Posts Tagged 'Flickr'

My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Three – Thoughts on Android

After reluctantantly saying goodbye to my HTC HD2 Windows Mobile 6.5 device earlier this year, I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, a Windows Phone device and an Android device for a few weeks at a time each, using them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read about my original motivations for this experiment here.

You can read part one of this experiment – my thoughts on the iPhone here.

You can read part two of this experiment – my thoughts on the Windows Phone here.

HTC SensationAt the start of September, my friend Steve Silk at Staffordshire University provided me with a HTC Sensation running Android 2.3.

So how did I find it? Read on!

Firstly, this experiment isn’t about the handsets themselves – it’s more about understanding the capabilities of the various Mobile Operating Systems out there. That said, the HTC Sensation looks beautiful – with a large bright 4.3” screen, very thin design but comfortable enough in the hand – plus a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, making it really fast in use, and an impressive 8 Mega-Pixel Camera.

I initially felt uncomfortable using the catch to take the back of the case off to insert the SIM card, as the case does feel plasticky and flimsy, but got used to it over time. The Micro-USB charging slot is on the left hand side, which feels awkward too – and the power button on the top of the device doesn’t feel comfortable initially as it’s too thin, but again, you get used to it. You’ll hear that phrase “I got used to it” a lot…

The Sensation boots up quickly… sometimes. I’ve gone from pressing the power button to entering my SIM PIN and being at the home screen in as little as 5 seconds on most occasions, yet on others it inexplicably takes 30 seconds or more from the SIM PIN to arriving at the home screen. It’s still faster than most other Smartphones I’ve tried though.

Through the setup stage, and no surprise here, you’ll need a Google account. Everything revolves around a Google account, so if you’re going Android, get used to using Google.

imageOn the home-screen, HTC have placed their HTC Sense interface on top of the usual Android UI. As a fan of HTC Sense, I quickly got to grips with this and was swiping left and right between the numerous home pages you’re offered to install Widgets and App shortcuts.

Talking of Widgets, which are small “always active” apps on the Android screen, HTC bundle a load of them out of the box – from Calendars to Agendas to something HTC call “Friend Stream”, a Twitter-like display of all your friends Twitter and Facebook updates. I found myself using it a lot. There are also a ton of widgets you can download for free. The home-screen may not look too impressive at first glance, but you can customise it to your own specifications very quickly.

Android gives the ability to create folders on a home-screen to contain Apps, but it’s far from intuitive to do this. I had to ask a fellow Android user to show me how. Once you’ve got it, it’s simple. Likewise adding App shortcuts and moving them between folders is simple, but clunky. This was the start of a number of indications that Apple’s iOS is simply easier to jump right in and get working with when compared to Android, but that Android is more customisable. Another running theme in my findings.

Google+ ScreenshotGetting back to Social Media, and I was blown away by how well Android and HTC Sense integrates with not just Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn, Google+ as well as Exchange, GoogleMail, Flickr, Foursquare and seemingly anything else you wanted to use. Once you’ve setup an account for each of these platforms, the HTC Sensation pulls all the updates and any other information from them and presents it in a unified fashion within your contacts screen. It *can* get messy, the Sensation occasionally got confused with duplicate GoogleMail and Exchange information – but on the whole it’s fairly amazing to be able to see all your friends latest Facebook updates, their Mobile numbers (whether pulled from Exchange or Facebook), Flickr pictures, Twitter updates and everything else in one location. Of course, you can use the individual apps for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. as normal – but if you’re a heavy Social Media user, then you’ll love Android.

Android is hot on notifications. It’ll automatically notify you of new e-mails, voicemails, SMS, Facebook messages, Google+ updates, software upgrades, patches and… just about anything it can. All of these are present in a non-obtrusive way in the notification bar at the top of the home screen, which you slide your finger down to open and view. Initially, all these notifications can become a distraction – constantly sat winking at you from the top of the screen. Over time I learned to quieten the Sensation though – turning off notifications and learning to resist the temptation to act upon others. Android is *very* customisable from this perspective. Out of the box it can blow your mind with all the info it presents, but as you become comfortable you can tailor it to your own liking.

As you’d expect, GoogleMail is supported very well under Android. It’s very easy to setup and you can easily archive messages, read HTML messages, and do just about everything you’d do in GoogleMail.

Microsoft Exchange support was just as easy to setup, and reading and responding to e-mails was a pleasure within the Android GUI. Frustratingly though, Android (like iOS and WP7) doesn’t support Exchange Tasks and Notes. Again I’ve got to ask, if Windows Mobile 6.5 supported these features years ago, why don’t modern SmartPhones? Bizarre. There is a 3rd Party app called Touchdown which brings Tasks and Note support into Android, but it feels a standalone app rather than integrated into the Android experience, and so I couldn’t find myself comfortable using it. Google – as well as Apple and Microsoft – please support Exchange Tasks and Notes in your Smartphones!

The SMS client was very easy to use, with threaded messages and the ability to forward SMS to other contacts. I did notice that Android grouped together conversations though, so if you sent a group SMS – then your inbox would show that conversation separately, but not under individuals SMS threads. I’m guessing this can be changed, and I can see why this would be of benefit to some people, but I occasionally found it confusing.

Wi-Fi is a breeze to setup. You’re instantly notified (see the pattern here?) when an Open Signal is available, and it’s a few clicks to setup your favourite Wi-Fi connections. Once you’ve set a number of Wi-Fi connections up, Android automatically and seamlessly connects to them as you move around. However… this hammers the battery something rotten. I found that using the HTC Sensation as a web browsing device killed the battery life, and it wasn’t unusual for me to require a charge after 90 minutes or so solid use. Not good.

Green Power Battery SaverAs with all the shortcomings in Android though, there are workarounds. I installed an app called Green Power Free that turns off Wi-Fi when the device isn’t in use. It helped, but the battery life on the Sensation is still really poor – I couldn’t get a full days use of it without some charging in between.

Getting back to Apps though, and this is where Android excels. The Android Market isn’t quite as nice an experience as Apple’s AppStore, but it is packed full of apps – some good, some shockingly bad. Whereas Apple vet all apps that appear in their appstore, Google don’t place the same restrictions on. This becomes self-regulating though as you find yourself using apps based on Word of Mouth recommendations or the ratings other users have given the app in the Market.

I couldn’t find a single App that I used on iOS missing from the Android Market. What’s more, I found a few Apps that I would have loved to have used on IOS but couldn’t find, available on Android. Overall, I think I prefer Android’s Open policy to Apple’s vetted apps policy as it allows more variety.

You might think that all these 3rd party apps (especially the poor ones) affect stability. Well, during a months use the Sensation crashed and rebooted just one time. Throughout the rest of the time I noticed one or two inexplicable slow-down’s, occasionally, but overall the platform was really robust.

Moving between Android Apps is fairly easy – pressing and holding the Home Button on the HTC Sensation brings up recent apps for you to browse through, and pressing the back button sometimes takes you back to your previous app. I say sometimes, because other times it didn’t seem to work and I had to manually go and find the app to re-visit it. With full multi-tasking support for all apps though, this wasn’t a problem as every app was presented in exactly the same state you left it.

Web Browsing is a great experience (battery life problems, as we’ve discussed, apart). I installed the free Dolphin Browser HD to replace the built in web-browser, and didn’t look back. It’s a pleasure to use, with the ability to pinch and zoom in on screens with text being wrapped automatically, and share content with any of the Social Media sites integrated into Android.

Android supports Adobe Flash, and there are great apps for both YouTube and BBC iPlayer. If the HTC Sensation had a more resilient battery, you could easily use this as your one and only media device.

The HTC Sensation has a physical Search button, and was context sensitive. Press it from the home screen and you’re presented with a Google Web Search box. Press it within Facebook, and you’re presented with a Facebook friend search. Very neat.

There is no physical camera button though, which is irritating if you’re a Social snapper like myself. The camera app is pretty amazing though, taking good quality shots and offering you the ability to easily tidy them up with crops and auto-enhancements, before sending them directly to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or any other 3rd Party app you’ve installed. It doesn’t just blindly send the picture either – the Facebook app allows you to tag people, the Twitter app allows you to add Hashtags – just a really good experience.

Google+ Android App ScreenshotOne feature that did have me going “Wow” was the Google+ app feature that automatically captures and uploads any photos you take on the camera to a private location on the web, and then easily allowing you to share those pictures on Google+. A great way to both backup your snaps and share them.

Again, if you’re a Social Media person, you’ll love Android.

You don’t really need a PC to use this ‘phone, as it sets up out of the box and it’s easy to install apps and run Android updates over the air. However, if you do connect it to a PC then you can browse the device as a drive, or install software to use the PC’s Internet connection from your ‘phone – a useful feature I used whilst avoiding Roaming Data charges in Europe during the test.

Doggcatcher ScreenshotI didn’t play a lot of games on the Android, but there are tons to choose from. Likewise, I only used the Android to listen to Podcasts (using the great Doggcatcher app) and the occasional tune via the integrated FM Radio rather than lots of music, but it was intuitive to use, and I felt comfortable leaving behind my iPod Touch in favour of an all-in-one device like the Sensation.

By this stage you’re probably getting the impression I liked Android. You’d be right. It isn’t as intuitive as iOS, nor does it have the clean style of Windows Phone, and for that reason I didn’t pick up the ‘phone and become instantly “Wowed”. But for every irritation I came across, I found that Android’s customisation ability allowed me to overcome that irritation. What’s more, time and time again I came across instances where I thought “It’d be nice to be able to do this…” and investigation showed that Android allowed me to do that.

You’ll gather I think that Android’s Social Media integration is incredible. I thought iOS was good in this area, but it can’t hold a candle to Android – which offers an amazing choice of options to remain connected and share content.

It’s been a month since I began using Android, and a strange feeling has come over me. Unlike Apple iPhone users, or even Windows Phone users, I don’t feel voraciously defensive about Android. If I’m asked how Android is, I won’t staunchly defend the Android platform against the sticks and stones of others. I just smile and say “Well, I like it”.

Unlike the Apple iPhone – it doesn’t “just work”. It takes a bit of time to get used to, and for the non-techy this will be a challenge, but once mastered, you can customise it to the hilt to do everything you want, exactly as you want it.

Unlike the Windows Phone – it doesn’t blow your socks off the first time you see it. But it feels very much like Windows Phone in that it’s challenging the way you’re used to doing things, and offering you new, more efficient ways of doing stuff on a day-to-day basis.

But you know what? After a month, it feels comfortable and it works just how I want it too – both as a business device and a consumer device for a Social Media addict.

I really don’t want to give the HTC Sensation back. If I had a choice of which Mobile Operating System I’d like to use tomorrow, it’d probably be Android, but oddly I’m sure I’d begrudgingly live with a Windows Phone or an iPhone too.

I’m aware the HTC Sensation is a pretty kick-arse handset in terms of capabilities and has a ton of HTC customisation goodness to it. To this end I’m going to grab another lower spec HTC Android handset to see how that performs, and I’m also going to grab a non-HTC Android handset (the Samsung Galaxy S2 springs to mind) to see what the non-HTC Android experience is like.

Since I started the experiment, Windows Phone’s latest update – Mango – has also been released. As promised, as the next part of this experiment I’m going to revisit the Windows Phone platform with the Mango update to see what has changed there.

Despite having tested the three main mobile O/S from Apple, Microsoft and Google – this experiment is far from over. I think it’s fair to say you can see my clear favourites emerging though.

Watch this space. Smile

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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CompTIA UK Channel Community – Three Member’s Opinions

imageLast week I attended two events out of the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. The first, held on Thursday 12th May, was the CRN Partner Connect Exhibition – which many of you may know better by its previous name, the UK Channel Expo. The event saw hundreds of Vendors, Distributors and Resellers got together for an expo, networking, and a series of educational presentations.image

George Ilko of Vitality Presenting at CRN Connect 2011It’s fair to say that I’m somewhat of a veteran of IT Conferences by now, so whilst the line-up of presentations looked good, I’ve long since realised that the value of these events is the meetings in the Corridors and Coffee Shops of the venue – spending time with my peers, catching-up with old faces and meeting new ones. I did make time to visit the session with George Ilko of Vitality (pictured right) as he presented on Managed Services for IT providers – a great presentation delivered by George within difficult time constraints.

CompTIA UK Channel Community mealThe evening saw a number of Vendors and Resellers get together with CompTIA UK for a drinks reception and meal in the G Casino, part of the Ricoh Arena. As I alluded to above, I know from experience that the nuggets of wisdom and advice you can pick-up from your peers in an informal environment like this can be invaluable, and this particular evening was no exception.

The next-day, Friday 13th May, saw the second event which was the first in-person meeting of the new CompTIA UK Channel Community group, of which I blogged about earlier this year when I was honoured to be voted in as the groups new Chair, along with Vice Chair Lee Evans of Vital.

The event was well attended by a mixture of Vendors and Resellers of different sizes, and more importantly – everyone (and I do mean everyone) who attended contributed ideas and got actively involved in the discussion.

The day saw an opening presentation on the state of the industry from CompTIA President Todd Thibodeaux, and the group also heard a well received and lively presentation from Linda Ockwell-Jenner of Motivational Steps.

Member participation saw some lively discussions and the group lay plans for an initiative to deliver a Vendor Marketing Portal, as well as an initiatives to deliver Legal Contract templates for use by members, and other initiatives that would benefit the group members.

Lee Evans, Andy Parkes of IBIT Solutions, and George Ilko delivered exceptional pitches to the group to help decide on a UK Charity that the group would work with to deliver $5000 of funding to.

We also congratulated and gave a prize to Ben Tristem of Embrace IT for his winning idea in the 30-second Best Practice competition, as the group voted his idea the winner out of the dozens of great ideas that were put forwards. The real winners, of course, were all the attendees who came away with dozens of good ideas to implement in their own businesses.

I felt privileged to be so closely involved in the first meeting of a group of people who are so clearly passionate about the industry they work in. I’ve been a part of the UK SMB IT Community for many years now, attending lots of meetings of various groups, but I felt this group has the opportunity to make the most impact of any I’ve been to.

But what did the other attendees think? Well, judging by the fact that there were still people sat together, exchanging ideas and chatting some 2 hours *after* the event had finished – I suspect it was well received!

That said, I took time to record short video interviews with three of the attendees to get their thoughts. I chose the three individuals specifically because of their involvement in Peer Communities in the past.

In Rob Copestick of Spiral IT, we met somebody who is brand new to peer groups. Rob has only just made the decision to start his own IT company, and so I was interested to hear what he had to say about his experiences at the meeting as he first of this kind.

Rob Copestick of Spiral IT

Rob Franklin of JPT Solutions is somebody who has been a part of the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community, and in particular, the AMITPRO group for a couple of years or more. Rob has recently taken big steps to grow his own business, and so I wanted to get his views on how Peer Groups like CompTIA can help a growing business to accelerate that growth.

Rob Franklin of JPT Solutions

Finally, Gareth Brown of SYTEC is someone many (myself included) consider to be one of the long-time key influencers of the UK SMB IT Community and somebody who helped build the Microsoft SBSC programme alongside people such as Susanne Dansey of Purple Cow (who was also in attendance). I specifically invited Gareth to the meeting as I knew his expertise would be invaluable, and I was intrigued to hear his feelings on what a well established and very successful company like SYTEC gets from these meetings.

Gareth Brown of SYTEC

Interestingly, all three individuals gave a similar message – that taking time out of their business to spend time with their peers was time well spent.

For me, this is no surprise at all – I grew my own MSP business off the back of the great ideas and advice I picked up at UK SMB IT Community events. What’s more, I personally came away from the two days with CompTIA with a ton of great suggestions for my own business. That’s invaluable and to me is the difference between growing your business slowly, working things out as best you can, and growing your business quickly by working with others for mutual benefit.

I’m excited to be the Chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community, and I think that the group has the rare opportunity to help bring together some of the best and most engaged members of the UK SMB IT Community to raise the bar in the IT industry as a whole.

The group is free to join, and you don’t have to be a member of CompTIA to do so – although I strongly encourage to join CompTIA as a member (as I have) as they really do offer many benefits that you’ll both find useful, and help you both save and make money for your business!

My thanks to William Linard, Matthew Poyiadgi and especially Jim Hamilton of CompTIA for helping us organise such a successful first meeting.

You can see some more photographs from the group meeting on my Flickr page.

The groups next meeting is scheduled August 2011 – you can find out more via the groups LinkedIn group, by visiting the Community Portal page, or by reaching out to me directly.

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Sending Large Attachments via Email

You want to send a large file to a colleague or an external source – so how do you do this at the moment?

Do you fire up Microsoft Outlook (or your choice of e-mail client), hit “New Message”, type in the recipients name, attach that 2mb Excel file and then click Send?

Works right? Well – most of the time anyway… And anyway, it wasn’t an important file so it doesn’t really matter if it arrives eh?

Hold on? It *was* important?! The intended Recipient has been in touch and asked you when that file you were supposed to be sending is going to arrive! You get in touch with your IT Department or E-Mail provider and say “I sent this file, but it’s never arrived – where is it?”

They say “We don’t know” – and they’d be right – here’s why.

E-Mail was built way back in the mists of time with the intention of sending messages comprising entirely of text. This was before Excel files, pictures of Britney Spears or funny videos of pet Cats falling off chairs.

“But I have sent attachments before and they’ve arrived!” you add.

So they did. What happens when you attach a Word file, an Excel spreadsheet or any type of attachment to an e-mail is this. Your e-mail software converts it to plain text (Read more about MIME for the geeky explanation) and when your intended recipient receives that e-mail, his or her software converts that text back into the the attachment you sent. They open it. All is well. Most of the time, anyway.

Why shouldn’t that attachment get through ok? For starters, if you send the wrong type of file via e-mail it will get blocked by the recipients ISP, e-mail provider, or even company e-mail server as a potential virus. What’s the wrong type of file? Well that depends from system to system – some systems block JPG images, others even block Excel spreadsheets – it’s pretty much pot luck, you can’t tell until you’ve tried sending that file.

So let’s presume the type of attachment you want to send is allowed. You send the e-mail, but it arrives hours and hours later. Why? Well, if it’s a large file it may have been intentionally delayed. You see, not every e-mail recipient has an expensive speedy Internet connection ready to download tons of information. Some systems are slow, and the system administrators therefore have to make a choice between allowing your large attachment through via e-mail and delaying dozens or even hundreds of other e-mails, or allowing that majority of tiny e-mails to arrive quickly and postpone gathering your e-mail until overnight when things are a lot quieter.

Other ISP’s or e-mail providers simply block large attachments altogether. Depending on your provider, you may find the largest attachment you can send it 2mb, 3mb, 5mb or 10mb. They do this for the exact same reason we’ve just discussed – they want to allow that other 95% of e-mail traffic to arrive quickly and unimpeded by your mammoth e-mail.

Finally, you’ve chosen the right type of attachment, your ISP allows it, it’s not been blocked by any Virus or Spam filters and it therefore arrives – but your intended recipient tries to open it and Windows tells them the file is corrupted, Outlook steps in and says “That attachment might be dangerous, I’m not letting you open it”, or worse, your recipient tries to read his e-mails but everything has mysteriously ground to a halt on “Send/Receive”. They can’t click anything – Outlook has crashed! That huge video of the new-born Ducklings riding on a Skateboard you’ve sent them means they can’t use their e-mail at all. Thanks a lot buddy!

Recipient complains to you that your file is bad/corrupted/too big, you complain to your IT department, they hold their head in their hands and weep.

If you’ve not already got the gist of what I’m driving at here – it’s this…

Sending large attachments via e-mail is a bad idea.

So what are the alternatives? Well you could burn that file to CD or DVD, pop it in the post and hope the Royal Mail delivers it. But they may be on strike, or worse, they may not be on strike and still not bother to deliver your package until 2099 as it’s 1 penny short on the postage stamps you’ve attached.

Fear not – there are electronic alternatives that make sending a large attachment to a recipient painless and easy. What’s more, they’re free!

The first option is my preferred option. It’s a web-site called YouSendIt. Go visit it now! It’s free to use for basic services, although a paid-for version offers some features you might find useful. You fill out the form like a normal e-mail, add your attachment as normal, and then click send (as normal). Your intended recipient receives an e-mail, as normal, except it contains a link to download the attachment you’ve sent instead of the actual attachment. Your recipient clicks said link, they download the file – voila! No fuss, no muss. Because the e-mail you’ve sent is plain text, it arrives instantly and because the recipient is downloading the file from the Internet directly as opposed to the file being transferred through a dozen different systems before it hits their e-mail server – they aren’t impeded by as many potential filters blocking the attachment or speed of download.

If you use Microsoft Outlook you can even install a handy free plug-in from YouSendIt that means you simply write your e-mail as normal, attach the file as normal, and click send as normal. YouSendIt then strips the attachment out, uploads it as you would via the web-site, and the intended recipient receives the original e-mail with the link to download the attachment – and all of this is done for you automatically without any change in your normal procedures!

There are other options for sending large files to someone, but none as simple as YouSendIt. If you’re really interested, go and take a look for more information on FTP (File Transfer Protocol), File Splitters (such as GSplit) or even Windows Live Meshwhich I’ve talked about before. All are free. I’d still pick YouSendIt over these options every time though.

Finally, a couple of other tips for sending attachments via e-mail.

If you’re sending the attachment to an internal colleague – why bother attaching the file at all? Simply send an e-mail containing a link to the location of the file on the shared network drive. If you’re both working on the same file then it means one less revision of that file floating around too!

If you’re sending a picture to someone via e-mail – why bother? Upload it to any of the photo sharing sites such as Flickr or PhotoBucket – and then send them a link to it’s new home on the web!

Same goes for videos. Don’t ever EVER send a video as an attachment! Upload them to YouTube and send the link via e-mail.

Finally, if you positively have to send a picture via e-mail – make sure you’ve resized it first. Go download Microsoft Image Resizer, install it, right click on the picture and click “Resize”. Your 2mb picture of Jess the Cat wrestling with a ball of wool will suddenly be reduced to a few KB, without any noticeable loss of quality. In fact, go download this free software now and use it to resize all those images stored on your Hard Drive or Shared Network Drive – I guarantee you’ll save around 75% of your disk space instantly. Neat huh?

So hopefully the above will help change your mind the next time you go to send that huge file via e-mail! If you decide to send me a large file via e-mail, expect me to reply with a link to this blog post!

Feel free to get in touch if you have any queries, or leave a comment – I’ll happily help you argue your case with any IT Department who disagrees with the above. 🙂

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.


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