David Artiss

Author: David (page 63 of 113)

Recommended Android Apps

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I’ve had my HTC Hero now for over a month, and have already settled on a number of apps, after much installing, trialling and uninstalling. I therefore thought I’d share my results, all neatly categorised.

I haven’t linked to any of the apps, as they should all be searchable in the Android Marketplace.

Oh, and I haven’t listed games (they’re a lot more of a personal choice, I find).

Information

The BBC news widget is particularly useful, providing easy access to the various BBC news feeds.

Movies, by Flixster, uses GPS to good use by displaying nearby cinemas and listing for their current shows. However, when viewing other information, such as trailers, it does appear to have constant network issues and this feature therefore doesn’t appear to work. A shame.

Google Sky Map is a fascinating educational tool that lets you point your phone heavenward and view the stars and planets whilst moving around.

ShopSavvy is a barcode scanner that will then look the product up to try and find prices. Useful for when you’re out shopping.

WikiMobile provides a mobile interface to Wikipedia.

Media

Until an official BBC iPlayer app appears, beebPlayer will help – it will let you view iPlayer TV content, along with listening to live Radio. Sadly, there’s no iPlayer radio content available.

Amazon MP3 provides access and purchasing capabilities for MP3 tracks from the Amazon website. They also have free tracks, although it’s best to look these up on the main Amazon site and then search for them on the app, as there’s no option on the app to list free tracks.

Last.fm is a streaming music player for the popular website, whereas Simple Last.fm Scrobbler will send details of all the music you’ve listened to, to the very same site for statistics purposes.

And for those who haven’t come across Shazam before, it may come as a bit of a revelation. The next time you’re at the pub and can’t identify a piece of music, simply use this app and it will work it out for you.

Lastly, I come to Podcasts. I initially used Google’s own Listen app but that simply failed to pick up new episodes of subscribed “shows”. I’m now trying out BeyondPod, which is only free for the first week. So far, it seems to work nicely.

Messaging

Meebo is a good, all-purpose instant messaging client.

And, if you find the default text messaging software a little bland, you could try Handcent, which includes speech bubble style conversation threads and is generally, well, a little more inspiring.

By default, reminders on Android are a bit lacking – you get a text or a missed call and you don’t get to hear about it after the initial reminder. Missed Reminder will keep nagging you and has a plethora of options, from LED colours to flashing the trackball.

Network

3G Watchdog is an excellent way of monitoring your data usage (you just need to know what your data usage  limit is and when it runs to/from).

In an attempt to preserve battery power, the phone will automatically drop wi-fi connection when the phone is in standby. This option can be changed via the settings, but you may want to be able to switch this on/off as required. Wi-Fi Lock is a useful widget to do just that.

Office

AK Notepad is, well, just that – a useful note facility. However, if you want to stick a note on your screen, then I’d recommend Sticky Note.

Integrating with my existing online services, Quick Save will add a facility to quickly add links to Read it Later, and Astrid will synchronise and allow me to update my Remember the Milk to-do lists.

A more recent find is cloudList which allows you to create “tick lists” which can be accessed on both your phone and on their website.

WordPress have released their own app, WordPress for Android, which allows the quick editing of posts.

Sadly lacking is an app for Google Reader.

Social Networks

Facebook have their own App and, for eBay, Pocket Auctions works well.

I’m not mentioning a Twitter client right now, as I’m in the middle of reviewing a number – more on that in a later post!

Tools

Advanced Task Manager provides quick lists of running apps and ways to quickly “kill” them. There’s even a widget to perform an instant kill.

For file management, I’d turn to ASTRO which, erm, does just that.

Profilechanger is not very pretty but does exactly what I want – allows me to change profiles at certain times of the day – in my case, it goes silent overnight.

One the facilities sadly lacking in Android is the ability to backup your data and your apps. MyBackup Pro does just that – both onto your SD card and online. However, unlike most of my other recommendations, this isn’t a freebie. Give the trial a go though!

NAS replacement

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I’ve run a home NAS system for a number of years now – to be honest, I’ve used it for not much more than a backup drive. However, having it connected to my wireless network means that I can backup my Netbook to it.

The other week there was a strange power failure in my area. After that my NAS (a Maxtor Shared Storage II 500GB device) started making clicking and general drive noises that weren’t, well, healthy. They’ve now stopped but it’s not a good sign.

One thing I didn’t check when I purchased it though is how to replace the drive when it’s out of warranty. The answer is… not very easily. In fact the NAS runs Linux and requires the NAS’ operating system installing onto any new drive. Oh, and it’s not very easy to even get at the drive.

So, I’ve decided to look for a replacement – and this time I’m going to get one where I can easily swap the drive, if I need to.

The best option appeared to be the Buffalo LinkStation Pro LS-XHL. This comes with a drive built in and, after asking on their forums, it would appear that replacing the drive on that is not easy either.

I’m now looking at the ZyXEL NSA210 which, although not the quickest, is the one recommended by PC Pro. And, more importantly, comes diskless and is therefore easy to swap drives (I’ve read the online documentation to confirm too!). I’d probably stick in it a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Green.

I’m just awaiting Maxtor (sorry, Seagate) to get back to my customer query, before I give up on my existing NAS.

Xmarks and star ratings!

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The latest version of Xmarks for Firefox has added a new feature where, in the status bar at the bottom of the browser window, there are 5 stars, allowing you to easily rate websites that you visit. Unfortunately, they’re a bit of an “estate” hog and can only be turned off along with the Xmarks icon (which is useful for quick synchronisation). However, there is a way to turn off just the rating stars…

  1. Enter about:config in the Firefox address bar
  2. Right click in the main screen area
  3. Select New -> Boolean
  4. Type extensions.xmarks.hideStatusBarStars and press Enter
  5. Select the value true

This will forever banish the stars. If you want to bring them back…

  1. Enter about:config in the Firefox address bar
  2. Find the value extensions.xmarks.hideStatusBarStars
  3. Set it to false

WordPress Plugin Developer Day

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Today is WordPress Plugin Developer Day.

The idea is to give back to those who provide useful, free plugins for WordPress.

What they’re asking is that anyone that has ever gotten even the slightest benefit from a WordPress plugin to say thank you today by making a small donation to the plugin/developer of your choice.

Yes, I’m one of those people, but this blog is also enhanced thanks to the plugins for others so I’ll be donating as well.

Hopefully this will make you feel as good as it does me – they deserve our gratitude.

More Useful Netbook Software

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My original list of Useful Netbook Software was rather popular so I’ve gathered together some more suggestions for getting the most out of your Netbook.

I’ve seen many similar lists on other sites but they seems to suffer from at least one of the following…

  1. Concentrating on applications which are, well, generally useful and not really Netbook specific. Free antivirus? Hmm.
  2. Recommending the same old “popular” choices – irfanview, OpenOffice, etc.
  3. Recommendation are mainly around the theory of moving everything OFF your Netbook, so it’s online apps and USB storage.

I’ll try and avoid all 3. Some may be of use for non-Netbook owners, but they should all have a very specific advantage to those of use with these handy, portable devices.

Scrybe (no longer available)

Scrybe provides gesturing support to your touchpad – in particular those that support multi-touch (such as the Acer Aspire One). Draw a pattern on the touchpad, for instance, to launch a particular application.

Even if you don’t wish to use this facility, you do get an upgraded version of Synaptics touchpad driver.

TouchFreeze

TouchFreeze is a nice idea but I’m not sure how well it’s yet been implemented – it didn’t work for my netbook and there hasn’t been any updates to the software for a while. None-the-less, it’s worth a try.

In a nutshell, it disables your touchpad when you being typing so that your palm doesn’t accidentally do something it shouldn’t do!

winsupermaximise

This adds a system tray icon which, once clicked (or you can press a hotkey combination), will “super maximise” the current window – that is, it will resize so the title bar is actually above the screen boundaries, thus saving those extra pixels that you don’t want to waste.

Yawcam

Most netbooks come with webcams but few include any kind of software to make use of them. Yes, you can install Skype and video call, but is that all it’s good for?

Yawcam will add some much needed abilities to that webcam – video streaming, image snapshots, a built-in webserver, motion detection and FTP uploads.

Live Mesh

There are a number of providers of free folder synchronisation (that is sharing folders across different computers) but I, personally, prefer Microsoft’s Live Mesh.

The files are also accessable online – up to 5GB worth.

What sells it to me is its simplicity. I have a folder on my desktop which I’ve set up with Live Mesh to share – anything placed in that folder is automatically shared across all my PCs. This therefore provides a quick and easy way to share data with a portable device such as a Netbook.

AltDrag

Quite how I missed this from my original list, I don’t know.

With the smaller screen resolution of Netbooks it’s often the case that program windows aren’t always visible on screen, in particular with the top bar hidden off screen so you can’t move it back in view, or it may be a window without a “dragable area”.

Linux has a great function that allows you to move windows with the mouse when pressing the ALT key. Well, now, you can have this on Windows too thanks to AltDrag,  a small, free application.

Desktops

Desktops is a Microsoft utility that provides multiple desktops – ideal for those cramped Netbook screens. Quickly swap between different desktops with the system tray icon or with shortcut keys.

Tracking internet usage on Android

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3G Watchdog

My HTC Hero, on a T-Mobile contract, comes with “Unlimited Internet*”. But that asterisk at the end then points to a line which states “Subject to fair usage policy”. However, that line doesn’t actually link to anything. Thankfully a quick Google finds the result.

Basically, my “Unlimited Internet” is 3GB. Now I’m not going to go off on a rant about this, especially as the ASA have deemed that as little as 250MB can be regarded as “unlimited”. Indeed, most network providers are supplying 512MB of 1GB limits, so my 3GB is quite good.

But, how to monitor your internet usage on Android?

First of all install the app 3G Watchdog – this will track your 3G data usage. You’ll now need to know 2 important pieces of information – your usage cap and what time of the run that cap runs from. In the case of a T-Mobile Android account, this is the aforementioned 3GB and from the 1st of the month (rather than the date on which you started your account).

Albums not being added to Windows Media Player

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On my home desktop PC, I’m running Windows Media Player 11 under Windows XP. Last night, when attempting to sync some music with my phone, I realised that a couple of recent albums were missing from WMP. However, they were in the My Music folder, along with everything else. Clearing down the library and getting WMP to rebuild it didn’t work.

However, after a bit of searching I found that rebuilding the media library is the usual solution. Here’s what you do…

  1. Close Windows Media Player
  2. Ensure that service “Window Media Player Network Sharing Service” isn’t runnong
  3. Find the directory %USERPROFILE%Local SettingsApplication DataMicrosoftMedia Player and rename or delete it.

At this point, WMP usually then works. But not in my case. Instead I found a lesser known solution – basically, the system flags have been set for these files. Unfortunately, Windows file dialogue doesn’t tell you this so you have to resort to the Command Window.

Navigate (in a command window) to your music folder and then run…

dir /ads /s

This will list any folders that have the system flag set. In my case my missing albums were listed. To reset the system flag run the following…
attrib -s *.* /d /s

Some errors will occur – these are related to the system files that are in each album folder. However, this command doesn’t affect them due to them being hidden.

When I then re-added my music folder to WMP the missing music appeared!

Up to 15% off at ZoomBits

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The following coupon codes are available for ZoomBits

10% off your order – mb10de

15% off Bluetooth Headsets – bluetooth15de

15% of all batteries – battery15de

You can’t combine codes, and they can’t be used with telephone orders. I’m not aware of an expiry date. Oh, and they won’t work via affiliate links – this includes cashback sites.

Be aware that Quidco offer a flat 15% cash back from this site, so if you’re signed up with them, it’s the better offer.

Recommended HTC Hero Accessories

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In the past I’ve bought new phones and then purchased the ubiquitous case and various other accessories, only to end up not using them. Therefore, for my HTC Hero, I’ve been more careful.

Here’s what I’ve found.

Case

Black Gel Case

Black Gel Case

You can get some lovely leather, opening cases for the Hero but I had something similar for my N95 and the inconvenience of having to keep opening and closing a flag that needs securing each time was, well, not worth it. And you look stupid when taking a call.

Having got a cheap, rubber “skin” case for my daughters Tocco Lite, I thought I’d get something similar. I bought a colour-coded (well, transparent but with a blackish hue)  “gel” case from eBay for the grand total of £2.90 (including postage). And it’s.. ok. It’s not like the more rubbery case of my daughters (with that it covers the buttons and you press them through the case, hence why it needs to be quite flexible) but it a harder material. It protects well but collects dust and crumbs quite easily.

Click the thumbnail to the right to see it a little clearer.

Screen Protectors

Again, I bought some screen protectors for my daughters phone. I got 10 and they were cheap from eBay. What I found was that your finger doesn’t glide over them as well as they did over the screen. Over time it gets better (probably as the grease from your finger penetrates the plastic).

However, it did mean that I made the decision to get some better quality ones for my Hero. HTC make “official” screen protectors, named the “SP P260”. Play.com sell them for £4.99 for 2. The price is high but it fitted well and felt good under the finger in use (in fact it’s difficult to tell that I’ve got one fitted). A definite recommendation.

Memory Card

The HTC Hero takes SD/SDHC Micro cards. It actually comes with a Sandisk 2GB card which, I believe, is class 2 (the slowest type of card). Now, what speed card you need seems to be a bit of an unknown quantity – some people on forums it makes a speed difference, others say different. Certainly, it seems likely that when Android can run applications from the SD card, then this will make a difference.

Looking at prices, 8GB is the best current price-point – you pay quite a premium to buy 16GB.

Initially I purchased a card from 7dayshop, who have been reliable in the past. Unfortunately, after 1.5 weeks they still hadn’t despatched my order. I contacted them and they said..

your order has been processed and will be dispatched shortly. Unfortunatly we are very busy at this time. Apologies for any inconvenience

Busy? What’s higher on their “to do list” than processing customer orders? Poor.

After waiting another half a week I contacted them and asked them to cancel my order. They did but I’m still awaiting my refund.

I did some further searching and came across ZoomBits (formerly MemoryBits). From them I purchased a Transcend 8GB Micro SDHC Class 6 card for £16.05. It was despatched the next day.

Car Charger

Although the USB connector on the HTC Hero looks to be specific to the device it is, in fact, a standard micro USB connection. Therefore any USB cable can be used for charging, and a search on eBay will show many USB chargers that plug into a car cigarette lighter – all you need to do is provide the requisite cable.

And, to be honest, you may already have one – my TomTom uses the same USB connector so I can charger my Hero with the car charger for that.

Docking Cradle

A docking cradle can be an ideal way to neatly charge and syncronise your phone. There appears to be 2 types available – an “official” HTC version (which is a flat black panel on which the phone sits vertically – very stylish but expensive) and a small, cheap one (eBay is a good place to look).

The latter appears to be in 2 different (but subtle designs) – one seems to rely on the USB connector to keep the phone vertical, whereas another has clear plastic “mounts” to hold it into place – the latter appears to me to be the best but is harder to get hold of.

I decided against any. The battery in the Hero is, let’s be honest, rubbish and so it needs a charge each night – I just use the mains charger to do this. During the day, at work, it sits next to me at my desk. It doesn’t need charging and, for security reasons, I can’t connect it to my PC to synchronise (not that I use the software).

Besides, would they work with the case fitted?

A busy time for development work!

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I have an awful lot of development work on my lap right now. And that’s the non-work related stuff!

First up, my Java book has turned up, so I intend to start learning that. Once learnt, I’ll then be ordering another book this time for how to create Android Apps using my previously learnt Java skills.

I also still have my Visual Basic book to get through as well (do you think I could do both at the same time or would that get confusing?).

I’ve recently launched an initial website for a new product named navPOInt – a SatNav POI editor for Audi/VW owners. A video is being produced of it in action, which I will then be embedding on the site. Once the software development for this is complete (which I’m not doing, I should add) I’ll then need to build a complete site, complete with instructions, forums and the usual gubbins.

I also have planned changes to make to this site and the Copy+ site.

I’m also still working on my WordPress plugins. My caching function (as used by a number of my plugins) is being completely re-written, I have some ideas for new plugins and I’m in the process of updating a number of the existing ones.

First up, though, is an update to Simple Social Bookmarks to add Google Buzz [1]which I’m underwhelmed with. Even the ability to share links on Buzz is being done via a “back door” method as Google hasn’t provided the facility to do it..

And somewhere in all of that I need to squeeze in some blogs about recommended Android Apps, a review of the most popular Android Twitter Apps and a post of recommended HTC Hero accessories.

References   [ + ]

1. which I’m underwhelmed with. Even the ability to share links on Buzz is being done via a “back door” method as Google hasn’t provided the facility to do it.
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