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.

Changing the earpiece volume on a Nokia 1661

The Nokia 1661 is an entry-level phone so you’d have thought that they’d have made it obvious how to change the earpiece volume on the thing. However, it turns out to be something for which you do need to consult its manual and it’s not as user-friendly as it could be either. Seemingly, the earpiece volume only can be adjusted while you’re already on a phone call and you need to use the scroll key (push in left and right sides as needed) that could be right up against your face at the time! My way around this is to phone the speaking clock (123 in the U.K.) and adjust the earpiece while that call is in progress. Then, you’re set for future conversations with real people. Well, anything’s better than not being able to hear the other person due to background and my Nokia 1661 came with its volume set rather low on me, if I remember correctly. While I can appreciate the need to look after your hearing, you do need to have coherent phone conversations too.

A new phone

Nokia 1661

For someone with an more than passing interest in technology, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that mobile telephony isn’t one of my strong points at all. That’s all the more marked when you cast your eye back over the developments in mobile telephone technology in recent years. Admittedly, until I subscribed to RSS feeds from the likes of TechRadar, the computing side of the area didn’t pass my way very much at all. That act has has alerted me to the now unmissable fact that mobile phones have become portable small computers, regardless of whether it is an offering from Apple or not. After the last few years, no one can say that things haven’t got really interesting.

In contrast to all the excitement, I only got my first phone in 2000 and stuck with it since and that was despite its scuffs and scratches along with its battery life troubles. Part of the reason for this is a certain blindness induced by having the thing on a monthly contract. As that is not sufficient to hide away the option of buying a phone on its own, then there’s the whole pay as you go arena too. The level of choice is such that packages such as those mentioned gain more prominence and potentially stop things in their tracks but I surmounted the perceived obstacles to buy a Nokia 1661 online from the Carphone Warehouse and collect it from the nearest store. The new replacement for my old Motorola is nothing flashy. Other phones may have nice stuff like an on-board camera or web access but I went down the route of sticking with basic functionality, albeit in a modern package with a colour screen. Still, for around £35, I got something that adds niceties like an alarm clock and a radio to the more bread and butter operations like making and taking phone calls and text messaging. Pay as you go may have got me the phone for less but I didn’t need a new phone number since I planned to slot in my old SIM card anyway; incidentally, the latter operation was a doddle once I got my brain into gear.

Now that I have replaced my mobile handset like I would for my land-line phone, I am left wondering why I dallied over the task for as long as I have. It may be that the combination of massive choice and a myriad of packages that didn’t appeal to me stalled things. With an increased awareness of the technology and options like buying a SIM card on its own, I can buy with a little more confidence now. Those fancier phones may tempt but I’ll be treating them as a nice to have rather than essential purchases. Saying all of this, the old handset isn’t going into the bin just yet though. It may be worn and worthless but its tri-band capabilities (I cannot vouch for the Nokia on this front) may make it a useful back up for international travel. The upgrade has given me added confidence for trying again when needs must but there is no rush and that probability of my developing an enthusiasm for fancy handsets is no higher.