The HTC Desire seems a popular phone, I keep noticing it where ever I go. I've had one for nearly a year now and am very happy with it, apart from a few gripes, so it was interesting to receive a HTC Desire S on review to see what has changed in the new model. Unlike the Desire Z and Desire HD which offered different hardware options (a keyboard and a bigger screen respectively), the Desire S is designed as a successor to the original. It is about the same size and has the same 3.7” 800x480 resolution screen, but a lot about the phone has changed, and it has picked up a few new features..
Crossing the road towards the venue I was looking for I stopped at stared at the building in the distance. It was looking rather sorry for itself, broken windows, graffiti and a tired concrete look. Outside, a woman in a grey boiler suit directed me to the press/guest list queue. This rather odd venue is the “Old Sorting Office” in the heart of London and the location of Thursday's (March 31st) launch of Sony Ericsson’s much anticipated “Playstation phone” officially named the Xperia Play. Inside was a party venue that was a complete contrast to the outside of the building, a location inspired by computer games and the sights of the far east. It might have been a sorting office once, but for that day only it was the "Xperia Play Rooms". This was going to be an interesting evening.
Despite spending the last few years following the mobile scene and trying out lots of different phones the Blackberry has remained somewhat of a mystery to me. On many occasions when taking the train I would go past smart looking business people reading their emails on them while I trying to find a seat and this reinforced the idea in my head of this being a business phone, but it seems teenagers quite like the Blackberry too, a fact which both surprised and intrigued me. To end my ignorance of this brand I have been trying out the Blackberry Torch 9800; a touch screen phone with a slide out keyboard. It is also the most expensive phone I have ever reviewed, weighing in at an eye watering £40 per month on a twenty-four month contract.
*** Update! See: RefSignals: A quiz app built using App Inventor - how to stop repeated questions for an improved version of this app! ***
I've been going on quite a lot about Google's App Inventor for Android to anybody who will listen recently. An example application I show them is one I built as a result of a conversation I had with my friend Georgina Parsons while we were sat in an ice rink in Gothenburg, Sweden watching a great match between the Frölunda Indians (the local team) and HV71. Ice hockey is a shared interest of ours but normally we attend matches in England so following proceedings in Swedish could be tricky. Fortunately the referees have a series of standard signals they make to indicate which penalties they are calling and our conversation turned to how it would be great to have a mobile app to help us learn those signals.
Many organisations are offering rich Linked Data stores now that you can interrogate with the SPARQL language. This data might be interesting for the mobile app developer to work with so it would be great to be able to experiment with this data in Google App Inventor for Android applications. At the moment you cannot do this directly as App Inventor only offers quite limited functionality to interact with the web, however with the help of a server side "bridging script" we can close that divide and send a SPARQL query from inside the application and deal with the results we get back.
Something I have been meaning to do for ages is to have a go with a MeeGo image on a Nokia N900. MeeGo is a Linux distribution intended for embedded devices and netbooks. It is the merger of Nokia's Maemo project and Intel's Moblin project and aims to produce a distribution suitable for use on set top boxes, mobile phones, tablets, in-vehicle entertainment systems. It is also backed by The Linux Foundation who are already offering a training course in it. At the end of October MeeGo v1.1 was released which includes an installable image with a user interface for the Nokia N900.
Back in July I wrote about an Android tablet computer that I picked up on Amazon for £85. This is a really interesting device and seemed to do quite a lot. A couple of things really let it down though, its speed and the fact that you could not use Android Market with it, making obtaining most Android applications quite difficult. Fortunately a group of enthusiasts have formed a community around this device, the Eken M001, and similar devices over at Slatedroid.com. A couple of people there have put together a new firmware image which is still in beta but I've been trying it out and I am impressed so far! The tablet now has a working Market and feels much more responsive.
I am a big fan of Delicious the online bookmarking site. It has proved very useful to me as a way to find information and build a collection of links that are useful to me. Delicious also has a really good mobile site and can be a good way to retrieve links from earlier research while out and about. One issue that is always a bit fiddly with mobile devices though is text entry, so wouldn't it be great if we could just say out loud what terms we would like to search for and populate the search box with that? Interestingly this is quite an easy facility to build with the new Android App Inventor. In just a few clicks we can build an application that takes voice input, processes it and then launches a web page with a search box populated with those terms.
Recently I got my invite to try out the beta of Google App Inventor for Android, a simplified environment to enable people to create applications for Android based phones using visual building blocks instead of a programming language. Google have written extensive set up instructions to get your computer and phone set up: http://appinventor.googlelabs.com/learn/setup/index.html but also on this page is a bit of text that could cause us trouble: "If you are using GNU/Linux, then you should use Sun Java rather than OpenJDK. App Inventor does not work well with OpenJDK." Unfortunately OpenJDK is the default for Ubuntu 10.04 and it might not be obvious how to get the Sun version, so I thought I'd better document what I did to get it working.
Back in June I attended an event where the new version of 3's MiFi was shown off publicly for the first time. I was impressed then with it and the improvements over the original version and have now, thanks to ThreeMobileBuzz had the chance to trial one of these, putting it through its paces in a variety of situations. The device did not disappoint and proved useful in many situations and easy for people to use. The MiFi 2 feels a lot easier to use than its predecessor. This is perhaps odd as the MiFi 1 was not very difficult to use, but never really felt responsive. The lights on the front of the original unit sometimes didn't help much and when starting up the device, if you are in impatient type, it was easy to think that it was not working. The one button design of the MiFi 2 and the informative screen solve all of this by providing a very obvious visual indication of what the device is doing. It is really easy to tell when it is starting up, or ready to use and the availability of this information greatly enhances the user experience. You get help cards and a set up guide to help you on your way too.