Five questions for T-Mobile

T-Mobile Store Logo-w600

T-Mobile recently took a big step, deciding to forgo the traditional subsidized contract model. Instead, they’ve taken a fresh approach to providing cellular service to the US… one that will define them moving forward. We were all excited when it happened, but waited patiently to see if it would really take hold.

As 600,000 new T-Mobile subscribers will attest to, it works just fine. T-Mobile has a positive customer flow for the first time in a while, and it’s only looking up for them. Industry praise, a pending merger with Metro PCS, and a fresh identity promise to push T-Mobile into the future.

We reached out to T-Mobile to find out just what all this meant for them, us as consumers, and their future. Not surprisingly, they were really excited about this ‘un-carrier’ approach, and seemed even more thrilled that we, as their customers, liked it.

Why did T-Mobile do this? Why ‘buck the trend’ and ditch the traditional subsidized model?

It was time for a change. The industry has evolved so much from a technology standpoint, and consumers clearly love what smartphones and other wireless devices can do for them. But while the technology has advanced, this industry has continued to cling to antiquated ways of doing business, from restrictive annual service contracts to ridiculous overages and fees on the data you use to limits on when you can upgrade to contracts that are almost indecipherable. None of it makes sense to customers, who have become very frustrated with the utility-like way in which the wireless industry conducts itself. So T-Mobile announced a series of moves to address consumer frustration with the unnecessary cost and complexity of wireless, including removing the requirement that customers sign annual service contracts.

You’ve seen an uptick in customers recently. Did you expect this much positive reaction?

We couldn’t be more pleased with the response we’ve seen, which has actually exceeded our expectations. As word of what we were doing started to circulate, we saw a pretty solid increase in customer interest in T-Mobile.

It’s so different, and probably has some a bit confused. How are employees, on the store level, dealing with this?

No doubt, there will be some education involved. The industry has done a great job of convincing customers they’re actually buying their smartphones for $200 total when, in fact, the actual cost is just hidden in higher monthly wireless bills. We have a stronger story. When you sit down and do the math, it’s clear you can save hundreds of dollars with our approach compared to the traditional restrictive annual service contract model trumpeted by the competition.

Does this affect T-Mobile getting great devices?

Part of what we announced in New York was our commitment to provide customers with the lowest up-front costs on the most popular smartphones. Because T-Mobile is the only major U.S. wireless company to stop requiring consumers to sign annual service contracts, our customers have far more flexibility with how they buy and use wireless devices. That will drive demand, and device makers will want to have their product on our shelves.

We also announced that in the coming weeks, we will have several 4G LTE-capable devices available, including iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S 4, BlackBerry Z10, HTC One, and T-Mobile Sonic 2.0 Mobile HotSpot LTE – delivering on our promise to offer a diverse and amazing lineup of devices for our customers.

The T-Mobile merger with Metro PCS is still looming on the horizon. How does this new ‘un-carrier’ approach affect that?

This about the T-Mobile brand and how we are radically simplifying wireless for American consumers. The wireless industry is broken. You see proof of that all around you in the form of long-term contracts, overage penalties, and termination fees. We announced a strategy in New York to help reverse all of that. You can count on that just being a start. We’re going to do an awful lot of things very direct, very meaningful and in ways you wouldn’t expect from a phone company. We’re not in phone company business; we’re in the changing-the-phone-company business.

T-Mobile

Conclusion

It can’t be stated enough, just how significant this is. For a carrier to completely move away from subsidizing devices is a very bold strategy. It was a gamble that has paid off, and that’s good for everyone. Whether you love their approach or not, T-Mobile has, at least, become more transparent about how they do business with consumers.

Giving up on locking people down shows a trust in what you’re doing, and the service you provide. T-Mobile has clearly grown tired of the status quo, as have many consumers. That huge uptick in subscribers isn’t a coincidence, and only promises to rise as contracts with other carriers expire.

In closing, I asked one simple question of T-Mobile. I wanted to know what they wanted us, as consumers, to take away from all of this. Their response to me was “Life just got much simpler.”

Yes. Yes it did.

 

The Friday Debate: Is Google Glass really the future of computing?

The-Friday-Debate aa Image: Evan Forester/Flickr

We are all mobile geeks, here at Android Authority. We love everything with a power button. We like to comment the latest news and endlessly argue over which phone is better. On the Friday Debate, we pick a hot issue and proceed to discuss it. Join us!

This week, Google announced the setup of a special venture fund dedicated to kick starting startups that want to develop applications for the futuristic Glass head-mounted computer. But the most exciting Glass-related news that came this week was the revelation that the first units will ship within a month to Google Glass Explorers.

With new and disruptive technologies, controversy is never far away. Some hail Google Glass as the next paradigm shift in computing. Others bemoan the potential privacy issues, or even call it an overhyped gimmick.

Today, at the Friday Debate, we discuss Google Glass – is it the future of computing or just a storm in the teacup?

Darcy LaCouvee (G+): 

Initially, I believe Google Glass will be limited to the confines of advanced information hubs, like all the major metropolitan areas. From studying our Analytics at Android Authority, it’s clear that people in places like Singapore, New York, London, Seoul, California, and Texas are likely to be the types of people most interested in this. Ardent Google evangelists and mobile technology early adopters could care less about privacy.

In terms of development, we’re seeing a lot of heavy hitters with endless budgets that are quite keen to adopt this new platform quickly.

How many times did smartphones and tablets come out before they gained mainstream adoption? Many. I think it will be a slow start initially, and the experience will be sub-par But it will only get better.

Passive interaction, information-at-a-glance, and super-computing assisted learning and interaction with our environment and networks characterize platforms of the future. Google Glass is ahead of the curve. Makes Facebook look like a fax machine.

Google Glass Press (4)

Robert Triggs (G+)

Perhaps it’s the slightly cyber-punk look, but I’ve always had the feeling that Google Glass is going to be a game changer. Darcy LaCouvée is spot on when he says it’s ahead of the curve, and the techie in me certainly sees the potential.

But I do have my reservations; Google Glass further cements the idea that we should always be “plugged in”. After all, you can’t use it when you’re not wearing it, and to put Google Glass on the nightstand is to essentially declare yourself offline. Which is a pro and a con.

You can check your smartphone at will, but beaming social updates directly into your eye is far more intrusive and won’t be to everyone’s liking.

I expect it to be popular, but perhaps it won’t replace the smartphone as some expect it to. As for privacy, I think that businesses’ declaring where it can and cannot be used is a perfect compromise. In public it’s not an issue, even in the days of pen and paper you’d be subject to ridicule for drinking too much, or be called out in the local paper for spouting political nonsense in the town square.

Sergey Brin demonstrates Google Glass

Sergey Brin demonstrates Google Glass

David Gonzales (G+):

Honestly, I find it quite strange that wearable tech is still not the norm considering all the possibilities available to us in this day and age. But there’s very little doubt in my mind that Google Glass will be enough to kick start an entire industry of wearable computers.

As for privacy concerns and whatnot, you have to remember that Google Glass will ultimately be offered to people who were born digital. To paraphrase one of the more famous lines from The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan, we merely adopted the Internet — and with it, accompanying issues concerning freedom and privacy. Many people out there were born and raised with the kind of Internet that we have today — the kind that didn’t exist back when the Internet was first made available to the public. To these people, I think privacy will be but a minor concern.

Eventually, I believe Google Glass will spread far and wide but not because of the groundbreaking tech that it brings or the insane number of great things that it makes possible. Instead, people will line up for it just because it’s neat, much like cigarettes. People won’t care much about the primary concerns being raised by some cautious tech-savvy observers now. They just want to feel really cool.

google glass girl Credit: DVF

Derek Ross (G+)

Wearable computing is the future. Google is jumping in head first into this completely new market space. As with anything new and unknown there’s bound to be consumer apprehension.

When it comes to privacy and Glass, it’s quite simple. All of these arguments have happened before. They happened 10 years ago when camera phones were being introduced to the world. Various organizations, places of business and even municipalities tried to ban camera phones. How did that work out? After everyone owned one, the majority of concerns went away.

Those that are forming negative opinions on a product they have never used themselves, let alone even seen or touched really need to reevaluate their outlook on the world. Crying wolf when the wolf hasn’t even stepped out of his den yet seems a bit premature.

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Stop talking about this “post-PC” era

Is desktop computing dead?

Is desktop computing dead? (Image credit: Shutterstock)

As a tech blogger as well as an Android user, mobile is a big part of my life. Smartphones and tablets have irremediably shaped the way we think of, and the way we use technology to serve our various purposes. But although mobile is here to stay, I feel like too many tech bloggers advertise the death of the PC. To me, nothing could be farther from the truth!

As mobile devices are being mostly used to do light stuff such as browsing the web or consuming content, there is no sign that the PC is now obsolete. Sure, the PC industry took a major blow and will have to adapt to the new circumstances and trends before it fully recovers, but it is my opinion that the PC will never become obsolete.

Consumption vs. Production

For starters, when you compare a PC against an equally priced tablet, the difference in computing power is huge, and more and more people now need this extra power: can you render graphics on your tablet? Can you edit videos? Can you edit/produce music at a decent level? Can you play graphically intensive games? How much data can your mobile device store? To illustrate, my desktop currently holds 2TB of data, and while the cloud may be an interesting solution, there are some files that are just too large to be instantly uploaded and downloaded from the Internet.

As tablets will undoubtedly continue to carry more and more processing horsepower, modern PCs will still continue to be much faster than their mobile competitors, mainly due to the cost of miniaturization. In addition, the PC supports true, real-time multi-tasking, which is a must for a lot of professionals.

Why am I putting so much emphasis on the professional side of the PC? Because more and more people do their job on a PC, that’s why! And as all companies struggle to keep costs down, most employed people will continue to have a PC in front of them at work for a couple of reasons: first of all, it is much more comfortable to type on a keyboard and follow data on a 24 inch display (as compared to a tablet + keyboard combo), and it is also cheaper.

Are hybrids good enough?

I am aware that keyboard accessories can turn your tablet into a netbook, but the price of an Apple iPad + keyboard dock is exactly the price of a much more powerful PC opponent. The keyboard dock only extends a tablet’s functionality, but it is a long way before I consider that combination as a nemesis for my amazing Lenovo Thinkpad L530.

Additionally, it is my opinion that desktop PCs will continue to remain the “go-to” solution when you need as much performance as you can get, because they can suck out all the energy they want from a power plug. This advantage will never go away and might lead to the adoption of static data-centers in tomorrow’s homes, where all the data is held and processed on the PC, and just streamed to other devices around the house, in a way that could be very similar to a router allowing access to the Internet.

And for as long as desktop PCs will have a place at home or at the office, the laptop PC market will always be there to provide a mobile version of the same experience. In addition, just look at how compact these new Ultrabooks are. In my eyes, the extra power and cross compatibility that they offer is worth the ever tinier price to pay for their extra volume.

Obsolescence might just be a trend

But if the PC is not becoming obsolete, what’s going on with the poor PC sales for the past couple of years? My guess is that the huge amount of tablets sales bitten from that of PCs is largely due to the fact that plenty customers are willing to get a new (and trendy) device rather than update their desktop / laptop. But that does not mean they have or will stop using it. In fact, some recent reports already claim that the PC industry will rebound during the second quarter of 2013.

As tech advancements in the PC universe reach unprecedented levels, expect a lot of people to consider getting a new, extremely powerful PC in the next three to four years.

Why Facebook Home is a home run for Android

Facebook Home Android Screenshots 1 (4)
As soon as Facebook unveiled Home for Android, the online tech media was quick to dissect it into tiny bits and pieces, not without a hefty amount of criticism, most of which coming from people who don’t use Facebook (or those who simply quit, or claim to have quit, the social network).

Without trying to send out any criticism of my own, I found that plenty of tech bloggers were a bit quick to forget that Facebook is the biggest social network out there, and despite the fact that Google Plus is now an important player in the market, Facebook is currently showing no sign of decline.

To me, Facebook and Android make for one hell of a combination if, somehow, these two tech giants could collaborate for a single, unified experience that encapsulates both the Facebook philosophy on mobile social networking, but Google Play compatibility as well. Oh wait, they just did!

HTC First

Throughout this article, I will try to analyze the potential impact Facebook Home could make in the Android ecosystem, and not enter any discussion about the product or its features. I will also avoid talking about the security related concerns that Facebook Home has raised.

I will also intentionally avoid discussing the HTC First, the only smartphone announced this far to come with Facebook Home preinstalled, mainly because I believe Facebook Home’s potential success or failure has absolutely nothing to do with what appears to be a mid-range Android smartphone at best. I may be going off the limb here a bit, but could it be that the only reason why the HTC First exists is because Facebook needed to heed pre-launch rumors? Could it be that Facebook had to tap into the hype such rumors have created around a potential Facebook phone?

In consequence, the purpose of this opinion piece is to point out a few factors that might change in the smartphone ecosystem now that Facebook has specifically targeted Google’s ecosystem with Home on Android. If you’re looking to find out what the rest of the team here at Android Authority thinks of Facebook Home, you can read our more recent Friday Debate on the matter.

On how Android just dodged a bullet

Facebook Home Android Screenshots (18)

The possibility of a Facebook smartphone has been so intensely debated and rumored over the past couple of years that everyone seemed to agree that if Facebook were to release a smartphone, it would be running a forked version of Android, much like the Amazon Kindle Fire.

In addition to that, one train of thought that’s popular amongst online pundits is that more and more device manufacturers will start looking into the possibility of forking Android so that they’re able to stand out in the crowd.

But following the Facebook Home announcement, it is my opinion that the Android ecosystem has not only eliminated this theoretical threat, but it has further cemented its position at the top of the mobile ecosystem.

Were Facebook to fork Android, I believe it would have been a clear sign for the rest of the industry that forking is the only way to go if you wanted to stand out. Fortunately for the market as a whole, Facebook Home is clear proof that unneeded fragmentation can be avoided by creating software that works on top of Android, instead of eliminating all compatibility for the sake of being unique.

Android vs iOS: a Facebook Timeline

Android vs iOS

For as long as the Facebook app has been an important component of any smartphone, Android users found themselves envying iPhone users for the quality and responsiveness of their Facebook implementation. The basic interface was roughly the same on both iOS and Android, but it is just that the dedicated app for Android were not as smooth. As a consequence, Facebook was not a major factor when deciding to go for an iPhone or for an Android smartphone.

Now that Facebook has unveiled Facebook Home for Android, the situation has dramatically changed, as Android now offers a much more immersive — and hopefully much smoother — implementation. This might not matter a lot to those of us who are not exactly complete Facebook addicts, but you’ve got to admit that there are a lot of people who use Facebook as the primary function of their smartphone. In my opinion, all those people will now have one extra reason to choose Android over iOS.

In addition, due to the closed nature of iOS, Facebook Home will not be coming to the iPhone or iPad anytime soon, as iOS does not support custom launchers. Bottom line: Facebook has just became one (if not the most) powerful Android ally.

Facebook Home on Windows Phone, Blackberry 10

When talking about the reason Facebook opted for a custom launcher instead of a forked version of Android, Mark Zuckerberg wanted traction. He argued that targeting just a few million users is of no importance for Facebook on the long run. To me, this speaks clearly about the fact that Facebook Home is unlikely to arrive on either Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10 — two mobile operating systems that together amount for only a fraction of the Android user base.

Custom launchers

Custom launchers have been one of the main reasons why more tech-savvy users prefer Android. But as it turns out, the vast majority of Android users are complete strangers to the notion of a custom launcher, mainly due to the fact that these custom launchers are more of an enthusiast thing instead of a profitable niche at this point.

Now, the huge fan base that Facebook has, combined with the tight grip Android has over the smartphone market, will eventually translate into a large number of users who will install Facebook Home as their first custom launcher for Android. And once users start understanding the awesome concept of a custom launcher, I believe that custom launcher developers will start writing more and better custom launchers since they will soon have a larger users base to target.

What I’m really trying to say here is that custom launchers will become much more popular, and thus a real advantage in the market for Google, and not just another paragraph in “top 10 reasons Android is better than iOS” articles.

Home Run!

Android already has a lot of inertia, although it also seemed like there was a lack of impact-making software that’s available exclusively for Google’s mobile platform. I’m not saying that Home is the best thing that happened to Android in the past year, but love it or hate it, the concept will surely make a lot of impact on the market.

Is Facebook Home just another custom launcher for Android? Will be a success, or will it flop? We are aware that the prevailing opinion on Facebook as a social network is not entirely positive. But wouldn’t you agree that Facebook Home makes for a great synergy between Android and Facebook?

Will a third major platform benefit Android users?

Android-Army
Google and Apple are the two companies that provide the dominant operating systems in the mobile industry. Microsoft and BlackBerry (formerly RIM) are struggling to regain some relevance, while companies new to the game, such as Amazon, Ubuntu, and Mozilla are also aiming to take a bite of this ever growing pie.

In this context, we look at the benefits and drawbacks that a third strong mobile platform would bring to the average Android user.

Meet the Challengers

By now, it’s clear that Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are the only two major players in the mobile platform game. Recent reports indicate that nine out of ten smartphones sold globally are running one of these two operating systems.

In the tablet market, after a long period of almost complete Apple iPad domination, Android made some great progress, mostly thanks to the excellent Nexus 7.

We should note that Amazon’s Kindle Fire line-up, which is especially successful in the United States, is running a forked version of Android. Technically speaking, Amazon has created a new platform, although its roots are still with Android.

BlackBerry has recently launched the BlackBerry 10 platform, probably the last chance the Canadian company has to regain its lost relevance. However, it remains to be seen if the new features introduced with BB10 are enough to draw customers in.

One company that you can never rule out in the mobile sector is Microsoft. No matter how many times it fails, Steve Ballmer’s team will still have enough resources to go at it again. With all the resources and money the Redmond-based company has been splurging, there’s a chance Microsoft will gain some relevance in the mobile industry at some point.

One new competitor in the mobile platform wars is Ubuntu for phones (not to be confused with Ubuntu for Android). The Linux-based operating system promises to bring all the things people love about the Ubuntu desktop OS on your smartphone.

And just when you thought that the mobile platform market couldn’t become any more crowded, the Mozilla Foundation announced that they’ve already signed partnerships with hardware manufacturers that should soon materialize in the first batch of budget-friendly Firefox smartphones.

Analyzing the chances that each of these platforms has to gain real traction would require an inordinate amount of time. For the time being, we’re more interested in answering a different, but related question: will the rise of a third powerful player benefit Android users?

More Competition

The first thing that comes to mind when discussing the possibility of a third powerful platform is increased competition. Just as with any other markets and products, quality is driven by the number and competence of the big players in that market.

This could translate to more features and content being added to each one of the platforms, as the parent company needs to find more ways of topping its competitors. In addition, adding a third player would automatically motivate both Apple and Google to focus on being more creative and innovative.

Unfortunately, I believe that an enhanced competition would also mean that exclusive content availability will become a major focus point for the platform owners. From an end-user perspective, this could mean that an increasing percentage of movies, shows and music tracks will be available on one platform and one platform only, contrary to the principles of an ideal world where all the content is available on all platforms.

The App Factor

Currently, a mobile app developer really needs to focus on developing for iOS and Android only, but if a third popular platform would bite off the combined market share of the dominant players we have at the present, app developers would have to develop a native app for the third platform as well.

So you see, the rise of a third major mobile platform would mean that companies that specialize in mobile app development will have to invest more time, effort and money into their apps. Users will experience this phenomenon working against them in one of several ways: an increasing number of apps of paid apps will arise, the average price for paid apps will increase, while the average quality will decrease.

This whole app problem could be avoided by focusing more on cross-platform HTML5 apps instead of native apps, but although the new standard will surely gain traction amongst app developers who want to keep their costs down, I believe that it will take a few years before HTML5-based apps will start yielding a quality level justly comparable to that of native apps.

When it comes to app availability and quality, users of both Android and iOS will have to lose once a third platform eventually appears with a double-digit market share.

A Premature Conclusion

Unfortunately, I find that it is yet too early to draw the line and say for sure that the rise of a third major platform would be profitable for the Android platform and for end-users. I’m sure many will disagree, but there’s a voice in the back of my head screaming “app quality” when analyzing this scenario. Sure, with increased competition, new and cooler features will surely be rolled out by Google. But the reality is that the most important component of a mobile platform is comprised by the apps that are available and properly optimized for the respective platform.

What could this scenario bring about? If, for instance, BlackBerry 10 would take off, will Android users have more to benefit from this than they will have to lose?

The post Will a third major platform benefit Android users? appeared first on Android Authority.

How to use Carbon Backup

carbon-howto

Most people neglect backing up their devices. Normally this isn’t so much of a problem as contacts and calendar events are automatically stored in the cloud, and Google can backup device settings too. To the other extreme, we have the likes of Titanium Backup that is a comprehensive backup application for power users with root privileges. If you find that the built-in Google Backup isn’t comprehensive or reliable enough for you and that Titanium Backup is overkill for you, then Carbon Backup, made by the same team who made ClockWorkMod Recovery, is a new application that provides an excellent intermediate-level solution and doesn’t require you to have root access, but it helps.

To Root or not to root

Carbon Backup offers advantages to those who are brave enough to root their device. However, this route isn’t for everyone. Some devices are easier to root than others, and it usually means wiping your device. On the other hand, if you are feeling competent or brave enough then advantages await the beholders of root privileges.

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Carbon Backup getting root privileges. (Original screenshot)

Having a rooted phone means you can go on to try alternative firmwares like CyanogenMod or Paranoid Android. You can also expert apps like Titanium Backup and apps that will over or under clock your CPU. If you use Juice Defender to extend your battery life, extra features are available to rooted users.

Similarly, Carbon Backup offers advantages to rooted users. Without root, users will need to install the Carbon Backup desktop agent to enable the app to work at all. This makes Carbon Backup much more inconvenient to use, and pretty much rules out scheduled backups. Furthermore, having root lets you backup all of your Wi-Fi profiles.

If you do not root your device, you’ll need the desktop agent (available for Windows, Mac, and Linux) which can be downloaded from http://www.clockworkmod.com/carbon. To enable the Carbon Backup client on your device, start the agent on your desktop and connect your device via USB. Once the green tick appears on the desktop agent, Carbon Backup is ready to go and you can disconnect the cable.

Caption

The Carbon Backup desktop agent. (Original screenshot)

Going Premium

Note that most of the features discussed in this guide are unlocked when the premium version of Carbon Backup. Specifically these features are device to device sync, backup schedules, and backing up to cloud locations. Therefore, it’s recommended if that you go for the premium option. Even if you don’t like paying for apps, this comes with our recommendation.

Backing up

Carbon Backup has two tabs, “Backup” and “Restore and sync”. Each has a list of all the applications installed on your device, with a tick box to select which items will be backed up. As of version 1.1.0.0 of Carbon Backup allows you to backup settings for your Launcher, SMS store, user dictionary and Wi-Fi profiles (requires root). Carbon also features a control panel that resembles an upside down notification shade. Swipe it upwards to reveal its options. You’ll see you can “Select All” and “Deselect all,” along with a preview of all the apps you’ve selected. Also note that there’s an additional section at the end of the backup list of applications that do not allow their data to be backed up, even if you do have root privileges.

Selecting what to backup

Selecting what to backup. (Original screenshot)

When Carbon Backup creates a copy of your apps, it also saves the APK files so that you don’t have to revisit the Play Store to reinstall everything. However, that creates a sizable backup (i.e. gigabytes). However, the control shade has an option to backup ‘App Data Only’. This will dispense with saving all of the installation files and only save the personal configuration data for each application. This will create smaller backups which makes transfers quicker ­– whether over a cable or uploading to the cloud. You can also save sets of backed up applications by giving a name to your selection – this option is also found in the control shade.

carbonbackup-04

Advanced backup settings. (Original screenshot)

Once you are ready to begin backing up, tap the “Backup” button.

Where and how to save backups

When beginning to backup you are given a list of destinations to save your backed up files. The options include the internal storage of your device, or cloud accounts: Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box (premium only). There is also an option to schedule this backup you’ve configured – even though it seems counter intuitive to create a schedule from a menu of places to save your data.

When setting a schedule, specific the time and day of the week, then you may opt to have the scheduled backup only run when the device is connected to Wi-Fi, and/or when the device is charging. The schedule settings also features an icon (to the right of the backup icon previews) that indicates to the backup destination, and tapping this allows you to edit the destination.

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Selecting where to save backups. (Original screenshot)

Note the clock icon in the upper toolbar of Carbon Backup – this allows you to review the schedules you’ve already set up. From this list you can also delete schedules via long press gesture.

Once the backup begins, an Android system screen appear for a few seconds where you can add a password to encrypt your data. You’ll have to act quickly as this screen is soon gone, and make sure to save the password safely as there will be no way to recover to the password if you lose it.

Setting up backup schedules. (Original screenshot)

Setting up backup schedules. (Original screenshot)

Restoring

Swiping over to the “Restore and Sync” tab gives a list of all the cloud locations you have backups stored on, and all of the devices you have backups stored in – i.e. your internal storage and other Carbon Backup clients running on your WiFi network (more on this below). Note that Carbon Backup recently implemented support for multiple devices after having saved to the cloud from multiple devices into one shared pool. To handle this change over you’ll find a drop-down list at the top of the screen after selecting a given cloud backup location. The list will have an entry for the device you’re currently using and for your shared backup storage. Note that on Dropbox you’ll find the Carbon Backup files in the Dropbox\Apps\ClockworkMod Carbon subfolder of your Dropbox folder and in Google Drive, files are stored in a folder called com.koushikdutta.backup. I confess I’m not a Box user, so I appeal to you to advice in the comments as to where backups are stored on that service.

carbonbackup-07

Selecting the source to restore from. (Original screenshot)

As with selecting what to backup, you can select some or all of the items available for restoration, with the same control shade for selecting or deselecting all options. Just tap the ‘Restore’ button and things Carbon will begin restoring the backup.

As when backing up your device, a system screen will appear briefly for you to enter the password you used if you encrypted your backup.

Backing up and restoring from a PC

Carbon Backup comes complete with a web interface that allows you to view the installed apps and settings on a given device via your desktop browser. To enable this, tap the menu button (“…”) and select “PC Download”. The app will then show you a screen which gives you the IP address you’ll have to enter into your desktop browser to view the web interface. You can also quickly enable and disable the server via the large on-screen circular button.

Running the Carbon Backup server. (Original screenshot)

Running the Carbon Backup server. (Original screenshot)

The web interface allows you to select some or all of the installed apps (including system settings as described above, e.g. launcher, Wi-Fi, etc). Once the selection is made and you have clicked the blue “Start Backup” button in your desktop browser a zip file will be transferred from your Android device to your desktop computer via your home network. Note that if you wish to encrypt your backup, you’ll have to enter a password on the Android device as before, i.e. you cannot set an encryption key from your desktop.

Restoring works similarly, you’ll need to locate the zip file you previously downloaded from your Android device and drag it onto the web page or select via file navigator. The file will be copied from your desktop to your Android device. If the backup is encrypted, you’ll have to be quick and enter the password on your Android device, as described above.

carbonbackup-09

The Carbon Backup web interface

Be aware that it can take a while to transfer the backup file from your device. Even if you only backup application data, the backup file can be hundreds of megabytes. If you do a full backup, the file will be gigabytes in size and would probably be best left working overnight. When a PC backup is complete, the server will automatically turn off.

Synchronizing apps between Android devices

In addition to viewing the apps on your device that can be backed up via your desktop browser, the Carbon Backup client can browse the contents of other devices via a Wi-Fi network. In the Restore and Sync tab, tap “Refresh Device List”. This will cause your client to check your LAN for other Android devices that are running the Carbon Backup server. Tapping on any of the devices that appear allows you to browse the list of installed applications. Items in the list of items on another device can be selected and restored to the device you’re currently using.

Note, therefore, that the device to device restoration model is a Pull method rather than Push. This is good from a security point of view as you have to deliberately copy data form another device to yours, rather than anyone else having the ability to inject (i.e. push) app data to your device.

Synchronising devices. (Original screenshot)

Synchronising devices. (Original screenshot)

This is useful, for example, if you’re playing a game and have it installed on multiple devices. You can maintain your progress by manually pulling data from the last device you played on. Also, you can quickly install an app on your device by restoring it from another device, which may or may not be more convenient than looking for the device in the Play Store. I have not tested this with two devices configured with different Google accounts, but I expect that DRM limitations will apply if you try to copy a paid app from another device to your device.

The post How to use Carbon Backup appeared first on Android Authority.

The Friday Debate: Is Facebook Home a good thing?

We are all mobile geeks here at Android Authority. We love everything with a power button. We like to comment on the latest news and endlessly argue over which phone is better. On the Friday Debate, we pick a hot issue and proceed to discuss it. Join us!

Facebook has now outed its much-rumored and much-anticipated Facebook Home. While mobile has traditionally been a weak point of the social network, Facebook has started making inroads into smartphones and tablets, with improved mobile-optimized user interfaces on the major mobile platforms. As much as many techies would not want to admit it, Facebook has become a platform that is useful in both information exchange and interaction. Still, we cannot deny that there is a lot of junk floating around in Facebook, and that privacy issues are still a deal-breaker for many.

Consider that in the emerging markets, mobile devices are the primary means of accessing the Internet. Facebook knows that in order to capitalize on this growing market (for instance, China has a billion mobile users), it needs to be the default go-to place when a user opens his or her phone. In mature mobile markets, meanwhile, persistent data connections are the norm, and everyone is always connected. This is perhaps the essence of Facebook Home. While Facebook has not produced its own mobile operating system or smartphone brand, it has the potential to proliferate across the hundreds of millions of Android devices out there.

With the combination of Facebook Home as the home screen and launcher, plus Facebook Messenger as your messaging and even your VoIP calling service, Facebook might just be geared toward taking over mobile, even amid the dominance of Android and iOS. This is all free, of course. But at what cost will it come for smartphone and tablet users who practically give away their information to Facebook? As the saying goes, if the product is free, then you’re probably the product.

Our team has differing opinions about Facebook Home, which is great. Here are some thoughts below. Read our arguments, vote in the poll, sound off in the comments!

Darcy LaCouvée (G+): A perpetual high school reunion

Facebook Home, is, at best, an attempt to further address the problems Facebook is facing. Their lack of agile development in Android and especially towards Android tablets is shameful. Particularly interesting, to me at least, is how they have taken so many cues – design and otherwise – from Google and Google+ as of late. Google is in the driver’s seat, and clearly dislikes what Facebook is attempting to do here. With all things considered, and with the ridiculously large user base that Facebook already enjoys, I’m sure it will be somewhat of a success.

Those that really appreciate social networking already know: Facebook is a perpetual high school reunion while Google+ is a place where you are free to follow all of your passions. No Facebook home for me.

Daniel Charlton (G+): Stupid but compelling

Honestly, I think that the product is stupid.  But then, I’m not a Facebook user, so my view is probably skewed.  That said, I find the concept very compelling.

Facebook is basically showing up every single Android manufacturer not named Google.  They are delivering a highly customized Android user experience and they are doing it within an app.  Not a custom ROM or custom framework.  A simple, standalone app that will (eventually) be released for general consumers to download from the Google Play Store.  It makes it pretty clear that TouchWiz and Sense and the rest are needlessly complicated.  If those OEMs took the same approach, it could end the fragmentation nightmare and make updates easy for everyone.

Derek Ross (G+): Facebook and privacy don’t mix

As a social media enthusiast and a guy that loves to customize Android, what Facebook has done is pretty awesome. Now using it is another story. I dislike their platform, therefore I won’t be using their launcher. I still can’t deny it’s cool though. If I used and liked Facebook, I’d install it right away.

That is, if I wasn’t concerned with what Facebook would be doing with my data. We’re in the age of context. I believe this is Facebook’s way to enter this new era and compete with Google Now. There’s a huge difference here though. Google Now is an opt-in service. I highly, highly doubt Facebook will have an opt-in or opt-out service. They just don’t do that. That hasn’t been in their business model yet. Facebook and privacy don’t mix. Time and time again, Facebook has broken our trust in regards to privacy.

In the end, I’m curious to see where this goes and will keep a close eye on it.

Bogdan Bele (G+): Probably addictive and counter-productive

I think it’s a great idea for people that are addicted to Facebook. It certainly makes it much easier for them to easily keep in touch with everything that’s going in in their account. Personally, I’ll probably try and get bored of it in a few days.

It also could boost sales of smartphones supporting it, and I’m pretty sure the HTC First will do well, too. Believe it or not, I know enough people whose main use for their smartphone is using Facebook.

As for those of us not addicted to Facebook, we’ve lived without having it at the forefront of our phone until now, we’ll continue to do the same from now on.

All in all, it’s Facebook trying to keep people on Facebook even more, and I can totally understand it from the company’s point of view.

I have to say, though, that I like the Chat Heads feature. In a world of permanent data connections, I can see it replacing text messaging for some people – and making others even less productive.

Robert Triggs (G+): Speak to me now! speak to me now!

To quote the great Stephen Fry, “the telephone is a fantastically rude thing, it’s like going: Speak to me now! Speak to me now!” After all, you wouldn’t bang on someone’s desk and demand to be spoken to.

That’s kind of how I feel about the whole design philosophy behind Facebook Home. It upgrades even the most pitiful status update from an optional periphery into front page news, demanding your attention even if you simply don’t care.

With Facebook Home you’ll be forced to witness all the drunken ramblings of your friends, the stomach churning pictures of “lasagne” your sister just cooked, and you’ll be faced with an endless steam of pet pictures every time you turn on your phone. Thanks, but no thanks.

I’m quite happy with the current notification system which allows me to check out updates on my own terms, but with Facebook Home there’s no escape. I’m all in favor of social networking but it’s important to be able to tune out.

Of course if you’re an insanely sociable creature who prides yourself on having an intricate knowledge of your friend’s lives, then Facebook Home’s new features are actually pretty good. But it’s definitely not for me.

Joe Hindy (G+): Good for competition

In theory, Facebook Home is an interesting idea. While many of us may not like the idea, we have to remember that this new Facebook experience isn’t targeting people who use all the social networks. This is targeting people who live and breathe Facebook. Despite Google+ and Twitter’s popularity, Facebook still reigns supreme in this market and there are still a lot of people who use only Facebook. For those people. Facebook Home could be an amazing experience. Personally, I won’t be using it on my daily drivers because Facebook is but one of many social networking experiences I enjoy every day and it’s not even the one I use most often.

I am happy that it exists, though. Android thrives on competition. When Facebook Home launches, we’ll all get a chance to see what the world would be like with a Facebook phone by simply downloading the app. This is going to be taking a big piece of pie from other launcher developers, other social networking sites, and will affect a good portion of the Android ecosystem. This means many of them will have to improve or adapt in order to remain competitive and relevant. That equates to more apps with more features for us, the end users, which means we’ll be the real winners here.

Vote in our poll and join the discussions!

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Sony Xperia ZL review (video)

sony-xperia-zl-shorter aa

Sony has made significant progress since it bought Ericsson out of their business venture back in early 2012. But, moving into 2013, the Japanese phone manufacturer still had a lot to improve on if it wanted to tackle the “big boys” of the smartphone market.

Less than a year following the Ericsson “divorce”, Sony introduced not one, but two great Android smartphones: the Sony Xperia Z and the Sony Xperia ZL.

At first blush, the Xperia Z, which we reviewed a couple of weeks back, seemed to be Sony’s flagship for 2013, and the better phone from the pair. But the Sony Xperia ZL shouldn’t be dismissed just because it’s smaller and not as sleek as its sibling.

As a matter of fact, the compact size of the Sony Xperia ZL may just be the best thing about this device. Even better, the small footprint doesn’t come at the expense of the specs and the overall experience.

If you’re looking for a video review of the Sony Xperia ZL, you might want to jump to the bottom of this article, where we give you a video tour of the smartphone. Let’s take a closer look at what the Sony Xperia ZL has to offer.

Build and design

Although Sony used roughly the same design language with both the Sony Xperia Z and the Sony Xperia ZL, there are a few notable differences.

Starting with the similarities, the Sony Xperia ZL features straight edges and angular corners to accomplish a slab-like overall feel.

sony-xperia-zl-grip aa

The front of the smartphone is dominated by the 5-inch display, which renders three navigational on-screen buttons below the content area. Excluding the thin bezels, there’s really nothing else to look at other than Sony’s logo at the top and the uniquely designed notification LED light – instead of just a rounded pulsating light, the LED is more like a line and is a unique focal point for the Xperia ZL. Finally, the front-facing camera that rests below the navigational buttons is supposed to make video chats more natural by having users look lower on the screen – that’s what Sony posits, anyway.

The right side of the Sony Xperia ZL houses the large, silver power button in the middle, a volume rocker above the power button and a dedicated camera button for the trigger-happy shutterbug in all of us.

sony-xperia-zl-button-layout aa

While the textured plastic back is not as rigid as some would like it to be, it does help with the handling of the Sony Xperia ZL, letting users operate it with just one hand. In addition to the improved grip, the texturized plastic is less likely to shatter into pieces the instant you’ve dropped the smartphone on a concrete pavement (which is usually a job best fitted for our own Darcy LaCouvee) as opposed to glass, the material that covers the back of the Sony Xperia Z.

sony-xperia-zl-back aa

The textured plastic back of the Xperia ZL features a flappy cover at the bottom that can be removed to expose the microSD and micro SIM slots. The cover is attached to the body by a single piece of plastic, and since it doesn’t feel especially durable, it does require a bit of extra attention when access to the slots is needed.

sony-xperia-zl-back-cover aa

While the Sony Xperia ZL lacks the waterproofing of the Sony Xperia Z, it does compensate with a much more compact form factor. In fact, the Sony Xperia ZL is the most compact 5-inch smartphone officially announced thus far.

The Sony Xperia ZL measures 131.6 x 69.3 x 9.8 mm (5.18 x 2.73 x 0.39 in) and weighs 151 g (5.33 oz). While thicker than most flagship smartphones, the Xperia ZL is the 5-incher that’s probably the easiest to use with just one hand (the number one issue with smartphones that use displays of this size).

Display

Sony has equipped the Xperia ZL with a 5-inch TFT capacitive panel that works at a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, with a 441 PPI density. As far as we can tell, this is the exact same display that Sony has used on the Xperia Z.

sony-xperia-zl-screen aa

As it was to be expected judging by the spec sheet, sharpness is on par with that offered by the displays of other 5-inch Android smartphones. However, sharpness is not all that makes a great smartphone display.

Both through direct observation, and based on more formal tests, it’s clear that the display on the Sony Xperia ZL suffers from a few issues that are also seen on its bigger twin. First, although not a deal breaker to most smartphone users, is the problem of limited viewing angles. Then there’s the issue of lower contrast levels, when compared to other devices, as well as the less accurate color reproduction.

The Bravia image processing chip, a component that Sony has always touted in its marketing materials, may improve the viewing experience in some scenarios, but also oversaturate colors under certain conditions.

Overall, the Sony Xperia ZL has a good display, one that will satisfy all but the most pretentious users.

Hardware and performance

CPU, GPU, and RAM

As far as performance is concerned, you’ll have a tough time finding a faster smartphone on the market right now, although there are a few devices that are close enough to call it a draw.

Today’s top smartphones (unless you managed to buy an HTC One) are powered by the same SoC as the Xperia ZL, the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, which includes a 1.5 GHz quad-core Krait CPU and an Adreno 320 GPU. The ZL has 2GB of RAM memory.

As you would expect, benchmarks but also real life usage suggest that the Sony Xperia ZL is at the top of the performance charts, along other phones based on the S4 Pro, such as the Xperia Z, the HTC Droid DNA or the Nexus 4.

sony xperia zl benchmark antutu aa

Sure, there are a few upcoming devices what will feature faster processors (the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One are just two examples), but those devices are not yet available for purchase in most markets. And I’ll assure you that, by the time those smartphones become widely available, some manufacturer will announce an even faster smartphone. That’s the way technology evolves these days. The processor package in the Xperia ZL might be getting on a bit, but that doesn’t mean it won’t give you a really great experience nonetheless.

Internal storage, camera, and battery

The Xperia ZL comes with 16GB of internal storage and can work with microSD cards of up to 64GB, which is perfect for those with an ever growing need of storage space.

The primary camera features a 13MP Sony Exmor RS sensor that produces some of the nicest pictures taken with a smartphone. Sony’s proprietary camera app is also a welcomed addition, as it features a couple of software tweaks such as Sony’s Superior Auto system (a software tool that can automatically adjust the settings depending on the environment) and Sweeping Panorama.

Here are a couple of sample shots taken with Sony’s Xperia ZL primary camera:

Xperia ZL camera sample aa

Xperia ZL camera sample 2 aa

Sony engineers have decided to place the secondary 2MP camera at the bottom right side of the front of the phone, a decision that’s supposedly based on the fact that most people look down to their phones while in a video call.

The 2370 non-removable battery will get you through the day with moderate use, although there is nothing spectacular to report about it. During our tests, after a full charge, the Sony Xperia ZL has turned off after 5 and a half hours of HD video playback.

IR blaster

One key difference between the Xperia ZL and its bigger twin is the inclusion of an IR blaster. This is an emerging piece of tech appearing on more devices – it provides the ability for users to utilize their phones as remote controls for multiple devices. You can use the Xperia Zl, then, as a universal remote that controls your television, stereo system, or even a cable set-top box. It is certainly a neat and unique addition, though its functionality depends on the remote control application that is covered later.

Android implementation

The Sony Xperia ZL runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with Sony’s proprietary Xperia UI overlaid on top. As with all custom manufacturer UIs for Android, the design is a matter of personal preference. The Xperia UI allows for some basic customization of your homescreens, although if that’s not enough for you, you can always install a custom launcher from the Play Store and get a totally different visual experience.

sony-xperia-z-homescreen-customize

As far as extending the functionality of the Android OS, the Sony Xperia UI is not doing anything that we would call impressive, although the array of media-centered apps that Sony has included in the package do provide some nice features.

sony-xperia-z-music-albums

Another software tweak that’s worth mentioning about the Xperia UI is that, when low on battery, the phone can enter Stamina mode, which supresses the mobile data connection while the screen is turned off. There are a bunch of apps in the Google Play Store that have the exact same functionality, but Stamina mode is still a welcomed out-of-the-box feature.

xperia-zl-ir-blaster

One last piece of software worth mentioning is the inclusion of a remote control application. Using the aforementioned IR blaster, users can open up the Remote Control app and add from a pretty incredible list of devices in order to find the one they use. This all ranges from DVD players to cable set-top boxes to televisions. While definitely pretty handy, the built-in presets for various devices may likely work flawlessly for only newer devices. Testing on an older Vizio flat screen TV yielded only some of the buttons functional, even after using all the different remote types. Manual set up is possible, however, so if it doesn’t work for you, that may be the way to go.

Hands-on video

Wrap up

When you draw the line, the Sony Xperia ZL is a great Android smartphone that delivers the best performance on the market, the most compact form factor on a smartphone with a 5-inch display, and a decent camera. Moreover, the design and build quality could prove superior to the Xperia Z, even though the ZL doens’t offer protection against water and dust.

The display however, while still a decent one, is not the best around, and that may turn off some potential customers.

What do you make of the Sony Xperia ZL? Drop us a comment in the section below and share your thoughts!

Mike Andrici and Bogdan Petrovan contributed to this review.

The post Sony Xperia ZL review (video) appeared first on Android Authority.

The Friday Debate: Is the Uncarrier model the future of phone contracts?

The-Friday-Debate aa Image: Evan Forester/Flickr

We are all mobile geeks, here at Android Authority. We love everything with a power button. We like to comment the latest news and endlessly argue over which phone is better. On the Friday Debate, we pick a hot issue and proceed to discuss it. Join us!

“Stop the bullshit!” said T-Mobile’s colorful CEO John Legere on Tuesday. After months of speculation and leaks, the magenta carrier finally unveiled its Uncarrier strategy. Legere was referring of course to the pricing model of American carriers, which T-Mobile is decided to turn on its head. Uncarrier means that T-Mobile won’t subsidize phones anymore. Customers will pay their devices, either when signing up for the contract or through monthly installments. But is this new way of selling services a viable business for T-Mo? Will the no subsidy model spread in the US, or is it just a false alarm?

At this week’s Friday Debate, we ask: Is the Uncarrier model the future of phone contracts?

Read our arguments, vote in the poll, sound off in the comments!

Joe Hindy (G+): no-contract is going mainstream

Over the last year or so, there has been a lot of talk of no-contract plans in the United States. Companies like Straight Talk and PlatinumTel are gaining a loyal following of customers who enjoy all the services of more expensive carriers at much less of a cost. It isn’t mainstream yet, but it’s gaining traction.

This is why T-Mobile’s move to no-contracts is so brilliant. As much as our audience may dislike this analogy, it’s a lot like the release of the iPhone right when smartphones were gaining mainstream attention. Similarly, no-contract plans are gaining traction, but T-Mobile will be making them mainstream. Whether or not it’ll increase their customer base remains to be seen. However, I would not be surprised to see the other carriers in the US shoring up their no-contract offerings and giving the US much better no-contract options than we’ve ever seen before. The age of contract plans is coming to an end and T-Mobile was just smart enough to cash in on it first.

Daniel Charlton (G+): Marketing is crucial

Most places in the world emphasize the contractless approach.  I think it’s smart of T-Mobile to go this way.  I also like that they are bringing a non-subsidy model for reducing up-front device costs.  It gives the consumer a lot better visibility into the fact that they are paying $X per month for service and some separate $Y per month for the device.

I think where they are tripping up is in their marketing materials.  They are focusing entirely on the ‘unlimited’ marketing but ignoring the fact that most people don’t care about that.  It’s especially a problem for the ‘base” portion of the plan.  $50 per month gets you unlimited minutes and texts.  People are using increasingly fewer minutes and non-SMS based texting (Google Voice or like a thousand other options).  T-Mobile still has options that are not unlimited minutes and texts (at least according to their customer service response to my G+ post asking about it), but they don’t appear anywhere on their website or in their marketing materials.  I know at least for me, the new pricing (with that $50 base cost) is more expensive that I pay right now for my (on-contract) T-Mobile service.

Marketing the unlimited everything plan at $70 is great, but it’d be just as useful to know that consumers can get an ‘everything they need’ plan for more like $40 or $50 a month.  Showing off the lower end of the pricing spectrum would put the company in a position to compete on price with the likes of Cricket and Metro PCS and the high end providers like Verizon and AT&T at the same time.  Right now, they are really only targeting that higher end with their marketing.

Derek Ross (G+): T-Mobile could pull it off

T-Mobile’s move to re-brand themselves as the ‘UnCarrier’ aligns their non-contract approach with the rest of the world. This approach has been successful outside of the United States for quite some time. John Legere put it best when he said “”Customers love smartphones, everyone hates contracts”.

While T-Mobile’s methods might be great on paper, when it comes to overall coverage, they still don’t have that large of a footprint compared to their competitors. As T-Mobile continues to gain traction, such as their Metro PCS acquisition and LTE rollout, hopefully we’ll see their “UnCarrier” methods shake-up the mobile industry here in the US. Someone needs to do something to advocate change. I think T-Mobile might just be the company to do it.

Tanay Sood (G+): More than swagger is needed

Well, the rest of the world is following this system, so why not T-Mobile? They definitely know what they are doing as evidenced by John Legere’s newly found swagger and confidence. As long as T-Mobile puts their money where their mouth is and start actively promoting the potential savings to be had after switching to their new plans, I feel consumers will start to consider the switch sooner rather than later. They have the plans, they now have the phones (the iPhone 5 and all the 2013 flagships including the HTC One and the Samsung GS4 will be making an appearance on the carrier), all they now need is the coverage.

People are not going to switch unless T-Mobile provides excellent coverage and speeds in their area; as they keep improving their network, the reasons to keep ignoring them will continue to decrease.

Brad Ward (G+): Give me coverage

T-Mobile’s uncarrier model is the future, but I doubt it’s going to shake up the wireless industry in the U.S. right away. The mobile operator is offering a lot of nice things that will no doubt attract a truckload of customers, but as +Derek Ross said, their footprint isn’t that large compared to their competitors.

The model already works outside of the U.S., and there’s no doubt that it’ll shake things up here when T-Mobile is able to better their coverage. T-Mobile can offer all of the nice discounts they want, but it’s not going to shake things up until their coverage gets better.

When T-Mobile gets coverage on par with AT&T and Verizon, the uncarrier model will really take off. Who knows, it may even force AT&T and Verizon to start switching things up.

Vote in our poll and join the discussion!

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One the road with Nexus

NexusRoad

My regular life has me working from home, using a heterogeneous set of mobile platforms. Recently though, I’ve been travelling, which coincided with starting to use the Nexus 4, in complement to my Nexus 7. This is my story of going from familiar surroundings and being platform agnostic to living on the road and having Nexus devices being my front-line tech. 

Choosing apps and transitioning from Windows Phone to Android

Prior to the Nexus 4, I had not used Android as my phone for quite a while. My main use of Android was with the Nexus 7, where I found Android’s widgets and the extra real-estate of the 7″ screen made much more sense. At the risk of raising the ire of the Android Authority readers, I had been using Windows Phone 8 as my phone operating system (on a Lumia 920). Without making the case for Live Tiles here, I’ll just say that it took me awhile to figure out how to best configure the discrete phone homescreens for my needs. I’m glad to say that six weeks later, I’ve fine tuned things to something that makes sense to me.

It was that building of homescreens that I found the hardest part of the transition to using Android as a phone again. As for apps, it will come as no surprise to hear that for every app Windows Phone has, there are several alternatives on Android. The hardest substitute to find was an office suite, an area in which Windows Phone has a natural advantage. Having spent a good deal of money on several office suites for Android I decided, somewhat ironically, that the free of charge Kingsoft Office was the best all-round office app for both phone and tablet. With that out of the way, adapting a largely Microsoft dominated workflow to Android was easy given that it has OneNote and SkyDrive clients.

Nexus 4 vs Lumia 920

Nexus 4 vs Lumia 920

When living in an unfamiliar city, the smartphone is a great aid to finding your way around. As someone who spends his working life talking about mobile devices, I felt obliged to pit the Lumia’s Nokia Maps against Google Maps Navigation for walking directions (I don’t drive). While Google Maps was able to route me through the footpaths of nearby municipal areas, Nokia Maps’ walking directions were limited to roadways. Also, while Nokia Maps has a good set of local search results for most areas, it’s no substitute for being able to overlay a Google search onto a map. This was demonstrated when searching for local branches of well known UK stores, rather than the prescribed tourist attractions and places to eat. On the other hand though, the user interface for all of the Google Maps products need some work. It’s not always obvious where to find options and the presentation of results are somewhat basic.

Curious directions from Google Maps walking navigation

Curious directions from Google Maps walking navigation

One way in which both navigation packages fell down was with a niche of public transit navigation. While both Nokia’s and Google’s offerings could suggest bus routes, neither were aware of the tram system in the city I was visiting.

Another phone function that is particularly important to me is the camera. I think most Android watchers would agree with me that the Nexus 4 camera is acceptable but definitely average, this meant that the Lumia 920 was often kept at hand for camera duty. I also found that the Jelly Bean camera application was continually losing focus lock and starting to hunt for a focal spot all over again, which made it difficult to quickly take an in-focus photo.

An example of a Microsoft PhotoSynth photo

An example of a Microsoft PhotoSynth

2013-02-28 17.30.09-1

An Android Photo Sphere

An area in which Android did surpass the imaging capabilities of Windows Phone was with Photo Spheres. Microsoft has its own implementation of these Street View like wrap around images, known as PhotoSynth. However, I found the results to be much less impressive with distinct distortions and visible joins between images, whereas Android’s Photo Spheres, if taken carefully, produce much smoother and convincing results.

Dealing with limited connectivity

While travelling in the UK, I had unlimited mobile data but the signal coverage was often poor. To save going over the restrictive bandwidth cap of the place I was staying, I made use of mobile data via the Nexus 4 as much as possible. While using the (WiFi only) Nexus 7 as a substitute laptop, it was a cinch to set up the phone as a WiFi hotspot. Furthermore, SMS communication could also be handled on the tablet thanks to the “Tablet Talk” app, which allows the phone to synchronise with the tablet and send real time notifications of messages – most importantly it allows you to reply to messages on the tablet without having to get up and fetch your phone!

Things got more complicated when I wanted to get online with my Windows 8 laptop via the Nexus 4. Setting up a WiFi hotspot should have just worked, but there were frequent issues where the laptop reported a “Limited” connection, meaning while they were connected, I couldn’t get online. Fortunately, Android has a trick that Windows Phone is still lacking, that is USB tethering. I find this to be a much better way of getting online via a phone as relaying data between two different radio systems is a power hungry activity, and so it’s good for the phone to leech some power from the laptop it’s serving.

Android data monitor

Android data monitor

The data counter that was included from Ice Cream Sandwich made it far easier to keep a track of my usage. While I was on an allegedly unlimited package, it was still reassuring to keep track just in case I was dinged with a fair usage penalty.

The next leg of my journey took me to Nova Scotia, Canada. There, mobile data is prohibitively expensive, and so any smartphone is suddenly restricted to only working at its full potential while in range of a WiFi hotspot. This means staying at home or stopping off at somewhere like Tim Horton’s or Starbucks. Otherwise, my shiny new Nexus 4 felt somewhat hobbled when out and about.

Google Now is changing how phones might work

As I was using a Nexus 4, I thought I ought to adopt Google Now as much as I could, even going so far as to place its widget on my primary homescreen. Prior to going off on my travels, I bemoaned Google Now for only providing information about weather and stock prices. Many Android users will readily point out that Google Now will give you navigation tips for getting from home to work and back – that’s great but I typically work at home and so never benefited from that.

However, once I started moving around, I began to see these transit hints popping up and even though they weren’t relevant to me, I saw how they could be useful. While visiting a friend in London, he showed me how that even though he had not informed Google Now as to where he worked, it had eventually learnt his work location based on where he was going and spending his time. Moreover, it even started to suggest that he wasn’t taking the most optimal route and suggested better routes. Given his local knowledge of the London transport system, I am not sure Google knew best in this case, but still it was impressive to see what Google Now was doing on its own initiative.

Another transport feature Google Now occasionally displayed to me was showing me how far I had walked around while exploring the areas I’ve been living in. However, it has only shown the pedometer card once, and I would like to know how to see it again!

Public Transport advice from Google Now

Public Transport advice from Google Now

Things got more interesting as I approached railway stations and airports. Not only did Google Now display a card of photos taken nearby, but it also started to show departure times. However, the departure times were always for buses leaving the station, not the trains or planes that were coming and going.

I can see how bus times for getting connecting transport could be useful, but I’d have much rather have seen a card appear showing a departure board so I could see whether the train or plane I’d just arrived for was on time or not. While in London, Google Now did exactly that when approaching tube stations. It fetched data directly from the Transport for London web service and let me know when subsequent underground services were due.

On the other hand, Google Now excelled in the case of handling flight information. I’d booked a flight from London to Halifax (NS) with Air Canada. Google detected that email, and the night before my flight, the Google Now widget started showing me a card to reassure me that my flight was on time. I loved this, but the night before seemed a little premature to let me know one way or another.

gnow-flights

I’m writing this feature from Nova Scotia, but Google Now knows that the UK is my home country. As such, the widget always shows me up to date exchange rates. In the Google Now app, it constantly shows me the exchange rate, nearby attractions and the time at home. The latter is great for working out what friends and family are doing and whether it’s too late at night to phone home.

Google Now is clearly in an early state, I don’t feel that it has reached its potential, for me at least. However, there is nothing else out there that offers useful information before you even think about needing it. While the iPhone has a great virtual assistant in Siri, Google Now is working to give you what you want before you realise you need it.

Google Now offers useful information while abroad

Google Now offers useful information while abroad

The story so far

So far, the Nexus devices have been excellent companions for travelling. The Nexus 7, when combined with the nifty little Bluetooth keyboard we’ve seen before, is a great substitute for my laptop in many cases and has the advantage of fitting into my coat pocket.

nexus-open

As for the Nexus 4, this is obviously the reference model for Jelly Bean, and does a great job of embodying all the new features. The downsides of the Nexus 4 are that it has a non-replaceable battery (forcing me to carry a portable charger) and it’s fragile without the bumper case (I have two).

If you can't find an official Nexus 4 bumper, GenX make some colourful options

If you can’t find an official Nexus 4 bumper, GenX make some colourful options

Don't forget your Nexus travel charger!

Don’t forget your Nexus travel charger!

The other downside to the Nexus 4 is its average camera. Especially when travelling you want to capture precious memories and sights. I’m loathed to entrust the Nexus 4 to be the device I use to photograph the things around me. I have been using it to a limited amount, but the twitchy focusing of the Android camera app simply makes it a chore. It’s for this reason that the Lumia 920 is sticking around in my tech bag.

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