This is the age of the train…

May 15, 2010

About once or twice a month I find myself on a train travelling to some far flung exotic location, like London, Leeds or Birmingham! Though more often then not it is the First Great Western train to London.

As I travel I like to try and get some work done in the time I have available. One key aspect of my job is communication and for that I need a decent internet connection. First Great Western, unlike some other train operating companies does not provide wifi on their services.  So what is one to do?

I have over the last few years used different ways of getting online on the train, all of them though have involved 3G.

Well recent tests show, as reported by the BBC that:

Mobile broadband speeds are improving but coverage is getting more patchy, suggests a survey.

The survey was…

…carried out by analysts from comparison site Broadband Genie, the annual test involved using dongles from UK mobile operators during a long train journey.

Interestingly…

T-Mobile came out top in the tests because it racked up higher speeds and proved more reliable during the tests.

So how do I use 3G on the train and with what services?

My original way of getting online was with a 3G PC Card from Vodafone, however this went once I changed jobs back in 2006.

I then had an 3G Dongle from Vodafone. This actually worked quite well, some dropped connections, but once within a 3G area, a good speed both up and down. I did notice though that more often then not, I could not get 3G speeds and the connection dropped to GPRS speeds. The main problem with the dongle is that it sticks out and on cramped trains this can be problematic.

After getting a T-Mobile contract phone (with Walk’n’Web Plus) I was able to use the phone as a tethered Bluetooth modem to connect to the internet at 3G speeds. The main disadvantage with this process was the impact that both Bluetooth and 3G had on battery life of the phone. The upside for me was a more reliable and faster connection.

Using a Nokia N95 I was able to use JoikuSpot on the Nokia, this shares the 3G connection over WiFI. This has one key advantage JoikuSpot allows more than one device to connect. A simple idea which just works. Basically it turns my Nokia N95 into a wireless hotspot, allowing me to connect multiple wireless devices to my phone’s 3G internet connection. I start JoikuSpot and once started I can then join the wireless and surf the internet. This was really useful allowing both my laptop and an iPod touch to connect to the internet using the single 3G connection. The Light version only really does internet, it doesn’t allow e-mail or https for example, whereas the Premium version does; this is the reason I upgraded to the Premium version and very pleased I am with it. The main downside is the impact it has on the battery life on the Nokia N95, down to less than four hours, often less!

I used this process for a fair amount of time, made easier when First Great Western introduced power sockets on their trains. Swapping over to the Vodafone 3G dongle if the signal failed or was weak.

I have recently tried a couple of other options, the first was not as successful as I would have hoped and that was the MiFi.

So what’s the MiFi? A battery powered 3G wireless router. Using a 3G SIM it would connect to the internet and then allow  up to five wireless clients to connect and share that 3G connection. With a four hour battery life, could be charged via USB and about the size of a credit card. Using a SIM from a Vodafone 3G USB dongle it was very simple to set up and configure and I would recommend that you use the details from Ross Barkman’s excellent website on connection settings for GPRS/3G to save having to work out where the information is on your providers’ website.

However one of the downsides for me was that though the MiFi worked a treat in stationary location (say at a conference) it was less satisfactory when travelling by train. What seemed to happen was that when the MiFi lost its 3G connection, as does happen on a train, it would switch itself off. As a result you had to check now and again and see if it needed turning back on. This also had an impact on the WiFi connection on my Mac laptop, which even when the MiFi was back on would not re-connect back to the MiFi wireless. In the end the experience was so unsatisfactory that I stopped using the MiFi on trains as a wireless router. The nice thing about the MiFi is that it will work as a USB 3G dongle, so you can use the MiFi in your event and meeting as a wireless router and revert to the dongle mode when on the train.

I have recently switched from the Nokia N95 to the Google Nexus One that runs the Android operating system. There is no JoikuSpot for the Nexus One and I am not 100% on how or even if it is possible to use it as a Bluetooth modem. One thing I have tried is PDAnet that allows me to use the Nexus One as a tethered 3G modem.

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor.

I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal!

I have used various methods to get online on the train and though each have their disadvantages and advantages, I think I prefer the 3G dongle, though the wifi methods are neater.

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iPhone gets it about a bit

October 3, 2009

O2 have had an exclusive deal with Apple over the iPhone in the UK, that is all about to change with the news that both Orange and Vodafone have secured a deal with Apple to provider their customers with the iPhone in the next few months.

This may cause extra competition and bring down the price of both the phone and the tariffs and then again maybe not if the demand for the iPhone remains high.

Making the iPhone available on other mobile phone networks will mean that customers (and therefore learners) will be able to get the iPhone (say as an upgrade) and don’t need to change networks or their number. Yes I know you can move your number, sometimes easy and sometimes not.

Over one million iPhones were sold by O2 and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this figure rise faster with the iPhone on the Orange and Vodafone networks.

With the iPhone going to Vodafone and Orange (and thus T-Mobile eventually) it will be available on most networks.

The iPhone is getting cheaper, with more competition it may get cheaper still.

The iPhone is getting competitors edgy and therefore will start to look at how they can improve their products.

The iPhone will get better, the 3GS is significantly better than the 3G in my opinion (and I have used both).

The iPhone may get bigger (ie the Apple Tablet) we need to be prepared for that. Both Apple and Microsoft appear to be edging into the e-book (and e-journal) market after the success of Amazon’s Kindle.

The iPod touch is not a phone, as a result has huge potential in schools who may be concerned about contract costs, etc…

It will be easier more than ever to get the iPhone.

Will it change learning?

No.

Not on its own.


Mobile Broadband too slow

September 23, 2009

3gdongle

From BBC News.

A survey by comparison site Broadband Expert suggests that UK mobile broadband providers are delivering services “far lower than advertised”.

Almost three and a half thousand broadband connections were tested over a five month period.

The firm found that users recorded an average download speed of 1.1Mbs, substantially lower than advertised.

The advertised speeds are sometimes in my opinion a bit over the top, for example Vodafone advertise 7.2Mbps which is really fast, however though I believe I have had that speed probably once, in London, I generally get a much lower speed.

However I agree with the expert critcism of the report, this is mobile broadband we’re talking about, though I would like to get a consistent 7.2Mbps I know that the technology doesn’t work that way. If I am moving, if other people are using their 3G devices, buildings, the weather and other stuff.

I have been pleased with my Vodafone 3G and T-Mobile 3G speeds, what are your 3G experience like? Do some people have high expectations for a technology which personally I am surprised works at all.

Photo source.


WiFi, no MiFi

September 19, 2009

So you want to be connected to the internet on the move? Or you need connectivity at a conference without wifi?

Yes you could get a 3G USB dongle or stick, but that only allows a single computer to connect.

What happens if you also want to connect your mobile device, a second laptop, what happens if there is more than one person and only one dongle?

In the past the solution I used was Joikuspot which was an application which ran on my Nokia N95 phone. It acted as a wireless access point, it connected to the internet via 3G and then shared that connection over the phone’s wifi connection with other devices. It was a very clever technology which made life easier for me. There were a few downsides, the main was battery life, it drained battery from the N95 really fast, so was only useful for an hour or two or when the phone was plugged into the mains. Of course this meant that I couldn’t use the N95 as a phone, as the battery would be drained. Another problem I had was with devices such as the Nokia N810 and Sony PSP which would not connect to the Joikuspot wireless network. The reason was a limitation in the Symbian software which meant that the phone acted in ad-hoc mode for wireless rather than infrastructure. The N810 and PSP had issues with connecting to an ad-hoc network. It did however work fine with the iPod touch which was how I mainly used it.

I was very interested to hear from Andy Ihnatko on MacBreak Weekly about the MiFi. A battery powered 3G wireless router. Using a 3G SIM it would connect to the internet and then allow  up to five wireless clients to connect and share that 3G connection. With a four hour battery life, could be charged via USB and about the size of a credit card, it seemed ideal. Of course I didn’t expect to see it in the UK, probably only available in the US on Verizon or Sprint…

mifi2

I did an internet search (as you do) and found it on sale at Expansys (without a contract). Ordered and delivered.

Using a SIM from a Vodafone 3G USB dongle it was  very simple to set up and configure and I would recommend that you use the details from Ross Barkman’s excellent website on connection settings for GPRS/3G to save having to work out where the information is on your providers’ website.

You can configure it wirelessly, and the first things I did was rename the wireless network and add WPA2 security.

Once configured it is simply a matter of turning it on, waiting for it to connect and then connect your laptop (or other device) to the wireless network.

It works very well and felt faster than using the USB dongle!

One problem I have had is the MacBook Pro losing the wireless connection and being unable to re-connect with the result the only solution was to reboot the MiFi. I am now trying just WPA as I think it is a MacBook Pro wireless issue rather than a MiFi issue. Or it could be an issue with the fact I was on a train!

I do like the MiFi and it does what it says on the tin.

You can now get the MiFi from 3 on a contract or as PAYG. This is much “cheaper” than buying the unlocked MiFi, but of course you get less flexibility as a result.


Got a 3G Dongle? Know your limit!

July 29, 2009

So have you got a 3G dongle?

Do you know your limit?

Do you know how much you will be charged if you go over that limit?

If you’re on O2 and go over by just 1GB you would be facing a £100 bill!

The BBC reports on the issue of 3G bandwidth caps on mobile broadband services.

Mobile broadband users face stiff penalties for exceeding their download limits even though most aren’t aware of what those limits are.

I use a Vodafone 3G dongle and though the Windows software (on a single computer) does measure how much data use the Mac connection software (in other words what I normally use) doesn’t. Generally I guess that my usage is fine as I don’t use the dongle everyday and rely on my home and work internet connections and not just the mobile broadband connection.

However I know some people and some learners have a 3G dongle for their internet and that’s it! Using a 3G dongle everyday would be getting close to their limits if they were downloading podcasts and watching online video.

Do you have a 3G dongle? Do you know your limit?


G2 Google Phone

February 18, 2009

Vodafone and Google at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona have announced the G2 HTC Magic, the second Google phone.

G2 Google Phone

The BBC reports

A new phone based on Google’s operating system Android has been unveiled by Vodafone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The touchscreen HTC Magic will feature a 3.2 Megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, and GPS, but no slide-out keyboard.

The G2 phone does not have a keyboard like the G1, but does feature improvements to the Android operating system which have come from user comments who use the G1.

Actually it’s not called the G2, but the HTC Magic!


Top Ten Technologies of 2008

December 20, 2008

This is a list of technologies which I have used extensively over the last twelve months. The reason for the list was partly down to the lists Steve Wheeler has been posting on his blog, and a prompt from him on Twitter. This is not an exact copy of Steve’s format I have also worked on a list of web tools as well. I do quite like this format which gives an opportunity to review and share the tools which have made a difference to the way I work and have enhanced what I do.

Here are my top ten technologies in reverse order.

10.    PSP

So it’s not the best selling portable gaming machine of 2008, that goes to the Ninetendo DS, and yes the text entry is awful. However from an e-learning perspective, the most successful device I have demonstrated, used, and also used by learners has to be the PlayStation Portable, the PSP. Unlike the iPod touch,  the PSP does not require iTunes and can be connected to a PC via a simple USB cable. With extras you can use Skype, record video and audio, and use GPS. The PSP also has built in speakers which means you don’t always have to use headphones. However it comes with no onboard storage, so you will also need to buy a Memory Stick Duo for it. The wireless browser is okay, but nowhere near the level of usability or sophistication of the iPod touch browser. If you do have a PSP or get a PSP, make sure you get the camera. The camera which as digital cameras go is pretty poor quality at 1.3MP and a poor lens, does capture images and video. The key why it works (and works well with learners) is that reviewing the images and video is easy on the big screen (well for a mobile device) and certainly much easier than small pocket digital cameras.

9.    Asus EeePC

It was announced in 2007, but didn’t really start shipping until 2008. I got an early 2GB model and was impressed as were lots of other people. We did go out and buy a bundle of 4GB models with webcams and were impressed even more. Yes the screen is small at 7″, the keyboard is small, the onboard storage is small, the battery life is low. However the smallness is one of the EeePC’s strengths and the price, well you couldn’t grumble about the price. For the price you get a machine which is entirely suitable for surfing the web, e-mail and the odd bit of creating documents, presentations, audio and video recordings. Probably the biggest impact of the Asus EeePC has been on the market and we have seen every major manufacturer jump on the bandwagon and produce their own versions. Some are bigger, most are more expensive, but the market now has a wide choice of small netbooks (as we are calling them) to choose from.

8.    iMovie ’08

I didn’t like iMovie ’08 when it first came out in July 2007, so much so that I didn’t go out and buy iLife ’08 for my home Macs. At work when I got my new 24″ iMac it came with iMovie ’08 so I asked for iMovie HD ’06 to also be installed. However due to using some HD cameras (see below) I was “forced” to use iMovie ’08. The more I used iMovie ’08 the more I grew to like it. I like it so much now that it is my movie editor of choice. It does take some getting use to, and the desktop layout is totally different to the ’06 version. Once you get pass that (and on the basis you don’t need special effects) iMovie ’08 is a very sophisticated program which allows me to create quite complex videos, such as this one I created for the JISC Online Conference.

7.    Sony HDR-SR8

So you want to shoot HD footage? To be honest there are a plethora of HD video cameras out there at a range of prices. This is at the high end of the consumer market, though you do get a lot of features. Key ones for me are, a decent lens, full 1080i resolution, a 100GB on board hard drive, and I also had a selection of microphones as well. I used it a lot for taking video this year and very pleased with the end results. Easy to import the video into iMovie ’08, edit and export.

Top Ten Technologies of 2008

This bloopers tape from the JISC Online Conference uses a lot of footage take by the HDR-SR8.

The HDR-SR8 is also quite good at taking still photographs too. The SR8 model is now no longer available, but other Sony HDR Cameras are.

6. Panasonic HDC-SD5

There are two HD cameras on my list, the Panasonic HDC-SD5 is cheaper than the Sony HDR-SR8, it does not have the capability for external microphones and only has an SD slot for capturing video and images. However it is a lot lighter and smaller than the HDR-SR8 and this was it’s main strength, I could drop it in my pocket and then be able to take footage very quickly and easily. As the footage was on an SD card, cards could be swapped over, so as footage was imported and edited, the camera with another card could be used to shoot new footage  – a real asset in a college with limited resources. The classic ALT-C videos I did, the Digital Divide Slam and the Dinner video were both recorded using the HDC-SD5 and I was impressed with the quality of the footage and even the audio capture on the Slam video.

Like most HD cameras, it has been replaced by a newer model, the Panasonic HDC-SD9 but you can still buy the SD5 if you want.

5.    Edirol R09

So my phone can record audio, as can my PDA; however when it comes to recording audio quickly and easily but at a quality that is good enough to listen to, the Edirol R-09 is for a me a must have device. Recording as either WAV or MP3 direct to an SD card, the audio quality is excellent. Very easy after recording to connect a USB cable and copy the recordings over to edit in Audacity or Garageband. It is very portable and the fact it uses AA batteries means if they run out, they are easy to replace. Main downside is cost, but in this case I do believe it is very much you get what you pay for.

4.    3G USB Stick

I have been using 3G for years, but my Vodafone 3G USB Stick has been fantastic this year. In metropolitan areas I have been getting very fast download speeds, almost as much as the advertised 7.2Mbps! When there is no wifi, or the wifi is patchy, or the wifi costs too much, the 3G has provided access to the internet quickly and easily. It works well across most of the country (well where I have travelled to) and has enabled me to stay in touch via the web and e-mail.

3.    JoikuSpot

A simple idea which just works. Basically it turns my Nokia N95 into a wireless hotspot, allowing me to connect multiple wireless devices to my phone’s 3G internet connection. I start JoikuSpot and once started I can then join the wireless and surf the internet. Usually I am using my iPod touch or my MacBook Pro. The Light version only really does internet, it doesn’t allow e-mail or https for example, whereas the Premium version does; this is the reason I upgraded to the Premium version and very pleased I am with it. The main downside is the impact it has on the battery life on the Nokia N95, down to less than four hours, often less!

2.    iPod touch

So it’s not an iPhone, but the iPod touch can pretty well do a lot of what the iPhone can do. It is cheaper and there is no monthly charge. Yes there is not SMS, no phone capability, no GPS, no camera and no 3G; however pretty much it can do everything else an iPhone can do. Of all the mobile devices I have used (and as you might expect I have used a lot) the iPod touch has provided for me, through its wifi connection, the best mobile browsing experience. Whereas on the Nokia N95 I will use the browser to find traffic or train information, on the iPod touch I will use the browser to browse the web and browse for some time. It makes browsing on a mobile device not only a usable experience but a pleasurable experience. The screen on the iPod touch is really nice and as a result video looks great. The touch interface is the best I have ever used, very intuitive and easy to pick up, oh and it works. You will need to consider that the touch interface does mean the screen gets grubby pretty quickly and the included cloth will need to be used on a regular basis. Another key advantage for me is the wealth of applications available and there are some really good ones out there. I have found that I am using the ones which interact with Web 2.0 services the most such as Evernote, Twitterfon and Facebook. One feature which works really for me is the ActivSync integration with Exchange, this means for work e-mail and calendars I can access them anywhere with a wifi connection. As it is a live connection, there is no need to sync and that is what sets the device apart from Windows PDAs I have used in the past. I do find typing on the iPod touch very simple and much nicer than using a phone keypad, but I know for some it’s not their cup of tea. Overall I really like the iPod touch, it exceeded my expectations, I use it on a daily basis and I can’t even really imagine what the next generation version will be like.

1.    Nokia N95

My number one device for 2008 is the Nokia N95 8GB
mobile phone. For me the Nokia N95 is much more than a phone, it is a device which allows me to create upload and connect. Like the iPod touch I use it on a daily basis, though to be honest rarely as a phone or for SMS. The 5MP camera has an excellent lens and can be used to take some nice photographs. I use Shozu to automatically upload my photographs to Flickr or Facebook over the phone’s 3G connection or if in the right place over wifi. The phone also takes some nice video as well and I can use Shozu to upload that as well automatically. The Nokia N95 does come with a web browser, which is usable, but nowhere near as nice as Safari on the iPod touch. However all is not lost, using JokiuSpot (see above) I can turn the N95 into a wifi hotspot and use the N95’s 3G connection and the iPod touch for browsing, job done. Video works well on the N95 and simple MP4 files work well, though the screen is small, the phone comes with a composite video cable which allows you to show what is on the phone on a video screen or through a projector. The onboard speaker is okay, though the one on the Nokia smaller N73 seems louder! The s60 operating system does allow you to install third party applications and I do like the Jaiku application over the mobile Jaiku interface and there is also an s60 Twitter application too. Qik on the N95 turns it into a broadcast device, Qik is a service which allows you to stream live video from your phone to the internet and it can be very effective. I also use the phone to read QR codes which it does quite well. The N95 also has built in GPS and though routing software is extra, for checking where you are using Nokia Maps the phone works great. I also like how Shozu geo-tags the photographs I upload to Flickr too. It’s not all perfect, the device is very chunky and very thick, if you like thin phones, then you won’t like the N95. I am not a great fan of the keypad, but it’s better than some I have used, and to be honest I don’t like phone keypads anyhow!

Overall though, on the basis of how I use the N95, how often I use the N95 and how annoyed I get when it runs out of battery, the Nokia N95 is my number one technology of 2008.

Top Ten Technologies of 2008

What is yours?