A new phone

After a few years with a straightforward Nokia 1661 and a PAYG Blackberry 8520, I decided to go and upgrade from the former to an HTC Wildfire S. So far, the new phone has been good to me with only a few drawbacks. Other than working out how to insert a SIM card, the phone has been easy to use with just a few nuances to learn, such as finger pinch zooming and dealing with an onscreen keyboard as opposed to a real one.

The touchscreen interface and the 3G capability are the big changes from my Blackberry and both make web browsing so much faster too, especially with the larger screen. For instance, checking RSS feeds with Google Reader and emails is so much faster on the move with the screen being very responsive most of the time that I am using it; it does get dirty like others so either a screen cover or frequent cleaning with a camera lens cloth would be no bad thing. The onscreen keyboard remains something to which I need to grow accustomed and probably is the one area where the Blackberry continues to hold sway though turning the phone sideways and tapping it on the side to change orientation helps a lot. That makes the keys larger and, while my finger are not the thickest, there are fewer cases of hitting the wrong key. Even then, you need to get used to switching between alphabet and numeric keyboards and that applies also when you need punctuation marks like commas and so on.

Otherwise, the user interface is bright and pleasing to the eye with the typical presentation of both a clock and current weather on there. Handily, the screen is locked easily too with a press of the button at the top right of the phone. That will put a stop to inadvertent phone calls, emailing, web browsing and other things so it is to be commended. To unlock the screen, all that’s needed is to swipe the lock bar to the bottom. Any alerts are viewed in a similar way with holding down your finger on the top bar presenting an extension that can be pulled all of the way down to see what’s there.

With an icon for the Android Marketplace on the main screen, I got to adding a few apps and you can set these to update automatically too but you need to watch your phone contract’s data allowance. The one for WordPress works better than it does on my Blackberry but it seems that retweeting with UberSocial is much less good on the Android platform. For one thing, feeds for all accounts are presented on the one screen and swiping left to right is needed for replying, retweeting and other operations and that’s not working out so smoothly for me yet. Maybe I’ll try an alternative. There are others that I have downloaded too and these include one from CrossCountry Trains and that seems to be a nice offering even if it failed to find trains between Macclesfield and Edale of a Sunday morning. For those omissions, I have an alternative in place and I also have the LinkedIn app too. That seems to work well too. Usefully, it is possible to move these to the phones microSD card to avoid filling up the limited space that’s on offer. However, that isn’t to say that I will be going mad on these things.

Of course, any phone should be good at making and taking phones and the Wildfire seems to be doing well on this score too. Firstly, contacts were read from the SIM but they can be transferred from an old phone using Bluetooth connections too. Sound is good and loud though you need to be on a call to adjust the speaker volume with the rocker button on the side of the phone. Otherwise, that just changes the volume of the ring tone. Without any adjustments, the phone seems to vibrate and ring at the same time though that may be something that I get to changing in time. The pings emitted when new text messages, emails or tweets fall into the same category.

If there’s any downside to this phone, it has to be battery life. Unlike others that I have had, this is a phone that needs charging every night at the very least. Maybe that’s the price of having a nice bright responsive screen but it would be no harm if it lasted longer. Others have found the same thing and reported as much on the web though some have having worse experiences than others. There are some hints regarding how to conserve battery life but they include such things as switching off 3G or data capabilities and neither appeal to me; after all, I might as well use my old Nokia if this is all that can be offered. Instead, I am wondering if acquiring a spare battery might be no bad idea because that’s what I do for my Pentax DSLR (note in passing: I haven’t got to using the phone’s own camera but recent wintry weather had me tempted by the idea, especially with the likes of Twitpic and YFrog out there.). Taking things further, others have mentioned getting a larger capacity replacement but that sounds more risky.

All in all, first impressions of the HTC Wildfire are good ones. Over time, I should find out more about the ins and outs of the gadget. After all, it is a mini-computer with its own operating system and other software. Since I continue to learn more and more about PC’s everyday, the same should be the case here too.

A little more freedom

A few weeks ago, I decided to address the fact that my Toshiba laptop have next to useless battery life. The arrival of an issue of PC Pro that included a review of lower cost laptops was another spur and I ended up looking on the web to see what was in stock at nearby chain stores. In the end, I plumped for an HP Pavilion dm4 and it was Argos that supplied yet another piece of computing kit to me. In fact, they seem to have a wider range of laptops than PC World!

The Pavillion dm4 seems to come in two editions and I opted for the heavier of these though it still is lighter than my Toshiba Equium as I found on a recent trip away from home. Its battery life is a revelation for someone who never has got anything better than three hours from a netbook. Having more than five hours certainly makes it suitable for those longer train journeys away from home and I have seen remaining battery life being quoted as exceeding seven hours from time to time though I wouldn’t depend on that.

Of course, having longer battery life would be pointless if the machine didn’t do what else was asked of it. It comes with the 64-bit of Windows 7 and this thought me that this edition of the operating system also runs 32-bit software, a reassuring discovering. There’s a trial version of Office 2010 on there too and, having a licence key for the Home and Student edition, I fully activated it. Otherwise, I added a few extras to make myself at home such as Dropbox and VirtuaWin (for virtual desktops as I would in Linux). While I playing with the idea of adding Ubuntu using Wubi, I am not planning to set up dual booting of Windows and Linux like I have on the Toshiba. Little developments like this can wait.

Regarding the hardware, the CPU is an Intel Core i3 affair and there’s 4 MB of memory on board. The screen is a 14″ one and that makes for a more compact machine without making it too diminutive. The keyboard is of the scrabble-key variety and works well too as does the trackpad. There’s a fingerprint scanner for logging in and out without using a password but I haven’t got to checking how this works so far. It all zips along without any delays and that’s all that anyone can ask of a computer.

There is one eccentricity in my eyes though and it seems that the functions need to be used in combination with Fn for them to work like they would on a desktop machine. That makes functions like changing the brightness of the screen, adjusting the sound of the speakers and turning the WiFi on and off more accessible. My Asus Eee PC netbook and the Toshiba Equium both have things the other way around so I found this set of affairs unusual but it’s just a point to remember rather than being a nuisance.

HP may have had its wobbles regarding its future in the PC making business but the Pavilion feels well put together and very solidly built. It commanded a little premium over the others on my shortlist but it seems to have been worth it. If HP does go down the premium laptop route as has been reported recently, this is the kind of quality that they would need to deliver to just higher prices. Saying that, is this the time to do such a thing would other devices challenging the PC’s place in consumer computing? It would be a shame to lose the likes of the Pavilion dm4 from the market to an act of folly.

Battery life

In recent times, I have lugged my Toshiba Equium with me while working away from home; I needed a full screen laptop of my own for attending to various things after work hours so it needs to come with me. It’s not the most portable of things with its weight and the lack of battery life. Now that I think of it, I reckon that it’s more of a desktop PC replacement machine than a mobile workhorse. After all, it only lasts an hour on its own battery away from a power socket. Virgin Trains’ tightness with such things on their Pendolinos is another matter…

Unless my BlackBerry is discounted, battery life seems to be something with which I haven’t had much luck because my Asus Eee PC isn’t too brilliant either. Without decent power management, two hours seems to be as good as I get from its battery. However, three to four hours become possible with better power management software on board. That makes the netbook even more usable though there are others out there offering longer battery life. Still, I am not tempted by these because the gadget works well enough for me that I don’t need to wonder about how money I am spending on building a mobile computing collection.

While I am not keen on spending too much cash or having a collection of computers, the battery life situation with my Toshiba is more than giving me pause for thought. The figures quoted for MacBooks had me looking at them though they aren’t at all cheap. Curiosity about the world of the Mac may make them attractive to me but the prices forestalled that and the concept was left on the shelf.

Recently, PC Pro ran a remarkably well-timed review of laptops offering long battery life (in issue 205). The minimum lifetime in this collection was over five hours so the list of reviewed devices is an interesting one for me. In fact, it even may become a shortlist should I decide to spend money on buying a more portable laptop than the Toshiba that I already have. The seventeen hour battery life for a Sony VAIO SB series sounds intriguing even if you need to buy an accessory to gain this. That it does over seven hours without the extra battery slice makes it more than attractive anyway. The review was food for thought and should come in handy if I decide that money needs spending.

A useful little device

Last weekend, I ran into quite a lot of bother with my wired broadband service. Eventually, after a few phone calls to my provider, it was traced to my local telephone exchange and took another few days before it finally got sorted. Before that, a new ADSL filter (from a nearby branch of Maplin as it happened) was needed because the old one didn’t work with my phone. Without that, it wouldn’t have been possible to debug what was happening with the broadband clashing with my phone with the way that I set up things. Resetting the router was next and then there was a password change before the exchange was blamed. After all that, connectivity is back again and I even upgraded in the middle of it all. Downloads are faster and television viewing is a lot, lot smoother too. Having seen fairly decent customer service throughout all this, I am planning to stick with my provider for a while longer too.

Of course, this outage could have left me disconnected from the Internet but for the rise of mobile broadband. Working off dongles is all very fine until coverage lets you down and that seems to be my experience with Vodafone at the moment. Another fly in the ointment was my having a locked down work laptop that didn’t entertain such the software installation that is needed for running these things, a not unexpected state of affairs though it is possible to connect over wired and wireless networks using VPN. With my needing to work from home on Monday, I really had to get that computer online. Saturday evening saw me getting my Toshiba laptop online using mobile broadband and then setting up an ad hoc network using Windows 7 to hook up the work laptop. To my relief, that did the trick but the next day saw me come across another option in Argos (the range of computing kit in there still continues to surprise me) that made life even easier.

While seeing if it was possible to connect a wired or wireless router to mobile broadband, I came across devices that both connected via the 3G network and acted as wireless routers too. Vodafone have an interesting option into which you can plug a standard mobile broadband dongle for the required functionality. For a while now, 3 has had its Mifi with the ability to connect to the mobile network and relay Wi-Fi signals too. Though it pioneered this as far as I know, others are following their lead with T-Mobile offering something similar: its Wireless Pointer. Unsurprisingly, Vodafone has its own too though I didn’t find and mention of mobile Wi-Fi on the O2 website.

That trip into Argos resulted in a return home to find out more about the latter device before making a purchase. Having had a broadly positive experience of T-Mobile’s network coverage, I was willing to go with it as long as it didn’t need a dongle. The T-Mobile one that I have seems not to be working properly so I needed to make sure that wasn’t going to be a problem before I spent any money. When I brought home the Wireless Pointer, I swapped the SIM card from the dongle to get going without too much to do. Thankfully, the Wi-Fi is secured using WPA2 and the documentation tells you where to get the entry key. Having things secured like this means that someone cannot fritter away your monthly allowance too and that’s as important for PAYG customers (like me) as much as those with a contract. Of course, eavesdropping is another possibility that is made more difficult too. So far, I have stuck with using it while plugged in to an electrical socket (USB computer connections are possible as well) but I need to check on the battery life too. Up to five devices can be connected by Wi-Fi and I can vouch that working with two connected devices is more than a possibility. My main PC has acquired a Belkin Wi-Fi dongle in order to use the Wireless Pointer too and that has worked very well too. In fact, I found that connectivity was independent of what operating system I used: Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Windows XP and Windows 7 all connected without any bother. The gadget fits in the palm of my hand too so it hardly can be called large but it does what it sets out to do and I have been glad to have it so far.

Extending ASUS Eee PC Battery Life Without Changing From Ubuntu 11.04

It might just be my experience of the things but I do tend to take claims about laptop or netbook battery life with a pinch of salt. After all, I have a Toshiba laptop that only lasts an hour or two away from the mains and that runs Windows 7. For a long time, my ASUS Eee PC netbook was looking like that too but a spot of investigation reveals that there is something that I could do to extend the length of time before the battery ran out of charge. For now, the solution would seem to be installing eee-control and here’s what I needed to do that for Ubuntu 11.04, which has gained a reputation for being a bit of a power hog on netbooks if various tests are to be believed.

Because eee-control is not in the standard Ubuntu repositories, you need to add an extra one for install in the usual way. To make this happen, launch Synaptic and find the Repositories entry on the Settings menu and click on it. If there’s no sign of it , then Software Sources (this was missing on my ASUS) needs to be installed using the following command:

sudo apt-get install software-properties-gtk

Once Software Sources opens up after you entering your password, go to the Other Software tab. The next step is to click on the Add button and enter the following into the APT Line box before clicking on the Add Source button:

ppa:eee-control/eee-control

With that done, all that’s need is to issue the following command before rebooting the machine on completion of the installation:

sudo apt-get install eee-control

When you are logged back in to get your desktop, you’ll notice a new icon in your top with the Eee logo and clicking on this reveals a menu with a number of useful options. Among these is the ability to turn off a number of devices such as the camera, WiFi or card reader. After that there’s the Preferences entry in the Advanced submenu for turning on such things as setting performance to Powersave for battery-powered operation or smart fan control. The notifications issued to you can be controlled too as can be a number of customisable keyboard shortcuts useful for quickly starting a few applications.

So far, I have seen a largely untended machine last around four hours and that’s around double what I have been getting until now. Of course, what really is needed is a test with constant use to see how it gets on. Even if I see lifetimes of around 3 hours, this still will be an improvement. Nevertheless, being of a sceptical nature, I will not scotch the idea of getting a spare battery just yet.