What Is NFC (Near Field Communication)?

Have you been hearing a lot about NFC (Near Field Communication) technology lately? To a layman, this is just another technology, like ‘Super’ AMOLED, ‘Retina’ Display, ‘PureView’ camera, ‘multi-core’ processor, and probably you think this is another marketing gimmick to get the device sold at the end of the day. You may haven’t paid much attention to it either.

However, there is a group of people who are very optimistic about NFC. Let the myths be busted! Let me explain to you in simple terms what NFC is and what it does.

Near Field Communication is a set of wireless standards that enables radio communication between two electronic devices by bringing them in close proximity

 

Well, that doesn’t sound so easy to understand, does it? In layman’s terms, with NFC, you can connect two devices (wirelessly) by tapping them together. That’s right! Just tap your phone to another and they have established an invisible link.

The prospective applications of this technology will astound you—with a tap of your smartphone you can pay for products and services, you can establish Wi-Fi connection with a router, you can get music and small videos transferred to your phone, you can exchange electronic business cards, you can travel in train or on air without your wallet, you can get movie tickets delivered to your phone, you can review restaurant menus and pay for meals, and much more.

NFC Standardization

 

Unlike ‘Super’ AMOLED or ‘Retina’ display, NFC is not a technology owned by a company. It’s a standard like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi that all manufacturers have to follow. Also, NFC is not a new technology; it is a mere extension of already existing wireless technologies, like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, GSM, etc. In order to create a common standard for all NFC based communication, Nokia, Sony, and Phillips came together in 2004 to create a forum—the NFC Forum.

It is in this forum that everything related to NFC is developed. Now, the forum has 160 members. They include industry heavyweights like Google, AT&T, Intel, Samsung, Microsoft, Toshiba, LG, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, HP, Fujitsu, HTC, Daimler, PayPal, Marvell Studios, and several others.

A lot of big and small technology companies are part of this deal—suspiciously enough Apple is missing! All of the companies out there that manufacture smartphones have come up with NFC-enabled smartphones. Apple iPhone still lacks this technology. And the latest news has confirmed it that Apple won’t be including NFC even in iPhone 5. It’s very sad that Apple wants to build its own mobile payment technology as they ‘feel that there is no common standard in mobile payment systems out there’.

NFC Range

 

The connectivity through NFC is available only in a very short range—shorter than Wi-Fi and even shorter than Bluetooth. The range of NFC is less than 4 centimeters (slightly less than two inches). NFC is at the lowest band of wireless technologies.

The data transferred is in kilobytes level, and it uses globally available band of 13.56 MHz (you don’t need to know the details of this). For detailed specifications, you can download documents from the NFC Forum.

Security Concerns

 

Since it is short range, you cannot be vulnerable unless the attacker is within that range, apparently! Recently, BBC was reporting a demonstration of security attack on NFC (a demonstration by Charlie Miller of security research firm, Accuvant). This may put people into panic mode as several of us now are walking around with NFC smartphones.

However, let me make the things clear here for you. Any device that follows NFC specifications have their communications digitally signed to make them secure. This means, the two devices communicating with each other can identify the other device and can recognize if a third party is intervening in the connection.

The NFC security standard incorporates four layers of security—digital signature, ISO/IEC 13157-1:2010 standard, application security specified by the service provider, and additional security by the carrier or service provider for applications.

In the demonstration by Mr Miller, the hacking of the devices takes advantage of the default security rules of the device, and the default set of security rules is something that the user can configure. Also, the manufacturers will be able to make devices with better defaults for application level security that will make such attacks more difficult (I don’t say impossible as nothing really is; we have all seen people hacking into government websites, and I can’t say NFC being any more secure than such a website). This has been confirmed by the NFC forum itself, following the findings of Mr Miller.

So, there you go. You can trust NFC and get communications done securely through it.

Where Can You Use It?

 

Wherever you see an N-mark! The following is the N-mark.

n-mark

 

This is the official NFC logo developed and promoted by the Forum. This is licensed and can be downloaded from the forum website by accepting to the terms and conditions. The logo can be used on your outlet if you are a service provider with NFC capability.

So far the NFC system is not extensively available. NFC tags can be used to circulate information to handsets worldwide. An NFC tag is a tiny disk with a power-free chip built in. The chip contains a small bit of information, such as the address of a website or some text. Some tags can even contain multimedia content (such as tiny movie posters or trailers). These tags can be stuck to anything and tapping on the tag, your phone will receive the embedded information.

These tags can have a lot of uses. You can program the tag to open a particular website or application on your phone and when you tap on it, the application on your phone will open up; for instance, you can program a tag to open music player on your phone and stick it on your car’s dashboard; every time the phone approaches the tag, it will open the music player and start playing your favorite songs.

Conclusion

 

As you can see, NFC has loads of applications. It’s going to change the world as we know it if used far and wide. However, so far the technology has limited reach. A lot of people have to be made aware of the advantages in order to make it more pervasive.

The New Samsung Note; Great or Not?

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

Yesterday at Berlin Radio Show, as expected, Samsung released its biggest smartphone, a tablet-cum-smartphone or ‘phablet’ as it’s popularly known now, Galaxy Note II. Among other things that Samsung announced yesterday there is ATIV S, the world’s first smartphone running Windows 8 mobile OS. Galaxy Note II comes with slight advancements to the previous version. Let’s check it out here.

Comparison Between Note & Note II

Here’s a table comparing the features of the new Note with the previous one.

Feature Galaxy Note Galaxy Note II
Display Super AMOLED, 16m colors; 800×1280 pixels resolution; 5.3 inches (285 ppi) Super AMOLED, 16 m colors; 720×1280 pixels, 5.5 inches (267 ppi)
Processor Dual-core 1.4 GHz, ARM Cortex A9 Quad-core 1.6 GHz; ARM Cortex A9
Memory 2GB RAM; Internal storage: 16/32/64 GB; MicroSD: up to 32 GB MicroSD up to 32 GB; Internal: 16/32 GB; 1GB RAM
Camera 8MP with geo-tagging, face & smile detection, image stabilization; front-facing 2MP 8MP with all the features in Note 1; front-facing 1.9MP
Battery Li-ion 2500 mAh giving up to 820 hours stand-by on 3G Li-ion 3100 mAh
Body features 146.9x83x9.7mm; weight: 178g 151.1×80.5×9.4mm; weight: 180g
Operating System Android Gingerbread (originally released with) Android Jelly Bean 4.1

Are you disappointed looking at the features here? The display is substandard compared to the first version although it is larger. A larger display needs a larger resolution and pixel density to perform better, and both are not available in Note II. This display will have increased level of pixelation. There is no noticeable upgrade to the memory or processor settings as well.

However, with the large battery and upgraded bug-free versions of software, I suppose the Note II could give you a better battery life. Also, this Note is thinner and longer.

The most attractive feature of Note, the S-pen is there in this version as well. Samsung has upgraded the driver software for this device and its design is also slightly changed. The S-pen can be used now to preview email messages and open frequently used applications.

Besides these, it’s Android Jelly Bean that powers this Note. This is a more responsive and visually stunning version of Android.

Conclusion

How the new performs with the larger screen with smaller resolution remains to be seen. Also, Jelly Bean and larger processor will make the Note one of the fastest devices out there.

[Image credit: GSM Arena]

Comparing Popular Cloud Storage Services Online

;">Cloud storageSaving and getting access to your files online has become easier than ever today. All the big names in the computing world are there in the cloud storage facility—Google with Google Drive, Microsoft with SkyDrive, Apple with iCloud, etc. The greatest advantage is that you can get your files synchronized to any device anywhere as long as you have Internet access.

All online storage services provide you with some obvious features—syncing across multiple devices or platforms, file encryption, easy access from any device connected to the Internet, etc. Let’s look at the features of some of the most popular online storage facilities and decide which the best option to go for is.

1. Google Drive

Google DriveGoogle’s online office software, Docs will no longer be there; it will be upgraded to Drive. This online storage facility from Google has got it all—backup, syncing across devices and platforms, and facility to open multiple file types. Also, the security of your files is ensured by Google. File encryption is not available though.

Google Drive feature has full integration to other services like Gmail, Google Chrome, etc. The free storage given is 5 GB (you will still retain the 7 GB you are getting on Gmail, 1 GB you get on Picasa web albums, and unlimited sharing facility on Google Plus).

Additional storage on Google Drive cost you as per the following:
Size Price (in Dollars per month)
25 GB 2.49
100 GB 4.99
200 GB 9.99
400 GB 19.99
1 TB 49.99
2 TB 99.99
4 TB 199.99
8 TB 399.99
16 TB 799.99

 

Feature list:
Feature Availability
Encrypted Storage No
Free Storage 5 GB
Maximum File Size 10 GB
Network Drive Available
Web Access Available
Platforms Supported Windows, Mac, Android, iOS

2. Microsoft SkyDrive

Microsoft Sky Drive

SkyDrive is the cloud storage platform from Microsoft and it obviously has all the features offered by other services. SkyDrive provides you with a client piece of software available for Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android. SkyDrive provides you with 7 GB of free storage. However, if you are an already existing user of Microsoft Live, you will an additional 18 GB of storage.

SkyDrive gives you on-the-go access to all the major platforms. Also, the paid plans are highly affordable—20 GB for 10 dollars per year, 50 GB for 25 dollars, 100 GB for 50 dollars.

Feature Availability
Encrypted Storage No
Free Storage 7 GB (25 GB for existing users)
Maximum File Size 2 GB
Network Drive Available
Web Access Available
Platforms Supported Windows, Mac, Android, iOS

3. Apple iCloud

Apple iCloud

 One of the greatest disadvantages of iCloud is that it’s an Apple product and doesn’t support Android or Windows Phone. It has support for all Apple products—iPhone, iMac, iPad, etc., and all Apple technologies.

It’s the greatest product for file syncing and storage if you have only Apple products. 5 GB is the basic free storage and extra storage costs you some more—20 dollars for 10 GB, 40 dollars for 20 GB, and 100 dollars for 50 GB per annum.

Feature Availability
Encrypted Storage Yes
Free Storage 5 GB
Maximum File Size 2 GB
Network Drive No
Web Access No
Platforms Supported Windows (PC), Mac OS X Lion
or later, iOS (5.x or later)

4. Box.com

box.com

Box is an online file storage service providing personal, business, and enterprise solutions. Personal free storage is 5 GB and upgrade plans are pricey—25 GB at 9.99. dollars per month and 50 GB at 19.99 dollars per month.

Mobile versions of the storage app is available and encryption is provided. If you have a small business, then you can get 1000 GB storage and will cost 15 dollars per user per month; minimum of three users have to be there to register the small business plan though.

Feature Availability
Encrypted Storage Yes
Free Storage 5 GB
Maximum File Size 100 MB (personal) 2 GB (small business)
Network Drive No
Web Access Yes
Platforms Supported Windows (PC), Mac OS X, Android, iOS

5. Dropbox

dropbox

 

This file sharing platform has become one of the most popular today. Dropbox provides you with a piece of client software for Windows, Mac and mobile platforms for creating a pretty drop box on your system.

Just drag and drop your files to this drop box to get it synced across platforms. The app is available for almost all platforms out there. 2 GB only is given free, and extra storage costs more: 100 GB for 9.99 pm or 99 pa, 200 GB for 19.99 pm or 199 pa, 500 GB for 49.99 pm or 499 pa. Dropbox also has the two-factor authentication feature which makes the service more secure.

Feature Availability
Encrypted Storage Yes
Free Storage 2 GB
Maximum File Size 300 MB
Network Drive Yes (with limits)
Web Access Yes
Platforms Supported Windows (PC), Linux, Mac OS X, Android, iOS,
BlackBerry, Kindle Fire

6. SugarSync

Sugarsync

This is another file storage platform that supports all the basic features including encryption. Also, the platforms supported are many. Free storage given is 5GB and it can be expanded to 32 GB through their referral program.

SugarSync is touted by several web reviewers as one of the top-notch file sharing services out there. Pricing for plans: 30 GB for 4.99 pm or 49.99 pa; 60 GB for 9.99 pm or 99.99 pa; 100 GB for 14.99 pm or 149.99 pa.

Feature Availability
Encrypted Storage Yes
Free Storage 5 GB
Maximum File Size No limit
Network Drive No
Web Access Yes
Platforms Supported Windows (PC), Linux, Mac OS X, Android, iOS,
BlackBerry, Kindle Fire, Symbian

7. ADrive

Basic features of ADrive online storage include 50 GB of free storage among others. This is the largest free storage you can get among cloud storage services. Mobile apps are provided for iOS and Android. In order to edit office documents, you can use Zoho within ADrive. Besides these, premium features are available for higher storage plans.

Pricing is as follows: 50GB to 10TB at 6.95 pm (known as Personal Premium plan); 100 GB to unlimited at 16 dollars pm (Business plan). Unlike other storage services, the mobile app is ad-supported for revenue.

Feature Availability
Encrypted Storage Yes based on plan chosen
Free Storage 50 GB
Maximum File Size No limit
Network Drive No
Web Access No
Platforms Supported Windows (PC), Mac OS X, Android, iOS

 


 

[Update:

8. Kim DotCom's Mega

Earlier in Jan 2012, Kim DotCom (born Kim Schmitz) used to be the creator of a file upload platform called MegaUpload. It was shut down on . Exactly one year later, on Kim DotCom came up with the new service called Mega. It is by far one of the largest file sharing platform, with 50 GB of free space available.

Mega uses 2048-bit advanced AES encryption on the client side, which makes it perfect for storing important files.

Conclusion

In this review, we have touched upon some of the biggies in online storage. Based on the technologies and standards available, you can choose which is the best for you. There are a number of other online storage services as well. At another time, we will review some others.

Upgrading Your Samsung Galaxy S3 to the Latest Firmware

galaxy s3 and jelly bean

Samsung Galaxy S3 is the latest addition to a famous line of smartphones. They run on Google Android mobile operating system, the latest version being v.4.1, Jelly Bean. However, S3 comes with the previous version, Ice Cream Sandwich. You may be anxious to update the operating system to the latest version.

Jelly Bean official update for Galaxy S3 should be available in the near future.

You can either get the official updates from Samsung directly or you can go for an available custom firmware. Here are the things you need to know.

Before any sort of software update, you have to back up all the important data on your phone. Otherwise, an erroneous update will render your phone useless. Samsung software, Kies could help in backing up all your data. This is the in-house solution. Also, you can go for third party backup tools such as Backup Master, Titanium Backup, etc. Also, you need to have enough battery power to complete the flashing process. At least 80 per cent of battery power is required.

After backing up the device data, connect it to the computer using the provided USB connector.

samsung kies

At this point of time, you should be running the Samsung Kies software that is used to download and update the phone with the Samsung official firmware. Kies is available for Windows (XP and later) and Mac (10.5 or later). Make sure you have faster than 2 GHz Intel processor and at least 512 MB RAM. Kies can be downloaded from here.

Kies not only helps in firmware update, but also for syncing contacts, wireless connection to the mobile phone, and transferring multimedia content.

Installing the Official Firmware

 

As the newer versions of Android get released, Samsung may develop device-specific firmware that will update your device. The demo video below shows how to update to ICS using Kies software:

After connecting the Galaxy phone to your computer, start Samsung Kies. Once your phone has been connected to the software, Kies will show you the available software update. All you need to do is device backup and download the firmware through Kies. Make sure you don’t disconnect the device during the update. You only have to follow the on screen instructions.

Custom Firmware for Galaxy S3

 

You can get the latest custom firmware for Galaxy S3 from Androidfirmwares.net. Of course downloading custom firmware and updating your new device should be done with extreme caution. It will obviously void the warranty of your phone and may cause little or no improvement from the factory setting. However, people continue to update to custom firmware and customize their devices for optimum performance.

As a first step, find out the firmware version you are using on your Galaxy S3. On the keypad of the phone, type ‘*#1234#’ (this code will work with other phones too). It will give the phone’s firmware in this format: ‘I9300AABB5’ (AA indicates the region of the firmware and BB indicates the release date; the number indicates the version).

Here’s the list of region codes:

BD: Cyprus, Greece
BH: Central Europe
CE: Belgium, the Netherlands
CP: Finland
DB: Vietnam
DC: Thailand
DD:  India
DT: Australia
DX: Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam
DZ: Malaysia and Singapore
JA: South Africa
JC: Algeria, Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia
JP: South Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Morocco
MT: Switzerland
PO: France
XA: Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK
XE: Denmark, Sweden, Norway
XC: Portugal and Spain
XD: Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia
XE: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine
XF: Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania
XG: Germany
XX: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, the UK
XP: Several European countries
XW: Australia, UK, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands
ZC: China
ZH: Hong Kong
ZT: Taiwan

In order to download and update the Galaxy S3 using custom firmware, you need a tool known as Odin. After installing Odin, download the required custom firmware and extract the contents to a folder (it will give you a file with ‘.tar’ extension).

galaxy s3 odin

 

Here are the steps to install custom firmware, as detailed at RootGalaxy S3iii.com (This is completely unofficial information and Samsung or publishers of either of these websites will not take any responsibility for errors):

1. Enable USB Debugging option on your phone (Go to Settings->Developers)

2. Turn off the phone and turn it back on with Volume Down key, Power button, and the Home button pressed simultaneously. Keep them pressed until you get to the Downloading Mode.

cellphone connected to pc

3. Now connect the phone to the computer through USB cord and open Odin. Wait till it detects the phone (indicated by a COM port number on the top left-hand side).

4. Now, point the PDA part of Odin to the firmware file downloaded earlier (.tar file).

5. Click on Start on Odin, and it will install the firmware to your phone.

Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy family in general are great smartphones available today. Google Android is a developer’s operating system with loads of features. Advanced users would love to take advantage of the features offered by this operating system through custom firmware. It is also important that you download stable firmware with good reviews.