Friday, March 15, 2013

Gadget of the Week - MaxWest 4200 Dual-SIM Phone

This gadget isn't for everyone. BUT, if you travel internationally (e.g. Canada, Mexico, Europe etc), this phone might be of interest. First of all, it's unlocked, meaning that it works with any GSM carrier (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint etc). Second, it has two SIM slots. That means that it can have two phone numbers, one on one network and one on another. This is very useful when you travel internationally as you can buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM card and then make cheap local calls. BUT, you won't miss any important calls or text messages from your home country as your "home" number will still be active. Plus, you'll still have all your apps, contacts, calendars etc as it's your own phone.

One of customers recommended this phone (she loves it), and also the Net10 plan. Their family Plan is $50 per month with no contract, unlimited voice, unlimited data and no activation fee. I can't speak to their coverage, but our customer said that it was very good. Maybe at $179.95 it's worth thinking about.

App of the Week - Yelp

One of the things that we love most about traveling is discovering new places. Since Tracey and I are self-confessed foodies, we also love discovering local restaurants, cafes, bars and even the odd brewery. We're not talking Red Lobster or Olive Garden, but locally run and owned places. I guess it's our way of pushing back on all the processed corporate uniformity that is plaguing our wonderful country.

The question however, is how do you find the gems from the rocks? The wheat from the chaff. You get my drift. Enter Yelp. You can think of it as a local Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor whilst very useful for telling you what the local attractions are, tends to be populated mostly by visitors, not locals. Yelp on the other hand tends to attract locals who offer their knowledge and insight in the form of reviews, some of which can be very detailed. Yelp.com had more than 100 million monthly unique visitors as of January 2013. We find it a gold-mine of local insight.

You do have to be a little cautious sometimes. A restaurant with only a few reviews that are just too good is obviously suspicious (maybe the owners mother and brother wrote the reviews)! So we look for places with lots (20+) of recent reviews all in the 4 - 5 star range.

The great thing about the Yelp app is that on a smartphone, it knows where you are. Hungry and fancy lunch at a cute backstreet cafe? Click on the Nearby button and then Coffee & Tea and Yelp will bring up a map or a list of all nearby establishments matching your criteria. Find one you like, check if it's open and then click on directions to begin navigating you to it. You can even share your experiences with the Yelp community and your friends by leaving your own review. I love it!


iPhone vs Android - Backing Up (Part 3)

In our computer classes, we always talk about the importance of backing up your computer and most people are quite diligent about it (if you aren't consider this a slap on the wrist and check out our Clickfree backup products). However, think about it. Your Smartphone is actually a small computer, and contains a lot of valuable information. If you were to loose it, do you have your contacts and telephone numbers stored somewhere else. What about your photos, music or chat threads? Not to mention the apps you've purchased. Some of this information like your email can be retrieved from other sources, but a lot of it can't. Hence you see the importance of backing up your phone.

In this third part of the iPhone vs Android series, we're going to look how to backup each device and see how they compare.

iPhone / iPad Backup

One of the things that's beginning to emerge as we go through this comparison is that the iPhone tends to have a lot of functions built-in, whereas the Android requires you to add them on. It's a different approach with advantages and disadvantages of each. For backing up, you have two options with the iPhone. The first is to back it up directly to your laptop.

Backing up to your laptop

First, connect your iPhone to your laptop using the sync / charger cable. When you connect, iTunes should start (if you don't have iTunes installed, get it here). If this is your first time, iTunes will prompt you to register your phone etc. Once it's all connected, look for your phone on the sidebar on the left (if you can't see a sidebar, click on View / Show Sidebar). Click on your phone under devices on the sidebar which will then bring up the screen about your phone. From here you can update it, restore it to factory settings and back it up. On the lower right, click on Backup Now under Manual Backup. This will backup everything on your phone and save the data to a file (the first time you do this it will prompt you for a file name - give it one and tell it to save the file in a sensible place like a folder called Backups)! Once it's finished your phone will be backed up. If you loose it or get a new one, all you do is use the Restore Backup button.

Backing up to the Cloud

Perhaps you don't have a laptop or you travel without one (many RV'ers are now doing this). How are you going to backup? Easy. On your phone, go to Settings / iCloud, sign-in with your Apple ID (if you don't have one, create one - it will ask for your credit card in case you want to purchase some apps, it's safe to enter it in).

It will then display a screen which allows you to select what you want to be backed up. The top section enables the backing up of Apple's own apps (e.g. your contacts, calendar, Safari bookmarks etc. Photostream will backup your photos (more on this in a later section). Find my iPhone is a useful app for finding and securing a lost phone and I recommend turing it on. Scroll down and at the bottom you'll see Storage and Backup. Click on that and turn on iCloud Backup. Your phone will then backup all your selected data to the secure Apple servers. You can then later restore the data if you loose your phone, or (more usefully) access your data from anywhere by visiting the www.iCloud.com website.



Android Backup

Things are a little more complicated on the Android. You don't need to worry about your apps (you can always restore them from the Play Store), your Contacts or your Calendar as Google sync's them for you with your Google account. You just need to make sure that you have this feature enabled. On your Android phone, go to your Settings page or app, then scroll down to Personal / Privacy. Make sure that Backup up my Data and Automatic restore are checked. On older versions of Android, you may need to go to Settings / Personal / Accounts & Sync, select your Google account and then select all of the option boxes listed).

This still leaves the problem of your Photos, music, documents, screen layouts or chat threads. The simplest approach in my opinion is to spend $5 on an app called MyBackup Pro. This app will backup all of these and more to either their online servers, or your SD card. Bear in mind that if you backup to your SD card, you should take it out and put in a spare otherwise if you loose your phone, you will have lost your backup! Another useful app is Lookout which is mostly a security app but will backup your photos, contacts and call history (more on this app later).

If you want to do it the hard way, you can backup your photos with either the Facebook app, Dropbox, or Google+ Instant Upload (turn on in Settings / Google / Google+). If your really adventurous, you can manually copy your files to you computer by plugging in your phone (Windows) or using the Android File Transfer Utility (Mac).

Summary

Whether you have an iPhone, iPad or Android phone or tablet, it pays to backup. As I've shown, I think the Apple products have a simpler to use and more elegant solution for backing up, but, the Android does give you added flexibility. Point to Apple.

If this all bamboozles you a little, remember we have our TechnoGeek Learning Rally....


Note: All references are for Andoid 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean) and iOS v6.0

Monday, March 4, 2013

Comparing the TRC 41260 to the Progressive HW50C

"I have taken delivery of my new Entegra Aspire, and it is fitted with a TRC Surge Guard model 41260 transfer switch. Do you know if this a true transfer switch like the Progressive ems hardwired?  Both are 50 amp." - Phil W

The TRC 41260 is an automatic transfer switch with some built-in protection. Transfer switches switch your power between your generator and shore power. The Progressive EMS' units are RV electrical protection systems. They offer electrical protection for your RV rather than switching your power.

The 41260 (link to data sheet) offers 2,600 joules of surge protection, open neutral and reverse polarity protection. Whilst this is better than nothing, it does not offer any where near the electrical protection of the Progressive HW50C or the PT50C. In addition to the open neutral and reverse polarity protection offered by the TRC, the Progressive units offer:

  • 3,580 joules of surge protection
  • Low voltage protection
  • High voltage
  • High and Low Frequency Protection
  • Open ground protection
  • Digital readout of voltage, frequency and current for each leg

In reality, it's the open ground (a potentially fatal condition) and voltage protection that is the most important as this can cause the most damage to your rig. Our recommendation is that you install an electrical protection system like the Progressive HW50C or PT50C in addition to your 41260 transfer switch.

Creating a file shortcut on my Android phone

"Once I download something, say a PDF file, can I move it from "downloads" to an icon on the "desktop", or whatever the main screen is on an Android phone? " - Scott

It doesn't look like there's a"native" way to do what you want to do. Instead, I downloaded a file manager app called "Linda Manager" which is free. When you go into it you can find your file (mine was in Downloads), then press and hold the file to bring up the menu and select "Create Shortcut".

A shortcut to that file is then placed on the next open slot of your pages. You can then move this shortcut around just as you would any app. Press the shortcut and it will open the document. Very cool.

Weak WiFi Signal


"We want to purchase a wi-fi booster for our pc computers.  Our laptop is xp and our desktop is vista.  We are in a motorhome just out of range of the wi-fi at the clubhouse where we are staying.  If I stand up and hold the laptop in the front window, I can get online but it is very slow.  The desktop can pick up the signal but it is too weak to connect.  What do we need to do to connect to that or another weak wi-fi signal without having to hook up an external antenna, wires, cables, etc.?  Can you give us the part numbers, too?", Sharon (Bethesda, MD)

Hi Sharon, Yours is a typical problem, a weak WiFi signal. Your best bet would probably be with the Desktop WiFi booster. It comes with a suction cup to mount to the window, that way it is "closest" to the WiFi signal. You can then plug the booster into your laptop or desktop and get the boosted signal.









The down side is that it needs to connect via it's USB cable which is limited in length, and you can only connect to one computer at a time. This is where the USB Repeater comes in. It connects to the booster and sets up your own WiFi hotspot that both computers can wirelessly connect to.





We do have other more powerful solutions, but given what you described, this is probably the best, easiest and least expensive option. You can always start with the Desktop booster and add the USB Repeater later, that's always another option.