Saturday, April 28, 2012

NBA stars have game off the court, too

Editor's note: John Gaudiosi is co-founder and editor-in-chief of video syndication network. He's covered video games for hundreds of outlets over the past 20 years and specializes in the convergence of Hollywood and games.

(CNN) -- Between games, practices, travel and promotional appearances, you'd think that the NBA's multimillionaire stars would be too busy.

But most NBA players say they find time to play video games every day. In fact, the NBA claims that 85 percent of its players are gamers.

"I would say I play about three or four hours every night," says Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard. "I'm a night owl, so after games I'm up till about 4 or 5 a.m. playing video games."

"That's all I do," says Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. "If I'm not on the court, I got the controller in my hand."

"With the schedule we have this year, I don't get to play as much as I want to," says LeBron James of the Miami Heat. "But whenever I get some down time I play some Xbox."

As the NBA playoffs get under way, half the league's players are done for the season, giving them more free hours to fire up their video game consoles. The other half will have extra time off between playoff games, thanks to the league's stretched-out postseason schedule.

"I play a little bit, but I played more during the summer," says Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics. "This season is so crammed, it's tough."

The league's rising young stars aren't immune from the thrills of gaming, either.

Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers) and John Wall (Washington Wizards), made a pit stop while in Orlando for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game to check out the new "NBA Live 13" game at Electronic Arts' Tiburon studio -- the developer behind sports franchises like "Madden NFL 12," "NCAA Football 12" and the new "Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 13."

NBA fans will have a choice of simulation games next season when "NBA Live 13" tips off against "NBA 2K13." It's been a few years now that gamers, and NBA players, have had no choice in pro-hoops games (outside of the arcade game, EA Sports NBA Jam).

"I'm excited they brought 'NBA Live' back," says Durant. "I haven't talked to anybody yet (about the cover). I'm sure I'll get a call here in a few hours or a few days or so. I haven't heard about it, this is my first time. I'm excited."

Durant was the cover athlete for "NBA Elite 11," a rebranding of EA Sports' basketball franchise that was canceled because of horrible community reaction to the glitchy gameplay. But he's still up for being on the cover of the new game.

"I'm a '2K' person now," says Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers. "I might give 'NBA Live 13' a try, but '2K' has taken over the basketball scene."

Although a knee injury to New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin knocked him out for the season, he's still playable in "NBA 2K12" -- and his gameplay has improved thanks to not one, but two player rating upgrades by developer Visual Concepts.

"I actually don't know the exact numbers, but I know for a while I was in the 50s, I believe," Lin says. "I think ESPN had me as the 467th best player out of 500 or something like that coming into the season."

Now that Lin has earned a 75 in the game, up from 56 when he was a bench player, he's not focusing on how high his player rating can go.

"I'm not really too worried about that," he says. "I don't have a set number or goal, but it's cool to be able to hear about progressing. That's the important thing, is that me and my team continue to improve. As long as we're headed up, I think we're good to go."

New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is happy for his teammate's player rating upgrade.

"It's getting up there," he says. "It should be in the 90s. If I have a chance to play '2K12,' he's definitely in my starting lineup."

But not everyone is crazy about their NBA 2K12 player ratings. And yes, they do check out their in-game attributes.

"I like some of the ratings, but I feel like some of them could be increased a little bit," says Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward. "Defensively, I think they've got my grade a little low. I think they had one of my teammates, Al Jefferson, a better perimeter defender than me. I was like, 'Come on now, that can't happen.' With time, they'll probably increase them, so I'm not too worried about it."

Utah Jazz teammate Jeremy Evans, winner of the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, would also like to see his player ratings in NBA '2K12' improved.

"When I play '2K12,' and sometimes I play as myself, I get mad," he says. "It's like, 'I would have dunked that in the NBA.' It's a great game, but sometimes they don't actually make you like you want to be made."

Evans grew up on sports games like "Double Dribble" and "NBA Live" on the Nintendo 64 and now plays "FIFA 12" and the "Call of Duty" series.

When it comes to video games, some NBA players will try anything.

"I played games, basketball games, baseball games, Donkey Kong, and all of that," says Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin. "Actually, probably my favorite game to play is 'Tiger Woods Golf.' It's always been fun. I've played it for a long time."

So the next time you're on Xbox Live, it may just be an NBA All-Star in that game world with you.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Barnes & Noble's new glowing Nook is a winner

(Mashable) -- Sometimes you just want to read. Digital's best answer for that simple urge is the now venerable E Ink e-reader. These monochromatic devices are not only holding on in the face of stiff LCD-based tablet competition, they're innovating. The latest update comes from Barnes & Noble, which added an LED-based "GlowLight" to its Nook Simple Touch e-reader.

The 6.5 x 5-inch device is not remarkably different from the e-reader Barnes & Noble introduced last year. Its dimensions are, in fact, virtually unchanged. But despite the new lighting tech, this reader is actually 5% lighter than the previous model. It's also somewhat lighter than Amazon's Kindle Touch (6.975 ounces versus 7.5 ounces).

Both Wi-Fi-only readers cost $139. You can get the Amazon Kindle Touch for $99, but then you have to accept special offers (essentially ads) in place of the screen savers.

More importantly, the Simple Touch price includes the power adapter, while Kindle sells it separately for approximately $15.

Still, what truly sets the latest Nook Simple Touch apart from all other E Ink-based e-readers is the patent-pending GlowLight. It makes the lightweight reader ready for night reading without the need for an overhead, clip-on or external light. By contrast, Amazon sells a cover with a built-in LED light for the Kindle Keyboard 3G.

Barnes & Noble is not the first to offer an E Ink reader with built-in LED lighting. Sony did it first a few years ago, but eventually discontinued the larger and more expensive e-reader.

The Simple Touch uses a single array of LED's nestled along the top edge of the device (above the screen, but below the touch-sensitive, anti-glare layer). They light the entire display.

I put the ereader to the ultimate test: bedtime reading. My wife, who was beside me, read by the super-bright light of her Apple iPad 2. I held the much smaller ereader in my hand, and pressed the physical Nook "n" button for two seconds to enable the light . Nook Simple Touch's GlowLight is adjustable, via a touch-screen menu selection.

So I cranked it all the way up (the default, which was set to about 1/3 power, was not bright enough for me). The light across the screen isn't perfectly uniform, but it is highly readable and very comfortable on the eyes. Even after my wife powered down and went to sleep, she didn't complain about my GlowLight.

I also found the touchscreen, which works either with a tap or a sweep of the finger (forward to turn the page and back to turn back the page), worked perfectly and made me wish my Kindle 2 was also a touch-screen device.

Barnes & Noble promises that the Nook Simple Touch's battery life will last for 30 days with an hour of GlowLight-enabled reading a night. I've had the ereader a few days and charged it once.

My original plan was to leave the GlowLight running and test if it could run, as Barnes & Noble told me, for 60 continuous hours. The device's own auto-sleep settings scuttled that plan by putting the Simple Touch to sleep after five minutes of inactivity.

Overall, Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is a winner. It's easy to setup (entering a Wi-Fi password is easy thanks to the touch screen), feels great in the hand, slips into my back pocket and holds thousands of books.

The interface is smartly designed. I like the store design and how easy it is to buy things (pretty much a match for the Kindle store) and found the E Ink screen crisp and responsive.

My only tiny criticism is the power button on the back. You use it to fully turn off the device (and turn it on) and it wiggles a bit too much for my taste. The good news is that, considering the battery life, it's unlikely you'll use it very often.

If I were buying a new E Ink reader right now, I'd go for the Barnes & Noble Simple Touch with GlowLight. It's slightly more affordable than the Kindle Touch (when you include the charger), feature-sensible and now has the killer enhancement: a built-in light.

Those who pre-ordered the e-reader could receive it as early as this week. Barnes & Noble reps tell us that limited quantities of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight will be available in stores next month.

What do you think? Would you buy this E Ink e-reader or have you permanently moved on to tablets? Share your thoughts in the comments.

See the original article on

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

'No permission' Android apps can see and share your data

Editor's note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for She is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and media consultant whose blog,, explores how people communicate in the online age.

(CNN) -- Savvy Android users tend to be wary of installing apps that request seemingly unnecessary permissions. When an app wants access to data or functions on your phone, such as your contacts list or the ability to send text messages, it can signal potential security or malware risks.

But Android apps that request no permissions at all (such as this Magic 8 ball app) are generally considered pretty free of security risks.

But are they?

Earlier this month, a test conducted by the Leviathan Security Group showed that even "no-permissions" Android apps can access potentially sensitive data on your phone -- and transmit that data elsewhere via your phone's Web browser.

Specifically, Paul Brodeur of Leviathan created a test app that requested no permissions and installed it on some Android devices. He was able to scan the phone's memory card (SD card) and display a list of all non-hidden files on it.

"While it's possible to fetch the contents of all those files, I'll leave it to someone else to decide what files should be grabbed and which are going to be boring," he wrote.

He also could see which apps were installed on the phone, and list some files belonging to those apps. He observed that this might allow nefarious people to find and exploit permission-related vulnerabilities in certain apps. Last year the Skype Android app presented this kind of problem. (Skype fixed that problem.)

And for phones that operate on GSM cell networks (in the U.S., that's AT&T and T-Mobile), Leviathan's test app was able to read identifying information about the phone from the SIM card, plus some other information.

Finally, since no-permissions apps can launch the phone's Web browser, that provides a potential route to transmit some data from the phone.

While Brodeur's test app was designed to seek out such security lapses. "It's trivial for any installed app to execute these actions without any user interaction," he wrote.

While this may sound worrying, don't panic. What Leviathan discovered probably should concern Android app developers and Google, rather than consumers who use Android phones and tablets.

"What this research found is really little cracks in Android -- not great big security holes you could drive a truck through," said Kevin Mahaffey, co-founder and chief technical officer of Lookout Mobile Security, a leading provider of security apps and services for Android devices. "That's why this kind of research is so valuable -- it ultimately helps make Android more secure."

According to Mahaffey, the bigger problem is not that people might maliciously exploit these security cracks to steal from users or compromise their phones -- but rather that many app developers are "sloppy."

For instance, developers sometimes build apps that store user data (such as usernames and passwords) in ways that could be easily accessed through the security cracks Leviathan found. Or the app might open the phone's Web browser to allow functionality that could be handled other ways.

For instance, reported that the photo gallery that comes pre-installed on Android phones by Samsung, LG, and some other manufacturers stores unencrypted copies of complete addresses associated with photos. They found in a completely unencrypted file "a list of locations which matched those of our home, work, family, significant other, friends, and even holiday destinations."

These were not GPS coordinates, but rather full addresses: door number, street, town, zip code, and country. TheVerge noted that this address data apparently was generated by Picasa Web Albums. Google acquired Picasa in 2004.

"There is no reason for the application to be caching locations of private photos completely unencrypted," wrote Aaron Souppouris for The Verge. "This was information that we'd never given Google, either on a phone or within Picasa. To make matters worse, Picasa Web-Album syncing had been switched off a week before the information was found."

There's not a lot that the average consumer can do in terms of spotting whether apps are storing unnecessary data in insecure ways.

The best practice is still to notice which permissions apps require before installing them, don't install apps that seem to require too many permissions, and report to the developer any suspicious activity by an app.

If the developer is not responsive or seems evasive or shady when you report suspicious app behavior, Mahaffey advises alerting Google's Android security team by sending an e-mail to

"That channel is mainly used by developers, but it's worth letting them know if you have concerns about an app and you aren't getting useful responses from the developer," he said.

The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of Amy Gahran.