UBDFM Android App Version 1.5

Today sees the release of the unofficial UBDFM Android app that allows you to stream the online radio station right from your Android device (requires Android 2.2 and later).

Features:

Note: when listening via headphones, you will hear audio mostly from one side due to the stream from UBDFM not being balanced.

Hope you guys like it and do let me know if you have any feedback or feature requests!

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Android Google Maps Zoom Limit

A couple of months back, I noticed that the Google Maps app on my LG Optimus One phone couldn’t zoom in as far as it could before (unless my memory is failing me). Below is the maximum zoom level on the phone

This is not the maximum zoom of the Google Maps android application as my ZTE V9 tablet can zoom in much further as shown below

While you may think that this is a trivial matter, it really rises as a problem when I look for tram stops and street names here in Melbourne. Take a look at the CBD of Melbourne in the screenshot below and see how problematic this is: I can’t see the names of the smaller streets and I have to tap each tram stop in order to see the stop name.

To rub salt into the wound, apps that use a map view can zoom in further than the Google Maps application! Below are screenshots via the Domain.com.au app.

I’ve tried to search for a reason for this discrepancy and have yet to find one. The map settings are both the same in the tablet and phone. CPU and RAM-wise, both devices are comparable: 600MHz each with about 420MB of RAM. Both devices are rooted with my Optimus One running the official Android 2.3.3 ROM from LG and the tablet running Android 2.3.7 via CyanogenMod. The only other difference would be screen size and resolution: 7″ 800 x 480 screen on the tablet and 3.2″ 480 x 320 screen on the phone.

Anybody who has a clue what’s going on, do let me know. Any help would be well appreciated.

[categories Android, Technology]

The Brunei Times Unofficial Android App beta

After hearing that the Brunei Times introduced their iPad app and discovering that there is a mobile e-paper for iOS devices that served regular jpg files, I thought it would be great to have an Android app to do something similar to the iPad app.

Features:

  • Downloads current days paper and saves to SD card (/sdcard/Pictures/bt/date)
  • Pages download in the background
  • If all pages are downloaded, no further network connection is needed

Todo:

  • Add home screen for listing all previously downloaded papers
  • Possibly find the high resolution images used in the iPad app
  • Notification of download status
  • Carousel image gallery with multi-touch zoom as seen in image viewers (swipe to move page to page)

So after dusting off some Android development cobwebs I have managed to get the following beta app for your feedback =)

Direct APK download

draft

Why I Won’t Recommend a *insert-manufacturer-here* Android Phone

There is nothing worse that seeing a person get new gadget only to be disappointed in it after a while. While this post only covers a few aspects, I hope it helps inform of some things to look out for. This post is targeting more of the mid-range / high-end Android phones for several manufacturers based on some observations I’ve seen repeated over and over again.

HTC

  • Typically only dual band UMTS support: meaning you may not be able to get 3G when overseas depending on the frequency used. There is nothing worse that having a great phone and not being able to get the maximum potential out of it, just because the manufacturer decided to save a bit of money by not giving you a better radio supporting more frequencies. Acceptable for budget devices, but not for midrange / high-end ones.
  • They seem to make a new flagship phone very quickly after one another or that their flagship phone is not really clear. For other manufacturers the flagship phone is typically the highest-end phone with the most capabilities and it is pretty clear which device it is.
    • Samsung – Galaxy S, Galaxy SII.
    • Sony Ericsson – Xperia X10, Xperia Arc.
    • Motorola – Droid / Milestone, Droid 2, Droid 3

    Based on Wikipedia Announced dates of previous HTC phones which I consider their flagship device:

Sony Ericsson

  • I won’t recommend higher end phones because they have only 320MB for app storage (Arc, Neo, Pro, Ray). For budget phones like the Xperia Mini or Mini Pro this amount will be pretty good but not for mid-range or high-end phones. I think HTC has solved this problem with their higher end phones, but ask any HTC Desire owner now, and I bet they have been utterly annoyed at the meager 140MB+ free after a factor reset (now only 128MB after the Gingerbread update). Other competitors have at least 1GB, which I think is the absolute minimum acceptable.

LG

  • Bad support: i.e. no updates. As an owner of the LG Optimus One there was first talk of it not being able to be upgraded to Android 2.3 a.k.a. Gingerbread, but then in December they said it would get the 2.3 upgrade. While it seemed to be rolled out in Romania at the start of July, it is still not available to me. Note that this is their budget phone and according to the Facebook note the higher end models like the Optimus 2X will receive the update only after the Optimus One update is completed. So would this continue in the future? Higher end LG phones get updated after the budget ones?

Acer

Any Manufacturer that doesn’t use stock Android

  • This is mainly due to the fact official updates will take longer if they do not use stock Android, meaning that they have customized things such as the launcher or interface (e.g. HTC’s Sense UI, Samsung’s TouchWiz). This is due to the fact that they would have to update their customizations before pushing the upgrade. There was a long delay for the HTC Desire to get Android 2.2 which would aid the lower app storage space by allowing moving apps to the SD card.

Samsung, Motorola and Huawei are the other main Android manufacturers that I don’t really have any beef against. There is a mention of Samsung breaking some core functionality but that is for any non-stock Android device and so far there doesn’t seem to me much complaints / responses to the post so may be an non-issue or affects a small minority (or people just think Android is broken), but is is something to note.

All being said and done, while some manufacturers have issues with their devices they can still be recommended based on price and your usage scenarios. Below are some phones I do recommend based on the different price ranges.

B$200 – B$300: LG Optimus One @ B$250 (a bit old, don’t expect updates)
B$300 – B$400: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro @ B$368 (my current budget phone recommendation)
B$400 – B$500: HTC Chacha @ B$418 (no competition in this price range)
B$500 – B$600: HTC Desire S @ B$562, Samsung Galaxy S Plus @ B$578 (no flash)
B$600 – B$700: HTC Incredible S @ B$612, Samsung Galaxy Tab @ B$648 (a tablet and phone and thus bulky)
B$700 – B$800: HTC Sensation @ B$758
B$800 – B$900: Samsung Galaxy SII @ B$858

The HTC Flyer

We managed to get our hands on the HTC Flyer at Yappe Computer, Serusop, and it seems like a good 7" Android Tablet: an alternative to the older Galaxy Tab. It’s selling for B$859 (cash price) / B$886 (credit card price) for the 32GB model.


(YouTube link to video)

Specifications

  • 7" 1024×600 multi-touch capacitive screen
  • Stylus for use with the active digitizer screen
  • Android 2.3 with Sense 2.1
  • 1.5GHz CPU
  • 32GB storage (~7GB available for apps, ~20GB available as storage)
  • 1GB RAM
  • microSD card slot
  • 5MP rear camera with auto focus (no flash)
  • 1.3MP front facing camera
  • Standard micro-USB (no HDMI out)
  • Wifi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Audio supported formats:
    • Playback: .aac, .amr, .ogg, .m4a, .mid, .mp3, .wav, .wma (Windows Media Audio 9)
    • Recording: .amr, .aac
  • Video supported formats:
    • Playback: .3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .wmv (Windows Media Video 9), .avi (MP4 ASP and MP3), .xvid (MP4 ASP and MP3)
    • Recording: .3gp
  • Battery: 4000 mAh
  • Supports Adobe Flash

(Specifications from HTC Flyer Website, GSM Arena)

Notes on the Stylus

  • works in apps that support it otherwise touching the screen takes a screenshot that you can annotate
  • cannot be used to ‘touch’ all controls / buttons only digitizer palette brought up by touching the icon with the digitizer (not your finger)
  • requires a single AAAA (yes 4 As) battery which I have not seen in shops
  • has 2 buttons: 1 highlights text, other erases

Bundled HTC Apps

  • Notes application syncs to Evernote and allows infinite vertical scrolling. Allows text input, photo embedding, handwriting annotation as well as voice dictation
  • Reader application is a reading app linked with Kobo for in app purchasing
  • Watch application allows renting and buying of movies (but doesn’t seem available in Brunei, thus can only watch previews/trailers)

Other Notes
While it is a 7" Gingerbread (2.3) tablet instead of Honeycomb (3.x, which is the tablet optimized version of Android) it seems to be the better choice at the moment as apps will run on it with the only issue may be the way it looks. Currently is only one 7" Honeycomb tablet: the Acer Iconia Tab A100 and it was released yesterday. It is the first device to have Android 3.2 which is supposed to provide better support for 7" tablets compared to the regular bigger 10" Honeycomb tablets. However there seem to be some force close issues and app incompatibilities reported by This Is My Next and ZDnet (i.e. more work for the developer to fix problems).

On the entertainment side it supports 720p video playback, supports quite a few file formats and codecs but there is no HDMI output unless you get the dock to use with the extended microUSB connector on the flyer. The HTC Watch app is a nice feature but not being available here makes it of no use. For office use, there is support for Microsoft Office documents that allows editing with normal text entry and even the stylus (however, not all file formats are editable). Battery life seems a bit mixed with the Engadget review being impressed by it while TechRadar and CNET UK rated it has having bad battery life. BGR and Android Central give it decent battery life with typical use of 2 days per charge.

Summary
While I wished they didn’t remove the calling ability of the device, the usability of the pen to annotate and take notes is pretty appealing. A good alternative to the Galaxy Tab if you don’t plan to use it for calling. Smaller and more portable than an iPad it is made more for mobility. The main reason to get this device is the active digitizer and stylus combo or if you just wish for a tablet faster than the Galaxy Tab whose age is showing. Nice to see HTC innovate with the Flyer and hope to see more with the upcoming Puccini, their shot at the 10" tablet category.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro – a Great Budget Android Phone?

Among my usual habits, I will check availability and prices of phones on Incomm and I was surprised to see the Xperia Mini Pro going for B$378.

This phone seems to be a phone I would buy, if I didn’t buy my LG Optimus One, as a great budget Android phone which seems to have the least compromises. Check out the video that I managed to get at Incomm as I played with the device.

Notable Specifications

  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread: the current major version of Android of phones
  • Connectivity: 3G (HSDPA 7.2Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps), WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1
  • 3" HVGA (320×480) screen: a bit small in size but good resolution that is widely supported by all apps
  • Slide out landscape QWERTY keyboard
  • 1GHz Snapdragon CPU with Adreno 205 GPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 400MB for apps (according to GSM Arena): a bit small but acceptable for a budget phone and sadly (for Arc users) it is the same amount as the Arc based on Sony’s specs which says up to 320MB (Arc vs Mini Pro)
  • 5MP rear camera with autofocus, flash and 720p video recording (auto focus while recording video, recorded in mp4 encoded with h264, aac)
  • VGA front facing camera for video calls
  • Supports Adobe Flash
  • Plays 720p videos (mp4 encoded with h264,aac)
  • Can open PDFs and Microsoft Office documents (doc,docs,xls,xlsx,ppt,pptx)
  • microSD support up to 32GB
  • 1200mAh battery

Full specifications at Sony Ericsson or GSM Arena

I really like that this budget phone seems to have practically no compromises for a budget phone: there doesn’t seem to be any major show stoppers. Most budget phones will have no front facing cameras and won’t have cameras that can record 720p. A budget phone won’t have a keyboard nor a 1GHz CPU. The CPU couple with a GPU and sufficient RAM should ensure this device is smooth and usable for the regular user.

The main issue is the small 3" size of the screen (iPhone: 3.5", Optimus One & Wildfire S: 3.2", Galaxy Mini: 3.14"): a small size coupled with a high resolution may make some text small to read and will make using the onscreen keyboard a bit difficult. Thankfully there is a physical keyboard on the Xperia Mini that should help alleviate this (as long as the keyboard is good and usable). Also the smaller 1200mAh battery (vs 1500mAh of the Optimus One) may give it less battery life, but that also depends on the amount of work being done: with a better CPU, the same amount of work may require less energy from the Xperia Mini. I guess we’ll just have to wait for more in-depth reviews with battery life scores and this is the main unknown factor at the moment. Another compromise would possible be the UMTS frequency band support with it only being dual (900/2100) or triband (800/1900/2100) depending on where it is purchased but I don’t think this will affect many. Most of these issues/compromises are acceptable for a budget device.

With that said, I think I could tentatively highly recommend this phone to users but only after they take a look at it and try to use the keyboard and check to see if the text is too small on the device; and also after some battery life tests are published – all the features are of no use if the battery life is bad. From my use with it, the screen and text size seem fine but my fat thumbs did have a bit of an issue with typing. It could play 720p video, Flash video and even edit office documents. Overall a snappy device and I’m just very impressed at what Sony Ericsson managed to pack on this device hitting all the right check boxes giving the user minimal compromises. Great job Sony Ericsson, now improve your higher end devices!

Sample Photos (note front camera was covered with a thin plastic film):

Sample Video from rear camera:

Geo-Restrictions: The Biggest Problem for Android in Non-Recognized/Supported Countries

Geo-restirctions for apps in the Android Market is something you won’t hear many people talk about probably because they live in recognized countries where these apps are available. Basically what this means is that when you search for it in the Market app on your Android device, you will not find any results to install. If you use the Android market on the web you get the “This item cannot be installed in your device’s country” message when trying to select your device. This hugely detracts me from trying to recommend Android to users. While I guess many will search for the apk file online and install it, I must stress that this can be a very dangerous thing as it can be malware that you are installing on your device. You must trust your source of applications, if it is not the developer distributing the file, it could be a modified apk installer with malware installed in it.

Some notable apps that are absent from the Market here in Brunei are

As stated in their known issues under “Can’t find app” section, it states the following:

Some users are reporting that they can’t find specific apps on Market. If you can’t find an application, first try editing your search terms; the publisher may have changed the name in the application.
If you’re still experiencing this issue, please make sure that the following conditions do not apply to you:

  • Priced applications availability: Priced apps are only available to buyers in these countries. If you are not in a buyer-supported country, you will be unable to view priced applications.
  • Location: You may only view the version of Market for your country. For example, UK users may only view the UK version of Android Market from their devices. If a developer has not targeted his app to your home country, you may be unable to view it.
  • Mobile service provider: In addition to targeting for location, a developer may also target their application to specific mobile service providers. If a developer is not targeting your mobile service provider, you will not be able to view the application.

From time to time, applications will become unavailable. Publishers might remove their applications from Android Market, or applications may also be removed for policy violations.

I believe this stems from the following section when developers upload their app into the Market. If the developer does unchecks “All locations” (it is checked by default), the list of countries will be shown and the app will not be available for any country not listed below, i.e. Brunei and others.

What can Google do? They can make Brunei (among other countries) as a supported/recognized country and I presume that would require some business discussions with Brunei banks/mobile carrier/ISP. As a supported country we would probably get access to paid apps as well, but I feel that is unlikely at the moment. Alternatively they can put another check box for “Other Countries” in the listing above so that developers can choose to exclude certain countries but include others.
What developers can do? Where possible make sure “All Locations” is checked, if not host their apk installers on their own site (something that WhatsApp! does)

For an Android fan I feel pretty annoyed about this restriction and is certainly an obstacle as I can’t fully recommend Android devices to people if they have to do ’round-about-things’ such as finding an unofficially distributed apk just to install Skype. Another big issue is with tablets that are able to run Flash but don’t include it out of the box: thus the tablet is neutered to iPad Flash-less status which is sad. I had a Flash apk and installed in on the Acer Iconia A500 but because it wasn’t the latest version it could not run the videos we tested. Also without a recognized country, you can’t even update apps that have been installed previously: we couldn’t update Flash via Market post-install.

There are workarounds as listed below but some aren’t pretty:

Workaround 1: Alternate Store
This is the easiest and I suggest to find a reputable app store such as Opera Mobile Store (I managed to download Skype from here, although it was an older version), but it doesn’t have all the apps I want and thus those need to be sourced from elsewhere. If you know of any other reputable stores that have apps like Skype, do let me know.

Workaround 2: Switch SIMs to a Supported Country
I’ve done this with a Australian Vodafone SIM, and I was able to download Skype. I may even use this to download apks and self-host them for all Android users (as long as I don’t get copyright take downs)

Workaround 3: Root and install Market Enabler
Root your device and install Market Enabler which should allow you to access the apps. I presume this does in software what switching SIMs does in hardware.

Workaround 4: Buy an iPhone / iPod Touch
Yes, I said it. It is a sad but true state of affairs that it is easier on iOS if you register with a US iTunes Account. The hardest thing of registration is is just using the right US address (use Google’s address as there are no taxes in their state according to @mfirdaus). The biggest issue is getting iTune gift cards, something I am still trying to find out for a reasonable price (Places in Brunei that sell them: AV, Incomm & QQeStore). But once that is all setup, it’s all easy sailing.

So Google, I hope you can sort out this problem or Android users will be severely limited in countries that aren’t recognized/supported and would prevent them from recommending Android unless they want to start pirating apps. App developers, please show some love for Android users and host the apks yourself.

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