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Making your smartphone battery last longer

Posted on July 18, 2013 | 0 comments

 

Photo: Aaron Yoo on Flickr

We're a smartphone society now -- people do everything on their phones, from checking e-mail and Facebook posts to watching video and surfing the Web. All that comes at a price, though: short battery life.

While there's little I can do about the bears, I can offer a near-dozen practical tips for extending the battery life of your phone, which reduces the frequency of charges (and hopefully let's you make it home at the end of the day before the juice runs dry).

Adjust the screen brightness. The default setting for your screen is probably brighter than it needs to be, and the display is the single largest consumer of battery power on your phone. Turn it down to the lowest level that still comfortable to see.

Sleep sooner. Your phone lets you specify how quickly to turn off the display and put the phone to sleep. You can extend the life of your phone significantly by ensuring the phone turns itself off quickly rather than staying on for several minutes every time you check the time.

Turn off notifications. Many apps enable display notifications. Most of the time, these are pointless and a waste of battery power since they force your screen to light up briefly many times throughout the day. Disable apps' notifications to extend  battery power.

Disable any antennas not in use. Never (or only rarely) use Bluetooth. Make sure it's turned off in your settings. The same is true of Wi-Fi, though if you're like most people, you probably use that quite a bit. If your battery is near death, though, and you need to keep it alive as long as possible, you can enter Airplane Mode (which turns off all the radios, including voice).

Minimize the gadgets your phone syncs with. The new Pebble smartwatch is great, but it imposes a battery penalty on your phone to the tune of about 10 percent of battery life per day. There are also Bluetooth headsets, your car and other high-tech conveniences that consume power. If you want to maximize battery life, minimize the number of gadgets you connect to.

Say no to location requests. Many apps ask permission to detect your location so they can provide more targeted information. That might be useful, but every time an app has to ping your GPS chip, it uses power. Unless you really need that location function, just say no.

Sync less frequently. Most smartphones are designed to check for e-mail and apps data every 15 or 30 minutes. If you can live with less frequent updates, extend those minutes to a full hour. This will have a noticeable effect on battery life.

Lower the volume. Turn down your phone's overall volume, including the ringer.

Turn off vibrate. You might need this feature -- especially if you leave your phone in your pocket all the time -- but making a mechanical vibrator jiggle takes a lot of juice. Turn it off for more runtime.

Keep it cool. A hot battery drains faster than a cool one -- so if your phone is hot to the touch, it's running inefficiently. That can happen when you leave it in your car, in your pocket or on top of another hot gadget, like a laptop. Running the phone continuously can also make it heat up.

Turn it off completely. If you know you won't use your phone for a while -- like in a meeting or at the movie theater -- shut it off rather than just quieting the ringer.

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HTC One: New Smartphone?

Posted on February 19, 2013 | 0 comments

HTC One: Smartphone Reinvented? 

By JOANNA STERN | ABC News 02/19/2013

HTC is kicking off the start of Android phone season. At an event in New York City today, the Taiwan-based company announced its latest flagship Android phone -- the HTC One. 

 

"We think it's time to shake things up in the smartphone space," Mike Woodward, President of HTC America, told ABC News in an interview. "We have decided to come out and reinvent the smartphone."

Of course, HTC hasn't completely reinvented what the smartphone looks like -- it's still a large rectangle -- but according to Woodward, the One is a complete shift for the industry, built around how people use their phones now.

"We have re-architected the phone around how Generation Feed behaves," Woodward said. Woodward and HTC say Generation Feed is those of us who look down at their phones constantly, staying up to date on news and friends.

Ahead of the Hardware
HTC's Android phones have always been known for their top-of-the-line hardware parts and the One is no different.

The phone is made entirely of aluminum -- no small feat, according to Woodward, who said it took two years to make a good all-metal phone. It also has a large 4.7-inch, 1080p screen, which is flanked vertically by two speaker strips. (HTC calls it Boomsound.) The phone is fast too, thanks to its quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM.

Ultrapixel: Forget Megapixels
Where the One stands out from other Android phones on specs is with its camera. "Generation Feed grew up with a camera in their pocket, but the pictures that they take are not always great and they're not always outside," Woodward said.

With that, HTC has ditched megapixels for an ultrapixel camera.

"An ultrapixel is twice the size of a megapixel -- it lets in 300 percent more light," Woodward says. "We paired that with dual-axis stabilization. This is different than letting a shutter open."

HTC says the new technology should allow you to take much better low-light shots without having to use flash, which often makes for flat, blown-out images. We got a look at the camera and took this shot without a flash. A shot with the iPhone didn't match it. Nokia has focused on similar low-light settings with its Lumia 920 PureView camera vi.

HTC has paired that camera hardware with some new software features. It has livened up its gallery and allows you to take three-second videos when you take a photo. HTC calls this sort of video or photo a Zoe; the camera takes one second of video before you hit the shutter button and then two seconds right after, giving you photos that "come to life."

It sounds bit like the latest app from Twitter, called Vine, which takes six-second videos. HTC says you can share Zoes with anyone via a URL.

A Revamped Android
HTC has always added its own flare to Android with its Sense software. While HTC backed off from tweaking Android too heavily in its previous phones, it has begun to think of Google's software entirely differently with the One.

The phone is based on the latest version of Android (Android 4.2 or Jelly Bean), but HTC says that the majority of Android users only use one home screen instead of the three provided by Google (80 percent of Android users use fewer than three home screens, says HTC).

"We found that widgets and home panels aren't that well understood, so we wanted to simplify that," Woodward said. Called Blinkfeed, the home screen on the One is now a grid of news or a newsfeed of your social media accounts and news accounts.

"The idea is in a blink of an eye your phone is constantly refreshed and your phone is constantly alive. That becomes your home screen," Woodward said. The feed can be customized and if you don't like it, you can choose to put your Blinkfeed on another pane and use a regular Android home screen.

In addition to the Blinkfeed and redesigned user interface, HTC has added features like a Sense TV, which works with an IR blaster in the phone to turn the phone into a remote control for your TV.

Android Phone Season
The One will be offered by 180 carriers in 80 countries over the next few months. It will be available in the U.S. at T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T in March. HTC would not confirm the pricing, but said it would be competitive. Most high-end Android phones and the iPhone 5 cost $199 with a two-year contract.

But, of course, this is Android phone season and Samsung is rumored to be announcing the next version of its popular Galaxy S 3 -- the Galaxy S 4 -- in early March at its own event. While the One might be the only phone now designed for Generation Feed, it may make sense to wait to make sure it's the right one.

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Make Free Calls...

Posted on February 06, 2013 | 0 comments

Slash Your Cell Phone Bill: Make Free Calls On Your Smart Phone

By Becky Worley |Upgrade Your Life - 4 hrs ago

Your smartphone costs a fortune in monthly fees. But there are new ways to get unlimited voice calling and significantly decrease the number of cell voice minutes you need. So pull out your smartphone, and we’ll fire up a few tools to potentially save you hundreds of dollars on your cell phone bill this year.

Wi-Fi Calling on Cell Phones Explained
Your cell phone can communicate in four distinct ways: voice calls, texts, data over cell networks, and data over Wi-Fi. What many people don’t realize is that connecting via Wi-Fi doesn’t count at all against your cell phone bill. So how can you exploit this loophole to cut down on your overall cell phone bill?

Making voice calls on your computer over the Internet is nothing new; but you can now combine your cell phone with Wi-Fi to make calls for free on your mobile devices. This could enable you to talk over Wi-Fi and downgrade your cell service to the cheapest plan available – one with fewer voice minutes than you’re currently paying for.

Facebook Calling
Facebook recently announced that iPhone users who have the Facebook Messenger app installed can now make free phone calls to other iPhones users through the app. You’ll be alerted to an incoming call with a Facebook notification rather than with your phone’s ringtone, but if you have a Facebook friend with an iPhone whom you call a lot, this could help you conserve cell minutes.

Skype
Facebook is just the latest in a long line of upstarts taking aim at the established cell service market, like Line2 and Viber, but the biggest player is Skype. Their mobile app lets you make free Skype calls to anyone in the world with a free Skype account. But if you want to call any phone number in the US or Canada, whether or not the person you’re calling has a Skype account, you can pay $3 a month for this unlimited privilege. While $3 a month isn’t free, it could save you more than that on your cell service bill. Calling is simple: just fire up the app and dial the number.

Google Voice
Google offers a comprehensive service called Google Voice. With it, you get one unified phone number that rings on your cell or your landline, plus tons of cool features like transcribing your voicemail – and it makes calls over Wi-Fi. But beware: When you use Google Voice to make calls from your cell phone, it still counts against your cell phone minutes, unless you use an additional app like GrooVe IP or Sipdroid in conjunction with your Google Voice account. This combination will give you completely free Wi-Fi calling that doesn’t count against your minutes.

T-Mobile and Bobsled
T-Mobile has embraced free Wi-Fi calling whole hog. They provide an app called Bobsled to make free calls over Wi-Fi. You can call any US number. It works from any Android or Apple iOS device – not just phones, but computers and tablets as well. Surprisingly, this free service from T-Mobile does not even require you to be a T-Mobile customer; it works with any carrier. As of right now there are over 2 million Bobsled users, and T-Mobile says 95% of them aren’t T-Mobile subscribers For this reason, Bobsled is my number one pick for best way to make free WiFi calls on your smartphone.

But How’s the Quality?
I’ve tested Wi-Fi calling in a number of circumstances, and generally, the quality is pretty good – sometimes I’m aware of a slight delay, and some tinny audio quality, but overall comparable to what I get using my cell phone to make calls in the traditional way. And remember, making calls over Wi-Fi isn’t just about saving a few bucks by downgrading to a cheaper plan. Many people have poor cell reception in the places they use it most – in their own homes or at work – places where they might have an excellent Wi-Fi signal. If this is true for you, you might actually get better quality by making your voice calls using Wi-Fi.

Brad Marshland contributed to this story.

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What to look for...

Posted on January 05, 2013 | 0 comments

What to look for in technology in 2013 

2013: Talk Gets Cheaper, TV Gets Smarter

By Walter S. Mossberg | The Wall Street Journal – Wed, Jan 2, 2013 12:55 PM EST

 

The Wall Street Journal/Apple - What to Watch: In addition to its Apple TV interface, left, Apple is expected to try to further simplify television viewing.

Personal technology never stops changing. Some new products and services are game changers, like Apple's (AAPL) iPhone and iPad. Others are clever twists or refinements, like each successive version of Google's (GOOG) Android platform, which gets better and better. Others are bold gambles, like Microsoft's (MSFT) new Windows 8, which hopes to combine both a tablet experience and a traditional PC environment in one operating system. But there's always something new, from large companies and small ones.

So here are a few things consumers will likely see in technology in 2013. Many of these began to take shape in the past year, but will be stronger trends in the new year.

Tablets vs. PCs

While the iPad line, including the new Mini, continues to dominate the tablet market, Android-based tablets are finally gaining traction. But the bigger story is that tablets will continue to erode the role of laptop PCs.

Consumers are using tablets for more and more tasks formerly performed by laptops. Traditional computers aren't going away—they still do certain tasks, like heavy content creation, better than tablets. But consumers seem, at the very least, to be replacing their laptops less often and spending discretionary funds on tablets, which are gradually replacing another device: the dedicated e-reader. Many analysts had expected Windows 8 to halt or reverse this trend, and it may yet do so. But early indications aren't encouraging.

Integrating Hardware and Software

Meanwhile, another big trend is emerging: Apple's model of one company making the entire device—hardware,operating system, core apps and an online ecosystem—is beginning to take hold elsewhere. In October, Microsoft unveiled its first computer, the Surface tablet. The company will follow it up as soon as this month with a second, more powerful version. I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft also made its own smartphone this year.

Google is also moving in Apple's direction. It now sells three devices—a smartphone and two tablets—under its Nexus brand. These products are built by partner companies, but designed by Google. Now that Google owns its own hardware company, Motorola Mobility, I expect it to get deeper into the integrated model. Motorola (MSI), freshly stocked with former Google executives, is reported to be building advanced new hardware devices tightly integrated with Android.

Rethinking Television

Samsung and others already make TVs that can connect to the Internet, and stream Internet video and run tablet-type apps, without any special set-top box. But I find them clumsy, and their "smart TV" functions haven't taken off with consumers yet. This may be the year they do.

The biggest expectation is that Apple, which has been working hard on the problem, will finally unveil its long-rumored TV this year, with the goal of greatly simplifying the TV and smoothly melding Internet and cable content. Many, including me, thought it might appear in 2012, but the company reportedly ran into difficulties in negotiating with media companies for content rights. Meanwhile, Apple's tiny, $99 Apple TV box, while still a relatively small seller, is gaining popularity, partly because the company has built into its laptops, tablets and phones a feature called AirPlay which can use an Apple TV box to wirelessly stream audio and video to a TV.

 

Cheaper Smartphones and Plans

 Republic Wireless offers the Defy XT with a $19 unlimited plan. (Republic Wireless)

Smartphones are everywhere in the developed world, but most are still expensive—around $200 after a carrier subsidy that requires a two-year contract. And the monthly service fees can easily approach or exceed $100, especially if you use a lot of data, which is the very essence of a smartphone's purpose.

There are already some smartphones, usually older, less capable or less popular models, available for $99 or $49 or even free with a contract. But I expect to see better smartphones at lower prices in 2013, especially those running the dominant Android platform, and the handsome, but low-selling Windows Phone platform from Microsoft.

In addition, some companies are beginning to offer really cheap monthly plans. One example: Republic Wireless, which offers unlimited voice, text and data for $19 a month on a small, Android phone, the Motorola Defy XT, using older software that has been modified to make voice calls where possible over Wi-Fi instead of a costlier carrier network.


 Costlier, Better Music Players

The $700 Astell & Kern AK100 plays much higher fidelity digital music. (Astell & Kern)

Audiophiles and recording artists have never much liked the compressed music files that now fill every iPod and smartphone. They complain that the richness of the original recording is lost because the song files are optimized for minimum space and download time, and because they are often made from CDs, not from the master studio tapes.

So in 2013, there will be a push to sell a new kind of portable music player that can handle high quality music. The Korean electronics company, iRiver, has introduced the Astell & Kern AK100, a $700 player that can play much higher fidelity digital music. The legendary rocker Neil Young is backing a second venture, Pono, which is doing something similar. In addition to the price, there's another downside: The files can be 10 to 20 times as large as standard digital songs, so many fewer tracks fit in a given amount of memory.

Fitness and Health Monitors

The Basis measures resting heart rate. (BASIS Science, Inc.)

In 2012, sensor-packed wristbands like the Nike+ FuelBand and the Jawbone Up were introduced to measure how many steps people take in a day, how well they sleep, and other indicators of health and fitness. I expect this trend to continue in 2013, in different forms and with more sophisticated sensors. One new product, the Basis, is a watch with sensors on the back that measures resting heart rate. All of these devices tie into mobile apps or Web-based dashboards to track progress and offer advice.

Internet-Controlled Everything

Another trend I expect to see in 2013 is an expansion of apps and devices that let people wirelessly control many everyday objects, from light bulbs to appliances, using low-powered networks and smartphones or tablets. And we'll likely see more smart devices with such intelligence built in, similar to the Nest intelligent thermostat, which is Wi-Fi powered.

These are just a few of the trends likely to mark the consumer tech landscape in 2013. Others will also be prominent, most notably the continued reliance on the cloud, or remote servers, to store content and work collaboratively. One thing is sure: There are certain to be developments that will surprise us all, and can't be forecast here.

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Smart Devices Hit New Record

Posted on December 15, 2012 | 0 comments

Smart Devices Continue Surge, Hit New Record

By David Nagel 12/11/12

More smart connected devices--desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones--shipped in the latest quarter than in any other quarter in history, topping 303.6 million units, growing 27.1 percent from the same period last year, according to a new analysis and forecast released by market research firm IDC. The strongest gains were seen by the three leading manufacturers: Samsung, Apple, and Lenovo.

Third Quarter 2012
Samsung, for its part, shipped 66.1 million units in the third quarter of 2012--nearly double its 3Q 2011 shipments of 33.5 million, according to IDC's latest Worldwide Quarterly Smart Connected Device Tracker. Its market share jumped to 21.8 percent from 14 percent in the third quarter of 2011.

Second-place Apple shipped 45.8 million units, up 38.3 percent from 3Q 2011, and captured 15.1 percent of the overall market, up 1.2 points from last year's quarter. It's worth noting that despite coming in second in units shipped, Apple beat Samsung in total sales by dollar, as its average selling price per unit was significantly higher than Samsung's.

"The battle between Samsung and Apple at the top of the smart connected device space is stronger than ever," said Ryan Reith, program manager, Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers at IDC, in a prepared statement. "Both vendors compete at the top of the tablet and smartphone markets. However, the difference in their collective [average selling prices, or ASPs] is a telling sign of different market approaches. The fact that Apple's ASP [of $744] is $310 higher than Samsung's with just over 20 million fewer shipments in the quarter speaks volumes about the premium product line that Apple sells."

Lenovo leapfrogged HP to take the No. 3 slot in the third quarter, shipping 21.1 million total units, an increase of 60 percent over the previous year's third quarter. Its market share grew from 5.5 percent in 3Q 2011 to 7 percent in 3Q 2012.

Among the top 5 vendors, No. 4 HP was the only one to experience a decline in the third quarter. HP fell 20.5 percent on unit shipments of 14 million, winding up with a market share of 4.6 percent, down 2.8 points from 3Q 2011.

Sony rounded out the top 5 with shipments of 11 million units, up 25.4 percent from last year. Its market share fell slightly--a tenth of a point--hitting 3.6 percent.

All other vendors combined shipped 145.6 million units, up 9.7 percent over last year.

The total 303.6 million units shipped in the quarter represented about $140.4 billion, according to IDC.

Forecast Through 2016
Looking ahead, the growth seen in recent years is expected to continue through 2016, when, as IDC predicted, tablets will outsell both desktops and laptops. In 2011, 930.4 million smart connected devices were shipped worldwide. For 2012, IDC has forecast that figure to jump about 28 percent to 1.19 billion units. That will rise to 1.45 billion in 2013, 1.68 billion in 2014, 1.91 billion in 2015, and, finally, 2.11 billion in 2016. For the period from 2011 to 2016, that represents a compound annual growth rate of about 17.8 percent.

The chart below breaks down that growth by category. According to IDC's forecast, by next year, tablets will outsell desktop PCs, and, by 2015, they'll surpass laptops.

 

"Both consumers and business workers are finding the need for multiple 'smart' devices, and we expect that trend to grow for several years, especially in more developed regions," said Bob O'Donnell, program vice president, Clients and Displays, also in a prepared statement. "The advent of cloud-based services is enabling people to seamlessly move from device to device, which encourages the purchase and usage of different devices for different situations."

The shift in device preferences will also drive the average price of smart connected devices down, from $534 across all categories in 2011 to $378 in 2016.

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