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December 15, 2010

What to do with that free Evo from Google I/O?

A discussion thread from the Mass GTUG group this morning wandered onto the topic of whether people were using the Sprint Evo phone that Google I/O 2010 attendees received. Most people on the thread said they weren't using it much unless they had made it their primary mobile phone. It's not my primary phone either, but I've kept using mine for various reasons and I thought I'd share them to a larger audience.

  1. First off, I find the Evo has an excellent camera. It takes great 8MP shots with low shutter lag, especially compared to the lag on my Droid. It even takes better shots than my pocket Nikon! And I love how the photos are geo-tagged because the Evo, like most modern cellphones, has a built-in GPS receiver. So, I end up taking the Evo along with me on trips instead of a digital camera.

  2. Secondly, this phone has a great battery life. I know, I know-- many of you who are familiar with Evo's are goggling in disbelief at that statement, knowing that when the Evo first came out its battery would often last less than an 8-hour workday. But when it's a secondary device not used to make cellphone calls, you can put it in airplane mode. With the antennas turned off, the battery can last me over a week.

  3. Third, the Evo's nice large screen makes it a great ebook device. It's got that beautiful 4.3-inch screen which is a joy to read with. Yet another reason to bring the Evo along on your travels.

  4. Finally, for those of you who like gaming (or have kids who like gaming), the Evo is a good gaming device, and keeps your kids away from your own phone on car trips. Did I state that clearly? Having an extra Evo phone around keeps your kids away from your own phone. 'Nuff said.

And remember, the more you use your Evo as a camera, e-reader, game console, and all-around media device, the less you consume your primary phone's battery. I don't carry the Evo around with me every day, but when I travel or go someplace where I want to take pictures, it's a lifesaver.

August 13, 2010

In 2.2, Android finally supports sorting contacts by last name

Ever since I bought my first Android phone, it's bugged me that the Contacts app sorted by first name, different from what I was used to in any other service or application I'd ever used (except GMail, I suppose). So after reading the latest announcement in the GMail blog about updates to the contacts interface, including sorting by last name, I wondered if changing the sort in my Gmail account would possibly affect the sorting in my Android device after the next sync between the two. No dice.

But after I got the bad news in my Android device, I decided to check in the Contact settings just to see whether anything had changed. Perhaps like in GMail, I thought, Android decided to add sorting by last name? Lo and behold, there it was!

Oddly enough, you have to change two settings: both "Sort list by: last name" and "View contact names as: last name first". I suppose this is convenient for users who really want to customize the sorting.

contact-lastname-sort.png

I noticed this new feature on my Motorola Droid, which runs FRG22. Unfortunately it's not present in the People app on my Sprint Evo (people is apparently HTC's version of Contacts).

August 10, 2010

Android app of the week: ROM Manager

rom-manager.pngFor those of you who have heard of ROM Manager before, you'll might make the guess that since I'm recommending it, it means I've rooted my Motorola Droid and installed another ROM. If so, your conclusion is correct-- and ROM Manager made it easy. ROM Manager didn't actually perform the rooting, mind you (I have EasyRoot to thank for that), but it did make experimenting with ROMs a pretty comfortable thing to do.

What ROM Manager does, on a rooted phone, is to provide an easy mechanism to back up your existing ROM (a ROM being a snapshot of the operating system and data as it exists on your phone) and to install new ROMs or kernels on your phone. If the new ROM or kernel doesn't work, you can just use ROM manager to revert back to one that does (or to your phone's original, stock ROM). It gives you (almost) worry-free manipulation over your phone's software.

Scan this QR code with your Android phone to find the link to ROM Manager in the Market

July 29, 2010

Android app of the week: gReader

greader-app.jpg6415066175965897">gReader, as its developer describes it, is "an unofficial . Read all your rss/feed news in one place..." And that's exactly what it is-- a well-done mobile version of Google's own Reader service. It's indispensable for keeping up with the feeds you read while you're on the road.

qrcode-greader.png

June 23, 2010

Web app homescreen icons in Android

One of the nice features in Android and the iPhone is that you can save website bookmarks to the home screen with an icon that looks like any other app, giving web apps the same look as installed apps. But just how do you indicate which of your icons the mobile device should use?

When specifying an icon to display in a browser's tabs or address bar, we've long had a short and simple set of choices either a rel
<link rel="icon" href="/path/to/some.png" />
<link rel="shortcut icon" href="/path/to/some.ico" />


But for mobile devices, there are a few more tags that you will come across. Besides the shortcut icon tags mentioned above you have these choices:
<link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="/path/to/some.png"/>
<link rel="apple-touch-icon-precomposed" href="/custom_icon.png"/>

Android versions 1.5 and 1.6 will read the second tag (with "-precomposed"), and versions 2.1 and newer will read the first tag. Apple's and Google's specifications say that you should use 48x48 pixel PNGs, but you can use a large image, like Google does for its own apps, for a crisper result.

Unfortunately, even if you use these tags, your icon won't always show up correctly on Android. If your web site uses SSL but the certificate is expired or doesn't match your domain, then a standard bookmark icon will appear instead of your icon. And on HTC-manufactured phones with the Sense UI, you'll only see your icon as a small overlay on the bottom left of the regular bookmark icon. I hope that HTC and other manufacturers change this behavior in the future.

Lastly, there are a few configuration tags which Apple supports that Android has yet to implement (though I'm not sure whether they're each applicable).

Indicate whether to hide the browser's status bar on startup:
<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-capable" content="yes" />

Indicate the color of the browser's status bar:
<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style" content="black" />

Indicate an image to display while the mobile web app is loading:
<link rel="apple-touch-startup-image" href="/path/to/some.png" />

June 9, 2010

Save the date for Google I/O 2011

Christine Tsai of the Google I/O team has posted a note about next year's I/O conference: May 10-11, 2011 at Moscone West. As an attendee of the most recent conference, I can definitely say this conference is well worth going to. It's a great place to learn about the latest technologies such as web fonts, web video, mobile platforms, and HTML5.

June 4, 2010

Should Apple open the iPhone?

There's a lot of discussion going on today about whether Apple should open up the iPhone so that customers can "sideload" apps-- meaning, install them no matter whether they come from the app store, the web, or the customer's own computer. There are questions from both sides of the issue about how such a move would affect Apple.

Some of the reasons that Steve Jobs brings up for keeping the iPhone platform closed are porn, malicious apps and their affect on the platform's reputation, and control over the application development environment. Well, despite Jobs' best efforts there is already porn on the iPhone; and while only Android users can get malicious apps right now, it hasn't affected the reputation of the platform as evidenced by Android phones outselling iPhones in Q1 of this year. Lastly, I think developers would agree that having a choice of development environments suits them just fine.

I think there's one easy answer to the question of how opening the platform would affect Apple: look at Android. It's an "open" platform that has an app store and allows sideloading. So instead of just conjecturing about what would happen to Apple if it opened the iPhone platform, let's look at how the Android platform has fared. Given that sales of Android devices continues to grow, and that entries into the Android app market are surging (do customers really care whether there are 50,000 or 100,000 apps available to their device?), I think it's safe to say that an open platform has served Android quite well-- and it would Apple, too.

Android app of the week: doubleTwist media player

One of the complaints commonly voiced about the Android platform is its lack of desktop media-syncing software (like Apple has with iPhone and iTunes) and with its less-than-handsome built-in media player. Well, the company who built the best solution to the first problem has now built the best solution to the second: introducing the doubleTwist Player.

doubletwist-media.jpgThe doubleTwist player has a much cleaner (and frankly, more iTunes-like) interface than the clunky Android player. But it also supports videos and podcasts as well. So until Google deploys its over-the-air music streaming functionality, or if you can't get the signal quality necessary for streaming, this new player is one of the best you'll find for Android.

qrcode-doubletwist-media.png

April 26, 2010

Android app of the week: gStrings

There are quite a few devices that you no longer need to own if you have a smartphone and the right app: a car GPS device, a PDA, a pocket calculator, or even your flute. But with gStrings, you can now add music tuner to the list. I downloaded it after tearing my hair out trying to tune my daughter's cello, which is now a cinch.

gstrings.pngJust tap the Autu-tune button and the on-screen gauge will point to the exact note you're playing as you adjust it.

Now, if only someone would create an app to make my daughter practice the cello.

qrcode-gstrings.png

April 19, 2010

Android app of the week: RunKeeper

screenshot-runkeeper.jpgRunKeeper gives you the ability to track the time, distance, speed, pace, calories, and path of your physical activities via your Android phone-- all with a crisp, simple user interface.

And the creators of RunKeeper aren't just the owners, they're customers too-- tracking themselves in today's Boston Marathon. Read more at http://runkeeper.com/android

qrcode-runkeeper.png

April 5, 2010

Android app of the week: Helix Launcher

I was a little suprised that the Android 2.1 update for the Droid didn't update the homescreen application (beyond live wallpapers, that is). I was really jonesing for those additional screens beyond the original three.

qrcode-helix-launcher.pngBut the good news is: there's an app for that. Helix Launcher extends the capabilities of your current homescreen, giving you up to seven screens plus spots for four favorite apps (two on either side of the app tray handle) that are available on every screen. You can even hold your finger down on on the to bring up "preview" shortcuts of all of your screens. The rest of the homescreen functionality is left undisturbed: swipe to switch screens, hold steady to create a shortcut or widget.

April 1, 2010

Manual Droid 2.1 update works great

If you've read about the manual method for updating your Droid to Android 2.1 but have chosen to wait for Verizon to push it out to you, wait no longer. The manual update process is easy, works just like the over-the-air update, and works fine. As for the 2.1 update itself: having pinch-to-zoom in the browser: excellent; animated "live wallpapers": meh; no increase to the current three homescreens: disappointing.

April 12, 2010

Android app of the week: Car Dock Speakerphone

Car Dock Speakerphone (CDS) corrects one of the flaws that bugs me a little about the Motorola Droid: when you set it into a Motorola-made car cradle, it automatically displays the "car mode" interface, but doesn't automatically set the phone app to speakerphone mode. That seems like such an obvious feature to me.

qrcode-car-dock-speakerphone.pngBut that's where the exceedingly simple Car Dock Speakerphone app comes in. When it's installed on your phone, it enables speakerphone mode whenever the phone is in the dock. Take your phone out of the dock, and speakerphone mode is automatically turned off. The developer of this app was smart enough to make it work completely in the background, unlike some other developers who've written apps to address the same problem but have the flabbergasting decision to require you to enable them or disable them. CDS doesn't even put an icon in the status bar, which would have been a waste of space.

March 31, 2010

Finally, access the Android Market via desktop or web

If you own an Android phone and haven't heard of DoubleTwist, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. For a while it's been the best (and best-looking) way to transfer your phone's music, ringtones, and photos with a computer. But up until now, the only way to browser through all available apps was through your phone's small screen. DoubleTwist has changed all that-- with its latest update, it's the best way for you to browse the Android Market, too. They've added a searchable interface to the Market which works a lot like iTunes' Store does (though, oddly, they don't yet support app categories). It would be nice if they supported direct downloading to your USB-mounted phone, but for now you'll have to scan an app's QR code to get it to your phone.

You can download DoubleTwist at http://www.doubletwist.com/ and use the online Android Market browser at http://apps.doubletwist.com/.

doubletwist-android-market.png

March 29, 2010

Android app of the week: Connectbot, an SSH client

connectbot-for-android.jpg

For those of you who have Android phones, I wanted to share a link to a great SSH client I've found, Connectbot. It can handle ssh or telnet connections, and lets you customize screen colors and sizes. You can even switch between multiple active sessions by flicking left or right with your finger. Very cool. (Check out this demo video from the developer.)

qcode-connectbot.pngRead more on Connectbot's homepage at
http://code.google.com/p/connectbot/

Now only if I could figure out how to log onto the Cisco VPN at work with my phone...