Thursday, 27 May 2010

It's here


Yesterday I collected the new HTC Desire phone from the post office and I now have an android powered headache from playing with the phone too much yesterday and today.

First Impressions
Even taking the phone out of the box you can tell that it is of very sturdy construction. The phone, although covered in plastic is incredibly strong. I would guess almost as strong and probably more durable screen wise than other phones which are coming out in aluminium and glass.

It is interesting that HTC has not provided software with the phone, but rather relies on users to download the software from the support site. This is not a problem for the vast majority of users, b
ut could present a problem for those who don't have internet access on their computer. The phone is very well connnected to the internet, so everything is also available in cloud form from Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Photoshop online, LastFM or Google docs, hence it is unlikely that you would actually need to connect your phone to your computer.


Interface
Despite some of the twits I have heard, the user interface is incredibly user friendly, and I have trouble using an iPhone. The options are easily accessible, the Android marketplace seems to be the place where I have spend the last 24 hours straight. If you don't like the way the phone is handling something, just download another app to replace the one you are using.

Telstra's additions to the UI including a plethora of shortcuts to websites hidden both in pseudo applications and modified default HTC applications such as the media player are just annoying. Yes occasionally I might check the news through the Bigpond home screen, but why would I do that when I have the ABC News application installed.

Of all the Social Reviewers I don't know a single one who is anything but irritated at the Telstra pseudo apps. Also using wifi none of the Telstra Apps work at all, including Foxtel mobile, useless!

Multiple home screens which you can scroll between, an invention of Android is such a great productivity gain that the new MS Windows mobile is poaching it for mobile 7, albeit implemented poorly so quick modifications cannot be made. The ease of widget and shortcut placement on the multiple desktops is amazing. And you can remove all of the Telstra pseudo apps from the home screen very easily :) (They remain in the apps menu).

Social Network integration is seamless, to the point where you start wondering where all of your friends info came from. I found that I have not even needed to transfer my contacts from my old phone because almost all of them are already there due to the desire automatically updating info. The constant updates of email, facebook and tweets is an incredible drain of time. It is however very easy to place the HTC power app on the home screen to disable auto updates throughout the work day.

It was dissapointing to see that Telstra distributed the phone without fully testing the phone after they made modifications to the software, it was only today that I did the update and got GPS working. I have not worked out how to use Voice Search yet.

I am dissapointed with the way the phone handles SMS and messaging. I would have expected that there would be a gmail like 'threaded conversation' application for SMS, but instead by default the inadequate HTC SMS application. I have replaced it with Handcent SMS manager for free.

Business
I have linked my phone up with email from both Gmail (Personal) and Microsoft Exchange (Work). I also work from home a bit through the Citrix Client app (Fantastic!). I have also been reading and working on documents using quick office and adobe PDF reader which are installed by default.

Gmail integration is seamless. All contacts, attachments and of course emails are very fast to access and read. One gripe however is that pinch zoom does not work in the gmail app which makes reading emails which are made up of mostly images very difficult.

I already have my exchange calendar synced with my exchange calendar at work through the google sync application. I am finding that the 'Agenda' view of the Calendar application is invaluable. Displaying meetings, time, location and contact details of those at the meeting.

Exchange integration (HTC designed) is great. I can access my work phone directory through my contacts (go to corporate directory) as well as read and reply to emails quickly. Downloading and reading document attachments is very easy also. Allowing me to do quick analysis and shoot a reply off almost as quickly as if I was at a computer.

Google docs sync is currently only by a 3rd party application, which I am disappointed with. I would really like to see a native application which you can download and edit documents without using the docs HTML interface. For all other documents the office application installed by default is quite good, but no google docs integration.

True Multitasking (Not apple) is brilliant, holding the home key allows you to jump back and forward between application and copy and paste info between applications.

Must Have Apps
I have concluded that there are some applications that everybody should not go without.
  • Aussie Weather Radar - Especially during cyclone season.
  • Google Maps - Rooted Version allows turn by turn voice navigation
  • Gesture Search - Brings old school transcription back to search
  • You Tube - Fills in much time
  • aLastFM Player - Streaming music
  • ABC News - Essential News Headlines
  • Bluetooth File Transfer - Nice interface and FTP server for bluetooth
  • RealCalc - Being an engineer a scientific calculator can come in handy
  • DataCounter Widget - Keep track of your expensive mobile data use
  • ES File Explorer - Tried a few file managers. This seems to cut the mustard
  • Epicurious - Recipies Galore
  • Google Finance - Forget Bigpond Finance, useless app.
  • GDocs - Integration with Google Docs
  • Gesture Search - Old school transcription
  • Google Translate - for working internationally
  • Handcent SMS - Replace the HTC SMS UI
  • Photoshop Mobile - Photo management and manipulation
  • Pkt Auctions ebay - Good eBay search and track tool
  • WiFinder - for when you are out and about. Avoids high mobile data charges.

For fun
  • Billy Goat Test - Best ever brain game
  • Google Sky Map - Brilliant astronomy tool
  • Invadroid - Space Invaders
  • Listen - Podcasting for android
  • Metal Detector - Actually works. I am using it as a wall stud finder for mounting frames
  • Paper Toss - Fun game, just like work
  • Google Scoreboard - Cricket scores live (no footy :( )
  • Shazam - Music identification
  • Google Shopper - Lookup products online by taking a photo
  • Total Footy - Live scores and ladder.
I am still looking for apps which provide:
  • Tide times
  • Fish identification
  • GPS Tracking Secret fishing spots
  • Map application that caches - used for 4x4 driving outside of mobile coverage
  • Good Golf game tracking and course info
  • Voice Transcription into text
  • VNC client
  • More Games
I will be posting more information about the actual use of the phone as a continue using it from day to day. I am expecting that as I explore more applications I will find new ways that the phone can come in handy.


Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Telstra's understanding of remote Australia needs

Having won a competition to review the HTC desire from Telstra on 14th May I was pleased to see that Telstra was interested in understanding the different needs of remote Australia.

I live in a remote Northern Territory town of 4000 people called Nhulunbuy (or Gove) which is only serviced via flights and a weekly barge for deliveries due to roads flooding during the wet season, as happens across the top end of Australia. Having items delivered by air mail is as fast as in urban centres for regular mail, taking only a couple of days for the item to get here. The barge however, which transports all ground mail can take up to 3 weeks depending on the weather conditions.

It is now the 25th May, 12 days after Telstra sent the item and the phone has still not arrived. I would put this down to the Australian Post service, however due to logistical and cost constraints it is understandable that low priority mail can take time to arrive. One possible conclusion is that Telstra, as an essential communication service, may not fully understand that being without a phone for weeks on end is difficult mentally and sometimes physically dangerous in an area which there are few people to help you in an emergency situation.

I am not suggesting that Telstra does not take this responsibility lightly, as there are maintenance acceleration programs in place which ensure that people with health problems have problems rectified as soon as possible. What I am suggesting is that there are still areas which Telstra may not fully understand the unique living conditions that remote Australia presents.

Again, I don't think this shows a lack of leadership or poor service on Telstra's behalf. What it does show is that with evolving communications and focus on cutting edge technology in urban areas that there needs to be equal attention paid to new solutions and improvements to remote services.

As for the phone, my hope is that it will arrive by the end of the week and I will be able to present some videos and reports on how telecommunications impacts on remote Australia.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

iPhone vs HTC Desire

Having not received my HTC desire for review yet, I have decided to do a review on the systems of the HTC Desire (Android) vs the Apple iPhone from a global community and competition point of view.
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Kickstart
There is no denying that the Apple iPhone has been a game changing phone. It has challenged phone manufacturers to step up to the plate and provide more than just the basic call and message system with some Java support which has been on all phones for around 10 years.

The kick start which Apple has provided the mobile world has both provided great opportunity for business and individuals to make money off the blooming world of mobile communications NG as long as you play by Apples rules.

Almost every large store, bank, social network, service provider has created an iPhone application, which cannot be recycled by moving
the application from one platform to another. One might say that this was a good investment as the number of iPhones exceeds the number of any other next generation mobile OS. However this is NOT true. By far Symbian is the highest selling mobile OS and Blackberry sells a vast number more phones than Apple.
(Source: Giga OM)

So the question stands, why have all these amazing applications 'popped up' just for the iPhone?

Why Open Source?
Since the early days of open source there have been many geeks who profess open source love to all, however there are now larger players stepping into the market, creating open source software which not only competes with 'closed' software but exceeds the closed systems is ease of use, speed and cost (free), such as Mark Shuttleworth, the South African astronaut who brought you Ubuntu (which I am using to write this article) and Google with the new Android OS.

Why are these people creating free software and how is it possible for them to be better than Windows or Apple operating systems?

Mark Shuttleworth and Ubuntu (Translates loosely to 'Humanity through relationships') have an agenda to make it cheaper and easier for people to use computers. Google however has a financial profit agenda. They want more people using the internet 'Googling' things to provide advertising revenue. This is not a bad thing, your search results have been provided this way for years.

The benefit with these operating systems and software is that YOU can change them. You can suggest better ways of doing things, create better graphics and icons or even reprogram part of the system to work better or be more secure. There is a very large community of open source users waiting for your suggestions. Android is no different, there is a development community who are waiting for you to make a suggestion.

Opportunities
The power of the new generation of open source mobile platforms such as Android is that application and service developers can create one application on their favourite development platform and then port it to other open source and closed source devices (all except Apple).

There has been many examples of Apple rejecting applications which people and companies have invested time and money without explanation. Due to the restrictive nature of the iPhone/iTunes symbiotic relationship and Apples strangle hold on all applications which can be run on an iPhone there is a good chance that Googles Android OS will fill the gap by allowing local install of applications without the need to Jail Break your iPhone out of it's closed source prison.

Apple has even rejected the possibility of developers creating applications in flash and translating them into an iPhone application using technology Adobe is about to launch.
Another example of good money after bad when developing applications for Apple OS.

Flash
Last but not least, the iPhone will not have flash support. This means that there are many websites which will simply not work on the iPhone. New social networks or favourite TV show sites which have not spent the money developing an Apple specific application will only be accessible using Android based phones.

The new Adobe Air development platform, along with the Open Source Screen Project have provided a path forward for application developers to move their content from PC to desktop to media player to TV.

Back to the future
The selection of mobiles which run open source software is vast, Symbian, Meebo and Android are just a few players. Android however has shown great promise, having Google invest millions into development and the 3rd party devices evolving fast. Some might say that just by restricting the iPhone OS to one device Apple has restricted rapid improvement of mobile technology, not to mention choice of devices.

I still don't know if the HTC Desire will be better than iPhone or a Sony Ericsson X10 or Motorola Droid. What I do know is that choosing an open mobile platform rather than a restrictive, closed OS designed only to run on one device provides choice into the future and a better end user experience in the long term.

Friday, 14 May 2010

HTC Desire - Telstra Social Reviewer



Telstra has given me the opportunity to review the new HTC (very) smart phone as a part of the Social Review program. To explain, I entered a competition and now along with 24 other people am an official reviewer of the phone.

I have been told that the phone should be here soon, which probably means Monday or Tuesday in Nhulunbuy. Once the phone gets here I am sure my blog will be flooded with my new posts, but I am not going to do an 'Unboxing Video' like all those other lackies on youtube. I am going to show you how the phone is used in everyday life such as taking photos, geocacheing, Navigation, golfing, fishing, you know, how everyday stuff can be made better with the fancy new phone.

If you have any suggestions for videos or tests for the phone while I am reviewing it please post a comment here or contact me on facebook.

Here is the official YouTube video of the HTC desire. I am looking forward to getting my hands on it.