App Reviews – Android apps you really should check out

I’m starting a new series with the goal of sharing a few of the Android based apps I can’t 

A few of my current apps on displayseem to live without. I did a full wipe and new setup yesterday and it got me thinking, “I should share some of these great apps with other people!” So, it all begins here. My first app review is incoming… stay tuned.

If you want to see all the apps list, use click on the tag below labeled “App Reviews.”

Keeping Tech Current

It’s a rapidly changing world and the world of technology changes even faster. What can you do to keep up with the knowledge of the latest gadgets and tools, let alone be able to afford them?

There are a lot of great sites that help you keep up to date on different devices. Some offer content for all types of electronics. Some are more specific. Some are better than others, but when it comes to some devices (Android vs. Apple for example) it’s good to read several and get a more general sense instead of one person’s view. I happen to be an Android fan, but that doesn’t mean that my articles aren’t biased in that way. The same goes for most tech blogs. Read several and make a decision for yourself and your needs.

The most important question to ask yourself when researching and planning to buy a new device is: Do I simply want this, or will it serve some purpose for me? 

The current culture around tech seems to be more of “that looks cool” and less of “that serves my need well!” I’m guilty of seeing a new piece of tech and thinking that it would be cool to have it, rather than what the device will do to make my work/life easier. Some people can afford to just buy whatever they want. But that’s not a healthy lifestyle nor is it good for the tech world. Researching new tools/toys and buying the right thing for you tells manufactures what people actually use and will encourage manufactures to make better and better devices instead of what they thing is best (usually with the stockholder in mind, not the end user).

Take some time. Research your technology. Don’t feel like you have to buy the “latest and greatest” just because it’s “new.” You may save yourself some money and, even better, find something that works better for you.

Prevention Is Key – Protect Your PC/Laptop/Phone from Theft or Loss

It saddens me when I hear about a lost or stolen phone or laptop. Just a few weeks ago a friend lost his phone at a restaurant. His whole life was on there and now it’s gone, possible forever. Contacts, customer information, todo lists, you name it. We live in a technology world, with our lives on those devices and when we lose that tech it can be a tough thing. Then, a few days ago, another friend has a laptop stolen from his car. Unfortunately those things happen and it’s always a bummer when they do.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can prevent the total loss, or at least do something to help if your phone or laptop or other device goes missing. The first thing you can do is:

Backup your data.
Having all your files on your laptop is super handy. When you need a file and you’re on the road, you don’t really want to have to VNC into your work computer or worse yet, drive there and put it on a flash drive. It’s much easier to access when it’s already on your computer. But how do you manage that data? What are you doing to insure that you will ALWAYS have access to it?

I use a combination of Windows Live Mesh and Dropbox. Windows Live Mesh is a Windows 7 or Vista only service that will keep selected folders synchronized between two computers. My desktop and home and my laptop have specific files I really need access to in both places. Live Sync keeps those files up to date on each machine every time I connect to the internet. It even has a remote desktop feature where I can log in to the other computer and grab a file that may not be synced. Dropbox is where I place the stuff I might need anywhere. Because Dropbox has a web interface I can log in and download a file that backed up to the service. Dropbox also has very slick mobile apps for Android, iPhone and Blackberry. Both services are free with paid upgrades.

I also use cloud based apps on my Android when possible. When your data is in the cloud it’s much easier to recover. For example, my favorite note taking app is Catch. Catch lets you keep track of ideas and thoughts with text, photos and audio and then seamlessly backs them up to secure servers. Catch is all about security so you don’t have to worry about your ideas being lost or stolen from their servers.  A popular alternative to Catch is Evernote although I prefer the simple and effective Catch. Either way, you’re better off than with nothing.

Install Prey
Prey is a wonderful free (up to three devices) service that will help you recover your stolen/lost device. There is no guarantee you’ll get it back, but your best bet is with Prey. Prey installs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS and runs in the background. If your laptop or phone is stolen you simply log in to and flag your device as missing. A phone can fire up it’s GPS and tell you where it is. A laptop can connect to the nearest open WiFi and start sending you information about its whereabouts including screen captures and shots from your webcam.

Prey does recommend you set up a BIOS password. Simply search for a how-to for your specific computer and set that up. Drop a comment if you need more info on that.

Loosing a device sucks. Take a few minutes and take some preventative measure to protect yourself from loss.

Archos Update – the struggle continues

A week or so ago Archos release the next firmware update for the Gen 8 series of Android based tablets. I’ve been struggling for a solid firmware since the update from 2.1.8 (which was super solid). The latest version does have some neat feature additions (good for you Archos, still adding to the device) but some major annoyances. Continue reading

Samsung Moment – Screen Replacement Guide

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had an accident with his phone. In the midst of the event, the LCD (or AMOLED in the case of the Moment) became cracked and no longer worked at all. I ordered a replacement screen online and proceeded to dive into the repair. I haven’t ever replaced a screen before, so this was fun and new.  There wasn’t a lot of info on how to get into the Moment without breaking anything, but I did find a thread on Android Forums linking to a guide by forum user pyromatic. His guide was very helpful, and I’m thankful for it being there. In response, I decided to take some photos of my process and put them here, hopefully supplementing his work.

Click on the photos for huge versions. 🙂

With the right tools in hand (mini screwdriver, and a plastic separator of some kind – I have this blue deal I got a while ago for an old iRiver batter replacement project) take the back off and remove the batter and SD card.

Do you have the right tools hand? Let's go.

Continue reading

Do You Subsonic?

I recently wrote a blog post over at revealing my thoughts on the new Netflix pricing announcement and it got me thinking about writing a post about the different ways I stream media around the house and out-and-about. Funny, because after I started writing I spotted this post over at How-To-Geek with something similar. So, here’s my setup:

I love streaming content. No discs, tapes or other physical objects to get in the way. While most people have maybe a few dozen albums in there car (unless you’ve got a big ‘ol CD changer in there, and even that maxes out a…. a dozen) I have thousands. How you might ask? Subsonic.

Subsonic is a music server that runs on your home computer. It’s really easy to install and once installed you simply log in from any browser or the handy smartphone apps. My setup is on a Windows 7 machine streaming to the HTC Evo 4G. There are a ton of great settings built in to the server that will help you save bandwidth if you’re on a capped internet connection and you can even stream video to flash enabled devices (sorry iPhone, Steve told you you didn’t need it…). I can’t tell you how much this has come in handy. Not only can you access your ENTIRE music collection from your phone, but you can log in from a friends computer and stream there. I use it at home and on the go. Check it out music lovers! Subsonic is donation-ware and well worth every penny.

For movies I generally don’t watch on the go. Probably because when I go someplace it’s either to watch a movie (like in a movie theater) or I’m there to do something OTHER than watch a movie. So locally it’s a toss-up between Netflix and PlayOn.

Netflix, as you probably know, has a massive library of streaming content. I watch it either on my laptop, my Android tablet (the Archos 70it), my Evo or one of my two Xbox 360s. The only catch with the 360 is that it requires a Xbox LIVE Gold account (not a problem since we’re a household of gamers!). The HD movies look awesome though and I can generally find a movie I want to see. Oh, and their classic TV shows collection is epic.

PlayOn on the other hand is a gem. Not only do they offer a bunch of streams from popular websites like Comedy Central, CBS and Adult Swim, but with local streaming I can watch all my .mp4 and .avi encoded movies over my home network. That’s right, store ’em on the computer, watch them on the big screen. PlayOn cost $39.99 a year for the full package or $79.99 one time. I got in on the ground floor a few years ago for somewhere around $30 and paid $5 for the upgrade. Not 100% sure I’ll upgrade next year for the bonus channels, but the local streaming is well worth it. You do need  a decent PC to run PlayOn (your 486 ain’t gonna cut it here) but there is a 14 day free trial to test it first. And after fourteen days you can suck it up and by a new computer you cheap-skate!

That pretty much covers my streaming setup. I do have an XBMC enable Xbox but rarely use that for the other options. Questions or to share your setup, drop me a comment below.

Archos 2.3.81 Firmware – Two Days Late and a Dollar Short

I spent part of Saturday and Sunday playing around with root for my Archos 70 Internet Tablet. This little device has taken good care of me for a while. My only real issue was the last firmware update really messed some stuff up. Namely, a battery percentage issue (never hit 100% and seemed to drop unusually fast) as well as a soft bootloop when wifi lost a signal. Oh, and the biggest annoyance was it was SLOW! The previous working version (2.1.8) was just super snappy and worked AWESOME. I don’t understand how things got so messed up in the next two releases but after 2.3.26 was release it seemed that the Archos support team went on holiday. A month and a half went by where I couldn’t use my wifi and the device was barely functional.

Then last Saturday (a few days ago) I decided it was time to root my device and run Uruk-Droid from $aur0n. It was a pretty simple process and I actually did it twice. The first time I followed the standard installation and installed to my SD card. I liked the ROM (and the build on 2.1.8) so much I decided to wipe everthing else and install to the system memory. I’m so glad I did too. This ROM is awesome. If you have a 70 IT or similar I recommend you check it out.

Of course, today (two days later) Archos release the ROM I’ve been waiting months for. Right now I’m not even sure I’ll install it. I’ll probably wait for an Uruk-Droid based on it and install that! I’ll play with it a few days and let you know more.

CM7.1.x Nightly Benchmark – FAST [update]

I went through the process of starting competly from scratch yesterday and istalled CM7 nightly. My quadrant is SMOKIN’ now…

This is Stock CM7 Nightly 115 for HTC Evo 4g. This is based on Android 2.3.4. My setup is overclocked to 1113 MHz. I do seem to be having 3G issues though. Hopefully they’ll get it figured out in the next nightly….

[Update] 3G speeds are normal again on the 116 nightly.

Starting From Scratch

I love playing with Android ROMs. There are so many great developers and ways to tweak your system. About once a month or so I like to wipe everything and start fresh. This is the process I follow to do this. This process is HTC Evo 4G specific but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you too. (This process requires ROOT access). Continue reading

New ROMs are Fun

I’m not one to wait around for the stable ROMs. No, I like to live life on the edge. So the new RC from Cyanogenmod was right up my ally. Based on Android 2.3.4, Cyanogenmod is a fully loaded (not bloated) custom ROM for a large list of phones. My HTC Evo 4G has been running the latest versions of CM7 since the day I got it (day one root for the win!). The latest ROM features the ability to use the new version of Google Talk with video support. I have yet to fully test this (as no one with video capability has been online since doing it) but it looks awesome.

I also just got a new HDMI cable today to test the HDMI out on the phone. CM7 supports full mirroring in 720p so I was excited to check it out. The first test froze the phone. The second test returned a “cable unplugged” report (obviously it wasn’t). Finally, after a few hours of research on XDA, I found the SavagedZen-2.2.1-BFS-HAVS-signed kernel worked. Using HDMwIn I was stoked to see my screen displayed on my 32″ television and play a little Angry Birds.

I’m still testing the kernel but I’ve noticed a marked speed increase. Only time will tell what the toll on the batter is. Got some nice quadrant scores though.

Quadrant Score with Savaged-zen 2.2.1 BFS HAVS