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Remix OS Mini PC

July 18, 2015 — BarryK
Longtime Puppy fan and active Forum contributor cthisbear, posted this:

Actually, I had a few months away from Quirky development, and also wasn't reading the Puppy Forum, except for occasional glances. Today though, had a good read, and found the post from cthisbear.

Which linked to here:

And the Kickstarter project:

I'll be in that! $40 plus $15 postage to Australia, for the 2G RAM model. That's a good price.

I really want to play with Remix OS. I like Android, on my phone anyway. Remix promises to give me a desktop experience, and I can use all the Android apps, some of which I have got to like very much -- such as SafeInCloud, that I reported on recently:

I have been experimenting with Bluetooth mice and keyboards with my phone:

...which has been a good experience, and I am excited to find out how much more enhanced the experience will be with Remix OS.


HB-2000 keyboard design fault

June 12, 2015 — BarryK
In my on-going "traveling light" project, I wrote about the tiny Bluetooth HB-2000 keyboard:

I own a couple of other Bluetooth keyboards, that are unwieldy in comparison. The HB-2000 is smaller and considerably lighter than them, eminently suitable where size and weight are important, such as traveling with a backpack or when a "carry on" bag is one's only luggage.

The HB-2000 is also considerably cheaper than the brand-name keyboards. However, I have discovered a design fault, shown in this photo:

At each side at the front, there are rubber feet, that glue to the printed circuit board. See the cutout in the metal frame.
The problem is that the printed circuit board is only glued, with sticky glue, to the metal frame, and the rubber feet are affixed to the board only, not the frame.

Consequently, after using for awhile, the printed circuit board lifts away from the metal frame, and the rubber feet sink into the frame.

I first noticed this when the keyboard started to wobble on a flat surface. At first, I wondered how the frame could have become distorted, then closer examination revealed the cause.
Is this just stupidity, or didn't the designers care?

I fixed it by moving the rubber feet onto the frame, and might look around for bigger feet that will cover up the metal cutout.

I still love this keyboard!

Another thing that I want to do is construct a cover, to protect the keys when packed tightly inside a backpack or whatever. The cover can be opened up, and I envision having a slot in it, into which my phone can be inserted, so it becomes a mounting base for the phone.
...if anyone has this keyboard, or plans to buy one, and wants to design such a cover, I welcome your thoughts on it.


B-Folders password manager review

June 11, 2015 — BarryK
I recently wrote a mini-review of SafeInCloud, a very nice password manager:

These days, a "password manager" holds much more than just usernames and passwords, and can be used to keep a wide variety of information secure. I found SafeInCloud to be one of these modern secure information managers, very customizable, and a delight to use.

However, as I explained in the review, I decided to discontinue its use, due to lack of a virtual keyboard for entering the master password.

Since then, I have been testing more password managers, and finally I have found one that ticks all the boxes: B-Folders.

The developers of B-Folders have put a lot of thought into security, and I cannot see anywhere that might be a potential weakness.

The Android version uses an internal webkit-based browser, to take care of secure auto-filling for login, though external browsers can be used, even the clipboard (which is cleared immediately after use).

B-Folders can use a virtual keyboard for entering the master password, the lack of which worried me with SafeInCloud and many other password managers.

However, the virtual keyboard is only for numeric input. For alpha-numeric entry, the standard Android keyboard is used.
Hmmm, a numeric password will have to be very long to be uncrackable -- see further notes on this at the end of this review.

B-Folders does not support a fingerprint sensor for login. There is probably a good reason for this, as B-Folders does not want to store the master password. Using a fingerprint scanner means that the master password has to be stored locally, encrypted of course, but that is still a potential weakness.

I obtained B-Folders from the Google Play Store:

OK, it is free, but offers an in-app purchase. This is a "Utility pack", that cost me $6.20, with some useful, though not essential, extras.

B-Folders does not have the "bling" of SafeInCloud, and in a few places is less intuitive. So, I had a good read of the online docs. I found that it actually is easy to use, and was soon entering data and testing online logins.

It is the "card" paradigm, in this case with folder hierarchy. There are ready-made cards, which can be customised for each instantiation, and new card templates can be created. Overall, extremely flexible for entering any kind of textual data.

B-Folders is touted as a password manager, notepad, task manager, contact manager, bookmark manager, and journal. Or anything else requiring secure textual storage.

It runs on the desktop also, on Windows, Mac and Linux --for a price of US$30 each. Here is a desktop snapshot:

Running on Android though, the UI is a bit more constrained. Showing the equivalent of the above picture, this first snaphot shows the top-level:

Here are cards inside the "Banking" folder:

This is the content of one of the cards:

Clicking on a URL in a card, there is an offer to open with internal or system browser (or any other browser that is installed) (this is all customizable):

Sync and backup
SafeInCloud uses the Cloud for storage and consider it safe, as the database is a single encrypted file. The very fact of it being in the Cloud may be seen as a security threat, but if the password is uncrackable, all should be OK.

B-Folders takes a different approach, achieving syncing with its own wi-fi direct connection (or USB cable) between two devices. I haven't yet tried this, however, I have read user feedback, and they are positive reports.

Backup creates a copy of the database file. I tested this, and it reported a file "storage/sdcard0/backups.dat/2015-06-10_10-15_56.jrb" has been created.
There is also a restore from backup option.

Perhaps it would be nice to have send-to (share) for backup. Individual cards can be shared (which I think requires the paid Utility pack), and this sends a .vcf (Electronic Business Card) text file.

Master password
This is a snapshot of the virtual keypad for entering the master password:

Yes, it is good to have a virtual keyboard, I am happy about that. Numeric-only though, hmmm. I did some experiments, and yes, I can create a very secure numeric-only password, but it has to be quite long.

Here are some password strength checkers, that also estimate time to crack:

...warning, do not enter your actual proposed master password into these checkers! They could be sneakily collecting passwords. These sites are probably OK, but you never know.

In the case of a numeric-only password, a 18-digit to 24-digit non-repetitive, non-sequential password is very secure, taking centuries to crack. Of course, this depends on the hardware that is thrown at it.

The challenge though, is to create a long numeric password that can be remembered. And it must be remembered, as your entire life is in that file!

I love this app, the best password manager that I have found so far.

I would like to make some recommendations to the developers:

1. A custom folder for "Login list". Just as there already exists "Task list", "Contact list" and "Journal", which are effectively folders in which tasks, contact and journal cards can be created.
2. Send-to or sharing of the database file, as another way to backup or archive.
3. Markup for notes and journal cards.

Number 3 would be a nice enhancement, I think. Currently, the notes field in a card is plain-text only. It would be nice to be able to specify things like bold, italic, list, which can be saved as RTF, BBCODE or something similar.
I already tested entering a URL into a note, and it got recognised and became a link. Well, this principle can be extended, even perhaps to displaying images (img link, perhaps not embedded images).

Developer JointLogic website:


TurboScan mini review

June 05, 2015 — BarryK
I own an actual scanner, a Hewlett Packard ScanJet 4200C. I was reading recently about scanner apps for phones, so thought that I would give it a go.

For those who have not been following my blog, I own a 4G 64-bit Mlais M52 Red Note phone, with 5.5 inch screen and Android 4.4.4 (KitKat). I purchased it from China, for about AU$200.

What these scanner apps do is enable you to take photos of paper pages, have them auto-cropped and enhanced for readability, and exported as JPEG or PDF. More or less.

I tried a few, with mixed results. Let's see, my testing included these: Genius Scanner, SimplyScan, Fast Scanner, and PDF Scanner (by Grymala).

With all of these apps, I found it difficult to obtain a sharp image. That is, at night with room light turned on, and using the phone's flash. I did get significantly better sharper images during the day, with light coming through a window, also using flash.
So, some experimentation is needed to get good results.

Some apps have inadequate adjustments, for example one created awfully huge images, like 5MB for one page, with no way to reduce the size. One of them seemed unable to create multi-page PDFs.

I wasn't really enamored by any of them and was about to give up, then I discovered TurboScan, created by Piksoft. There is no free version, it cost me AU$2.99 from the Google Play Store:
...user feedback rates it at 4.6 stars.

Based on my prior experience with blurry images, I chose a feature of TurboScan called SureScan, in which you take 3 shots of a page, doing your best to hold the phone steady -- well of course my hand did move between shots, but I was amazed at the result. The images are extremely sharp. Cropping to page edges was perfect, as well as contrast/brightness -- in fact, no background "noise" or "artifacts" at all.

As well as creating lovely sharp images, the file sizes were the smallest. For example, the page that created the worst-case 5MB file reported above, was now only 455KB.

Creating a multi-page document was very intuitive, and I was able to email a PDF, just a few clicks.

TurboScan created these perfect images without me having to tweak anything. The only thing I changed was "B/W" to "Color" setting.
In fact, these images are better than I obtain using scanning applications such as Xsane in Linux -- where I always have to fiddle with the settings to minimise backround artifacts.

There was no need to read a manual, usage is completely intuitive. I could post some usage photos here, but no need to.

Here is the developer's site. Note, TurboScan is available for the iPhone also:

Another review
These guys compared CamScanner, Scanbot and TurboScan, and rated TurboScan 3rd:

...well, CamScanner is subscription-based, whereas TurboScan is a small one-off price. Scanbot is rated 4.1 stars at the Play Store, and is free but then offers in-app one-time purchase or subscription for full features. Here is the Scanbot developer's site: -- it looks good.
I haven't tried CamScanner or Scanbot.

There are other "reviews", however the ones I found are just superficial abbreviated listing of some of the features, hardly rating as a review.

That $3 was well-spent. SureScan is a winner for me -- I don't know how they combine 3 shots into one, but it works well. I did test single-shot camera mode, and got a sharp image, however SureScan creates a significantly superior accurate reproduction of the original page.


SafeInCloud password manager mini-review

May 20, 2015 — BarryK
We all have this problem: heaps of passwords to remember. Heck, not just passwords, but lots and lots of personal and business data, stuff that is sensitive and could be used for identity theft if an unscrupulous person got hold of it.

There is an alternative. As I discovered recently, password managers have come a long way. Modern ones are not just for passwords, they can store everything. That is, they do not just have the traditional old "login:password" fields. Now, they are completely customisable, allowing you to add many types of fields, including, login, password, URL, email, phone number, pin, notes.
Furthermore, in phones, they integrate with the system and link automatically with the email client, phone dialer, sms messenger, etc.

So, we can "put all our eggs in one basket", have a single encrypted file with our entire identity in it, and one master password.
Typically, this file is saved online, using a Cloud service such as Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can access it from multiple phones and computers.

This is exciting, but isn't it also a bit scary? That master password has to be uncrackable. Unlike other passwords -- if you try to login to PayPal for example, you can only try so many times -- so it seems reasonable that a less-than-uncrackable password will suffice.

Then your uncrackable master password has to be something that you can remember. Actually, these are two opposing goals. Anyway, you can devise a reasonably uncrackable password of 8 or 9 characters, that you can train yourself to remember.

So, I read lots of reviews of the main password managers for Android in the marketplace. I settled on SafeInCloud, purchased for AU$6.49 from here:

A nice overview is to be found at the developer's website:

Actual usage is extremely easy, in fact a pleasure. It is a very good idea to spend some time thinking about what "templates" and "tags" you want.
For example, I created a "Contact" template, and assigned it a default "People" tag. This means that SafeInCloud has also become my people database, and a very nice job it does of that -- I tested the phone-number and email fields, they work great -- clicking a phone-number field brings up the Android dialer, with option to phone or sms. A URL can launch the internal browser.

I am saving to Google Drive, though it can also save locally -- so you can back it up to an SD card if you wish.

Regarding online logins, there are security issues with using the clipboard, as discussed here:

SafeInCloud gets around this by using a builtin browser. I tested this, it works fine.

There is auto-fill for Android Chrome, but only for Lollipop. I have KitKat. I presume that Lollipop has a more secure way of performing auto-fill.

Absolutely love it, however, I decided to stop using it, for now anyway. There is something that to me seems to be the achille's heel of SafeInCloud, and that is entry of the master password.

For security reasons, the program will time-out, or after having lost focus, and need the master password to be re-entered. So, I found myself typing in this master password many times ...which got me thinking, and worrying.

Malware can sniff the keyboard. Can you guarantee that you don't have such a sniffing malware in your phone or PC? This problem is discussed here:

SafeInCloud uses the Android keyboard, and this is what I identified as the achille's heel. I contacted the developer and asked if there is any plan to implement a "virtual keyboard" -- the developer Andrey promptly replied, yes, but he cannot say when.

There are some other password managers that do have a virtual keyboard, such as DataVault, Steganos, LastPass, KeePass2Android and Password Safe.

Oh, I should add that SafeInCloud supports the fingerprint scanner in Android and iPhones. If the developer can expand that to some of the other Android phones now emerging with fingerprint scanners, that will be great.
However, a master password is still required, and it is saved in the phone. So, the master password will still need to be entered once, via a keyboard. Then there is the security issue of it being stored, encrypted, in the phone.

The master password
I played around, trying to find that elusive master password, both uncrackable and rememberable. One problem is that different password checkers give different results.

Here is some discussion on password strength:
And here is the author's "zxcvbn" online checker:
-- this is the estimator that SafeInCloud uses.

I came up with a 9-character password that the zxcvbn checker reported will take centuries to crack. However, another checker reported it as weak. Hmmm. My password has a slightly repetitive pattern, non-phonetic, non-English, but I reckon that a cracker algorithm could hunt for such patterns, so I doubt the accuracy of the zxcvbn checker.


OfficeSuite Pro, PhotoSuite Pro, Photo Studio Pro mini-reviews

May 16, 2015 — BarryK
Photo Studio Pro
I recently installed Photo Studio Pro. As I am writing reviews, I am purchasing the paid versions of apps, to unlock their full potential. There is also a Photo Studio free version. I paid AU$5.09 from the Google Play Store:

I bought it after reading lots of reviews, however, what I found is that it is somewhat lacking in "core functionality". That is, it is less of a paint editor, more of a photo editor.

I like to do low-level stuff, like convert between RGB and indexed colours, and posterizing to reduce the number of colours (and hence file size).
To my surprise, it doesn't even offer posterizing. Heaps of special effects, that might be interesting for those who want to post-process photos in a manner that I consider "superficial".

I am sure it is a great app for many people. But, I am still searching...

OfficeSuite 8 Pro
I came across what looks like an excellent paint/photo editor, named PhotoSuite 4, by MobiSystems. Then I noticed that they also offer an office suite, OfficeSuite 8. The docs on the free version state that if you purchase the pro version, you also get PhotoSuite. Quoting:

 • Security features - work with password protected files
 • Convert PDF to Word, Excel, or ePub
 • Track changes with multiple author support
 • QuickPDF Scanner - easily scan documents and images with your camera
 • PhotoSuite Professional - MobiSystems' powerful photo editing app
 • QuickWrite predictive keyboard - quicken your typing based on usage patterns
 • Microsoft Compatibility Font Pack - view documents the way they're meant to be seen with officially licensed office fonts
 • Spell check - make sure your important documents are error free.

Well, there is no "premium" for sale, only "pro", so I bought that, for AU$12.56. Immediately after installing, it popped up a window saying that the Microsoft Compatibility Font Pack should be installed to get proper compatibility with Microsoft Office, so I went along with that, costing me an extra AU$12.58.

You can guess what is coming next -- PhotoSuite is not included. So, I bought it, despite beginning to think these people are rip-off artists. It cost AU$6.40:

So misleading, downright sneaky I reckon.

Regarding OfficeSuite Pro, I experimented with editing a .docx file. Yeah, it works, however the UI is the typical clumsy thing I have come to expect with most Android apps.

There are some things that make it just plain frustrating to use, such as the lack of precise control over zoom factor -- you have to fiddle about with finger-pinching to try and get it right.

There is not HTML WYSIWYG, which rules it out for me. Yes, you can open a HTML file, but it just opens as a text file.

Softmaker Textmaker HD does support HTML WYSIWYG. Also, the UI is nowhere near the usability of Softmaker Office (and Textmaker) HD.

PhotoSuite 4 Pro
This app is quite good. Apart from the feeling that I wanted to stay away from MobiSystems, I found myself liking PhotoSuite 4 Pro.

Ah, it has "posterize", and it works very well. I cropped an image, posterized it, and was able to select percentage of colour reduction, I chose 50%, and saved it. That's nice, it actually has "Save as..." -- an obvious thing that apps should have, sadly lacking in so many Android apps.

Anyone know of another Android paint editor that does posterize? I have not yet found one that will convert RGB to indexed colours (which is another technique for reducing file size).

Tags: light

Andromium OS on Android

May 14, 2015 — BarryK
Puppy Forum member 'don570' posted about Andromium OS:

Link to here:

Andromium OS website:

I watched one of the videos. The developer mentioned that Chromecast can be used, however is laggy (I can confirm that!). He has posted this overview of MHL:

Also this blog about Chromecast:

My Mlais M52 has OTG but does not support MHL. This means that I am definitely on the lookout for a phone that does, and thanks to the above blog post, which clarifies the capabilities of the different MHL standards, I want MHL version 3.0.

So where does this leave Ubuntu Touch OS? Interesting question. Canonical has been reinventing the wheel for the last couple of years, whereas Andromium OS seems to be leveraging on what already exists. Furthermore, Andromium OS is already available, from the Google Play Store.

I will be testing it on my phone of course. Will report back!


Computing on-the-go: the complete kit

May 13, 2015 — BarryK
The agenda of the "traveling light" category of my blog is to explore means of reducing the volume and weight while traveling. The type of traveling I engage in includes backpacking in the wilderness, to international jet travel.

Regarding the latter, I travel with a carry-on bag only. On previous occasions I have also carried a laptop, however my objective is to totally remove the need for a laptop, replaced with a smartphone only.

Is it feasible to do all of one's computing on only a smartphone? I need to do a lot of keyboard input, plus a bit of graphics, so the input devices do need to be practical/productive/usable, and the screen size/layout needs to be usable.
The short answer to this question is "yes!".

I have been putting together a smartphone "travel kit", consisting of all the bits and pieces that I will need to take. For sometime I was searching for the "ideal" Bluetooth mouse, and found it recently, reported here:

The Logitech T630 mouse continues to be a very pleasant experience to use. I never have any problem with pairing dropping out. If the phone goes to sleep, it is only necessary to move the mouse and the phone wakes up and the pointer appears on-screen. If I power-off the mouse, the phone recognises that and enables the internal keyboard, then power-on the mouse and the phone recognises and brings back the mouse-pointer and disables the internal keyboard.

HB-2000 Bluetooth keyboard
The next item I definitely need is a keyboard. I need to do a lot of typing while traveling, and on-screen typing is too painful. The keyboard has to be small and light, and have a USB-rechargeable battery, designed for Android, and have a micro-USB socket (not a mini-USB socket designed for Apple phones).

There are suitable, but expensive, keyboards from Logitech and Microsoft, however, I discovered one that ticks all the boxes and is very cheap, only about AU$24, or US$18, the HB-2000:

No problem pairing with my phone, and it is a delight to use. The keys have a very pleasant click-action. Yes, the keyboard is small, however I quickly adjusted to it -- it probably helps that I don't have large chunky hands.

I tested what happens if I leave it alone for awhile. The phone goes to sleep, and pressing a key does not awaken it. However, jiggling the mouse does awaken the phone, and restored the current app. The keyboard itself sleeps after 25 minutes inactivity, however a single key-press wakes it up after 3 seconds.

The complete kit
So, what does the complete laptop-replacement look like? Here it is:

Cute hey!
The holder for the phone I bought from here:

...notice the knobs on the front stick up a bit too high. It is plastic, and I might cut it down a bit. Or, checkout some other foldable holders.

Using the kit
I have Softmaker Textmaker HD installed on this phone. It is only a 5.5 inch screen, and the Softmaker Office HD suite is intended for tablets, however, with the mouse I find the 5.5 inch screen very usable. This is a snapshot of Textmaker HD on my phone:

There is one absolutely marvelous thing that I like about using Textmaker HD with mouse, and that is support for mouse-over highlighting. This is something that we have taken for granted for decades on the desktop, but is lacking with the touch interfaces.
Moving the mouse pointer over any clickable field/button/area/link and it prelights. The Office HD suite supports prelighting, unfortunately, most other Android apps don't -- they do work with the mouse, but have no support for anything mouse-like such as mouse-over. On the desktop of course we also have tooltips that can popup on mouse-over, which the Office HD suite does not support, probably no Android app does.

I can type away, and be just about as productive as when I am using my laptop. Obviously though, a 5.5 inch screen is a tiny thing to have to squint at. It does work, Textmaker HD does a good job of adjusting its UI to the available space, however I reckon a slightly bigger phone would tweak the trade offs to be just right for me.

My Mlais M52, used in these snapshots, I purchased a month or so ago, see here:

The 5.5 inch screen is 720p. I also own a 7 inch OrientPhone, however, I have found it to be impractical to carry in a pocket. Even a waist belt pouch is impractical.
So, I have narrowed it down: I think that the "ideal" phone has a 1080p screen about 6 to 6.3 inches, with narrow bezels, and hopefully not more than about 180 grams. Of course, I also want dual-sim and SD card slot.

If I am staying somewhere with a TV, I can use its screen. This can be done two ways, either with a Chromecast or an MHL adaptor. I reported on Chromecast here:

I would prefer to use MHL I think, which is just a simple adaptor that plugs into the micro-USB socket on the phone, and allows simultaneous charging of the phone. It also requires a HDMI cable. Not too much extra stuff to carry. Note, my M52 does not support MHL, which is another reason to consider upgrading sometime.

The future
I have traveled to India many times, and intend to go back there soon. I stay in very cheap accommodation, and I always worried when I went out and left my laptop behind in the room. No more. In future, I will take the phone with me, in an inside pocket. Keyboard and mouse are items that can be sacrificed, easily replaceable.

This leads me onto another topic, how to carry the phone, passport and other documents securely on your person at all times, never leaving them behind. I have designed, and made, a special vest to be worn inside a shirt, however this is a topic for a later report!

Regarding a slightly bigger phone, yes, that is on the agenda. There are some cheap phones that come close to the required specs, however, I am hoping that later in 2015 there will be one that really "hits the mark" for me, particularly regarding weight.

I might as well ramble on a bit more... in my dotage (I'm 65), my computing needs have become simpler ...just some writing, a bit of graphics... to the point where I am even thinking that this phone travel kit could become my only computer system, even when sitting at home at my desk. Probably with MHL and small TV/monitor.

If you have any thoughts about the potential of this computing travel kit, note that user-comments are turned off for this blog, due to security problems, however, you can send me feedback via the "Contact Me" link at top of the page, and I will consider posting it as a comment here.