Feb 3

No signal - Nexus 4

Do you have to stand in a certain spot or a certain room at home to get any kind of mobile signal? Do you have to go out into the garden to check your messages?

Well I used to. I couldn’t find a solution to this weak mobile signal problem. You can buy mobile signal boosters/repeaters and femtocells which can help boost your signal, but there is some debate over their legality in UK. Ofcom say they are illegal. However, they may be legal in your country.

In any case, there may in fact be a free solution to this problem if you have it too. Check with you mobile provider to see if they have an app which allows your phone to use your home broadband connection to move voice calls and messages to and from your carrier’s network rather than hunting for a very weak or non-existent mobile signal. You may also be able to use it at other locations where you have access to a wifi network and where the mobile signal is poor.

In UK, the mobile operator Three offer this through a free app called Three InTouch available for both Android and iOS. The instructions for downloading and installing the app are very clear and it’s working really well on my Nexus 4. O2 have a similar app called TU Go for Android, iOS and Windows but it’s only available just now for O2 Pay Monthly and Business customers. Vodafone don’t seem to have a free smartphone app at the moment but currently offer the Vodafone Sure Signal femtocell for £100. Virgin has the SmartCall app for Android and iOS phones.

So if you have a problem with a poor or non-existent mobile signal at home, check if your mobile operator has a free app to tap into your wifi network. Failing that, check out if signal repeaters/ boosters and femtocells are legally available in your country.


Jul 29

phone and specs

Anyone who is farsighted will know all about the hassle involved in trying to read something up close and do other things at the same time. For example, you’re trying to cook from a recipe on your tablet. Or you’re on holiday in a city you don’t know well. You got your maps, itinerary, etc on your smartphone but you have to continually put on your glasses to see the smartphone display then take them off to see where you are. And on and off…  As someone who had perfect vision when I was younger, I find it all pretty frustrating.

I’d often thought there’s got to be some sort of lens I could put over the display so I could dispense with glasses. Well, there’s hope in sight (pardon the pun) for the longsighted and those with more serious vision problems. It seems that vision-correcting displays may become a reality in a few years time. This was one of the more interesting posts I read last week on Mashable. A collaboration between researchers at University of California, Berkeley , MIT and Microsoft has come up with an algorithm to alter an image based on a person’s glasses prescription together with a light filter in front of a display. The algorithm alters the light from each pixel in such a way that, when fed through the filter, it reaches the retina of the eye creating a sharp, high contrast image. Basically the image is adjusted to take into account the inability of the eye to focus on it. And I guess anyone with perfect vision will just see a blurred display on your phone so that may be a bonus.

So keep an eye out (sorry again) for vision-correcting displays coming to your smartphones and tablets.

Vision-Correcting Display Could Free Users From Their Glasses –  Mashable


Oct 7

 

broken smartphone

Everyone seems to be picking up tablets and new smartphones these days. PCs and laptops will still be around for some time to come, but for many just looking for content consumption devices, these pocket computers may be all you need. But everything’s shrinking. The PC was a nice open box with modular components and where fitting a replacement hard drive wasn’t too hard even for someone like me who isn’t a repair tech. Laptops are more compact but I’ve still managed to complete a screen replacement here. But now the ultracompact nature of smartphones and tablets makes them much harder to open up, service and repair. So what will happen in a couple of years when we have a broken screen or dud battery in our device? Do we repair or replace?

I came across a great article recently on Technibble about the mobile device repair industry. The author made the point that repair costs may be about one-quarter of the initial retail cost of the device or the cost of replacement at current market prices. Parts are easier to source for more expensive tablets. He also made the point that the owner of the device should check his insurance or device warranty to see if that covers them for a replacement. Age may also be an issue. The device may just be too old to repair. From my point of view, my Nexus 10 tablet is great and I can’t see me replacing it any time soon. I would happily pay for a repair when necessary if the price is right. The Nexus 4 may be a different case. It’s a 3G phone and I may be interested in upgrading to 4G when/if it fails in a couple of years.

So who can repair these devices? Well, I asked if traditional laptop/PC repair shops are able and willing to carry out repairs to mobile devices on the computertech subreddit on Reddit. As mentioned earlier, it seems that iPhones, iPads and branded devices can be repaired, though one commenter didn’t fancy repairing HTC devices. Some repairs like screen replacements can have a high profit margin for the experienced repair shop. One commenter made the point that the prices of parts are close to the same price as a new unit, so many people would rather spend a little more to get a new one.

As luck would have it, I’ve just listened to a Podnutz Daily podcast (tech repair tips and business tips for the tech repair industry), PND365, where among other things, Steve and Jose, two repair techs, talk for about 5 minutes on tablet and smartphone repair. If you just want to hear this section jump to 54:10 in the podcast. Here’s a summary. Repair techs can make good money repairing iPhones and iPads. These are high value items and people are inclined to repair them if possible. However, Jose says that after the 1st generation iPad, these tablets have become increasingly difficult to repair. Steve made the point that if a device is new to a repair tech, they may order two parts just in case they break the first during the repair – it’s a learning experience. The Samsung Galaxy S3 can be an expensive repair for screen replacements because very often when you remove the glass you break the screen so the glass, screen and digitizer may all have to be replaced.

So how do you know if your device is easily repairable? Well, iFixit publishes a smartphone repairability list and a tablet repairability list scoring how easy or hard they are to repair so you can check out your own device there. Apparently my Nexus 10 tablet is very hard to open. And if you are in the market to buy a new mobile device, you should also have a look into its future prospects for ease of repair on that site. They also have DIY device repair guides if you’re up for that challenge!

If you’re a device owner, what’s your experience with repairs? Was the price reasonable or was it cheaper just to buy a replacement? If you’re a repair tech, do you repair mobile devices or are you considering doing this in the future?

Update (4 Feb 2014): Lifehacker have a post today – The Most Common Smartphone Repairs You Can Do Yourself

Image credit: Robert Nelson


Sep 12

Three

I work from home and when I go out I’m a light mobile user. Maybe a couple of calls a day, a couple of texts and say 10 to 15 minutes of internet access on my Nexus 4 smartphone – I’m not a big Facebook user, just use my phone for news, search and information and if I’m travelling. So a contract would not really be value for money for me. In fact I’ve been Pay As You Go (PAYG) for years with O2, but I really just find their mobile rates overcomplicated with bolt-ons, etc. What I wanted was a simple to understand, good-value UK mobile network provider, and I think I’ve finally found one in Three.

Quick disclaimer here. I’m not sponsored by Three, there are no affiliate links here, nor do I get any fee from them for this post. I use this blog to pass on great things I come across.

PAYG on Three

PAYG on Three tariffs are very simple. 3p for all calls in the UK (to mobiles and landlines), 2p for texts and 1p per MB of data. Your balance doesn’t expire at the end of the month and you get 150 MB of free data when you top up. The free data does expire in 1 month. You should also note that the PAYG plans don’t allow tethering . You can transfer your own mobile number to Three. You can also manage your account online including checking your balance and remaining free minutes. Of course you need to check Three’s network coverage in your area before you send off for the free SIM.

So if your phone is unlocked, try PAYG on Three if it suits your lifestyle. For the first time in about 10 years, I’m happy with my phone tariff and I’m not watching my balance. For example, I can now get a 4 minute phone call to another mobile for the price it used to cost me to send one text on O2 (12p).  And because I’m a light user, I’m finding my 150 MB of free data is lasting roughly about 3 weeks. After that, it’s 1p per MB until my next top up so that’s not bad.


Feb 21

phone

We all get them unfortunately but it’s very hard to put a stop to them. The cheery ultra positive attitude of the salesman greeting you very often by your forename and asking how you are before following up with his sales pitch. How do you deal with this interruption at work? Your concentration is disrupted and if the call irritates you, it can be 2 or 3  minutes or longer after the end of the call before you switch properly back into work mode again. I hate these calls because I just don’t respond to telemarketers. If I want to buy something, I’ll research it myself, find the best price and purchase it in my own time. I don’t want to be rushed into buying something I haven’t researched properly.

Well, here are some tips on dealing with telemarketing calls mostly learned the hard way.

Treasure your phone number

Seems obvious but think very carefully before you give out your landline or cell phone number to anyone. The crucial point is, if you don’t mind voice communication with them go ahead but be very careful. I’ve been caught out here in the past when the telemarketers pass on (sell) your contact details to others. If you are asked to give a number when signing up for anything online and you just don’t want phone contact from them for fear of telemarketing calls, just change the area code and number slightly and give them that. Probably best to go ex-directory as well – that way you have more control who gets your number.

Take control of the conversation

So it’s too late. Your number has been passed around the marketers. I’ve found that you often get an idea when a marketing call is coming up. Sometimes when your phone rings, you pick it up and you’ll hear a ring tone as the dialling bot at the other end routes your call to a telemarketer. If they don’t respond in time the bot will hang up. Assuming they respond, you may hear a lot of background noise as other marketers in the vicinity go about their business.  On my caller ID display, the telemarketers calls often show up these days as ‘International’. When you’ve identified you have a telemarketer on the line, be polite but firm right from the start; you have to take control of the conversation. I generally stop them early on with ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t respond to telemarketers’, and hang up before they answer. Don’t bother asking them to remove your number from their database – they just won’t bother.

Further action

In the UK, you can join the Telephone Preference Service.  It’s an opt out register where you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. It’s a legal requirement in the UK that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your consent to do so. However, it just doesn’t stop the increasing numbers of overseas marketers and the scammers trying to fix your computer which I’ve already blogged about.

If the worst comes to the worst, change your landline number and go ex-directory. It’s a nuisance having to give your friends, family and business associates your new number but it may be worth it in the end.

Stopping cell phone telemarketing

Thankfully, I don’t have the problem of telemarketers on my mobile phone – I learned the lesson from my landline experience and I’m very careful who gets my mobile number. Rich Menga at PCMech published a good post recently on how to deal with cell phone telemarketing with particular advice for the US. With most mobile phones you have the great facility to block or reject these calls. And Guiding Tech have a great post on how to filter and block calls on Android phones using the NetQin app.

Do you have any tips for dealing with telemarketers? What’s your approach? Drop a comment below.


Apr 4

I’ve been using the web based to-do app Doris for about a year now and quite like it. There’s also a Desktop version now and an iPhone app but regrettably the developers just haven’t kept pace – no Android app as yet.

I was listening to a recent CNET to the rescue podcast and Rafe Needleman mentioned Wunderlist, an awesome to-do app so I thought I’d take a look.

Wunderlist1

As well as downloadable programs for Windows and Mac, Wunderlist has a web app so you can have your to-do lists synced on Windows, Mac and Linux machines as well as Android phones, iPhone and iPad. You can also share your lists.  Here’s some basics on using Wunderlist. Create a new to-do list using the hotkey L or click Add List at the bottom right of the screen. If you don’t like the default wood panel background or the awesome leafy background I’ve chosen, you can choose from a number of others from a drop-down list and also toggle the side bar.  The other buttons along the bottom are pretty self-explanatory but play around with them to see their actions.  You can drag tasks up and down a list to reorder them and also drag them from list to list. Starring tasks brings them to the top of a list. You can also add notes to tasks to give more info about them and search for tasks in the search box at the top-right.

There are some very nice touches too. You can assign a date to a task which shows up near the right end of the task entry. This is updated to Tomorrow, Today, Yesterday as the task date approaches and passes. Double clicking on this date allows you to reschedule tasks. At the bottom of the screen, tasks due Tomorrow, Today or Overdue can be viewed by clicking the buttons. You can also add new tasks by emailing them to me@wunderlist.com, and can choose to be alerted via email when tasks are due. So even if you don’t have the latest mobile phone, you can keep up with your Wunderlist to-dos on the go.

A nice example of syncing a list to your mobile phone would be a shopping list. Just add items to your list wherever you are and call up the list on your Android or iPhone while shopping. Of course, you can also do this with other apps like Evernote.

As David Pierce points out in a recent post about Wunderlist, a recurring tasks feature would be a nice addition. I currently get around this by putting these in Google Calendar. These recurring tasks are pushed to Rainlendar my desktop calendar and so I can see them on the desktop of my PC.

I have Wunderlist loading in the left-most tab in Chrome so that it’s always displayed first when I open my browser. To do this in Chrome, after you’ve signed up for Wunderlist, drag that tab to the left-most position. Open the other URLs you want at browser start-up. Then click the spanner symbol at the right end of the tool bar, Click Options, and under the On startup section, select Open the following pages. Click the button Use current pages then check that Wunderlist is listed at the top and the other sites you want are listed below it.

So if you’re looking for an awesome  to-do list app or want to upgrade to a more feature filled one or one that syncs to your mobile device, I encourage you to try out Wunderlist and see what you think. It’s free at the moment. Let us know what you think of Wunderlist in the comments or tell us about your favourite task management program.


Aug 27

powermonkey1

If you spend a lot of time on the move and need to charge your mobile devices, have a look at the Powermonkey-classic charger from power traveller. I’ve just bought one on Amazon (£16 in the UK; about 25 US dollars) as my daughter is about to head out to Africa with a group to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and will be away from conventional charging facilities for at least 5 or 6 days. She needed a portable charging unit capable of charging her mobile phone and mp3 player.

Charging the Powermonkey

powermonkey2

Charging the Powermonkey is very straightforward – it comes with a universal mains charger (which works in over 150 countries) with a selection of interchangeable plugs. You can also charge the Powermonkey from a USB port on a PC using a separate retractable USB cable. A red light glows when charging, green when charged.

Charging your devices

powermonkey3

The Powermonkey is supplied with a selection of charging tips for various devices but if you can’t find one to suit your device, you can always use your usual charging cable (USB port to device) because crucially there’s a female USB tip for the charger (shown attached in the image above) – so it’s just like charging your device from your PC. Or additional tips for specific devices are available on the power traveller website.

Haven’t tried it out fully yet but the specs say it holds its charge for up to one year and delivers power for 40 hours iPod use, or 96 hours mobile phone use. I read a review on Amazon which said it would charge an iPod twice before it needed charging. Anyway, I’ll update this post when I’ve confirmed how often it can charge up our devices before needing recharging.

By the way, I don’t do paid product reviews, and I’m not being paid for this post. Just blogging about solutions which work for me.


Jan 23

With the ever-expanding smartphone market these days, it’s important that your blog is mobile ready, meaning for example, that it can be rendered nice and clearly without having to scroll around too much on your phone. If you have a WordPress blog, there are a number of plugins which will remove the sidebars for example and convert the blog to a nice clean format for viewing on a cellphone. But which WordPress plugin to choose? Here’s a quick run through of how I narrowed the field down.

I went through my Diigo bookmarks and found I had bookmarked blogs discussing quite a few plugins: WordPress Mobile Pack, WPTouch, MobilePress, WordPress Mobile Edition, and Wapple Architect Mobile to name just a few. But what I really wanted to get hold of was a comparison to see what people thought was the best mobile plugin.

Comparisons of WordPress mobile plugins

I found it hard to track down any blog which had reviewed and compared mobile plugins. In fact, if anyone’s interested and has access to a range of cellphones, there’s an opportunity for a really useful blog post here. WPFeed compared a number of plugins and chose WordPress Mobile Plugin (but when you click the link now you’re directed to WordPress Mobile Pack), and the only other site I came across was Alpha2beta which I had Google translate from Chinese. They also compared a few and chose WordPress Mobile Pack.

I know that WPTouch is being quite well received, particularly for iPhone and Android platforms. Technically Personal uses the WPTouch plugin. In a reply to me in the comments there, Raju said he had tried quite a few plugins and found problems with them all. Wapple was a disaster he said.

Narrowing the choice down

On Mahalo Answers, I asked ‘What’s the best WordPress plugin to make my blog mobile friendly?’ I received three answers recommending WPTouch, Wapple Architect and WordPress Mobile Pack. I was getting the feeling now that it was between these three. I liked the Wapple recommendation:

Wapple

Finally, I tried a search on Twitter for wordpress AND mobile. Jumped into an interesting lead:

@dannybrown Did you test other WP mobile plugins before you settled on Wapple Architect? I’m finding it hard to pick one for my blog

@techandlife I did. Tried WordPress Mobile, WP Touch (good for iPhone, not so great others). Wapple best one I found

@techandlife And Rich Gubby of Wapple is just awesome 😉 http://bit.ly/7z2qwx

I checked back on my own bookmarks and Wapple Architect sounded really promising even though it doesn’t work for some. So I thought I’d try it first.

Installing Wapple Architect

Wasn’t just a case of downloading and installing the Wapple plugin. Had to register to receive the Developer Key, click a link in an email to complete registration, then received a Developer Key which was required to set up the plugin. Didn’t take too long though. During set up, you can upload an image to use for your mobile header and which would be automatically resized. Didn’t work for me on this occasion but I’ll try that again later. Incidentally, 2 days after registering, I received an email from Rich Gubby the Lead Developer at Wapple offering to help with the mobile styling – that’s a nice touch.

Testing Wapple Architect

I found a testing tool online to check mobile-readiness at mobiReady. My blog checked out okay.

mobiReady

At mobiReady, you can also check how your blog renders on a Nokia N70, Samsung Z105, Sony Ericsson k750i, Motorola v3i and Sharp GX-10.

I don’t have a smartphone but I fired up the browser on my LG Cookie and had a look at my blog:

LG Cookie and techandlife

Finally, at the top of the sidebar on the desktop version of this blog, I’ve also tried to indicate that it’s now mobile ready.

I’d love to hear how this blog renders on your mobile. Any annoyances you’ve noticed or any improvements you think I can make? If you do comment, let us know what mobile you’re using.


Oct 23

There are times when you might want to set up reminders on your phone from your PC rather than from the phone itself. You might not have your phone handy, flat battery,  left it at home or work, etc. A number of web applications allow you to send free SMS reminders to your cell phone; some require registration and some don’t:

Remindr – No sign up required. A really simple interface which also offers reminders through twitter, jabber and email; currently, SMS reminders are disabled. If these come back, I’ll update this post. However, before SMS reminders were disabled, I wasn’t able to receive any in the UK; but perhaps it worked fine in other countries.

remindr

Task.fm – You have to register for this one. Also offers reminders through twitter and email. Task.fm uses natural language and can understand many different time and date formats.

taskfm2

and here’s the reminder settings dialogue box:

taskfm

SpringPad – Have to sign up for this. You can add your local time zone in the Settings panel but I could not add my mobile phone profile as a new channel. I didn’t find the process intuitive enough, or perhaps SpringPad can’t deal with overseas telephone codes:

springpad

Remember the Milk – Register and set up your local time zone under Settings (General tab). Set up your cell phone under Settings (Reminders tab):

rememberthemilk

My UK provider O2 was listed but, as with SpringPad, I failed to get a reminder sent to the phone even though I seemed to follow the correct procedure.

Google Calendar – You’ll have to register if you don’t already have a Google account. You can tell Google Calendar how far in advance of your event that you want the SMS reminder. Look for the “Reminder” option on the right side of the Create Event form under the “Options” section. It’s just a simple select box. To set up where you want to receive reminders, you need to go to Settings and then click the Mobile Setup tab. Enter your phone details and you will be sent a verification code to your phone. Enter the code you are sent in the last box on that page and you are good to go.

Which free SMS reminder services work in the UK?

Of the five choices I could find to send free SMS reminders to my mobile phone, I found that only two would work to a mobile service in the UK – Task.fm and Google Calendar. Google Calendar allows reminders in advance of your event and also requires verification of your phone details. A nice idea as it prevents any possible abuse whereby someone might easily send unwanted ‘reminders’ to someone else’s phone. The other 4 services that I listed don’t require any verification that you are in fact the owner of the phone receiving the reminders. However, having said that, I really liked Task.fm. Again, this service allows reminders to be sent in advance of the event. I found it really quick to set up a reminder – even quicker than on the phone. The free account comes with unlimited email reminders and up to 15 SMS reminders per month, while the pro account at $3.99/month allows unlimited email and SMS reminders.

Have I missed any free reminder services here? Which service do you find works best in your country?


Oct 20

The iPhone is the phone everyone wants these days. 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, loads of apps to choose from and install, and lots of street-cred. But for some, perhaps this or any smartphone with a monthly data plan is just too much for our budget, or for our needs. A cheaper prepaid or ‘pay as you go’ phone might be sufficient for you as it is for me.

A month ago, I decided it was time to move on from my ancient Samsung clam phone and try and move with the times. I did have a shopping list of things I was looking for in a new phone. First, with advancing age and deteriorating eyesight, a good-sized screen was a must. Second, I never was a great fan of texting on a standard phone keypad so I really wanted the option of a QUERTY keyboard. Finally, I wouldn’t consider myself a power user, at least not yet, so a ‘pay as you go’ or prepaid phone rather than a contract would be ideal.

LG Cookie3

It didn’t take long to decide on the LG KP500 Cookie, a full touchscreen phone for those on a budget. I can read the 1.75 x 2.75-inch screen (240 x 400 pixels) without putting on reading glasses, the touchscreen has the option to bring up a QUERTY keyboard and it’s available on a Pay and Go contract in the UK. I went for the O2 Pay and Go plan. I’ve also bought an 8GB SanDisk microSD card to store pictures, videos, and MP3s and have added a black silicone cover and protective screen.

After a month or so with it, I have to say I’m really pleased with the phone. There are lots of features I like – quick access to speed dial numbers by swiping your finger across the display to turn the page; yellow note reminders which you can leave on the nice bright screen, along with a good sized clock and calendar. It has a 3.2 megapixel camera and can record video in QVGA at 12fps. It has a media player that plays most popular digital music formats – WMA, MP3 and AAC audio and 3GP and MP4 formats for video. It also has a stereo FM radio. The built-in accelerometer brings the QUERTY keyboard into view in landscape mode. You can also play slideshows from your photo gallery on the screen. When viewing your photos individually, you can swipe your finger across the image to bring up the next or previous image. The phone comes with a range of Office document viewers – you can open and read XLS, DOC and PDF files in this mobile. The menus are quite intuitive and I pretty much know my way around already. Utilities also include a calculator, unit converter and, of course, reminders and alarms.

LG Cookie1

I’ve loaded up a number of tech podcasts onto the microSD card and I can listen to them through the speaker or the headphones. I’ve already blogged about trying to get at least half an hour of brisk walking each day and I can listen to podcasts through the headphones while I walk and am alerted of any text or calls that come through. Connectivity includes Bluetooth and USB to upload and download files to my PC.

On the downside, I would have preferred a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack rather than the proprietary LG jack and the camera isn’t brilliant at 3.2 megapixels and has no flash.

One other thing to watch when using the QUERTY pad in reply to a message is that if you stray slightly away from the letters X and Z you may hit ‘Send’ by mistake and you’ll instantly send an unfinished message – as I’ve done a couple of times. The LG PC Suite for uploading and downloading files between phone and PC is a little cluncky and it takes a little longer to upload podcasts for listening than I expected. And of course there is no 3G or wireless, just the EDGE, GPRS and GSM networks, so web browsing is not a realistic option. Basically, if you need internet on the move, this phone isn’t for you.

Still all in all, a great little phone for keeping in touch – a nice bright touchscreen that’s easy to read, yet the phone is just the right size and at a good price. It’s about 20% smaller than the iPhone 3G and weighs just 89g. And on a Pay and Go plan. Well worth considering if a smartphone with web browsing isn’t what you need.


` `