How-To Videos: Make the most of your Android phone, tablet, gadget!

Got an old out-of-service Android phone, just wasting away on a shelf or in a desk drawer somewhere forgotten? Here are 8 cool ways to bring it back to life!

Why should I buy an Android phone?

Why should I buy an Android phone?Android has come a long way since 2005 when Google bought a relatively unknown company called Android Inc which was working secretively on software for mobile (otherwise known as cell) phones. Over the course of half a decade, Google developed & opened up the Android software platform to let anyone download, modify, customize, use and distribute it for free.

‘Freedom’ is the keyword that separates Android from all the other smartphones in the market. Apple keeps a tyrannical-like grip on its iPhone and Blackberry isn’t much different. By comparison, you are free to download and install any application you want on an Android phone – you’re not restricted to what someone in a review department deems to be acceptable.

With this level of freedom, application developers are ditching Apple and embracing the freedom that developing for the Android brings. There are now tens of thousands of applications that you can buy – many of them quite useful! For example, the default email messaging system is nothing to shout about on the Android, but it doesn’t need to be because there are over a dozen free apps you can download to replace the built-in messaging system for you. This level of customization and choice isn’t available on other smartphones where the makers want to tie you down to only their applications.

Since it’s much easier for developers to create applications and because there is more competition, you’ll find that many apps that you have to pay for on the iPhone and Blackberry are free on the Android – or at least there will be a free ‘lite’ version available so you’re saving on the cost of customizing your Android-powered smartphone.

If you’re anything like the average Internet user, you probably use multiple Google web services like Gmail, Gtalk, Docs and Search. While you can access these services on other phones, the Android has purpose-built apps which integrate and sync seamlessly with your smartphone. For example, say you add a new contact to your address book; Android is intelligent enough to update your Google contacts list so if you ever lose your phone then all your important contact details are saved in Google’s cloud-based software services.

Security is obviously a big factor and with smartphone usage on the rise, fraudsters and criminal gangs are actively trying to gain access to the sensitive information people store on their phones for financial gains. Although you can get some great protection software for Android you can be assured that Google has always got your back covered with its remote kill-switch ability to neutralize any rogue apps that may have found their way onto your phone.

Finally, there is the important factor of choice. With an iPhone you are limited to one model, not great if you want to express yourself. The Blackberry is aimed at business people and the designs are far from inspiring. On the other hand, since the Android OS is a free operating system that can be used without royalties, many major phone manufacturers are creating Android-based smartphones. You now have a choice of brand, choice of sizes, choice of features and, most importantly, can find a smartphone that fits your budget.

What is the Android OS?

What is the Android OS?The Android Operating System (OS) is a lot like the Windows operating system you use on your PC but it is specifically developed to work on small, low-power handsets like smartphones and tablets (portable, computerized touchscreens). It’s designed to run as efficiently as possible while using as little power as possible. Android Inc. got global recognition when in August 2005 Google bought up the company and then immediately announced that they will be making the operating system Open Source so that anyone can use it without having to pay for it or pay any royalties.

The Android OS is actually based on a modified version of a Linux Kernel; Linux of course already being an established open-source alternative to Windows and OSX. At its most basic level, an operating system provides the layer between the hardware and the software designed to run upon it. In the case of Android, it must be able to pass commands to the processor, microphone, camera, GPS, antenna, touchscreen and keypad etc. Various applications can then be built to run on Android OS to make the device more functional.

The Android operating system is an advanced piece of software and packs a big punch in a small package. It uses a lightweight relational database called SQLite to store and retrieve data for the various apps that you install, and has built-in playback capability for dozens of different media types including WebM, H.263, H.264, PNG, GIF, BMP. MPEG, MP3, MIDI, WAV and JPEG. In terms of connectivity, it can handle all the latest technologies out-of-the-box such as GSM, IDEN, CDMA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and WiMax, SMS and MMS forms of messaging. This makes it the ideal platform for app developers to build innovative new software.

At the time of writing, Android has overtaken virtually every other smartphone operating system available on the market, including Apple’s iOS which powers the iPhones, and Blackberry’s own OS. By the end of 2010, some 33 million smartphones had been purchased which ran a version of Android OS, and market research analyst NPD Group now estimates that half of all smartphone purchases are for an Android phone.

The driving factor behind this rapid takeup is the open source nature of the operating system. This means that any phone, or handheld device, manufacturer in the world can download the source files, modify and customize it to their specific needs and then distribute it on handsets developed by them. The royalty-free nature of Android has encouraged some of the biggest names in the smartphone industry like Samsung, LG, HTC and Motorola to build highly desirable devices using Android OS.

Another reason for the high demand of Android phones is that by the end of 2010 there were over 200,000 applications available for download, which included everything from games to utilities, image editing to location-based software services. Unlike Apple’s app store, the vast majority of Android applications are free or have free versions, which in turn encourages people to use Android phones.

What is a Smartphone Anyway?

What is a Smartphone Anyway?The name given to handheld devices which perform more tasks than a regular cell (or mobile) phone is ‘smartphone’. To be perfectly honest, the word ‘smartphone’ is a bit misleading because it’s very hard to define where a cell phone stops being a cell phone and becomes a smartphone.

In 1973, Motorola revolutionized the business world with the introduction of a portable phone that could be used anywhere. Over a period of a decade, the device slowly got smaller until you no longer needed to carry a briefcase around with you to make a call! In the 80’s a new kind of handheld device was gaining popularity called the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). This device helped you keep track of appointments, make notes and remind you of important dates.

IBM were the first company to realize that the mobile/cell phone and PDA functions could be combined into one device and in 1992 at the Las Vegas Computer Trade Show they unveiled the first generation of smartphones. From one device you could not only manage your schedule but also call all your contacts to arrange meetings.

Fast forward to today, and smartphones have changed beyond all recognition from the device IBM released in 1992. For starters, the processing power and memory that these phones have are more powerful than many desktop computers of just a decade ago.

Although we can’t definitely define what is and isn’t a smartphone, there are a number of features that can help decide. First and foremost, the smartphone should be able to do so much more than make phone calls, and send and receive text messages. It should more closely resemble a mobile office, a substitute for your computer.

In that sense, you should be able to not just send and receive emails as you would in Gmail or Outlook, but also find the act of composing an email easy. This means that it should give you a full QWERTY keypad either as part of the phone or as a virtual keypad on the touch-sensitive screen. Typing out long emails needs to be much easier than on a standard 0-9 numeric keypad. While we’re on the topic of being able to easily bash out emails and read incoming mails, the screen size should be big enough to see a large chunk of what you are writing, which means it needs to be several inches in size.

Connectivity is another important factor. We live in a high-tech world and business revolves around computers and files. A smartphone should not just be able to read the latest Excel file, but send and receive it too. This means it needs WiFi capability to connect to the company Intranet, Bluetooth to connect to your laptop and your colleagues’ phones, and maybe even a GPS (global positioning system) so that your office knows your exact location at any given time.

One of the most popular software operating systems for Smartphones is the Android OS. This takes productivity to a whole new level and turns your handheld device into a virtual office. There is very little that you can do on your laptop that these latest smartphones can’t do. And that’s what makes it so smart!

What Does Unlocked Mean When Buying A Mobile Or Smartphone?

What Does Unlocked Mean When Buying A Mobile Or Smartphone?Buying an unlocked mobile or smart phone can mean 1 of 2 things; the cell phone can be used on any network carrier, or, you are free to install any application on it. With the price of today’s smartphones running to several hundred dollars, the phone manufacturers and the network carriers have to provide some tempting offers to get people to upgrade their phone or get the latest smartphone. The most common tactic is to offer the phone for free, or at a deep discount, and in return, you sign up for a contract where you agree to pay a minimum amount each month. The sting in the tail is that although you get the latest phone worth hundreds of dollars, it’s often locked to the carrier you took the contract out with. If you want to switch carriers or move to a pay-as-you-go plan when the contract expires, you’ll have a hard time taking your phone with you.

The fastest way to find out if your phone is locked to a network carrier is to insert a SIM card from another carrier, then see if you get a signal, and can make and receive calls. If you can’t, you probably have a locked phone. The ‘lock’ isn’t a physical lock but a program deep within the operating system – maybe even hardcoded into the core OS – which checks that the network carrier is valid and blocks any attempt to connect to another carrier.

It is possible, although somewhat risky, to unlock a phone either by entering a sequence of numbers from the keypad or hooking it up to a computer which has some software to erase or reprogram the core files. You won’t find any chain stores offering this service but certainly the small, individually-owned cell phone stores will offer this service for a fee if you ask them. However, be warned that if you do decide to unlock your phone to be used on another carrier, it probably voids the warranty on your phone and there is always the danger that it could wipe the system memory altogether. Then you’ll end up with a lump of plastic no more useful than a brick.

One of the reasons you may want to get the phone unlocked, and one of the driving reasons many seek to do so, is if you are travelling abroad for any length of time, you want to keep your phone but use a local SIM card to save on calls, messages and data transfer. A locked phone won’t give you the freedom to do this so the only alternative is to get the phone unlocked to remove the carrier checking program.

The other type of locking is the restrictions put in place by the manufacturer. The Apple iPhone is notorious for this because Steve Jobs has decided that he doesn’t want people messing with the operating system or installing unapproved applications. This has given rise to the term ‘jailbreaking’ for the iPhone and many people attempt to break free and unlock their iPhone by jailbreaking it but, in doing so, void their warranty and any support they need if things go wrong.

By contrast, Google’s Android phones are open-source, providing the freedom and flexibility to customize anything and everything. Developers are free to develop and install any type of app, which many argue makes the Android a superior operating system because there’s no need to unlock it, jailbreak it or circumnavigate restrictions that have been put in place. That said though, many network carriers will try and lock the phone to their network and you may need unlocking services from a local cell phone store.

Using Android for Business, A Cloud-based Software Model

For the last 5 years, the Blackberry brand of mobile phones has been synonymous with business; there’s not a city worker worth their salt who would be without their trusty Blackberry – even the current President of America, Barack Obama is a self-confessed Blackberry addict. But with the rise of Android and the innovation the open-source platform brings, isn’t it about time businesses review their love affair with the Blackberry?

Blackberry’s leading feature is the ease at which it syncs up your email with your phone. With a data plan you can send and receive emails as quickly and easily as sending a text message, and with the ‘push’ feature, your phone automatically retrieves your newest emails. But hang on a second, if an Android phone can do all this and give you the choice of application, style, functionality and features, doesn’t it make the Blackberry’s party piece somewhat redundant? With so many email applications for the Android, you can choose one that suits your requirements rather than letting Blackberry decide how to handle email for you, and charge you for it.

Many businesses are moving to the “cloud-based” software service model where everything is stored in global datacenters and information is accessed as it’s needed from wherever you are! At the forefront of this is Google with their multiple services ranging from contacts to word processing; many large enterprises are even using Google’s Gmail email service, replacing their old Windows Exchange servers. An Android smartphone comes tightly integrated with many of Google’s apps like email, contacts, documents, maps and more, which means that all the information you have on the office PC is accessible at a touch of a button on the Android mobile phone. Need to find the contact details of a client? No problem, it’s a click away in your Google address book.

Think about how much a lost smartphone would cost the business. All your contacts, all your messages and all your saved files could be irreplaceable but with the Android’s syncing ability of your Google accounts, no emails need be lost, contacts are saved to the “cloud” and Google Docs can be accessed from anywhere – suddenly, the cost of losing or damaging the phone is limited to the minor cost of the device itself.

The smartphone of today needs to let the businessperson perform all the functions they would normally need a PC for. If they’re on the way to a client meeting and need to make some last-minute adjustments to the presentation they would normally need to carry a heavy laptop. The Android phone can eliminate this requirement by letting the user create, edit and view common office documents on their phone and make adjustments where necessary. The built-in WiFi and Bluetooth capability make it simple to transfer any edited files to a PC or another device at the touch of the button. Android, how sweet you are!

While we’re on the subject of travelling to a client meeting, how many of us have a sat-nav (satellite navigation) device in our car now? If you do, the question is: Why? An Android phone has a built-in GPS and using apps like Google Maps or a navigation app, you can find the route to the client’s office directly on your phone.

The Android is the perfect business smartphone and an ideal all-in-one replacement for a laptop, sat-nav and PDA. Go for it, folks!

Top 10 Android Apps You Can’t Live Without

Top 10 Android Apps You Can’t Live WithoutThere are tens of thousands of Android applications available in the marketplace, so choosing just 10 of the best apps is a very difficult job. However, we’ve gone through hundreds of different apps and compiled these Top 10 Android Apps that you can’t live without.

Handcent SMS

The default Android messaging app is ok, but Handcent SMS is better. Way better. You can customize the layout of your messages, view the messages in conversation format, password protect your messages and spellcheck messages before you send it. This should be the first app that you install!

BetterKeyboard

Just like the Android messaging app, the keyboard app is also ok, but BetterKeyboard lives up to its name by being miles better. With true multi-touch ability, proximity correction and a number of skins available; once you go Better, you’ll never go back.

Snap Photo Pro

Sack the default Android camera app and splash out 99 cents on this little beauty. Snap Photo Pro lets you take multiple shots at a click of a button which is great for catching natural expressions, a digital stabilizer which is useful if you have shaky hands, a digital zoom and there are multiple digital filters you can apply to the photo.

RingDroid

When it comes to ‘pimping out’ your Android, a unique ringtone is essential. RingDroid will let you edit MP3 files and slice out that catchy chorus or the really cool intro. Eye of the Tiger intro, anyone?

Launcher Pro

The ultimate dashboard management app. Launcher Pro gives you 7 Home Screens to fill up with widgets and customize to your delight. It has super smooth scrolling between screens and can even handle 3D graphics for that extra cool look.

Norton Mobile Security

It’s a scary world out there, folks, but Norton acts like your personal bodyguard defending your phone from intrusions and malware. It can even remotely disable and delete data if you ever have your phone stolen so those filthy thieves can’t extract any personal data from it.

Angry Birds

We know that everyone is going crazy about Angry Birds and there is a good reason for it! This very simple game will draw you in and before you know it your morning commute won’t last nearly long enough as you play the ever harder levels to defeat the greedy piggies. Alfred Hitchcock, eat your eyes out!

Amazon Kindle

Get Amazon’s Kindle without buying a Kindle. This app will let you read thousands of free ebooks right on your Android phone. Perfect for when you need a breather from Angry Birds.

Google Maps with Navigation

Download this app and you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it. You can giveaway your Tom Tom because everything you need is now in this free app. Simply key in or say where you want to go and it will find the best direction for you to take.

Financisto

Take control of your finances with this pocket-sized financial tracker. You can keep tabs on all your checking, savings and credit accounts and find out just why you seem to have no money left at the end of each month. Invaluable if you find yourself overspending all the time.

And if those aren’t enough, why not pop in to the Official Android Marketplace for 1000’s more apps to choose from. https://market.android.com/

How To Start Developing Apps For Android

How To Start Developing Apps For AndroidGoogle has created the Android operating system so that anyone and everyone with the right skills can develop applications (apps) to run on an Android smartphone. Google’s approach to developing smartphones is completely opposite to Apple, who prefer control over the software that people can put on their iPhones. The open-source nature of Android means that you can literally develop whatever you want and people can simply download and install it; many developers have jumped ship from iPhone apps to develop apps for the Android because of the freedom it gives them.

If you develop an application for the iPhone then it’s in the hands of a reviewer who determines if the app is good enough to be sold on iTunes, or if it is appropriate for the app store — many apps have fallen foul of Apple’s censorship policies. On top of this, research firm NDP Group have said that half of all smartphone sales are for the Android operating system. Incredible as it seems, by the end of 2010, some 32 million handsets were running Android OS. No wonder then that everyone is investigating how to develop Android apps now.

Android apps are programmed in Java, so you need to know this language, or hire a developer who does, before you begin. The next step is to download the Android Software Development Kit (SDK) from Google. This contains libraries, classes, code examples and an interface to test your new Android application. You can also download the Google APIs Add-On extension which includes libraries specific to Google’s various web services.

You would generally design the interface in Illustrator and save the graphics in vector format, but it’s best to get a talented designer to do this. The libraries in the SDK also contain some standard vector graphics that you can use when developing an Android application. If your app creates data that needs to be saved and referenced (for example, a weight-loss tracker where you enter your weight and plot your weight loss on a graph over time) then you need to store the data in an SQLite database and create the necessary code to create the database, insert and retrieve data.

Getting your finished app from your computer to your Android phone is a little bit complex because it needs to be converted, compiled and then deployed. Android uses a system called Dalvik Virtual Machine which runs Dalvik Executable files. Your Java Class files need to be converted to .dex files using a tool called DX; once this is done, it needs to be packaged into an .apk (Android Package) file by something called the Android Asset Packing Tool. Only when this is done can the application be deployed to an Android handset and executed.

Finally, to accurately test your app, why not purchase a genuine Android Developer Phone. You can run and debug your Android applications directly on one of these devices. Or even go 1 step further; modify and rebuild the Android operating system itself, then flash it onto the phone. Android Dev Phones are carrier-independent (officially unlocked), being available for purchase by developers (that’s you) through your Android Market publisher account.

Fortunately, there are vast libraries of freely available code on the Android Developers’ website and on 3rd-party sites which provide tutorials on how to get started building your first Android app.

PS Before you can publish app software on the Android Market, you have to create a developer profile over at Google’s Android website, pay the $25 registration fee, confirm the Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement, and you’re off & running with Android!

Do You Need To Be Concerned About Android Security?

Do You Need To Be Concerned About Android Security?Smartphone security is becoming a concern as manufacturers battle to restrict attacks from hacks and malware. As the explosion in people buying smartphones continues, so does the number of criminal gangs and lonely computer nerds looking for a way to hack or steal information from your phone.

Malware cannot just disable various functions on your Android mobile phone but can also leave a software “backdoor” to allow various types of snoopware (applications which look for private information to send back to the creator) to be installed and compromise the digital safety of your phone.

In this respect, Google has taken a lot of precautionary security steps while developing the Android OS and has included the ability to ‘push’ software updates and patches to Android phones without the user having to request it. This feature was a lifesaver for some Android users when in March 2011, Google released a security update which prevented rogue applications from accessing any more data – effectively it was a kill switch for these bad apps.

The malware at the center of the problem was called the DroidDream Trojan and it was found to be deeply embedded in over 58 apps. By sending out this remotely triggered update, Google was able to perform virtual surgery on Android phones around the world and is just one of the many ways in which your smartphone is protected.

You can also help to make your Android phone more secure and less likely to be affected if any malware does worm its way on to your handset. The easy-to-use graphical user interface hides an operating system that is flexible and infinitely customizable, and you should take full advantage of this to secure your phone.

First and foremost, you need to lock the phone’s password to prevent all of the low-level malware. To do this, just open up the Settings > Location & Security Settings > Select the password of your choice. Next, set a low Timeout option with Settings > Display > Set a value (preferably less than a minute).

Another security measure is to utilize the permission mechanism that imposes restrictions on what processes an app can perform and what data it is allowed to access; this locks down your phone so even if a rogue app makes its way on to your phone, it’s limited in what it can do. Without setting permissions, there is a possibility that malware applications can silently collect all the data from your phone.

Finally, there are a number of 3rd-party security apps available like Norton’s Mobile Security software which can perform many useful functions like preventing unauthorized apps from being installed in the first place, and even remotely lock down the phone if the SIM card has been removed – handy if your phone gets stolen!

8 Things an Android phone can do . . . that an iPhone can’t!

8 Things an Android phone can do . . . that an iPhone can’t!The debate between Android and iPhone is becoming as worn and tiresome as the eternal debate between Windows and OSX. However, as ardent Android supporters, we thought we’d put together a comprehensive list of 8 things that an Android phone can do that an iPhone can’t.

1. Openness

The Android operating system is open-source and supported by Google. This gives application developers and even smartphone makers complete freedom to modify and customize the source as they want and build exciting, ground-breaking new apps. There is no limit to what a developer or smartphone manufacturer can achieve with Android.

2. Tight Integration With Google Apps

While we can’t deny that Google’s scattergun approach to building web apps and services leaves us scratching our heads occasionally, there are some invaluable tools at our disposal like Transliteration, Google Books, Google Scribe, Walky Talky and the ever geeky Sky Map. One app that will probably never make it to the iPhone is the Google Maps Navigation. All these apps are free and work flawlessly on any Android phone.

3. Customized To You

With the iPhone you can have any screen arrangement you want as long as it’s arranged in a 4 column grid. Doesn’t sound very customer friendly, does it? Well, let me tell you, Android allows you to personalize your experience with widgets and arrange the dashboard just as you want.

4. Power Saving

Android has some of the best power-saving features in the smartphone market built right in to the operating system. There’s no need to download new apps; the system optimizes the battery life in the background.

5. Connectivity

Unlike the iPhone, where you’re tethered to your iTunes account, with an Android smartphone you can plug and play on any type of computer. This openness and portability makes an Android phone the ultimate in convenience.

6. Kill Switch

At a click of a button, Google can send out a signal to all Android phones to kill and remove any rogue apps. This keeps your phone secure at all times and you can sleep easy, knowing that Google has your back.

7. Flash

Steve Jobs is anti-Flash, we know that. But what about the tens of millions of people that have to be inconvenienced because of Steve’s whims? Android doesn’t place any restrictions on the type of media you can and can’t view.

8. Security

Android is an open source platform which means there are thousands of developers reviewing the code all the time. When you leverage the power of the crowd like this, security bugs are identified and patched rapidly. What’s more, Android can patch itself automatically without needing to be connected to infernal iTunes.

These are just 8 things that we think an Android phone can do that an iPhone can’t. How many other ways do you know of that make the Android phone superior?

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