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Do Frequent Phone O/S Updates Make Sense?

Posted by tomwiles at 1:01 AM on August 18, 2010

I’ve had my HTC Evo for a couple of months or more at this point. When I first turned it on, there was an update waiting. The update installed. So far, so good.

Over the next few weeks I heard there was another update available, but it turned out there was a problem with the update. It took HTC and Sprint about a week or more to fix the problem update, but since the Evo was still in very short supply, I chose not to update it right away. What if there was a problem with the update and it bricked the phone? How would I get an immediate replacement? Better to wait.

A few days ago, Sprint and HTC started releasing the “Froyo” or “Frozen Yogurt” Android 2.2 update for the Evo. I decided it was time to take the plunge and accept the update.

There were two updates. The first one downloaded and installed, and then the second. No problems.

Now I’m asking myself, did the upgrade to Android 2.2 live up to all the hype? Android 2.2 on the Evo might be a little bit more snappy, but it’s hard to tell since the Evo already had excellent performance with the version of Android it shipped with. There are a few changes here and there that improve usability, some of them somewhat worthwhile, but was it really worth the trouble? The phone was a great device before the update. It’s a great device after the update.

Are updates to existing smartphones enough reason for consumers to get really excited over? As I see it, if lots of new basic usability and reliability can be added with a particular update, then it’s likely worthwhile. Smartphones are still evolving devices.

It seems to me that the job of adding new functionality to smartphones falls primarily to apps, and not necessarily the operating system itself. The operating system should be a stable, functional platform that offers basic functionality and services to those apps.

Once smartphone operating system design begins to mature however, the danger of updating and changing things just for the sake of change is always a potential risk. Also keep in mind that on average people replace cell phones about every 18 months, which is a much more frequent replacement cycle than desktop and laptop computers.

In the realm of desktop computer software, Microsoft Office is a great example of mature software design. There are only so many things word processing software can do. Microsoft Word and Excel both had good design and usability for me starting way back with Office 95. With subsequent releases, Microsoft seemed to sometimes arbitrarily change things just for the sake of change, which is a huge usability mistake. Computer software design is not the same as car styling design.

Are Smartphone Apps Really Practical?

Posted by tomwiles at 12:50 AM on August 6, 2010

Today’s smartphones are amazing devices and can do some pretty cool things. Some of the apps can be quite remarkable, but do they offer real-world functionality?

Yesterday was another 104 degree day. Get used to it – there are days like this every year.

I was in my bedroom yesterday afternoon and suddenly the lights went out. To spare you the details, the problem ended up being an aging 60 amp breaker that had weakened to the point where it couldn’t handle my dishwasher and washing machine running simultaneously.

So here I was standing there in front of the breaker box with a magnifying glass trying to make out the tiny numbers printed on the breaker in question and writing them down on a piece of paper. After a few minutes, I realized there was a barcode sticker located on the top of the breaker. Unfortunately, it was located in a position where there was no way that I could see the numbers on it.

Barcode… barcode… BARCODE!!! I have multiple barcode apps on my HTC Evo smartphone. “I wonder if I can possibly scan that barcode with my phone?” I thought to myself. I got the phone, started the Amazon Barcode app, and held the phone up a rather awkward, non-ideal position, trying to hold the phone as still as possible. Success!! The barcode suddenly scanned. I was able to click on the button to look the number up in Google and to my delight it popped right up with the product description and the actual model number of the electrical breaker.

A quick trip to the nearest Lowe’s store and $10 dollars later, I had the exact replacement breaker model that I needed.

It turns out that the Amazon Barcode app ended up being very useful in a way that I could have never imagined.

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.

Amazon Kindle E-Books

Posted by tomwiles at 3:55 AM on July 27, 2010

Shortly after getting my HTC Evo phone, one of the initial apps I downloaded from the Android Marketplace was the Amazon Kindle app with the idea I’d probably check it out at some point. Weeks went by, and I pretty much ignored the app.

Yesterday I was talking to a good friend that is in the process of formatting e-books for an author friend of his, including formatting the books in the Kindle format. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned to him once again that I needed check the Android Kindle app out. He pointed out that there were free e-books available in the Kindle format on the Amazon website, including many books from 1922 and before that were now in the public domain, so after I finished his call I went on Amazon.Com with my computer and started digging around in the Kindle Store area of Amazon. Sure enough, there seemed to be plenty of free e-books available, so I started adding them. To get the Kindle app on my phone to synch with my Amazon account couldn’t be easier, I simply entered in my email address and Amazon password into the app. Any books in my Amazon storage area are quickly updated to the app.

Sure, some of the free books weren’t exactly my taste, but I was able to open them on my phone and finally see how well the Kindle app worked. Hummm, not bad – not bad at all. To make a long story short, I ended up finding a current book I really liked and purchased it for $9.99.

What a pleasant surprise I was in for. Reading a Kindle book on my HTC Evo is actually a good experience. The text is quite legible. The surprising part is that twice now I’ve carried the phone with me into restaurants and was able to easily read using the phone while eating. Of course, the HTC Evo has a handy built-in kick stand that allows the phone to sit on its side at an angle. I can eat and then periodically lightly touch the right side of the screen in order to make the Kindle app advance to the next page. The Kindle app even synchs the latest page I’m on back to the server, so if I open the book up again either on my phone or on my laptop, it opens up right at the exact page where I stopped reading.

At this point I have no plans on buying an actual Kindle, however I suspect I will be buying more Kindle e-books in the future. I often carry my phone around with me wherever I go, and because of the way the Kindle app works across all Kindle apps associated with my account, I have instant access to every Kindle e-book in my Amazon account storage area on every associated Kindle installation. There are often times I end up having to cool my heels waiting on something, and it’s incredibly handy to be able to use that otherwise often wasted waiting time reading. Ten minutes here and twenty minutes there really do add up over time.

All of this talk about, “Oh, the iPad has killed the Kindle” is bogus. Amazon has been very smart to put Kindle apps out for as wide a variety of devices as possible. Even if they don’t sell that many Kindle readers, the Kindle format e-book is a huge Amazon win, both for Amazon and for consumers like me.

GNC-2010-07-26 #596 Gamma Ray Findings Not Good

Posted by geeknews at 5:24 PM on July 26, 2010

Gamma Ray Findings not good whats that all about? Listen to learn more. Lots of tech news rare daytime recording was pretty nice. Lots of great feedback on the last show. The hotline is now open for your comments on todays show at 619-342-7365. You PR people are getting sneaky out their, they almost got a comment through during the show today unchecked.

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Insider / Ohana Links:
BSOD on Deepwater Horizon.
Newspapers saved through Litigation.
CNN Host have lost their Minds!
*** Rent or Own Calculator ***
Flipboard.
HP Windows 7 Slates.
Nook for Android.
Compact Camera Shoot Out.
DSLR Shooting Tips.

The Geek’s Show Links:
Sprint Palm Pixi mod.
Walmart RFID Tags Privacy Concerns.
Meego coming to a car near you.
More info on Consumer 3d Camera.
CTIA goes after Cell Phone Radiation Law.
Changing face of Journalism.
Do Regular People understand Public Lives were Living?
Cloud Perspectives.
What Planet is CNN reporting on?
** Walk Across America.
Laser Show destroys DSLR!
iPad Stand.
Lightning slowed down x300.
Cell Phone rules at your Work?
Devices and more Devices become Net Aware.
T-Mobile iPhone Expectations.
Telcos loosing Broadband Customers.
Inception Good or Bad?
Mobilize your Blog.
Facebook Delete Button.
Google Music.
EFF Scores Big Win!
Facebook Like feature Enhanced.
YouTube API Fantastic News.
Google Apps for Government?
New Mars Rover takes first Roll.
AT&T fixing Network with Cheaper Wi-FI?
UFC to go after PPV streamers.
Citi says mobile app banking Security Issue.
Sniffing for those Paralyzed.
Southwest says Mechanical issue = Act of God?
All Colliders idle in 2012?
Copyright Insanity.
Camera wizardry at it’s best!
Gamma Ray Burst will be Ugly!

Send in your stories to geeknews@gmail.com and be sure to provide a link to your websites!

Does The Cloud Have A Dark Side?

Posted by tomwiles at 2:41 PM on July 25, 2010

Does The Cloud Have A Dark Side?For some time we’ve been hearing about the virtues of cloud-based computing.

Certain functions seem to lend themselves to the cloud. Online word processing, spreadsheets, etc. can seem to make sense in some situations, such as collaborating with others.

In everyday use scenarios, does the cloud really make sense in more traditional private computer-use situations? I contend that it does not.

Right now I’m typing this into Microsoft Word on my MacBook Pro. At the moment I have rather lousy Sprint and Verizon connectivity, even though 12 hours ago at this very same location I had really good connectivity from both. The only thing that changed is the time of day. If I was currently limited to using Google Docs chances are I would be unable to write this. Network demand constantly fluctuates depending on the time of day and location.

Is there enough bandwidth available? With the tsunami of smartphones that are on the immediate horizon, will the carriers be able to keep up with the average five-fold bandwidth demand increase that the average smartphone user pulls from the network? Can carriers keep up with a smartphone-saturated public all trying to pull down data at the same time?

However, for the sake of argument let’s say that mobile Internet connectivity isn’t an issue.

What if the Internet is turned off due to a declared cyber attack and all of your documents are online? What good would the network appliance approach to computing be then?

Can e-books be revised after the fact? If government can simply decide to turn off the Internet, then it’s not that much of a leap to imagine laws and regulations being passed banning certain types of blogs or even books that have been deemed dangerous or seditious. There have already been books sold such as “1984” by Amazon that were deleted from Kindles after the fact by Amazon when it was determined that Amazon didn’t have the legal right to sell it in e-book form. What if instead of banning books, they were simply rewritten to remove the offending parts? What’s to stop instant revision of e-books that have been declared dangerous?

Prove it: Challenge to Modders, Make Me a CDMA iPhone 4

Posted by J Powers at 10:10 PM on July 22, 2010

Rumor, rumor, on the wall. Apple rumors talk abound. Are they true or are they not. Rumor, rumor fill my pot.

Thought I would make a nursery rhyme on this. After all, rumors seem to be Mother Gooses best yarns.

Some rumors come true. Others, not so much. No clam shell phone, no mini version either. But will that one rumor that has been around since the 1st generation iPhone finally happen? Will Apple switch to Verizon?

Apple and AT&T, sittin in a tree…

There is a lot of “Love – Hate” relationship information on these two. Apple jabs at AT&T at WWDC. AT&T jabs at Apple antennaegate. Yet, they still have an exclusivity with each other.

Is it all about the money? Is there something special about the two? Are they both good kissers?

Verizon iPhone Mock

Verizon iPhone Mock

Little Boys Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint want an Apple bad

No doubt that Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint would gain instant market share if the leader in Smartphone technology was to jump to another carrier.

Of course, T-Mobile would be the easiest, since they are also GSM. I have no doubt in my mind that in some deepest, darkest room somewhere in Apple, there is a CDMA iPhone just sitting, waiting for it’s chance.

R&D, cost of production, Return on investment. Would it be worth it? Maybe if the architecture is easy to switch between the two carriers

Challenge, challenge, to you all – convert the iPhone for the call

I throw this challenge out to anybody who’s an engineer. If Apple is even thinking about a CDMA iPhone, then they would design it to easily swap out the GSM chip with a CDMA. Unplug one board, plug in the other, fix some code and start talking.

Maybe someone has already done this. We have people taking apart iPhones with the express need to find out what’s inside. Rip apart, inventory and plan for the rebuild.

Let’s prove Mother Goose can step out of the book and say “Hi”. Let’s put the childish games aside. Let us eat our Green Eggs and Ham. Let’s just do it to say we can.

History Is About To Repeat

Posted by tomwiles at 12:18 AM on July 15, 2010

I remember it well. Back around October of 2004, I first heard the word “podcast” used on The David Lawrence Show via my XM Satellite Radio. It sounded interesting, and I wrote it down on my driver logbook cover with the idea of looking it up later. I heard David mention it again once or twice over the next few weeks. Finally, in early December of 2004 I finally got around to looking it up. I found Adam Curry’s podcast, realized what it was, and knew that I felt compelled to not only listen to podcasts but get involved as a podcaster myself. This was exactly what I’d been looking for for many years – a wide variety of content that I could choose, download, and control the playback/consumption of on MY terms.

Podcasting took previously-existing elements and applied them with a new twist. MP3 files had already existed for a number of years. Virtually every computer already came with a sound card and had the basic ability to both play back and record audio. Portable MP3 players had been around for a while. Apart from Adam Curry’s and Dave Winer’s contribution of the podcasting concept and making it work, the one key element that suddenly made podcasting viable and actually inevitable was the fact that Internet bandwidth got good enough to make it practical.

Practical is an important key.

We have now passed another important milestone in terms of mobile bandwidth. Mobile bandwidth, while not yet perfect, has improved dramatically in both terms of data delivery and coverage. About three or more years ago I had experimented with streaming audio via my smartphone while driving my truck, and quickly determined that it wasn’t viable. I couldn’t listen long at all before I would lose the stream. No problem, I had plenty of podcasts to listen to.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about Pandora.Com lately, so last week I finally tried the Pandora Android app out on my new Sprint HTC Evo. To my surprise, it worked amazingly well – even in Arizona and the western third of New Mexico along Interstate 40 where Sprint still has 1XRT service. The streaming music sounded great, and the few times it did briefly drop out in a couple of mountainous areas, it automatically reconnected and reestablished the playback stream.

(By the way, a side note – I was surprised to learn that Verizon has NO data card coverage around the Kingman, Arizona area – my Verizon aircard would NOT connect in the Kingman area.)

Streaming radio via the Internet in a moving vehicle is now practical. Smartphones have also reached critical mass to the point where they are really beginning to move into the mainstream. Even though streaming Internet audio has been around for quite a few years at this point, I believe the automotive market for streaming audio is about to open up in a massive way.

Up until this point most people have felt that streaming Internet radio had plateaued or was only going to grow slowly. I believe that improved cell networks along with smartphone proliferation will create a new market for streaming audio services. The automobile has been the traditional stronghold of terrestrial and now satellite radio services. An old kid that’s been around a while suddenly has a big and growing shot at a new lease-on life.

I believe opportunities exist for streaming Internet radio stations that deliver highly specialized content. For us geeks, imagine a 24/7 tech-centric streaming station. The sky really is the limit. The cost of running a streaming station can be very low, so therefore it becomes possible and practical to narrowcast to relatively small audiences.

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.

Smart Phones Getting Smarter

Posted by tomwiles at 1:20 PM on June 18, 2010

Smart Phones Getting SmarterWith my recent purchase of the Sprint HTC Evo 4G, I’m on my third smart phone. It’s been quite an interesting ride.

The first one was an HTC PPC-6700, running Windows Mobile 5 with the original incarnation of Alltel EVDO, integrated WiFi, and a slide-out keyboard. The phone had terrible battery life, and the operating system was sluggish. I personally found the slide-out keyboard to be next to useless, and it’s presence made the phone too thick. On long phone calls or with intensive data usage, the phone could get hot enough to cause it to lock up or reboot without good ventilation. Nonetheless, I kept it for a couple of years, passing it on to one of my younger brothers when I was done with it.

Smart phone number two was a Sprint HTC Touch. It had the same sized screen, but was much thinner and sleeker. It had a bit better battery life than the 6700, but not by much, and no WiFi. The operating system was still a bit sluggish. Sprint and HTC upgraded it to Windows Mobile 6.1, and with the integrated GPS chip, it functioned with the included Sprint GPS Navigation software, which is actually quite good. For about a year and a half, I used this phone as my podcast aggregator (with a paid aggregator app) and playback device, which actually worked reasonably well. A $20 dollar keyboard app gave me an iPhone-style onscreen keyboard to replace the next-to-useless software keyboard included with Windows Mobile. I used this phone up until a few days ago, keeping it for about two and one half years.

Enter now the Evo 4G. I have to say this is probably one of the most impressive, satisfying gadgets I’ve ever owned, and that’s saying something. Compared to the HTC Touch, the Evo is about ¾ of an inch longer and ½ an inch wider and about the same thickness as the Touch. The Evo’s large touch screen is spectacular, and the Android operating system is extremely responsive and smooth regardless of how many apps I have running. The integrated WiFi hotspot is fantastic and works incredibly well, though it can cause the need to reboot the phone after downloading about 1.5 gigabytes of data. The Evo stays very cool while in use.

My conclusion? The best computer is the one that’s in your pocket.