Archive for the ‘Windows Mobile’ Category

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Putting the Galaxy to rights #7 – Neutralising Nocturnal Notifications

December 29, 2010

Vista busy cursor Some of the early reviewers of the Samsung Galaxy S must have been apple fanboys or simply wanted Android to fail. The litany of complaints and criticisms often boiled down to little more than determined nit-picking.  In any event, there has been no adverse effect on the fortunes of the device, which has survived to establish itself as a resounding global success story for Samsung.

One of the more unusual complaints trumpeted by reviewers turns out to be a fair one, although there is a simple solution. The issue relates to the process of charging the device on, say, a mains charger.

It is this. When the battery reaches full charge, the user is alerted by a dialog box and notification tone. And where is the problem with that, you might ask? Well, it’s down to typical usage patterns. People are out and about during the day, rapidly using up the battery on their phones, and usually plug them in to charge overnight. Most often they will have their phone charging in their bedroom so they can use it as a wake-up alarm, for emergency calls or just have it handy to play Angry Birds before going to sleep. The problem being that the aforementioned sleep is then likely to be disturbed at 3 or 4 in the morning by the phone playing its battery full charge notification sound!

Yes, it happened to me on the first night. Not only did I get the phone in one ear, disturbing my sleep, my wife also woke up so I got it in the other ear too. Not one to be repeated.

There is no simple setting which just turns off the full-charge alert on its own. You can set all notification sounds to silent but that also disables audible alerts on receipt of emails, text messages, notice of calendar events and so forth. I don’t want to be bothered by email alerts at night but I certainly want them during the day. A possible workaround would be to turn notification sounds off manually at night, and on again in the morning, but its is a crude solution and relies on my remembering to do it, and having the time to worry about it. There had to be a more elegant fix.

I found an app in the Android Market called Advanced Mode Scheduler by Webcipe. It allows you to change your phone’s settings at specified times of the day, so I set it up to switch off all notification sounds at midnight and on again at 8am, all automatically under scheduler control. It even supports separate settings for different days of the week so I have been able to recreate my much-loved separate ringtones for each day of the week, and with far less effort than to achieve the same result with Windows Mobile.

There is only one mild annoyance about the scheduler app.  Each scheduled event sets ALL the settings en bloc, even ones you don’t want to interfere with.  So, for example, all my scheduled events have to specify wifi “on” or “wifi” off.  I don’t have a setting for “leave wifi in whatever state it is at the time”. So there are times when I might have deliberately turned wifi off only to have the scheduler turn it back on for me, just because it happened to be time to turn audible notifications on or off.

And one final thought. Did neither Samsung nor Google think about the battery charge notification disturbing users at night? Why did they set the device up that way? Apparently, you are not supposed to leave the phone on the charger once the battery is at full charge.  It is in some way not “good” for it.  Well, since nocturnal notifications have been neutralised, the phone has often been left plugged in for hours after full charge and I have never noticed any issue.

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Putting the Galaxy to rights #6 – Today Screen Android-style

December 20, 2010

Vista busy cursor Windows Mobile is on its way out and few will mourn it, but to be fair it was not all bad. It was designed as a business tool and pretty well thought out from that perspective. One handy feature is the “Today Screen”. This is the WM “home page” which can be configured to display your next few appointments, recent call log, recent SMS messages, etc to get you oriented quickly.  WM phones do not have an automatic lock screen (although you can manually put them in lock mode), so your appointments are right there when you hit the “on” key to wake the phone from stand-by mode.

Android (and for that matter the iPhone) work differently. You always get a lock screen when you wake your phone up from stand-by, have to do a touch-swipe to get past that, then to access your appointments you need to open your calendar app. I wasn’t so worried about texts and the call log, because those are well enough handled by notifications, but on moving to Android I missed not having my upcoming appointments automatically on view.

Calendar widgets do help. I use the Gemini II Calendar which keeps my next three appointments on display via a widget on home screen #1. But it is still hidden by the confounded lock screen so they are not immediately “glanceable” (to use the Windows Phone 7 jargon).

I looked at apps that could put useful information such as appointments directly on the lock screen itself, for example Executive Assistant from Appventive. This does actually work but seemed to affect the overall performance of my phone to the point I ended up uninstalling it. There is a similar app called Flyscreen but I didn’t even bother to try it, having been put off the idea.

But Executive Assistant did get me thinking. I noticed it had the ability to override the use of a swipe action to dismiss the lock screen. For example, you could set it so that hitting the back key would do the same job. I looked for other apps that could override the standard lock screen functionality and found No Lock. The No Lock app lets you put a widget on your home screen that enables one touch disabling or re-enabling of the lock screen.  It makes locking an easy manual operation, much like with WM.

With the lock screen disabled, on hitting the home key from stand-by you go straight to whichever home screen you last had opened. Two presses of the home key are guaranteed to get you to screen #1, where appointments are displayed. In effect, I have recreated the features I liked in the WM Today Screen. That is, from stand-by usually one key press (occasionally two) gets me to a screen where my appointments are on display. And as a by-product, I get the option to activate a lock screen manually with one touch.

In practice, I rarely need to lock my screen. The idea of the lock screen is to stop my phone being activated by accident in my pocket, but the home button is recessed and the other physical buttons too well protected by the Krusell cover for this to be an issue.

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This iPhoneless Life #11 – iTunes’ Secret Agent

August 27, 2010

iPod To describe my life as iPhoneless is a slight exaggeration. There is definitely an iPhone in my life, my wife’s iPhone 4, and it robs me of sleep.

My wife is addicted to Angry Birds.  It has not quite taken over completely from reading in bed at night (I can thank the late Stieg Larsson for that) but there seems to be an unwritten rule that we have to get through at least 2 or 3 levels of the aforementioned smash hit game before calling it a night.  I am often called in to help out clearing a level if my wife is stuck on it and wants a break to read another chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I am expected to keep going until every last grunting green pig has been blown to bits.


So I know all about the iPhone 4, it’s beautiful “retina” screen and gorgeous build quality. But for my own use I still have my old, battered Windows Mobile phone – an HTC Tytn II (in O2 “Stellar” livery).  It has done a job for me but now enough is enough and I want a modern phone.

Largely out of sheer bedevilment, I am determined not to become an iPhone user like everyone else in my family. And I’m wary of being a Windows Phone early adopter, much as I believe that platform holds out great promise. How could I forget what it was like to be an early adopter of Vista, when the pain of it is still faithfully documented in this blog? So I will go Android, at least for the foreseeable future, and currently favour the Samsung Galaxy S.

It was while I was checking out what the podcast client options look like in the Android world that I came across a free open source application called iTunes Agent. The idea is very simple. It makes your random non-Apple music device look, to iTunes, like an iPod. That means you can use iTunes directly and seamlessly to synchronise music and podcasts with any mp3 player or phone.  iTunes Agent has been around for quite a while and I can’t think how I missed it, particularly when I was casting around for a podcast solution for my HTC WM6 phone. As explained in an earlier post, I have a more than workable solution using iTunes for podcast capture and WMP for synchronisation, but iTunes Agent looked like a neater fix and I thought I should try it out.

I had no trouble installing and running iTunes Agent on my Windows 7 PC, and it hooked up immediately with iTunes. The difficulty I had was getting iTunes Agent to link up to my phone when the latter was connected to the PC via USB.

The way it is supposed to work is that you specify the folder on your music device where you want your synchronised music to live, in my case a folder on the HTC phone’s micro SD storage card. When you connect your phone, iTunes Agent is supposed to detect that this folder  is available on the Windows file system and therefore knows your phone is ready for synchronisation.  The limitation is that iTunes Agent requires your phone or music player to have been allocated a drive letter by Windows, but Windows was just listing my phone under “Portable Devices”. I could easily navigate through the phone’s folders and files using Windows Explorer but no way could I persuade Windows to allocate a drive letter.  And without a drive letter, iTunes Agent refused to accept any folder on the storage card as synchronisation target.

This stumped me for a while until, by dint of frantic Googling, I discovered the difference between the MTP and UMS protocols for connecting storage devices over USB. My phone naturally connects to my PC using MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) – a technology which is reckoned to offer the widest device compatibility with media players – as opposed to UMS (USB Mass Storage) which is targeted more at USB keys and SD card readers. Unfortunately Windows only allocates a drive letter with UMS devices, not with MTP.

More Googling and I found out about two applications that can be installed on a WM phone to make it emulate a UMS device and thus qualify for a drive letter, W5torage and Softick Card Export.  The former was written by a lone developer and is free whereas Card Export is a commercial product. Both were created so that you can in effect use your WM phone as a card reader.

I tried W5torage first.  It installed fine on my phone and appeared to be running, but in UMS mode my PC was not able to detect my phone at all. A quick uninstall and I tried Card Export, which is free to trial for 21 days. I took an instant dislike to the latter because it automatically added an annoying status display to my Today screen and an icon in the notification tray. It did however work. My phone now appeared as the G: drive and at last I was able to configure my phone in iTunes Agent. My HTC now showed up as a device in iTunes.

This did not though constitute a happy ending. Before going much further I was determined to rid my phone’s Today screen of the unwanted Card Export status display.  I went into the phone settings and unticked the Card Export option from the list of Today items. This resulted in my phone locking up. A reboot later and the Today Screen was free of Card Export status, but now my program icons were missing. There was clearly some clash between Card Export and the application manager software from O2 which came with my phone. Now the O2 software is lot more important to me than use of iTunes Agent – my researches in that direction were more curiosity than need – so it was Card Export that was going to have to go.

It took about 10 reboots before the phone was working normally again, with no trace of Card Export, the Today screen displaying all the right items and no lock-ups when I tried to access the Today settings.  There was a moment when I thought I was going to have to ditch the phone as a write-off, or at least restore factory settings.

That is, unfortunately, one of the most problematical issues with Windows Mobile. Lots of apps but easy access by developers to the deep innards of the operating system, which can readily become unstable as a result. I don’t know why iTunes Agent had remained a secret to me for so long but I could have done with it remaining a secret.

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This iPhone 4 wife

August 8, 2010

iPod It seems very strange that I have now purchased 4 iPhones but am still using a Windows Mobile phone. For a while at least I will continue to lead this iPhoneless life. The first 3 iPhones (all 3GSs) were for my children, for the festive season, and just recently an iPhone 4 for my wife, Naomi.

My children are absolutely besotted with their iPhones. In heaven with them. Naomi hates hers and keeps begging me to get rid of it. Until very recently she was a Windows Mobile user too, and had been since the first O2 XDA came out 7 or 8 years ago. But her O2 XDA Orbit2 was suffering death throes (symbolic of the Windows Mobile platform as a whole) and the iPhone seemed the obvious, safe alternative. Naomi had had a play with the kids’ iPhones (admittedly mostly Doodle Jump) and I expected her to take to it straight away. But she is finding the transition very hard going.

Steve Jobs has shown us that the one true smartphone experience has no room for a pesky stylus. Such things are fiddly and keep getting lost or broken. There is no need for any such contrivance if the user interface is properly thought through. Except that Naomi had had plenty of time to get very efficient writing texts etc with a stylus and finds the iPhone keyboard to be a beast, as many do on first acquaintance. Coupled with exceptionally unhelpful predictive text and her unfortunate tendency to hit send on SMS messages by accident and the results are utterly infuriating for her, when they’re not hilarious.

Last week she replied to a text from my son Jonathan which asked for advice on making sure a text he planned to send to a friend was not misinterpreted. She wanted to suggest he tack a smiley on the end of his text. But thanks to her keyboard issues, the unwanted incompetent interference from the predictive text facility and an untimely use of send she ended up advising him to add a “skills” to his text.

The reply came back: “what is a skills and where do I put it?”

Naomi dissolved into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. She could hardly breathe, let alone say a word. Which was highly inconvenient because at that moment I was driving the two of us around the horrible Coventry ring-road system (which I do not know at all), was struggling to make sense of the Satnav and was hoping for some help from my co-pilot. I had to manage without help.

I sense Naomi is settling down, very slowly, to the iPhone. And what are the alternatives? Another moribund Windows Mobile phone? Just putting off the inevitable. A Blackberry with a real keyboard? She likes the tiny buttons even less than Apple’s virtual ones. And there really is no going back to the horrible texting systems we had before smartphones.

So I imagine the iPhone will stay. But in trying to help my wife get on speaking terms with her new phone I have spent a fair bit of time with it and I do see where she is coming from. The more time I spend with it, the more I think Windows Mobile has come in for an unfairly bad rap.

I don’t think I will be buying a fifth iPhone. Not for myself. I know Windows Mobile is on its deathbed and Windows Phone 7 is still some way off being ready to invest in. Most likely I will go with the trend towards Android.

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Rocky Gibraltar Earth

October 5, 2009

Books Finding time for reading has been hard for years, and to compound the frustration most of my recent book choices have been disappointments.

Normally I have both a paper book and an audiobook on the go, thus using technology to extend “reading” time to commuting, dog walking and the like. Now a third front has been opened with ebooks on my Windows Mobile phone. I was getting fed up with my increasingly absurd “dead tree” book, The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, and had nothing else to read so bought Gibraltar Earth by Michael McCollum in PRC format (mobipocket), based on a ringing endorsement by SF fan Steve Gibson of Spinrite and “Security Now!” fame.

Buying Gibraltar Earth as an ebook made it both cheap ($5) and near instantaneous by the miracle of Internet file download, followed by a dangerous dabble with WMDC (aka ActiveSync) to straddle the final, short hop from PC to phone. I’d have preferred to get it on a Kindle but such delights have yet to make their way across the Atlantic.

My wife has denounced my ebook venture as a terminally geeky thing to do. She insists the very idea of attempting to read a book on a phone, even one with a large high-res screen, is wacky beyond redemption. I was sure to wreck my (already pathetic) eyesight. I pointed out that I can adjust the font size so that it is bigger than the paper book I was reading, as readily proved by a side by side comparison. You end up with rather fewer words per screenful than you would have on a page of a paperback, but navigating from screen to screen is very easy with the phone’s “joystick”. The wife remained unconvinced, even when I pointed out that I no longer needed to worry about losing my place or fannying around with bookmarks, as the software would always keep my place.

I can even do a text search, so if I come across the name of a character in the story and can’t remember where they last appeared, I can search for previous occurrences by name rather than having to scan the pages of a physical book by eye. Best of all, because my “book” is in my mobile phone, I always have it with me so if I have a spare moment, say waiting outside school to collect my daughter, I can steal a few minutes of reading time. So whether or not reading a book on a phone sounds or looks ridiculous, it is perfectly feasible and has many enumerable advantages.

Sadly, though, this did not turn out to be the hoped for happy solution to my reading material crisis. Not because of any particular issue with mobipocket books on Windows Mobile phones in general. It’s just that the book itself turns out to be dire.

It is such a let down, after the build-up Steve Gibson gave it. The premise sounds riveting. Centuries from now, mankind makes first contact with alien life but discovers that the galaxy is ruled by an all-powerful cruel race which enslaves or destroys all other life, so humans are only still around and free because they have yet to come to the super-aliens’ attention. But it is only a matter of time before they are discovered, which raises the question of how mankind will deal with the problem. Fascinating concept, which unfolds over a trilogy.

But the writing is so amateurish and cliched. Almost stomach-churningly so. I may stick with it a bit longer but am finding it hard to take.

I had been tempted to start reading some SF by Peter F Hamilton, based on Steve’s effusive praise, but have been put off as I’m not sure I can trust his judgement. This is possibly unfair on Hamilton who is a far better known and more prolific author. Maybe I’ll sneak a read of a couple of pages in Smiths or Waterstones just to make sure it’s not another complete turkey.

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This iPhoneless Life #10 – Almost enough to make me buy an iPhone

August 10, 2009

iPod As I have been documenting over the last few months, I have got my WM6 phone pretty much doing all the same things as an iPhone but with the added advantage of wireless stereo Bluetooth earphone support.

Of course there are some downsides.  The device, an HTC TyTN II, is not as svelte and elegant as an iPhone and the user interface, being based on Windows Mobile, is not as slick and well integrated as the Apple equivalent. Also, the looser software/hardware integration of Windows Mobile devices, and in particular the greater reliance on third-party utilities, is more likely to cause grief.

A case in point is the clash between Windows Media Player Mobile (WMPM) and Audible.com’s player. For reasons best known to themselves, Audible will not allow their audiobooks to be played on WMPM, instead requiring users to install Audible’s proprietary audiobook player. Maybe it’s because WMPM does not support bookmarking. It  would not have been that much of a problem to have to use two separate applications for music/podcasts vs. audiobooks were it not for the fact that they conflict with each other causing the phone to crash.

The culprit appears to be the Audible player.  Once it has been run, it seems to result in some persistent locking of resources which interferes with the operation of Windows Media Player, even after the Audible player application has been closed.  You can still open and use Windows Media, but when you try to close the latter down, as you would if say updating your podcasts or synchronising your music, the phone locks up and requires a time-consuming soft reset.

I have tried installing various bits of kit to try to troubleshoot or debug the problem, but whatever it is has its hooks too deep down within the operating system and I cannot fathom it.  It is very annoying but I guess I’m stuck with it for the foreseeable future unless anyone has any bright ideas.

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O2 should give the Zest a rest

July 17, 2009

iPod A hideous disappointment, and that’s being kind. Describing it as a steaming pile of camel droppings is not too harsh. I’m talking about O2’s XDA Zest, the only XDA branded phone to date not made by HTC.

The Zest is made by Asus, better known for motherboards and notebook computers. Their first foray into the smartphone market has not been auspicious.

It looks cheap, feels cheap and the battery won’t hold enough charge to keep it alive overnight. I got my son Alex one of these as a stopgap, to replace his dead LG phone and dead iPod Touch. The plan was to find a phone that would also handle media, in particular being able to take a large (32GB) micro SD card. On paper the Zest fitted the bill, despite being an unfashionable Windows Mobile phone. As I recently found, you can get WM phones to perform perfectly well as media devices.

In practice, twice in a row his alarm failed to go off in the morning because the battery had died, despite having been fully charged the evening before. I wondered if GPS might be on all the time or the power/display options were screwed, but was able to eliminate all issues of that type.  Maybe the battery was defective. Even so, the plasticky build quality compared with every HTC-built XDA I have ever seen was enough to deem the Zest a reject.

It has this morning been collected by the courier.  Good riddance.

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