Archive for the ‘Consumer Products’ Category

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Note Upgrade Still Impending

April 8, 2013

Vista busy cursor  It is months since Samsung updated their micro-site for the original Galaxy Note promising an upgrade to Jelly Bean and adding key features from the Note II such as split-screen multi-tasking. I have the international version of the Galaxy Note, the GT-N7000, but so far no sign of any update.

I have no doubt at all that the fault lies entirely with my carrier, T-Mobile, latterly rebranded as Everything Everywhere following their merger with Orange. Nothing Anywhere would have been more apt, or perhaps No Upgrade to Anything.

I remember exactly the same thing happening with the Froyo upgrade to my previous phone which was the Samsung Galaxy S. There again T-Mobile kept users waiting for months, supposedly testing the ROM out before deeming it safe to roll out. It is almost enough to drive one to a Nexus device, but even then upgrades are not instantaneous. Also, I like the idea of some of the Samsung added in features, such as the split-screen multi-tasking, which are of course not available with a stock Android ROM.

If it comes to it I will install the Jelly Bean ROM for my phone manually. It has been available from say the SamMobile site for some time. All that is stopping me is the risk of bricking my phone. The detailed procedures are set out in detail and the danger of an irreversible disaster is probably quite low, but I still have the thick end of a year to go on my contract so sensible caution dictates that I allow T-Mobile just a little longer before I take the plunge.


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Impending Upgrade Noted

December 28, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Samsung have just updated their micro-site for the original Galaxy Note with details of a Premium Suite upgrade which incorporates many of the features hitherto only available on the Note II, for example multi-screen.

The upgrade details also confirm that the original Note will be getting Jelly Bean (Android 4.1). This is not really news – the original Note was one of the models slated for Jelly Bean a good many months ago. What is news is that there is at last some prospect of Jelly Bean arriving in the very near future, not that Samsung have promised anything around timing. They are in any event beholden to the carriers. My Note is on EE (T-Mobile) which does not augur well; they always seem to take far longer than anyone else to release updates.

All in all, the Jelly Bean upgrade for the Note has been a long time in coming. I will be lucky if it arrives within a year of my first acquiring the phone (mid-February). It probably comes down to Samsung deciding to package up Jelly Bean for the Note with a port of the multi-view, popup note, photo note and other features from the Note II which is very sweet (suite?) of them but has added considerably to the delay.

It will have been worth it, and would have been for multi-view on its own. It almost turns the Note into a Note II. Let’s just hope EE don’t spin out the roll-out for months and months.


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Driver to Distraction

November 19, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Another whinge, I’m afraid, this time about Canon and their failure to provide driver upgrades for older peripherals. I don’t want to be forced to buy replacements for ageing but perfectly serviceable peripherals, much as I can understand manufacturers wishing me to. At least there is a happy ending to this tale.

The device in question is Canon’s LiDE 50 scanner which I guess I acquired around 5 or 6 years ago. At that time I was running Windows XP. I think the driver support was there when I switched to Vista but recall having considerable difficulty getting the device to run on Windows 7. That would have been around March 2010, but I recently had the same issue again when wanting to use the scanner with a newish  Windows 7 Lenovo T430 laptop.

I remembered that on that occasion in 2010 I had been unable to install the driver from the supplied CD, tried the manufacturer’s website and discovered there was no Windows 7 driver available. I then did as anyone would (what you probably just did) and searched on the ‘net for a possible solution. What I found was that there was a Windows 7 driver for a slightly later model, the LiDE 60, which would still recognise and support my scanner.  I’m not certain where I came across that particular nugget but I still had the Canon driver on my desktop PC.  The latter originally came from here.

I thought it would just be a matter of running the SetupSG.exe file as administrator, but it simply did not run. I could see it was starting with a Winzip self-extract but the extracted driver install program would not launch and (oh so helpfully) the temporary files were deleted.  Googling for a solution brought me here. So it turns out that you have to install and use winRAR to do the extract then plug in the scanner, find it as an unsupported device in Device Manager, use the driver update utility and point it at the newly extracted driver file. The driver update hung on the first attempt, but mysteriously “took” on the second after a reboot.

I thought it would be plain sailing from there. The scanner was being recognised by the OS and was making scannerish noises on system boot up. But when I actually tried to scan an image into Photoshop it failed with the error message “The program can’t start because rmslantc.dll is missing from your computer”. Searching for a fix for that took me to Aaron Kelley’s blog. Thankfully, the remaining steps were not hard and well explained by Aaron. The scanner now works fine.

All the same, it was quite a job to get there, needing a number of steps, a lot of Googling and even more perseverance. It really should not be that hard.

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How to Press your TV into Service as Video Podcast Player

October 21, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Acquiring a TV that can connect to my home wifi, more specifically a Samsung Smart TV, has proven to be transformative.  Surprisingly so. I finally have a proper solution to a problem that has been bugging me for a long time, namely how to watch video podcasts on an HD TV. That is, as opposed to on a phone, tablet or computer, and as conveniently as if I were watching normal broadcast programmes.  It’s not that I spend a lot of time watching video podcasts; currently I only watch three shows a week. Still, when I do take the time to watch them I want to do so in comfort and with a minimum of hassle.

Before arriving at the complete solution, there were a couple of false starts.

False Start 1 – Laptop and HDMI cable

Our Samsung Smart TV, bought for the master bedroom to replace a dying cathode ray TV, was not our first HD TV. We had already acquired a 42″ Toshiba TV for the living room, albeit not a Smart TV. My first attempt at “lean back” podcast viewing involved hooking up my laptop’s mini displayport, via adapter and HDMI cable, to the Toshiba TV, having used iTunes to download my video podcasts to the laptop over the home wifi. This setup did work, in the sense that I could sit back in my armchair and watch my podcasts on the TV, but it was hardly a slick solution, the downsides being:

  • It was not trivial to get the laptop (running Windows XP) to recognise the TV and send a video signal to it
  • The TV would cut out when I closed the lid of the laptop! If I left the lid open I could see the video in two places and found that disconcerting. After a fair bit of Googling and messing with the Windows settings I did manage to cure the problem
  • I was forever having to use the TV’s own remote control to switch the picture size to “native” (as opposed to, say, “wide”) otherwise parts of the picture would get cut off
  • I had no remote control for video playback! I was effectively using my TV as a PC monitor so found myself having to use the mouse for play/pause/rewind, etc. The HDMI cable was too short to allow me to use the mouse from the comfort of my armchair, so I had to get up to pause the video if the phone rang.
  • I couldn’t really leave the laptop on and connected to the TV the whole time, so whenever I wanted to do some video podcast watching there was the faff of booting the laptop up, connecting the cable up, often having to wait for my shows to download and then having to disconnect it all afterwards.

False Start 2 – Android phone and MHL cable

When the Samsung Galaxy SIII was announced, one of the features that caught my notice was Allshare Cast.  It allows you to mirror the phone’s display on the TV in real time, although you have to buy a specific Samsung accessory, a wifi dongle that plugs into the TV. This sounded like the ideal solution for my video podcasts, but I had by then already upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy Note which does not support Allshare Cast.  The Note does, however, support HDMI out, or at least MHL over micro USB which amounts to the same thing. The bottom line is you can still mirror the phone’s display on a TV provided you get the right cable and adapter. A cheaper solution than Allshare Cast but the phone has to be located close to the TV, because of the cable, so again I was missing my remote.  The beauty of Allshare Cast would have been that I could have kept the phone with me and used it, effectively, as a remote.

I had the idea of trying to use my old Android phone, an original Samsung Galaxy S, as a remote. I looked for apps that would allow me to control the Galaxy Note from the Galaxy S. The obvious choice would have been Droidmote, but that requires root and there is no way I was going to take a chance on rooting a Galaxy Note right near the start of a 2-year contract.

I also tried a curious app called Tablet Remote from Tournesol which uses bluetooth for inter-device communication and a custom keyboard on the “controlled” device to implement the transmitted commands without need for root. It is a bit of a fiddle to set up but did work very well for a day or so. Then the bluetooth connection started generating errors and there was no recovery from that.  I did have a dabble at writing my own Android apps to do something similar but have parked that since I now have a satisfactory solution.

The solution – Samsung Smart TV, Allshare and Juice

I bought the Samsung 22″ 1080p TV because I needed a new TV, not because I had a fix for my podcast problem in mind. And I bought a TV with Internet connectivity simply because more and more new models are offering this and there seemed no sense in investing in older tech just to save a few coppers. In truth, I was not sure what the benefits of a Smart TV really were. Very likely a lot of people buy Smart TVs because they are the “latest thing” but then just proceed to use them with broadcast TV, satellite or cable, which is what they are used to, without ever taking the time to explore the additional options brought by Internet access. Samsung do at least recognise this by featuring a very large, colourful and conspicuous button, right in the middle of the remote, to activate the “Smart Hub” screen. It just begs people to ask “What the hell’s that button for?” and maybe give it a whirl.

In my own case I have made considerable use of the Samsung’s Smart TV capabilities but it is not really the Internet access that made the difference. Wifi connectivity to other devices in my house has been the key to my podcast viewing, allied with support for the DLNA protocol. Samsung don’t refer to DLNA explicitly – they use the Allshare brand  – but it is just their own implementation of DLNA. Clearly they want you to buy lots of Samsung devices and connect them up using Allshare, which is understandable to a point, but this goes against the grain of DLNA which is all about ensuring interoperability between devices from different manufacturers for sharing of video, images and audio content over wifi.

The specifics of my podcast solution are as follow:

Source device

I have my video podcasts downloaded automatically to a selected folder on my desktop PC running Windows 7. Should anyone be interested, the shows I currently follow are from Leo Laporte’s This week in Tech (TWiT) network, namely “All About Android“, “Before You Buy” and “Know How“.  They all come out weekly and the latter two are available in HD.

Podcatcher software

I’m using the Juice application, formerly known as iPodder. It looks a bit old-fashioned and clunky but it works very well.  I have it set up to delete the files automatically ten days after download.

DLNA broadcast software

Surprisingly, all you need is Windows Media Player. If you activate the sharing feature, and include the relevant folder in your media library, then WMP will act as a DLNA server, making the files in that folder and its subfolders available for consumption by any DLNA client on the same wifi. Interestingly, I couldn’t make WMP recognise files sitting within the Windows “My Documents” tree, which is where my iTunes  music and videos are located. That meant I couldn’t use iTunes as my podcatcher unless I changed the default iTunes folder and moved all the content across. It was easier to use Juice and pick a download location that WMP could access.

Accessing the video content

Even with the WMP application window closed, the DLNA service is running in the background. I can then press the bright, cube-shaped Smart TV button on my Samsung TV remote and wake up the Smart TV functionality.  From there it is a matter of navigating to the Allshare icon, selecting it and navigating to the “videos” option. My DLNA-enabled desktop PC appears in the list of sources.  I select it and navigate to the folder with my content and select the show I want to watch. It buffers very briefly then plays perfectly.  Beautiful quality, no stuttering.

Remote control

I now have not one but two remote options. I can use the Samsung TV remote to play, pause and FF/FR in 15 second steps.  Unfortunately the 15 second interval is fixed. I can though navigate to any part of the show by using the “tools” button on the remote then selecting “time search”.

An even better option is to use my Galaxy Note as the remote. If I launch the Allshare app on that I can again select the desktop PC as source, navigate to the show I want and then launch it directly from my phone.  I am presented with a dialog box asking whether I want it to play on the Note itself or send it to the Samsung TV for playback.  If I choose the latter, it plays perfectly on the TV as before but I can now use the Galaxy Note as the remote. The advantage is that I get fine control of playback navigation.  Instead of the 15 second forward/back, or the slightly clunky time search, I can navigate within the show to the second by swiping on the Note’s screen.

The upshot is that my podcasts are just there, available to be watched on my Samsung TV, very shortly after each episode is published. No faff, no hassle and I have full remote control for comfortable “lean back” viewing. Heaven.

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iCloud iNightmare

October 15, 2012

Vista busy cursor  It has taken days of anguish bordering on despair to resolve an iCloud crisis which has seriously soured the arrival of my wife’s new iPhone 5 and at times threatened to raise the spectre of divorce. Contacts disappearing time after time, replaced on each occasion by someone else’s, text messages going to the wrong person …. all guaranteed to stress everyone out. I cannot deny it was my own error that triggered the panic, but the horrors endured in righting it reflect very poorly on the way Apple have implemented Apple IDs in general and the iCloud in particular.

For some months, my mother in law (Pauline) had been using my eldest son’s old iPhone 3GS, with an O2 PAYG SIM. He had wisely carried out a factory reset before handing it over to her and I had (in hindsight unwisely) hooked it up to the long-standing Apple ID which had been set up for iTunes purchases on the family desktop PC years ago, certainly long before the advent of the iPhone. My wife (Naomi) was using the same Apple ID with her own iPhone 4 but there was no real conflict as Pauline does not buy music and only downloads a few free apps.  

I knew I should really have set Pauline up with her own Apple ID but that meant having her go through the full Apple ID creation process including entering payment card details and all the rest of it.  It seemed an excessive bother given she does not have her own computer and does not actually buy anything off the Apple ecosystem.

The extent of my folly started to come to light when Naomi’s new iPhone 5 arrived.  Her existing iPhone 4 (which had very recently been upgraded to iOS 6, complete with iCloud) had been promised to Pauline.  As the family tech-savvy person it fell to me to deal with the handover practicalities, even though I am not an iPhone user myself. My first task was to obtain a new micro SIM for the iPhone 4 and arrange for O2 to port her existing phone number across, since the SIM she had been using with the 3GS was the wrong size.  That part of it went fine.

The next step was to move her contacts across. In practice these were all on her (first generation) iPad and I used the bump app to “bump” the contacts over from iPad to iPhone 4. I had foolishly not first carried out a factory reset of the latter, so all of Naomi’s contacts were still on the phone.  Naomi manually deleted most of those before handing her mother the phone.

Everyone was then happy … at least until the next morning when all of Naomi’s contacts disappeared off her new iPhone 5 to be replaced with her mother’s. She was at work and some key colleagues’ numbers were now not available. I will leave it to you to imagine how delighted she was and who she decided was to blame, in fairness quite rightly.  I made the most convincing reassuring noises I could think of and that evening restored Naomi’s contacts off a backup of the iPhone 4 made just before the iPhone 5 arrived. Smiles all round … until the next morning when again all Naomi’s contacts were replaced by her mother’s. The annoyance factor was starting to take on alarming proportions, and aggravated because the restore had unset Naomi’s pairings on our car bluetooth systems and she had to set up all her speed dials from scratch. My popularity rating was very much on the decline.

I had been puzzled about how Pauline’s contacts had ever found their way to the iPhone 5 when the latter had not been involved in the transfer of contacts in the first place.  All I could think of was that maybe iCloud (which I was aware of but had little concrete knowledge of)  might be implicated. It looked like Naomi’s iCloud now held Pauline’s contacts and regarded them as more up to date than the backup I had used. So I looked in the iPhone 5’s settings, found the iCloud settings and disabled iCloud contact sync.  I felt sure that would put an end to the disappearing contacts. I was still left having to reinstate Naomi’s contacts from backup with the loss of bluetooth pairings and all the rest of it. My marriage had not been under such strain in some while.

To be on the safe side, I brought Pauline over to my home and at last arranged for her to have her own Apple ID. I switched her Apple Store and iCloud settings to work with the new ID. I now felt sure that the unwanted links between iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 had been broken.

I was still puzzling over how to reactivate iCloud on Naomi’s new phone without losing her contacts when another bombshell struck. Our daughter who is away at University sent Naomi a text message from her iPhone and Pauline unexpectedly received the message too.  There was nothing secret or private about the message, but there might have been and when Naomi found out she started to panic.  She had lost all trust in her new phone and more so in my tech skills.  

It turned out that the text in question was an iMessage, because all three iPhones involved were on wifis. All I could think was that Pauline’s phone was still linked to the original Apple ID at least for iMessage. I could try to track down and fix that setting, but how many more hooks to that ID might still be left in place? In desperation I carried out a factory reset on Pauline’s phone – I had to explain the situation to her and, bless her, she was very understanding and patient. This cost her all her contacts, but no way was I going to risk a backup and possibly reinstate some links to the Apple ID used by Naomi. I just used bump again with the iPad and all was well.

Finally the cord had been severed.  And finally I was able reactivate Naomi’s iCloud contact sync in a way which merged her contacts with the ones on her iCloud, and she was able to pare them down to the ones she wanted after that.

Crisis and marriage were saved but I was left thinking that I had suffered disproportionately for the simple innocent shortcut I had taken with Apple IDs. The issue for me is that iPhones appear to have lots of distinct connection points to Apple IDs such that one phone can use different Apple IDs for different purposes; music/video purchases, iCloud, iMessage and maybe more. My own phone is on Android where everything works off my identity expressed as my gmail account.  There is no need for explicit backups or restores. When I get a new phone I enter my gmail account once and it becomes my phone in every sense, with all my contacts, apps, calendar and everything else there for me. No confusion, no ambiguity.

I was surprised that there was no way to enforce the “direction of syncing” with the iCloud. Clearly we had a situation where the contacts in the iCloud were wrong but still took precedence over the contacts from the backup because they had a later time-stamp.  There should have been some way to “tell” iCloud to respect the data from the backup, rather than just keep overwriting it. Another frustration was that restoring is itself an all or nothing process.  It would have been handy to be able to restore just Pauline’s contacts from a backup if I could be sure I would not also be restoring any settings. I was desperate to avoid any action which might reinstate links between Pauline’s phone and Naomi’s iCloud.

Of course it would all have been different if I had gone to the trouble of ensuring Pauline had her own Apple ID from the outset and factory reset Naomi’s iPhone 4 before handing it over, but Apple’s implementation of ID and iCloud turned a mere drama into a full blown crisis. I thought that Apple’s guiding principle was that things were supposed to “just work”. If even a reasonably technical minded person can fall into that trap then I fear for the less geeky among us.

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Six weeks with the Galaxy Note and I’m in Love

April 1, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Well it has been six weeks since my Galaxy Note arrived but I was hooked after 6 minutes. I really do not care if reviewers think it is too big for day to day use as a phone. The display is gorgeous. Performance is way better than my old Galaxy S and so is build quality.

The size is noticeable but does not stop me enjoying the phone. It fits in my jacket or trouser pocket. The worst it gets is that it can be a bit uncomfortable in my trouser pocket if I am tying up my shoelaces or sitting in the car. In the latter case I just leave it on the console while I’m driving.

People complain you can’t use it one handed. I can, just about, with care, but very rarely need to. I was well used to using my old Galaxy S with both hands anyway. I prefer to use it that way.

All in all, the downsides to the size are way more than offset by the benefits. I think all the furore about the size comes from iPhone users who have been conditioned by Apple to regard a 3.5″ screen as the “right” size for a phone and have never had the experience of living with anything bigger. It is not an Apple product and Apple does not offer anything comparable so they feel obliged to make fun of it. People who actually try the Galaxy Note tend to fall for it. The 5 million sales in 5 months show there are enough people who have cottoned on to how good it is.

The big wins for me are:

Video – the screen size and quality mean I can really enjoy films or video podcasts very conveniently, say on the train or a plane, without having to worry about bringing a full size tablet or setting up a laptop.

eBooks – the Note’s screen is only a little bit smaller than say a Kindle Keyboard, and just as easy to read.  Even in bright sunlight because the screen can be turned up very bright, and all from within the Kindle Android app. I have a Kindle Keyboard but no longer really need it.

Note taking – is for real, not just an excuse to give the phone a catchy name. I use the S Pen a lot more than I expected to. On my recent cruise I was using it to take screen caps of the ship’s GPS position on Google Maps and annotating the map so I could identify where my pictures were taken and suchlike.  I used it to take and organise notes at port lectures before each port of call.  And more mundane things like handing the phone to fellow passengers so they could write down their email address for me.

And all the attention the phone gets from other people. No-one bats an eyelid at an iPhone any more, but people get excited about the Note.  This ranges from waiters in the bars on board ship to security staff at airports. The final leg of my journey home was a BA flight from Heathrow to Manchester and I was using the BA Android app to display my boarding card.  This meant handing the phone to BA staff who tended to want to play and ask interested questions before handing the phone back.

The Note is a winner and deservedly so. Say nay to the nay-sayers.


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Android Upgrade Process: Galaxy S to Note

February 15, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Yesterday I ordered a new Samsung Galaxy Note as an upgrade, to replace my Galaxy S.  It should arrive sometime today and I need to prepare. I want my new phone to be set up with everything I need as quickly as possible and as painlessly as possible: my apps, my email, my contacts, my calendar, my various customisations. This should not be a major planning exercise but does need a little bit of thinking ahead and a few preparatory steps.

Contacts, Email & Calendar

Trivial. My contacts, email, calendar are all tied to my Google ID. I use gmail and other Google services for everything. Once I have logged into Google on my new phone all these things will just be there. No help from Yoda do I need.

SMS/MMS history, call log, browser bookmarks, alarms

Do I actually need this? I have kept my texts from when I first had the phone, but rarely had occasion to look at old texts. I can think of one occasion – my son had texted me the postcode for his flat in London. I wanted to mail him something and had no other record. So there is little harm done if I start with a blank SMS history but as an experiment I am going to try to transition it to the Note.  I’m using  myBackup Pro to back up various items to the cloud: Call Log, Bookmarks, SMS, MMS, Alarms.  I will attempt to restore these into the Note.  Could be interesting. The bookmarks won’t be complete as I have taken to using the Dolphin browser which has a separate bookmark system.

Done it. Backup uploaded.  The app helpfully has a facility so you can email yourself the access details for later retrieval of the backup from the cloud.

Apps

Also easy. I installed AppBrain and used it to create an on-line record of all my apps. I should be able to rely on the Android Market to recover all my paid apps but possibly it won’t have the free apps.  I currently have around 80 apps in total, most of them free ones. That’s where AppBrain comes in; I should be able to install them one by one from there. Time to do an AppBrain sync.  Done.

I installed Google Currents from the apk as it has not officially been released in the UK.  I still have the file as an email attachment.  It is out of date now but still works.  That one will have to be done manually.

Photos and other media

I’m just going to copy the entire accessible file system, both on-board and on micro SD card, to my PC.  I can copy as many of my media files as I want on to the new phone. Quite a lot of music.  Some photos. I will in any event take the opportunity to back my photos up the the cloud.

Tasker

I use the Tasker app to customise the behaviour of my phone. This includes handy buttons to turn brightness up to max (handy if you are out in the street and can’t see your screen), auto switching of wifi on and off depending on whether I am at home, switching off notification sounds at night time, etc.

In practice the most reliable way is to have Tasker email the XML for each behaviour profile to my gmail. I can load the profiles back into Tasker later in the new phone.  Done.

Just realised that this approach does not save the individual task definitions that are used to power the icons for max brightness, silent, quiet, SMS reader on etc.  So I have turned on Tasker’s autobackup to create a file with the complete user data in XML.  This gets copied to the PC with the other files and will be available for restore in the Note.

GO Launcher Ex

Nearly forgot! I have a lot of customisation built into my launcher settings. But there is a backup option.  I have just run the backup and the file will be copied to my PC with all the other files.

I think I am good to go when the new phone shows up.


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