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Wi-Fi Everywhere

Posted by Andrew at 8:46 AM on September 23, 2010

I recently travelled from the UK to the USA for a holiday (or vacation). Prior to leaving, I checked how much data was going to cost on my Palm Pre when abroad.  It was an eye-watering £6 ($9) per MB. Yes, per MB.  Needless to say, I turned off data roaming as soon as I left the UK.

However, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer abundance of free wi-fi in the US.  Odds-on, if I turned on my Pre, I’d be able to find a free connection, whether I was in a store, restaurant, bar or tourist attraction.  And while the data speeds weren’t extraordinary, they were perfectly acceptable for email, web and downloading podcasts.  I was saved.

Here in the UK, free wi-fi is fairly rare outside of coffee shops. Usually you have to get the encryption key from the store or else sign-up for a user name and password.  In the US, the networks were unencrypted and at worst, you had to tick “Accept terms and conditions” before getting on-line.

So I’d like to give a big thank you to Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, McDonalds, Safeway, Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, Pancho McGillicuddys and the Grand Canyon Caverns for the use of their free wi-fi while I was out and about.

I’m particularly indebted to Safeway – I’d start off my podcatcher (drPodder) when I got my shopping trolley and by the time I’d finished getting the groceries, GNC and my other podcasts would have been downloaded.  Food for the mind as well as the stomach!

Burning Torch or Damp Squib

Posted by Andrew at 7:09 AM on August 20, 2010

With a reported 150,000 units sold in the first week, and a nearly instant price cut, the Blackberry Torch doesn’t appear to have met RIM’s expectations.  But I’m unsure how it could have been any other way.

To start with, 150,000 units is a good opening figure for any company with the single exception of Apple.  Compare it with the HTC Evo 4G and Palm Pre, both of which sold in broadly similar numbers.  Frankly, this tells me that at any one time, there are only about 150,000 people ready to upgrade.

 Secondly, while I know plenty of people who have work-supplied Blackberries, I know of only one friend who has one as a personal phone.  Thirdly, companies tend to purchase in batches and rarely upgrade to the latest phone just because it’s out.  Consequently, I think 150,000 units for business-orientated (smart)phone are good opening figures.

RIM with the Blackberry brand has something that no other phone really has – its association with business.  If you have a Blackberry, it says you are serious about business.  Obviously, RIM has to defend its territory and often the best form of attack is defence, but it’s too easy to get into Apple-beating mode when faced with the iPhone threat.

There’s no doubt that the battle lines are drawn between Apple, RIM and Android.  All are vying for the top spot but RIM has the corporate foundation to push out from.  With Microsoft down and out at the moment, RIM should be locking down the business market tight.  The Torch is a great phone for that as it’s generally considered to be the best Blackberry ever from the reviews, even if it’s not quite up to Android, iOS and WebOS standard.

RIM needs to forget about the opening numbers game and go for the long-term.

UK Units and gpsDashboard

Posted by Andrew at 4:28 AM on August 18, 2010

Here in the UK, we live in a strange a mix of imperial (English) and metric units.  We buy fruit and veg by the kilo but ask someone their weight, it’s in stones and pounds.  When it’s cold, it’s “a few degrees” (C) but when it’s hot, it’s “in the 80s” (F).  You can buy pints of milk but in the supermarket, you’ll pick up 2 litres.  No one gets too bothered about it, (except readers of The Daily Mail who regularly get worked up about the loss of imperial units).

Distance and speed are still resolutely in miles and mph, but height is usually in metres.  So you can have this strange anomaly where you are driving at 60 mph with 20 miles to your destination on a road at 800 m.

And this is where my problem arose – I was using gpsDashboard+ on my Palm Pre Plus which allows you to toggle between miles/feet or km/metre.  But if I chose imperial, my distance and speed are good, but height is in feet.  What I wanted was imperial distance and speed but metric height.

I contacted the author of gpsDashboard+, Brad Graber, at 2.15 on Monday afternoon.  By 3pm he’d make the changes and he re-submitted gpsDashboard+ to Palm later that day.  At 7.30 on Wednesday morning, I download the updated version to my Pre and gpsDashboard+ now has a special UK units setting just for me!

I’m grateful to Brad for the change but the speed from which it went from “I’ve got a problem” to “Problem fixed” was amazing, especially when you hear how long it takes apps to get updated in certain other app stores.  Great job Brad, and great job Palm.  Fantastic service.

Palm Pre Plus – 3 Months On

Posted by Andrew at 5:29 AM on August 4, 2010

Picture of Palm Pre PlusPalm is definitely the uber-underdog in the battle of the smartphones with RIM, Apple and Android battling it out for supremacy.  Palm has been struggling for mindshare but with its acquisition of HP last month ago, it’s looking stronger ;-)

The Palm Pre Plus was launched in the UK on O2 back in May.  I have to confess that I already had a Pre that I’d obtained via ebay but as my contract was up, I renewed and got myself the Plus version.  I did seriously think about jumping to Android but in the end, I loved the underdog too much.

I’ve been using the Pre Plus now for about 3 months so I thought I’d give it a quick review for real-life usage rather than the feature-driven reviews that appear when devices first come out.

By far the best feature of the Palm smartphones is contactless charging using the Touchstone.  You place the phone on the Touchstone and it charges.  Simple and brilliant.  The Touchstone doubles as a desktop cradle, angling the Pre Plus so you can see the screen.

Battery life isn’t great and I’m seriously thinking about getting a second battery.  On quiet days, I can get through the day without charging but if I’m making lots of calls or using plenty of data, then I’ll get to mid afternoon before needing a charge.

Shape and construction.  The curved back and soft-touch rubber makes the Pre Plus feel great in the hand.  Apparently Palm were aiming for a water-worn pebble aesthetic.  The front is a bit plasticky and a metal surround would have been an improvement.

The slider mechanism has come in for criticism on the various Palm forums but I’ve had both a Pre and the current Pre Plus and neither have exhibited any problems.  If anything, it’s actually quite satisfying when you pop it closed.

The keyboard works well too.  Even as a man with biggish hands, I have no problems typing.  Ok, so you aren’t going to be writing “War and Peace” on it but for banging out some emails or text messages, it’s fine.

I’ve dropped the Pre Plus from waist height on two occasions, once onto concrete and amazingly, it survived albeit with a few dings in the plastic.  Thumbs up for overall construction.

Moving onto the operating system and software, WebOS is pretty good.  The multitasking of apps works seamlessly and on the Pre Plus, I’ve had over ten apps open at once.  This makes working with multiple information sources really easy – you can move between apps with a couple of flicks of the finger.

The other piece of brilliance is the Synergy technology which sucks in data from multiple sources into a single view.  For example, if I have a friend who is on LinkedIn, Facebook and in my Google contacts, I see only one entry for that friend in the Pre’s Contact app instead of three.  Genius.

The Pre lives in the cloud and I think it’s the way to go.  There’s no direct syncing with your desktop (unless you buy a third party product) but I have everything in Google – Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Bookmarks and Docs. Other clouds such as Yahoo! are also options.  I’ve never measured what data rate I get out of 3G but it’s fast enough for me to download podcasts without thinking about it.  Having sync’d via the cloud, I’d never go back to a wired solution.

The Palm App Catalog has the smallest number of apps (2524 in UK at time of writing) compared to iOS and Android but this ignores quality over quantity.  There are some deficiences which I will come to shortly but frankly, there’s pretty much all you need available.  The basics (calendar / diary, contacts, web-browser, music player, video player, picture viewer)  are all built-in.  There are also apps for YouTube and Google Maps.  I’ve listed some of the other apps I have loaded below.

Social Media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Tweed (for Twitter)
Media – Evernote, Feeds (for RSS), drPodder (for podcasts), pReader (for e-books), Flickr Addict
Tasks & Projects – ToDo Classic, Outline Tracker
Security – SplashID
Money - ClearCheckbook, AuctionMate (for ebay)
Games – Hawx, Sudoku, Min-Golf, Brain Challenge and lots of other little games.

The one major deficiency is in Microsoft Office editing.  There is a viewer app for Word, Excel and Powerpoint but it’s viewing only.  Most of the time it’s not a problem, but there have been one or two occasions where it would have been handy.

The App Catalog itself is pretty simple to use and it’s all too easy to splurge on a few apps and games.

Finally, Palm has embraced the developer community, both official and unofficial, which has taken on the moniker of “homebrew”.  There are loads of patches which customise WebOS and apps in little (and not so little) ways.  You want more icons on each page? – you got it.  Want to be able to download YouTube videos? – you got it.  The heart of homebrew community is over at PreCentral and there’s loads of general information over there too.

So what don’t I like about the Pre Plus?  As I mentioned earlier, the front is a bit plasticky.  The door that covers the USB slot is poor but fortunately I rarely have to connect physically.  There’s no Flash support though it’s coming real soon now.  And the lack of market share means that it’s often the last to get an app or support.  For instance, there’s no Google Latitude or StreetView support.  It also means that it’s rare to meet someone else with a Palm – I work in IT with a hundred-odd colleagues and no-one else has Pre or Pixi - so I never get to say, “Did you see that new app GeeWhizzBang?”

But these are minor niggles in the overall picture.  Would I buy again? Definitely.  Choosing your next smartphone is never easy but if you are thinking of getting a new phone, don’t just head straight for the iPhone – the Palm Pre Plus or Pixi Plus deserve a look.