Tasker for Android

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Just occasionally someone points out an application to you, and you go wow, that’s really useful; Tasker seems to be one of those such applications.  Designed along similar lines to Locale (which has so many plugins from different people now, and all charge for them, it’s difficult to see the good and bads ones anymore), it offers the ability to create rules and control a whole raft of different functions on your Android phone. It’s not free (it costs £3.99), but this seems well worth given the range of controls it has.

I particularly like the ability to make system changes when you run particular apps, so, for example, you can keep the GPS generally turned off (to preserve battery life), but then when you run Google Maps you can turn on the GPS, and turn it off again when you exit.  In fact, the range of triggers is fascinating; Application, Time, Day, Location, State or Event.

LifeHacker here has a tutorial on how to set up the auto GPS function, how to create an alarm in the morning (that also fires up your favourite apps), and to create a “Face Down” task which shuts off GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth, and makes the ringer quieter.

For even more options, this LifeHacker post goes further and discusses the following options: reading out SMS messages (for when you are driving), limited data usage overnight, pop up a menu of music apps when headphones plugged in, mark and find your parking place, and most importantly, it links to the Tasker Wiki, where a whole range of users have added information on their suggested profiles.

There’s also lots of information about the application, including a tour of some of the features on the Tasker website here, which is well worth a look too.

This is one very comprehensive application, which looks like it has the power to really customise the way you use your Android phone.


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If not SpinVox, then Pibbix

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

For a while now, I have been a big fan of SpinVox, who offer a voicemail to text conversion service and then SMS you the message.  This functionality allows me to not take calls when in meetings / busy, but still see very quickly the details of the message (and without the time and hassle factor of dialling into the voicemail).  In fact, with little things like not having to write down numbers (which are transcribed into the SMS and accessible directly from the phone), it’s very useful, and a service that once you’ve tried is often worth the small monthly outlay.

However, SpinVox is slowly cancelling all personal subscriptions, so for many people SpinVox is no longer an option open to them.  Well, in the UK, Pibbix have stepped into this market, and are now offering their service along similar lines.

Pibbix have 3 charging rates, which are:

  • £7.50 for 20 messages converted to text
  • £16 for 50 messages converted to text
  • £30 for 100 messages converted to text

These are good rates, and depending on how many voicemail messages you get a month will determine which tariff will suit you best; for many the lowest tariff will suffice.

There are nice little touches with Pibbix which is why I’m even keener to promote them; if the message goes beyond 1 SMS message, you aren’t charged more; the cost is per message converted, not per SMS sent to you.  You can choose whether to be notified by SMS and/or email, and the email can also have an mp3 attachment of the original message.  If you need to change your mobile number where the messages are sent, that’s easily changed too (something that required a chat with SpinVox Customer Services).  Even better, as part of the web management interface they offer, you can elect to not have messages from withheld / blocked caller ID numbers transcribed; this means although you’ll still get an email with the attachment, but you won’t be disturbed with an SMS (and because the message is not converted, it does not come out of your conversion allowance either).

The number you are allocated to divert your mobile to works can be used on multiple phones (and even landlines) to being all of your voicemails into one single location.

You can also configure a custom greeting, and you can control what greeting is used via the web interface too.

Payment is via PayPal, and you can cancel at any time.

I’ve been using the service for over a month now, and have had no problems with the service; I’ve had one voicemail where the transcription was not good, but given the amount of background noise, I struggled to understand parts of the message, and I knew what the caller was talking about!  SpinVox suffers from similar problems, so this is not unique, but on other messages the message has been spot on, and at times more accurate than I would have expected from SpinVox.

If you go to the Pibbix website, you can request an invite; the service is still in beta at the moment, so you may have to wait a small while to get into the service, although generally people aren’t having to wait too long.


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Update to Socially app

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

It’s not often a new app can come along and provide similar features to an existing application, yet still be worth installing, but Socially App seems to be one such app.  If you are a heavy Twitter or Facebook user on Symbian, chances are you are already running Gravity, which is by far the best overall Social Networking client for Symbian, but that does not mean that there is not a place for Socially App on your device.

The main benefit to Socially App is that, when a call comes in, it will display the latest information that it has on the individual, based on their posting to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIN.  That last point can’t be missed; Gravity does not (currently) support LinkedIN, so this app does provide a convenient way to access and update your status on a wider range of platforms.

Of course, one must not forget that if you set it to regular updates and you have Gravity doing likewise, then you run the risk of running into the API limits on Twitter that could impact the experience on both tools.

If you only have a few friends and they don’t tweet / use facebook all the time, then you can turn on Desktop alerts in the Socially App, which will put the information onto the homescreen when updates come in, but with more than a few friends, and this gets unmanageable.  Another nice touch is going into Contacts you can long press * or Fn and it will display your online contacts as opposed to your local contacts; it would be nice to see more integration along the likes of fring which creates a single list of all online and local contacts, but it’s still useful.

One other feature that the Socially App offers is the ability to screen your calls; I need to play with this some more to see how it works, and whether it’s useful in the long run, but after a brief play, it’s fair to say Socially App is definitely worth a look; not necessarily as a tool for providing updates of your status to others (and Gravity still wins here, especially as it can connect via ping.fm, which therefore allows posting to many more sites than either tool natively provides), but as a way of getting status updates of others and providing that information when phone calls come in seems a powerful feature.

If you want to try it out (and it’s currently completely free) then point your Symbian phone to m.sociallyapp.com and download the latest version.


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SanDisk MicroSDHC Review

Monday, April 19th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, SanDisk kindly supplied me with a SanDisk Mobile MicroSDHC memory card for review.  Although it’s difficult to review something that “just works” I can say it seemed nice and fast when used in a camera (via an adaptor I already owned).  I also used it in a mobile phone where there was less apparent speed increase over the original memory card, but I do wonder if this was being limited more by the phone than the memory card.  Also, the phone rarely does fast reading / writing from the card to notice a difference; whereas with the camera, it seemed faster in both writing new pictures to the card, as well as playing back and reviewing pictures already taken.

As it’s designed for use in a mobile phone, the Sandisk Mobile MicroSDHC card came on its own, which is understandable.  For most people this will be fine, although providing an adaptor to allow the MicroSDHC card to be put into a laptop’s / netbook’s SD card slow would have been nice, for fast transfer of photos and music.  Having said that, I mainly upload photos from my mobile phone direct to online websites, and downloading / updating my music collection on my phone is a rare occurrence too, and often performed over Bluetooth for simplicity, so maybe the lack of an adaptor isn’t so bad after all (plus the memory card will obviously work with existing adaptors).

So, if you are in the market for a new memory card, don’t just go for the cheapest; think about whether you should invest in a device to keep your data safe, and then look at brands such as Sandisk.  Oh, and the Sandisk website also has a compatibility facility for entering the details of your device, and it will tell you which products are compatible with it (although I note it assumes you will buy the correct size, so for example if you select a device with an SD slot, it only shows you SD cards, not miniSD or microSD devices).

Thanks to SanDisk for the review memory card.


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New features in Socially App

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Socially Symbian App

Socially App is a new Social Networking application for Symbian phones.  At first, it didn’t really catch my attention as Gravity is a much more complete Twitter / Facebook / Google Reader / FourSquare client, but as Socially continues to develop, it’s functionality can’t be ignored.

One of the main functions, and shown in the screenshot above, is that it provides information on the latest SocNet updates of the person ringing you.  Now this is a useful feature; to know what’s going on with a friend just as they ring you can be very useful, especially as Socially covers Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIN (this last option something that Gravity does not currently support).

Even better, Socially App continues to develop; last week a new beta version was released which includes a lot of new functionality, but for me the key interesting feature is not about adding better Twitter support for DMs, or the ability to retweet messages, nor it is detailed information about Connections from LinkedIN; no, it’s a simple feature which has caught my attention on other platforms, and currently missing on Symbian (until now); the ability to sync Facebook photos into the local Contacts addressbook.  Although some people change their Facebook picture more often than they post on Facebook, for most people, this offers a way of keeping the pictures within your Contacts up to date without any effort, and for that, I support this feature.

If you want to try out this beta before a formal release occurs, head to m.sociallyapp.com/beta on your phone and try it out.  If you don’t want to try beta software, then head to m.sociallyapp.com for the standard release (or head to the Ovi Store).  Obviously to work, it needs a data connection to provide the information, so this, like many recent apps, isn’t really suitable without data support on your contract.


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Nokia Booklet 3G Review

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Nokia Booklet 3G

ZOMG It’s CJ has just published it’s review of the Nokia Booklet 3G, and it’s a very impressive review, covering all areas of the device, with a massive number of pictures too.  It’s well worth a read to find out more about this High End (although only medium spec) stylish netbook.

I was fortunate to be able to spend half an hour with a Nokia Booklet 3G a couple of weeks ago, and was quietly impressed.  The device was light, stylish, and very nice to use.  It’s not perfect though; due to the nicely sized keyboard (with a nice gap between each of the keys), the screen looks quite small in the top, and in fact, I wonder if Nokia will increase the screen size within the current laptop frame sometime soon.

The particular unit I tried also suffered from a small irritant in that the screen hinge was too loose, and allowed the screen to move too easily, making it difficult to walk around with the device in one hand (yes, not the best way to carry a laptop, but something that many people will do).  At times it felt like the screen would not stay put, although it never moved on it’s own it didn’t feel right (and speaking with others, this fault does not appear to afflict other models).

However, the main problem I found was the 1GB of memory made Windows 7 a little sluggish, and again, hopefully a memory upgrade will come soon to improve the device.  I wasn’t able to test the 3G functionality, but having 3G and HDMI built in does make the device very useful, and the battery was rather impressive too.  One other minor issue was that after being used solidly for over an hour, the CPU was making the case a little warm.

All in all, if you are after a very stylish device with a similar design ethos to a Macbook, but running Windows, then this device is worth a look; if you don’t need the latest greatest kit, I would suggest possibly waiting until the next version comes out to make it a truly all round device.

Thanks to the team at WOM World Nokia for letting me have a play with the Booklet (and thanks for the hospitality when I dropped in unannounced).


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INQ Chat 3G Review

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

INQ Chat & INQ Mini

In terms of the majority of the software on the phone, it’s very similar to the INQ Mini 3G that I covered here and here, so what’s different about the Chat, what’s good, and what’s bad?

Well, that QWERTY keyboard is the main physical difference, and it is a very nice keyboard.  It’s similar to the Symbian QWERTY layout, and just slightly different to the BlackBerry layout (the Symbol and Shift keys are reversed compared to a BlackBerry, which makes it a challenge to get used to if you are a long term BlackBerry user).

A GPS is the other key difference to the INQ Mini 3G, and to be honest, it sometimes took it’s time to get a fix, but generally worked ok.  The included Google Maps worked well with the GPS.  Unlike Symbian devices, there is no configuration control over the GPS settings, so no facility for changing the Positioning Server over to Google to help speed up the initial fix.  One downside of Google Maps was it was expecting numeric key input, and that meant pressing the Symbol and the relevant key to emulate a number; it was a shame it wasn’t aware of the QWERTY and mapped keys allowing a single key press for functions.  As with all Brew OS devices, there is no cell ID location function within Google Maps, which limits you to waiting for the GPS to find a fix; if you are used to a device that can also use cell ID location information, then this seems to impact the fast “locate me” type functions when you know roughly where you are and just want to seatch for something local to your position…

In general terms, the integration of the Social Networking apps remains a key selling point of this phone, bringing together Skype, Facebook and Twitter, and linking the first two into the Contact List too.  Personally, it felt like the Twitter app was more of an add-on, with less integration than the other two, and no facilities for downloading contacts or avatars like the Facebook and Skype apps offer.

It’s nice to see the INQ Hub included as standard on the INQ Chat 3G (see here for how to access from the INQ Mini 3G), and overall the phone seemed a nice device.  For a device which can be described as a smartphone (although only just, given it’s limited to Java apps) the battery lasted well over a day, and unless you are using Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger and Skype constantly, should easily last two days.  With all 3 apps turned on, it still managed to last over a full working day, which is certainly a key timeframe.

Compared to Symbian, the lack of worrying about Access Points and just letting the device go ahead and connect to the Internet for you was a nice refreshing change, although for many it may fell like a level of control has been taken away from you.  Of course, with no WiFi support, the only option is 3G connectivity, which helps with the simplification.

So, overall, you may think my opinion is that this is a good, cheap phone worthy of consideration…? Well, I’m afraid it wasn’t as perfect as I would have liked…  Firstly, start running all those Social Networking apps together, and the phone often freezes when one of them is performing an update in the background, which can leave the phone locked for a minute or two, and although it doesn’t come with the Social Networking support out of the box (yet), buying a Nokia E63 and adding Gravity (plus the 3UK specific Skype and WLM apps) gets you very close, with the additional benefit of a true multitasking OS, and WiFi support too (although no GPS).  If it wasn’t for the device feeling so underpowered, then I would be supporting it as a worthy device, but it did occasionally leave me very frustrated.

So, if you don’t want to run all the Social Networking apps all the time,but want a device with a QWERTY keyboard, and the ability to use your favourite Social Networking sites out of the box, then certainly go and try out the INQ Chat 3G; you may be pleasantly surprised at the functionality on offer given the price, and hopefully a firmware update, or software updates will resolve the responsiveness issues I found.

As always, thanks to 3mobilebuzz for the loan of the device, and if you want more information, or to purchase an INQ Chat 3G, then head to the 3Store to see more.


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A brief rundown of Locale

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Locale

We’ve mentioned Locale for Android a few times before, so we thought we should talk in some more detail about the application, the power it offers, and why, here at UK Gadgeteer where we like integration, it’s caught our attention.

Locale is designed to take actions based on your location (and many other triggers); a typical example is that of selecting a Silent profile when you arrive at a certain location, but Locale offers a lot more than that…

(more…)


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My Tracks Android app

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

My Tracks (Android)

A number of Android apps catch my attention, and My Tracks is one of those apps.  Like Locale (mentioned briefly here), it is a simple (and free) application which offers a useful facility; recording your journey, but being able to share that information with others.  In essence, it’s a bit like Nokia’s SportsTracker (which offered both the ability to record the information, but also share it via a website).

My Tracks screenshot of map My Tracks Graph

Having used My Tracks to record your trip, whether it’s a walk, cycle ride, or drive, you then have a variety of options of what to do with the data; upload to Google Maps, upload to Google Docs, or email or export gpx or kml files.  Whilst using the software, you also have various options for seeing real time statistics, and even create waypoints.

My Tracks detail My Tracks tracklist

I also like the way that it can interact with other applications (see here), and it seems to produce fairly accurate output too.

My Tracks little menu My Tracks menu

If you want to look at some sample outputs, the author has placed a sample Google Maps output here, although one of the Linitx guys has produced a couple of UK walks here and here; to see how useful My Tracks is; click on the end point of any of these tracks and see a whole range of useful statistics!  Also, here‘s what the Google Docs output looks like.

Thanks to Andy at Linitx for the screenshots of his lunchtime walks too!


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INQ Mini 3G Review

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

INQ Chat & INQ Mini

Well, I’ve had an INQ Mini 3G (courtesy of 3mobilebuzz) for a couple of weeks now, and overall, I’ve been quietly impressed by the phone.  From the automatic importing of Facebook and Skype contacts into the Contacts list, to the fact the phone has support for these Social Networking sites, and Twitter support, and all for less than £50!

Now, let’s be honest, I’m used to smartphones, and there are a number of little things that annoy me with the device; the start up sound can’t be cancelled by pressing a key (as per Nokia devices), and the whole menu system is a little bright and colourful for my taste (and with no theme support, no opportunity to change it either), but these are minor niggles, and certainly don’t detract from the phone.

Supporting Social Networking sites directly in the device, combined with the standard 3UK support of Windows Live Messenger makes this a well supported device, and well worth a look.  I liked the fact the homepage supports 3 widgets (I used weather, world clock and an RSS feed of the BBC website, all options built into the phone), although I have heard some people warn there may be a memory leak, as I’ve heard of people needing to reboot the phone after a long time turned on with widgets in use.  That’s a key issue to me; I rarely turn my phone off, so long term stability is key, and it maybe that a firmware / application update is needed to resolve these issues; hopefully they will be addressed before the INQ Chat ships.

The phone also shipped with Google Mail and Google Maps (v2.3.2; nice!), which was useful for people like me who use Google a lot, and the phone can be used with GooSync to sync data from the likes of Google Calendar too.  Personally, I found the calendar a bit simple when entering new entries, but I suspect most people will use the phone linked to Google or Outlook, and not enter directly onto the device (again, I’ve been spoilt by smartphones offering a decent Calendar app).  In fact, the only thing missing is the Last.fm scrobbling support that the INQ1 had, and it’s still not clear why INQ dropped this function, especially with the likes of Last.fm and Spotify moving more into the mobile space…

Again, a personal point, but it uses miniUSB (not the end of the world, although many manufacturers are moving to microUSB), which is used for both the headphones and charging.  With Bluetooth support for a headset in the car, this isn’t the end of the world, but I’m not a fan of the combined port; let’s hope when INQ move to Android next year we’ll see a dedicated headphone socket on their devices.  Whilst I’m looking at the hardware, I wasn’t a big fan of the way the rear cover clipped on (it did have a release button at the top, which makes it better than the Sony Ericsson T715 I reviewed here), but only just, and I couldn’t find any sight of the other 6 coloured interchangeable backs on the 3Store, so right now you’ll be stuck with the red back).

Let’s be honest, for the price and based on the software on this device; if you are not in the market for a smartphone but want connectivity options to keep upto date with your Social Networking sites, then the INQ Mini 3G should be high on your list of options, if not at the top.  Here at UK Gadgeteer, I’ve covered a number of hints and tips over the last few weeks, and INQ Mobile should be congratulated for providing online support, and being willing to engage with their customers.

When the INQ Chat arrives with the QWERTY keyboard, and GPS, it’ll be interesting to see whether INQ can still compete in the mid-tier marketplace against devices like the Nokia E63

Oh, and finally, a small point, but having performed a master reset of the device to return it, the phone still had all the contacts on it, plus the sign-in details for Skype, so if you ever decide to sell your INQ Mini 3G, be careful about removing all your personal data as well as performing a master reset.


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