Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My 20 Favorite T-Mobile G1 Android Apps and Three Must-Have Hardware Upgrades

I've had my G1 for a couple of months now, and I thought now would be a great time to publish my definitive list of favorite software and hardware add-ons and upgrades. You'll note that the majority of the software listed below is free, and all of it is available via the Android Market. Got to love Android!


1. Touchdown (by Nitrodesk). Excellent Exchange client – even supports push email. Getting better by the week as well – the developers are really responsive to suggestions. ($30 via Android Market)
2. Meridian Video/Audio Player. Much better than the standard app. (Free)
3. aHome. Replacement GUI utility with dozens of free skins. It also has a pre-Cupcake on-screen keyboard that works for Google search and a couple of other apps. I bought the full version for additional features like loading skins on SD card – I think it was around $5.
4. Where. Cool app that combines restaurant ratings, movie listings, etc in one app, including Yelp! Free.
5. Twidroid. Best Twitter app I’ve found. Free.
6. ShopSavvy. Free app that scans bar codes and tells you where you can buy that item for less. Saved me over $200 when shopping for new kitchen drawer pulls!
7. 3banana. Allows you to create notes on Web and the G1 and syncs over the air. Also reads "2d" barcodes that contain URLs and other text info. Free.
8. Documents to Go (DataViz). View, create, edit .doc and .xls files and attachments on the G1. Currently not compatible with .xlsx and .docx, but supposed to be adding soon, along with PPT support. Around $30 on the Market.
9. Power Manager. Great utility that dynamically changes phone features (like WiFi, GPS, etc) based on triggers (like battery level). Free and ‘full’ version. I bought the full version because it’s a great app and I wanted to support the author.
10. T-Mobile My Account. Check your plan minutes, text message quantity, etc, plus pay your bill right from the phone. Free.
11. SnapPhoto. Free replacement camera app that detects stability before snapping the shutter. A little unstable but improving rapidly.
12. My Tracks. Uses GPS and keeps a track of where you’ve been, including lots of stats. You can then upload the maps to Google as KML or GPX files and share with friends. Works on road and off. Free.
13. Facebook Sync. Free utility that syncs your Facebook contacts’ pictures with the G1 (and Google) contacts.
14. Ringdroid. Allows you to edit any MP3 file and turn it into a ringer or notification tone. Free on the Market.
15. Pac-Man (Namco). Faithful port of the original game. Free.
16. NBA Gametime. Near real-time scores from the NBA playoffs, plus schedules. Free (but huge – 4MB!)
17. Metal Detector. Does what it says, using the compass to detect magnetic fields from metal. Makes iPhone owners green with envy, as the iPhone can’t do that (no compass)! Free.
18. Bubble. A real, working level for your G1. Free. Amaze your friends!
19. The Schwartz Unleashed. Cool light saber app. Yeah, I'm a geek. Free on the Market.
20. iLightr. Awesome lighter app. Uses the accelerometer to vary the flame, close the lid, etc. $0.99 on the Market. Great for concerts!


1. Seidio 2600 MaH extended length battery, which doubled the phone’s runtime to around 30 hours, making the Power Manager app unnecessary unless you get lost in the wilderness. Makes the phone 5mm thicker but is soooo worth it. Retail is $60 but I bought mine used on eBay for $30. As an added bonus it comes with a replacement non-slip back cover.
2. Zagg Invisishield Film. For $25 you get a set of custom-cut, military grade films that adhere to the G1 and make it virtually scratch proof. The film was originally developed to cover helicopter rotors, so you know it's pretty darn tough. It covers the entire phone, not just the screen. You can get the screen-only version for $14.95 as well. I've had my Invisishield since I first purchased the phone two months ago and there is nary a scratch on it! Note: you will definitely want to purchase a non-slip cover after installing the Invisishield, as it does make the phone very slippery. This is solved by purchasing #1 above.
3. 16GB MicroSD Card. This card allowed me to put 1000s of songs and scores of videos on my phone. Way worth the investment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Top "Must-Have" Accessory for the T-Mobile G1

If you've read my previous post reviewing the T-Mobile G1, you'll know that my biggest complaint by far has been the lack of battery life. Having to carry a spare battery around and/or plug the unit in to the PC every chance you get is no way to live with a mobile device.

I finally broke down and bought the Seidio 2600 MaH extended battery, although I didn't pay retail for it (I purchased a barely used one from a private eBay seller for around $30 including shipping, instead of around $60 at retail). I was holding out because I didn't want to make my G1 any bulkier, but I just couldn't take it any more.

I'm pleased to report that the additional 5mm in thickness is hardly noticeable, and the battery adds virtually no weight to the unit. The battery also comes with a new back cover (as the battery is too thick for the standard cover). One advantage of the replacement cover is that it's non-slip, so you can put the phone in your shirt pocket and it won't fall out.

The best part of the upgrade is the extended run time. The best time I ever recorded with the "stock" G1 battery, with all features turned off other than basic phone and data functionality, was about 14 hours. Yesterday I used the phone extensively for 16 hours (including listening to music and a ton of Twitter/Web/email usage), and it still had 40% left when I plugged it in last night. By my calculations that would have yielded a total runtime of ~27 hours, and that was with heavy usage. With 'normal' usage I'd imagine I could squeeze a good 30 hours out of a charge.

So, if you have a G1 and you're losing your mind because you keep running out of juice, bite the bullet and buy the Seidio battery. It's worth every penny. Let's face it: the G1 will never be as slim as the iPhone, and unlike the iPhone, it's great to actually have the option of adding an extended battery to the unit. So, rather than pining after the iPhone's litheness, embrace your G1's rubenesque stature and rub the 30 hour runtime into the noses of your iPhone owning friends (as they run for the closest charger!).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Two Months with the T-Mobile (HTC) G1 "Google Phone"
I've now had my G1 for a couple of months and I thought now would be a good time to add a thorough review of the unit.

Overall, I'm pleased with the G1. Before deciding to take the leap and re-up my contract with T-Mobile, I spent a long time playing with iPhones and G1s as I wanted to try to make sure I was making the right decision. While the iPhones are very cool phones (some people go so far as to call them the "Jesus Phone," the main deciding factor for me was overall price (the "total cost of ownership").

First off, T-Mobile offered me a really good deal on the G1 in exchange for signing up for another 2 year contract with them. As a plus for staying with them, they offered me a $49 unlimited voice plan (they call it their "loyalty plan"). T-Mobile's unlimited 3G data package is priced at $25 per monthm, including 400 messages, so for ~$64/month I get unlimited voice and 3G data. The same package on AT&T would run you about $129 a month (at least at the time I was comparing plans)! I have been really pleased with T-Mobile's customer support over the past five years, so staying with TMO was a big plus in my book as well.

Right out of the box, the G1 was really easy to set up. The G1 runs an operating system by Google called "Android", and as you might expect, it has tight integration with the various Google applications (calendar, email, and contacts). When you first power up the G1, it asks you to sign in with your Google account (or create one if you don't already have one). Once I had signed it, the G1 automagically synced all of the information from my Google account to my phone -- in about five minutes flat. It was almost a religious experience being able to have a fully populated, usable phone five minutes after first powering it up. The Google integration works very well -- changes on the phone are pushed to Google and vice versa, pretty close to real-time.

Once I had the basics populated in the phone, I began to explore the Android Market. The Market is a place where software developers can provide their products either for free or for a fee, similar to Apple's iPhone Market. The Android market has hundreds, perhaps thousands of free apps available, and many of them are useful and fully functional. To date I have probably downloaded 50 free apps and I have paid for 3 or 4. The apps I've paid for include TouchDown, an app that allows me to access my company's Exchange email/calendar/contacts and Documents to Go, which allows you to create, edit and view Microsoft Word and Excel documents. Both are very useful apps and well worth the money.

Speaking of storage, the G1 has a MicroSD memory card slot that supports up to 16GB of storage. Unfortunately you can't store apps on the SD card, but you can store music, video, and photographs, plus certain apps can use SD for storage. The G1 comes with about 70MB of internal memory, and all loaded apps have to fit in that storage. Fortunately most apps are pretty small (like 512MB) and only a few exceed 1 or 2 MB, so you can cram a lot of apps into the phone's internal memory. I probably have 1000 songs and 20 videos on my phone and I still have half of the SD card available.

One really nice feature of the G1 is the screen. I watch video virtually every morning on the train ride in to work, and the G1's screen is gorgeous for watching video. The phone also includes YouTube, which can be watched "over the air" if you have a 3G or WiFi connection. Most video files do require transcoding (I use a utility called "Super Converter"), as the G1's screen resolution is smaller than most video files. This process is necessary for virtually any portable device to play video, BTW, and once you figure it out it's pretty simple. I'll write another blog entry later on describing the process in detail.

The G1 has a great physical keyboard, which was a big plus for me. I've been a Blackberry user for years and can't imagine using a phone without a real keyboard. Watching some of my friends try to use their iPhone virtual keyboards, coupled with my own experience with playing with various iPhones, only reinforced that impression. The keyboard does add some thickness to the unit over the iPhone, but it's worth it IMO. The G1's keyboard is so complete that there are only six characters that aren't accessible through a physical key, and I've gotten proficient enough on it that I'll bet I can manage 30 words a minute.

TMO is supposedly coming out with a "G2" in a few months that will have a touchscreen keyboard, and I expect that unit will be comparable in size to the iPhone. The keyboard is really easy to type on -- probably the best mobile keyboard I've ever used, and I've used lots of Blackberries and Palm devices over the years. Speaking of virtual keyboards, there is an operating system update (code named "Cupcake") rolling out starting this week that will update the G1 to add a virtual keyboard -- so it will have the best of both worlds!

One of the key considerations when buying a phone is how well it works as a phone (duh). I am pleased to report that the G1's phone works well. It has a pretty sensitive radio that is good at locking on to signal. The TMO coverage at my home is not wonderful, so it's a great place to test the sensitivity of various phones. The G1 performs quite well at my home and exhibits some of the best sensitivity that I've seen from any GSM phone, including the Blackberry Curve that I was using prior to the G1. One small problem at my home, incidentally: TMO hasn't finished building out their 3G network in Denver yet, and as such their 3G coverage ends about a mile from my house. I have high hopes that they will continue the rollout and that I will have 3G at my home in the near future. Fortunately, the G1 can also use WiFi for data connections, so I can just use that when I'm at home.

Speaking of 3G, T-Mobile's 3G network, when you're in a coverage area, works well. In downtown Denver, where my office is located, I routinely measure bandwidth in the 300kbps range. On a trip to Boston a month ago I measured over 600kbps! I'm not sure why Denver would be that much slower, but compared to the ~56kbps EDGE connections I was used to, even the slowest 3G connection is blazing fast.

The G1 has a really good Web browser, and couple that with the 3G network (or use WiFi) and you'll find that there are many times that you don't need to pull out a laptop to find things on the 'Net. As one might expect, the G1 has great search capabilities including a dedicated search button and the ability to perform voice search, both on the phone (contacts mostly) and on the Internet. For example, you can hold down the 'send' button, which invokes the voice search, and say 'movie theaters near 80128' -- and the phone will return a list of movie theaters. Very cool.

Other fun features of the G1 include a decent 3 megapixel camera with a real lens that actually focuses (although no flash). There are some innovative applications that use the camera to scan bar codes and then perform a Google search on the Internet to find the best price for the item. One of these applications, called ShopSavvy, saved me $250 when shopping for new drawer pulls for my kitchen. A home improvement store had the pulls for about $3.50 (plus tax), and I was able to scan the barcode and found the pulls on Amazon for $1.25. Amazing. There are tons of other apps available that do other cool things -- not a day goes by when I don't discover something new about the phone.

The main thing I don't like about the G1 (which is also the chief complaint of most iPhone users) is the battery life. If you use the phone minimally (eg no WiFi, GPS) you can get about 16 hours on a charge, although my average is more like about 12. One big difference with the G1, however, is that you can buy a spare battery for it and slip it in when you need extra juice. The iPhone's battery is sealed and non-interchangeable. For me, it's not a huge deal as I spend most of my time at my desk anyway, and I just plug the phone in halfway through the day to make sure I have enough juice for the rest of the day. You can also buy a replacement battery for about $50 that adds about 5mm to the thickness of the phone and gives you enough juice to make it through a day (maybe two).

Overall, I'm pleased with my decision to purchase the G1 and I'm glad I purchased it. T-Mobile's rate plans and five star customer service were a big consideration in my decision to stay with them, as I've been a TMO customer for 5 years and am very happy with them. I hope this review has been helpful!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Verizon Wireless Launches Spendy Femtocell Product

Some times I think that VZW just doesn't have a clue when it comes to pricing and marketing their products. Other times I'm sure of it. This is one of those days.

VZW launched their long rumored "Femtocell" product the other day, which they named their "Wireless Network Extender." For those of us non-geeks, a Femtocell extends the wireless carrier's network by providing a small cell of coverage (generally in the 10 meter, or 30 foot, range) by carrying voice and data over a high-speed Internet connection back to the carrier's central "switch."  This means that, if you a Femtocell installed at your home, for example, you'll have perfect mobile coverage (at the expense of using up a bit of your Internet bandwidth).

T-Mobile has had a similar service that uses WiFi (called Unlicensed Mobile Access) for a few years now, and I use it at home with my Blackberry 8230. UMA is a neat idea, particularly since it doesn't require any carrier-specific hardware--any vanilla WiFi access point will do. You can even use T-Mobile phones at some commercial hot spots.  For example, I was able to get on to the WiFi at the Singapore airport and place a 30 minute call back to the US at normal (not roaming) rates.

Femtocells work a little differently. They support the carrier's native frequencies and technologies, instead of WiFi. In the case of VZW, this means a very weak CDMA signal is generated by the Femtocell--just enough to cover the footprint of a standard home or office.

So far, so good. Plug the Femtocell into your high-speed Internet connection, and all of a sudden you have perfect coverage. There are a few flaws in the VZW strategy, however:

1. The unit costs $250. Ouch.
2. When you place a call over the Femtocell, you still use minutes from your standard wireless plan. Even though you are paying to carry the call for most of the way back to VZW, and if they sell enough Femtocells it could feasibly mean they won't have to build out some portions of their network, they're not giving their users any break for helping them out. T-Mobile at least gives you the option of paying $10/month in exchange for unlimited UMA calls.
3. The VZW Femtocell actually has a GPS unit in it that prevents you from using it in places where you're not supposed to. UMA and some other Femtocells allow you to use your phone anywhere.

I think that VZW has to take a very hard look at their Femtocell strategy--it has a number of fatal flaws that will prevent widespread adoption, in my opinion.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Free Your Phone Campaign

The EFF has started a petition to request the US Copyright Office grant an exemption to the DMCA that will allow phone users to unlock their phones to gain access to other mobile networks, the core phone O/S, etc.

Join the movement by signing their petition at http://www.freeyourphone.org/
RIM Shares Retreat on Blackberry Storm Glitches

RIM shares dropped around 5% today on reports that glitches with the new Blackberry Storm were slowing user adoption. I reported earlier today in my 'Inspector Gadget' blog about those glitches, in case you're interested:

Looks like it's not a bad idea to hold off on purchasing that new Storm. RIM did issue a software update in December that cured some of the issues, but some Storm users I've spoken with have reported hardware issues (requiring unit swaps) in addition to software bugs.

I still think the Blackberry Bold is the best combination of features - I'm not sold on the soft/virtual keyboard, and the Bold is getting excellent reviews from the press as well as users.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

T-Mobile Blackberry Curve 8320 O/S Upgrade Rocks!

I have been anxiously waiting for T-Mobile to release the 4.5 upgrade for my Blackberry Curve (aka 8320) since Blackberry first announced the upgrade early this year. Apparently T-Mobile takes their time to QA O/S releases, because it took about 9 months for them to finally get this one out on the web site. They finally did release the upgrade on October 20th, and it was well worth the wait. (you can download the upgrade free at http://www.t-mobile.com/bbupgrade/ - T-Mobile customers only).

Key features of this upgrade include:

  • Support for MicroSD cards up to 16GB (4GB was the previous max);
  • Full stereo Bluetooth support
  • YouTube now works with the Web browser (although it still doesn't seem to be fully Flash compatible)
  • Video recording
  • HTML email rendering (huge one for me--no more knarly HTML-laden email messages to wade through)
  • Improved WMA support (this allows calling over WiFi)
  • Limited email attachment editing (MS Word, for example) via a free version of Documents to Go
  • Other miscellaneous stability enhancements
The upgrade process was pretty straightforward, although be sure to allocate a couple of hours! At times I thought that the process had stalled, but I left it alone for fear of "bricking" my Curve. My patience was rewarded (eventually) with a fully functional, upgraded phone. The only main "nit" that I have with the upgrade process (other than the excruciatingly long wait) was that it broke my BES connection, requiring the deletion and re-creation of my BES account by our I/T personnel. Other than that, no problems.

I've been using the upgraded O/S for about a day now, and other than a couple of weird "uncaught exception" errors when updating the "My Faves" list (which isn't a huge deal), it's been rock stable. True to their promise, UMA seems to be more stable, and the other features seem to work well. I am particularly happy with the HTML email viewing option and the ability to edit attachments.

Overall, I'm really pleased. The free upgrade turned my Curve from a so-so multimedia phone into a bit of a powerhouse. It still lacks 3G, of course, but on WiFi it really screams. Add to that the benefits of using UMA (gives me flawless coverage at my home, which usually is horrible), and I'm very pleased with the Curve, T-Mobile, and the new upgrade.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mobile Blogging using Twitter

I just signed up for a new "micro blogging" service called Twitter. It's a neat idea--a spot that allows you to send little snippets of whatever makes sense to you--what you're doing, something you want to remember, etc., and have it stored in short blog snippets. To make it even easier, Twitter also supports SMS blogging--you just send what ever you want to post to an SMS address, and it gets automatically posted to Twitter.

You can do this with other blogging services as well, but Twitter seems ideally suited for SMS--short being the operative term. I'm going to give it a try and see how useful it is!