Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Laza HTC Evo 4G Extended Alternative Battery

Posted by tomwiles at 8:31 AM on September 8, 2011

Phones come and phones go. Our expectations change. Technology marches forward – well most of the time, except when it comes to the bane of wireless pocket tech – battery life.

I’ve had my Sprint HTC Evo 4G phone for more than a year at this point and I’m still very satisfied with its overall feature set as well as it’s performance. The big ongoing problem has been battery life. With the stock battery that came with the phone I have been lucky to get 5 hours out of it just on standby, perhaps extending that a bit by turning off automatic data synching. The original Evo 4G eats battery power like crazy. I knew this would be an issue going in, but unlike a lot of people I can keep my phone plugged into external power most of the time I’m in my truck, so the power devour issue mostly doesn’t cause me too much trouble. In all fairness, turning off data completely in the settings would vastly extend the Evo’s standby time, but this defeats the purpose of having a super smartphone.

There are times when the phone has to be running on it’s internal battery, and I need extra battery life. I got to searching for alternative Evo batteries on Amazon.Com, and I ended up purchasing this Laza HTC Evo 4G 3500mAh Extended Battery + Cover for along with Laza Sprint HTC Evo 4G Extended Battery Silicone Case Black. I was able to get both of these items along with three extra screen covers for $22.54 from Amazon, a real bargain compared to pricey alternative, less-capable batteries sold by Best Buy or Sprint.

The replacement battery is thicker, and therefore the new back is needed to accommodate the extra battery thickness. It makes the phone thicker, hence the need for the alternative extended battery silicone case.

As previously stated, it does make the Evo 4G thicker than before, but even with the extra girth it still easily fits into my pants pocket.

The new battery does vastly increase the phone’s standby time. In normal use it would probably last me all day. Of course, I’m not a normal user – most of the time the Sprint WiFi Hotspot feature is turned on and the phone is paired with my iPod and frequently with my Macbook Pro. Using the phone as a WiFi hotspot I can probably get about 5 to 6 hours of heavy data usage before pushing Android into automatic shutdown. Overall, I love my Evo 4G and would still buy one today were I in need of a new phone.

Laza also sells a variety of extended batteries, backs and accommodating cases in a variety of colors for other Android phone models – simply search Amazon for “Laza.”

If you want extra battery life from your Evo 4G, I recommend checking out Laza.

HTC Gratia Hands-On Review

Posted by Andrew at 5:20 PM on May 31, 2011

As a mid-tier offering, the HTC Gratia doesn’t appear to get the same notice as the Sensations, Desires and Incredibles, which is a shame because it’s a good phone and will suit those who want a small Android phone but don’t have the cash for a top-end device. If you haven’t heard of the Gratia before and you live in the US, that’s because over there it’s known as the Aria. It’s largely the same device.

To get the specs out of the way, it’s an Android 2.2 device with a 3.2″ 320 x 480 touchscreen. Weights in at 115 g and measures 58 mm wide, 104 mm tall and 12 mm thick. All the expected radios and gadgets – 3G, wifi (b/g), bluetooth, GPS, compass, 5 MP camera, microSD expansion slot – the full specs are on HTC’s site (though it lists the Android version as 2.1).

As you’ll see from the pictures below, the review model had a white plastic back that had a slightly matt finish to it. The phone felt comfortable in the hand and the detail of the extra screws on the back gave the Gratia an “industrial” edge, which I liked. I didn’t try to find out if the screws actually held anything together or were only for effect.

Taking the back off reveals the SIM slot, the microSD slot and the battery. At the bottom left, the two contacts are for aerials that were embedded into the back cover. The micro USB connector is in the middle. The back covers the sides, top and bottom as well.

Side on, there’s a sense of the shape and how it feels in the hand. It’s not a thin phone, but it’s not a fat one either.  It’s comfortable. As with most devices, there’s a little bit of bevelling to make it feel thinner than it really is.

Enough on the physical, what’s it like to use as a phone? Unsurprisingly, it’s much like every other HTC Android 2.2 phone. It comes with the HTC Sense enhancements and there did seem to be a few little extra launcher customisations that I hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, I didn’t have another phone handy to compare and they may simply be incremental updates that went along with 2.2.

Generally, the phone was responsive using both the touchscreen and the trackpad. Animations were smooth and scrolling up and down lists was good. The usual slew of apps was present and the Gratia has access to the Android Market if you need more. Audio and video playback was fine with no glitches or jerkiness on the files I tried. Some other reviews said the Gratia was “underpowered” but I can’t really say that performance was an issue, though I’m not a big game player which seems to be the focus of the issue. And of course, if you do have lots of apps open, it will begin to slow down.

Setting up apps with accounts to access email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. was all by the numbers, as it were. I was up and running with the Gratia within minutes of turning the phone on.

Battery life was ok – I got a day’s worth of work out of it with some to spare and that’s with a bit of email, bit of surfing, bit of music listening. A typical day as far as I was concerned, but the Gratia will need recharged overnight for the next day.

Pricewise, off-contract the Gratia is generally available around £275 with the best prices being close to £250. I was unable to find any UK mobile telco carrying the Gratia at present so I can’t comment on contract prices.

Overall, this a fine mid-range smartphone at a fair price. There’s plenty to recommend and not too much to complain about. For someone looking for an Android 2.2 phone that’s not going to break the bank off-contract, this is a good choice.

Thanks to HTC for the loan of the Gratia.

HTC Dual USB Car Charger

Posted by Alan at 5:42 PM on May 19, 2011

If you spend a lot of time in your car and frequently need to charge your devices there then HTC has a cool little gadget for you.  The HTC Car Charger plugs into your vehicle’s 12v outlet and outputs two standard USB charging ports.  It also comes with a coiled USB / mini-USB cord.  However it can be used with any standard USB / mini-USB cord, such as the one that comes with pretty much all phones these days.  It also claims it can us “intelligent variable rate charging prevents overcharging your battery.”

It’s official rated for HTC devices including: HTC Desire S, Sensation, EVO View 4G, Flyer, Droid Incredible 2, Droid Incredible S, EVO 3D, Inspire 4G, Thunderbolt, EVO Shift 4G, Merge, Wildfire, Desire Z, Desire HD, Aria, Desire, Evo 4G, Droid Incredible / Nexus One, T-Mobile G2, T-Mobile myTouch Slide.  However, any phone that charges in this method will work just fine with this device.

It retails for $19.95 over at the Andoid Central store, but if you search around online then you may be able to find a better deal.  In fact, that’s exacly what I am going to be doing this evening.

TechNet Live Tour: Cloud for IT Pros

Posted by Andrew at 9:31 AM on April 7, 2011

Microsoft’s TechNet Live Tour is giving a half day seminar on the cloud and what it means for the IT professional. I’ve been invited along so, for a change, I’m going to try a bit of a “live blog” approach, just typing as I go. It’s going to cover Windows Intune, Small Business Server 2011, Office 365, Dynamics CRM 2011, Azure, Windows Phone 7 and IE9.  Could be a long afternoon.

The event opens with a keynote on the Cloud for IT Pros given by Dave Northey. The cloud and the consumerisation of IT are the big impacts of now and Dave will cover them both. Dave suggests that business led technology a decade ago. But today consumers lead. The average home PC is more powerful than work PCs. Most consumers use Windows 7, yet XP is still used extensively in business.

The three big cloud providers are Microsoft, Amazon and Google, with room for a fourth. Cloud computing is Internet-based computing whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand like the electricity grid – Wikipedia.

Cloud Data Centre
Shared resources – stability, security, reliability, QoS, SLAs

On-Demand – pay as you go, no upfront investment, instant access, scale, no money wasted when projects fail

Public Cloud v Private Cloud
Private cloud uses own data centre. Control over data but less scale.

Regardless aim is for capacity to follow demand. What workload patterns are suitable for cloud?
- On and off, e.g. Batch jobs, video transcoding
- Growing fast, e.g. Unexpectedly successful services
- Unpredictable bursting, e.g. Spikes caused by natural disasters
- Predictable bursting, e.g. End of month for finance.

Type of cloud services
- Software as a Service (SaaS) for users
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) for developers
- Infrastruce as a Service (IaaS) for IT

Datacentre evolution
- Traditional datacentre
- Virtualised datacentre
- On premises private cloud
- Off premises cloud
Virtualisation was a pre-requisite for the cloud.

The private cloud is virtualisation plus self-service, scalability and automation.

Azure is Ms’ platform as a service. It’s a developer offering linked into Visual Studio, .net, PHP and so on. Three components – Azure AppFabric for access control and comms, SQL Azure for database, Windows Azure for compute and storage.

Dave then gives a demo of some of the features of Azure including simply connecting to a folder stored in the cloud but the most impressive part was the management of all the virtual machines. In the (short) demo, a cloud-based server was provisioned with web services.

Cloud services are coming, with private clouds first followed by the move to the public cloud.

Ooh, they’ve announced a Surface device is here.

Surface1

Surface2

Surface3

Surface4

Dave also gave an inpromptu demo of Windows Phone 7 which was as much a selection of soundbites as it was a demo.
- Microsoft expects to be #2 behind Android and ahead of iPhone.
- Multiple forms factors from HTC and Nokia who make over 100 million phones per year.
- It’s a consumer device first
- Marketplace will have quality, tested apps.
- Try before you buy option available to all developers but only one version required – that’s clever.
- Average app lifetime, i.e. Find, download, try, delete is 5 mins.
- Expected that a developer wil earn 10 times as much from Windows Phone app as from iPhone.

Next up was Office 365 by Patrick Herlihy.

Office 365 is the new Software as a Service offering which includes Office, Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online and Lync Online.

Office licensed on a pay as you go per user. Full and latest version of Office. Lync will offer IM, presence and web conference from the start. Voice will arrive later.

Different licensing options for different types of users, e.g. Kiosk worker for basic options, Information worker for more. There are lots of different licensing options depending on your organisations need.

The process to moving to the cloud and using Office 365 goes through standardisation, deployment, service change and includes privacy & security considerations. In particular, most ActiveDirectories will need a good tidy.

Regarding sign on, there are two options – Ms Online IDs or new Federated IDs which allow single sign-on from existing credentials. The latter will need an internal deployment of ADFS.

DirSync synchronises the organisation’s internal ActiveDirectory with the version hosted in the cloud for Office 365. This is needed to keep online permissions etc in step with the organisation.

Exchange Online can co-exist with in-house Exchange and there are tools to move mailboxes between the two systems.

Patrick gave a quick on-line demo of the product. The on-line versions were all very similar to their Windows-based equivalent. Firefix, Safari and IE are all supported. The management tools were comprehensive as well.

The public beta of Office 365 is available now.

Patrick continued to Microsoft’s Intune, a cloud-based PC management service. It offers malware protection, alert monitoring, patch management, software and hardware inventories and remote assistance / desktop sharing. He then gave a demo of the system and it was competent enough. I could certainly see it replacing a number of separate tools. However you got the feeling that it was version 1 and version 2 would be much better. Probably best suited to SMEs with hundreds of PCs rather than thousands.

As proceeds were running late, I had to leave, missing some of the subsequent sessions. But I’ll be back…

Overall, a useful introduction to Microsoft’s vision of a cloud-based future.

 

Movies & Documentaries On iOS Devices

Posted by tomwiles at 9:13 PM on February 16, 2011

Since getting the latest version of the 32 gigabyte iPod Touch a couple of months back, one of the uses that has surprised me has been late-night movie-watching after I’ve gone to bed but am not yet drowsy enough to go to sleep. The iPod Touch works extremely well for this task. I am able to pair the iPod to my Sprint HTC Evo’s WiFi hotspot feature and generally get very good Internet connectivity.

By far, Netflix is the best on-demand movie service available. Netflix has the most and best content available. The Netflix app for iPod/iPhone works great. It gives me the most relevant features of the full Netflix service in a tidy little package. So far, I’ve watched dozens of movies right on my iPod.

But are there other iPod/iPhone movie and documentary apps available? It turns out there are, though the quality can vary tremendously. One of them is called “NFB Films” which is an app created by the National Film Board of Canada. You can watch over 1,000 movies, including documentaries, animations and trailers.

Another app is called “Big Star TV.” The app itself is free to install, but if you wish to watch any content, like with Netflix, you have to pay a monthly fee. Big Star’s movies don’t seem to be up to the high quality level of Netflix.

B-Movies is a free app that presents Internet Archive (www.archive.org) films in an organized, easy-to-use format. It should be noted B-Movies is not associated or a part of the Internet Archive. Among other things, the Internet Archive contains an incredibly rich and diverse set of older classic corporate, school and government documentaries.

Apart from these choices of course is YouTube. Certainly YouTube has a tremendous amount of content, but therein lies the rub: there’s so much YouTube content, it makes it difficult for any single app to categorize, let alone try to catalog what’s available. With YouTube it’s best to simply search on a keyword or phrase that interests you and then start surfing.

The promise of the future that was held up when I was a kid has in many ways arrived, but as always there remains a lot of room for improvement.

Smartphones As The New Facebook

Posted by tomwiles at 2:40 PM on November 19, 2010

Facebook hit critical mass and managed to move into the mainstream and is now sucking in mass numbers of new users. Much of the value of a many goods and services revolves around mass adoption – it becomes beneificial for people to use Facebook simply because so many friends and family are already on it.

We keep hearing statistics about smartphone adoption rates. No doubt about it, smartphones are increasingly popular devices and are quickly moving into the mainstream.

How does this translate into the real world?

I came across a guy a few days ago that had recently gotten an iPhone 4.0 specifically so he could do Facetime chats with his brother. This guy was in his 50’s and had never owned a computer or dealt with the Internet in any way. I was surprised at how well he had learned to run his phone. He was clearly thrilled with the smartphone and what it was capable of. Even though this fellow had somehow managed to resist getting a computer and the Internet, the smartphone managed to pull him in. Furthermore, this guy was using a lot of data above and beyond WiFi and Facetime. Even as a novice user, he had already purchased a few iphone apps. Additionally he expressed a lot of interest when I was describing Audible.Com audio books.

There’s a segment of the population I run into personally that doesn’t like the idea of or see the need for or perceive any benefit from paying for mobile data connections. These are the people that are hanging onto more basic phone models. I suspect that these same people likely resisted the idea of getting a cell phone in the first place – in other words, they are late adopters when it comes to cell phone technologies and services.

We are now entering the phase of smartphone adoption of where mass numbers of people will get smartphones simply because everyone else has them. I believe smartphones are poised to outstrip even a service like Facebook with the total number of smartphone users.

These new smartphone users are likely to use mass amounts of data. Cell phone companies wanted people to have data plans because of the extra revenue from larger data-enabled bills – now they’d better be prepared to deliver on the promise.

Tech Serendipity

Posted by tomwiles at 8:07 PM on October 19, 2010

Sometimes things no one ever thought of simply seem to come together. Services and devices end up being used to do things the individual inventors and designers couldn’t have imagined.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about attaching one of the new Mac Minis to one of my TV’s and utilizing it as a home theater PC as well as an over-the-air DVR to record high definition digital broadcasts from the local TV stations. A late Sunday afternoon trip to my local Best Buy and a Mac Mini was mine.

I sat the Mac Mini up with Eye TV and a USB HD tuner attached to my outdoor antenna. Depending on how I have the antenna rotated, I can receive upwards of 17 or more HD and digital broadcast channels. Of course, keep in mind that the Mini is on my home network, so I’ve got complete remote access in a number of different ways.

The Eye TV 3.4.1 software has easy iPhone/iPod/iPad/Apple TV file conversion, so I’m easily able to convert the files to the format of my choice.

A thought popped into my head. What if I converted the files to the iPhone format and put them into my Dropbox? I also have the Dropbox app for Android installed on my Sprint HTC Evo phone. Since I have an 8 gigabyte SD card installed with the possibility of going all the way up to a 32 gigabyte card if I wish, could I synch the exported iPhone files from my Dropbox on the computer to Dropbox on my phone?

To my surprise, I don’t even have to synch the exported iPhone videos to my phone – once they are synched to the Dropbox server, all I have to do is open the file from Dropbox on my phone and the file immediately starts streaming. If I’ve got a decent 3G Sprint cell signal, the video plays perfectly without a glitch.

So, I’m taking multiple different technologies, and using them in a way no single inventor or designer ever envisioned. I can record local TV programming from home, export it as an iPhone format file into my Dropbox folder, and stream the files to my phone. Pretty phenomenal stuff if you ask me.

For sure, there are other ways to accomplish the same end result, particularly if one has adequate bandwidth. For situations where bandwidth is limited and more variable, this solution works surprisingly well.

Twonky Mobile Server

Posted by tomwiles at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2010

It’s always fun when technology intersects, and it becomes possible to do something cool that was previously not possible and/or was never thought of.

Such is the case with my Sprint HTC Evo smartphone. Sure, it’s a pocket computer. Sure, it has WiFi. As such, sure, it’s a network device with a potential node on my home network.

Rewind. What was that last bit again? My phone is a network device with a potential node on my home network. Let’s see – what can I do with network devices – share resources, share drives and therefore share files.

Enter the free Twonky Server Mobile for Android. Twonky Server Mobile is a free piece of software available in the Android Marketplace that shares audio, video and photos from the phone to UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices on a home network. This includes software such as Boxee and UBMC among others.

I had a copied a number of videos to my Evo’s 8 media card so I’d have them available to watch if and when I had time. Hummm – with the Evo’s WiFi turned on and connected to my home network, if I ran the Twonky Server Mobile software, would I be able to see Twonky Mobile Server as an available network share with my Western Digital TV Live Plus boxes? If so, how would it work?

I’m happy to report that the free Twonky Mobile Server for Android works flawlessly. Simply start the app and there’s nothing else to do on the phone. Twonky Mobile Server shows up as an available server on the network, and the audio, videos and photos show up and play with UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices such as WD TV Live Plus boxes.

Twonky also offers a small array of inexpensive server software products that make it possible to easily share audio, video and photo media from your Windows or Mac computer via UPnP and DLNA to certified devices such as Playstation 3, many digital photo frames, many Blu-ray players, and other devices and softwares.

Tango to FaceTime, “Move Over”

Posted by tomwiles at 8:49 PM on October 8, 2010

There’s a new cross-platform video calling app that just became available called Tango. There are versions for both the iPhone as well as Android. Tango does what Apple’s FaceTime does, except it also does it cross-platform as well as via 3G. Apple’s integrated video calling app FaceTime works only with iPhone 4’s and via WiFi data network connectivity.

I called a friend that has an iPhone 4 with my Sprint HTC Evo via Tango. Both of us were in moving vehicles in different parts of the country, and both of us were on 3G networks – my friend obviously on AT&T with his iPhone 4 in the Miami, Florida area, and me being on Sprint 3G on I-81 in Virginia. Tango took advantage of the forward-facing cameras both in my friend’s iPhone 4 as well as in my HTC Evo.

Overall the experience was quite impressive. If you have either an iPhone or Android phone, download the free Tango app and give it a try.

One really strange quirk with Android phones is that there can be two phone books – the “phone” phone book and the Gmail phone book. Tango relies exclusively on the “phone” Android phone book, so keep that in mind when looking for and/or setting up contacts to work with Tango.

Android Pros and Cons

Posted by tomwiles at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2010

I’ve been using Android for a while now and feel I’ve been using it long enough to make some meaningful observations.

I like Android. It’s quick. It’s powerful. It has some astounding voice recognition capability built right in that even the iPhone can’t touch. For example, hold down the search button and when the voice search box pops up say “navigate to” and then speak either a street address, the name of a business or a business category, and watch what happens. The results are something right out of science fiction and nothing short of amazing. Try THAT with your iPhone.

In other areas, Android seems to fall rather flat. While it’s possible to create, name and populate folders, the process seems clunky and rather counter-intuitive.

How about allowing me as an end-user to rename application icons to something useful? Many apps have names that don’t bear any relationship or give any hint as to what their functionality is as an app. If I could just rename the text under the app icons it would help me out as an end user quite a bit. Either give me a direct icon name that describes functionality succinctly, or give me the ability to rename an icon myself just like I can in Windows or OS/X.

Another area that falls somewhat flat is how to discover great apps. There are a ton of apps, but it’s often difficult to find the best ones. I’m willing to spend money on apps, however I want the best bang for my buck. How can I be assured if I buy an app I’m buying the best possible one?