a quadruple rear camera module with a 64-MP main cam, and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor. The X20 also has the most RAM and storage of Nokia’s new phones with either 6GB/64GB or 8GB/128GB configs.

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As the most expensive tier of Nokia’s new phones, the X series will get three full years of OS and security updates.

The X20 in Nordic Blue.

The X20 in Nordic Blue.
Image: Nokia/HMD

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Nokia’s new lineup brings solid additions to its portfolio, with its three new tiers offering something at practically every budget price range. On top of that, Nokia is also planning on releasing a new pair of wireless buds called the Nokia Lite Earbuds for 39 euros, and in the U.K., Nokia is even launching new wireless plans under the HMD Mobile name, which is a new MVNO for the European market.

HMD said the real goal is for Nokia to continue pursuing open-channel sales that aren’t reliant on deals and partnerships with big carriers, which seems like a decent strategy, especially for the European market. But I’m not sure that even with the device overhaul, Nokia’s strategy is going to be all that successful in the U.S., where as many as 90% of all smartphones are sold through carrier channels. And unfortunately for right now, Nokia has yet to provide specific info on U.S. pricing or availability for any of its new devices.

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So in the end, it’ll be up to the devices to prove themselves worthy or not, and at least to start, Nokia’s new C, G, and X-series phones definitely seem to deliver on value, which is promising.

T-Mobile’s Massive 5G Push Includes Home Internet and Free 5G Phones

Illustration for article titled T-Mobile's Massive 5G Push Includes Home Internet and Free 5G Phones

Photo: Alastair Pike/AFP (Getty Images)

T-Mobile would really like to bring you aboard the 5G train. As part of its latest Un-carrier initiative, the company announced it’s letting customers upgrade their smartphones to a 5G phone for “free, offering a $60 home internet plan, and promising unlimited data for all.

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The carrier telegraphed that it had some big 5G plans in the works earlier in March. That’s because for all its investment in 5G, most people haven’t actually experienced it for themselves. Right now few people own 5G-compatible phones, and those that do may not have the right data plan.

To start off, T-Mobile says beginning April 18, new and existing customers can trade in any mobile phone and get a Samsung Galaxy A32 5G phone for free. And they really mean any mobile phone, so long it’s in working condition (e.g, no cracked screens, water damage, etc.). That includes flip phones, Sidekicks, Razrs, BlackBerrys, you name it. iPhone users can also partake, but with some more restrictions. Those with iPhone 11 models can get an iPhone 12. If you have an iPhone 7 through X, you can get the iPhone 12 for half-off. Meanwhile, older iPhones—including the original—can get half off an iPhone 12 Mini.

The fine print for both promos is that you’re locked in for 24 months of bill credits, and you still have to pay the sales tax. (If you leave before the 24 months are up, you’ll have to pay the remainder.) Also, while you can upgrade to the Galaxy A32 for the rest of 2021, the iPhone promo has a May 1 end date.

The second part of this push involves T-Mobile upgrading existing customers (including all former Sprint users) on postpaid plans to an unlimited one for free. Verizon and AT&T customers on limited data plans can also switch to an unlimited T-Mobile plan for a rate that’s “the same or better” than what they’re currently paying.

To cap it off, the carrier is launching its 5G home internet plan for $60 per month with Autopay. T-Mobile says customers can expect speeds up to 100 Mbps, and that all eligible households will see average download speeds of at least 50 Mbps. The service has no data caps, no added taxes or equipment fees, and no contracts. T-Mobile will ship a 4G/5G gateway to customers, who can then install everything themselves.

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Again, there are some caveats. Firstly, you have to live in an eligible area, though T-Mobile says that more than 30 million households are eligible at launch, with 10 million of those households located in rural areas. You can check to see if your area is eligible here. It’s also limited by network capacity, which T-Mobile says is “increasing all the time” but is something you might want to keep in mind if you live in a heavily populated area. T-Mobile also noted that access may be limited at launch due to global supply chain issues that have affected wifi gateway supply.

Right now, T-Mobile holds the lead in its nationwide 5G coverage, thanks in part to the fact it has more mid-band spectrum than the other major carriers. The problem is only 10 million of the accounts that make up its subscriber base are on T-Mobile’s 5G network, even though the carrier has a total of 102 million subscribers and can cover 280 million. If it wants to maintain its 5G lead, T-Mobile’s going to need more users to upgrade both their phones and data plans—hence this massive push. Honestly, it’s a smart move.

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