QR Codes

tmp6848

I thought I’d take a diversion from talking about iPhones and iPads here as nothing that exciting is happening at the moment and talk about QR codes, a really handy way to give people information on a mobile phone from a website or printed publication.

Firstly, what are QR codes?  A kind of Barcode? Checkout the QR code on the right here, it’s a link to my website. The idea is you point your mobile phone at the image and are taken straight to the website.

tmpD531To quote Wikipedia, that well-known source of all truth… “A QR code (abbreviation for Quick Response code) is a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) that is readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera telephones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded may be text, URL, or other data.”

Put simply, stick one of these on your fizzy pop can and kids who can’t type will easily access your website or whatever else you want them to look at. The limits of these codes seem to be around 256 characters – which gives you a lot to play with. Try the link to the Wikipedia site reference on the left.

So firstly, how do we READ QR codes?

tmp9D0FtmpBDD9ON the iPhone, “SCAN” is in my experience the fastest, easiest, no-frills QR code reader – it’s free and it works. On the iPhone 4 it’s just about instant. If you have one of these devices there is NO reason NOT to have this app! Just go to the App store on your phone and look for “scan” without the quotes.. their icon is shown above on the left. It’s free and no catches that I can see.  Indeed even the demo image on the App store (seen on the right here) takes you to a valid site instantly with more information on QR codes. The Android phones will have their own scanners and success will vary depending on the software and the camera on the Android phone.

How do we GENERATE QR codes?

That’s just as easy. To have a play I recommend you go to this website… http://qrcode.kaywa.com/ – it really doesn’t get any easier.

The more technical among you might be thinking – well that’s fine but I want to generate these on my own website….well… here’s the thing. Google have an API for this.

http://createqrcode.appspot.com/

Put in your information, hit “Create QR code” and Bob’s your uncle..  try this for example..

 

http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=300×300&chl=http%3A//www.fsb.org.uk&chld=H|0

What is REALLY good about this is that you can use this as the basis of generating images on your website or elsewhere in custom ways.

http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=300×300&chl=http%3A//www.fsb.org.uk&chld=H|0

The colouring above should help you see what is fixed and what you need to change for your requirements. The %3A is necessary to use in place of colons in addresses, the rest should be obvious – size of the graphic and the address you want to link to…

tmpBE72A project called the ZXing project allows you to create a QR code easily with your contact information which, when scanned (for example by the excellent SCAN App) will create a new telephone contact for you. Check that out here.

The QR code on the right is an example – scan it and you should see a new contact open up with my details including phone, address and notes. The same site has other options such as calendar events but at least on my iPhone, they do not actually create calendar events as yet. As soon as they do I can see a whole host of applications arising.

If you want to give people-on-the-move easy access to your website or other information – there it is…QR codes. Cheap, cheerful, easy and as far as I can tell, reliable.

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.

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s THREE

As regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with Orange incompetence for years now, if it’s not been poor customer service, it’s been lack of signal (there is no Orange signal in my village, hasn’t been for the last decade and now I understand they have no plans to do anything about this – despite claiming they put applications in on more than one occasion for masts – I just don’t buy this).

Anyway having discovered that someone has already successfully won a legal case to get out of their contract because of lack of signal, I convinced Orange to let me go without a penalty.

Armed with that freedom I headed off to the THREE store. Why THREE? Well, I already use (and recommend) their MIFI units and perhaps contrary to what you might think, they have quite an impressive coverage in the UK, at least everywhere I’ve tried up to now. They are also FAR more realistic with data, offering up to 15GIG a month data on their MIFI units. Better, on their iPhone deals, the offer a flat-rate package at £35 a month that gives “all-you-can-eat” data.

Now, we’ve all heard that from the other operators who until recently claimed “unlimited” broadband then when you read the fine print it’s a con – they have “fair use” policies which means the claim of unlimited is really a downright lie.

So I checked – according to THREE, “all you can eat” means unlimited data with no fair use policy.  Further, unlike Orange who charge an extra TEN POUNDS a month to share phone data with a laptop, sharing with the laptop is INCLUDED in the deal.

For reasons well beyond me the fellow at the THREE store thought this did not include iPads which would not work – but I remember standing outside the store thinking “But if you share over WIFI how on earth would it distinguish an iPad from a laptop?” and sure enough I was right, the iPhone will take in 3G, spit out WIFI and share it with any device that works on WIFI AND yes it will handle VPNs for those who need to log into work.

So, armed with my new phone and new company I headed off from Hexham for a trip to Blackpool, Internet radio (the American BIG CHEESE radio station) running on the phone…  and in a trip taking over 2 hours, I lost no more than a couple of minutes of radio time. Bye Bye BBC!

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!

iPhone 4.0 OS – First Look

iPhone 4.0 OSSitting here in the USA on a slow network wasn’t ever going to be the best way to upgrade the iPhone, but after waiting half an hour to grab iTunes on my laptop (not normally used to sync the iPhone so there’s a tip for you – NO you don’t have to use the PC you original setup your phone on) I proceeded to the upgrade button and upgraded my iPhone 3GS to iPhone version 4.0 OS software – another 20 minutes and no problems whatsoever.

That done the first thing I noticed was that my chosen background now appears on all screens – that’s nice!  The second thing that’s immediately obvious is the fact you can now drop one icon onto another and make instant FOLDERS which is nice. Each folder can now hold 12 icons and with a bit of planning you can how hold 12 times as many apps on the phone as before or opt for less pages of icons. That’s a plus though you’re not going to get all your games in one folder – you CAN thankfully make identically named folders if you like!! None of this takes any brainpower or manuals.

iPhone OS 4.0 multitaskingThe iPhone now also handled multi-tasking – of a sort.  By double-clicking on the HOME button you can now see active tasks and switch between them.

The big plus is the ability to play a game or whatever.. and STILL keep SKYPE running in the background – depending on whether or not you’re a SKYPE user that makes a big difference…

An other plus is the unified inbox – now if you have multiple accounts as I do (Exchange and Google mail) you have the option to read the inboxes separately or as one – nice idea – why don’t MS so that in Office 2010?

Other than that it’s largely business as usual though sitting here I’m having immense difficulty getting the newly updated iPhone to download the updated TomTom and it’s telling me to update that particular package via iTunes – granted TomTom is HUGE.

At least on the surface of it, updating is worth the effort but beware if you’re reading this on the publication date, the Apple site is running like a DOG!

Regards

 

Peter Scargill

How will you get WIFI for your iPAD?

With the launch of the iPAD just around the corner in the UK, you might think that there are plenty of WIFI access points to use it with, bearing in mind that the basic unit will NOT allow tethering to your iPhone…..

Well, that’s a worry because the government is doing it’s best to screw up WIFI access in the UK

On the other hand there are signs of common sense when it comes to the IMPLEMENTATION of the Digital Economy Bill (DEB) – but only very thin on the ground at the moment..

Of interest, what of those who buy one of those 3G access points, I refer to the likes of the Solwise 3GWIFIMRW wall server unit. You plug in your 3G dongle and it serves up IP addresses you can use yourself or share with others for a small meeting. Technically that makes you an ISP!!! When the iPAD takes off you can be sure that gadgets like this and the even simpler ones offered by others will take off – or will they – it all depends on how the press plays the DEB.

The HTC Touch HD Quick Review – Better than the Touch Diamond?

pete_ted My wife has just received the HTC Touch HD. I’ve been using Smartphones for some years and specify them for others – but there have been times when I’ve wondered what on earth Microsoft were thinking about getting into this game. Early Smartphones were, well, rubbish. The hardware was rubbish, the software was rubbish – and as phones, they were, well, rubbish.

Ok, a bit of a generalisation, granted.  Orange users will remember the first Orange Smartphones – buttons used to drop off, the phones needed regular resets to keep them running properly and there was always that feeling that if they’d JUST made the phone a little faster…

A couple of years ago I recommended to our head office that we use the htc S620 and that proved one of my better decisions. Half decent battery life, decent display, easy to use and most importantly it looked like a Blackberry so the folk in London didn’t lose too much face (if you travel a lot, you’ll notice that it seems that Londoners just HAVE to have an IPOD and a Blackberry, don’t ask me why). This of course was one arm of Microsoft’s mobile platform – based on Windows Mobile rather than Pocket PC and therefore with no touch-interface.

Of course recently the touch-interface has become the "thing" thanks mainly to the iPhone but Microsoft and HTC have been doing this for years.

The HTC Touch Diamond: For those who’re not familiar with HTC, their products are behind many of the branded phones and today Orange don’t even disguise that fact, but the fabulous and fully-featured HTC Touch Diamond with an almost magical user interface has one or two flaws. The WIFI fails occasionally, usually requiring a replacement phone – and more importantly, the battery life isn’t worth a light.  I carry 2 spare batteries around with me because a quick 3-hour session on the Newcastle-to-London train with a bit of data and a lot of talking will EASILY flatten the phone.

The Touch Diamond phone does have something else that few phones have – a small 640*480 screen – so the image quality is superb. That and the touch interface make it worth having.

The HTC Diamond HD: Along comes the HTC Diamond HD – and I think it’s possible HTC  learned something. To say that the phone bears more than a passing resemblance to an iPhone would be to understate. GONE is the crappy HTC headphone USB headphone interface in favour of a bog-standard 3.5mm jack. The screen now takes up almost ALL of the real estate – and it’s BIG – 800*400 big – and beautiful. The new larger battery LOOKS the part and the HD (at least with Orange), unlike the Touch Diamond, which in a fit of madness HTC fitted with a permanent 4gig, comes complete with a micr0-SD with 8 gig of memory – which of course you can CHANGE.

I took the phone out for a spin – 1.5 hours in the car, with the sat-nav running Google Maps – hence running the sat-nav and constant data, with a couple of calls thrown in and the screen kept running throughout – didn’t make a DENT in the battery reading. I am WELL impressed AND unlike it’s predecessor which by now would have been hot enough to cook eggs with, it ran cool throughout.

The graphical interface is pretty much like the Diamond with some minor but significant improvements and the case, well, it’s just really nice, soft, rounded edges, satin back (as against the really silly irregular jagged back panel on the DIAMOND) – unless you like really small phones you are going to LOVE the Diamond HD.

A word to the wise – Orange in their usual customer-unfriendly manner tried to charge us for the phone (we’re on a £35 a month contract and have been with them for years) – and boy did they try. After a bit of persuasion however we got the phone for £45, but with a £60 discount off our future phone bills – so effectively the phone cost minus £12 -  can’t argue with that!

Update 3rd January 2009

Wifi on the Diamond Touch not working: The WIFI on the phone packed in on me -the WIFI simply would not turn on.  Looking through the various forums this appears to be a hardware fault though you never know as so few people know the difference between hardware and software issues. I tried rebooting, cold-booting, installing an update FROM from the Orange site – you name it – nothing had any effect. So I got onto Orange this afternoon and their immediate response was "contact the manufacturure" – I blew my top at this incompetent response and pointed out I pay £5 a month for Orange insurance and I certainly was NOT going to go back to the manufacturer (who would promptly send me back to Orange of course as the supplier – HTC will NOT deal with branded phones or update them).  This is TYPICAL of Orange’s initial reactions to a call – not our problem, mate! It’s as if they deliberately put idiots as the front line of defence. But under UK law as I understand it, the product is under a year old and "not fit for purpose" therefore it is up to the seller to sort the problem out.  The lady I spoke to cleared off to find her supervisor.

I was then transferred to Stacey, who asked a simple set of questions… I have to say she did not give me any grief, replacement handset is on it’s way tomorrow morning – and that’s a Sunday… but it did cost me exactly £2 in phone charges (from a landline) to get to a solution! She even apologised for the first response I got. This again is fairly typical, after blowing customer confidence out of the water – they then eventually get it right.  Now if ONLY they’d trained the first operator a little better in the first place…  anyway, they promised early morning delivery (on Sunday no less) and sure enough, 3 minutes past 9 (and we live in the countryside) a replacement turned up and here I sit 20 minutes later with my brand new phone with working wifi.

Diamond HD -  still going strong: Meanwhile Maureen’s Diamond HD is operating perfectly and there can be no doubt – they’ve solved the battery problem – battery lasts for days. Now, WHY could they not do that on the Touch Diamond?

Update 16th January 2009

Ringer on the Diamond Touch not working: Living in an area where the phones don’t work I didn’t notice in all of this that although everything on the Touch worked a treat, the one thing I could not test, didn’t! Despite test rings working, keyboard sound working and the alarm working, when it came for someone to ring me up on the mobile – the ringer would not make a sound.  I have to hand it to Orange however, I rang  them up yesterday and this morning a brand new replacement phone turned up – no problem.  Of course I can’t test it until next time I’m on the road!

Technorati Tags: , ,

What to do with your old mobile

I was reading on the BBC website about recycling your old mobile phone. Most of us get new phones as regularly as we can and apparently the old phone is often either scrapped or put away in a drawer. The BBC site features a recycling company offering money for your old phone so just out of idle interest I checked what they give you…. and felt the need to put pen to paper.

SELL IT ON EBAY. Ever year I get a new phone (I’m on monthly contract and if you’re not you should ask yourself why not unless you’re spending less than £20 a month on your phone). I spend around £35 a month, have never paid for a phone yet and every time I sell the old phone I get at least £70-£100 for it.

Here’s the trick – firstly, get the latest most popular phone you can – and check it’s price with the likes of Expansys first. Just because a phone costs little or nothing with your mobile company means nothing – any half-decent smartphone costs hundreds of pounds retail.

As SOON as your new phone turns up – get the old one on sale – the longer you keep them, the less they are worth. ALWAYS use screencovers and keep your phone in a cover, people don’t like buying scratched phones. When you sell it, include a photo and if you’ve kept it in good condition, be sure to SAY SO.

That’s it really, it doesn’t matter if it is locked to a particular company like Vodafone as many buyers know how to get phones unlocked. Why contribute to landfill or filling up your old cupboards when you can enjoy a cash benefit from your old mobile.

Scargill – Deal of the Century – the Orange Racoon 35 package

As a constant user of technology, demanding a decent connection pretty much wherever I go, I use one of the popular (in the UK) Vodafone dongles, flate rate, unlimited connectivity (except it never is, in Vodafone’s case it’s a 3 gigabyte monthly limit – but as long as you’re careful that’s quite reasonable).

There are times when the Vodafone broadband signal is no good because Vodafone don’t have a transmitter nearby.. so I occasionally use my Orange phone to get a connection. As you know, this can get relatively expensive as the normal setup with Orange and others is a pay-per-megabyte deal. Such deals are becoming increasingly useless in a wired world.

I was recently at a friend’s house and he showed me a piece of software that lets the Orange mobile phone look like a WIFI router (wmwifirouter) – very handy if there are a few people trying to use laptops in an area, say a hotel room with no WIFI. I queried the data cost of using this with my pal and he informed me that he got a deal with Orange to allow “unlimited broadband”.

Very sceptically I rang up Orange… the first lady of course said “no, we don’t do anything like that” – but when I got insistent – she put me onto an Indian fellow who immediately retorted “certainly – we can do a flat-rate job, no problem”.

Turns out this is newish with Orange – the package is called RACOON 35 if I’m not mistaken – the basic deal on the surface of it, at £35 you get “unlimited broadband” – by which they mean a similar cap to Vodafone plus unlimited calls to landline calls – plus 900 minutes to any mobile phone – plus a load of text messages. Not at all bad at that price.

As if that wasn’t good enough – if you order online you can have this same deal for £30 a month. My wife rang up and got the same deal to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

So far, so good….

I signed up, starting the contract from fresh at that point…. and that was that. 2 weeks ago I was due to get a new phone – the new HTC Touch Diamond. I checked and the first person said I could have it for free – but no stock.

A few days ago I rang up to complain about the delay – in stock this time – but £39 for the phone. I got annoyed and said I’d ring back – no way was I paying for that phone – and rang back on the assumption I’d get another operator – I did. This fellow also tried to get £39 – and I simply asked whatever happened to the bull that Orange show on TV about customer loyalty… so he went away – and came back with an offer of the phone for FREE – and £5.

I didn’t quite follow the £5 bit, but I was happy to get the phone for free – except by now there was no stock.

2 days ago they SMS’d me – phones were in stock and I could have it the next day – and the guy said he’d like to clarify the deal I’m on – £35 a month – minus £5 for ordering online – MINUS THE FIVER – not just one-off but PER MONTH – for being a regular customer… i.e. for £25 a month all-in, I’ve now got a hot new phone (typical price well over £400), (essentially) unlimited broadband, unlimited landline calls and 800 cross-network minutes as well as enough texts to keep me going (I’m not a fanatical texter – I find it just as easy to send an email).

The phone comes complete with 4 gigabytes of memory, easily enough for sat-nav and audio recording software with room to spare for the odd movie etc. Like the iPhone it has an accelerometer so it knows which way is up, not to mention making possible a game that could not exist without it. The phone also easily handles YouTube videos and the user interface makes everything I’ve used up to now look, well, historical.

It’s always a challenge with Orange to get from A to B – but I think this sets a benchmark as to what represents good value for money with phone providers.

Things I have working and tested up to now on the phone include: phone, web, youtube video, FM radio, internet radio (get Core Player for this), photo album. The sat nav works a treat (and with the broadband deal works a great with google maps). Is it an alternative to the iPhone – well, including the package – the overall deal… yes, IMHO most definitely.

Peter Scargill