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Tag Archives: Windows Phone 7

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.


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.


Is Windows Phone 7 Too Little, Too Late?

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I’ve spent the past couple of weeks testing Microsoft’s latest smartphone operating system, dubbed Windows Phone 7. Microsoft supplied me with a review phone (under, it should be noted, a fairly horrible non-disclosure agreement that’s thankfully now expired); in my case it was an LG Optimus 7Q, which is currently a Telstra exclusive. I’ve had brief hands-on time with a couple of the very similar HTC and Samsung handsets, as well as a bit more time with the LG Optimus 7, an Optus exclusive. For those wondering, the big difference between the Optimus 7 and the 7Q is that the 7Q has a physical keyboard which slides out from the side. A frankly somewhat useless keyboard, as roughly half the Windows Phone 7 applications I’ve tested don’t think in a widescreen way, leaving you typing in a vertical column.

The hardware isn’t the thing with Windows Phone 7, however. There are minor changes, like the aforementioned keyboard on the Optimus 7Q or the lovely looking Super AMOLED screen on Samsung’s Omnia 7, but Microsoft has very strict guidelines on the componentry and build of Windows Phone 7 devices. This leaves them all looking and feeling rather samey, and that concept I’ve got to admit worried me at first glance.

I should point out here that I’ve never been a huge fan of Windows Mobile, the predecessor to Windows Phone 7. Windows Mobile was for far too long a lumbering dinosaur with a painful interface that tried way too hard to replicate the Windows experience on a tiny mobile screen, and badly at that. I’m on the public record as wondering why they ever bothered releasing Windows Mobile 6.5, the last in the Windows Mobile series at all. Bad news for any Windows Mobile fans who didn’t already know, by the way – Windows Phone 7 is an entirely new platform, and it’s not backwards compatible. If you’re heavily invested in Windows Mobile-specific applications, you’ll have to hope that new versions come out that you can once again pay for, or stick to your ageing hardware.

When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 back in February, I was sceptical, and even more so when it was announced that the phones themselves wouldn’t be available until late 2010. It felt rather like they were announcing something to stay in the smartphone game, but at the cost of giving opposing platforms a lot of time to gain users, mindshare and even combat some specific features.

Enough with the history lessons! Enough, indeed, with the rather samey hardware as well. The operating system itself is, I’ve got to say, curiously named as Windows Phone, as the one thing it’s distinctly not much like is Windows. Aside from some naming conventions, such as the browser labelled as Internet Explorer or the games labelled as Xbox Live, it doesn’t look like Windows at all”¦ and that’s Microsoft’s most sensible step in the mobile operating system world ever.

Instead of trying to cram the desktop metaphor onto a tiny screen, Windows Phone uses a series of large buttons labelled as “Live Tiles” that display particular information in a semi-live fashion. Some are more useful (and more lively) than others, but you can cut any of them out of the main start page and re-arrange them at will. The experience testing across a couple of handsets was slick and fast, helped no doubt by Microsoft mandating some reasonably hefty (for now) internal minimum specifications. Naturally in terms of available applications Windows Phone 7 is still dwarfed by the heavy hitters of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace (or even Nokia’s Ovi Store), and it’s rather game-centric so far, but most of the important application bases have been hit, and there’s certainly room to grow.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, and there’s still some very obvious signs that despite being labelled as Windows Phone 7, this is really a version one software, complete with the problems that version one of just about anything has. There’s no cut and paste. That’s apparently going to be rectified with a future software update, but it’s baffling that in the eight months in-between the announcement and the launch nobody thought to actually include such a basic function. There’s no tethering to use the phone as a mobile modem. Third party applications cannot multitask, which sometimes leads to lengthy re-loading times. There’s no ability to add extra memory, and the launch models ship with only 8GB or 16GB onboard, which is limiting. The Xbox Live integration isn’t really integration at all, as it loses too many of the social aspects of the gaming service along the way. You can view your own Avatar and Gamerscore, but not check out what your friends are doing on the main Xbox Live service, or co-ordinate games on the Xbox at all, at least yet. There are mobile games, and you can send invites to those – but only to your friends with Windows Phone 7, at least as far as I can see. There’s a lot that could be done with Xbox Live integration, but most of it is still to do.

There’s a lot of iPhone users out there. A lot of Android users, Blackberry users, Symbian users and even legacy Windows Mobile users, although the dumping of code means they’re free to jump to any platform they like – they’ll have to re-buy new apps anyway. Windows Mobile 7 does represent a good fresh start for Microsoft, and if you’re in the market for a smartphone, and not already heavily invested in iOS, Android, Blackberry or Symbian applications it’s worth consideration. Whether it’s too little and too late is a question that only time can answer, but I will say that I’m far more impressed with it overall, even given the bugs and omissions, than I ever expected to be.


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