S4 Battery Eaten by Search

Ok, maybe that was an extreme title.. but the past few weeks, despite having a large battery fitted to my Samsung S4 phone, it’s been getting warm a lot and the battery hasn’t’ been lasting a day. I figured that maybe the battery was on it’s way out – after all they don’t last forever.

So yesterday I went back to the standard battery and we went shopping… when we left the house in the afternoon the battery was at 75% and by mid-evening it was DEAD. What on EARTH was going on here?

Well this morning I decided to drink way too much coffee and investigate. If you head off to settings, more, battery, you get an indication of which apps/bits are using up power… I would have expected the screen to be taking up most of the power as I tend to like bright screens (I can’t see the point of buying a phone with a great screen only to run it at half mast). NOPE – Google Search would you believe was creating 40% of battery drain and phone standby the next 22%.  I figured it might be the “OK GOOGLE NOW” App I’d just fitted to have the phone respond to me at any time – uninstalled that, no difference. Turns out it’s often Google Now itself! I deleted that, no, still high but then I read that recent updates were the guilty party – so I tried uninstalling the search-  it came back to offer to revert back to factory setting for search – I agreed and VOILA – the search no longer even figures in the battery life graphs – how bad is THAT!! Thanks Google!!!

So now the phone standby is the big one – that’s easy I can use flight mode when I’m at home as there’s no signal here, but I reckon that one change has probably doubled the life of my battery! The third highest was speak and drive – an app I don’t even use!! I deleted that and now I’m down to the usual suspects but my reported power consumption has dropped dramatically. I won’t know for a day or so if the reporting was accurate of course.

Worth a couple of minutes of your time if you have an Android phone to wander off down to settings – battery and see what’s eating YOUR battery?

Advertisements

KitKat–Android 4.4 and the new Wave of Google Devices

It’s not that long ago I was extolling the virtues of the Google Nexus 4 phone and the next thing I knew, it’s out of date and the Nexus 5 is out – and with it – KitKat, the latest version of Android which contains bug fixes and some security enhancements – the good news is that the likes of the Nexus 4,7 and 10 will be among the first devices to get this latest update.

While users of the likes of HTC devices and some Samsungs will have to wait a long time or perhaps forever for these updates, the Google devices will get them in the next few weeks – as soon as I have the first update I’ll put a full review in here.

Samsung Galaxy Camera

by Peter Scargill

The Samsung Galaxy camera is the first of it’s kind, a real camera with the back-end of an Android phone (minus the phone) and it’s bang up to date with Ice-cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean.  Already however there are misleading items out there so I thought I’d step in.

No you can’t put the Apps into external memory right now – so first things first if you buy one of these – get some external MicroSD and make sure the camera is putting the images in there (it won’t by default, you have to go into settings).

Most of the camera Apps out there are no really set up for this – for example HDR Pro which I use a lot has no options for 16:9 format which seems a bit odd. Hopefully all of this will change after Christmas once sales of the camera pick up – and they will.

Battery – well, if you’re used to a camera battery lasting months, forget it – you’ll need to charge this like any other Smartphone or turn it completely off when not using (which then introduces a power-up delay of a few seconds). It eats batteries. My solution – Ebay, 2 batteries+charger for £12.

As for features – it’s chocker- everything from night shooting through simple HDR to panoramas – all built in – and no you can’t use it as a phone, yes you can watch YouTube, run Skype, get your email, everything you’d expect from a device with Android, 3G, WIFI, Bluetooth, GPS. It comes with a PAYG SIM (for those times you just MUST jam a picture on Facebook and don’t have WIFI) – I’ve not paid but it does work so they must be giving the first month for free…

Here is a reasonable source of information: http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=1938

External USB Data Access for the Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 tablet from Google comes with a limited amount of internal storage and, at least on the surface of it, limited peripheral-handling capabilities (but see my earlier blog on the subject of the CloudFTP device and using that to enable the Nexus to access hard drives wirelessly). I was hesitant to write about this subject before thoroughly testing it – and this is not for people who’ve never painted their own car, but I can confirm from experience that it IS practical, for free, to enable your Nexus 7 to not only use external USB memory or hard drives, but also to work with external SD memory. Right now I’m listening to music sitting on a 16gig external SD card plugged into my Nexus 7. Here’s how.

tmpC8A4Firstly you need to ROOT the Nexus 7 using the Wugfresh Toolkit which is entirely free. Essentially this means you are enabling super-user access so that certain programs can gain more in-depth access to the hardware. In my case this did not work straight out of the box – and this is the hardest part of the job, though “hard” is overstating it a bit. You see you need a driver on your PC to work with the Nexus 7 + toolkit and my 64-bit Intel laptop just was not having the automatic install. I won’t bore you with the details but I followed the instructions in the toolkit and within minutes had a working driver. All of this, incidentally, in theory invalidates your warranty incidentally but it is reversible.

The next step was to backup all of my programs using the toolkit– I was really worried about this but it turns out that was misguided. I lost only a few settings for email which were readily restored manually.  I also had to reload the maps of my Satnav program – again hardly a problem.

And with that, I performed the next steps of unlocking and rooting the Nexus 7 (2 button presses). After a reboot I ended up with a Nexus 7 capable of “root” or super-user actions. In English, I could now load from the Play Store the free STICKMOUNT program. That done I was well on the way to accessing external devices on the Nexus.

You can’t use any old USB lead – you need a HOST adaptor – look it up on Ebay, they cost a couple of pounds. They are a micro-usb-to female-usb adaptor with a special configuration (a normally unconnected pin on the micro-usb side is grounded), you’ll know you have the right one as you can plug a mouse or keyboard into it and it’ll work with the Nexus (after a reboot in my case). So now you can plug in the lead, plug in a USB memory stick – or USB adaptor to SD memory card – and you have full access to the data on the stick/card – so much for restrictions.

If you want to use a memory stick AND a keyboard, you’ll need a POWERED USB hub as the Nexus doesn’t put out enough power to handle multiple devices – don’t be tempted to plug in a cheap un-powered one.

Job done – it works perfectly. For sub-£200 this machine is a no-brainer…worth every penny. I could see these devices appearing everywhere – of course – Apple must be aware of this – but they don’t let you access external memory and that, for some is an issue. The Nexus 7 as you can see has no such issue.

iPad versus Android

We’re now looking at nearly 2 years since the launch of the original iPad and though the device retains some of the magic, those of us there at the beginning are no longer in awe of the fantastic design that has made so many millions for Apple and changed the way we work and play.

It now seems fairly natural to be walking around with a slim glass-and-aluminium device that’s more powerful than mainstream PCs of just a few years ago – so the only questions is – WHICH tablet should we be carrying?

I recently got my hands on a 7” Android tablet running “Gingerbread” – or Android 2.3.  Since then we’ve seen “Honeycomb” and finally “Ice Cream Sandwich” but most of the cheaper tablets are running 2.3 or lower.

To be honest I would not waste my time with anything LESS than version 2.3 is it’s fore-runners were never designed for tablet use.

Until now I’ve avoided Android tablets altogether for a number of reasons including the absolutely useless “resistive” displays that many of the cheaper ones employ. These are of the old-fashioned variety you have to press on to get any response and they are deeply unsatisfying to use. One of the iPad’s best features is the utterly responsive “capacitive” display which requires no finger pressure AT ALL to work – and so that for me is the minimum I’m prepared to look at.

The Yuandao N12 Fast Tab is one of dozens of 7” tablets out there that runs Android 2.3 and on the surface of it, it’s a mini-iPad..  the 7” format means it fits comfortably into a big hand and you’d expect that to be a big plus compared to the iPad’s rather larger format. In fact there is little apparent difference in weight.

So, in 2012 how to Android and Apple stack up?

The N12 is CHEAP – I’ve seen it at £100 including VAT in the UK so it’s not in the same league as iPad price-wise or feature-wise.

Let’s look at the pluses and minuses of this particular tablet – which is not untypical of the far-eastern offerings available right now..

Minus

  • Battery life –claimed to be 20 hours standby and 5 hours video – yes, if you are lucky, more like it 4 hours of use. The iPad has never run out on standby in the time I’ve had it and gets around 10 hours of video NO PROBLEM.
  • Microsoft Exchange – The M12 cannot handle any but the simplest of Exchange setups – if the setup won’t work with email and password, there seems to be no way to get into manual setup – this is a MAJOR omission for corporate use.
  • Display – fast and responsive but ultimately at 800*480 pixels it’s an overgrown phone and the pixilation is obvious, even watching movies.
  • WIFI – the WIFI is very insensitive, picking up less signal than many phones and dropping out occasionally.
  • Limited memory – a common Android problem, although the unit has 8GB internally with access to an external memory stick, it seems that even though you can move Apps into this larger space, there is an internal CORE of 512MB RAM (this is a common limit – see specs – APPLE do NOT have such a limit) and even Apps in external memory use up SOME of this 512MB RAM which soon gets eaten up – putting a limit on how many Apps you can install – this is really unacceptable but somehow manages to escape most reviews.
  • Speed – not quite fast enough to make good use of Flash – one of the so-called Apple-killer features, the Flash performance is poor.
  • Finish – the unit has a nice Aluminium finish which unfortunately has sharp edges – after repeated handling while, say, watching a movie, tends to get annoying. This sharp edging appears to be common among the Chinese offerings
  • Reliability – the hardware seems reliable enough but Gingerbread is chocker full of bugs – the language control means that some menu items come up in Chinese no matter what you do and installations can easily be messed up.
  • The Android market has some gaping holes compared to Apple, the latter having an excellent PDF reader (GoodReader) and several other business tools missing from Android market.
  • Front-only camera which is poor quality and not that reliable – only sometimes works with Skype. No back camera.
  • No Bluetooth – yes you heard it  – no Bluetooth (the iPhone 4 and iPad2 reliably handle 2 simultaneous Bluetooth connections – in my car for example the phone is Bluetooth hands-free but also talks to a separate Bluetooth unit to play audio through the car stereo – something the old 3GS could not quite tackle)
  • No sign of upgrades available – website is in Chinese, very little English discussion on the web.
  • Large border area around the screen.
  • 16:9 wide format

Plus

  • The 7” format would fit into a large coat pocket and just feels nice
  • The screen is bright and responsive
  • The Android market has come a long way and although still full of rubbish, there are some hidden gems in there – many of which are free.
  • External memory means no limit to movies you can store on the device.
  • USB means external keyboard is easy to implement (though Bluetooth would be more convenient)

Summary

Based on the above – for me the ideal would be a 7” tablet with little border area i.e. mostly screen, running a later version of Android which properly handled Microsoft Exchange, on a tablet with at least 1024 pixels wide, rounded corners, 6-10 hour battery life, Bluetooth, sensitive WIFI, at least 1Gb internal working RAM, preferably more.

With current improvements to the Android Market, there is definitely a place for these devices. If you look at the likes of the Samsung S2 phone – slim, incredibly light, super display – think of one of those stretched to 7” or so and I reckon there is definitely a place for such a device provided the price is right (i.e. WELL under the cost of an iPad) – as yet it does not seem to exist, the NOTE being the nearest but still too small.

For now, the iPad is still streets ahead of Android…maybe they’ll keep that lead, maybe not. There is something quite nice about the smaller form factor and lower cost of the Android devices – opens up all kinds of possibilities if only the quality bar was raised…

Radio on the move–the right way

Interested in more radio stations when you’re on the move – well you’re at the right place!

tmpC31FInternet radio is not a new phenomena, “Shoutcast Radio” by Nullsoft (Winamp)  has been available since 1999 and has continued to grow ever since. PC users have been able to listen to their choice of worldwide radio stations since then – which is fine but not a lot of use on the move.

Recently several things have happened recently (I refer here to the UK, American viewers have had satellite radio options for some time now while we’ve been stuck with the umpteen regional repeats of the BBC and a handful of alternatives on FM) which has made mobile Internet radio practical.

Firstly, mobile phones have become smarter to the point where Android and iPhone devices for example can handle fairly sophisticated programs in the background as well as transmitting audio via Bluetooth to car speakers.

tmp5D21Secondly, the mobile network has improved. THREE company claim to have just about the best 3G network – now, I know Orange customers will say that Orange and O2 collectively have a massive network – but take it from me, in rural areas, for example the A69 in Northumberland, you’ll find much of that is the older kind of connection which simply is not fast enough to “stream” music.

Thirdly more car radios than ever now either have an “auxiliary” socket for audio or handle Bluetooth connections for audio (sadly, still not enough).

Ok so what do I mean by “stream”?  Well, downloading tunes before you play them is not really practical for mobile radio and so Internet radio is “streamed” which means your device at any time only downloads enough to be able to play the tune. As the music plays, the next few seconds are downloaded ready for use etc etc… continuously. This allows for continuous play after a short delay. That delay determines to some extent how well the service tackles signal drop-outs – ie what happens if there is no signal for a couple of seconds or so due to a combination of poor signal and obstructions.

tmpA44ALet’s take my setup as an example… I have a Mercedes with an auxiliary socket for audio. The car handles Bluetooth but only for phone calls so I bought a Belkin Bluetooth audio receiver which requires power, connects to the Bluetooth on your phone as a kind of headphone device- and transmits the audio from the phone through a 3.5mm stereo jack to your home stereo or car radio. It works a treat and the quality is high. In my case I have a 240v supply in the car but the unit operates on low voltage so anyone with a bent towards a soldering iron should be able to adapt the unit to run off the car. Some folk have questioned the quality of such devices, I’ve had no problems at all.

tmpF567That takes care of the hardware and for software I use “TuneIn Radio”which costs a couple of pounds at most on Android and iPhone devices. Hundreds if not thousands of radio stations available at the touch of a button are now available to anyone who puts the effort forward to make it work.

tmpA7D5Be aware that using Internet radio eats up your mobile data so a few hours in the car listening to Internet radio could put pay to a few hundred megabytes easily – make sure your service provider does not impose limits on how much data you can use. Orange for example despite claiming “unlimited data use for iPhones, in fact have rescinded on that and have a “fair use” policy, which translated into English means they underestimated the amount of data people would use.  Three specifically state “all you can eat” in many of their contracts and there is no fair use policy. So make sure you’re with the right provider.

So what about drop-outs – with radio the signal quality degrades and you end up changing channels all the time when on the move (unless you only ever listen to BBC in which case you’re missing out) but with Internet radio this simply does not happen. If you have a bad or no signal for more than a few seconds, the music simply stops and may pick up when you get back to a half-decent signal – but to put this in perspective, a trip down the M6 will see areas in the mountains of NO radio signal at all while Internet radio continues un-hindered.  In my experience, using THREE as a source of Internet (either on the phone or using a MIFI dongle to supply WIFI to the phone) it is pretty much swings and roundabouts which is best in terms of availability – but of course with the latter you don’t have to change channels as you do, with, say BBC local radio.  My local Northeast radio for example is available on TuneIn Radio and I can pick this up anywhere in the world, not just while I’m in the Northeast.

I hope if nothing else this article gets you to investigate Internet radio – a wonderful alternative to rather limited FM radio.

Images are copyright their respective owners.

iPad Killers? Not Likely

After all the noise made about Android killing the iPad – what do we see? A solitary Galaxy Tab which is a bit on the small side and hardly “thin” – and that’s about it – other tablets are either still in the works, still using older versions of Android – or recalled. Meanwhile the iPad has it’s new operating system upgrade, new Apps updates and now there is Apple TV -  which means that thanks to the REMOTE app, you can now use your iPad or even iPhone to control your TV, browse your music selection, make playlists and more.

I can’t think of a better gimmick for parties right now than to appear armed with wireless iPad and offer to let guests make their own music selections.  It all works and the Apple TV product is cheap.

Chances of getting compatible software on an Android device in the near future? I don’t think so.. all we need now is for SKYPE and APPLE to get their act together and put Skype video on the iPhone 4.

 

 

Peter Scargill

Android vs iPhone – a Brief Comparison

Update:

The Android phone was fine until we brought it overseas. The long and short of it is, it simply does not work. Over in the USA we’re getting messages about the SIM not allowing a connection – and yet swapping SIMs with the iPhone produces the same result while the iPhone continues to work. Orange up to now have shown that they don’t have a clue (there’s a shocker) and so we’ve a fight on our hands now getting a refund of the sat-nav software we’ve installed and getting a refund/replacement for the phone.

Incidentally though American TV shows Skype on selected AT&T Android phones, the Skype situation for Android has not changed. I’m beginning to think that in looking to see real competition for Apple, we’ve all jumped in too soon. Maybe Google should have stuck with search engines! Links like this suggest that Android has some serious problems. http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=2845

Original Article:

We just took possession of our first Android phone the other day, the much-vaunted HTC Desire. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that this powerhouse runs at 1Ghz or whether the Android operating system is just that much more responsive, but the phone does seem to operate more responsively than you’d expect an HTC running Windows mobile for example. The screen is BEAUTIFUL to say the least with the new AMOLED display, it really is something to behold.

And that’s where it starts to go downhill. We purchased the phone from the Orange shop and as you might expect, things didn’t go too smoothly at first, the phone continued to show no signal for around an hour, we took it back to the shop and the fellow there helpfully reset the phone, telling us that it won’t operate until it’s been reset due to the text message the phone needs to receive to activate it.  The problem with that is.. what’s wrong with a message that says “please wait for incoming message” then another that says “please reset your phone” – why does everything always have to be cryptic??!!??

That done, we took the phone for a spin. The phone sent and received calls just fine and so we took it home (where we have no signal) and hooked it into the WIFI signal at home – again no problem.

If you look on the web it’s not immediately obvious where to get APPS for the Android, looking around there seemed to be several official-looking stores with nothing but rubbish in them, however a quick look around the phone (which comes with VERY little documentation until you realise there’s an online Android manual) and we discovered the marketplace. There are TONS of apps on there.

Unlike the iPhone market where Apple control the App store with an iron rod, there seems to be no such control on the Android marketplace and so there were some pretty poor apps – but also some great ones – installation is idiot-proof. We’re still at the early learning stage and later I’ll details some of the better apps.

For now, I’m beginning to realise why Apple in their iPhone didn’t bother with multitasking. The more you use the Desire, the more it slows down – until you realise the reason why… every time you use an App and then press the home key to go find another – the app stays running in the background. GREAT for a PC, but to my mind largely silly in a phone. We ended up with something like 20 apps running.. again at first sight it is still not obvious how to finish using an App and close it!  The solution for now? We downloaded a free task handler for Android and you can simply run that and close the lot down.

I think I’d prefer the option to NOT run any program in the background unless I specifically ask (music comes to mind).

Biggest gripe so far? Would you believe it there is no SKYPE for Android yet!