Monday, April 21, 2014

The Best WiFi Phone and Text Service you don't know about

And the reason I suspect you don't know about it is because it took me forever to find it either. Which hits me as rather strange given that it covers so many of the missing features I've run into with other services.

As you know, I talked about Republic Wireless previously. I had hoped that they would be the answer I was looking for. However, in addition to the fact that you have to buy one of THEIR phones (i.e. a customized Motorola Defy, Moto X, or Moto G), they have rather buggy MMS support (on the devices its available on), they are not on the latest versions of Android, and if you ever leave you can't resell the phone because they still don't have reactivation programmed into their system.

So what IS the holy grail of WiFi phone from my perspective? Should be able to use on any Android device (cross platform support is even better), should have a minimal monthly charge, should support at least SMS, provide you with a number you can give out to other folks, and should have decent voice quality.

Tried out several of the leading contenders including Viber, Skype, and Whatsapp. Each of these failed in one or more of the above. Skype at least offers all of those, but to get the number, the voice messaging, etc is almost $20/month. Which isn't bad until you consider that you still have to pay for your Wireless Data plan (at least I do). Viber and Whatsapp are a little buggy on their voice quality, and even paying for their dial out service do not appear to offer a "permanent" number you can give folks to dial in.

Which is why I was so pleased to find TextNow. Even with their free (with ads) service you get a real number and full support for SMS texts. Pay $3.99 for a year (not a month) and you lose the ads. Pay another $1.99 for 100 credits and you have 100 minutes of voice calls. In my case I am going through about 120 minute a month, but lets say you're a heavy user and go with 200 credits a month at $3.99 for those credits. In that case you are spending about a dollar less a month than RW (and even less than the others), but can use ANY device. You don't get MMS support but that is supposed to be "on the way", and I rarely use that so for me it is no loss.

Please note that I am recommending their app, not their monthly service. I have no reason to believe it wouldn't be ok, and I'm sure $18.99 month for a full phone plan might cover what some folks need. But that puts you back into Skype territory, and the same restrictions on phones (even if different models) that RW has.

Hopefully this helps anyone else who has a data plan and doesn't see why they should pay a lot more just to get calls and texts over the same connection.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Why I've settled on Google Drive

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I was having "fun" with Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive (formally SkyDrive) trying to come up with something that would work on my mobile and desktop machines, and that wasn't going to kill me for cost.

In the interim I switched from my Moto X to a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (and was surprised how much more useful I found the note) as well as the pricing changes Google made. The Note came with an offer that got me up to 50 gigs on Dropbox, I had 100 gigs on SkyDrive/OneDrive thanks to the Bing promotion and having purchased a year subscription to Office 365, and Google Drive lowered their price for 100 Gigs to something I could afford.

More to the point, I also found software for my Android (Autosync for Google Drive) that would let me choose Google Drive folders to sync automagically between the Note and the online Drive.

With all that, I finally have a mobile solution that works, that ensures I have things I need to have with me actually with me, doesn't try to sync things I don't need to have everywhere, and lets me control how often I sync to certain devices to make sure I don't blow my data plan out of the water.

The killer for Dropbox was that I knew that next year I probably couldn't afford their charges to renew, and their privacy policies make me nervous about storing anything long term there anyway. I really wanted OneDrive to work since I didn't have to have an additional app to sync it, and I know I will be renewing Office next year anyway. But their lack of ability to sort by directory or file name (I still can't figure out how that couldn't be HARDER to program that way) made it too difficult to use with any long directory of documents or files.

So I'm even more tightly coupled to the Google train these days. I'm not sure that's a great thing, but given my needs, it at least is a workable thing.

Monday, March 31, 2014

My MH370 Theory

OK, so we have a plane that changed direction, flew over several interesting areas, but as far as we can tell did not land in any of them.

So lets say I wanted to get a plane down, but put it somewhere no one would think to look That rules out anywhere that has a landing strip even close to long enough to land a 777. And if I try to land on too short a strip I might destroy the very thing I've gone to some trouble to obtain.

So how about I ditch it in the water, and then tow it to shore? Much easier to drag a plane by tug to a small deserted island for retro fitting, than to be limited to some place where I can put a landing strip long enough to land on the usual way. Probably a lot easier to disguise when bringing it in too.

And the total silence would then make sense. No reason to brag about part 1 of a two part plan on the hijackers side, no reason for any government to talk about it either if they don't know where the plane and passengers are. Or maybe they do and they are negotiating while trying to keep quiet that they are negotiating?

At least I think this stands up to a bit better scrutiny than the micro black hole theory I read elsewhere...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Dropbox, One Drive, and Google Drive - The M is for Mobile...

Alert readers will note that none of those services have an M. Hopefully that helps drive home that none of them are yet mobile friendly.

I can almost give Microsoft a pass given how recently they introduced the mobile version of their service, but Dropbox has been around forever and Google is the owner of Android for goodness sake.

In Dropbox you still (several years after the request was first made) can not favorite a directory - only individual files. Nice way to eat through a chunk of data having to call the file down again and again. Also I have not been able to figure a way to get Dropbox to let me use an external program to open the images short of exporting them (one by one) to my SD card.

Google Drive gives you more options for syncing, but does try to convert most files (yes you can override, but that is it's own pain), and I have yet to have a multi-Gig upload of subdirectories actually finish copying without the transfer choking around the 1 Gig mark even though I have close to 10 Gigs free.

One Drive can be setup to sync on a folder basis, but has no option to sort the directories. That seems like an even bigger miss as it means I have to search to find the real file one, then search for file two, then...

Seriously, with mobile taking the center stage, how can all these services that are supposed to augment the mobile experience suck so bad? How do you miss a feature as simple as allowing someone to sort by name?

Feel free to leave suggestions for any alternate services I might not be aware of in the comments.

Milk - The M is for Music

If you haven't already heard, Samsung has borrowed (copied) a page out of Nokia's playbook and started their own new music service - Milk. I wasn't surprised to see it worked on my Note 3, but was very pleasantly surprised to see it also works on my "burner" phone - an older Galaxy Exhibit 4G.

The Milk service runs on top of Slacker, and so the music catalog has the same breadth (and occasional omission) you will find there. However the service also has the lovely feature of having no ads. So it's like the best of Spotify without the premium charge.

Even better (in my not so humble opinion) you do have a DJ on every couple of songs to give you a bit of the backstory for the song. So it's like having the best of Alt Nation without the Sirius XM subscription. More importantly also without any chance of running into Madison.

So if you own a recent Samsung phone, you should definitely check the service out. A future upgrade is supposed to add the Slacker feature of letting you cache a station on your device for off-internet usage which will let my next West Texas road trip a much more pleasant journey.