iPhone no more!

June 24, 2011

I recently resigned with the company I was working for and had to return my company-owned iPhone 4. So, I’m now back to using my old Palm Pixi (WebOS) smartphone on the Sprint network.  After using the iPhone 4 for the last several months, I’ve really grown accustom to the great apps (a lot of them missing from the Palm Pixi). In addition, I really loved the virtual keyboard of the iPhone 4, especially the auto text correction. My Pixi has the physical keyboard, and it’s a pain to click away on those bubble keys compared to the iPhone.

Sure, I could always run out and buy my own iPhone 4, but I won’t for these reasons:

  1. The iPhone has some great apps, but the phone itself isn’t the greatest. On the Verizon network I often dropped calls for absolutely no reason.
  2. The Verizon Navigator app wasn’t very good compared to the Sprint Navigator on my Palm Pixi. The Verizon app would often take me to the wrong location or would simply give up on an address and close down.
  3. Although the iPhone 4 had great battery life, it is pretty heavy and somewhat fragile with glass on the top and bottom surfaces.
  4. Verizon has expensive cell and data plans compared to Sprint.

As such, I’ve decided to possibly get an Android phone on the Sprint network. Sprint has better voice/data plans and their service seems to work better in my area. The two current candidates for phones are the Samsung Nexus S and the Samsung Galaxy S II. The Nexus S seems to be a really fast phone but there are lots of reports of weak and bad radios for phone reception. Unless this can be fixed soon (either via hardware or software), I’m afraid I’ll need to exclude the Nexus S from my consideration list.

That leaves the Galaxy S II ( named “Within” for Sprint) which is rumored to be released sometime at the end of July. The specs on the GS II look great, so I’ll have to hold out with my Palm Pixi until later next month and read the reviews on the Sprint version of the GS II. Hopefully it will be good, and I can replace my aged Palm Pixi with a faster, more modern Android smartphone.

Netflix – Streaming video from the Internet

April 30, 2011

I’m just amazed at the quality of videos which you can stream from the Internet to your home PC monitor. For a lot of the YouTube Videos you can stream in “HD” mode and have very high resolution videos playing on your large computer monitor. This also works for online TV Shows from the different network web sites.

We currently are signed up on Netflix, which is a video streaming service that allows you to select and watch videos on your home PC. It’s a great service, as you can watch TV Shows and Movies from thousands of titles, with the cost being $7.99 US per month.

In addition to watching videos on a Internet connected computer monitor, you can also  stream videos to other portable devices. For example, I routinely watch videos from Netflix on my iPod Touch and iPhone 4 which is really convenient when I’m traveling on the road or while lying on the couch at night. In the past I did have a few issues with the video stream stalling for 1 or 2 minutes at times before continuing, and some large pixelation, but over the last week the video streaming has improved quite a bit. I’m not sure if the issue was with the Netflix’s servers, my Comcast internet connection, or the speed of my home WiFi router, but in any case the video playback performance has been very good lately.

My son’s Nintendo Gaming system has Netflix capability built-in, so we can stream videos from the Internet (his Wii is WiFi enabled) to our TV set very easily. We often use this option so he can watch children movies/shows on our TV when there’s nothing he likes on the cable channels. This option has worked flawlessly– just like watching a normal cable channel show. So with this setup, our main home TV can be used to watch any video available in the Netflix library.

Currently, I’ve been watching old episodes of the TV Series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The SyFy channel was playing a few of the episodes over the last few weeks on cable and then abruptly stopped. So to continue, I found them on Netflix and have been watching them every night. It’s really cool that I can watch whatever episode I want, whenever I want, and with no commercials!

So, this is definitely a good services if you like watching movies and TV shows and have a relatively fast Internet connection. So if you’re in a hotel, stuck at an airport, or just lying on the couch you can pull out your mobile device and begin watching whatever show suits your fancy!

Calendar mayhem!

April 17, 2011

I have trouble remembering appointments, family events, birthdays, etc. so I rely heavily on a calendar to keep my life in order. This is true for both my personal and business life, so like to keep two separate calendars to keep things compartmentalized. The issue I’ve been struggling with is finding the most efficient way of dealing with these two calendars and keeping them synced with my computers and mobile devices.

So here’s what I have available:

  1. Personal calendar for my personal appointments and events
  2. Business calendar for my work appointments, travel dates, etc.
  3. An iMac at home running Snow Leopard Mac X OS
  4. A Dell laptop running Windows 7 for work
  5. An Apple iPhone 4 as my smartphone
  6. Microsoft Exchange Server for my work email, calendar, and contacts
  7. Apple MobileMe for Calendar, Email, and Contacts
  8. Google Calendar and Contacts
My goal, is to be able to view and edit my calendar appointments (personal and business) on my iMac desktop computer, Dell laptop, and iPhone device. I know there’s all kinds of 3rd-party freeware and commercial software for syncing calendar data between applications and the cloud, but I wanted to minimize that as much as possible to eliminate any chances of “foul ups”.
I ended up using this solution: Create two calendars with my MobileMe account that allows me to create,view, and edit appointments. If you’re unfamiliar with MobileMe, it is Apple’s cloud-based system which allows for centralized email, calendar, contacts, and offline disk storage. Using this method, I can always access my calendars via a web browser with an Internet connection. Because the majority of my devices are Apple-based, it made sense using this method for syncing purposes. So, I now use the Apple iCal application to access both MobileMe calendars on my iMac desktop computer, and the built-in Calendar app on my iPhone for doing the same. For my Dell laptop (running Windows 7), I use the Microsoft Outlook application along with a MobileMe syncing utility (provided by Apple) to sync my two MobileMe calendars with Outlook for local access. This method seems to work well so far, but I need to always make sure I’m viewing the two MobileMe calendars in all my apps and not the default local calendars (which should be empty).
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Watching live TV on my iPhone 4

April 17, 2011

At home, I’ve got an EyeTV HD device connected to a Comcast digital cable box for recording TV shows on my iMac desktop computer. The system is entirely automated, where scheduled shows are recorded, commercial removed, and finally converted to iPhone format and placed in iTunes for syncing. This allows me to watch my favorite shows at my leisure, usually at night on the couch or in bed. A few weeks ago I was on a business trip and I forgot to schedule my EyeTV to record an episode of Stargate: Universe, and it was not playing on any local station in my hotel room. What was I suppose to do?

Luckily, I have an app on my iPhone that allows me to control the EyeTV HD software on my iMac at home and also watch live TV through it via the Internet. So, I decided to give it a try, even though the hotel’s WiFi connect speed was incredible slow and virtually unusable. So instead of trying to use WiFi, I decided to just use my cellular connection via Verizon to stream the Live TV from my iMac at home to my iPhone.

Surprisingly, the video stream worked great! I was able to watch my show with no pausing or dropping of the TV streaming image. On a few occasions the image got a bit grainy (heavy pixels), but for the most part it looked just like watching an mp4 video file on my iPhone.

If I do switch to an Android phone in the near future, this will be one thing that I’ll miss. I don’t use this feature a lot, but when I do it works great.

iPhone 4 WiFi personal hotspot

April 17, 2011

A lot of the cell phone carriers are selling MiFi devices which are often labeled as “personal hotspots”. These small devices act as a portable Wireless Router which you can carry in your pocket and make Internet connections with your laptop, iPad, etc. via WiFi. Usually they are priced at $100-$200 US and then have a $60-$100 monthly charge for data usage. These MiFi devices are a great choice if you need to connect multiple devices to the Internet while on the go (I can see a traveling business person using one of these for his or her smartphone, laptop, iPod Touch, and iPad).

Some of the newer smartphones have the ability to act as personal hotspots, with some charging a small fee and others not charging anything. From what I’ve read, the Android phones provide this service free of charge but the iPhone requires an additional monthly charge (depends on the carrier, but usually runs $20-$30 per month).

If you’ve jailbroken your iPhone, you can use a small utility called MyWi which allows you to connect your WiFi devices to your iPhone (wirelessly) as if it was a personal hotspot. Using this method, you shouldn’t be charged the extra monthly fee as described above (but, you will be charged data usage according to your current plan).

As a test, I decided to download the trial version of MyWi from the Cydia App Store (available for jailbroken iPhones) and see how well it worked. After downloading and installing this simple app, I was able to configure it and use it within just a few minutes. First, I fired up my Windows 7 laptop and checked for WiFi Routers in my area, and sure enough my iPhone appeared in the list. I connected to it and did the speedtest.net speed test to see how fast the connection was (via my Verizon cellular connection). On average, my laptop saw 3.60 mbps download speed and 3.60 mbps upload speed (not too bad!). I then tested my iPod Touch connected to my iPhone via WiFi and got similar speed results. So, it seemed that the MyFi app is a good solution if you want to convert your iPhone into a personal hotspot without paying the extra monthly cost. Of course, you can only use this method if you jailbreak your phone and your average iPhone user may not want to go that route.

Note, that MyWi isn’t free (it current costs $19.95 via the Cydia App Store), but for a small one-time charge you’ll get a personal hotspot without any extra monthly recurring charges.

Trip Tracker – A great smartphone app for travelers

April 16, 2011

Trip Tracker is a great app that I use to keep track of my airline, rental car, and hotel reservations. It’s made by Page Once, and available for free for the iPhone and Android smartphone devices. I’ve been using the iPhone version and am very, very pleased with its functionality. Once I’ve set it up to access my airline, rental car, and hotel frequent traveler accounts, it will automatically download my latest reservations to my iPhone. It will also display my current frequent flyer miles/points for those accounts as well. Finally, it will send me notifications alerting me of upcoming travel via my email and popup notification on my iPhone. What a great app!

For airline reservations, it will show you the arrival/departure times and gate numbers at the airport. What I really like about it is that I can check my reservations without having to fumble with paper printouts or search through my emails for my travel confirmation information. Best of all, it’s free, so I recommend anyone who travels to check out this app.

Smartphone Transition

April 16, 2011

I’ve been using smartphones for a number of years and find it valuable to have the Internet at my fingertips while on the go. Accessing my email, web pages, and GPS-enabled maps for navigation has been great while on business trips. I started off by using a Motorola Windows Mobile 5 device, then upgraded to a Palm Pixi WebOS, and now I’m using a Verizon iPhone 4. I really like my iPhone 4, but I may have to turn it in as I’m looking for a new job and this phone is provided by my current employer. So what new smartphone should I get?

The iPhone 4 is nice and I know I would be happy with it, however, it is on the Verizon network and my family currently uses Sprint. I’d prefer to stay with Sprint and get a new line on my family’s plan, so getting a Verizon iPhone with a new account, etc. has its drawbacks. HP/Palm has re-entered the smartphone market (after delays during Palm’s acquisition), but their new Veer and Pre 3 phones won’t be available until this summer. Besides, the Pre 3 is a bit too chunky for me and I’d prefer to not have a slide out keyboard. I’ve seen “spy photos” of a new Pre phone that looks appealing (it actually looks like my iPod Touch), but who knows when that will be released. Finally, there’s a bunch of Android phones available on the Sprint network including the Nexus S Google phone which looks really nice (with the new Gingerbread OS version).

Whichever phone I choose, I want to make sure I get the same functionality as my current iPhone 4. I started by examining the apps that I current use on my iPhone, and it turns out that they are all available for the Android smartphone as well. I’ve used the Sprint Navigation app in the past as well as the Verizon Navigation app (both I like), but I noticed that the Nexus S won’t have any Sprint apps loaded. Fortunately, it will have the new Google Nav app which apparently works just as well (or even better) according to the video I watched on Google’s site. So I think I’m covered there.

Finally, I really want a phone that will have enough juice to last me through an entire day (7 am through 7 pm). My iPhone 4 has great battery life, and if I switch to an HP Pre 3 or Nexus S Android phone I’ll need to have equivalent battery life. I have a feeling it will be close, so I do need to take that into consideration.

So for the moment, I’m leaning towards getting the Nexus S Android smartphone with the Verizon iPhone 4 closely behind. I’d consider the HP Pre 3 as well once it is released and I can check it out (although I still don’t like its slide out keyboard). Decisions, decisions…

Navigation apps on the Verizon iPhone

February 18, 2011

The best part of being on the Sprint Network is having lots a cool features and services included in the basic monthly cell phone charges. So for a low cost plan you have access to unlimited free phone calls to any other cell phone (regardless of their network) and unlimited text messaging, and unlimited data. Another free service that I really like is the Sprint Navigation app on my Palm Pixi WebOS phone, which I use frequently when driving out of town on a business trip.

This app is very well written, and works great on my Palm Pixi smartphone. Even with the tiny screen on my Pixi, I can still clearly see the roads and upcoming turns, etc. and the voice turn-by-turn directions are wonderfully clear and and timed well.

So of course for my new Verizon iPhone, I was expecting to find a similar navigation app available. Now, Verizon does have a very similar navigation app (called VZ Naviator), but they charge an extra $4.99 per month to use the service. So I decided to look at alternative free apps and found two: Mapquest and NavFree.

I tested Mapquest on a recent drive down to a destination about 40 miles from my home in the city. After using the Sprint Navigator app for over a year, I have to say that Mapquest is very limited and not very user-friendly. The displayed maps look like a 2D google map and are very hard to view while driving. There is no remaining time or distance info displayed, and the “next turn” info is very tiny and hard to read. Also, the turn-by-turn voice directions are very short and hard to hear. The timing of these voice directions are off and you’re only told once the name of the next turn. As such, I dismissed using Mapquest on the iPhone for any real navigating.

On the way back home I decided to use Verizon’s VZ Navigator app which turned out to be very similar to Sprint’s equivalent app. VZ Navigator’s displayed map was very clear and large, with great icons and direction indicators. Info such as remaining time/distance and next turn were also very clearly displayed, and the turn-by-turn directions worked fantastically. In the end, I was very pleased with VZ Navigator but it does come with with the extra monthly charge.

I didn’t have a change to use NavFree, but it seemed to have better features than Mapquest. The maps looked good (in 3D) and all of the options looked good, but I’ll need to really give it a good testing to see how well it works against VZ Navigator. Since NavFree seems to be a grass-roots effort, the mapping data might be a bit questionable.

I’m a new Verizon iPhone owner

February 18, 2011

For the last year and a half I’ve been using a Sprint Palm Pixi WebOS smartphone as my daily companion.  As a WebOS developer, I understand the internal workings of the Palm Pixi and really like a lot of its features. For my primary day job, my employer recently upgraded my cell phone to a Verizon iPhone which I gladly accepted. I’ve owned a iPod Touch for the last year and really like it, so I pretty much knew what to expect in a iPhone. Here are some quick observations:

In my opinion, WebOS is a more “polished” OS for smartphone users as it has a lot of small useful features. For example, in WebOS you can define multiple email accounts in the built-in mail app each of which can have a unique signature text block. On the iPhone, you can only have one signature block used for all email accounts.

WebOS has a very nice notification system where incoming emails, phone calls, messages, etc. are displayed in a small strip at the bottom of the screen. So, you can quickly at a glance identify when you have any new messaging. With the iPhone, you don’t have such a notification area except for a popup dialog window in the center of the screen as a message comes in.

When the screen is blank (or turned off) in WebOS, I am notified of new messages by a small flashing light. There is no such thing on the iPhone when the screen is turned off or blank. To check for new messages on the iPhone, you need to turn on the screen, unlock it, then look at the Email icon to see if there are any new messages (displayed as a number on the icon indicating the number of unread messages).

I sorely miss true multitasking with my WebOS phone. Being able to minimize a running app in the background and fire up another app is a great thing. The iPhone supposedly has “multitasking” but who knows what that really means. Does the app continue to run in the background, or is it suspended until you fire it up again?

So after beating up the iPhone, what do I like about it? First, there’s tons and tons of great apps written for the device. For business travel, I’m using one called TripTracker by PageOnce which is an excellent app for tracking all your travel reservations. I’ve got a lot of news-related apps (e.g., USA Today, Engadget, Macworld, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, ABC News) which come in handy for keeping me busy in-between appointments. Of course there’s Pandora for listening to free Internet radio stations, and Netflix video streaming.

Since I have an EyeTV HD device connected to my iMac for recording TV shows, I can use the associated iPhone app called EyeTV which allows me to fully control the EyeTV HD hardware remotely as well as stream recordings (and live TV) to my iPhone.

Of course, I have the ability to play music and videos through synced files from iTunes. So in all, I’m happy with my iPhone and think it will be a great business companion but I do miss some of the small features found in WebOS.