May 4, 2013

wifiOne thing that I’m very conscious of since switching to AT&T’s 3 GB data plan, is the amount of internet data I download on their cellular network. With the unlimited data for my old Sprint network, I could stream Google Music, Podcasts, Pandora, etc. (albeit very slowly) without a care about how much data I was downloading. Now with a 3 GB per month cap, I’m very aware of how much data I’m downloading.

Although I’ve now got a data cap, I still try to go about my daily business using my Smartphone as I normally do. I’ve so far only made a few changes to my setup and usage:

  1. Instead of streaming music from my Google Music cloud account, I now download all my music files to my smartphone and play them locally.
  2. When possible, I try to download my daily podcasts while on WiFi instead of streaming on the cellular network.
  3. I’ve set the Google Play Store to not download updates for my apps unless I’m on a WiFi connection.
  4. I usually don’t stream videos unless I’m on WiFi.

So far, my plan seems to be working ok. I can still access news feeds, forums, email, via the AT&T Network, and do any high-bandwidth data transfers while on WiFi. And if I go over my 3 GB limit for the month, I’ll only be charged $10 US for another 1 GB of data transfer (which is about the cost of a single average lunch). Can’t complain!

I Just Love AT&T’s 4G LTE!

May 2, 2013

imagesIt’s so great to have switched from using Sprint’s 3G (really, 2.5G) data speeds to AT&T’s 4G LTE. I almost always have the “4G LTE” logo lit up on my phone, and if not it drops down to 4G (which is still pretty fast). With this kind of great speeds I feel like I’m at home on my WiFi network. No more waiting for browser web pages to load, etc. It just works, always!

I also like AT&T’s nice feature where my smartphone will automatically connect to any AT&T WiFi Hotspot I come across. This means for example, whenever I walk into a Starbucks or McDonalds restaurant my phone will automatically connect to their WiFi system (for free) without me having to deal with bring up my web browser, tapping an “I agree” authentication button, etc. I’m just connected!

It’s the little things like this that reinforces my belief that I made the right decision to switch from Sprint to AT&T. Sure, Sprint might have 4G LTE in my area someday, but that probably won’t happen for another year or longer at the rate they are deploying their upgrades.

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. 😦

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 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 »

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!

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 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.

Why are hotel internet connections so slow?

December 9, 2010

In traveling around the Western US region for the last few years, I’ve noticed that every hotel I stay at has slow Internet connections. Some in fact have such slow connections it’s just not work using. I’d rather use my Verizon USB Wireless Adapter over the hotel’s connections at times. Why is this? Hotels must know that business travelers (as well as vacationeers) use the Internet routinely for looking at web pages, checking emails, and doing work. I’m really not sure why a hotel can’t tie in a fast line (or, maybe multiple lines) to accommodate their guests.

If I was traveling more frequently, I would probably look into getting a dedicated MiFi device (cellular, portable WiFi) to use with my Netbook, Laptop, and iPod Touch. It probably would be faster than the hotel’s WiFi connection and I could use it practically anywhere. In the meantime, I’ll just have to do my heavy Internet action in coffeeshops and at the airport gates.

Free WiFi Courtesy of Google

December 10, 2009

I was pleasantly surprised to find free WiFi access at the Seattle Airport courtesy of Google. I read about Google providing free WiFi access at various airports for the holiday season, but it was nice to see that this will be a permanent feature in Seattle’s airport.

I also noticed a similar advertisement at the Phoenix Arizona airport, however, they’ve had free WiFi at most of their gates for the last few years. It’s nice to see free WiFi spreading out more and more.

Upgrading your Laptop’s WiFi Card

October 11, 2009

wifiI recently purchased a Belkin Wireless Router that uses the “n”-draft protocol for data transmission. This newer protocol (still in draft) offers greater speed and range than the older “g” protocol. Of course, you need a wireless adapter on your connecting machine or laptop that can also talk the “n” protocol, otherwise the router will default back down to the “g” protocol when communicating with your machine.

Most older laptops and Netbook computers use the “g” WiFi protocol, while some of the newer ones use “n” (and often it’s an upgrade to get the hardware for this protocol). I recently order a new Dell laptop and I paid the extra $25 for a “n” wireless enabled card so I can use it most efficiently with my home Router system. Well worth the $25 to ensure my new laptop’s WiFi  doesn’t become obsolete so soon.

So, what if you have a laptop that doesn’t have a WiFi card, or if your laptop has a WiFi card with the older “b” or “g” protocol? Luckily, these WiFi cards are somewhat standard and are easy to replace/upgrade for most laptops. If you can upgrade the memory in your laptop, you can certainly upgrade the WiFi card as well.

For example, I have an older Dell Latitude D610 laptop that uses a Mini-PCI WiFi-g card. It works ok, but I always seemed to have a rather low connection speed and signal strength when connecting to my home router (although conditions have improved since I upgraded the Router from “g” to “n” recently). So what are my options? As it turns out, there is a YouTube video that explains exactly how to change out the WiFi card in my Dell D610 laptop (imagine that?). You simply open the small cover on the bottom of the laptop, disconnect two small wires, pop out the old card, and do the reverse to install the new WiFi card. Very simple. Read the rest of this entry »

WiFi Routers can be a real pain!

October 8, 2009

wireless_routerIn my house, we have 4 computers that are constantly connected to the Internet via a Comcast cable modem connection. One computer is a direct connect to the WiFi Router, while the other 3 computers are wireless connected. I’ve been using a D-Link “Hi-Speed” (g-protocol) wireless router for the last 4 years or so, and lately I’ve been having trouble maintaining a connection with a new Dell laptop that I received from work. Since this router is signifcantly aged (by computer hardware standards) and has a max speed of 54 Mbps, I decided to upgrade to a new, faster n-protocol router.

As I did my research, I uncovered several different types of routers to choose from. Dual-band (2.4 and 5 GHz) routers, routers with a USB port for file storage, routers with a separate ssid connection for guests, etc. Lots to choose from. I did my usual scanning of web site and user’s reviews, and found my head spinning from all the information. It seems that for any router available, there’s always someone complaining about slowness or that the router is junk, defective, etc. I came to the conclusion that picking a router is a crap-shoot, so I needed to pick one and try it out myself in my own home network.

So to start, I drove down to my local Fry’s Electronics store and was convinced by the store sales rep to buy a Netgear Rangemax Dual Band Wireless-N Router (WNDR3300) for $99 US. The sales rep noted that this particular router has two different frequencies (2.4 and 5 GHz) which can be used simultaneously, so I could have the faster n-protocol computers on the 5 GHz channel and the slower g-protocol computers on the 2.4 GHz channel. So I tried this router out and discovered that I could not maintain a constant wireless connection with any of my home computers. The router would drop the Internet connection about every 3 minutes, and all the computers would have to constantly reconnect. Not good. So, I returned the router to Fry’s and did some more researching. Read the rest of this entry »