phone Tag

Latest EE Video: LG G5

I recently had a thorough look at LG’s latest phone, the G5. It’s a very cool piece of kit and can be made all the more awesome with add-ons. Here’s my in-depth look at its features for Tech Radar and EE.

 

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Avoiding Unexpected Data Roaming Charges Abroad

WIll Francis on Good Morning Britain, ITV

We’ve read the horror stories about people returning home from their dream holiday to find they’ve spent thousands on data. It’s remarkably easy to incur these charges, depending on your provider. Some UK networks (such as EE) won’t let you use the internet at all until you’ve bought a package. Others (such as 3) allow you to use data freely unless you call them to set a spend limit.

What Is Data?

Any content you send or receive that’s not a phone call or a text message is data. Browsing the internet, sending WhatsApp messages, downloading and using apps, syncing email and weather. A lot of this happens in the background – convenient when at home, but a potential nightmare when abroad.

How Can I Avoid Unexpected Charges?

There are a few simple things you can do to avoid any nasty surprises. I chatted about these on Good Morning Britain with Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway.

1. Switch ‘Data Roaming’ Setting Off

In your phone settings, look for ‘Cellular’ or ‘Mobile Data’. It may be called something similar depending on your phone model. In there is a switch called ‘Data Roaming’. When switched on it allows usage of data over the cellular network, which will incur charges. Switch this off to know for sure that your phone is not using any data abroad. You can then switch it on for short periods should you need to, for instance, to search for a restaurant. Be aware that when you switch it on other apps and services will update and sync in the background, so switch it off as soon as you’re finished.

2. Use Wi-Fi Whenever Possible

Take the opportunity to send photos, sync email and browse the web when availing of free Wi-Fi networks in public places.

Wi-Fi is internet access that relies largely on the landline telephone network. It is then distributed to laptops and phones by a wireless router in the home, office or public space. Whoever owns the router pays the bills, not the end user with a phone or laptop. This means that logging on at a café or hotel is free, unless payment is clearly requested to obtain access.

If the Wi-Fi network has a padlock symbol next to it in the list of available networks, ask a member of staff for the password.

3. Call Your Mobile Carrier Beforehand

If, like me, you hate the thought of being without Google Maps and TripAdvisor on holiday this tip is for you. Call or go on your carrier’s website to set up a package. Some will offer daily allowances with a daily charge, and some will offfer a total amount of data for the duration of your stay. Think about how much and how regularly you’ll use data services when choosing. And make sure your usage is capped at the package allowance, so you’re cut off when it’s used up.

4. Know How To Check Balances & Buy More Data

Every carrier has an app or website for its customers to check their allowances and buy more. Download and login to the app at home before leaving. If it’s a website, load it in your phone’s browser so it’s in your history, or even better add as a favourite.

You’ll need to not be on Wi-Fi when accessing these as they identify you by your data connection over the mobile network. They never charge for accessing this, even when abroad.

So in conclusion, being a little bit prepared is the key. The internet is hugely useful when abroad for finding your way around and communicating. Spend a little time before you go and you can enjoy these benefits without the huge bills!

Bon Voyage!

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8 Things I Realised After Owning the Apple Watch

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The Watch is essentially an iPhone accessory

Whilst you’re made aware that you should only buy this product if you’re an iPhone owner, when you start using it you find that it is essentially a Bluetooth accessory, albeit a very fancy and clever one. It must be near to your phone to do pretty much anything except tell the time, listen to any music you’ve loaded onto the watch (up to 1GB, though this doesn’t include streaming music such as Spotify) and check health stats. It’s obvious why Apple made this compromise, because for the watch to have its own internet connection and more processing power it would have to be unwearably huge.

But it’s not an iPhone on your wrist

Whilst it’s an extension of your iPhone it’s a totally different device with different uses. It is not, for instance, at all useful for consuming content. Apps like Instagram, Digg or Guardian quickly go in the bin (though the latter’s alerts are useful). This is all about quick access to the most boiled down information and notifications. Once you realise this you go searching for apps you never thought about needing before…

You discover the App Store all over again

The apps you use on your phone most probably aren’t the ones you’ll use on your Watch. Your wrist is no place for the Facebook feed, Instagram, blog feeds or even Twitter. You start to want the essential data – minutes until next train home, miles cycled this week, time of high tide today, next calendar event, number of visitors to your site today etc, as well as one-tap utilities. There are great apps like Numerous which can help pull numbers from all over the place, as well as the IFTTT apps which allow you to create buttons to do all kinds of stuff from warming up your house to sending a map of your location to your partner instantly.

Some of the big apps are a disappointment

Another reason to go hunting in the App Store is that many of the apps you’re familiar with haven’t done a great job of extending their offering to your wrist. To be fair that is because no-one really knows how we’ll ultimately use this new device, and possibly some were rushed, but Twitter for instance shows either Top Trends or Timeline. The format and layout is fine but is that what you really want on your wrist? Would interactions be more important? The Apple apps are mostly fine but you’ll likely find better alternatives in the App Store such as Dark Sky’s superior weather app with brilliantly useful forecasts.

You need some time to properly set it up

Out of the box the watch is great. It pairs with your iPhone and automatically loads Watch extensions for any apps on your phone. However, for most users who have a lot of iPhone apps this causes instant bloat of the Watch homescreen, glances and notifications. You have to rethink how you want those apps to talk to you, and more fundamentally what information you actually want on your wrist. It took me hours and mostly involved turning off existing iPhone apps, trying new apps for different things and endlessly tweaking the settings using the Apple Watch app on my iPhone.

You’ll likely reactivate notifications

If, like me, you’ve switched all notifications off for all but the crucial apps (Phone, Twitter and WhatsApp for me), you’re likely to re-activate some of those for the Watch. Whilst I’m generally against being nagged by technology I’m currently enjoying being told about impending rain showers, breaking news and travel disruptions. Fortunately you can set different notification rules between your iPhone and Watch using the Apple Watch iPhone app.

This is a classic first version of a new Apple product

Using the Apple Watch it’s pretty easy to see where the improvements will come in future versions. They simply revolve around speed, reliance on iPhone and possibly screen resolution. The first two are related because everything on the Watch that relies on the web takes a few seconds to use your iPhone’s connection and possibly runs the app in the background on your phone to process that information. I also suspect the Watch isn’t packing a huge amount of CPU or RAM. If it was a standalone device everything would be quicker and there would of course be a much larger market for it outside of iPhone users. The screen resolution is already impressive but will no doubt be something they can boast about raising next year.

Apps hold the key to this being a truly mainstream product

Now it’s over to app developers to experiment, listen to users and create highly useful snippets of functionality from their iPhone apps. There are already thousands of compatible apps, but it will take time for them to be refined in response to how we use them.

But will the Watch endure?

With this new product line, Apple could be guilty of solving a problem we never had, which is usually a recipe for a fad. My personal opinion is that this is just early days, and the mainstream will start to care about Apple Watch once there are more apps and genuinely useful reasons to have it. Wearable technology and voice-activated cloud intelligence like Siri are advancing and converging fast. What our ’smart’ future looks like is unclear, but only by getting products like Watch to market can Apple find out, and have a chance of leading the smart revolution.

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Strap In: Smartwatch and Virtual Reality Wars About To Kick Off, Will Either Succeed?

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As this year’s Mobile World Congress draws to a close, the big takeaways from Barcelona’s annual tech-fest are:

  • smartphones have all gotten a little better, again
  • smartwatches are landing in a big way this summer
  • VR is going to be mainstream by Spring 2016

Whilst the likes of Samsung – with the slick new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge – and HTC with their One M9 have done a decent job of bringing improved phones to the market, mainstream wearable tech – products that the majority will actually buy – is what’s getting everyone inside Fira Gran Via really excited.

The smartwatch going mainstream is largely due to Apple’s Watch hitting the market this April. As with any technology, Apple getting involved adds instant legitimacy and vastly raises the prospect of mainstream adoption due to their superior design of hardware and software, launched with seductively-crafted marketing. But can the smartwatch become more than just a notification platform for your phone, with some health tracking thrown in? To really break smartwatches Apple needs to:

  • give developers a platform to do more than add notifications to existing services or apps
  • look beyond health, which is only of interest to health geeks for now at least
  • have battery life that doesn’t pale in comparison to Pebble’s 10 days
  • create a watch that feels as good to wear as a luxury watch, after all $350 is a lot for a poorly put together accessory
  • make Siri work for his/her money – the wrist could be where Siri becomes truly useful and widely adopted by the majority, so Apple must nail the integration

Unfortunately, there are still way more reasons for Apple Watch and the whole smartwatch category to ultimately fail. The most challenging one is that even the cult of Cupertino will struggle to convince the average smartphone user they need a fancy watch. Smartphones and tablets play movies, TV, games and offer a full internet experience. We were doing all that stuff when those new touchscreen devices came along so were happy to sate our existing appetite on a high quality, portable platform. The smartwatch however requires us to adopt totally new behaviours, and history shows we’re not so great at that. It will take a killer app or piece of functionality to compel the masses to buy one, and what that is is anyone’s guess right now.

Virtual Reality

Like smartwatches, VR headsets are coming to the market heavily tied to specific platforms. The main players are the Vive by HTC and Valve, Samsung’s Gear VR, Project Morpheus for Sony Playstation and of course the Oculus Rift, the crowdfunded headset now owned by Facebook that got us interested in VR all over again. Then there is a second tier of highly affordable headsets into which you simply slot your phone and run compatible apps, a category not to be dismissed due to its accessibility and backing by Google. Their Cardboard prototype has inspired a slew of similar products including its own collaboration with Mattel to create the retro View-Master, a 21st century redux of the popular 3D slide-viewer we loved as kids.

Whilst comparisons with 3D TV are probably unfair – VR clearly has more consumer and industrial uses – the big question that will always hang over any new technology is why? Why do I need to spend money to get this? Why do I need to change the way I do stuff? Why should I convince all my friends this is the best thing ever so they get on board and share the benefits with me? So many questions, but think about how easily the iPhone answered all those and ushered in the smartphone era, and then think how impossible it is to find an answer when they are asked of 3D or curved TV. Can VR answer these? Quite possibly, and the winner of the battle for VR supremacy is likely to be one who is already in our home, delivering content we love. That’s why it may well be Sony Playstation who have the most users of VR by Christmas 2016, with the rest battling it out for PC gamers’ hard-earned cash, likely a larger but more fragmented and competitive market.

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Samsung Galaxy S5, Gear 2 and Gear Fit Hands-On

I’ve been at Mobile World Congress 2014 with Samsung, where all the latest technology and mobile innovations are announced. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to play with the Galaxy S5 smartphone, the Gear 2 smart watch and Gear Fit sports band.

Find out more about the new products over at Samsung’s site

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This was actually really hard with my brand new skinny jeans on

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Mobile World Congress: 5 Things We Learnt About The Future

Now that the dust has settled and everyone has returned to Asia and Scandinavia with their red lanyards no doubt still swinging round their necks it’s a good time to look back, take stock and reflect on the big takeaways from Mobile World Congress 2011:

  1. Phones don’t have features, operating systems do
    If you were bored within an hour of looking round the conference I’m sure you weren’t alone. The phones were almost all the same i.e. iPhone clones with a full-span touchscreen and between one and five physical ‘home’ buttons at the base of the unit’s front, with of course the obligatory volume buttons on the right-hand side, data, audio and power ports. It’s actually a massive relief that software interface design has been taken from the hands of those who have seldom mastered it and been put in the hands of Google, whose Android platform was ubiquitous at this years #MWC11.

    There were a few nice original touches such as a few phones with HDMI-out like LG’s fast-as-hell Optimus 2X which outputs games, videos and screen mirroring in full HD.

    LG Optimus 2X Shrek Kart on LG Optimus 2X [via HDMI]

    LG also captured a lot of the column inches last week with their Optimus 3D phone which boasts a glasses-free 3D screen and a dual-lens camera which shoots 3D video which can be viewed and shared on YouTube (which is now 3D compatible). They also have a tablet which sports the 3D camera and I think I was the first person ever to publicly upload 3D footage on it (#geekwin):

  2. Which ‘cloud’ your stuff is in really matters
    I really started to feel that this year a lot of us have started living out of the cloud as opposed to our hard drives. Maybe it’s just me but all my documents and files for both work and personal use are in my Dropbox, which via apps makes all my stuff accessible on any device (and even their website). My collaborative documents with various clients/colleagues are on Google Docs, my email and calendars are in Google and Apple’s servers, my music projects are all synced through Gobbler, the list goes on and on and what matters now when choosing a phone is how easily I can get to all that stuff sat on servers somewhere in California. With Google being an increasingly big player in the cloud storage space (with rumours of more stuff coming) and being the developer of what is now the biggest mobile operating system it can only mean good things for Android and the phones who run the OS.
  3. Mobile internet and voice quality is about to get a big upgrade
    4G is already being rolled out in major US cities by Sprint and has been tested in the UK by O2. Your average consumer can expect to start enjoying home broadband speeds on their mobile as early as next year which will open the door to previously home-only activities such as IP voice/video calls (via Skype etc), multiplayer gaming, hi-def content streaming and file-sharing.
    Orange also confirmed the rumour that they’re about to trial HD voice calls in the UK, which will give calls the audio quality of music mp3s. Great news for those who are regularly kept on hold I guess.
  4. Tablet computers are here to stay
    “iFad” I heard you scream when Jobs unveiled the device that’s ‘just a big iPhone’ back in January 2010. Well, taking a look round the stands at Mobile World Congress this year put the clear message out that there is a big demand for touchscreen devices between five and ten inches big and everyone from Blackberry to LG wants in on this burgeoning market. As with the phones they started to all merge into the same Android device after a while though the differences in size, weight and speed were more noticeable with the pads. Here are a couple of key players compared with my iPad:

    Samsung Galaxy Tab vs Apple iPad
    Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 with Android Honeycomb was noticeably light and very portable. Ran Android beautifully.

    iPad vs LG Optimus Pad
    LG’s Optimus Pad sacrificed width for a more portable feel without the loss of screen real estate when playing widescreen media. Also felt very fast, responsive and of course has that 3D camera.

    Confused by the middle ground between phone and netbook? Samsung’s Galaxy Wifi 5.0 will really blow your mind:

    Samsung Galaxy Wifi 5.0 vs Apple iPhone 4

    There it is next to my iPhone 4. Samsung have filled yet another gap we didn’t know existed with this phone-less bit of hardware that runs Android 2.2 and puzzled many people who wondered whether it was a big media player or small tablet. You decide.

    Ultimately, if – and only if – these tablets are released with a much lower price tag than the iPad they may gain ground with the masses, particularly with heavy Google users such as myself and many of my fellow iPad-carriers. Android has matured into a serious contender to Apple’s crown and it’ll be interesting to see how Apple parry the blow on 2nd March 2011 with the big iPad 2 announcement.

  5. Google are pretty serious about this stuff
    I think I’ve used the G-word in this post enough times for us to realise that Google aren’t just speculatively throwing their hat into the ring on this one, they aim to completely take over mobile, kinda like they completely took over Mobile World Congress 2011 with an amazing stand:

    The Android Booth

    This stand had… a slide which made you a free physical photo of your trip down it, a smoothy bar, free drinks upstairs, a chilled seating area, an ‘Androidify Yourself’ free sticker-making station, free collectible pin-badges, free collectible Android figurines and loads more stuff. I mean it was totally mental, like so much more big and fun than any other stand, but not only that, they reached out to all corners of the event with an Android welcoming you to most other stands too:

    The sweet-giving Android   Android is everywhere!

    The Androids were giving out green sweets and collectible pin badges which @alicam did a fine job of collecting:

    @alicam and his collection of Android pin badges

    For a more extensive account with photos of Android’s domination of MWC11 visit @alicam’s blog – alistercameron.com

All in all it was a fun(ish) and interesting conference. I learned a lot about mobile and got to see Barcelona too, which is a great city despite my vegetarianism eliciting the kind of face I imagine people would make if you asked to see intimate photos of their wife. Anyway, some pretty photos of Barcelona here.

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Mobile World Congress 2011 So Far

I’m here at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain for the mobile communications industry’s big annual bash. It’s a time for phone manufacturers, app developers, accessories makers and anyone else who gains in any way from people using mobile phones and computers to show off their latest innovations and forthcoming product launches. It’s also a place for the big personalities in technology, like the CEOs of Google, Twitter and Microsoft et al, to take the stage in front of a key group of people (ie people in suits who make lots of money out of our obsession with mobile).

Yesterday was fun. We attended LG’s press conference where they unveiled the world’s first glasses-free 3D phone and tablet computer. We got plenty of time to try these out and play with the other devices and I even managed to get the first 3D video created with the LG Optimus Pad uploaded to YouTube 😉 Out of all the devices the one I genuinely want to own is the Pad. If I didn’t have an Apple iPad already I’d be very tempted by this.

Photography with the LG Optimus Pad

Today (Tuesday) is our second day at the conference and whilst the big announcements at press conferences have blown over, there’s still lots of buzz round the various booths with people playing with the latest handsets and chatting about MOBILE!!

I took the time to play with the two other LG phones (the ones without any 3D stuff going on) and one particularly took my fancy, more so even than the 3D phone – LG’s Optimus 2X. It’s a good solid Android phone and under the hood has a dual processor, dual memory and is basically very fast. Also loved playing it plugged into a HDTV via HDMI for full 1080p games, videos, photos, internet etc as evidenced by my Shrek Kart session below:

I’m here courtesy of LG Mobile – @LGmobileMWC on Twitter – hence my focus up to now on LG’s products. I’m with two other bloggers – @alicam from Melbourne and @mayhemstudios from Los Angeles. I’ll be roving round the other big booths tomorrow and looking at what other companies have up their sleeves so stay tuned at twitter.com/willfrancis 🙂

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Mobile World Congress: Top Things To Get Excited About

Mobile Phones

This Monday, 14th February, will see 50,000 people descend on Fira de Barcelona in the centre of the Catalonian capital to gather at Mobile World Congress, the biggest date in the mobile communications industry’s calendar. It is typically where the big players like LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Samsung et al announce new technology, phones, tablets and gadgets. LG are kindly whisking myself, @alicam and @mayhemstudios out there to witness their product unveilings, which include the much-hyped first ever 3D phone! So in anticipation of this almighty tech-fest, here’s a quick look at what I’m most excited about seeing next week:

LG Optimus 3D

OK, so LG are the reason I’m out there. But seriously, a phone with 3D screen and camera? I need to see that. The grass is always greener on the other side and having had an iPhone for so long I could very easily be tempted to switch over to Android by this phone which is rumoured to have a dual-core 1GHz processor, an 8 megapixel camera and ‘multi-channel RAM’. I’ll publish full details as we get them at MWC, but in the meantime here’s a teaser trailer LG just released:

The ‘Playstation Phone’

I love my Playstation 3 and for a long time loved my (cracked) PSP, but the poor old handheld has been gathering dust since 2008 when the iPhone 3G gave us decent games, with internet, email, a phone and all your digital media thrown in too. So it would be cool to see Sony bring the goods with its ‘Xperia Play’. The Android phone/console hybrid will run Playstation One games though we don’t know what games will be available until MWC, and that ultimately will determine this device’s success.

Interestingly, by the end of 2011 Sony plans to have allowed other mobile and tablet manufacturers to adapt their Android OS to run Playstation games and have access to the forthcoming Playstation app store. Details are scant until the press conference on Sunday. Until then here’s the creepy ad Sony ran during Super Bowl to officially announce the phone:

Tablets

Let’s face it, it will be years until someone other than Apple beats the iPad at the tablet game so I, like many, will be looking on in amusement and curiosity at the tablet launches at MWC to see what lengths manufacturers have gone to to try and tempt those considering Apple’s ‘magical and revolutionary’ device away from the easy choice.

Samsung’s Galaxy has been on of the more successful underdogs and it’s successor will be unveiled on Sunday night. Rumours are also circulating that the Samsung Galaxy’s successor will be announced and that HTC are preparing their first tablet to be unveiled. LG are also said to be launching a larger version of their Optimus 3D phone, a tablet with rear-facing stereoscopic camera and glasses-free 3D screen.

Speakers

Whilst the gallery of speakers at MWC 2011 looks like the members book of a white supremacist chess club, there are a few heavyweight keynotes at MWC 2011 that I’ll be making an effort to see.

Eric Schmidt should be interesting because of Google’s burgeoning stake in the mobile OS market and how advertising might develop in mobile.

Steve Ballmer because I kinda hope he’ll go a bit mental… again.

Jack Dorsey because since co-founding Twitter he’s set up Square, a revolutionary product that is as beautifully simple and useful as his first famous venture. I’ll be interested to hear where he plans to take it and which industries they’re focussing their marketing efforts on (do market traders generally have iPhones?).

Dick Costolo because he’s CEO of my favourite social website – Twitter – and I’ll be keen to hear how things are going back at HQ and where they plan to take the business. He’s also an interesting figure in the start-up world having founded Feedburner and invested in several start-ups including Twitter back in 2007. I’m sure I’ll happen across other speakers and be pleasantly surprised, which I’ll report back on right here.

So stay tuned as I post videos, photos and new product specs as they’re announced. You can also follow the #MWC11 hashtag on Twitter, and also me – @willfrancis@LGmobileMWC@alicam and @mayhemstudios to see what we’re up to!

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Public Twitter Booths Installed In Russia

On the off-chance that you 1. feel the irresistible urge to tweet 2. reach into your pocket to find your phone is dead and 3. happen to be walking past one of these public Twitter booths recently installed in Russia’s tech hub Skolkova, all at the same time, then this might be of use to you. Though maybe ye olde public payphone’s fate awaits this fun experiment. My money’s on this being covered in piss and prostitute calling cards within a month.

[via Reddit]

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