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


Becoming More Familiar With Android

Posted by tomwiles at 9:12 AM on July 30, 2010

I’ve been living with my Sprint HTC Evo phone for a while now, and I am still learning some interesting things about Android – at least the HTC/Sprint version.

Overall I’m still extremely pleased with the Evo. This is still one of the coolest gadgets I’ve ever come across.

I was having a bit of a problem with stability. Sometimes the phone would reboot for no apparent reason, usually after a few hours of leaving the WiFi hotspot feature turned on. One time it rebooted for no apparent reason while I was in the middle of a call.

I started experimenting with a free app called Advanced Killer Pro. I started looking through the list of running processes, and I was surprised to find quite a number of processes tied to installed programs I have never ran, many of which came preinstalled on the phone.

So, I simply started going through the list and killing various processes that I wasn’t using. That really did the trick – Android has been rock-solid since then and at this point a few days have passed since the last reboot. In the interim I’ve been making heavy use of the phone and the WiFi hotspot feature.

To be fair to HTC and Sprint, there is an available system update that I’ve been putting off installing that might fix some of these issues. Initially when this update came out there were many reports of bricked Evo’s, and even though HTC has since come out with an updated version of the offending system update, I am leery of installing it.

What if the update hopelessly bricked my phone? Evo’s are very difficult to get right now. Most Sprint dealers are waiting for new stock, and most of that stock is probably already sold to waiting customers. Why take the chance?

Over the years of my geekdom, I’ve had my share of updates gone wrong, bricking a few devices such as motherboards, mp3 players and aircards, not to mention countless Windows updates that have caused serious heartburn.

So, in the meantime I’m likely going to continue to wait for a while until Evo’s become a bit more plentiful before I run the system update. I might even wait for the 2.2 “Froyo” update or even beyond. Killing unused processes makes the phone super stable and everything is working perfectly, so the old adage “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” seems like good advice to follow for the moment.

Living With The Sprint HTC Evo

Posted by tomwiles at 7:46 PM on July 3, 2010

I’ve been living with my HTC Evo now for a few weeks, long enough where I can make a few informed observations about the device.

The Evo’s 4.3 inch multi-touch screen is superb. I’ve been surprised by the brightness and readability of the Evo’s screen even in a vehicle or outdoors in sunlight. The screen is big enough to be useful, yet the device still fits into a regular shirt pocket.

The Evo is fast and responsive. It seems that no matter what programs are open, the Evo remains just as responsive — there’s no wait for programs or configuration screens to pop open. The other smart phones I’ve owned in the past are dog-slow and sluggish by comparison.

The HTC’s “Sense” user interface that sits on top of Android is a winner. Popular social networking sites are slickly integrated right into every aspect of the phone’s functionality, making it possible to share most everything you can think of with a couple of taps.

The WiFi hotspot feature is also a tremendous convenience. It does have its quirks though. I’ve found that if I have opened up a bunch of different applications in the course of using the phone, if I then open up the WiFi hotspot feature, something will go wrong after a few hours and turn off the battery’s charging circuit. Something I have installed and am running may be causing this to happen. If I reboot the phone and then run the WiFi hotspot feature, this problem doesn’t occur and the battery keeps charging when it’s plugged in to AC power.

The integrated GPS is able to quickly find a signal. There are two GPS navigation choices that are included – Google Navigation and Sprint Navigation. Both work exactly as expected. I find myself making the most use of Google Navigation and Google Maps. The ability to search for businesses in a local area based on the phone’s own GPS location is extremely useful and I typically find I use that feature several times a day.

4G is currently not a good reason to buy an Evo because 4G coverage is currently extremely limited. This situation is in the process of changing. In the meantime, I’m happy with Sprint’s 3G coverage. I knew about this 4G limitation going in to getting this phone, so it’s not a problem for me. In reality, it’s likely going to take two or three years before 4G is widely deployed. I’ve been a Sprint data customer for more than 5 years, so I’ve witnessed (and lived with) the process firsthand of them going from 1XRT service that was limited to the eastern half of the country to widely-deployed EVDO Rev “A” 3G service.

Android is light years better than Windows Mobile 5, 6 or 6.5. When Android needs to pull data from the Internet it quickly pulls it without fuss or muss. All the versions of Windows Mobile I’ve dealt with have a “Dial-up Networking” routine they have to go through just as if it was a desktop computer connecting via a modem, which is slow and sometimes prone to fail. Windows Mobile data connections must be manually closed when not in use or they can drain the battery. Android just does what you expect it to without jumping through a bunch of hoops.

The Evo’s main 8 megapixel camera is very good, and the interface allows instant uploading of photos to services such as Flickr and Facebook. The front-facing camera will work with a free program called “Fring” that will allow two-way video conferencing, but I’ve found Fring’s interface confused and somewhat unreliable.

Sprint appears to be blocking the uploading of videos recorded on the phone even through the phone’s integrated browser when signed in to YouTube. However, I was able to email a video as an attachment to my YouTube account.

The Evo’s “HD video” recording capability is not anywhere close to HD standards. Furthermore, the sound quality of recorded video and audio is quite poor. The Evo is not a replacement for a real video camera. It is only fair to note here that all iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads have superior audio recording capabilities. Also the iPhone 4’s HD video recording capabilities are obviously quite superior to the Evo’s.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the HTC Evo. That being said, keep in mind that it requires expensive voice/data plans if you wish to take advantage of all its capabilities. Furthermore as a two and one half year plus Sprint customer I’m satisfied with the quality and speed of the Sprint network.

Technology leap frog – Developing countries are skipping the PC

Posted by GNC at 2:16 AM on June 30, 2010

leapfrogI have spent the last 10 months in the developing country of India.  You see a combination of 1st and 3rd world lifestyles here.  However the most amazing sight is the technology leapfrog you witness.  Let me explain.  Two years ago I visited here and was amazed at the number of cell phones.  A person could be on an ox-driven cart transporting wood. . . and talking on the cell phone.  On that trip two years ago, the paper ran an article describing the leapfrog.  It detailed a village without power or generators.  The people took turns every few nights walking the 10 kilometers to a neighboring village to charge the mobiles.  Amazing leapfrog.  Never had a land line, television, maybe even radio.  Straight to the cell phone.

Recently at the All Things Digital Conference, Steve Jobs talked of how traditional PC makers, including himself, had to face the uncomfortable truth that the world is going mobile.  For the developed countries that is just the next step.  For most of the world it is giant leapfrog.  In India people still live on $3/day.  They have a cell, but they will never own a computer.  The internet is growing in India, and most of it is on the mobile phone.  Many, perhaps most of the world, will access the internet only on their phones.  They are skipping the PC and not even blinking or thinking twice.

So how important is the mobile OS market?  It will rule the digital world sooner than you think.

Could Android Suffer The Fate Of Windows?

Posted by tomwiles at 7:21 PM on June 22, 2010

Windows AndroidThe beauty of Google Android is that it operates on a wide variety of devices that appeal to differing market segments, yet those devices can utilize the Android Market Place and run general apps written for Android. This is similar to what happened with Windows on personal computers. It’s an analogy worthy of exploration, however there are a few noteworthy differences that are actually rather revealing.

Android is nimble, stable and solid, unlike many attributes of the various versions of Windows. Over the years, something went horribly wrong with Windows. Is it possible that Android could eventually suffer the same fate?

Perhaps one difference is that phone manufacturers have a direct incentive to make certain that each Android phone model has a solid implementation. After all, phones simply have to work. Computer manufacturers, on the other hand, have often had a tendency to churn out new computer models without always fully vetting the hardware/Windows OS combination. Google seems to have taken the approach with Android of providing a basic, bare bones phone OS, whereas over the years Microsoft has taken the kitchen sink approach with Windows.

Another difference in the Android/Windows/open hardware analogy rests in the fact that Android is an embedded OS. Hardware manufacturers are forced to make it work. The better it works, the more phones they can sell. If a particular phone model is buggy, word spreads quickly and the model is a bust.

If a particular computer model has problems, its manufacturer often points the finger of blame at Microsoft, and Microsoft typically points back to the manufacturer, leaving the troubled consumer with a spinning head.

The consumer is also partly to blame. If you think about it, we tend not to look at particular computer models running Windows in the same way we look at particular phone models. We tend to look at boxes running Windows as just that – a box of hardware based on price.

Palm, Windows, Slate and HP’s Revitalized Future in Mobile.

Posted by J Powers at 9:10 AM on May 3, 2010

Toward the end week, HP made some major moves. First, they bought Palm for 1.2 Billion. HP then mentioned that the Slate tablet will be put on hiatus (first thought cancelled). Now there are reports that a “Web OS” will most likely be put on the Slate. Wait a minute – wouldn’t that be “Palm”?

Of course, earlier in the week, we heard that Palm OS was purchased by HP for 1.2 billion. While some say it cost too much, there may be some good reasons why it happened this way. One big reason: HP might have been in a bidding war. Still, Palm OS could become the mobile OS HP has been looking for and that 1.2 billion might net them 20 times that amount.

HP Owns 20th Century PDA

I know that doesn’t like much, but think of it this way – HP Jornada, Compaq iPaq, Handspring Visor, Palm OS. That is what HP owns now. The only early PDA assets HP doesn’t own is those from  Apple (Newton), Casio (Cassiopeia), Sony (Clie) or RIM (Blackberry) – Casio ended their PDA run and Sony changed focus to mobile gaming. So HP now has the majority of technology for early PDA and the patents within. While this won’t be a shield to any patent infringement lawsuit, one would definitely need a good iron clad case for legal action.

Slate

We are entering into the “Keyboardless” era – where you don’t need any peripheral attached to use a machine. iPad shows we can have a decent computing experience without keyboard or mouse. iPad also feels that you don’t need to connect USB devices, so they left all those items off their tablet.

In the meantime, what was first thought as full cancellation, turned out to be more of a “restart” for the Slate tablet. Windows is out, that is for sure. The obvious reality was that Palm OS is in. A good move for HP, but why not have 2 versions?

An engineer at HP was overheard saying Windows 7 was a powerhog. That may be true, nonetheless, are people going to see Palm OS as a good alternative OS? I suppose only time will tell.

Palm’s future: Where else will we see the OS?

With the idea that iPad runs a mobile OS, some are starting to realize the versatility. One OS for your phone, tablet, TV,  car, etc.

Last month I went out to HP to talk about Converged infrastructure. In layman’s terms: a fancy way to say “Server administration”. The idea that you can set up a server room and have anyone administer from anywhere on the planet. However, as I was interviewing presenters, one mentioned something I hadn’t thought about:

… there is no good way to administer a printer….

Most printer problems require physical attention: replace a cartridge, fix a paper jam, etc. But beyond the web page administration of a printer, there has not been much innovation to printer OS technology. What if something like Palm OS was ported to a printer?

Let’s take another approach. HP has another OS called HP-UX; It’s their Unix solution. In a “Converged Infrastructure” world, connecting to servers like the HP-UX is important. So why not have a moble OS solution that can really integrate with this idea?

Consumer Level OS

HP has really pushed their lines of consumer products in the last couple years. From netbooks to touchscreen machines, they have brought a lot of innovation to the machine. But they still rely on other Operating systems to really power the experience.

With a mobile OS solution, they can bring an experience to all these devices, some with option to have both on the computer. If you need Windows or just a device that can access the internet to make a Skype call or send an email.

So there are a lot of places Palm could become integrated. Items that HP could have implemented already with other Operating Systems, but they would still be other companies OS’s. This Palm acquisition can give the mobility HP is looking for in more than one way. That, might be worth the 1.2 billion.

Palm & WebOS 1.4 – We’re Getting There

Posted by Andrew at 7:35 AM on March 1, 2010

Late last week Palm pushed out an upgrade to its WebOS operating system for the Palm Pre and Pixi phones, taking them to version 1.4.  In the past few weeks, Palm has taken a fair amount of flak, primarily from analysts but also from users.  Its performance in Europe hasn’t exactly been stellar though it seems to have done well enough in Germany and even the US numbers weren’t as good as expected. 

However, with WebOS 1.4 I feel the phone and the platform is really getting somewhere and Palm is starting to get it right.

First of all 1.4 was pretty much released simultaneously to all phone users.  Previously, there were weeks between the CDMA version coming out and then the GSM version being released.  As a GSM owner, nothing irked more than a new version coming out on CDMA and everyone talking about features you couldn’t yet have.

Secondly, not only are bugs being fixed, but new features are being added.  For example, in addition to video recording, there is now video editing on the phone.  Brilliant for taking videos of the kids,  removing the rubbish parts and forwarding to the grandparents.  I played around with the video recording over the weekend and it’s surprisingly good.

Thirdly, the WebOS is ready for Flash, which is coming Real Soon Now via a download from the AppCatalog.   And by the way, the browser scores 92/100 on the Acid 3 test.

Fourth, the AppCatalog is filling up nicely (albeit there still aren’t paid apps in Europe yet either.  That’s coming RSN too.)  I’ve got to the point where I’m only waiting on two apps to be released before I can leave the legacy PalmOS apps behind and one of these is already available in the US.  The other – DataViz’s Documents To Go - is hotly anticipated by many Pre and Pixi owners.

Fifth, Palm Synergy might be Palm’s unique selling point tying on-line calendars, contacts and email back to the phone and merging them seamlessly, but it’s also encouraged others to think similarly.  For example, RSS readers that sync with Google Reader (Feeds Free), finance apps that link with an online version (ClearCheckBook), info organisation (Evernote),  task tracking (Outline Tracker) and so on.  I love being able to do stuff when I’m out and about on my phone and then have access to exactly the same information when I sit down at my desk.

Finally, multitasking.  WebOS has always had this but the ability to have more than one app open at a time is the only way to go.  Right now, I have Tasks, Feeds Free (an RSS reader), Tweed (a Twitter client),  DrPodder (a podcatcher), Email, Videos and Outline Tracker, all open at once.

For awhile there, I was really kind of “take-it-or-leave-it” about Palm and WebOS.  I’d felt a little let down that the features and programs I’d been used to on my Treo 680 just weren’t there.  With the release of 1.4, I’m feeling better about the Pre and what it can do for me.  We’re getting there.

Capacitive Touch Screens – A Step Backwards?

Posted by Andrew at 9:58 AM on February 3, 2010

Ever since I bought my first PDA (a Palm III) back in the late 90s, I’ve used the kind of touchscreen which needs you to give it a slight press, typically with stylus but a finger will work just fine too.  Apparently these are resistive touchscreens and work by having two thin transparent parallel sheets which are brought together by the press.

Newer mobile phones such as Apple’s iPhone, the Palm Pre, Google’s Nexus One, use capacitive touchscreens which use distortions in electrostatic fields to detect fingers on the surface of the screen.  Frankly, I think they’re a step backwards.

Why? One – you can really only use your finger.  Things like styluses don’t work anymore and, two – the accuracy or resolution is really poor.  Let’s be honest, your finger isn’t exactly the most precise pointing device.  My finger tends to block out the very thing I’m trying to tap on.

The last time I did any finger writing, I was probably about 5 years old.  I then learnt how to hold a pen and write block letters, graduating to joined-up script when I was seven or eight.  Finally, after a couple of decades in adulthood, it’s back to finger painting on a 3″ screen.  Does anyone else think this is wrong?

“But you don’t have to get your stylus out each time now to tap on the screen.  It’s so much more convenient”.  But the problem in the past was not the screen – it was the user interface.  It expected more precise pointing than a finger.  On PalmOS I could very easily start applications with my finger and choose from dropdown menus but editing Excel cells was too challenging.  If you had a modern phone OS with a resistive screen it would work just fine.  And you could have the best of both worlds; finger pointing for basic operation and the stylus for fine work.

“But you can scroll through lists with a flick”.  Yes, you can and it’s great, but I find that too often I select an item instead of scrolling and it’s incredibly irritating when you’ve just dropped an email into completely the wrong folder.  Could we please just have scroll bars back?

“But what about multi-touch?  That’s only available on a capacitive screen.”  True enough, but this is a phone not Microsoft Surface.  I don’t even find the gestures that easy to do one-handed so I’m quite happy to give up multi-touch.

I have tried the Pogostick stylus but it’s not much better.  I still end up stabbing at the screen rather than gently tapping, the resolution or accuracy is no better and the stylus head is pretty big.  HTC appear to be bringing out a capacitive stylus but it’s not yet available in the UK and it’s quite expensive.

My point is that a capacitive screen would be fine on a larger screen, where there’s greater room for bigger buttons and multi-touch with two hands would bring benefts.  But on a small 3″ phone screen,  I needed better accuracy, not worse and I’m fully on-board for a hybrid of finger pointing for dialling and quick selection, but with the finer control of a stylus to select text, edit cells and generally be productive.  A resistive screen can provide this far better than a capacitive screen as far as I can tell.

I think we’ve been sold a dummy.

IDC Predicts Big Change in IT and Telecoms

Posted by Andrew at 4:37 AM on December 8, 2009

The analysts over at IDC reckon that 2010 is going to be a year of “recovery and transformation”.  On the recovery side, they’re expecting global IT spending to increase by 3.2%, returning to 2008 levels but a large chunk of this spending is going to occur in the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

But more interestingly, the transformation part is going to be increased adoption of  cloud services and the arrival of “enterprise-grade cloud services” and complementary application platforms.  IDC thinks this will be the most important development for the next 20 years particularly when linked in with the growth in mobile devices.

Regarding mobile, IDC sees these competing with PCs as user’s main devices, with over 1 billion mobile devices, fuelled by increasing adoption of smartphones and Apple’s iPad tablet.  They predict over 300,000 iPhone apps and 5x growth in Android apps.  Interestingly, they also predict “apps stores” for netbooks, which I think has already been evidenced by moves from Intel.

Other predictions include “socialytic” apps which mashup business apps with social networks, further reductions in CO2 through IT solutions and more mergers, acquisitions and partnerships.

Personally, I think the cloud services linked to mobile devices is right on the money.  I’ve recently started using a Palm Pre and it links to several on-line services including Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote.  Looking at just Google, there are connections to Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Reader and I’m expecting Tasks, Documents and Notebook to be available before long.  So I’m already living in the cloud and I love it.

The whole press release is over at IDC.

Why Should I Get Excited About a Google Operating System?

Posted by susabelle at 7:42 AM on July 11, 2009

I, along with every other geek this week, have invariably heard about the new operating system to be produced by Google.  I have read multiple articles and really haven’t formed an opinion one way or the other about whether it will be good or not.

My real concern is about the ability of any operating system to truly overtake Windows as a standard.  As much as we hate Windows and complain about the things that don’t work or get broken, the fact is, Windows is a known commodity, and the majority of users we will work with will be Windows-literate.  Changing how they think, and operate, a computer, is a daunting task, and not one I will undertake lightly.  [Yes, I am deliberately and knowingly leaving out the Mac discussion for this article.]

I am my family’s de facto technical adviser and repair-woman.  When I get a call from my mother in Florida, I have to try to walk her through a fix or software setting via the phone.  She has used Windows the last 8 years.  My dad, who lives about an hour away, and his wife, both use Windows machines.  I have two brothers who also live within a few hours, who use Windows machines.  Needless to say, I’ve gotten really good at talking them through minor issues over the phone.  They understand most of the processes they are being asked to do, and can muddle their way through with my instructions.

I cannot imagine teaching any of these people how to use Linux.  One of the reasons I’ve not personally embraced it is because of all the “tinkering” that must be done to make changes, get programs to work properly, have all of your features available, etc.  Linux is not intuitive, and intensely harder to manage overall because of the hands-on adjustments you have to make to it.  And that’s okay for a geek, but not so good for the everyday user who just wants to sit down and surf the ‘net, type an email, or manipulate a photo or two from their digital cameras.

So when I look at Google’s offer of an operating system, I am more or less shrugging my shoulders and thinking “big deal.”  Another thing to learn, that may or may not be any easier to navigate and support than another free operating system already available (Linux).  I don’t see wide-spread acceptance of any new operating system at this point, despite the foibles and flaws of Windows.  At this point in the game, it is a little late to be putting Windows back in the barn and getting people to convert to something completely different.

Of course, I could be wrong.  It would be nice to think I’m wrong.  But it’s got to be more than “hey look, it’s FREE” to get me to look twice.  Because for all intents and purposes, Windows is free too, because it comes already installed on most new computers.  I know it’s not technically free, but the perception is that it’s free.  So Google’s new operating system has got to be bang-up better than what we already have to even have a chance of cracking the market and becoming a Windows killer.

And I have yet to see the app come along that can completely submerse Windows or other Microsoft software from majority use.  The fact remains that most businesses and home computers are loaded with Windows and Microsoft Office and Microsoft Internet Explorer, and that the majority of people are using those products in their daily lives.

Google’s got a very tough row to hoe with this one.

Four Things the Mac OS Does to Confuse a Windows User

Posted by fogview at 10:43 PM on May 31, 2009

First off I will say that I love the Mac OS and I love the Windows OS. (How about that for staying neutral?) Listeners to my Fogview Podcast know I switched to the Mac about six months ago when my main Windows XP computer died. I had an iMac that I was using for video editing and my photography work so I started using that for my daily work. I know there are a lot of Mac fan-boys out there but I’m not one of them. A computer is a computer and each type has it’s advantages and disadvantages. I enjoy using and learning about the Mac OS but I still do a lot of my work on my new Windows Vista machine.

I found that the Mac has it share of “spinning beach balls” just like Windows has it hourglass when the CPU is overloaded and can’t do one more thing. I have programs crash on the Mac just like they crash on Windows. I don’t have to worry about viruses and spyware on the Mac like I do on Windows, but I know that could change in the future.

Mac_exampleWhat I would like to mention is the four things that still confuse me as a newbie “Mac switcher.”

  1. Closing a window on the Mac doesn’t close the program.
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked the close window icon and realize later that the program is still running. Most Window programs go away when they are closed.
  2. The program menu bar is at the top of the screen instead of at the top of the window. This is related to the first item because if I close a program’s window (i.e. iTunes), I now see another program underneath it but I’m still in the program I thought I closed. If I try to access the menu for the program that I see on the screen, I will be accessing the menu for the program I thought I closed. (See the screen shot on the right for an example of what I’m talking about: iTunes menu and Aperture window)
  3. Control = Alt and Alt = Command keys
    Yes, the keys are switched, at least for how I normally think of them in Windows. For example, I press Ctrl-C to copy in Windows, and Command-C in Mac. Alt-tab to switch programs in Windows and Command-tab in Mac. (The last two are not switched, which only adds to the confusion.)
  4. Home and End act like Page Up and Page Down instead of begin/end
    If I’m typing something in Windows, the Home/End keys will move the cursor to the begin/end of the line I’m typing. On the Mac it generally shifts the content of the window up and down on the screen and doesn’t change the cursor location. (I realize that each program can use the Home/End keys as they see fit, but in the Windows world these keys always seem to work the way I expect — or at least the way I’ve come to expect of them.)

Of all the differences I mentioned, #4 is the one thing I have not been able to get use too. I’m always trying to use the Home/End keys on the Mac to move my cursor around when editing text (I admit that I make lots of typing mistakes). I try to use it when entering URLs into the browser, Google search strings, emails I’m composing, and blogs entries (like this one), and I’m always surprised at the results. I would love for a Mac user to tell me what keys will do a similar thing on the Mac.

Learning to use a Mac has been a fun thing and helps to keep my brain engaged. I picked up a great book that helped answer the question of “How do I do that on the Mac.” It’s called “Switching to the Mac, The Missing Manual” by David Pogue. I highly recommend it if you’re thinking about switching too.

I’m not a Mac expert but I will write more in the future about my experience navigating in a Mac world from a Windows map. Stay tuned.

73’s, Tom