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Summary:

The end of another week is nigh which brings me to my favorite task — sharing the events at Mobile Tech Manor. This week was a big week for apps for the iPad and Android. A lost dog dominated Twitter, and a good book was read.

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The end of another week is winding down which brings me to my favorite task — sharing the events at Mobile Tech Manor once again. This is column number 93, which means a whole of sharing has been going on. If you’ve missed the other 92 columns, Mobile Tech Manor is my home office where all sorts of things mobile get examined, discussed and picked apart. I then recap each week in this article to pass on the major things that shaped the week. This week I spent a lot of time looking at apps for the HTC EVO 4G and the iPad.

Gadgetry

Nothing new arrived at the Manor this week, an unusual situation. Fortunately, I am still in the honeymoon phase with the HTC EVO 4G which I picked up recently on its launch day. I have been using it heavily as I incorporate it into my daily routine and discover all of the things it can do. There are still reviews of the EVO popping up on the web, and a lot of digital ink has been spent on its terrible battery life. This week one such review stated the EVO battery would only last an hour before running dry, and like all such statements this thoroughly confuses me.

I shared my tips for preventing background tasks on Android phones from hitting the battery hard, and with these easy steps my own battery life has been quite good. I use the EVO quite hard each day, and there is still plenty of juice in the tank at the end of the day. I even had one day this week where I used the EVO very heavily due to a special circumstance at the Manor, and even with lots of phone calls, texting, emailing and tweeting (sorry NYT) I still had over 60 percent of battery remaining.

I can’t understand what these reviewers are running on their test EVOs to hit the battery so hard. I even wonder if some units have something strange going on that drains the batteries extraordinarily fast. Maybe there is a batch of bad batteries going in these phones? Or perhaps what is happening to these reviewers is that they are installing a lot of apps and widgets to test the phone, and then leaving them all running in the background. Even so, to drain a full battery in an hour is something I don’t think I could do on my own EVO if I tried to do so deliberately. It’s pretty strange.

Thinking back on my own EVO ownership, I did have one similar incident right after I got mine home. I had not optimized the settings listed in my tips, I simply bought the phone and started using it. After the one battery draining situation, I did a factory reset of the EVO and then changed the settings to work properly and the battery life has been outstanding. Perhaps HTC is not setting these things up very well, and cleaning the slate and starting over properly is the key?

Apps everywhere

Due to the lack of new gadgets arriving, there was lots of time to try out new apps on the devices already in the Manor. That’s a dangerous situation for me, as my addiction to apps is well documented on these pages. I hear about a new app, and I have to try it out to see if it has some magical feature that will revolutionize my usage of a given device. What makes this addiction so insidious is that most apps are only a buck or two. That makes hitting that “Buy Now” button something I can do with little thought; then at the end of the week I wonder why my operating account is lower than it should be.

The best app I found this week was Swype, a touch keyboard that turns tapping on a keyboard to enter text into an amazing experience. Words are entered by swiping over the keys to spell the word, and Swype figures out uncannily what word is desired. It is even accurate when the swiping is not the best; it can determine the correct word even if not a single letter in the word was actually touched. You just have to be reasonably close to the right letters when swiping and Swype gets it right. The app is only available for a short while so Android phone owners should grab this right away.

I have been honest about missing the Palm Pre that I gave up to get the EVO. One of the features in webOS I miss the most are the task cards that sit on the screen for easy task manipulation. Tap a card to switch to that app. Swipe a card up to delete the app. Simple and elegant, and not duplicated on any other platform.

A free app I found in the Android Market for the EVO is TaskOS. It is a graphical task manager that works like webOS in a limited fashion. Running tasks appear in a band on the screen, and you swipe left or right to get to the right one. Tap it, and you go to that app. Swipe up on a task icon and it is deleted. It’s pretty cool, and helps me get my webOS fix.

The great Dolphin Browser HD for Android was updated to version 2 this week and it is now even better. It has become my default browser on the EVO, knocking off the browser that shipped on the EVO even though that one is pretty good, too. Dolphin works better, is faster and has an interface that is highly optimized for touch operation. It is the app that I use the most on the EVO.

Last night I found a new browser for the iPad, and it is pretty cool. The Life Browser is a webkit-based browser that is designed for touch operation, and even though I am just getting started with it I am finding it to be a good browser. It presents tabbed browsing in a unique way, with visited web sites becoming a “wheel” that can be spun through by touch. It’s hard to adequately describe Life, you have to see it in action to appreciate it. It probably won’t become my default browser, but it is pretty good so far. It does bog down when you get lots of open sites, probably due to the amount of RAM in the iPad.

This week Reeder for the iPad was released, and even though I have several RSS feed readers I like, so many people on the web praised it that I picked it up. It is pretty cool, but I am still trying to figure out what makes it better than some of the other readers I’ve tried. It does present a nicer graphical interface than most, but the actual operation is pretty similar. The verdict is still out on this one.

A new version of Google Earth for the iPad came out this week, and it is simply awesome. GE has always been a good program on any platform, but this new version on the big iPad touch screen is marvelous. It cannot be missed by iPad owners.

Upcoming trip

Next week I am traveling to Orlando; no I’m not going to Disney World as I didn’t win a sport championship. I am speaking on a panel about mobile tech at a conference with some of my peers and it will be totally cool. The trip is only for two days so I am traveling very light in the gear department. I intend to take the MacBook, iPad and the EVO 4G. That’s it; I know I will be able to handle anything that might come up with this kit, and it fits in a little backpack. Of course I will take the second MacBook battery, so I can get 8 – 10 hours each day without power concerns. The EVO will do double duty as a mobile hotspot, so I’ll always have 3G connectivity available. I checked the Sprint coverage map and unfortunately there is no 4G in Orlando; none in all of Florida as a matter of fact.

Lost dog

This week the unthinkable happened — my little dog Oreo disappeared. I let him out in the back yard and in just five minutes he was gone. This little guy is special to me, and I was devastated. I searched for him for hours and hours to no avail. I tried using tech to find him — I tweeted his photo and information out to see if that would help. In less than an hour this had been retweeted hundreds of times, and I’ll bet thousands of folks saw his photo and were aware of the situation.

Oreo was waiting for me at the back door the next day as if nothing happened, and it is a mystery how he got out  and where he was for a day. The neighbor a few houses down found Oreo at HIS back door the next morning, and his back yard is enclosed like mine. There is no visible indication where (and how) he got out of my back yard, and none at the neighbor’s house to indicate how he got in his back yard.

The neighbor brought him back home at 5:30 when he discovered Oreo, and that’s why he was waiting at my back door that morning. It is a total mystery, and the whole street is trying to figure it out. I want to thank everyone who enlisted in the Twitter army to find Oreo. It was interesting to see how fast the campaign took off and amazes me how many people were looking for him as a result. It was the digital equivalent of the “Lost dog” posters appearing on every Twitter street corner.

e-Books of the Week

This week I continued the trilogy by Stieg Larrson I began last week. The Girl Who Played With Fire is an outstanding mystery, and I raced through the novel. The novel picks up where the first book in the series left off, and was a joy to read. I am now in the middle of the last book in the trilogy — The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and it is great, too. This trilogy is the best thing I have read in a good while. It is too bad there will not be any other books from Larrson.

Wrap-up

That’s the week as it happened at Mobile Tech Manor. Lots of apps, lots of Android and lots of fun. We’ll do this again next week; until then take care.

  1. James,
    Your comments on the HTC EVO are confusing me.
    I live in Houston (like you)
    Purchased my EVO two weeks ago and have been using it daily since. Here are my my findings.
    At home (Cypress with spotty 4G, but supposedly solid 3G coverage) the EVO will run all day on Wifi, drops about 10% an hour (inline with some reviewers) If I run 3G only it drops about 25% an hour and the best speed I can get is about 200k to 500k down. (Verizon MiFi & my Verizon Storm2 get me 1.7mbps)
    With 4G on, it struggles to find 4G (according to the coverage map I am on the border of 4G coverage) but the phone constantly says “4G Network is available” connects for a few secs and then goes back to 3G. With 4G antenna on, my phone discharges at about 1% per minute and runs hot until dead about 1.5 hours later from a full charge. The hotspot feature does not work at all at these speeds and times out regular network requests from my iPad and MacBook.

    Driving on Hwy 290 (major Houston freeway) and running speedtest.net app I can get 1.7 TO 2.5mbps but 4G comes in an out sporadically even though the coverage map shows almost 100% 4G coverage.

    In town (I-10 and 610 galleria area) I can only get 3G and sometimes 4G, but the battery discharges at 25% per hour in standby mode (no use except turning on to see battery life)

    In summary, the EVO is a very nice phone, not too big, nice Android OS (if a little unpolished compared to my iPhone 3Gs)
    But the software handling the 4G is horrendous on the battery and turns the phone into an hand warmer (in 100 degree Houston weather.) Sprint 4G coverage is spotty and a little over hyped since it does not speed much better than my 3G MiFi and sprint charges $10 more for the 4G privilege. In a week or two before my 30 days expires, the EVO is being returned to Sprint for the full refund.

    Let me know if you want to meet up to discuss our findings.

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    1. Your experience is so different from mine. I can only state what my actual experience is, I have no idea what is going on with yours. I leave 4G turned off unless I know I am in a coverage zone. If I am unsure I turn it on and let it try to connect. If it does and has good signal I leave it on for that session. Otherwise it goes back off.

      I get good 3G coverage everywhere, and share it over the mobile hotspot when needed. Speed is decent, and it stays on all the time.

      I don’t find the battery drain that you mention at all. I will say that bouncing between 4G and 3G in fringe areas would be lethal to the battery I think. I experienced the same thing when Verizon’s EVDO coverage first rolled out. My Aircard would bounce between 1xRTT and EVDO constantly.

      Your standby battery drain should not be happening. Something is running that shouldn’t be I would bet.

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    2. I should also state that I have used 4G for several hours at a time, hotspot on, with no unusual battery drain. Perhaps there is something wrong with your unit?

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  2. My wallet is running scared…work just approved Android 2.1 for use as long as its running SenseUI. I think if EVOs weren’t out of stock everywhere I might have gotten one over lunch. It will be most interesting to see if the screen and raw power of the EVO can overcome how much I enjoy webOS on my Pre.

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    1. I’m curious, why is Sense a requirement? I love it, don’t get me wrong, but find it odd that an IT department finds it is essential.

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      1. Believe me James it makes NO SENSE at all to me. My understanding was that 2.2 was going to deliver the full MS Exchange security and admin features they were demanding. All of a sudden they announced Android devices are supported as long as its 2.1 with SenseUI. Whatever the case I am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, if they say its supported then I am on it :) Sadly the waiting list is 20+ deep at the Sprint stores around me. And so I wait…

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  3. James, you’re being way too charitable, assuming that the people with battery problems have a defective battery or unit.

    On Wifi, with Bluetooth and GPS on, with 4G off, stock non-rooted build, and with no other silly tricks (I’ve seen voodoo tricks for battery life ranging from the absurd to the bizarre), I get about 4-5% battery diminution PER FOUR HOURS (much less 10% per hour).

    Proof? My SystemPanel app plots battery life history:
    http://www.pbase.com/image/125715521.jpg
    http://www.pbase.com/image/125715541.jpg
    (Don’t mind the random 1 minute dips there — that is my rebooting the phone for testing)

    And as you can see from the activity graph, that includes my checking a few websites, texting, and other light use. Under heavier use conditions (including three hour round trip on a train playing mp3s the whole time, with no access to wifi, after 8 hours, I was down to 50%).

    I will put money down that the vast majority of battery “problems” boil down to an issue of errant applications running (gchat, fring, stocks, whatever) and an issue of users not closing/managing apps properly. That said, this is the significant fault of Android and app developers that this kind of thing isn’t more transparent and accessible to new users.

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  4. Too bad I have minimal Sprint coverage in my area or I am sure I would be all over an EVO like a fanboy on an iPhone!

    One question I have is about using a remote desktop app on the EVO…

    I use LogmeIn on my iPhone 3GS and on my iPad but I wonder if somewhere in the middle might be a nice middle ground. The iPhone is too small and the iPad while nice, is pretty large for mobile remoting.

    Since you have or have used all of those devices, whats your thoughts on it?

    As far as “The girl” series, agreed. Very nice read and an good story. I was surprised at how well it translated to english. The girl who kicked the hornets nest was the first book I’ve ever read on a e-type reader. I blew through it in one day on my iPad last week. Definitely made me a believer in using the iPad as a reading device!

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    1. Since I am always remoting into a full desktop, I like the iPad screen for that. Phones are too small, the EVO included, as it gets cumbersome panning around to see stuff.

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      1. The iPad screen is incredibly good for that indeed. I really like that there are quite a few good RDP protocol apps that play very nicely with XP/Vista/Win7.

        I am eying Android though for a potential company wide program to update our office computer access. Android might be the ticket for that due to the lower cost but I’ll have to wait until there is a 7in or so screen tablet with more than 800×400 resolution.

        Thanks for the reply!

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  5. James, I think you’re right that people with such poor battery life on the Evo either have things running that are draining it unnecessarily or have a defective unit. I’m in Chicago, but I usually keep 4G off unless I really need it or know I’m in a solid 4G area. With 3G, I consistently get 14-18 hours out of the Evo, with moderate to heavy use.

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  6. Well, I am glad you found Oreo. These furry creatures are important in our lives (Max in my case).

    And yes, those of us in Florida have been forgotten by Sprint and their 4G network. This has prevented me from going to the Evo and the Overdrive (Sprint: are you listening?).

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  7. I find that I can switch between programs on the Evo by holding down the Home button and up pops the programs recently opened. But my problem is not knowing how to close all the programs once I’m done with one.

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