Tuesday, December 21, 2010

HTC Desire HD Review

I recently purchased a HTC Desire HD to replace the Nexus One which unfortunately was starting to get a little unreliable keeping a data connection. Why the Desire HD? Well the decision wasn't an easy one, for the week leading up to the purchase, my mind was constantly switching between the Galaxy S and Desire HD. Infact if Virgin had a Galaxy S in stock when I first inquired this may have been a review on the Galaxy S. Eventually however, the Desire HD with it's camera flash, slightly larger screen, and less problematic GPS eventually one me over.

The first thing I noticed when I took the Desire HD out of the box was just how big this phone really is. I was a little concerned at first, it looked a little too big, and felt rather weighty. However, after a few minutes of playing around with it the weight didn't seem to be much of a problem and the phone fit surprisingly well in my hand. The phone also feels very solid thanks to an aluminium unibody case, which is in stark contrast to the plastic feel of the Galaxy S. While I'm on build quality one criticism I do have is the battery and sim compartments feel a bit fragile and could have been designed a bit better. I can see a lot of potential for them to break or deteriorate if constantly removed.

Lets be honest, the massive piece of glass on the front is the main calling card for the Desire HD and at 4.3inch it really is massive. Screen size is all well but unless the screen performs the extra size is rather worthless. So how does it fair against the competition? Well lets just be clear, it's more than adequate. The color representation is great, and the lower pixel density doesn't appear to subtract from the overall image quality at all. The only real issue I have, which is a rather pet peeve, is the light bleed from the SLCD in dark environments. The screen lights up the room substantially even when the screen image is black. Now that I've spent some time with both an AMOLED and SLCD screen I think the benefits outweigh the cons of the AMOLED technology, at least for my usage patterns.

General Performance
With 768MB of RAM there is no noticeable lag even with an uptime of a few days and 10+ apps running in the background. The UI is also very responsive with little to no lag swiping and scrolling. The app tray load is around average for most Android devices but in my opinion the scrolling seems to be smoother when compared to the Nexus One and Desire. All in all I couldn't be happier with the snappiness.

Call Quality
The phone clarity is also very good, it seems to handle in car calls a bit better than the Nexus One with very little to no fade out and higher clarity when traveling along the same routes. The clarity on the other end of the line is also very crisp and clear, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how much clearer voice was when listening to the Desire HD through my girlfriend's Milestone as apposed to the Nexus One.

Music and Video Payback
Music and video playback is equally surprising. Both stock music and video apps contain Dolby Mobile and SRS WOW HD sound enhancement and they really pack a punch. With even an average set of headphones I was surprised how much depth was added to the sound playback with good solid base and clear mids and treble. Another nice addition is the added DivX and XVid support straight out of the box, which is a good thing as the sound enhancements are only available to the Stock music and video players, which is quite disappointing. I would have thought it would make more sense to include them as a global equalizer rather than segregate them in individual apps.

The internet is where the larger screen really becomes a great asset, you wouldn't think a jump from 3.7inch to 4.3inch would add much, well I'm here to tell you when it comes to browsing that .6 of an inch makes a world of difference. The whole web experience is much less frustrating and I find myself using it more often than I did with the Nexus One.

As you can probably tell, I'm pretty happy with this phone. Solid performance, great screen real estate and a very enjoyable online experience. However, there is one thing I'm not happy about and that is battery life. In fact I'd go so far to say that it's rather abysmal. HTC recommend giving the battery 10 days to work itself in, and while I did notice an improvement through out the 10 days it wasn't exactly astounding. I honestly cannot see the reasoning behind putting the effort into creating such an amazing phone only to pair it up with a totally inadequate battery. I find myself having to charge it throughout the day in order to avoid running out of power by the end. Now to be honest I'm a pretty heavy user, I have auto sync on plus a few auto updating widgets and background processes so the average person may come out a bit better but don't expect miracles here.

+ Large crisp clear screen
+ Aluminum unibody design
+ DivX/xVid compatibility out of the box
+ SRS Wow HD and Dolby Mobile sound enhancement
+ Great performance
- Battery and simcard slots a little fragile
- Sound enhancements restricted to stock music and video apps
- Abysmal battery life
- Light bleed through

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Virgin Usage Meter Donate Version

I've just uploaded a donate version of Virgin Usage Meter. I want to assure everybody that there is no functional or support difference between the free and donate version, I've never liked that whole shareware sort of release model. The Virgin Usage Meter was always intended to be free and fully functional.

So rest assured that the donate version is an avenue for those who wish to throw a bit of spare change towards the app now have the ability to do so.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Virgin Prepaid Connection Problem Update

Thanks to help from an extremely helpful Whirlpooler named Saeko, I have managed to track down a few bugs and find a work around to the connection problems that were plaguing Virgin prepaid users. The Virgin Usage Meter should now work for prepaid accounts once again. If this is not the case please let me know by either comment or email.

Thank you for all of your understanding and patience.

I repeat, the Virgin Usage Meter is working for prepaid accounts once again!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Virgin Prepaid Connection Problem

Virgin is currently having HTTPS connection issues with prepaid accounts that are using the VirginInternet APN. Due to the Virgin Usage Meter using HTTPS for security, it it's not currently working for prepaid accounts. In some cases it could also be causing phones to freeze.

Until further notice it's recommended that you remove the widget and not refresh the data if you have a prepaid account.

I will update this post as more information comes in.

Update: 12/11/2010
It doesn't look like Virgin will be able to fix this quickly, so I'm looking into a work around. It will take some time so please bare with me I'm working as fast as I can.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

App Inventor Experiment - Advanced Tutorials Ahoy

With Maria flying through the basic tutorials (when time permits), she has completed the first of the advanced tutorials Mole Mash. After a few hairy moments like understanding why one global variable was being assigned to the other and the purpose of assigning a value to a global value that never changes, she was at the end of her tutorial staring with uncertainty at the extra activities. Oh yes dear readers, you heard correctly, not only must she work through the tutorials but she must also create solutions to the extra exercises at the end, and of course, all without help.

After some frustration, head scratching and me fighting the almost overpowering urge to rip the keyboard away from her and do it myself, she had completed the extra activities and was playing her first self created Android game. Unfortunately it was at that point she started to promptly shut up be quiet so she could beat the hell out of the poor defenceless mole.

Now onto some concerning observations. I am starting to witness some troubling changes in the participant. It is my observation that with every successful tutorial she completes her head size increases in size by a small fraction. Even more of concern is that the participant has starting to consider herself as an Android developer. Recently she has even gone to such lengths as to verbalize such a thing. I suppose this was likely to happen eventually, but in such a short time period? Maybe I should stop this before her head becomes so big that she can no longer fit through doors.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

T-Touch Tab - Telstra Steps Into The Fray

In the last couple of weeks Telstra has announced it is gearing up to step foot into the oncoming tablet war. Jumping on the back of the iPad frenzy it hopes to cut itself a piece of the market.

According to representatives, the T-Touch Tabs release will be close to that of the Galaxy Tab, which is arguably a good strategic move considering the T-Touch Tab is much more reasonably priced at around $299.

The big question is, will it be successful?

To try to answer that lets start with what Telstra has in it's favour.

The Network

It's undeniable that Telstra has the most extensive and reliable network reaching all over Australia. When people join the NextG network they know that in all but the most remote places they will have reliable internet access and a strong signal. Played right this should be a boon for Telstra's chances. The T-Touch Tab paired with a generous data plan should see the become a solid consideration.

Existing Customers

The other strength Telstra have is its existing customers and potential discounting. If customers can receive an extra discount for adding a T-Touch Tab onto their plan it may be the subtle push Telstra need to point them in the T-Touch Tabs direction. It may even sway some companies to pick up a few discounted tablets for trial.

Unfortunately, at least in my mind, that's as far as Telstra's advantages go. Now lets address some of the difficulties they will have walking into the oncoming war.

Customer Support

The first difficulty I see is Telstra's image and their track record in the area of customer support. It's no secret that Telstra has been on the receiving end of public customer complaints for quite some time. This however, becomes a considerable disadvantage when selling general consumer technology, even more so when you're competing against Apple and Dell who not only have a solid customer service reputation but also have a good head start. Consumers want to be sure that when things go wrong they can rely on the support of the company to get things right again. It will be a tough ask for Telstra to convince customers it is up to the job.

The Stand Out Factor

The other problem Telstra is facing is the stand out factor. Apple has been extremely successful in riding the cool factor. Love or hate Apple they know what the majority of consumers want and they provide it very well. Telstra's doesn't really have that and I honestly doubt Telstra's ability to come up with anything that has a promising wow factor. I'd love to be proven wrong but I think in the end the T-Touch Tab will be lost amongst the umpteen other tablets coming onto the market.

Final Thoughts

The tablet market is pipped to be saturated with many tablets coming to the market at around the same time. Telstra will be competing with companies who have long pockets and are veterans when it comes to competing in the general consumer technology market. Whether Telstra can be competitive in this market is unknown. One thing is for sure, they have a tough fight ahead of them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Over 1000 Active Virgin Usage Meter Installations

After checking the Android Developer Console I was surprised to see that Virgin Usage Meter now has over 1000 active installations. It has come a long way since it was a simple app with an awful red background and yellow usage bars. I remember how surprised I was when it first hit 100 active downloads and now it's 10 times that. While it's not the millions of active downloads some apps out there get it's definitely many more than I expected.

App Inventor Experiment - Kick Off

The App Inventor experiment has kicked off with Maria completing her first tutorial, the dreaded HelloPurr.

It was a stuttering start and after 1 or 2 unanswered questions I think she started to understand that I was unwilling unable to help her throughout the experiment even for the tutorials. I have to admit it was really hard to hold back the laughter as she struggled with the first initial hurdles. However, that was all the funny I was afforded as she tore through the tutorial in less than 20 minutes and was playing with her first complete Android app before I realized what was happening. Unfortunately I quickly realized she was using the app to terrorize the cat with meowing sounds. Perhaps she had ulterior motives for getting through the tutorial so fast?

App Inventor Experiment - The Criteria

As I promised in last post behold the experiment's criteria:
  • The app must be developed via Google's App Inventor
  • It should use persistent storage to store and retrieve data
  • It should display the stored data to the screen in some way
  • It must have a real world use and cannot be a usual "hello world app"
  • The interface must be considerably polished and not just thrown together
The criteria make for a pretty tough challenge for any developer, let alone somebody with no previous development experience and thinks if statements are what you use when deciding what cooking ingredient to use. So good luck to Maria, she's going to need it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Priority Inbox for Android and Hot Rebooting

Google have released an upgraded gmail app which gives Android users access to priority inbox as well as some other new features. For those of you wondering what priority inbox is, briefly it's a feature which organises your inbox based on the perceived importance of an email using a few different criteria. Apparently it has a learning ability so it gets more accurate over time. You can read more about it here. The new update can be found on the market.

A quick note for those of you using a custom ROM. If you receive an update unsuccessful message, you may need to un-install gmail first using titanium backup, adb, or terminal emulator. Make sure you reboot if un-installing from titanium backup.

The next app of interest is Hot Reboot by appelflap over at XDA-Developers. This gem of a utility speeds up the reboot time by leaving the kernel active and just rebooting the shell. In doing this the shell, apps, and running services are killed off leaving your phone in fresh state in about half the time of a full reboot. There will still be times when you need to do a full reboot but for most issues you should be back up and running much quicker.

You can get Hot Reboot from here

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Google App Inventor Experiment Commences

On opening up my in-box on Saturday I discovered a pleasant, if over due, surprise left to me by Google. With invitation in hand I had a quick conversation with Maria at The Gourmet Challenge who seemed a little nervous but acknowledged her petition as my lab rat.

For those of you who are asking yourself what exactly I am talking about have a quick read of this.

I promised on the previous post that I would post up the requirements of the app. Unfortunately I didn't get to look at App Inventor over the weekend so I'm not exactly sure of what it can and can't do. I will however post that information in the next couple of days.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Virgin Usage Meter Bug Submission

I've been writing a lot of bug replies lately, and most of them are pretty much carbon copies of each other describing what information I need in order to diagnose the problem.

In order to speed up the turn around of bug submissions I think it will be more efficient if I list some details here on describing what I need. That way I get all the information I need up front.

Things to include in your email:
  • A description of the bug
For postpaid accounts
  • A copy of your Bill Preview page (Save file as HTML)
  • A copy of your Mobile Internet Usage page (Save file as HTML)
For prepaid accounts
  • A copy of your Mobile Internet Usage page (Save file as HTML)
  • A copy of your Recharge History page (Save file as HTML)
Important: All data sent to me is private and confidential and will destroyed at the earliest time possible. Please note that I cannot extract passwords from any of the above files and will not abuse or share any of the data I receive.

First Dual Core Mobile

According to an internal document doing the rounds the MyTouch HD is set to be the first phone to surface with a dual core Arm processor. Whether or not the document is authentic is debatable however if true this is very exciting and could open the flood gates for other dual core phones and more complex apps.

The full rumoured MyTouch HD Specs
  • 1Ghz Dual Core CPU
  • 4GB Internal Memory
  • 8 GB SDCard Included
  • 5MP Camera
  • VGA Front Facing Camera
  • 3.8 Inch Screen
Read more here

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nexus One ROM leak: FRG33

Just a quick heads up that FRG33 has leaked for the Nexus One. This was originally hoped to be a leak of gingerbread considering the G in the version title, but alas it's only a Froyo update leak. Though as the saying goes, don't look a gift horse in the face.

Reports have said it appears to make things a big smoother and WIFI is more stable and a little quicker.

For those interested, head on over to the XDA-Developers forum and check it out.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Virgin Usage Meter Update

This is just a quick update to let you all know that the new theme is finished and pretty much ready to go. The changes were unfortunately much deeper than expected so much of the code base has undergone considerable change. Hopefully I will get the update onto the market by Friday, unless any new bugs arise.

Development Tip: Widget Updates

After battling with a complex widget design for the past couple of weeks, I've made a hard found observation. You must set all non-static widget fields on each update, even if the values haven't changed since the last update.

The reasoning behind this is if the widget is dropped out of memory and reloaded, it will display only the most recent update. Meaning any data from previous updates will be forgotten, leaving the widget with a partial update.

Doesn't sound very efficient to me!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

HTC Desire HD Leak

There appears to be a bit of information on the HTC Desire HD doing the rounds on the internet. While I'm a bit sceptical as it doesn't have the usual HTC industrial look, I'm also a bit excited. It sports a larger screen than the Samsung Galaxy S and comes wrapped in an aluminium case. This might be my next phone.

Unofficial Specs
  • 4.3 inch WVGA screen
  • Android 2.2
  • 8MP camera
  • 1Ghz processor (Assuming snapdragon)
  • 4GB of internal storage
  • Aluminium case

Edit: It appears my suspicions of this being a legit phone was a bit misplaced. Behold the video footage.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Nexus One: The New Developer Phone

For all those developers that still wish to lay their hands on the Nexus One without worrying about a contract, may have the chance. If rumours are correct Google is releasing the Nexus One as a developer phone. It is not available yet but is expected to surface in the near future.

This is a great move by Google as their current developer phone line up, consisting of a rebadged HTC Magic and Dream, is getting a bit long in the tooth and threatens to be come insignificant.

Still Waiting Invite

Just a quick update about the App Inventor experiment. Everything is raring to go and the participant is still chained to desk to avoid any escape attempts. All that is required is an invite from Google so we can get started. As soon as the invite finds its way to my inbox I'll commense the torture experiment.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Google App Inventor Experiment

The Introduction
Google is releasing one very interesting product for trial soon. The new product which is called App Inventor allows the development of Android applications using a simple drag and drop interface and requires very little coding. This will allow people with little or no previous programming experience to develop simple apps. At least that's the idea, but will it really allow somebody with no previous programming or development experience to create a polished well designed application?

The Experiment
There is only one real way to answer the above question and that is to test it in an experiment. The experiment will be an application development task which will be performed by somebody who has no previous programming or development experience. Their technical experience will be of an average level. While the task is being undertaken the participant will only have access to Google's App Inventor and any documentation that is provided with it, no other help will be available.

The Candidate
After much consideration I have found the perfect participant. Maria from The Gourmet Challenge fits the criteria perfectly. She has no previous coding experience and average technical skills which allow her to use a computer but sadly only allow her to complain when things don't work. As an added benefit she is very creative which should help with the initial application design. Apart from all that she still owes me one due to an interesting post she wrote about me a little while ago. I believe the words she used in that post were "sad tragic tech gadget geek".

In the next post I will outline the specifics of the application criteria.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Android 3.0 Gingerbread

In the IT world everything moves fast and Android is no different. Just as Android 2.2 (Froyo) has been officially release, we are now setting our eyes on the next increment of Android. So just what are the rumours concerning Gingerbread:
  • Recommended requirements: 1Ghz CPU, 512MB RAM and 3.5 Inch screen
  • Support for 1280 x 720 resolution on 4 inch and larger screens
  • Redesigned 3D user interface consistent with the Nexus One image gallery
The recommended requirements appear to be what I would have expected, high end of todays phones but reasonable for the time period that Gingerbread will be release in . The larger screen support is a welcome feature for those of use that are eyeing of an Android tablet in the next quarter or so. Hopefully this means that Google has accepted Android's position as a tablet OS and perhaps convince them to open the market up to tablets.

The most interesting rumour out of the bunch is the new 3D UI and what this will mean for companies that create their own user interfaces. A lot of people seem to think that this will spell the end for custom UI's like HTC sense. However without more information I would be hesitant to draw such a conclusion, it is more likely that this 3D UI is just an advanced launcher. If that's the case it will simply be business as usual.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tutorial - Determinate Horizontal Progressbar Theming

Sometimes it makes sense for Android apps to use horizontal progressbars to display quantitative data. The problem in using progressbars for this is that the colour is linked to the current theme of the ROM you are using. In generic Android this is a ghastly yellow and in the Desire ROM it is an even worse green colour. While it's not too bad if the progressbar is just being used as a progress bar, it isn't exactly desirable when using it to show data in your app. The good news is that you can manually theme the progressbar to suit your app and make it consistent between different ROMs.

This tutorial is relatively simple but it does assume you have a working Eclipse environment setup for Android development.

As we will be skinning a determinate horizontal progress bar, as apposed to the circular animated progress bar, ensure that the style of your progress bar is set as follows:

When the Android OS displays a view it uses a default xml drawable file to determine what colours should be used when displaying. As we don't want to start skinning the bar from scratch, we'll take the default file and copy it into our projects drawable folder. The file we will need is found at:
<AndroidSDK Root Directory>\platforms\android-<version>\data\res\drawable

Now that we have our own copy of the progressbar's drawable file we want to set the progress drawable attribute of our progress bar to point to it. To do this select the target progressbar and scroll down to Progress Drawable in properties. In the values section type
@drawable/progress_horizontal, alternatively you can use the ... button in the Progress Drawable value field and browse for it.

Now that we have our progressbar pointing to our own drawable we can start to modify the XML. Open up the drawable XML file in Eclipse and you will see that it contains three main sections/ You can safetly ignore the background section as we are only interested in the secondaryProgress and progress sections.

You'll notice that each of these sections contains three colour values for creating gradients, startColor, centerColor and endColor. Each of these colour values are broken up into two parts, a two digit alpha value and a six digit RGB value.

An important thing to note is that the only difference between the startColor, centerColor and endColor of the progress section and the startColor, centerColor and endColor of the secondaryProgress section is the alpha values. This means that when we modify the RGB value of one value we must also copy it across to the corresponding value in the other section. Be careful not to accidentally copy over the alpha portion, it will throw off the 3D effect.

To begin customizing the theme we must first pick the desired colour. Fire up your favorite photo editing program and pick your desired colour on the colour picker. Now copy the corresponding RGB values into the CenterColor fields in both sections. Remember not to copy over the alpha values.

Next we want to lighten the colour a couple of shades and copy the RGB values into both endColor fields. Lighten the colour again, but this time copy the RGB values into the startColor fields. By using three different shades we are able to keep a consistent 3D look like that of the original progressbar.

There you have it, a custom themed progressbar. You may need to tweak the shading differences a few times to get the best results.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rock Player - public beta

Just a quick heads up for those that are enjoying the leaked Rockbase player. A new public beta version is now available.

From my own personal testing the performance doesn't appear to have improved much, if at all, when compared to the leaked beta. Unfortunately the FPS meter is no longer available which leaves numerical comparison out. One thing I did notice was that H.264 format media I used for testing contained block artifacts which is in stark comparison to the leaked beta which had perfect picture quality.

Considering the performance is roughly the same and the visual quality appears to be better on the leaked version I wouldn't recommend upgrading at this stage. Though if you have specific issues with playback, it might be an idea to try out the new public beta to see if it has been fixed.

Another thing to note is that the public beta adds a non-removable water mark to videos top left corner and expires on July 15. The leaked beta doesn't contain this water mark although I'm not sure if it contains an expiry, I'd be surprised if it didn't.

You can get the public beta from here

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rock Player - DivX and MKV player

I've been on the lookout for a multi-format video player for a while now. Unfortunately the only thing that comes close to a multi-format media player is yxplayer which I've never managed to get working for any other formats than the Android defaults. Well that is until I stumbled across RockPlayer.

RockPlayer is a multi-format beta video player that is not only extremely stable but works surprisingly well. In all of my testing RockPlayer never forced closed even when it was brought to its knees by 720p content.

To test this app's capabilities I used 3 different resolution videos, ranging from your usual 350MB TV episode through to 720P content. The results were rather encouraging.

ResolutionVideo FPSRendered FPS Image Quality Audio Quality
AVI640 x 368 30
29 - 30 Excellent
1280 x 528 23
16 - 17 Excellent
1280 x 720 26
5 - 6 Excellent

If you're looking for something to play HD content then this isn't going to be your silver bullet, well not at the moment anyway. Though for those of you who want to watch videos a little less daunting this may be just the thing you need. Keep in mind though that your mileage may vary on less powered phones.

It can be downloaded here

Full credit to Modaco website for bring this to my attention.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Motorola Droid 2

I've always been a big fan of the Motorola Droid and Milestone. The screen is beautifully crips and clear, the keyboard while not very useful for my fat fingers is a god send for the Mrs. The main attraction for me, is it just feels solid. The cold weighty steel casing gives the impression of a phone that's been built with consideration and care. Infact if Motorola opened the bootloader for the milestone I'd sell my Nexus one and purchase one without a second thought. So it goes without saying when I heard about the Motorola Droid 2 my ears pricked up and I could feel that deep down excited feeling.

The hardware specs look pretty good, not extremely impressive, but still a considerable improvement over the original. A nice and welcomed bump in processor speed from 500 to 750 and a new keyboard are just what the doctor ordered.

  • Android 2.1
  • 3.7″ screen
  • 750MHz OMAP processor
  • Wi-Fi tethering
  • 8GB internal
  • 8GB SD card preinstalled
  • Updated keyboard
  • 5MP camera
  • New version of Motoblur

The obvious let down here is no Froyo but without a release date set it's really early days. I wouldn't be supprised if there was an update for Android 2.2 shortly after release. The other interesting thing here is no front facing camera and no HDMI port. Neither of those things are a deal breaker for me. I've never been really excited by video calls and a quick transfer to a computer or laptop is easy enough to warrant a HDMI port a little redundent.

Though out of all the improvements I have to say the new boot screen is the best improvement in my opinion.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Google forced my hand

What happens when Google's Android Market doesn't quite work properly? I'm forced to annoy the poor online world with a blog containing my own Android Apps.

I also hope to drop a few tutorials here as well, although I'm not known for my consistency when it comes to things like this. The wonderful author of The Gourmet Challege is still waiting for me to finish an entry on the "Great Melbourne Raman Hunt". I'll finish it I swear!

The one thing that you will certainly find here is the most recent version of any of my Apps which at the moment total a massive one.