Sprint unfriendly Disneyland?

December 31, 2011

My family recently stayed at the Disney Grand California Hotel (adjacent to the California Adventures Disney Park) and we discovered why Disney only offers their official park app for the iPhone/Android phone on the Verizon network. The Sprint cellular service on the Disney hotel property and their two parks had really horrible coverage. It was so bad my wife and I couldn’t rely on our cell phones (iPhone 4S and Android Nexus S 4G) to make consistent calls or get good data connections. The Sprint coverage was so weak, that our cell phones kept searching for service to the point of draining our batteries dry after about 5 hours. Not very good.

Also, the Grand Calif Hotel had what appeared to be multiple routers with several overlapping signals, and as a result it made it hard for me to get a good, solid WiFi connection with my Android Phone. My wife also has some similar issues with her iPad 2 and her iPhone 4S. I brought along my Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, but it was essentially useless in the hotel since whenever I tried to make a connection the the hotel’s WiFi it would immediately reboot! I figure the problem might be that once you make a connection to the WiFi you need to bring up a browser and select “Accept” on the page that pops up, and that seemed to cause the Kindle Fire to reboot. I tried numerous times, but just couldn’t get it to work.

My next option was to set my Nexus S into “Hotspot mode” and try to connect to it from my Kindle Fire, but that wasn’t a good alternative since the Sprint Cell service was so bad. So in the end, both my Nexus cell phone and Kindle Fire tablet were useless during my trip to Disneyland. 😦

Side Loading Apps on your Kindle Fire

December 26, 2011

If you own an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, you’ve quickly learned that you only have access to the Amazon App Store for downloading and installing Android apps. The Android Market (which is used by all other Android phones and tablets) is not available for the Kindle Fire. Since most of the available apps are in the Android Market and not in the Amazon App Store, this is a real drag.

Some KF owners have rooted their tablets to gain access to the Android Market, but as you may have read in one of my previous postings I decide to not go down that route for a number of reasons (include voiding the warranty of your tablet). Instead, I’ve taken the “side loading” approach which allows me to install desired apps outside of the Amazon App Store.

If you do a Google search on “kindle fire side loading” you’ll come across many web sites and blogs that explain the process. Basically, you need to install a desired app on another Android device (like a different tablet or cell phone), then use a File Explorer app to make a “backup” of that app. Next, you copy the backup file of that app (which is a standard .apk Android installer file) over to your Kindle Fire and install it. It’s a multi-step process, but you don’t need root access to do this procedure.

In my case, I have an Acer Iconia 10″ Android Tablet that I use to install my desired apps. I then use the app called Astro which is a file explorer app on my Acer tablet to do a “backup” of selected installed apps to the internal SD Card. For convenience, I’ll then use the DropBox app on my Acer tablet to upload these apk files to my DropBox cloud account. Finally, I run the same DropBox app on my Kindle Fire to access my online account, and just tap on the apk files. They then automatically download and install themselves. Using Dropbox in the manner is convenient for me, but you can always transfer the apk files from your PC or Mac over to your Kindle Fire via a USB sync cable.

Note, that not all 3rd party apps will install on the Kindle Fire, as some required Google libraries are not present. For example, the Pageonce Travel app that runs fine on my Nexus S phone and Acer Tablet  won’t install on my KF (I think it’s because certain Google Location Libraries are not present on the KF). So be aware that not all apps can be loaded using this side-loading method.

On Vacation with my Kindle Fire

December 26, 2011

I’m headed off to Disneyland for a 1-week family vacation and of course I want to stay connected to the Internet during my travels. I also want to travel somewhat light, so I’ve decided to limit the number of electronic devices that I’m bring. Of all the items I could bring (Dell Laptop, Kindle Fire, Acer Iconia Tablet, Nexus S 4G cell phone, Apple iPod), I’ve decided only bring my Nexus S cell phone and Kindle Fire.

It was a toss up between my Acer Android Tablet and the Kindle Fire. I like the larger 10″ screen of my Acer Tablet for web page browsing, but the smaller Kindle Fire was much more portable for this trip. As such, I’m going with the Kindle Fire to really see if it’s suitable for my week long trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Should you root your Kindle Fire Tablet?

December 24, 2011

I received an Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet for my birthday last month, and it’s been a great device for most of my needs. Although I don’t read many digital books (in fact, none!), I do like to watch videos and movies, read news sites, checkup on weather, listen to music, etc. So far, the Kindle Fire can do all those things and more.

The one bad thing about the Kindle Fire, is that Amazon has tied it down so you can’t access or install apps from the Android Market. The only place you can download apps is from Amazon’s App Store which at this moment, has some what limited number of apps compared to the general Android Market. There is a way to circumvent this by using a technique called “side loading”, where you install 3rd party applications from an apk file (standard Android installation file), but getting the apk file for a specific Android application is a manual process (Do a Google search on “android side load app”).

Using the side loading method, I was able to install other apps not available on the Amazon App Store like Dropbox, Engadget, Evernote, jVault, Netflix, Mocha vNC Lite, Wunderlist, Twitter, etc.

Now, I’ve been reading in different forum postings and tech blogs that it is possible to “root” your Kindle Fire which would allow you access to more capabilities (like installing Android Market). As such, this prompted me to look into rooting my Kindle Fire.

After reading directions and tips from several different web sites and forum postings, I was able to root my Kindle Fire. Rooting basically gives me permissions as a user to make system changes. It can be a bit dangerous, and definitely voids your warranty. As I jumped through all the hoops to getting Android Market installed, I could never get it to work. I would always get a “Forced Closed” error when I tried to access the Market. I suspect that when Amazon upgraded the Fire’s OS from 2.6 to 2.6.1, the apk files that I downloaded and installed on my Fire for Android Market access just didn’t work any more. So, instead of fussing with my Kindle Fire further, I decided it just wasn’t worth it.

Therefore, I began the process of uninstalling all the “extra” apps I installed pertaining to Android Market and then un-rooted my Kindle Fire. So, now I’m back to my original system (but, still with my side loaded apps intact).

I’ve concluded that it wasn’t worth it to root my Kindle Fire for my needs. I’m sure others really like the freedom of having a rooted Fire tablet and being able to install many more apps, but I just found it to be a pain in the neck. Also, I’d be worried that when future OS updates or app updates came out, my tinkering with the OS and privileges would cause problems down the road.

If you’re interested in rooting the Kindle Fire, just do a Google search for several different sites with directions. But be warned: It’s not for the faint hearted..

ICS Running on my Nexus S 4G

December 21, 2011

Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is the code name for the latest Android Operating System (version 4.0) which was designed to unify the OSes for the Android smartphones and tablets. ICS is rolling out slowly now for the newly released Android smartphones, but OS updates for existing phones are not coming out so frequently. From what I’ve read, Google released ICS for the Samsung Nexus S but only for the AT&T and T-Mobile versions (not Sprint).

Since I have a Sprint Nexus S 4G, I don’t have the ability to officially upgrade to ICS. However, Google has released the ICS code to the general public, allowing people to compile and create their own custom ROMs. Fortunately for me, a person named Pete Alfonso has taken the time to create such a custom ROM for the Nexus S 4G using the released ICS code. I’ve been running his custom ROM for the previous “Gingerbread” Android OS (version 3.0) for the last few months with excellent performance, so I trust his ICS version will work equally as well. Thus, I’ve installed his 12-20-2011 nightly version on my Nexus S 4G and have been running ICS for the last 12 hours or so.

ICS seems to be running very well on my Nexus S. It definitely has a new look-and-feel compared to the Gingerbread OS, which I like. It actually reminded me slightly of the Windows Phone 7 OS, where some of the controls like the buttons had a more flat appearance. The colors, layout, etc. in ICS really makes it look polished (much better than the version 1.0 of Android!).

ICS also runs very smoothly, and I haven’t had any issues with this custom ROM. GPS, WiFi, and the Hotspot WiFi all worked fine. The only big issue I can find is with the high battery drain. After using my Nexus S for about a day, I noticed substantially decreased battery life over what I was experiencing with the previous Gingerbread OS. Apparently, this is a known issue and it seems that Google has suspended the release of the ICS upgrade to other phones until they get this resolved. Last night I went through the process of wiping my handset’s “Battery Status” which is suppose to help increase the top battery charge level, so I’ll see if that helps to extend my battery life.

Also, I found that a few apps I was using with Gingerbread needed updating to work with ICS. For example, I needed to update my Netflix app to run under ICS (the Android Market had an update for Netflix specifically for the ICS version 4.0 OS). But for the most part, all of my other apps ran just fine under ICS.

So it looks like Google has taken another step forward in the evolution of the Android OS. I’m anxious to see how well ICS runs on my Acer Iconia A500 tablet (whenever that update or custom ROM becomes available).

PS: If you’re interested in installing this Custom ROM, go to http://www.androidcentral.com and visit their Forums under “Sprint Nexus S 4G” and the “Custom ROMS, Hacks” section. There’s a posting for ICS using Pete Alfonso’s custom ROM.

WiFi Explorer for your Android

December 4, 2011

My Kindle Fire came with an app preloaded called WiFi Explorer which is basically a Web Server that runs on your Android device on your local home WiFi network. The app will give you a web address which you can type into any web browser on any PC/Mac on your home network to access the file system on the Android device. From there, you can upload files, delete files, rename them, etc. all wirelessly. The system works pretty good, and I’ve used it almost exclusively to transfer files to and from my Kindle Fire tablet. It is easy to setup and use, and I really like not having to connect my Kindle Fire to my iMac using a USB cable. The app is free from the Android App Market, and I highly recommend it for Android users.

Is WebOS officially Dead?

December 4, 2011

HP certainly did their best to abandon the Palm WebOS devices, and it seems the OS is going also. If you check out the HP-Palm web site, you’ll see just a splash screen of WebOS running on a Palm Tablet (now, discontinued). The new CEO of HP is supposedly to announce the direction of future WebOS development within the next two weeks, which would affect 600 people currently working at HP-Palm. With no new hardware being sold or developed, it seems the writing is on the wall. In my opinion, WebOS is an elegant mobile operating system, but it seems that no one wants it. As a developer, I found writing WebOS apps using Javascript under the “Mojo” system very easy to do, but the new “Enyo” system that was implemented in the WebOS 3.0 version was a bit too awkward for my tastes. Sure, there still are a very few hardcore WebOS developers still developing apps, but for the most part developers have moved on to the other mobile platforms (e.g., iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7).

As time goes on, I think the stagnant WebOS will become more and more behind the times and will never catch up to the other mobile OSes. That is quite a shame, as I’ve always like Palm as a company and wished they could have continued on (outside of HP) with their hardware and OS development work.

TripAdvisor.com – For frequent travelers

December 4, 2011

In my past job I traveled frequently throughout the US, and finding a good hotel was hit-or-miss. Even when I stuck to chain hotel brands, sometimes I would get a good hotel and other times it would be really bad. As such, I’ve relied on the web site tripadvisor.com to help me sort through different hotel options to increase my chances of finding a good, safe, relaxing hotel to stay during my out-of-town travels.

TripAdvisor.com is a web site that basically has reviews posted by users who have logged into their site. Reviews can be quite extensive, or just a sentence or two. Also, users can upload photos along with their reviews to give some evidence backing up their review claims. I’ve found this site very useful, as there are hundreds of postings for most hotels. In fact, I also am a contributor to this site posting my reviews of various hotels I’ve stayed at over the last few years.

But like anything, you need to take what you read with a grain of salt. You have some people who post great reviews for a particular hotel, and a few that post really negative reviews. The difference can be so great at times, it makes you wonder, “are these reviews all for the same hotel”? For example, my family stayed at the Disney Grand Californian Hotel last year during summer break and we found it to be a great hotel. As such, I wrote a lengthy review expressing my opinions of our stay at that hotel. But if you read some of the hundreds of reviews, you will come across some that are really negative. Of course, you’ll find some people are pretty nit-picky and complain about the smallest thing and will give a negative review, but I did read some recent reviews that just seemed incredible to believe. For example, one person reviewing the GCH complained they had to wait 10 minutes in line to get checked into their room (what, you can’t wait 10 minutes?). Another person complained the valet didn’t bring up their luggage to their room after being asked three times, and another person complained their room was run down with damaged furniture, dented trash cans, and missing TV remote. I find all of this unbelievable, as I stayed at this hotel last year and found the rooms wonderfully decorated and very comfortable. So either Disney has some really bad and really good hotel rooms and we just got lucky, or some people are just big time complainers.

TripAdvisor.com is also good for finding reviews of restaurants and amusement parks in certain cities. Posters will give great tips in their reviews, so it’s definitely worth checking out for your next trip. And best of all, it’s all free!

My Kindle Fire Review

December 4, 2011

When the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet was announced, I was intrigued. A small 7 inch tablet sold by Amazon.com for $199? Was the hardware any good, and is a 7 inch screen sufficient for a tablet? I already have a 10 inch Acer A500 Android tablet (which works great, by the way), so do I really need a 7 inch tablet also? Luckily, my intrigue and an October birthday made it an easy choice to pre-order the Kindle Fire which I received the 2nd week of November.

My big justification for getting a Kindle Fire was to test Android apps which I current develop for the Android smartphones and tablets. However, my plan would be to use the Kindle Fire as a personal tablet, as my larger Acer A500 tablet is a bit too bulky to tote around with me on trips to Starbucks or Panera Bread. So here’s my personal review after owning the Kindle Fire for about three weeks.

First, the Fire is well built and constructed of good components. The unit looks like a generic black-slab tablet with a very nice 1024×600 color screen. The device uses a variation of the Android OS, and runs very smoothly. As an average consumer, you’d never know it was running Android under the hood as Amazon has placed a nice, easy-to-use layer between the user and the OS. It can be limiting for advanced Android users, but works great for the general population to make the Fire much easier to use. As an advanced user, I have no complaints, as you can easily “side load” Android apps on the Fire with very little difficulty (and no need to root it). Read the rest of this entry »