Android Applications

For the last two years I’ve been using an HTC Desire. In the last few days I’ve upgraded to an HTC One X. Whilst I liked the Desire a lot, one thing that really let it down – the lack of space to install apps. I spent most of the last year with the “short of space” notification on. At times I was running a “one out, one in” policy where I could only install a new app if I removed one first.

The One X has a lot more memory, so I’m hoping that I won’t have so much problem installing apps and can try some new and interesting ones. I’ve started by installing what I consider the essential apps.

Then I installed a few apps that I used to use, but that I had to give up when I ran out of space on the Desire:

There’s one app that I used to use that I can no longer find. I think it was called Movie Finder and it listed all the films that were on at all the cinemas in London (or, perhaps, the UK). If anyone knows what it was – or can recommend a replacement – then please let me know.

I’ve installed some semi-random apps that caught my eye:

  • Gigbeat – Who seem to have beaten Songkick to producing an app that uses Songkick data.
  • Instagram – But it currently doesn’t support the camera in the One X. I’m sure that’ll come soon.
  • Night Clock
  • VirginMedia TV guide – currently just a TV guide, but it’ll be awesome when I get a Tivo as you can program it remotely.

That’s as far as it goes so far. But the Android market (sorry, I mean the “Google Play Store”) is now huge. I’m sure I’m missing out on interesting and useful apps. Or, perhaps, there are better apps available to replace the ones I’m currently using. Is Tweetdeck still the best Twitter client? Is there a better augmented reality app than Wikitude?

What am I missing out on?

Google Phone – First Impressions

I’ve now had my G1 for almost a week, so it’s time to share some first impressions.

The executive summary is that I’m really rather happy with the phone. There’s one small niggle problem and one huge “what the bloody hell were they thinking” issue.

Good things first. The phone works well and does pretty much everything I wanted it to do. The standard applications that come with the phone all do what you want. The browser is of particularly high quality. Usually when I get a new phone, I replace the built-in browser with Opera Mini as soon as I can. But there’s no need at all for that here.

The screen is big (ok, not as big as an iPhone, but bigger than the screen on any other phone I’ve owned) and really sharp. I haven’t had any problems at all reading the display. And the touch screen is really responsive. The phone is a nice size and weight and fits nicely in my pocket. I don’t know how resistant it will be to scratches, but it comes with a protective sleeve which will counter that.

Once I was bored of the built-in applications I started looking for others to download from the Android Marketplace. There are many applications to choose from in many different areas. Two that I particularly like make good use of the location and direction sensing built in to the phone. One is a compass and the other is a star map which shows you a map of the sky in the direction that the phone is facing. I’ve also enjoyed using the GPS application which uploads your data to the InstaMapper web site allowing you to review (and mash-up) your data without the hassle of transfering it off the GPS device.

Two applications seem to be a rich seam for developers to mine and there are plenty of overlapping applications available. The first is weather forecasting. These applications use your location to give you local weather forecasts. The other is barcode scanning. These applications use the phone’s camera to scan a barcode and then search the internet to find alternative suppliers for the product in question. I can see this being ver useful of shopping trips. With both of these applications there are a number of different (but very similar) programs to choose from. And I can’t really see a good way to differentiate between them.

I mentioned a couple of problems with the phone. Let’s mention the smaller one first. The only input/output port on the phone is a USB port. Except it’s not a standard USB port – it is asymmetrical. Standard mini-USB plugs do fit in it, but I’m not sure that they’re supposed to. This port is used to charge the phone, but the problem is that it doubles as the output for the headphones. This means that you can’t use any headphones that you want. You have to use the ones that came with the phone. I haven’r tried them yet, but they aren’t the small ear-buds that I’ve become used to in the last couple of years. I hope that someone will soon produce some kind of adapter that allows me to use any headphones that I want.

Then there’s the big issue. This has been mentioned in every review of the phone that I’ve read. It’s a big enough problem that I seriously thought about sending the phone back. I’m still not sure that I’ve done the right thing by keeping it.

It’s the battery life. It’s appalling. I estimate that if I’m using the phone’s features to any great extent then I’ll get three or four hours of use out of it. Currently I’m carrying round the USB charging cable so I can plug it into my computer at work if it starts flagging in the middle of the afternoon. Of course, I can get more life out of it if I turn things off. Turning off the GPS, Bluetooth and wireless all help considerably – but what’s the point of a smartphone if you have to turn off all of the smart features? For an average day at work in London this won’t be a problem as I’m never going to be more than a couple of hours away from somewhere to charge it. But things like the GPS tracking will be most useful when I’m out of London walking on the South Downs or something like that. It’ll be a bit of problem if I have to turn the GPS off to conserve battery life in that situation.

I don’t understand how the product came to market with such a major flaw. I honestly think that at some point in the next six months, T-Mobile will contact all of the owners of G1s and offer them an improved battery. Without that I think that the G1 has no chance of becoming a mass market success.

It’s a shame because it’s a great product. It’s only (massively) let down by one fundamentally flawed design decision.

Phone Strangeness

My current phone is a Nokia N91, I’ve had it for well over two years, which is probably the longest time I’ve owned any phone, and I’ve been very happy with it. Of course it’s showing its age technologically now, but I haven’t had any problems with it.

But last week, whilst I was in Copenhagen, it started acting very strangely.  Usually, it runs for two or three days between charges, but it started running out in less than a day. Also soon after turning it on, the user interface slowed to a crawl so that, for example, it took at least two minutes to open a text message. The longer the phone was on, the slower it got. After ten or fifteen minutes the phone became unusable.

My first thought was that the battery needed to be replaced. It’s still the battery that came with the phone and I’m not sure what the lifetime of these batteries is supposed to be. I found some selling the correct batteries cheaply on Amazon Marketplace and ordered a replacement.

But that hasn’t fixed the problem. Everything is still exactly how it was. My next plan was to upgrade the firmware and reset the phone. But both of these actions will delete all of the user data from the phone. So I needed to back it up first. This involved booting my laptop into Windows for the first time for months (and spending half an hour installing all the security updates that have been released since I last used Windows) so that I could use the Nokia PC Suite and the Nokia Software Updater. Having installed both of those I prepared to backup the phone’s data.

But it didn’t work. Remember the problem where phone slowly grinds to a halt? Well that also affects the backup process. You can only back stuff up in tiny chunks. And in the hour I spent trying it on Wednesday evening I didn’t manage to get everything backed up successfully. I’ll try again over the weekend. I suppose I should have been taking regular backups anyway. And I would if Nokia had software that ran on a sensible operating system.

My current theory is that there’s some kind of runaway process on the phone and that it is taking all of the processing power and draining the battery. Does that sound possible? And if that’s the case, how would I go about fixing that? What are the Nokia N Series equivalents of ‘ps’ and ‘kill’?

The most annoying thing about this is that my current contract with O2 only has another six weeks to run. So I’ll be getting another phone soon any way. I just need to resurrect the N91 for a few weeks until I can get an upgrade.

I cheer myself up by considering what I’ll upgrade to. The N96 is currently favourite, but I might just go with an N95 if their price drops following the release of the N96. Most of the phones I’ve had over the years have been Nokias and I’m used to the way they work.

Of course I’m not even going to consider an iPhone. There is some strange reaction between me and Apple hardware. It always ends with me wanting to throw the hardware at the wall.

New Phone

After twelve years with Orange, I’ve finally had enough and switched my phone provider. Yesterday my mobile number was ported to O2.

Of course, a new phone provider means a new contract. And a new contract means a new phone. What I really wanted was a Nokia N95, but on the contract I’ve got that would have cost two hundred pounds. And paying for a mobile phone just seems wrong.

So I chose a Motorola KRZR which is similar to the RAZR, but narrower. I’ve only been using it for a day or so, and it’s so completely different to my old Nokia N91 that it’s taking some getting used to. I’ll give it a couple of weeks though. In the worst case, I can always just put the SIM into the old phone.

One major disappointment already. There isn’t yet a version of Shozu available for the KRZR. And a cameraphone without Shozu is a disaster. Hopefully they’re working on it and will release it before too long.

I will, of course, let you know how it goes.

N91 Review

There’s a brief review of the N91 in today’s Guardian, which reminds me to mention two small annoyances that I’ve found with it.

Firstly, although it supports video calls there is no camera on the front of the phone. This means that if you’re making a video call then the other person can’t see you. Unless you turn the phone over. At which point you can’t see them. Not that I make many (any!) video calls, but it seems a bit of a stupid design decision.

Secondly, the battery life is a bit rubbish. I can still remember my old Nokia 6310i which would go for over a week without needing to be charged. I need to charge the N91 every 48 hours. I’m always forgetting this and end up spending an afternoon (like this afternoon) listening to the phone plaintively beeping at me every hour or so to remind me to recharge it.

New Toys – Phone

My new Nokia N91 arrived on the same day as my new laptop so I’ve been playing with it for a few days. Here are some first impressions.

It’s a large phone. Far heavier than the k600i that it’s replacing. But then, it does more so that’s probably to be expected.

As a phone, it does all that you want it to. It supports all of the flashy ringtones that young people seem so enamoured of these days. Me, I like a phone that just rings.

It runs the Symbian OS and the Nokia S60 platform on top of that (I think that’s a bit like running Gnome on Linux). Apparently it’s the first phone that runs the S60 version 3.0 and that’s causing me a few problems as this is incompatible with older versions and many applications are not yet available for this version. I’ve already discovered that the BBC Doctor Who Tardisodes won’t work on it (a minor irritation) and that there’s not a compatible version of Shozu yet (a major irritation). I suppose that’s just a problem that early adopters need to get used to :-)

One thing I really like is the wireless network support. I now don’t need to waste my monthly GPRS bytes when reading email or checking the BBC news. I can just look for a convenient open wireless network. As an aside, this makes the phone a useful device for finding wireless networks. At one point last week I was standing in the middle of the Barbican Estate and could see about a dozen wireless networks.

The screen is a lot bigger than the k600. This makes reading email a lot easier. I’ve successfully set up my email account for reading, but I seem to have made some error when configuring it to send mail. I need to investigate that further over the next few days.

The camera is also better quality than on the k600. You can see a sample photo here. There would be more but until I can get either Shozu installed or email working, it’s a bit of a trial getting the photos uploaded.

Of course, the main selling point of the N91 is its support for playing music. And that’s why I probably wouldn’t have chosen this phone for myself. I already have a 40Gb iRiver. I don’t really need another device that only has 4Gb of storage that doesn’t play Ogg Vorbis files. Of course there’s probably an Ogg player for Symbian, but it probably hasn’t been ported to S60 version 3 yet. Once I find that, I’ll probably be happy to use the N91 for those times when I only need a limited selection of music. Having said that, the sample music and video (there’s apparently over an hour of Live 8 video included on the phone) demonstrates that playback quality is very high.

The big “nice to have” for me would be to have the phone interfacing nicely with my Linux computers. Of course the PC integration software that comes with the phone is all for Windows – so I’m largely on my own here. I’ve managed to transfer files from the phone to the computer over Bluetooth, but I failed when trying to mount the phone as an external USB mass storage device as Linux couldn’t detect the type of filesystem.

My ultimate goal would be to have the phone and PC automatically synchronise my calendar, contacts, to do list and notes whenever they are in Bluetooth range. They both support SyncML so that sounds like an achievable task.

But all in all, it’s a nice phone and I’m enjoying experimenting with it.

Nokia N91

I’ve just been phoned by someone at the Nokia Club[1] offering me a chance to test drive a Nokia N91. I get three weeks to try the phone and fill in a questionnaire and then I get to keep the phone.

I said yes please. Should arrive in a couple of days.

Anyone got any opinions on this phone?

[1] I think I joined years ago.