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Tag Archives: Smartphone

Set up a Wi-Fi hotspot on your Smartphone

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If you’ve got a fancy smartphone, it’s easy to share its internet access with your other gadgets.

Australia’s high-speed mobile broadband networks make it easy to stay in touch when you’re out and about. Telstra’s super-fast LTE network offers phenomenal data speeds of more than 40 Mbps in the inner cities, but so far we’ve only seen a handful of compatible devices. Thankfully you’ll also get decent speeds out of the HSDPA mobile broadband networks, particular using the new iPad Wi-Fi/4G which can’t connect to LTE in Australia but can hit almost 20 Mbps thanks to DC-HSDPA.

Fast internet access is great for a 3G/4G enabled smartphone or tablet, but it’s easy to share that mobile broadband access with your other gadgets such as notebooks, tablets, e-book readers and handheld games consoles. The trick is to dip into the menus and set up a Wi-Fi hotspot. Sometimes this can rely on your handset maker or network provider enabling the feature, so you should check with them if you’re unsure.

Before you start, it’s important to remember that creating a Wi-Fi hotspot chews through your monthly mobile broadband allowance. Keep a close eye on how much data you use. You’ll probably have a fixed mobile broadband allowance each month, but if you go over your limit the excess data charges can be hefty.

It’s also important to password-protect your Wi-Fi hotspot, so people nearby can’t “borrow” your internet access and leave you holding the bill.

Setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot on an iPhone is pretty easy. Under iOS5 you’ll find a Personal Hotspot setting on the main Settings page. You can tap on this and then toggle Personal Hotspot to “on”. You should also tap on Wi-Fi Password to create a password for your new wireless network.

Apple has added Personal Hotspot features to the new iPad Wi-Fi/4G models, but unfortunately it didn’t add Personal Hotspot to the earlier Wi-Fi/3G models with the latest firmware update.

Android users will find Wi-Fi hotspot features built in Android 2, 3 and 4 smartphones and tablets. The process can vary between devices, but generally you launch the Settings app and then select Wireless & Networks (sometimes followed by Tethering & Portable Hotspot). Here you can tap on Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot to turn in on. You’ll also want to dip into the Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot Settings to set the name of the network and set the password.

Built-in Wi-Fi hotspot support was introduced with Android 2.2. If you’re running an older Android device which can’t be upgraded, you’ll find tethering apps in Android Market (which recently changed its name to Google Play).

Some Windows Phone 7 smartphones can also create Wi-Fi hotspots after the Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” update. Under Settings select Internet Sharing, turn it on and then select Setup to configure the wireless network name and password. A few Windows Phone 7 devices such as the slick new Nokia Lumia 800 are still waiting for Wi-Fi hotspot features to be enabled.


Is the mobile office a reality right now?

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Recently a journalist I know (full disclosure; he’s my brother) spent an entire week working purely from his smartphone — you can read the whole tale here: No Luggage: The Complete Series. There was a little more to his plan; he also abandoned luggage in the interests of utility, and, I suspect, seeing how far he could push an idea, good or otherwise. But for the purposes of his week, his smartphone was his working computer.

Smartphones are getting smarter, and they’re also becoming quite ubiquitous. There are many models that start under $200 (some even cheaper, although at the sub-$100 price point you quickly outstrip the phone cost with the cost of your ongoing bills, making their limited utility a not-entirely-smart choice.). If you’re carrying one around with you, the temptation to check email or get other work (or personal) chores done is quite high. I know I’ve been guilty of that on more than one occasion. As they’re ramping up in power, with new models sporting dual core processors, dedicated graphics chips and expandable memory, the concept of carrying a single, small device to do all your on-the-go work is becoming more and more realistic.

I’ve also been testing out an interesting concept from Motorola that plays with this concept of the smartphone as the centre of your working world. The company’s new Atrix mobile looks very much like a plain smartphone. It’s an Android smartphone with a specific trick up its sleeve. Dock it into the $449 lapdock (an optional extra) and it’ll power up the lapdock to act as a regular notebook style computer.

It’s not a full Windows PC or anything like that; you’re still running the Android applications on the phone plus a small selection of applications that run on the desktop itself; most notably the Firefox browser. Within that combination, however, it’s entirely possible to get a lot of work done via online services such as Google docs, as long as the data quota on your phone is robust enough, or you’ve got access to a WiFi network to sidestep that issue. As an example — and for something of a test run — this entire article’s been typed out on the lapdock using the online Evernote service to synchronise it automatically back to my main work PC. Writing this way is certainly a lot faster than trying to type the same amount of content on a small smartphone touchscreen.

So does it work? Sort of. There’s a point where spending $449 on what is basically a headless notebook (on top of the phone’s asking price) starts to strain anybody’s budget; at sales you could score a full notebook (or pretty easily a netbook) for the same kind of money. The lapdock charges the phone when docked, which is very nice indeed, and there is utility in being able to switch from very small screen phone apps to their full-screen equivalent for some work types. But still, if you’re carrying the lapdock around, you may as well carry an actual notebook. It would make a great desk-based dock for your phone, but again, you could have a desktop or notebook in the same location. Given it’s not bundled with the phone I suspect Motorola won’t sell too many lapdocks, but it does point to where computing is heading in the not too distant future.


Did Smartphones Kill The Video Star?

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Cisco announced recently that it’s pulling back its product lines to focus on its core competencies, especially in the consumer space. The first casualty of Cisco’s culling strategy has been a product that was always a slightly odd fit with the rest of Cisco’s lines, namely the Flip video camera.

The Flip, in case you’re not familiar with it, is, or should I say was, a pocket sized video camera with one particular redeeming function. It had one big red shiny button on it, used for recording and stopping recording. Yeah, that does sound rather simple, but then simple is the entire point.

The Flip did have other buttons, depending in the model, and a flip-out USB plug that meant you could never lose the cable. That’s where it got it’s name from, although plenty of Flip users tended to carry around a USB extension cable, as the flip-out USB connector is pretty short, and on some PCs that can make it a pain to plug in.

Since the decision to cull the Flip, there’s been plenty of online speculation about what “killed” the Flip brand. Frankly, Cisco killed the Flip brand by deciding that it was so, and presumably there’s some tasty patents (or similar intellectual property) behind the brand, otherwise the smart thing to do would have been to try to sell the Flip business to other interested parties. There’s certainly a number of Flip competitors in the marketplace, some of which stand out for waterproofing features, dual screens (so you can film yourself while watching yourself) and even 3D compatibility. Somebody, somewhere would have offered Cisco money for it, but by declaring the brand dead, any such deal dies along with it.

The other line of contention here is that consumers don’t actually want dedicated pocket camcorders any more. Why would that be so? Simply put, because many smartphones offer video recording facilities. In the higher end smartphones, they’re even capable of high definition recording. I can see the appeal there, although I’m yet to find a smartphone that I’m truly happy to shoot video with. This has less to do with the quality of the lenses — by the time you get down to a lens that small there’s all sorts of compromises you’re already making — and more to do with the fact that smartphone batteries generally struggle to get through an entire day’s work as it is. Adding video recording to its list of tasks is a quick way to a flat battery in my experience.

It also makes me wonder how (and whether) people shoot video with small devices. Anyone with a full camcorder in a public place is quite obvious, but I don’t see too many folks doing that. Plenty of people take snapshots with pocket cameras and indeed with mobile phones, but how many people actually shoot video of where they are instead?


Smartphones Head To Head

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If you’re in the market for a new phone, you’ve got two choices. Buy outright, or pick up a phone on a plan. If you buy a smartphone outright, you’re typically looking at between $500-$1000 out of pocket; there are models that are both cheaper and more expensive than that, but it’s a fair average across the most popular models. That’s why contracts make a fair amount of sense. Not only do you shift the handset cost over a longer term (and potentially gain the ability to write it off against tax rather simply under certain business circumstances — but check with your accountant!), you also get the most generously provisioned rates for calls and data compared to most pre-paid plans on a handset you own yourself.

The problem is, most smartphone contracts cost pretty much the same irrespective of the model of phone you choose. Entry level points are now down around twenty dollars, but those are typically last year’s handsets being rushed out the door while they’ve still got stock. Between fifty to seventy dollars a month can get you the handset of your choice, including cutting edge models. It’s easy enough to test the physical layout of a phone by simply gripping it, but what about on the software side? With so many choices, which smartphone operating system do you go for? Here’s a brief rundown of the most prominent smartphone platforms and their pluses and minuses.

Apple iOS

Representative Handset: iPhone 4

Pluses: The largest applications marketplace for any smartphone, hands-down, which gives iOS a lot more flexibility in what can be done with it, especially in the realm of entertainment applications. The fixed hardware platform — basically just the nearly-obsolete iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4 — also means that all apps run optimally across handsets. iOS upgrades are regular and not subject to the approval of the carriers, meaning they’re usually a little faster than on competing platforms.
Minuses: Apple controls the iOS environment with an iron glove, which some folk plain don’t like; certain applications will never be approved for iOS as a result. There’s also no such thing as a “live” iOS application displaying twitter feeds, weather or the like. Everything is icon-based using push.

Android

Representative Handset: HTC Desire HD

Pluses: Google’s “open” smartphone OS is being rapidly picked up by just about every handset maker out there (excluding Apple and Nokia). That gives you a huge choice of handsets and price points, as well as a wide variety of features. Google’s tailored Android applications for its core search and gmail utilities are incredibly slick, and the applications market is growing rapidly. Applications can act as live widgets displaying up-to-date information constantly.
Minuses: The variety of handsets can make some applications behave in unusual ways, especially as application development isn’t a rigidly controlled as it is with Apple or Microsoft. Operating System software upgrades must be carrier approved before you can get them, which can lead to long delays in getting the latest version of Android for your smartphone — if it ever appears at all.

Blackberry OS

Representative Handset: Blackberry Torch

Pluses: Blackberry has long been the smartphone of choice for the business crowd, and its core competencies have remained the strength and speed of its email client, which simply blows the competition away. If you need email quickly (and want, on most Blackberry models, an excellent physical keyboard), the Blackberry is the one to get.
Minuses: Operating system upgrades are once again at the mercy of operators, and some handsets will get stuck over time. The excellent email service is part of a specific paid service, which (depending on the carrier) might not be the most cost-efficient way to get your email. The application library, like the devices themselves are largely productivity oriented, although this has changed slowly as more consumers have taken up the Blackberry brand.

Windows Phone 7

Representative Handset: Samsung Omnia 7

Pluses: Windows Phone 7’s “tiles” arrangement is amongst the simplest smartphone visual layouts of any smartphone platform, making it very easy to pick up and use. Xbox Live integration is built in for the gaming crowd, and the application market, while still quite small, is growing rapidly.
Minuses: There’s a relative dearth of available handset choices, although that’s likely to change with Nokia recently making the shock declaration that it would start building smartphones utilising Windows Phone 7. As yet for the existing models from HTC, LG and Samsung the full operating system upgrade path is quite unclear; even the patches to date have had a rocky history. At the time of writing, Cut & Paste functionality still wasn’t present, despite being promised as “coming soon” when it launched.

For any of these platforms it’s certainly well worth having a test run in a mobile phone shop to see not only which one may suit your needs, but also your style of smartphone use. Some users will prefer the full touchscreen setup of the iPhone or most Android models, while other users may favour the keyboards found on most Blackberry models.


Power Tips

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There’s more notebooks sold now than desktops by a rather healthy margin, and this year should also see smartphones overtake standard mobiles as the portable phone platform of choice. Whether it’s a smartphone or a laptop, one thing remains constant: You can never have too much power.

Not so much in terms of processing power, although that can be quite handy, but definitely in terms of actual juice to run your computer or smartphone. Despite years of incremental advancements in battery technology, and the promise that fuel cells are “just around the corner” for longer than anybody wants to admit, most systems struggle to get through a full day without wanting to be connected to the mains. It gets worse the older any system gets, as batteries gracefully (and sometimes not so gracefully) degrade, giving you less and less time to get your computing tasks done.

There’s not that much you can do about battery degradation aside from purchasing new batteries when they go from “functional” to “able to hold less than a minute’s charge”, but there’s plenty of things you can do to make the battery you’ve got now last longer in actual usage. Here’s some quick tips:

1) Dim the screen

Brighter screens are easier to see, especially in bright sunlight, but they’re also a real power hog. If you’re able to use your system with a slightly less ambient display, you’ll be able to use it a whole lot longer.

2) Turn off unnecessary networks

For laptops, this means not having WiFi actually on if you’re not connected to the internet; even searching for nearby networks (most of which are likely to be locked down anyway) will kill your battery quite quickly. It’s even more true for smartphone users; drop Bluetooth if you’re not using it all, WiFi likewise, and if you really want to eke out a little bit more power before you reach a wall socket, drop your phone down from 3G to GSM. You’ll sacrifice network availability this way, but it’s the simplest way to get a smartphone that might only last half a day to last two or more.

3) Remove optical discs from drives

It shouldn’t be a surprise to note that mechanical moving parts use power, and optical drives can be a particular nuisance here. If you’ve got a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray disc in your notebook drive, it’ll spin up every time the operating system thinks there’s a chance you’ll need it, in order to maximise the speed at which you can use it. This, naturally enough, uses power, but it’s also not particularly good for the disc, which is going to bounce around in your notebook while you move around.

4) Don’t forget the power saving utilities!

These vary from vendor to vendor, but most of them will offer a power-saving profile on top of Windows’ inbuilt power saving utilities. The inbuilt Windows Power utility is good, but if your notebook vendor offers a specific utility, why wouldn’t you use it? It’s more likely to be specifically fine-tuned to the hardware you’ve got in your system. Many of the fixes they implement will be tips such as screen dimming, but it’s a simple way to set up power saving, and perhaps tweak settings like hard drive spin down time to your best advantage.

5) Switch off when practical

This tip is a touch more variable depending on your needs. Most notebooks will hibernate if you close the lid, only drawing a trickle of power. This is great when your meeting finishes and you just want to get going, because you don’t have to sit through lengthy shutdown processes, and when you next need it, operating system permitting, it should boot up in seconds. Still, a trickle of power is still a trickle of power, and if you’ve got more time than power, switching off will use exactly no power at all.


Smartphones in all shapes and sizes

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The mobile phone market is seemingly inexorably shifting towards smartphones. You may not think that you could or would want a smartphone, but it seems as though the market is deciding for you, with any number of phone vendors offering up either direct smartphones, or so-called “feature” phones that offer many of the core smartphone offerings. That’s features like included email, web browsing and if you’re lucky a little light document reading.

It’s arguably a similar kind of situation that existed with mobile phones around fifteen years ago. Mobiles themselves were still pretty clunky creatures, and plenty of folk could rather easily say that they had no use for a phone that was always on them. In today’s connected world, there are few that would make that claim. A smartphone just takes that to the next level, matching up your email and other functions to your location no matter where you are. We’re even starting to see some reasonably priced data plans to go with smartphones, taking the bill shock problem out of the equation.

We’re also seeing a lot more variance in what smart phones look like. For the past couple of years, most manufacturers have made smartphone that, for better or worse, aped the simple style of Apple’s iPhone lines. iPhones have been popular, so it made a certain amount of sense to do so. Still, there are those who don’t want a touchscreen-only phone, or don’t want an Apple phone full stop.

I went to a preview — not quite a launch, as it’s not quite clear as to what the company involved will actually sell in the Australian marketplace — of a number of new technology products from Chinese company Huawei recently. You’ve most likely never heard of Huawei, although the chances are decent you may have interacted with some of the company’s technology in one way or the other. As an example, outside of Telstra, all the USB modems currently offered for mobile broadband by Australia’s telecommunications companies are Huawei modems.

One of the potential products that Huawei executives showed off to me were a range of Android phones. There were, predictably, phones that carried that standard “iPhone” style big-screen experience, for those that want it. There was a Google-branded phone that we may see by the end of the year, similar to the HTC Desire but a fair bit smaller, and potentially a bit cheaper. Also in attendance was an oddly small Android phone, the U8300 that featured a tiny physical keyboard. From a very brief test of the phone, it’s not going to challenge a Blackberry for keyboard dominance, but if you wanted a cheap smartphone with a keyboard, it might be worth considering.

There’s no clear indication that any of these phones will come to the Australian marketplace, and even if they do they’re highly unlikely to be directly labelled as Huawei phones. That mirrors a much larger tech reality, however, as many seemingly “competing” tech products come from the same core providers to a given tech company’s recipes. Yes, even Apple’s products are sourced this way.

I guess at least if we are all going to be gently shoved into the smartphone world, it’s good to see that it’s not going to be within a one-size-fits-all model, and variances for taste, style and usability will still be possible. What shape smartphone do you want?


Windows 7 Smartphone: The next big thing?

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Microsoft’s latest offering to the world is the Windows 7 operating system (OS). This operating system release offers a host of brand new features for Windows users. Along with Windows 7 for desktops, Microsoft has also released their mobile counterpart operating system called Windows Phone 7 which is scheduled for a later release than the desktop OS.

Windows Phone 7 is the mobile operating system designed for Windows compatible smartphones and mobile devices. The great thing about Windows Phone 7 is that Windows has literally started from scratch and developed a brand new operating system that legitimately competes with some of the top interactive phones on the market. Windows Phone 7 easily competes with the iPhone and the Google phone.

Previous versions of Windows mobile operating system worked against Windows in many ways. They made the mistake of packing too much into their previous mobile operating systems. Although there was widespread use of the Windows mobile operating system, users were frustrated and therefore it did not take too much persuasion for them to look at other mobile solutions when the opportunity arose. The problem with previous Windows mobile releases is that they did a lot of things but did not really do any single thing well. In many ways, Windows tried to pack a complete PC into their mobile devices, it was too much. They have learned however and in their latest release they have trimmed things down considerably.

The new Windows Phone 7 operating system focuses on two areas of excellence: an easy to use interface and quality business tools. The new Windows Phone 7 has an extremely attractive interface. They no longer use the typical windows icons but have given that up for an interface that gives users quick access to the applications they want to use. Games, messaging, photos and music are all easily accessible and at the same time, important business tools like Outlook email and various Microsoft office applications are of a high standard and equally accessible.

So far Windows Phone 7 has received rave reviews from Internet review sites like Engadget and Gizmodo. One thing that they all agree on is that Windows Phone 7 is a brand new experience. It is not an old operating system slightly edited and repackaged. They have truly taken this OS from scratch and have developed something fresh, new and exciting.

Although the Windows Phone 7 leaves those that read about it anxiously wanting to get their hands on it, unfortunately there is a bit of a wait. Windows Phone 7 is not scheduled for release until end of year 2010.


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