Daily NK has obtained North Korea’s newest smartphone, the Pyongyang 2423. It appears to be North Korea’s latest model, with the product box stamped with the date October 2018.
Security improvements over the previous 2318 model
Daily NK put the Pyongyang 2423 through its paces, with the latest model revealing strengthened security measures. While smartphones are generally considered devices that can freely connect to the world’s information, for the closed-off nation of North Korea, its features have been heavily restricted. Restrictions on smartphone technology show that the North Korean authorities still regard the spread of information as a threat.
With the country’s previous smartphones and tablets, it was possible to access internal folders by connecting them to a computer via USB, but the Pyongyang 2423’s internal folders cannot be accessed in such a way. This means that external files cannot be transferred to North Korea’s latest smartphone. However, it remains unclear whether it is fundamentally impossible for an external computer to access the smartphone or whether it’s only possible to access it through a separate program such as iTunes.
When using a separate SD card, the user is asked to select between “use as a memory card” or “use as internal memory.” If the user chooses “use as internal memory,” it then requests initialization of the SD card so that it can only be used on the current phone. When “use as a memory card” is selected, initialization is not required but folder access is blocked.
If an external SD card with files such as JPG or PNG image files, or PDF files is inserted, all files are deleted. However, some other file types are not targeted.
In the user manual for North Korea’s app store “My Comrade Gil 4.1,” the user is instructed to “purchase” the authentication file and download the source file. This actually serves to provide permission to run the app, and does not require an actual purchase from the app store.
An authentication file is needed to run the app. In Google Play (for Android), the most well-known app store, the user does not need to download a separate authentication file because the phone completes the authentication process when the file is uploaded.
The spread of pirated copies of Android-based apps are a serious issue, so while the developers are working hard to contain the spread, it seems that the North Korean authorities have partitioned authorized files from source files in order to prevent illegal copies and arbitrary installations.
Depending on the source file format (APK, PDF, MP4), the authentication files are all in different formats and they can only be downloaded from the app store.
The North Korean authorities are putting in efforts to stop the unauthorized distribution and installation of apps by managing security and authentication-related files in three layers (smartphone subscription information, app store user subscription information, authentication file format diversification).
The user manual recommends that the user download a source file from its homepage stating that the file size is large and data fees can be high. This implies that within North Korea there are various telecommunication networks other than 3G, such as wi-fi.
Hardware, software, and design improvements
The Pyongyang 2423 is manufactured by Checom Technology Joint Venture Company, which specializes in the production of phones and MP3 players. The company also manufactures the tablet Pyongyang 3404.
Pyongyang 2423 uses Taiwanese semiconductor company MEDIATEK Inc.’s Mt6737 chipset. The performance is slightly lower than Samsung’s 2014 Galaxy S4 and smartphones with such chipsets cost around $100-$150.
It is interesting to note that North Korean smartphones are now featuring 64-bit-supporting chipsets for the first time. Existing smartphones using chipsets with 32-bit support can perform calculations expressed in binary form up to 2 to the power of 32. Pyongyang 2323’s MT6737 64-bit chipset can calculate up to 2 to the power of 64, theoretically performing 2 times better. By using a 64-bit-supporting chipset, it’s possible that products with more than 4 gigabytes of memory will be released soon. Samsung Electronics has been using 64-bit-supporting chipsets since the release of its Galaxy Note 4, which was announced in 2014, and the US’s Apple iPhone 5S in 2013.
The operating system used by Pyongyang 2423 is Android (8.0), which was announced in August 2017. The latest version is Pie (9.0) announced last August, but smartphone manufacturers around the world have only started incorporating it into their designs since October. The majority of them are still in the testing phase, so North Korea can be considered to be using the latest operating system.
New technologies including wi-fi, fingerprint recognition, and voice recognition featured.
North Korea’s Pyongyang 2423 supports new features including wi-fi, fingerprint recognition, a new app store, navigation and an e-book purchasing service.
The Pyongyang 2423 has additional features lacking in the earlier Pyongyang 2418 model, which Daily NK obtained last year. While the Pyongyang 2423 comes with a wi-fi function, it does not recognize a domestic (South Korea) wi-fi signal and was therefore unable to connect to the internet. However, it is likely intended for use with North Korea’s recently announced domestic “Mirae (future) public free wireless data network.”
Pyongyang 2423 has ‘My Comrade Gil 4.1’ and ‘Information Service 2.0’ installed.
“My Comrade Gil 4.1” is an app made by Samhung Information Technology Exchange Company and allows games, videos and entertainment programs to be downloaded. Samhung Information Technology Exchange Company focuses on the development of programs for Android, and the company’s developers are reported to consist of people in their 20s who have graduated from major North Korean universities such as Kim Il-sung University with top grades.
“My Comrade Gil 4.1” can be downloaded with the use of points and these points can be purchased with Jonsong Card or Samhung Card. Jonsong Card is a North Korean check card that has been reported on previously, while Samhung Card is relatively obscure.
The homepage of My Comrade Gil 4.1 states that “[this app] can be used on Pyongyang 2419 and Pyongyang 2421,” suggesting that the phones are still being sold in North Korea and also supports the notion that Pyongyang 2423 is the latest model.
“Information Service 2.0” is similar to the Google’s app store “Play Store” and the user can download apps, ringtones, and wallpapers, etc. “Information Service 2.0” can be purchased with North Korea’s mobile payment system “Ullim” and points can be added with Jonsong Card.
The Pyongyang 2423 can be unlocked with a fingerprint recognition sensor located at the back. Currently, the fingerprint recognition only appears to unlock the smartphone, but may later be used to unlock finance apps.
“Kwangmyong 1.22” is an app that allows users to access e-books on North Korean society, science education, knowledge, medicine and literature. In the app, there is a “purchased books” section, which may be analogous to Apple’s “iBook.”
Reduced bezel with improved packaging and more attention to design
The Pyongyang 2423 also features significant design improvements.
The most noticeable difference is that the previous packaging boxes for the phones had typical North Korean-style images on them, while the latest packaging is more slick with a black box that only shows the product and company name. Similarly, the interior is aesthetically pleasing.
The color of the smartphone’s exterior is close to sapphire blue and the bezel has been greatly reduced. Although there is a difference in the thickness compared to the Samsung Galaxy S9, the design is quite similar.
*Translated by Yongmin Lee