Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Android wave rolls onward...

Today's announcement of the new iPhone 4S appears to have been something of an anti-climax. The specs reveal  a sizeable improvement in speed and capacity over the iPhone 4. The processor is faster, though it isn't clear to me how much faster. Fast enough the iPhone 4S can now handle 1080p video capture over the iPhone 4's 720p. The camera is 8mp instead of 5mp. You get more storage. The graphics chip is faster.

The phone appears to come with both GSM and CDMA support, so one phone can be used on all US providers. That particular feature will be useless in New Zealand as there won't be any CDMA left here in less than a year when Telecom NZ shut down their CDMA network completely.

But the screen is still only 3.5", puny compared to the 4.3" and 4.5" displays more or less standard on the Android phones in the same class. To put it in perspective, the Samsung Galaxy S II android phone is arguably a better spec overall - larger screen, in particular, and it costs a fair bit less than an iPhone 4S and you don't have to use iTunes.....unless you want to....and then you can use apps like iSyncr or DoubleTwist.

There doesn't appear to be a compelling case for an Apple iPhone 4 owner to upgrade, though maybe an iPhone 3 owner from a couple of years back might see value in making the move.

This iPhone 4S feels like it was programmed in a couple of years ago to milk some more cash from the growing band of Apple faithful while at the same time offering an incremental improvement...and Apple controls the pace. I'm not sure Apple could see how successful Android was going to be when they made the decisions that defined the iPhone 4S. I wonder if they are re-evaluating their plans going forward in light of their market share being 'contained' by Android at 28% of new phones sold - compared to Android's 56% - while the rest of the smartphone competitors have wilted badly in the latest quarter.

As usual, we'll see. It's been an awesome ride and I've had a chance to own some truly amazing phones over the past couple of years. My current favourite is my LG Opitmus 3D. Yes, it still runs Froyo (Android v2.2) and it 'only' has 512MB of RAM (like the iPhone 4), but it is dual-core 1GHz and performs very well compared to anything else out there. But above all I love the 3D display and taking 3D pics and videos. The higher spec phones like the SGS II and the HTC Sensation (I have owned them both) seem....flat by comparison.

As for an iPhone 4S....It's looking like Android is already in the lead and its only going to get wider. New and better phones due out soon....and again soon after that.

Monday, July 11, 2011

App of the Day: Google+

I just got into Google+ this week. I installed the Android app immediately. It's a worthwhile front end to Google+. It supports the Stream, Photos, Circles, your profile and Huddles.

There...that's the summary. Now for a little detail.

Google+ is a social network. It lets you put people into "Circles" based on whatever criteria you might imagine. You can then post your content and list the Circles you wish to see it. You also have the option of making your post "Public" so anyone can see it. You can post text, links, photos and videos.

Google search provides a way to search into Google+ and find what you want. People are working out new ways to find things in Google+ all the time and posting tips.

The app also has an "Instant Upload" function that will upload photos and videos to a private library on Google+ attached to your account. I've tried it and it works. My phone uploaded over 700 photos and several very large videos and they all remain private unless I choose to share each one...and then only the ones I shared are visible. At present, you get unlimited storage for photo and video uploads with the sole restriction that videos can't be longer than 15 whatever resolution. If you're paying for your 3G data you obviously want to be doing that over wifi only.

A "Huddle" is a group IM chat function. You can invite people into a huddle and everyone can see each others contributions. I tried it. It works. We had a little trouble finding each other at first, but after we added each other's gmail addresses to our respective Contacts in Gmail, we were able to locate other in Google+ and start a Huddle. This was only a day or so after the service launched in a limited way, so hopefully they will have that problem sorted soon.

Not all the Google+ web-based functionality is supported the the Google+ app. You can't do video or audio "Hangouts". It doesn't work through the web browser, either. I tried. You also can't see or use "Sparks", which are your custom searches for items of interest.....presumably to spark ideas in your head based on what it finds.

Overall? I'd get this app. It's stable. The functionality it has works. The Instant Upload feature could be an excellent way to share your photos....or just back them up to the cloud into free storage as you go along.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

App of the Day: iSyncr WiFi Add-on

I'd been using iSyncr for a while with iTunes, but to be honest, I wasn't actually buying too much music on iTunes since it had a brain fart and wiped out $150 worth of my music.

But I recently set up a PC with Windows 7 Professional and iTunes was one of the applications my daughter uses a fair bit to sort out music and playlists for his iPod.....and I got back into it.

OK, so I bought some songs. Time to check out how to best handle them with my Samsung Galaxy S Android phone.

I bought the iSyncr Wifi Add-on (US$1 / NZ$1.22). It works with iSyncr 'regular' except you don't need a USB cable to sync. You do need a Windows or Mac PC for the PC 'server' of the iSyncr app to run on. (I have not tried it in WINE on Linux...mainly because I don't run iTunes on Linux - yet).

The app let me choose the categories I wanted to sync (music, movies, photos...etc) and then it just syncs them. Playlists, too. DRM-protected movies do not sync. Music comes across fine as mp4 files as usual if you use iSyncr. That's what I was mainly interested in and it works great.

If you have any use for iSyncr then I recommend this add-on. Getting rid of the USB cable is just that wee bit better.

My New HTC Sensation

I received my new HTC Sensation smart phone today. It's compatible with the Telecom XT network (and AT&T in the US; Rogers, Telus and Bell in Canada; Telstra in Australia).

I cut straight to the chase, ripped the box open....and made this video!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Lifestyle transition from 'Big Iron' to 'Mobile Man'

I worked on the Big Iron (mainframes) in the 1980s as a mainframe operator and systems programmer. I moved to PCs and servers in the 90s. In the Naughties I became a citizen of Laptop Nation. Each step enabled me to be more free and more mobile and to access more "stuff": multimedia, Internet.....anything digital.

Now? I'm Mobile Man. If the device can't transmit, I don't want it. Dead weight. Why would I want a camera that can't instantly send images to wherever? Or a PC I can't just put in my shirt pocket?

I gave away my laptop over a year ago to my uni-engaged daughter. My main computer, camera (still & video), stereo (nice old word), comms device of all types (email, txt, FB, Twitter, phone), is my (multi-tasking, access any data anywhere, any time) Android smart phone.

The last bastions of PC required-ness are the touch-type keyboard for lots of words in a short space of time; playing big games on a big screen; and video editing....and even then it's a close-run thing on all counts.

The SlideIt "swipe" soft keyboard I got from the Android Market for lunch money allows me to quickly type a lot of words very accurately by just swiping my finger around the screen. I'm writing longer and longer things this way.

My phone has an HDMI out port, so if I had an HDMI TV ( I don't - my bad), I could already be playing phone games on a huge screen.

For video editing. "Vid-Trim Pro" lets me me basic selection of the chunks of video I want. Usually thats all I need anyway. The PC still does the heavy lifting.

But on all counts....I can see the day very soon when a large screen phone or phone / tablet / netbook device will do it all.

When I get my hands on one of those, I'll be Liberated Super Mobile Man. If you get on that bus first, save me a seat. I won't be long.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Best M001 Firmware? "Relax v1.9.6" by Lefeudedieu

If you haven't tried "Relax v1.9.6" by Lefeudedieu on your Eken M001, give it a go ASAP.

  1. The Android Market works right from the start. No fix. No fiddling. It just works.
  2. It's rooted and all you have to do to get root access is enable USB debugging in the Settings -> Applications -> Development, then go to a terminal and type in "SU" and allow access to the SU app.
  3. It sees and uses a Linux swap partition if you have on your sdcard as the second partition. Mine is 128MB.
  4. It's fast. ADW.Launcher leaps into service when asked. The Home screen switcher doesn't lag. The M001 is as responsive as I have ever seen it.
  5. It looks great. Lefeudedieu knows how to theme his firmwares and he does a great job.
  6. Based off the lastest firmware update from Eken - v1.9.1.

The only "bug" I found in v1.9.6 is French as the default language. Which isn't really a bug. It's just not the language I wanted. Easily fixed: Go into Menu -> Settings and change the region to whatever supported language you need it to be. It takes affect immediately.

Anyone familiar with the M001 and similar tablets will know that access to the Android Market is a constant issue because these devices aren't phones and so far no one had been able to automate the Market setup. Users who wanted access to the Market had to mess about with creating an "androidID" in the Android SDK emulator and then using sqlite3 on the PC to insert it into a file on their devices. For many users, this was a bridge too far. Relax v1.9.6 fixes that completely. I signed into the Market and downloaded an app. I shut down and re-booted and went to the Market and downloaded another app. It "Just Worked" (tm). Yes. Finally.

Folks.....this is the firmware we've been waiting for. Get it on.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Android: Fragmentation? Or choice?

I've seen some articles and blog posts around advancing the view Android is "fragmented" and the telcos are ruining it by putting their own user interfaces on their phones. I suppose might look that way to some, particularly those used to the Apple iPhone paradigm: One phone. It's black.

I thought it might be fun to see how one might "spin" the reality of many versions of Android on a wide variety of phones from several different phone makers, as well as the issue of telcos offering their own user interfaces with their phones. I'll try to keep it brief.

First, "Fragmentation". What is fragmented? Yes, there are phones selling today with one of Android v1.5, 1.6, 2.1 and 2.2 loaded. Each new Android release has offered new functionality and features. There are good reasons to want to own a phone with the latest release. But that comes at a price. You need to buy a phone with enough memory and a fast enough processor to run Android v2.1 or v2.2.

What if you just want to make a cheap phone and push the smart phone boundary well down into the "feature phone" range? Then you have to load up Android v1.5 or v1.6 as they cope very well on slower phones with less RAM. Like the LG GT540 Optimus for NZ$399? It's an incredible phone for that price..and runs Android v1.6.

I own an Eken M001 tablet with 128MB of RAM and a processor that *barely* does 300MHz. It runs Android v1.6. It can't really run anything later. It's just too low-spec. It also has no GPS, no camera and no accelerometer. I bought it to see just how BAD it could be. Blow me's not bad at all. It's actually quite good. It happily runs virtually every Android app there is that doesn't need those things. Any limitations aren't in the OS, they are in the device itself and what the hardware can't do. But I got it for NZ$120 (US$80-ish) and for all intents and purposes I have a touchscreen netbook for that paltry sum. What a bargain.

So is that "fragmentation"? Or is it Android demonstrating it can offer a powerful functional platform at many price points on diverse hardware? Buy the one you want. You can't really go too far wrong as almost all the apps will run on any of them. Where some see "fragmentation" my blurry eyes have so far only been able to discern choice...and lots of it.

Can Google stop this? Why would they want to? Android is infesting every nook and cranny of the handheld device paradigm. It's Open Source. Anyone can take the source for ANY released Android version and deploy it on whatever device they care to port it to. Remember, the apps will run on anything - separate from the underlying hardware. That's been a computing Holy Grail for decades. Why would anyone want to stop that now that we've finally - almost - arrived?

Secondly, the telco user interfaces. Yeah...I find that annoying. But it only becomes unbearably annoying if it prevents me from downloading and installing one of the dozen or so Home apps available in the Market...thus replacing whatever the telco put on with something I like better. Open Home, aHome, GDE, DxTop, Panda Home, Home++, ADW.Launcher, Launcher Pro, Helix Luancher....and so on. I've run them all at one time or another. Whatever the telcos put on, I don't care as long as I can download one of these - or some other - and have whatever UI I want on my phone. I've owned an HTC Magic, an Acer Liquid and a Nexus One. I could make any of them look like whatever I wanted it to look like. That's one of the cool things about Android. If you want your phone to look and act like every other phone, then get an iPhone. There's only one model and it only comes in black. Would you buy a car that way? Or do you want 2-door or 4-door? 1.3L or a honking great V8? Hard top or convertible? that car 'fragemntation" that confuses the poor old car buyers? Maybe all they wanted was the Model black. :-)

So I don't really understand the UI confusion thing if one ofthe best aspects of Android is allowing the user to replace the UI almost completely with one of many apps created to do exactly that.  Where others apparently see eyes see choice and flexibility and more power for me, the phone owner.

The bottom line is the same apps run on almost all the phones - with the exceptions being more a function of the hardware in the device itself (phone versus tablet vs netbook) and the progression of capability that occurs from the lower end of the market toward the top end.

I can't really see Google being unhappy with an eco-system that lets anyone run Android on anything...and virtually all the apps work if the device itself can support it.

I've so far only been talking about stock, un-rooted phones. It's worth bearing in mind that almost every Android-bearing phone released so far has been rooted and each phone owner can gain system-wide access to their phone if they wish to go that route. Many of the more popular phones have very active communities of independent (and competent) developers creating their own versions of Android from the publicly available source code for the system itself. So if you *really* don't like what the telco did to your phone (but you bought it anyway), you don't have leave it that way. You have choices.

Android 3.0? Bring it on! I'm sure I'll find something to run it on.