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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Vodafone update inclusive roaming data

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

I’ve covered Vodafone‘s data roaming before, but in the last day or two they have improved the deal.  Whereas before you could get 5MB per day of data roaming (within Europe, for £2/day or £10/month) they have now increased the limit to 25MB per day.  This makes the offer even more appealing, as most people are capable of keeping their phones below 25MB of data per day; before the 5MB per day limit seems designed to prevent accidental use of roaming data, but at 25MB per day I think it’s now designed to be actively used.

A few warnings and conditions of course; it’s opt-in (although recent PAYG users are automatically offered the service); without it the rates are higher, so well worth checking you have the facility. Outside of Europe, the cost is higher (£5/day with no monthly deal), and the costs are higher again for laptops / tablets.  However, if you have a recent £40/month or higher contract (often including 900 minutes or more) then you may actually get Data Traveller included with your contract (this also applies to SIM only contracts).

Thanks to Ben Smith at Wireless Worker for spotting the new tariffs.


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Gadget Show Live happening soon; a few tickets left

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

The Gadget Show Live 2011 takes place from 13th April to the 17th April at the NEC this year.  The Gadget Show Live team tell me…

“The Gadget Show Live has quadrupled in size since it began in 2009 and this year expects 100,000 visitors through the door. It features 250 of the world’s leading electronics firms, including Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, JVC, Nintendo and LG, and features many UK product premieres. New tech includes the latest smart TVs from Sony, Panasonic and LG, which boast not only the usual HD and 3D capabilities, but also a raft of streaming content and online applications.

Visitors can participate in numerous free features, including the new HUB Theatre, an entire hall dedicated to the Game Zone, the Future Technology Project and a larger interactive Test Track. There will also be a one hour long, live theatre version of the TV show in the newly designed Super Theatre (three times a day).

NEW TECH AND GAMES

As well as watching the new smart TVs, visitors can also try out the latest 3D photography and video equipment, such as the new high definition 3D camcorder from JVC (Everio GS-TD1). They can also watch a 3D printer re-creating real objects (on Bits from Bites stand, in Future Tech Project and in The HUB Theatre).

In addition, they can listen to the new Zeppelin Air from Bowers and Wilkins, which has the ability to wirelessly stream music for iPhones, iPads and computers running iTunes. They can also watch through the new augmented reality (AR) video eyewear from Vuzix, which enables 3D video viewing in real time, whilst overlaying the video with home-made 3D content.

A full on tablet war is predicted with all the leading contenders to the crown on show. The best in home computing can also be found with the full HD touch screen VAIO L-Series from Sony and the new multi-touch enabled AKOYA desktops from MEDION. For the house proud, there will be the new compact and lightweight robotic lawnmower from Husqvarna, the new lightweight cordless vacuum cleaner from Dyson – the Digital Slimô – and the next generation of domestic servants from iRobot.

The Game Zone (an entire dedicated hall in association with GAME), will include a major outing for the Nintendo 3DS, a live professional gaming tournament with a £5,000 cash prize from Alienware, plus their new 15 inch gaming notebook. New game launches include the first UK viewing of DiRT3 from Codemasters (released 24 May), the new Duke Nukem game from 2K games, EA’s Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed plus the European finals of the new Mortal Kombat beat-em-up from Warner Bros.

TECH OF THE FUTURE

The Future Tech Project is an unforgettable chance to experience technology of the future. This area includes 3D printing and robotics from Warwick University, mind controlled computing (www.neurosky.com) and even eye controlled computing, seen for the first time in the UK from Waterloo Labs (part of National Instruments).

There will also be a blurring of the real and virtual world with the latest augmented reality creations from T-Immersion, plus smart textiles and intelligent clothing from CuteCircuit, and wireless kitchen gadgets and food that can heat itself whilst still in its packaging (using the eCoupled countertop from Fulton Innovation).

NEW FREE HUB THEATRE

The new circular theatre offers free access to six daily presentations, led by Stuff TV’s Lucy Hedges and Radio One’s Aled Hayden Jones. They will do the hard work of filtering down the headline news and best tech at the show. Sessions will cover The Future Tech Project, T3’s hottest gadgets, a review of tablets and smart-phones, home gadgets and a music gadget review.

LATEST E-BIKES AND PERSONAL TRANSPORT DEVICES

The first street-legal electric bicycle, the Grace One, will launch at The Gadget Show Live – it’s a carbon neutral e-motorbike which can travel up to 28 mph (UK limit is 15 mph) and requires no driving license or registration, but you must be over 14. A huge range of vehicles, such as Segways and the latest electric bikes from Create, Dumco and Pacific, can be test-driven at the 1,000 square metre Test Track. There will also be a kids transport area with vehicles from Razor and the UK’s top professionals showing off their tricks on the Remote Control Demo Area.

Furthermore, those lucky enough to have a ticket for the Super Theatre will be blown away by a high-energy version of the TV show. Three times daily (each show seating 4,500 people), the presenters will demo the latest tech, whilst the audience participates to win prize – they’ll also see a Jason-cyborg and Suzi Avatar on stage.

…And if all of that isn’t enough, visitors can also find how to make the most of the latest digital cameras in the Photographic Workshop and check out the best in new 3D kit in the new 3D Theatre.”

If you are interested in attending, then there are still some afternoon only (2pm to 6pm) tickets left, which you can purchase at http://www.gadgetshowlive.net/. UK Gadgeteer is hoping to attend and report back on the useful and worthwhile stands to visit.


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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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Improvements to WikiReader

Friday, January 28th, 2011

I was impressed with the WikiReader when it was first released; a device with the ability to have an offline copy of the majority of Wikipedia loaded onto it, and available to access at any time. Well, the device has got better due to software updates. Now, not only can you get Wikipedia in a much wider choice of languages (about 18 when I last checked), the device has been updated to support other wiki sites too, including WikiQuote, Wiktionary and (just announced) WikiTravel, and you can also have the Project Gutenberg library of books (33,000 odd books!) on the device too.

When the device first shipped in 2009, it was with a 4GB SD Card, although if you are looking at adding multiple languages or the other wiki sites you’ll need an 8GB or 16GB card, and if you want to add Project Gutenberg too then it’s definitely a 16GB card that you’ll need. However, whereas before the update was simply a ZIP download, they have now developed their own update software (available in Windows or Max variants) which allows you to choose what you want to download.

This seems to make the device an ever more useful all round tool for reading up about the world; yes, for many of us we have access to all that data online whilst at home and visiting places, but for longer trips, or trips to more remote places (or even just abroad, given the continuation of high data roaming charges on mobile phones), I think the device has a use.

The device is available (for $99) direct from WikiReader, although I’m hearing they are working to setup a network of country based suppliers, so it’s possible that at some point you’ll be able to order in the UK and avoid customs fees and VAT on the import.  Also, when they launched they stated they would offer free updates online, and apart from the ever increasing memory card size requirements, they have live up to that claim, having released two updates during 2010 plus support for all the new wiki sites.


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Real life information on travelling abroad

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

A lot of us will be thinking of booking holidays for 2011, and many of us will then plan to take our mobile phone with us when travelling abroad, as we’ve all grown more accustomed to having 24×7 access to friends and the internet on our phones.  However, there are many costs associated with travelling abroad especially in terms of data roaming charges.  Andrew Grill has complied, over 2 posts, a list of sensible and real world advice on what’s worth considering in advance of travelling to minimise your costs, whilst still allowing connectivity and the ability to use your phone.

Andrew’s posts are here (part one) and here (part two), and are well worth a read.


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Skype and FON working together, but not in the UK

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Skype and FON have announced this week that Skype user can now access the Internet through the Skype Access WiFi option.  Skype Access allows instant internet access via WiFi using the Skype application, where you are charged €0.12 per minute for access via your Skype Credit.  Right now, Skype and FON are providing access for free (until the end of 8th December) through any FON hotspot.  Did I say any? Ah, there’s a small limitation; this access is not available in Japan or the UK, although neither Skype nor FON are giving a reason for this limitation.

However, if you are travelling abroad, then this might be an option worth considering. Of course, if you already have a FON hotspot device, then you can already access these 300,000 FON hotspots around the world for free (and that does include the UK ones too).

I’ve been a fan of both Skype and FON for some time, and it’s nice to see them working together.  However, without UK support, this may not benefit that many people reading this at all.


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Vodafone improve data roaming deals

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Although some details are still a little sketchy, it appears Vodafone has now launched some much better data roaming rates, and if you are a frequent traveller, then the rates appear to be even better.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that the data roaming rates only apply to certain countries (most, but not all of Western Europe); if you want to know more, then access this map which shows all the details of which countries (and which rates apply).

So, in many countries (including France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Austria) you can benefit from 25MB of internet data per day for just £2 per day.  In most other European countries (including Isle of Mann, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Finland) that same £2 per day gets you 5MB of data per day.  If you are a frequent traveller, then you can pay £10 per month to get the same amount of data per month.

You’ll need to opt in to the Vodafone Data Traveller, although if you are a PAYG customer, you can utilise it for free.  Equally, if you are on a recent price plan that costs £40 or more and get at least 900 minutes, then you can automatically get 25MB of data roaming per day at no extra cost.  For others, you’ll need to call 40062 from your phone to opt in.

These rates and deals will apply from 1 December 2010, and only apply to using your phone to access the Internet; they do not apply Mobile Broadband or using your laptop.

With the proliferation of people using their phones for data, and travelling abroad, it’s nice to see Vodafone offering some inclusive data allowance whilst roaming, which will benefit many people.  Of course, last year we saw 3UK remove their “3 Like Home” offer, so it’ll be interesting to see how they respond…


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London Underground trialling Wi-Fi on platforms

Monday, November 1st, 2010

It appears that from today, London Underground are starting a trial of Wi-Fi, which will cover both the station and the platforms.  Before you get too excited, firstly it’s only one station (Charing Cross Station), and it’s not free either (being part of the chargeable BT OpenZone system).

Having said that, it will offer free travel updates to all Wi-Fi users, and of course, many users (most but not all BT Broadband customers, and many iPhone owners) have some inclusive OpenZone minutes as part of their contract, so it will be very useful for many.

The trial will last 6 months, although it’s likely to expand (in my opinion) and become a key feature across multiple stations.  There are no plans for coverage within the tunnels.

More details on the TfL website.  Picture (c) Transport for London 2005.


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Thetrainline.com planning platform agnostic mobile ticketing

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Normally when I read about a company with plans for a mobile solution, it’s often limited to one single platform (and way too many times that’s just the Apple iPhone, or Android, and the company thinks it can claim having a “mobile solution”).  Well, not thetrainline.com; they’ve announced they want to produce a new mobile application that will allow you to buy tickets direct from your mobile, and what’s more, their idea of “mobile” covers the iPhone, Android phones, BlackBerry devices, Nokia Symbian devices and even “many other mobiles”.

Covering such a range is what I like to see; and for that I feel thetraineline.com should be praised. One interesting function within the app will be the ability to buy a ticket for “the next train home” (nicely integrating the timetable, location and time).  You’ll be able to collect your ticket from over 1000 train stations in the same way you’ve been able to from the thetraineline.com website, however, what’s also interesting is that for some trains, you’ll be able to receive the ticket directly as a secure barcode on your mobile, which will act as the ticket, and no need to collect or hold onto anything.

It looks like in the short term, the iPhone version is available, as is the Symbian S60 5th Edition and Symbian^3 version, with the BlackBerry and Android versions still “Coming Soon”.

Bringing mobile and ticketless train travel is something well worth talking about; planning to do this over every key mobile platform is even better, and deserves praise.

It’ll be interesting to see how their competitors (such as redspottedhanky.com and the individual train operators) react to this.


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