Archive for the ‘Mobile phones’ 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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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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Taking Note of the Galaxy

February 12, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Just a few days ago I had more or less resolved not to upgrade my end-of-contract Samsung Galaxy S, instead hanging fire until the rumoured Galaxy SIII is on the market, something which will probably not happen until the summer.

But I have started to come to the view that there is a truly great option available right now, the Samsung Galaxy Note. When it was first announced I dismissed it as a curiosity, an oddball device for a very niche market. Somewhere between smartphone and tablet and with, of all things, a built-in stylus reminiscent of my Windows Mobile devices of old.

I may have been too hasty. The Note is creating quite a buzz. People who actually spend any time with it seem to fall in love.  It is not the stylus (sorry, S Pen) that is of particular interest, thought it might be useful for occasional quick note taking.  It seems to be the fabulous screen, just big enough to make browsing, watching video and reading e-books a delight, while still just portable enough to carry everywhere as your day to day phone and music player.  And the performance is streets ahead of anything else on the market, all with quite passable battery life thanks to the souped up 2500 mAh battery.

The fundamental question is around the form factor. Is it the best of all worlds, combining the benefits of a smartphone and tablet in a single device? Or might the opposite be true, that it is too big for sensible use as a phone while still being too small to serve properly as a tablet? The reviews from the Verges, Engadgets and TechRadars of this world all fail to give the Note a ringing endorsement. They are charmed by the screen and the performance but all feel the device is too big to fit in your jeans pocket so not really suited as a regular day to day phone.

If, though, you read the user comments on those reviews you get a different picture. People who have bought the phone seem to get used to the size quite quickly and they all think it is great. No-one appears to regret buying it.  It is bigger than typical smartphones but not too big to carry in a trouser or jacket pocket. For women it is even easier as it will fit in their purse, indeed Samsung have been quoted as suggesting they planned to market the Note primarily to women in the UK because of the purse compatibility.  Not that this will stop many men being just as keen on the Note.

My current phone contract is up on Tuesday and there is no longer any doubt in my mind. I won’t be waiting for the Galaxy SIII when I can have a Note right away.


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A double twist in the podcatcher mix

February 5, 2012

Vista busy cursor My last post was a head to head comparison of DoggCatcher and Pocket Casts as if they were the only two contenders in the Android podcatcher market. If I say so myself I was really quite dismissive of others such as BeyondPod, ACast, Google Listen and a rag tag of also-rans.

Strikes me though there is another option coming up on the rails from a slightly different direction. DoubleTwist, which has for ages been the default choice for music playback on Android, is starting to flesh out its podcast credentials and pushing very hard to get into that niche. No doubt it sees an opportunity to win afficionados already using DT extensively for music playback.  Certainly there are attractions in having a single app to cover both music and podcasts, as with say iTunes in the Apple world.

Users of DT for music would once have had to get music onto their Android phones by syncing with their computer, using a USB cable.  Then DT introduced AirSync at extra cost which allows the same thing to be done wirelessly over the domestic wifi.  DT are now trying to peddle this wireless syncing as a key feature for podcast consumers, as if DoggCatcher and all the other established podcatchers had not been offering wireless podcast downloads from day one.

So is DT any good for podcasts? The short answer so far is “no”. Adding podcast feeds is a failure, on my phone at least. There appears to be only the choice of adding from a set list under each of a number of categories, and a “search” feature. I couldn’t get the latter to work – as I type in search terms the search symbol disappears and there seems no way to actually invoke a search. Nor is there any way to add an RSS feed directly from the URL, so far as I can see.

The other killer is that there is no option for variable podcasts playback speed. I would never get through my podcasts of a week if I could not listen at say 1.5x speed.

DT seems to be a long way from being a viable podcatcher right now. They would do better to fill in the gaps in their feature list before starting to push it. For myself I will continue to use DoggCatcher which is now the complete, almost faultless podcatcher.


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