Saturday, May 29, 2010

Time Zones with Google Calendar and Synced Devices

I take a call in Denver from someone in LA who wants to set up an appointment (in LA) with me at 3pm.  I put it on my Google Calendar which syncs to my Android phone.  When I get to LA, Android/Google thinks they’re doing me a favor by “updating” all my appointments with my phone’s new time setting, so now my calendar is telling me the appointment is at 2pm (since I placed it on my calendar in Denver, where the time is off by an hour).

Why won’t Google fix this massive problem?!  Why did they set it up WRONG in the first place?  Everyone is complaining about it.  Who doesn’t travel these days?  Why would you ever enter an appointment time into your calendar for the WRONG time (to adjust for time zone shifts)?!  This issue is a result of Google “helping” us, when in fact it ONLY causes problems.

I can’t think of a time when this “shift all my appointments” could POSSIBLY be helpful.  If I place an appointment on my calendar, it’s for the time zone of where I’ll be for that appointment.  I’m not ever going to “accidentally” be in a different time zone.  I guess MAYBE this could be helpful for a phone appointment, but not so helpful that it’s worth screwing up the rest of my appointments as soon as I land in a different time zone (you SHOULD just be able to tick a box to select a time zone for an event if you want it to shift according to whatever time zone you’re in).  I also shouldn’t have to set up an appointment and think, “Hmmm.  Now what time zone will I be in compared to the one I’m currently in?  Now, adjust for the time zone, and I should actually enter the appointment into GCalendar at XX:XX time.”  Stupid.

There is a new “world clock” plug in that will display multiple time zones, but it does nothing to fix the issue of Google adjusting all your appointments when you enter a new time zone.

This seems like an INCREDIBLY easy issue to fix, so why the eff isn’t Google fixing it?!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Missing Sync for Android (a software review)

[see updates at the end of this post]

The nice people over at sent me a copy of The Missing Sync for evaluation.  I have to admit I wouldn’t have tried out the software at the fairly steep MSR of $39.95, and I think that sentiment is loudly reflected by the people on various message boards and the Android Market comment space.  However, after just a few moments using the program, I think it’s probably worth the cash… even if you’re only after it’s music syncing functionality.  The Missing Sync also has me constantly asking myself: “How have Google and HTC so thoroughly ignored the need for music syncing and a back up program for their devices?!”.

One of the first steps in the super-simple install process of setting up The Missing Sync states: “On your phone, follow the steps on the ‘Get Ready To Pair’ screen.”  However, they don’t tell you how to get to this screen.  It’s pretty simple (click your device’s “menu” button and select “pairing”), but it still might cause some people to stall, so I thought I’d make mention of the omission.

Music Sync: [kudos] [update: meh] For this to be a great function, the Missing Sync would need to convert your .xml or .asx playlists to .m3u (which is the only playlist Droid can use).  Currently, Missing Sync simply transfers your iTunes or WMP playlists to your device, where they are completely unreadable as they are in the wrong format.  So while Missing Sync does transfer your files, you won’t be able to see/read your playlists, only the songs.

Here is where The Missing Sync for Android shines.  Note that if you’ve got a big library it’ll take a couple of seconds for The Missing Sync to find and interpret all the information (this is of course to be expected).  Once The Missing Sync found all my files… I was in heaven.  It was a simple matter of selecting the playlists I wanted synced and that was it!  One of the creators of The Missing Sync let me know that he creates a smart list called “top 25 songs” so whenever he syncs his device it automatically updates his phone with whatever he’s been listening to the most.

Another cool thing is that in The Missing Sync, your playlists from all your media programs come up.  So my WMP lists appear with a WMP icon, and my iTunes lists are shown with an iTunes icon.  It’s very nice that I can sync playlists from both programs to my device (I no longer have to sync my WMP and iTunes libraries to each other).

At first I thought music could only be synced via USB, but you can also sync wirelessly.  Another nice feature.

Proximity Sync: [kudos] You can set up The Missing Sync to sync wirelessly at whatever intervals you might like (from never, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours, every day).  Kind of nice to not have to plug in or even remember to sync.

Contact Sync: [fail]  Evidently you must have Outlook installed for this to work.  There is no mention of this in the “Syncing Contacts” section of their website (I don’t know if they just expect you to have Outlook, or if they’re glossing over the fact that their software won’t work without this awful Microsoft program).  This is especially weird because in the “Syncing Notes” section they make it perfectly clear that you need “Fliq Notes” (free) installed before the sync will work.  So obviously the need for Outlook is a major shortcoming.  I don’t want to install Outlook.  More importantly, I don’t want to PAY FOR a subpar e-mail/contact program.  Microsoft has enough of my money, and there are PLENTY of (superior) programs out there for e-mail and managing contacts.  Why in the hell would I want Outlook?  It seems odd that The Missing Sync couldn’t just sync to a .cvs file or something so you could back up your contacts without having to pay for Microsoft Outlook.  This isn’t really that big a deal, as my contacts are all synced to my Gmail account, but it is a giant “fail” for The Missing Sync.

Notes: [meh] You have to have Fliq Notes installed for this to work.  I probably won’t install another program just for notes.  Some people might use notes enough to warrant installing another third party app.  I don’t.

Folder Sync: [kudos] A very nice feature for syncing any selected file or folder to/from your PC/Device.  Simply select the folder and you’re golden.

Photos: [kudos/pending] [update: fail] At the time of writing this post, I cannot yet get photos to sync.  I assume I have something set up wrong, as my SMS and Call Logs won’t sync either (see “Gold Service” section below).  I’m going to go ahead and post about the features I can see in the Photo Sync panel anyway, assuming I’ll be able to get things working once I figure out why my device isn’t showing up with a couple of the services.

So…  I like that I can not only import from the device, but export to the device as well (so I can take pics from my computer with me to share with people).  There’s even a “resize to device’s longest edge” option to save on size.  And like with music, it’s as simple as selecting (ticking the box of) the album or photo I want to transfer.  There are options for “import all items, including previously imported items” and “remove items from device after importing.”  It is however incredibly annoying that the window where you can select which photos to sync is only four folders high and there is NO WAY to resize the window.  Sorting through THOUSANDS of photos when you can only see four is way beyond ridiculous.

Videos: [pending] I haven’t checked out this feature yet, but evidently you can set this up to simply sync a file to your device, or use the program to actually convert files to device friendly format.

Install: [kudos] This is a feature that allows you to set up associations between file extensions and directories.  For example, you can set “doc” files to always be installed in your My Documents directory. I’m not sure how this will affect installs of programs with ReadMe files, etc.

Ringtones: [kudos] There’s a nice little Ringtone Creator incorporated into The Missing Sync that allows you to chop up songs for ringtones.  I wish this extended to device notification sounds (not just ringtones), but I think this may be a shortcoming of the device/OS, not The Missing Sync, as I can’t seem to easily change the device notification sounds even from within my Droid.

Gold Service Option: [pending] MarkSpace’s “gold” customer service came with my install of The Missing Sync.  Since I couldn’t figure out how to get my Phone Log, SMS Messages, and Photos to sync (The Missing Sync kept telling me a device had not yet been synced with the program even though I was successfully syncing music?), I used the opportunity to contact the peeps at customer service.  Supposedly they’ll respond in four hours or less.  It is currently 1:21pm Mountain Time on a Wednesday.  This “gold” service also comes with a pin number for instant online chat.  I’m gonna wait a bit to check that out though.

The one thing that every backup/sync program should do, and The Missing Sync doesn’t, is provide a button that will back up my entire device (for simple restoration in the event of complete device failure).  On this front, The Missing Sync fails (no “one click back up all” option).

[update 5/27/10] No response yesterday.  I did receive a response this morning requesting that I send in my error log.  I did so at 10:53am and have not heard anything back.  It’s 6:29pm.

[update 5/28/10] I got a response this morning that was basically “try again with your virus protection off.”  I did so, and SMS and Call Logs are now being backed up.  However, only numbers are listed, not names.  A long list of 10 digit numbers is pretty useless to me.  Unless the back up can figure out someway to pull in my contact name/number associations, SMS and Call Log back up is going to be a “fail.”  Also, Photo backup and/or sync is not functioning, so unless I get a fix from tech support, photo sync will also be a “fail.”

[update 5/29/10] Still no response regarding the fact that photos won’t back up or sync, and that SMS and Call Logs won’t display names (only numbers).  To be fair, it is Saturday, but I expected a response to the issue yesterday and did not receive one.

[update 8/10/10] After the holiday weekend the folks at MissingSync got back to me and were actually quite excellent with their communication.  However, in the end I’m still pretty disappointed with the Missing Sync.  There is no “total device backup,” you can’t sync via USB (only WiFi or Bluetooth, which is much too slow when syncing your entire music library), the photo sync does not work (in either direction), and the music sync would need to convert playlists to the correct Android playlist format (.m3u) for the software to be truly useful.  The people at Missing Sync turned out to be great, but the software falls short, especially for the price.

In my opinion, the best option right now for syncing music and other media is called doubleTwistSee my review here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Syncing Music and Playlists with Android 2.1

9-9-10 update: doubleTwist is the current king.  See end of this post for more info.

The bad news is that my new Droid Incredible doesn’t read .xml or .asx playlists, only .m3u.  So while it’s relatively easily to sync music to the device (Windows Media Player does it natively, iTunes requires a little program called iTunes Agent), getting playlists to sync is a bit trickier.

You can get Windows Media Player to save playlists as .m3u, but it really wants to save as .asx or .wpl, so it’s a pretty serious pain in the butt (you have to actually “save as” the playlist, and then you have the original .wpl AND the new .m3u in your library, and making sure you then delete the right one is a pain, blah, blah, blah…). [update: Unfortunately when Windows Media Player syncs with your device, it saves the playlist on your device as an .asx, so it’s no good for Android devices.  I found this out after a LOT of messing around with exporting my iTunes playlists to WMP via MusicBridge and then saving each .wpl list as an .m3u and then deleting the previous .wpl… only to have the files converted to (unusable) .asx files once WMP synced with my Droid.  There doesn’t seem to be any way around this.  Even changing the .asx playlist to an .m3u playlist on your device doesn’t matter –it will be re-created as an .asx file on your next WMP sync (the .m3u list on the device won’t be updated –a new .asx is created).  Annoying to say the least.]

There is a program called The Missing Sync that is just what it says, the missing sync software that SHOULD come with your Android device (what the hell Android/HTC?).  It supposedly syncs texts, contacts, photos, video, music, playlists, ringtones, call history, etc.  However, I’m not willing to drop $39.95 to try it out, especially when the Incredible isn’t specifically listed as a supported device on their website (the Moto Droid is the newest device listed). [update: The Incredible is supported, and my review of The Missing Sync is here.]

I used iTunes Agent for a couple of minutes, but then realized it will only sync music (not playlists).  iTunes Agent is a little program that sits in your tray constantly monitoring for iTunes.  It places a folder for your device in the iTunes playlists, and when you hook up your device it syncs all songs in that folder to your device.  However, like I said, there is NO support for playlists.  The author has been promising playlist support in version 2.0 for some years now, but considering how long he’s been promising this, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

THIS IS THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION:  There is another program called iTunes Export by Eric Daugherty that does the trick for me.  Simply install the program and use the GUI version (unless you’re really into command lines) and then select your library location, select the playlist(s) you want to sync, set your output directory to the music directory on your device (SD card or phone memory), select “include UTF-8 BOM” (or it won’t work), select “copy iTunes Structure” (so files sync into folders that are identical to your music library, the “author – album” structure), and you’re golden!  Just remember to run iTunes Export after you’ve made any changes to your iTunes playlists.  It’s a bit of a pain having to run a separate program to get your playlists to sync after any changes you make in iTunes, but this is the best workaround I’ve found.

doubleTwist is another program getting some attention, but it’s Moto Droid support is only in Beta, and there doesn’t seem to be Incredible support yet (they do support the Palm Pre though, for those of you looking for the elusive link between iTunes and the Pre).

9-9-10 update: doubleTwist is the current king.  With recent updates, you simply install the desktop app, click “iTunes” to import playlists, and off you go!!!  It will also convert an video to the proper format for your phone.  Just drag any video file into the app and it’ll convert for you.   I’ll likely do a review soon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why You Should Buy Your Phone from Best Buy and Not the Verizon Store (wow that was hard to type)

Yes.  I said it.  Not only am I suggesting that you go inside a Best Buy (shivers up my spine), but I’m suggesting you should buy something there too.  If you’d have told me a month ago that I’d be suggesting anyone shop at Best Buy, I’d have slapped you squarely in the face.

But last week I got the itch to purchase the new Droid Incredible, and so my story begins…

Last Sunday I decided I was going to go to the local Verizon store and compare the Moto Droid and the Droid Incredible.  I wasn’t going to buy, mind you, I just wanted to compare.  I was sure I wanted a dedicated keyboard, but the 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 8MP camera had me questioning myself, so I thought I’d do a hands on.  After about 15 minutes of playing with both phones, the HTC won, no questions asked, and I had to have it RIGHT NOW.  While I did like the keyboard on the Moto Droid, the virtual keyboard on the Incredible worked so well that my fears of no dedicated keyboard were dissuaded, and the superior processor and camera (among quite a few other things including size, form-factor, screen, responsiveness, superior multi-touch functionality, etc.) made the Incredible a no brainer.

So I went to the “sign in” kiosk in order to be put on the wait list so that eventually someone would let me buy the phone.  After about 20 minutes, my name finally came up, and someone asked if they could help me.  “I literally just want to hand you my credit card and have you hand me a box with a phone in it,” (for this I waited twenty minutes?!).  “Alright, let’s get you rung up!”

I went to the counter where they asked for my phone number.  The cost for the phone was listed as $199 after a $100 rebate, which meant I would need to pay $299 and then wait 6-8 weeks for them to send me $100 back.  Stupid, but OK, whatever.

When they pulled up my information, they told me that I was not eligible for the two year price, because my previous two years was not up until September.  “That’s fine, just go ahead and renew my plan for two years; it’s all good,” I said.  “No,” said the customer service person, “that’s not how it works.  The two year contract is for the phone, not the plan.  The price of the phone for you is $569.”

Kwaaaaaaa?  First of all, I could buy a full-size computer and peripherals for less than $569.  Second of all, the contract is for the phone (not the plan)?!  This was news to me.  I was always under the impression that the contract was for the plan.  I mean, if I ended the plan, I would still own the phone, but they would charge me an early termination fee?  How in the world does that make sense? Surely a lawyer could make quick work of such a situation.  Ending your relationship with the provider does not make the phone disappear.  You still own it!  So if the two year contract is on the phone, unless I make the phone disappear, I can’t be violating my two-year contract to own the phone.  Stupid.

I asked why they kept sending me e-mails letting me know I was eligible for an early upgrade if this was not the case.

They let me know I could pay an extra $20 to upgrade now (ummm, why didn’t they just say that in the first place?).


“OK, just give us your credit card and the phone should arrive in about a week.”

“What?  I’m not walking out of here with a phone?!”

“Sorry.  No.  None of the Verizon stores in Colorado have any Incredibles in stock.”

“Are you freaking kidding me?  If I’d have known that I would have just purchased online in the first place to avoid tax.  Unbelievable.”

I walked out.  After falling in love with the phone, I was really looking forward to getting the phone that day, as I was about to get on a plane and really wanted to switch up before my trip.

The ugly yellow sign beckoned from across the parking lot.

I had $100 in Best Buy gift certificates that my uncle had given me for Xmas.  “Fine,” I shuddered to myself.  “I’ll just see if they have it in stock.”

“Let me check,” said the Best Buy employee. “We have one left.”

My heart skipped a beat.  “Sweet!  I’ll take it!”

I’ll paraphrase the next twenty minutes: the employee was actually incredibly knowledgeable about plans and prices.  When facing the “two year” issue, he said, “Oh, it looks like the other phone on your plan is ready for upgrade, so we can just use that upgrade credit to get you your phone; then in September you can use your two year credit to upgrade that phone if you want.”  Why in the HELL didn’t the Verizon people suggest this?  On top of that, the Best Buy price was $199.  Period.  No waiting 6-8 weeks for some stupid rebate to arrive in the mail.  On top of that, Best Buy offers insurance that you can either pay $9.99 a month for (like you would through Verizon), or you can simply pay $170 up front (a considerable savings that Verizon does not offer).  If anything goes wrong with the phone in two years, you get a new one.  Period.  They even give you a loaner while you wait for them to sort it out with repairing your phone or getting you a new phone (if your model isn’t available any more or isn’t in stock).

So to recap: Verizon store, horrible.  Best Buy mobile phone center, kick ass!

I still wouldn’t suggest you buy ANYTHING ELSE at Best Buy, but if you’re looking for a new mobile, it seems to be the best way to go!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Dawn of an INCREDIBLE Era

I thought I had an iPhone killer with my Omnia i910, and while it was a device I loved, it definitely wasn’t for everybody.  There were a lot of “behind the scenes” adjustments that had to be made to get it to teh awesome that put it head and shoulders above the iPhone.  (stellar battery life once your power settings were adjusted, copy/paste, tabbed browsing, video, 5MP camera with features that put most point ‘n’ shoots to shame, acting as a wi-fi hub before anyone other device was doing that, external storage, s-video out, etc., etc.)  However, there were other things: it doesn’t have a headphone jack (are you freaking kidding me? you have to use an adapter just to plug in headphones?!), it doesn’t have pinch to zoom, etc.

htc-incredible-h4-web[1] Enter the DROID Incredible.  Seriously.  The iPhone is dead.  This thing blows the doors off the entire game.  I mean, a processor that’s faster and more powerful than whatever you’ve got in your netbook?  An 8MP camera (that actually opens and shoots pics relatively quickly)?  All running on Android 2.1 (which finally puts non-Apple smart phones into the same arena with the iPhone for non-“power” users).


I’ll likely keep adding to this post for a while, so keep checking back for the ongoing saga of my new Droid Incredible.

Things I like:

  • The form factor.  I can’t stand the “roundiness” of the Palm Pre and the Nexus One.  I LOVED the shape and size of my Omnia, and the Incredible is pretty similar.  Simple.  Thin.  Good size.  Feels great in your hand.
  • The screen is beautiful and unbelievably responsive.
  • The sound is stellar (both headphones and speaker)
  • The messaging/contact aggregation is wonderful.  I can actually view all my communication with a single person in one place… e-mail, texts, even voice mails.
  • Internet browsing is fast and actually works.  And finally having pinch-to-zoom is great.
  • Voice search everything: people, businesses, locations, etc.
  • Guilty pleasure: I secretly love being able to “speak to text.”  I looked at the Motorola Droid before I go the incredible, because I was really interested in the dedicated keyboard.  While I actually did like it (I don’t know what everyone is complaining about), it wasn’t enough to push me over the top.  And though I’m not wild about a virtual keyboard, the Incredible’s word recognition is stellar, and like I said… I can actually just speak and the voice recognition software will translate my words to text.  I love it!

DROID Incredible short-comings (most of which can be solved with software):

  • [updated 5-17-10]  There is no back up or sync service (I can’t believe this; shame on you Android/HTC).  There’s a program called The Missing Sync, but support for Moto Droid is still in beta and it doesn’t seem to support the Incredible yet.
  • [updated 5-17-10]  When you plug the device in to your computer, it will mount the SD card, but rarely automatically mounts the phone memory.  In order to mount both directories, you have to select “let me choose every time” for the phone’s default settings for when you plug the phone into your computer.
  • Can’t directly sync with Windows Live contacts (you have to export a CSV file and import it to your Google contacts)
  • Doesn’t read .asx or .xml (WMP and iTunes) media playlists; you have to convert your playlists to .m3u
  • Even after adjusting settings, the battery performance isn’t anywhere near what my Omnia could do (with regular use the Incredible might last the day, my Omnia could go a couple of days with regular use)
  • For some reason, my Droid isn’t linking to my Facebook contacts.  The Facebook widget is working and I’m logged in, but when I try and select a Facebook contact photo, the phone tells me that my friends don’t exist. (Are they really just in my head?  This could be a bigger problem than I first thought.)
  • Taking a photo isn’t as comfy as it should be.  The placement of the volume rocker (right where your thumb would squeeze to grip when using the camera) and the fact that the camera button is the joystick (difficult to push a button on the face without moving the camera enough to cause blur) can make taking a photo really tricky.  I really hope they at least add a “soft” camera shutter button in new software updates.***

    ***Upon further use, I find that taking a photo one-handed is nearly impossible.  I don’t think anyone tried to actually use the camera when this phone was in R&D.  It’s great on paper, but the usability is seriously lacking.