Tag: Google

Must have Symbian / Android Apps (Phones)

Posted by – December 16, 2010

Recent events have led me to use both Nokia’s latest phone and operating system (Symbian ^3 on the Nokia N8), as well as Google’s Android operating system on the ZTE Blade / Orange San Francisco. As most people tend to have the same uses for mobile phones, such as twitter, camera, torch, music, etc, I thought it would be useful to put together a list of the “must have” apps for the platforms, and show what the most similar apps are on both platforms. If you want to add the Apple versions, please get in touch, or leave it in the comments, and I’ll add to this list.

Must have app Nokia Version Android Version
Barcode scanner UPCode Barcode Scanner
Last.fm Scrobbler* Mobbler Last.fm App
Twitter client Gravity (£8 – Well worth the money) Tweetdeck
Torch App QTorch Color Flashlight
Spirit Level Level Touch Bubble
Battery Meter Nokia Battery Monitor (Ovi) Battery Widget / Built in
Panoramic Photo Nokia Panorama (N8 – unlimited shots?) PanoPhoto (only 2 shots)
Keyboard entry Swype Swype
Photo Editor Nokia Photo Editor (Built in) Photoshop Express
Phone Tracker Phonelocator Periodic Where’s My Droid
Screenshot “Best ScreenSnap 2.0” (link, or here) screenshot
Navigation Nokia Maps (Built in) Google Maps / Navigation (Built in)
Navigation Customisation Own Voice (record your own voice) None?
WIFI Internet Sharing JoikuSpot Tethering and Portable Hotspot (Built in with v2.2)
Location information Here and Now (Built in) Places (Built in)
Location aware profiles Nokia Situation (betalabs) Locale (link)
Camera based location info Nokia Point and Find (betalabs) Google Goggles
Task Management Task Manager (Built in, S^3) Taskiller / Task Manager
GPS Based Sports Tracking Nokia Sports Tracker My Tracks (link)
Podcast Support Built into Music Player / Podcatcher (link) Google Listen
Alt. Music Players TuneWiki (link) TuneWiki / Winamp

* Can replace this with Spotify if you have an account as Spotify is available for both.

Find new / more apps for Symbian / Nokia on http://blog.ovi.com/dailyapp/global/, Nokia Betalabs (apps), recommended apps on MobileRnR

Orange San Francisco / ZTE Blade TFT Review

Posted by – December 14, 2010

Orange San Francisco / ZTE Blade running Froyo

The Orange San Francisco / ZTE Blade offers an extremely cheap entry into the world of Android. Priced around £99 (with a mandatory top up of £10/£20), it offers excellent value for money, and is one of the higher spec phones available around that price. Offering a large 3.5″ screen with a high resolution of 800×480, a 600mhz cpu, and 2gb of Micro SD ram.

Another big feature of the phone is the community support for the phone, allowing it to be unlocked for free (found via Modaco), and upgraded to Android 2.2 (Froyo), and potentially newer versions when they are released, it has it’s own dedicated forum here at Modaco.

Nokia N8 OLED - Orange San Francisco TFT

Nokia N8 OLED - Orange San Francisco TFT

The “SanFran”, as some people affectionally call it, has 3 physical buttons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Menu, Back, one power button at the top, and volume buttons at the side, there is no dedicated camera button or unlock button. To unlock you press the power button and slide something on the screen based on what version of android (or screensaver) you have. Considering the whole touch screen ethos of the android operating system, it seems strange to have to use physical / moving buttons to navigate – it would make more sense for these to be soft touch buttons (as I’m sure other android phones do).

Box Contents: Phone, Battery, Orange SIM, Earphones with microphone (earbuds, NOT in-ear earphones), Wall charger (Plugs into wall and has USB socket), USB Cable (used to charge phone with wall-charge or plug into computer), User guides (quick start guide, printed 133 page manual, plus 2nd manual for orange software), 2GB MicroSD Card.

Phone quality – Making and receiving calls, the audio quality is very good, the speaker is loud and clear, and quality seemed very good with no feedback or echo noticeable. (Although you network coverage may alter your experience)

Music playback – full volume is still on the quiet side of things. The music player app is fine, nothing seems to be missing, but nothing stands out as particularly interesting either. It does the job, but only seems to work in portrait mode (and not landscape). Music playback is interupted by other app notifications!? (Could just be my OS build, 2.2, and even when the other notifications are set to silent!?)

Web browser – this is quick, responsive, and works well.

android 2.2 homescreen (with fish) android app updates android task manager - system is busy, try later! (WHY?)
Some screenshots, click to enlarge, homescreen, app updates, task manager.

Android market (app store) – this has very nice integration with websites, you visit the site, click the link to download from the store, it takes you there and you click install, it then takes you back to the website and downloads and installs the app in the background. Very swish, very un-intrusive, very simple, very easy, the way it should be done. (I’m looking at you Nokia) It’s also ironic that you can get Snake free for the android – but no official version from Nokia for Nokia phones…

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Battery

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Back / Battery / MicroSD / SIM slots

Expansion – Under the one piece back cover (made of plastic), you’ll find slots for the MicroSD card, SIM card, and battery. Small hole next to the camera lens – could be a reset button?

Battery – a 1250mah 3.7v battery.

Build and size: Slim, compact, the back cover covers the power button, and needs to be taken off / put back on carefully as, like the Nokia N95, it could cause problems if not treated with care or over-used. The plastic is coated with a rubbery texture, making the phone feel like a higher quality / higher price handset than it actually is, and internally the circuit boards seem very thin. The use of philips head screws make it very tempting to take apart…

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Taken Apart (Teardown)

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Taken Apart (Teardown)

There’s a hidden screw under a white dot, so no doubt taking it apart will void your warranty, there’s also a moisture detector dot under the battery, as shown above, and there are 8 screws in total holding the phone together, after taking these out, the phone then unclips with some encouragement – although you can help it along by pushing the clips surrounding the battery area – I didn’t want to go further than this as the rest looked like it needed the ribbon cables disconnecting, and this is often fiddly.

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade TFT back

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade TFT Screen Removed (back) - Click to Enlarge

To remove the front glass / case, you need to remove / disconnect the top ribbon cable that connects the *something* (don’t know what). The ribbon cable connections are held in place with plastic that “pops” up, and the wi-fi aerial also pops-off. The screen is quite firmly glued on to the main plastic “chassis” in the middle of the phone, and there is also a ribbon cable behind the main board connecting the top led and light sensor, and the volume control ribbon cable is soldiered on, and the buttons are glued onto the chassis, making it very difficult to disconnect / remove – it quickly becomes very fiddly.

ZTE Blade components ZTE Blade board close ZTE Blade board close - other side

Identifiable chips / components: (Click images above to enlarge, or to view additional images!) Top: Samsung SWB-A23 (Wifi, bluetooth), Qualcomm (hidden from view), Qualcomm PM754, AH56714, C1034003 (Power management), Underneath: Samsung 040, KA1000015M-AJTT, YK10338E (RAM), Qualcomm MSM7 (CPU, hidden from view), TriQuint 7M5012H, 1037, KORE, AT9366. Camera module: Made by MCNEX MC_32A2_48, 2010.06.04, the chip on the front of the phone, above the screen: 1KAAV0QW, Z1A0AD09.

Nokia N8 Camera with Flash - Orange San Francisco Camera with no Flash

Nokia N8 Camera with Flash - Orange San Francisco Camera with no Flash

Camera – 3.2 megapixel AF (Auto-focus) lens. Photos are awful. Terrible. Horrible. Utterly crap. Seriously substandard.

Other features? Impressions? The top bar shows you your notifications, things like texts, twitter or app notifications, and battery / connectivity status etc (3G, Bluetooth etc), but doesn’t actually let you interact with the notifications on the right of the bar… you can’t click the battery, for example, to see how much remains (like you can on Symbian ^3), instead you seem to have to go through the phones setting menu to get the information.

Updated conclusion: 6 months later: (10/07/2011) Some have said, in the comments that this review is overly negative, and somewhat lacking in it’s conclusion, and I agree. In retrospect, the ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) is still, to this day, 6 months later, one of the most fully featured, and lowest priced android phones available, and the good screen, and low price make it very apealling, especially with such a huge homebrew community of support. I bought it as I wanted to see what all the fuss about Android was, and I wasn’t as impressed as I felt I should have been, especially considering all the hype. There are areas of weakness such as the poor camera software (camera is poor on this phone, but may suffice in great weather, outdoors), and generally android isn’t as polished as I think it should be (this may have changed with newer versions, I tested 2.2). The ZTE Blade with a lower spec processor than most, won’t do flash, which is a huge drawback for me as I need iPlayer on my phone. Another big weakness is the high SAR levels (1.35 W/kg) – enough to give some users enough of an issue that they’ve seen a GP (Doctor) about it… Another big issue is the fact that everyone feels the need to mess with the google version of android, and try and add their own skin, apps, and money making programs to the phone. Very annoying. Anyway, to try and conclude this as quickly as possible, the ZTE Blade (OSF), is a great phone considering the price, and if well worth looking at if you’re on a limited budget and don’t mind the various issues the phone has.

Pros: (Positives)
+ High resolution 3.5″ capacitive screen (responsive)
+ Extremely good value for money
+ Easily unlocked, for free
+ Upgradable to Android 2.2
+ Tons of apps, good app store experience
+ Notification of app updates, and “Update all” button (not just OS)
+ Full screen PDF viewer (in QuickOffice)

Cons: (Negatives)
– Home screens don’t work in landscape mode (see Symbian ^3, or Launcher Pro for Android)
– Music playback is interrupted by other app noises! (even when the phone and notifications are silent)
– Limited memory as standard (only 2gb MicroSD provided)
– AWFUL camera (see Nokia N8!), lacks even basic LED flash
– Fragmented OS / Features ie BBC iPlayer is supposed to work on 2.2 (using Flash*) but wouldn’t for me, 2.1 it just isn’t available (see Nokia / Apple)
– Poor battery life (8 hours)
– No strap loop / wriststrap mounting hole
– Camera shutter sound on, even when all sound muted.
– Default install location is the phones memory, not MicroSD, easy to fill the 512mb built in.
– Difficult to use one-handed (back button awkward – and pressing the background of the screen doesn’t take you back so you have to press the back button – easier on Symbian ^3 to just press the screen behind the pop up menu)

* Flash 10.1 is needed, which isn’t available for the ZTE Blade due to the ARM6 processor.

Useful links: ChrisLowthian.co.uk How to Unlock.
Orange San Francisco also available from Amazon UK (Unlocked).

HTC Desire HD Review (Phones)

Posted by – November 10, 2010

HTC Desire HD

The HTC Desire HD. Let’s get the specs out of the way eh?

  • Processor: – Chipset: Qualcomm 8255 SnapDragon – Speed: 1Ghz
  • Battery: – Talk Time: 9 hrs – Standby Time: 490hrs – Capacity: 1230 mAh
  • Display: – 800 x 480 pixels/4.3″ – Touch Sensitive(Capacitive)
  • Camera: – 8 mega-pixels (auto-focus) – Digital Zoom – Dual LED Flash – Geo Tagging
  • Video: – Recording Resolution: HD (720p) – Recording Speed: 25fps – LED Video Light – Supported formats: MP4, 3GP, DivX, XviD – Video Streaming – YouTube
  • Music: – Supported formats: MP3, AAC, eAAC+, OGG & WMA – Dolby Digital Mobile – SRS WOW Surround Sound
  • Messaging: – SMS – MMS (with video) – E-mail (POP3, IMAP4, Exchange, GMail) – Twitter – Instant Messaging (Google Talk)
  • Memory: – 768MB (RAM) – 1.5GB (internal) – microSDHC (memory card)
  • Call Features: – Hands Free – Caller ID – Voice Dialling
  • Connectivity: – 2G: 850/900/1800/1900 Mhz (Quad-band) – 3G: 900/2100 (Dual-band) – WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) – HSDPA (14.4Mbps) – HSUPA (5.76 Mbps) – Bluetooth (2.1) – microUSB – 3.5mm Audio Connector
  • Navigation: – AGPS – Digital Compass – Google Maps
  • Sensors: – Accelerometer – Proximity Sensor – Light Sensor
  • Features: – Web Browser – Office Document Viewer (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) – PDF Viewer – Flash 10 – DLNA Wireless Media Sharing
  • None of which tells you anything useful. Well, there are loads of things to talk bout with this phone so lets go.


    It’s a 4.3 inch screen and it’s a bobby dazzler. Despite sounding massive it feels really natural in the hand. It’s noticably bigger than the iPhone but the weight and smooth contours make it easy to hold. The camera lens protrudes from the back a good few millimetres. I really thought that it would catch my palm and do my head in, but not at all. Ergonomically it’s a decent phone. Typing is tough with one hand unless you use the excellent, yet love it or hate it Swype. Swype lets you type with swipes, moving from one letter to the next without taking your finger off the screen. If it sounds weird it is at first, but now it’s a ‘how did I do without i?’ app for me. It’s predictive and lets you add to the dictionary. Provided you’re not typing nonsense words it is seldom wrong. There are no hard keys as such. They have been made in to touch sensitive buttons for Home, Menu, Back and Search. Gone completely is any trackball or trackpad. I don’t miss it.

    Apps look great on screen and the touch screen is unintrusive and useful. Call quality is good but the bundled hands free kit is predictably crap. Terrible sound and earphones that fall out of your ears.At the bottom are the SIM and Micro SD slots, with a hatch that slides off  so no need to turn the phone off or take the whole back off to remove either. Left side has a volume rocker, which can be hard to operate, rather irritatingly, and top left is power, again, irritating to access. Minor points but they do annoy me.


    Lightning fast apps, switching, animations and functions make this phone a joy to use. However, the big issue. Battery life. When I started using this phone I was horrified at it’s 6-7b hour standby time. I thought it was faulty at first until I did some research, and here is how you get 30-40 hours out of it.

    • Accounts sync. I had a total of 11 accounts  syncing, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, News, Weather, Stocks etc. They set themselves to sync every 15 minutes by default. Massive drain. I killed all bar the Google and Facebook accounts. Google updates every 2 hours and Facebook daily. This alone extended the life to a days’ use.
    • Install a task killer, kill all tasks that do not need to be running. This makes a huge difference.
    • Get rid of pointless apps. They are usually badly written and drain power. Apps like this are the price of the more open Android market, as opposed to Apple’s ‘Dolphin’s Butt’ approach.

    There are other optional steps that I took.

    • I rooted the phone using VISIONary, a free app that needs no restart and doesn’t flash the phone.
    • Installed Titanium Backup free and  deleted all the crapware that came with it. I dumped a load of pointless widgets, HTC bloatware apps that offered wallpapers etc and, astoundingly, there are two bundled Twitter apps with the phone, the official Twitter app and the HTC one called Peep. I use the far superior Tweetdeck so I have no use for those, off they went. A factory reset puts all of this back on the phone so you need not worry about that.
    • After this run the phone as normal for ten days, then drain it completely and calibrate the battery.

    My battery clocks in at 30-40 hours business use now so it can be done, Don’t believe the propaganda. I am the sort to plug my phone in whenever possible anyway, always have been. It’s hardly Apple’s ‘It just works’ appeal but I like Android for playing with it so I’m not bothered, you might be.

    Running widgets, particularly live feeds will drain it but it’s nothing to worry about.


    Music is well played, no skips etc but you’ll need decent headphones as cheap ones sound tinny. The screen is perfect for iPlayer/YouTube and the playback is very good indeed. Sharp, vibrant and well-balanced with intuitive controls. YouTube lets you sign in to a different account from the phone which is a useful idea. Photos look crisp and sharp too. Flipping between landscape and portrait is snappy and works perfectly. The music app displays album art and controls music whilst the phone is locked without having accidental presses. Clever. You can install different ones if you like, notably Tune Wiki, but I see no need. There is some sort of Dolby sound thing going on here, but I have to be honest, in my experience the rule is spend a few quid and it sounds good. This phone doesn’t convince me otherwise. It sounds good, but if I am supposed to notice some sort of sound revelation, sorry. It sounds good provided you don’t use a terrible bit rate on MP3 files.


    Google Maps and Navigation is there. It works snappily and the voice search is brilliant. No complaints. With it being a cloud based app there’s nothing new here that isn’t on other phones. What is new is HTC’s proprietary Locations application. It has several features. Free maps and mapping but navigation is a premium feature. Unless you’re a heavy user then navigation is free with Google. If you use it daily then buy the premium as Vodafone only give you a measly 750 MB data plan. I think this is taking the proverbial a little now. One gigabyte is not a huge amount so it’s clear they’re looking to squeeze a few pounds out of us on data.

    Fortunately, the free element of Locations is offline mapping. No data usage, but sadly the database of locations is absolutely hopeless. It’s empty compared to Google Maps and as far as I can see it does not accept postcode searches. They had better update that pronto. If you search then every space sees a lag as it tries to match what you just typed. That is extremely irritating and a flaw that needs to be addressed. However, most of the time, if you give it the data it will find what you need. If so, then the maps have 2D and 3D views – very nice indeed – and they work with the compass so that the map turns wherever you are pointing it. No more walking for a bit to see which way you should be going. Very nice feature and one iPhone has had for ages. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Google haven’t  done it  with maps. Locations also does general keyword shops. You can select whatever category of place you want, e.g. pubs, and find the ones in the area along with ratings and reviews. This is very good and means no worries about using your data up on Google Maps. As an aside, as these apps move to the cloud then networks need to be fairer on data allowances. I would happily compromise on say, mapping and browsing only, no downloads or streaming, in exchange for unlimited 3G data. I think that is a better way to keep everyone happy. No nasty surprises in our bills and the networks don’t have to worry about media streaming brining 3G networks to their knees. I am sympathetic as the traffic on 3G has exploded since iPhone changed things, but then they’ve had three years to beef up their infrastructure. If they keep this up it will stink of profiteering. Having expensive data tariffs on always-online devices is a gun to the head scenario in my opinion.

    GPS signal acquisition is lightning fast and as accurate as I have ever seen. Any thing like maps or navigation looks brilliant on that 4.3 inch screen.

    Location services on this work really well. I know there are real concerns regarding privacy but I am all over location services like a fat kid on cake. I love them and can’t wait until they gain wider acceptance. Why, for example, can’t 20 Foursquare check-ins at a restaurant equal a free meal? There is an opportunity to make money here, and hopefully the right sort of thinkers will drive this. Foursquare is a great idea, but the app on here needs refining. It works fine, but searches can often be slow and it’s a little  buggy. Not the phone’s fault, but a thought. Facebook works well and includes Places. Tweetdeck (or Peep/Twitter if you prefer) all permit location updates in tweets and geotagging photos os available too. This phone will stretch the possibilities for locatoin applications. It has the capability and the screen to be extraordinarily useful. We just need some original thinking from developers for apps and services. Bring it on.


    The camera is 8 megapixels, twin LED flash and shoots HD video at 720p.

    Here is a sample video from bonfire night:

    Pretty good, I am sure you’ll agree. A couple of stills from the same night:

    The OS is the bang up to date Android 2.2, smooth and fast. There is a vast array of sharing options, Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, Mail, YouTube. Uploads are a couple of taps and go just fine.

    Internet and Mail

    Gmail on this is great, push updates and notifications. The mail client works well with loads of options, including a unified inbox for all accounts. Nice touch. The browser works very well with smooth panning, zooming and pinching there, and in the rest of the apps too. Google search and voice search integrates brilliantly, giving local results for the device and net results too. I did install Firefox beta but for a beta release it has some terrible bugs, notably being the capitalising of the first letters of passwords, meaning you type it, then your full password, then go back and delete the capital. It’s easily fixed but that is a real balls up for something of Firefox’s standards. Quick look up works when you highlight text, you get the usual cut and paste options. The menu also gives ‘Quick Look Up’ as an option so you can get web and Wikipedia results for the highlighted text. Very good idea.Bookmarks are tiles and multiple pages are supported. plus map links and so forth open the relevant app rather than viewing in browser. Perfect touch there.


    The market now allows auto-update and update all for installed apps. It restricts that by forcing manual update if application permissions have changed. That stops developers sneaking in data mining and sharing that you did not originally agree to. Thank you Google. The market is simple to browse and the app selection is huge. Not quite up with Apple and there is a fair amount of crapware in there, but there are some great pieces of software. Be wary that quality control is non-existent, which gives app developers freedom but also allows more seedy tactics like apps that are just there to serve ads, thus generating cash, and apps that don’t work properly. Read comments before installing.

    App Reviews: Dell Streak

    Posted by – August 22, 2010

    Having used the Streak for a while now I wanted to review of some of the more interesting applications it uses.

    First up, Google Earth.  A couple of technical details. This requires Android 2.0 or better, and I had to find the .APK file online and install it manually as it seems to be available for Nexus One only in the UK Android Market. Quite why Google are dithering with this I don’t know, but it’s easy enough to find anyway. I always found it odd that this was out for iPhone pretty quick but was difficult to obtain for Google’s own mobile OS. The beauty of Android is that tinkering is allowed and easy. Beats the hell out of Apple’s NONE SHALL PASS approach. When installing from a non-market source you will need to enable external application installs in the applications settings menu.

    It opens pretty quickly, under five seconds. When it loads you see the familiar splash screen followed by the blue marble hanging in space. This is the first time I have run Google Earth on any Android device, and only the second mobile device after iPhone 3G. The animation and frame rate is smooth and does not lag at all. GPS allows you locate yourself and zooming is about as smooth and sharp as your data connection will allow. Strangely my 3G is far faster than my home WiFi so it’s pretty laggy when zooming in on my home broadband. Obviously that’s not Google’s fault. I just have a rubbish router.

    Video demo:

    Forgive me for searching ‘London’ when I was already there – duh. You can see it is pretty slick. You’ll notice I accidentally pressed a couple of photos. That isn’t n issue, I’m just holding a camera whilst using it so I slipped up. You can see that pinch, double tap etc all work very well.There doesn’t seem to be any way to mess with it,  import GPS tracks, KML files etc, but all the usual layers are available so you can, for example, view geotagged Panoramio photos.

    Google Earth works very well, and it is crying out for users to do things with it now. Let’s see what happens eh?

    Android Apps Update

    Posted by – December 30, 2009

    A couple of Android apps that are well worth a look

    Photoshop Mobile

    An excellent, free Photoshop lite. Obviously it’s nothing like the desktop thing, it’s a few simple functions to allow users to improve photos with editing tools. Open it for the first time and it generates thumbnails, then simply tap a photo and then select ‘edit’ from the home menu. It then offers the following tools from three tap-to-pull-down menus:


    Black & White

    Soft Focus

    The interface is very clever. For example, to add tint, tap ‘tint’ on the menu, then slide your finger over the image. Slide right to increase the value, slide left to decrease it. Very clever. Once done, save image, upload etc. Superb, simple, user-friendly.


    A Google sports app. Who knew that geeks like football? Very simple. Install, open, select your sport, then the country, then the league, then the team. The app then runs in the background and pulls down live scores, providing periodic notifications. Great.


    As a reader of Ebooks since the days of Palm I noted with interest recently that ebooks outsold paper books this Christmas for the first time. Aldiko is an ebook reader that has a great catalogue of freebies and will read Epub format ebooks. The interface is a virtual bookshelf and reading can be customised in terms of colour and touch controls. The only ebook reader for Android that is any good. Downloads are quick and there is a massive amount to read for free.

    Android 2.1 Flashed to a T-Mobile G2 Touch

    Posted by – December 29, 2009

    First of all, this was made possible through instructions posted on YouTube by a chap known as tech0StickyAsGlue and his YouTube channel can be found here. A big thank you to him, even though it is almost certain that he will never read this.

    Before I go any further please be aware of the following:



    On top of that, this post is not a set of instructions on how to do it, nor is it a recommendation concerning which ROM to use. The video shows a particular ROM but I ended up using another in the end.

    I decided to do this after getting extremely frustrated with T-Mobile. As I write HTC are preparing to roll out Android 2.1 to all HTC hero handsets and T-Mobile are still messing about with 1.6. Even more irritating than that is the fact that the update will not be rolled out over the air, instead the phone needs to be flashed. Even MORE IRRITATING THAN THAT is the fact that Mac is not supported so I have the most advanced phone on Earth and because of T-Mobile’s useless tech support I have to take it to the shop to update it! Bloody ridiculous. I decided that if I need to flash it I might as well do it myself and get 2.1 with all the benefits that it brings, including Google Navigation. In your squidgy, fat face, useless T-Mobile tech support.

    Firstly, thank god I am finally rid of the buggy, laggy, inadequate 1.5 Android release. 1.6 onwards brings speed, stability and a better interface. The ROM I sued dispensed with all sings of T-Mobile interference with the image, except for the boot screen. I am sure I could dump that too but who cares. I just wanted them off my phone. I wish someone would stop mobile companies from installing all that crap like web ‘n’ walk and suchlike. Nobody likes it and it just clutters the phone, consuming memory. If you don’t believe me, look the success of iPhone on O2. Not a sign of O2 anywhere but the bills.

    The only downside to this that I have come across so far are a few missing apps. It is a missing YouTube application. To be fair the image I used is not ready for full release yet so I can’t complain about that. I got around this by installing vTap, a free application, from the Android Market. Also peep, the preloaded HTC Twitter has gone and been replaced by a new social network called Plurk. I’ve signed up, we’ll see. worked around this by installing Twitli from the alternative, unoffical Android Market Mobentoo. One presumes that the name is a pun on ‘mobile’ and ‘Ubuntu’. Mobentoo has a fraction of the number of apps that the official market has, but there are some exclusives, including some great games, and freebies which are better. The Android Market could easily become a collection of Lite apps that don’t do much except annoy you in to buying the full versions. Still, variation can’t harm anything. No-one is forcing Mobentoo on anyone. Personally I like it. The website has their full application catalogue with data matrix barcodes, so instead of squinting at the phone you can read on your computer, scan the barcode to download. Excellent.

    This ROM, even though it’s a cooked version of 2.0 is miles better than 1.5, which T-Mobile lumbered it’s customers with. In future I will go SIM free from Expansys and buy a contract to get the phone free. It’s far less hassle and you have control over your updates, meaning I on’t have to go through this farce again. I am not really too big on modding but sitting like a lemon with 1.5 whilst even G1 users are on 1.6, with talk of 2.0 looming is irritating to say the least, I would go so far as to say outrageous and shabby service. Performance in 2.1 is way up and whilst I could say it’s a nice surprise, it’s actually what I expect. Cyanogen 1, T-Mobile 0.

    The main plus points:

    Free emulators. Emulators are available for free from Mobentoo for the following: NES, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, Sega Genesis.

    2.0 retains integration with contacts and Facebook. It pulls down all Facebook data to your contact, including profile pictures. Nice touch.

    HTC generic: no more Web ‘n’n Walk. This is good because when phone makers put that stuff on phones like this: WHAT’S THE POINT? Seriously, does anybody use that crap?

    Tethering. Another glaring omission from Android thus far for me, being a Mac user and all. Plus, it’s unofficial so it comes within my data plan.

    And finally, the biggie, Google Navigation. It’s every bit as good as everything else Google does. Voice commands are disabled in this ROM, I imagine the ROM coder will be on the case.Signal acquisition is quick, mapping and directions legible and it tracks perfectly. This is every bit the match for anything TomTom have ever come up with but the obvious kicker: IT’S FREE! Mark my words – this will blow the lid off the SatNav market. The others are going to have to innovate or die, it is that simple.

    I will be watching to see what the Nexus One turns up. I may well get an Android powered netbook too if they are this good.

    Android Applications: TuneWiki

    Posted by – November 21, 2009

    This review is for another great android application, TuneWiki. If you use your phone for music (I currently don’t – more on that later) then this is the music application you need.

    If you have a quick look at their website you’ll see it is pretty interesting. You can download free music, get lyrics, post on forums and there is also a live feed displaying the music users are streaming. There is also a really cool music maps section where listeners are charted (anonymously) around the world according to location and taste. That would make for an interesting study in to musical tastes for anyone furnished not only the time, but also the inclination to study such things.

    So, on with the application. It comes in the usual two flavours, lite, which is ad-supported, and paid. The functionality of each is the same, save for the aforementioned ads which are unintrusive and very much bearable for a cheapskate like me. I know that some people hate ads and suchlike, however, since the options are either accept a few ads in return for an all you can eat music service, or pay a nominal fee to remove them, I cannot see why anyone but the most cantankerous users would complain. The only information exchanged seems to be an account and scrobbling so there are no privacy issues.

    Now, on to the application, which has several functions.

    Music Player

    TuneWiki plays the music stored on your Android device. Handy for a music player really. It goes further than that though. Album art is downloaded and encoded to the tracks, and a nice innovation is the lyrics stream. If TuneWiki has the lyrics to the song stored in its database then the lyrics are streamed to the device and, rather intelligently, played back in real time as they are sung, layered over the album art. All the usual controls are there, play, pause, skip forward & back, scrubbing, shuffle, repeat and repeat all. You have the option to search by artists, albums, songs, playlists or shuffle all. It never skips or stops and plays in the background, all the while happily keeping itself to itself and not hogging CPU capacity. A good start. I use my iPod as the HTC Magic has nothing like the same sound quality in headphones, however, if you use your phone for music it will serve you well. I do use it, say, in the bath or whilst I am busy and play music through the speaker, but as a music player it’s nowhere near the iPod. Let’s hope the Motorola Droid can change that. That is all to do with the hardware though. The software cannot change any of that.

    At the bottom of the library screen there are five buttons. The first one is a music note icon and it takes you to the music player. The second is a microphone and it takes you to…

    Internet Radio

    Internet radio is provided via Shoutcast, which I do not use, and Last FM. This is a real boon for TuneWiki, not only in terms of functionality, but also because the TuneWiki module for Last FM works far better than the Last FM native Android application. TuneWiki provides a wide variety of tracks that are scrobbled evenly. This might sound obvious but, in my experience, the Last FM application has an irritating tendency to playback the same few tracks. If this confuses you then don’t worry, you’re in good company as I do not understand why this is so either. I would imagine that the same algorithm powers both so I am baffled by this, however, after using Last FM for months and now switching to this, whatever the cause may be, the difference is remarkable.

    I also browsed Shoutcast, which differs from Last FM as it provides many internet radio streams rather than the Last FM library playback and scrobbling service. It plays just as well and the audio is excellent quality with no stops, skips or interference, thanks no doubt to the Magic’s 3.5G HSDPA downlink speeds.

    Internet radio via TuneWiki is first class, I have never heard better. It has the same album art and lyric streaming provided in the music player.

    Video Search

    This is another great innovation, and is accessed via the third button which is a screen icon. If you import music in to the TuneWiki library, for playback via the music player of course, then video search will automatically search YouTube and if it finds the music video, it links it to the song in your library, allowing you to watch the video whenever you like. This is another great embellishment which really enhances the feel and function of the application. It simply reeks of quality, and it is simple and easy to use. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

    TuneWIki Community

    TuneWiki community incorporates social networking in to the application. It provides several functions. The lyric search allows you to retrieve lyrics to songs other than those being played back. The aforementioned music maps:

    provides a nice touch, and, if you use it a lot, is a great way of finding new music from listeners with similar tastes, sort of like manual scrobbling. The next two functions are linked, TuneWiki top 50, which allows you to listen to the most popular music being played and also Playlists, which allows users to upload custom playlists. This is an excellent function and unlike iTunes playlists, is free to listen to. The final three options are free music downloads, providing music under the Creative Commons licence, help functions, and, rather cunningly, an ad which looks exactly like another button. It’s a crafty trick but, given the superb free benefits and functions you get with TuneWiki I’ll let them have that one for free. I didn’t fall for it anyway. The fifth and final button is a head wearing headphones icon and this takes you to the last song you were listening to in whichever medium it was. Remember this, because if you reopen the application itself then your last listening material is not there, although it is still retained via this key so it is not lost, just inaccessible through any other button. That’s a nice touch and a great way to keep up with your playlist.

    Other functions (oh yes, it’s not over yet!) that I love are the option to post status updates based upon what you are listening to Twitter, Facebook and Blip FM. You simply access the settings menu, provide login details and you stay logged in via the TuneWiki application, only after you enable it to access your profile of course. After that, should you wish to update your status you simply tap the speech bubble icon that is in the top right corner, above the album art, next to the title, and you have three buttons, either a ‘love it’ message, or ‘hate it’, or a custom button if you want to post your own mini reviews. This is superb, I absolutely love it, and my Facebook status updates and tweets will soon be showing these. I already linked my YouTube accounts with Twitter, Blogger and Facebook so this is a nice function that takes advantage of the integration functionality that is slowly infiltrating social networking. Provided you have the accelerometer switched on you can also flip to landscape for maps, art and video.

    This application is perfect in its execution and the only thing it lacks is an audiobook playback function. Of course it will play them as MP3 files but will
    not bookmark, download cover art or recognise chapter markers, all of which require M4B file compatibility. I am not too bothered about his yet as Android is young and audiobooks are very difficult to provide cheaply as the publishing industry is so resistant to the new technology. My own personal work experience has shown me how closed-minded the publishing industry is and believe me, you wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry if you knew the truth. It is currently having the debate we had with Napster all those years ago, and is more resistant than the music industry ever was. In light of that I understand why this function is not there. It would be an absolute nightmare fore TuneWiki, especially with Pandora yet to debut outside USA, meaning it’s this, Last FM and Imeem making the headway as well as a few independent applications run by online stations. For choice, variety and function TuneWiki is the one to beat.

    If you have Android then you must have TuneWiki. It’s simply too good not to own.

    Google Android Apps: My Tracks

    Posted by – November 7, 2009

    Google have struck gold in my opinion with My Tracks. My Tracks is the best of the glut of first generation GPS/location based applications to hit Android and it’s really great. I used it for the first time today, just a dry run to see what it does and how well it does it. The journey was a one lap hike around Clowbridge Reservoir in Lancashire, and here are the results:

    View Clowbridge Reservoir in a larger map


    View it in Google Maps

    This is what you get. All you do is open the application and give it a few seconds to acquire a GPS fix. Once done, tap the menu button and the record option and it now records your journey in real time using GPS data. Once done, tap end recording and you can then export it to My Maps in your Google Account, to Google Docs and save it to SD as either a GPX file or a KML (to export to Google Earth), or both. This is a superb application that allows you to track things like mileage, speed and so forth. There are things I would like to see added such as a pedometer (using the accelerometer), a compass (all android phones have a magnetometer so it’s a simple process) and a calorie counter. These are the ones I can come up with off the top of my head anyway.

    Once I had exported to Google Earth and Maps I was able to wow the kids with a 3D rendering of our journey and show them various possible routes, diversions and sights. If you love outdoor sports, the great outdoors in general, travelling etc them this application is simply essential if you have any need for, or interest in statistical data about the journey, or if you simply want to look at where you have been over the months and years. Superb. I will be taking this everywhere, holidays, hikes, bike rides etc. To me it is simply indispensable, and I take my phone anyway so why not make use of it?

    Google strikes gold again. It’s free and it’s brilliant. Integration with Google Maps and Google Earth is seamless, ridiculously easy. I am really starting to love Android.

    Google Listen Podcast Aggregator Client.

    Posted by – November 4, 2009

    Google Listen

    As one would expect, Google provides a raft of free apps for Android. One such app is Google Listen. Listen is a podcast aggregator and a very very good one. The catalogue of podcasts available is massive and every possible subject is covered, including commercial stuff such as BBC programs etc. Quality is superb. The sound is delivered through the speaker or headphones and the interface is simple, with controls, progress bar, subscription option buttons and album art which makes it look rather polished. The 3.5 G connection gives excellent playback. I have been using it for months and not once had a pause for buffering during playback. It buffers for a couple of seconds when you initially open the podcast and after that no breaks. Scrubbing is smooth and easy too.

    Listen integrates brilliantly with Browser too. Simply tap a podcast link and it will give you the option to open it with either Browser or Listen, and the option to set a default application for opening podcast enclosure links. I recommend Listen to anyone, particularly those who enjoy knowledge and media. There is a wealth of academic and popular material available via Listen and it is all free, every bit of it. If you have a hobby that you love, search for it and you will find a huge amount of material pertaining to it. Google Listen comes with my highest recommendation.

    Google Maps Navigation (Beta) Coming to an Android Phone near you (Phones)

    Posted by – October 30, 2009

    Video demonstration of Google Maps Navigation (Beta), an internet-connected GPS navigation system that provides turn-by-turn voice guidance as a free feature of Google Maps on Android 2.0 phones.