Travels in a Foreign Land

Three LogoI’ve been doing a little travelling in Europe over the past few months and with modern life being what it is, mobile connectivity is a must. In my case, it’s provided by UK’s Three and this year’s situation is much improved over previous years. Three has introduced “Feel At Home” which lets customers use their mobile phone for both voice and data in 16 countries round the world at no extra cost. The countries include USA, Australia, France, Italy and Ireland and the limitations are reasonable, such as no tethering and a 25 GB data cap. When you are in one of the 16 countries, it is brilliant – you can play Ingress, call home and check your email without worries of bill shock on your return. Good job, Three.

Outside of the 16 countries, it’s not so rosy. Three have a tariff called “Euro Internet Pass” which is GB£5 for a day of unlimited data. Sounds ok, but “a day” ends at midnight UK time no matter what time you purchase the Pass or the time zone that you are in. But my biggest complaint is how frustratingly difficult it is to buy the Euro Pass. To start with, I can’t simply go into My3 account and buy the Pass; I have to go via a special link to a particular web page. Second, the phone has to have a 3G connection, not wi-fi. Yes, you read that right – you have to be data roaming on 3G to buy the Euro Internet Pass even if you have a perfectly good wi-fi connection. Three helpfully suggests disabling push notifications to avoid per MB roaming charges immediately prior to purchasing a Pass. You can read that gem on their website here – point 2. It’s ridiculous – at times I got so cross with the whole process while trying to buy the pass that I simply gave up and used free wi-fi where I could. The Spanish cortados make the trip to the coffee bar worthwhile, though….

Get your phone wet? All may not be lost with DryBox

dryboxMobile phones and water are a notoriously bad combination. However a new product from a company called DryBox aims to fix your woes when this problem strikes your handset.

The Rescue has pretty lofty claims, including a drying time of only 30 minutes and that it can save a device as much as two to three days after it got wet. “The DryBox Rescue system utilizes a patent-pending drying chamber as part of a process that rapidly removes moisture at the molecular level from several small electronic devices”, the company claims.

There are some steps that the victim needs to take for the best chance of good results. Users are recommended to remove the battery (if possible) and don’t charge the phone.

For now, this is not a consumer product, but instead will be something that will be in the hands of  certain retailers and repair shops. Victims of a wet phone are recommended to proceed to the nearest location in their area. These are not yet available however and no time frame has yet been announced. You can visit DryBox to learn more.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and Power Bank Review

TP-LInk LogoThe TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and 5200 mAh Power Bank (M5360) combines two of the handiest portable accessories – a 3G wireless hotspot and a USB battery pack – into a single unit. Sounds good on paper, but convergence doesn’t always work out. Let’s take a look.

3G Wireless and Power Bank

The M5360 comes neatly packaged in a slide-out box. Included with the 3G Mobile WiFi are instructions, a charger, USB-to-microUSB cable and some SIM adaptors which hold the smaller SIM sizes. The 3G Mobile WiFi itself is larger than the average mobile hotspot but this hardly unexpected given that there’s an additional 5200 mAh battery stashed in there. Overall, it’s 44 x 29 x 100 mm and while the weight isn’t officially given, my kitchen scales say 150g.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi

As you’ll see, the 3G Mobile WiFi is white with a clear plastic cover over the OLED screen. Moving round the unit, at the top there is a microUSB socket to charge up the Power Bank. On the right side, a power button turns the unit on, off and toggles between charging only and simultaneous 3G sharing and charging. There’s a reset button (that I never had to use) and covered slots for the SIM and micro SD cards. Finally on the bottom is USB socket that can be used for charging other devices. It’s only rated at 1A, so it’s more suited to charging smartphones and media players than 10″ tablets.

Getting going is simple – slip a SIM in and power the 3G Mobile WiFi up. As the unit is not network-locked you can use whatever SIM you choose, and helpfully on the rear of the device is all the information necessary for connecting to the WiFi network, including SSID and password. The 3G Mobile WiFi generally self-configures, but if you need to change anything, you can log on to the unit via a web browser and make changes.

Profile Management

With a 3 SIM everything went smoothly but I also tried the unit with a SIM from MVNO Giffgaff, which actually uses the O2 network. In this instance, I had to log on to the 3G Mobile WiFi and make some changes to the profile. To be perfectly clear, this reconfiguration is needed because of the MVNO nature of Giffgaff and illustrates the flexibility of the 3G Power Bank.

The small screen gives the usual information about the 3G Mobile WiFi side of things, including signal strength, connectivity, client number, battery and SMS messages. The download rate, upload rate and data volume are shown too. The unit supports the usual GSM protocols up to HSPA+ so in theory the max download rate is 21.6 Mb/s with 5.76 Mb/s upload, but local conditions are likely to significantly reduce this. With respect to WiFi, it’s 11b/g/n and up to 10 clients can connect at once.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi Screen

Now for the best bit….using the internal battery, the M5360 will run for over two (working days) without recharging. TP-Link quote 16-17 hours under heavy use by a single person and up to 26 hours will lighter use. I’m inclined to agree with TP-Link as I was able to use the 3G Power Bank for two and a half working days of relatively light use before recharging. Sweet.

In addition to powering the 3G Mobile WiFi, the battery can be used to charge another device as well. There are two options, wireless sharing and charging, and charging only; a quick double press of the power button toggles between the two modes. The 5200 mAh battery is roughly double the size of a smartphone battery, so expect to fully recharge your phone twice from the Power Bank.

Any problems? No, not really. My only feedback is the the positioning of the charging USB port on the top seems a bit odd as it simply looks funny when the 3G Power Bank is standing on its end. I would have preferred the socket on the side towards the bottom, or even on the bottom with an optional charging dock. Minor points, I know.

Overall, the TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and 5200 mAh Power Bank is a useful combination of the two. The ability to run the hotspot for a full working day (and then some) with several connected clients is attractive. The only downside is that the M5360 is heavier than a normal WiFi hotspot but that’s the price you pay for a bigger battery, but if it’s sitting on a desk, there’s no issue anyway.

Speaking of price, expect to pay somewhere around GB£70 for the M5360.

Thanks to TP-Link for supplying the review unit.

Luiqipel discusses its latest smartphone protection

luiqipelLuiqipel, as the name implies, is the company who waterproofs your phone. But now it has taken things a bit further, attempting to prevent other damage as well.

Impacts? Screen scratches? Those are two areas the company is focusing upon. The latest technology is a think film that may look like it’s close to nothing, but actually provides the damage control that customers are looking for, both from drops and encounters with keys in pocket or purse. The company claims that a screen can survive a four foot drop of a steel ball upon it. There’s a demo of the latest product, and you’ll need to watch the video below to get a look. You can visit Liquipel to learn more.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network

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Rovio electrifies Angry Birds with new levels

Fans of the Rovio series of games can rejoice today, as the Finnish game maker is rolling out an update to its flagship mobile product. While it’s probably no longer the most popular Angry Birds, the original has become a classic in the minds of many gamers.

“Today Angry Birds received an electrifying new update with 30 fun-filled levels set in Professor Pig’s lab”, the company states. It then proceeds to describe that customers will find the new levels contain a bonus — the Bomb Bird has now become electrified. “His temper has grown after he accidentally stumbles upon powerful potions and electricity in the Professor’s lab”, as Rovio describes it.

Not to let a marketing opportunity fail to pass them by, the studio is also pushing a new tee-shirt emblazoned with the logo “shockwave”. It has also release a short trailer video to get you familiar with this latest update. You can watch the video below, but beating the levels is something we can’t help you with.

Nokia Lumia 1520 sneaks out early

Windows Phone fans anxiously await the next versions of the Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices from Nokia. For some fortunate customers, like the Xbox One, a few lucky people are getting the handset just a bit early. The latest in the line of Nokia phones falls into a category that has been dubbed a ‘phablet’, which loosely translates to an oversized smartpahone — one that rivals Android devices like the Galaxy Note.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is set to be released in late November, when Microsoft has plans to also launch its next-generation gaming console, the Xbox One.  The 1520 purports 4G LTE and a 3,300mAh battery, with a 20 MP rear camera. And, now the oversized phone has hit the market a bit early, with an advance version apparently being sold at an AT&T retail location.

A poster in the forums over at Windows Phone Central has managed to land the device and posted images and a receipt as evidence. “Ok here is a copy of the receipt, this should provide all the ‘Proof’ that I own the phone”, says Michelle SV. Then, she proceeded to post images of the box being taken apart as well. It was compelling evidence, though not foolproof, as these things have been faked before,

The phone was sold unlocked and, beyond that, the customer claimed to have entered a second store and was also offered a Lumia 1520. Microsoft has, so far, failed to issue comment. However, given the recent travails with Xbox One thanks to another retailer, the company is possibly game planning a strategy to deal with these, increasingly common, mishaps that seem to be occurring.

nokia lumia 1520

A Microsoft Future

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

A Microsoft Fantasy

MandroidMicrosoft and their “Windows Everywhere” strategy — it’s a painful thing to watch.  Microsoft is becoming the new Blackberry.

Technology is always improving at an ever-accelerating pace.  Mobile devices combined with ubiquitous, ever-present Internet, combined with ever-increasing bandwidth have come together to disrupt the traditional PC market, which itself was a disruption.

Companies that ride the wave of technological disruption frequently become household names. Once upon a time one of them was Microsoft, which was able to ride the crest of the wave of the personal computer revolution. Microsoft software was once almost everywhere. Alas, the next wave of disruption came along in the form of mobile hand-held computers with always-on connectivity, and now Microsoft in many respects is drowning behind that next wave.

I believe people at Microsoft see the handwriting on the wall – traditional PC sales numbers are dropping like a stone into a bottomless pit. The vast majority of people don’t need a traditional computer because modern handheld touchscreen devices such as iPads and smartphones frequently do most of what consumers want faster and better.

So, with Windows 8 Microsoft tried to force Windows users away from the traditional PC desktop to a new touchscreen interface dubbed “Metro” that seems to be sort of half-baked. When users rebelled, they released a semi-compromise in the form of Windows 8.1. Apparently the thinking must have been that if they could get end-users of desktop Windows computers used to the new interface, they would naturally gravitate towards the same interface on Microsoft smartphones and tablets. Thus – “Windows Everywhere” has been implemented and is clearly floundering, with good reason.

Microsoft is still a profitable enterprise, largely because of the X-Box and server software. In my opinion, Microsoft should concentrate on these two profitable areas of their business and forget about selling tablets and smartphones.

A Radical Suggestion

However, if Microsoft can’t bring themselves to abandon the mobile device market, I have a radical suggestion for them. It’s clear to me the only remote chance Microsoft has of success in todays’s mobile market is if they would dump mobile versions of Windows and adopt Android. They could call it Mandroid.

Microsoft now owns Nokia, and even before the Nokia purchase Microsoft has demonstrated it can produce sleek hardware.

Microsoft, if you want ANY chance of the vast majority of consumers considering buying your mobile products, re-develop them with Android. You would have the huge instant advantage of the Android app market, and a stable mobile OS that already has plenty of marketplace traction.

Will Microsoft adopt Android? Not a chance. If Microsoft is lucky it will end up like IBM, a beached shell of its former self.

Turn your Android device into KitKat without root

As you already know, Google celebrated Halloween last week with treats, as opposed to tricks. The treats came in the form of both hardware and software, with the LG-made Nexus 5 becoming available, along with Android 4.4 KitKat.

As far as upgrades to a mobile operating system go, 4.4 is not a huge difference, but there are noticeable changes none-the-less. Like previous versions of Android, ROM’s came out rather quickly, as did a complete system dump. The latter is important because that means APK files for download.

With these mobile executables, customers can now pick and choose from what they wish to upgrade and add the updates to their device. As Droid Life points out, “most are minor updates, but there are a couple worth looking at, like the new Google Search (it’s awesome), Launcher (“Google Home”), Keyboard, and Clock”. The blog also provides the downloads within that same post — there are 12 of them, but you can install only what you want (with the exception of the Launcher, which is explained in the post).

mexus 5 launcher

Rovio gets ready for tricks and treats

angry birds friends halloween

Halloween is right around the corner and, as in previous years, Rovio is celebrating via its popular mobile games. In the past this has consisted of an update to Angry Birds Seasons, but this time around the developers are taking a different approach.

The Finnish company is rolling out two updates, this time adding zombie pigs to both the Bad Piggies game, as well as Angry Birds Friends, the weekly tournament game.

“This is the Halloween when Zombie Pigs will walk the Piggy Island! A new update for Bad Piggies, called Tusk ‘til Dawn, kicked off the Halloween celebrations by introducing 30 spooky new levels with scary Zombie Pigs searching for King Pig’s candy”, the company has announced.

In addition, beginning October 23 there will be a special Halloween tournament live on Angry Birds Friends. “Don’t worry! You’ll have new custom slingshots to fight the hordes of the oinking dead. You can purchase a new slingshot with a special power that will apply to all birds shot with it. You can change the slingshots for each bird, and once purchased you can use them permanently in both web and mobile versions of the game”.

Both updates are now available in the Google Play store and the Apple store.