Google adds true offline maps to GMaps

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Although only for Android at this stage (and to be honest, I’m not sure half of the newer features will ever make it to Symbian), the latest Google Maps Android client includes support for downloading maps for offline usage.  This is only the first generation of this, and I’m sure Google will implement more features around this as time goes on.  At the moment, it’s a “Labs” feature, which allows you to choose whether or not to turn it on, but having done so, you can then long press any location on the map and the Places page that you can select has an option to download maps.

This downloads a map approx. 10 miles around the chosen spot (though it’s a square area, so not exactly 10 miles).  If you change your mind, you can go into the Cache settings to delete the download.  Right now, this version will only download the base maps and landmarks, so a lot of detail is missing (and obviously no satellite maps), but it’s a good start, and combined with a few well placed favourites (starred places), this should be better than no maps at all whilst travelling, especially abroad, where you don’t want the roaming charges.  However, don’t plan for that trip abroad too far in advance; Google Maps will automatically delete the data after 30 days, so you need to do this just before travelling.

I have to say it’s a good start, but it still seems a little bit hit and miss, and until it’s a more controllable feature, I’ll be sticking with other apps that use complete offline maps.  Also, if roaming, don’t forget that the GPS uses a little 3G data to get the initial fix, so unless you turn that off (or turn off data completely), you won’t avoid all roaming costs, and, to be honest, an Android device seems to use more data that others due to the background sync options that you need to be careful over roaming costs.

One option is to get inclusive roaming data as part of your contract, and many of the higher Vodafone contracts already include Data Traveller which does just that, or you can add it to a lower priced contract (see here for more details and here for an update).

As always, this is available from the Android Market.

Screenshot courtesy of Google, where you can also get more information.


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3UK clarify tethering options on The One Plan

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

When launched, 3UK were happy that tethering (and Personal Hotspot for Apple users) was included with their All-You-Can-Eat truly unlimited data bundle that comes with the One Plan.  Starting at £25 per month (24 month contract, price depends on selected handset), it was still very good value, given the sheer amount of minutes and texts it also comes with.

Later, when they made the All-You-Can-Eat unlimited data available on their PAYG plans they were again quick to point out that these tariffs did not come with tethering support (although with non-Apple devices it’s more difficult to control, although the mobile networks can spot you using apps like Joikuspot or the built in Mobile WiFi AP in Android).

Most recently, they have now launched The One Plan on a SIM Only basis, with a 1 month rolling contract.  SIM Only contracts are a little strange with the short minimum contract period, and are often treated more like PAYG arrangements by the networks.  So, when it came to whether or not they supported tethering, their initial response was No.  However, within hours of this decision, they confirmed via Twitter (see Ben’s post that’s documented it here) that tethering and Personal Hotspot are supported on the SIM Only One Plan.

This is good news, and a sensible decision, and is certainly a good plan to consider if you are looking to change contracts but don’t need a new phone; with 2,000 cross network minutes, 5,000 texts, 5,000 3UK3UK minutes and proper unlimited data each month for just £25, it’s also difficult to beat elsewhere.

As always, all 3UK offers are available in the 3Store.


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Symbian, Android or the latest iPhone; all available from 3UK!

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Over the last couple of weeks, 3UK have released (or will release) a fair range of new handsets, covering the main smartphone OSes; a couple of weeks ago, they released the Desire S running Android, which although not a great upgrade from the old Desire, is a worthy phone contender for someone looking for a new Android phone.

Yesterday they also announced the Nokia E7 (Symbian^3 with a flip out QWERTY keyboard) was now available, and today they have announced that from tomorrow you’ll be able to buy the long-awaited white Apple iPhone 4 on 3UK.

So, it seems whatever your smartphone OS choice is, you have an option to get one of the latest phones available from 3UK (although less popular, they also have BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 devices).  As always, head to the 3Store for more details.


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Gadget Show Live suggestions

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I headed to a special Preview Day today at the Gadget Show Live yesterday, and can report that’s it’s going to be a good show this year.  The first year it was run I felt there were a few too many small companies selling fairly useless gadgets, but whether it’s the economy or not I don’t know, but this year there were very few useless gadgets to be seen.  Equally, two years ago everyone was selling iPhone docks, and although there were still a variety of iPad accessories, it generally felt a much more balanced show.

If you only get an hour or two to attend, my suggestions for companies to visit include:

  • LG, if only to view their ultra slim OLED TVs, which look very impressive
  • Samsung, for having a wide variety of options from TVs, home appliances and the Galaxy Tab
  • 3View, for having a Freeview PVR with a range of additional functions, such as BBC iPlayer
  • Revo, for having a decent range of good looking and quality sounding DAB radios
  • Viewsonic, for promoting their risk free ViewPad trial (which we covered here)
  • Orbitsound, for their range of impressive speakers (both portable and for your TV) using their airSOUND technology

A couple of others companies caught my attention with new gadgets, and I’ll cover those later.  I will say that although Samsung had a massive banner running the length of one of the halls advertising all 3 Android Tablets (the Tab, the new 8.9″ and the new 10.1″ tablet), they only seemed to have the original Galaxy Tab on their stand.


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Risk Free ViewSonic ViewPad 7

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

If you have been thinking about trying an Android tablet, but didn’t want to have to deal with the unit if you didn’t get on with it, then you might want to try the ViewSonic ViewPad 7.  Although it retails for around £325, you should be able to pick one up for around £290.  For this, you are getting a decent Android tablet with 800 x 480 7″ screen, Android 2.2, 3G and Wi-Fi support, plus all the regulars (Google Maps, Google Mail, Bluetooth, microSD card support, front and back cameras), but the important part is the current offer by ViewSonic.  You see, they are so confident you will like the device that they are offering a (limited time offer) full refund of your money after 30 days if you don’t get on with the unit.

There are a whole range of T&Cs attached to the deal, but they will (subject to the device being in original box and in good condition with proof of purchase), refund your full outlay including up to £10 more for the postage cost of sending it to them.  The most important limitation is that you must purchase the device before 30 April 2011 to qualify.

I’m impressed with this kind of no-risk offer, and recommend you consider it.  Full terms are available here and thanks to Mobile Industry Review where I first spotted the deal.  If you do go with the deal, I’d recommend either the 3UK SIM Internet Only SIM Free contract (30 day rolling contract, £5 per month with 2GB of data), or 3UK‘s One Plan to go with it.


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Nokia continue Symbian innovation

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

A lot of people have been writing Nokia (and Symbian) off, but in my opinion they are slowly and surely still providing innovation on the Symbian platform.  As someone who now spends more time using Android, they still have a major problem around 3rd party app and 3rd party website support, but sometimes Nokia announce something that continues to progress; in this case it’s the Nokia Sleeping Screen. As with all innovation, it’s currently in beta with Nokia Beta Labs, but the Nokia Sleeping Screen allows you to see missed calls, unread text messages, and reminders presented in a clear way on the standby screen.  Better than that, Nokia have designed it to take advantage of the latest OLED screen such that it has as minimal effect on battery life as is possible.  As well as being kind on the battery, it has a Night Clock setting to dim the screen overnight, and if it notices the screen is covered (in a bag, case or pocket) it will turn off the screen completely.

It’ll only work on Symbian^3 phones, and needs either Qt v4.6.4 or v4.7.2, which is another area of concern to me in the short term; different Qt apps need different versions of Qt, and I’ve even seen one Qt app that after uninstallation managed to knock out a system application pre-installed on the phone by impacting the Qt subsystem.  Nokia need to settle Qt down, produce firmware updates for all devices to pre-install that version, and prevent the need for individual apps to be burdened with the Qt installation problems of late.

However, overall, the Nokia Sleeping Screen definitely seems to be a worthwhile new application; just like Qt, I would like to see current beta apps Nokia Situations and Nokia Sleeping Screen included as standard on updated firmwares; when that happens, it will really show Symbian is back on form.

As for my use of Symbian, there are still a few apps which draw me back to Symbian on a regular basis; Gravity, Ovi Maps (with the offline maps, decent traffic, support for walking modes, built in 3rd party mapping related information such as TripAdvisor and Qype); ViewRanger would be the other app, but as I also have iOS and Android versions of the app available to me, I simply run ViewRanger on every device I can!  I have to say going back to Symbian reminds me how limited the homescreen customisation is; with different sized widgets instead of just being able to select what each row represents (on Symbian), I hope the major UI refresh coming to Symbian in the Summer works on the homescreen, and I’ve heard it adds multi-sized widget support, so it may well bring Symbian back to the fore.

Oh, and if you’ve got a Symbian^3 phone, v2.5.1 of the Nokia Situations beta was released a week or so back and brought a whole range of greater options to the conditions used to select different profiles.  Equally, v1.3 of Nokia’s Social App was recently released too, though in my opinion, you’re better sticking to Gravity.


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Gingerbread coming to HTC Desire May

Monday, April 4th, 2011

3UK have confirmed (through a tweet) that they are currently putting a Gingerbread update for the HTC Desire through their mobile operator testing.  This can take a while, and often finds problems causing the firmware to be rejected until the bugs are fixed. 3UK stated that it’s likely the firmware will finish testing and be released late April / early May, which would indicate a mid to late April release of the same firmware for unbranded and unlocked devices direct from HTC.

For a phone now replaced (both the HTC Desire HD and the HTC Desire S could be said to follow on from it) it’s good to see updates still being released, and although the native Gingerbread is not a major update, it does bring a range of useful features to all Android devices out of the box (SIP calling, slightly better keyboard, slightly better UI, and better battery power management) so it’s still a welcome update.

It seems a large range of devices will be able to update from v2.2 to v2.3, and for those that don’t, there’s always the custom ROM scene, which as devices move out of warranty becomes a sensible option if the original manufacturer isn’t offering these updates (if the hardware is up to it).

Although brief (as most tweets are!) 3UK‘s statement can be found here.


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Moving from Symbian to Android; first impressions

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Last week I picked up an Android mobile phone.  With Nokia’s planned move to Windows Phone, I wanted to see what options are out there for something a little better software wise than Symbian until Nokia release their first Windows Phone.  For those interested, I personally don’t think it will be that long until we see something; internally Nokia had phones running Windows Phone available for staff to look at within days of the announcement, and although they may not be shipping large volumes until next year, I believe they will be announcing and planning to ship models this year.

So, after a few days with an Android device, what are my initial reactions? Actually, it’s some of the little things that have been built into Nokia hardware and Symbian software that I miss, like a hardware unlock switch on the side of the phone (especially useful when in the car).  Having said that, the Symbian default browser is rubbish compared to Android’s default.  In terms of applications, there seems to be multiple choices to achieve anything on Android, which although gives choice does seem to make it more difficult to choose a good product; some aren’t kept up to date, and, as with all mobile platforms, there are few that truly stand out.

We’ve covered a number of “stand out” Android apps over the years (see here for reviews of some), and these were some of the first to get installed, including purchasing some that I know will come in handy over time.

So, what have I missed; some apps such as Gravity and ViewRanger (I need to arrange to transfer the maps so this is just in the short term).  Equally, having many more options for widgets (of different sizes) on the homescreens is a pleasant change, plus access to apps where the developer hasn’t yet (or may never) release a Symbian app.  Also, as a heavy Google Calendar user, having my calendar updates available within minutes instead of hours is a pleasant change; in fact, I have some services that feed into additional Google Calendars which then appear on the phone; given it can take Google a few hours to update the calendar in the first place, it meant it could often take a couple of days to appear on my Symbian phone; reducing that time down to the same day is an impressive start.

Oh, and Ovi Maps. Offline maps, and more importantly, offline satnav means a lot to me, especially when we aren’t yet at a universal position with unlimited data rates, so I’ve missed this.  Strangely, I’ve also missed the other services built into the Ovi Maps client; Qype, TripAdvisor etc.; yes, I can install separate apps, but it did seem neat all wrapped into one application.  The traffic information was pretty good too, plus the walking mode, where it would vibrate just before reading out a new instruction (given you time to bring the phone close enough to your ear to hear it) was pretty useful too.

Having said that, on my phone, it was nigh on impossible to get both Ovi Maps and Gravity running together as both take a fair chunk of memory, so hopefully the new phone will make this easier.

Will I stay with Android, or move back to Symbian? I think I may well move my main phone number over to an Android phone, but I suspect I’ll still carry a Symbian phone with me for some while…

I’ll provide more details on my experiences soon, including long term usage of an Android tablet too!


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3UK: New phones & updated unlimited data tariffs

Monday, March 7th, 2011

It looks to be a good week for 3UK; they have already announced they will be selling the new Samsung Galaxy Pro, which combines a QWERTY keyboard with Android to provide a Nokia E71 / BlackBerry type experience.  With many people (including me!) moving away from Nokia in the short term, this may well be one device that attracts their attention.

The 2.8″ touchscreen and 3 megapixel camera may not be sufficient for many road warriors, but I think this will be a popular device.  With rumours that BlackBerry will be providing access to their BlackBerry Messenger application from Android and iOS, someone could buy one of these to replace an ageing BlackBerry and not miss the BBM IM support they are used to (once it’s actually made available).  It also features:

  • 800MHz processor
  • 3MP Full Focus Camera
  • Android Froyo+ version 2.2.1
  • 2.8” Capacitive touch screen (320 * 240)
  • 108.6 x 66.7 x 10.6 mm
  • 2GB microSD, expandable up to 32GB
  • Portable Wi-Fi hotspot

If the QWERTY phone doesn’t interest you, and you are looking for a budget Android device, possibly on PAYG, then the Samsung Galaxy Mini may well be for you.  Available in April in either Black & Silver or Black & Green, it features:

  • 600MHz processor
  • 3MP Full Focus Camera
  • Android Froyo+ version 2.2.1
  • 3.14” Capacitive touch screen (320 * 240)
  • 110 x 61 x 12 mm
  • 2GB microSD, expandable up to 32GB
  • Portable Wi-Fi hotspot

However, on top of these phones, 3UK have announced that they are extending their unlimited All-You-Can-Eat data package to a couple of PAYG tariffs too.  Today, the All-You-Can-Eat data (with no limits at all) is generally available on The One Plan (available on contract with a new phone, or on a SIM Only basis), but now it will be available on some of the current PAYG tariffs.

That last point is key; many people are still on the slightly elder PAYG tariffs, which offered lots of extras simply for topping up (the latest tariffs provide a greater range of value options once you have topped up); so you may need to change to the latest PAYG tariff first.

However, if you topup with enough money, and then select either the All in One 15 (£15) or the All in One 25 (£25) then you will get:

  • All in One 15: 3000 texts, 300 cross network minutes and All You Can Eat data (all valid for 30 days)
  • All in One 25: 3000 texts, 500 cross network minutes and All You Can Eat data (all valid for 30 days)

We should point out that the All in One 10 continues to have 500MB of data (valid for 30 days), or you can simply purchase “500MB data” for £5 (valid for 30 days); what the previous tariffs offered was “Internet Max” which gives 2GB for those same 30 days.

A lot of people stayed on the old PAYG deal due to the better data allowance available, but with these new unlimited offers, it may be worthwhile people moving to these new tariffs.  Of course, if you are regularly spending £25 per month on PAYG, you may well be better to look at the One Plan SIM Only (12 month contract) which gives you 5000 texts, 5000 3UK3UK minutes, 2000 cross network minutes as well as All-You-Can-Eat unlimited data for £25 per month, but does come with that higher commitment.

If you are on the older PAYG tariffs (anyone who had a PAYG SIM from before September 2010 and hasn’t already elected the newer tariffs will be) will need to call 333 from their Three phone, or 0843 373 3333 to request the latest PAYG tariffs.

We also note that Tethering is not supported on the All in One deals, but is supported on the One Plan.

As always, more details are available in the 3Store.

Picture courtesy of Samsung Hub.


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INQ Announce new Android devices

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

INQ announced they would be moving to Android many months ago now, but we now have pictures of the first of the two devices that they have now formally announced.  The first is the INQ Cloud Touch, which should be available (exclusively at Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy for a limited period) in April 2011, which is a traditional touch based Android phone (see above).  Planned to be available in Black, Red and White, the INQ Cloud Touch has the following spec:

Software:

  • Android Froyo 2.2 platform
  • Built with a modular approach making upgrade to Gingerbread easy
  • Instant Messaging for WLM, G-Talk and Facebook Chat
  • Free push email across major domains, including Microsoft Exchange
  • Info Key to quick access to key handset functions
  • Fast unlock for quick access to key functions
  • Backup and sync, plus firmware upgrades to later software releases

Hardware:

  • Processor: Qualcomm 7227 chipset, 600MHz
  • Triband HSPA (7.2/ 5.76Mbps), Quadband GSM, EDGE + WiFi
  • Size: 3.5” inch HVGA capacitive touchscreen display with extended 10mm touch strip
  • Memory: 4MB with option to add more
  • 5 MP autofocus camera
  • 1300mAh battery
  • WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth, GPS, FM Radio, accelerometer, compass, ambient light and proximity sensors
  • MicroUSB charging, 3.5mm audio jack.
  • Accessories included: 4GB microSD Card, Travel Charger & USB Cable, Stereo Headset, Quick Start Guide

Although not in the name, INQ have continued their long running Social Networking Support and built in some good Facebook integration into the phone; “Facebook comes alive with a homescreen Visual Media Feed for video, pictures, web pages and newsfeed.

There are one-touch links to Facebook Chat, Friends, Messages, Wall and Notifications. Facebook Single Sign On is activated across the phones and people can check in to their favorite shops, restaurants and clubs with Facebook Places, also active on the homescreen. Facebook Events fully integrates with the Google Calendar on both devices.

The phones are the first mobiles to use the Facebook social graph API, making it easy for people to follow updates from the friends they interact with most.”

Also, the phone will come with the Spotify client, with all relevant Spotify features being available to subscribers.

However, the other phone also looks very interesting. The INQ Cloud Q brings together the same software with a touchscreen based Android handset, but it also includes a QWERTY keyboard in the BlackBerry-style widescreen candybar format.  When we had the choice of the INQ Mini or the INQ Chat, many people went for the Chat as it offered all the same facilities, but with the benefit of the QWERTY.  Obviously, the Cloud Q has a different touchscreen to the Cloud Touch, so it’s not as clear which will be more popular, but yet again INQ are introducing a range of less expensive phones with the same facilities as the top end models from other manufacturers.

Photo of INQ Cloud Q courtesy of Mobile Phones Arena.


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