This Week in Mobile Tech Manor #84: Free Network Upgrade

At long last Friday rolls around, and that can only mean it’s time to think back on the week. The home office, Mobile Tech Manor, was as busy as can be with some new gadgets arriving. I bought too many RSS readers for the iPad and am waffling between two of them. I have been on a quest to find me some 4G in the area, with no luck. Come on in and let’s visit for a while.
Enter the Gadgets
A couple of toys showed up at the Manor and I had fun playing with them. Sort of. The first to arrive was the Sprint Overdrive, the 4G capable modem that functions as a Wi-Fi router to share the 4G. I’m sure it would share it fine if I could just find some.
The Sprint 4G coverage map shows the area around Mobile Tech Manor to be blanketed with 4G, but I haven’t been able to connect successfully to it. There is a small area that is 3G only on the map, and my office is right on the fringe so I’m not surprised I can’t see 4G here. That sent me out over the surrounding area which is all blue on the map (4G) but I can’t connect anywhere. The Overdrive shows decent signal, says it is “connecting to 4G” for a good while, and then eventually falls back to the Sprint 3G network.
The 3G (EVDO) works just fine, it’s not fast but better than nothing. The Verizon 3G (EVDO) network gets faster speeds almost everywhere compared to the Sprint network, though. I get around 500 kbps on Sprint and 1.2 Mbps on Verizon, almost everywhere.
I may be dealing with a defective 4G modem here, at least that’s what I think. I’ve heard from Sprint 4G customers who are getting good 4G connections in the immediate area, so perhaps it is the modem. I’ll have to track down the Sprint folks who sent this evaluation unit to find out.
A bright red notebook that I was excited to get arrived, but unfortunately the display was DOA. It was the Acer Ferrari One notebook, a little (11.6-inch) speed demon that looks pretty sexy for a laptop. The Ferrari One was sent over by the AMD (s amd) folks, who make the processor in the laptop. They were understandably embarrassed that the evaluation unit had a dead screen, and to their credit they sent another one the very next day.
I’ve been playing with the Ferrari One and am duly impressed with it. The high-res screen is sweet, and the small size makes this thing easy to toss in a little bag and hit the road. As expected, the AMD processor, while fast, runs hotter and uses more battery than an Intel (s intc) processor. I’m still seeing about 4.5 hours on the 6-cell battery, and while it does run warm it is not alarmingly so. This thing is just so sexy, every time I take it out of the bag folks stare.
Paper Mister?
I live in RSS feeds all day, every day. I follow hundreds of sites through the RSS feeds, and on the desktop I have Google (s goog) Reader open all day. I like working with Google Reader, and I can access my feeds on any device using any web browser. The only device that falls short with Google Reader is the iPad, sadly.
Oh Google Reader works well enough on the iPad, and there are two ways to work with it. The desktop version in the browser on the iPad is just like the regular desktop version, but the Next/Prev item buttons are too darn small. The fact the buttons are at the very bottom of the screen doesn’t help, as it is hard to tap them. The mobile version of Google Reader works well, but it only shows a short preview of each item. I can tap one and see more of it, but I need to see more when I am skimming to decide if I want to give it more time.
There are already lots of nice iPad apps in the App Store, and I have purchased and downloaded two of them so far. Both of them are pretty nice, and I am waffling over which of the two I will settle down with. The most important feature for me is for the app to sync with Google Reader, so that items marked read in the app will be marked as read in Google Reader too. I use a lot of devices both in the Manor and outside, and this is crucial. Both of these apps sync with GR just fine.
NetNewsWire is a good reader, and the first one I tried on the iPad. It makes good use of the big iPad screen, and works well in portrait orientation. Portrait is my preferred screen orientation when working with feeds, as I hold the iPad like a tablet. Reading items in the feeds is enjoyable and easy to do, but NNW fails in one area. It lacks an Unread Items filter to keep stuff I’ve already read out of my sight. It marks them clearly, so I can easily tell read items from unread, but with the number of items I skim I need the unread ones totally out of the picture. I hope they address this in a future update.
The other reader app I am trying is NewsRack. It is very similar to NetNewsWire, and has the unread filter I wish NNW had. Where NewsRack falls short compared to NetNewsWire is in the interface department, and it’s driving me batty. In portrait orientation NewsRack displays one item at a time on the whole screen. This is the same as NNW and is good as I can scan the entire item. The problem is the prev/next item buttons are on top of the screen on the left. This would work if I was left-handed, but I’m not. To tap the Next arrow to go to the next news item, I have to reach up, across the screen, and tap that button. It is not comfortable and is an interface failure in my view. These buttons need to be on the right of the screen (or configurable, even better) to put them where the user finds them comfortable.
Even worse is using NewsRack in landscape orientation. The feed window appears on the left of the screen, next to the full item window on the right. This would be good except the developers decided that if the feed pane is open, the prev/next item buttons aren’t needed. Yep, they go away, and the only way to advance from one item to the next is to tap the next item in the feed pane on the left. There’s that right-handed problem again, as I must reach across the screen, obscuring the item pane, and uncomfortably tap in the left pane. This is a design failure, a shame as NewsRack is otherwise a better app than NNW.
Want a Faster Network for Free?
This week saw the rare occurrence that still has me grinning like a fool. I got an email from Comcast, my ISP, that informed me its network in my area had been upgraded. I assume this is the DOCSIS 3.0 upgrade they are referring to. The notice told me that my 20 Mbps network was now clocking in at a blazing 40 Mbps, and at no additional charge.
After picking myself up off the floor, I jumped online to see how it would affect my connectivity. I am online all day, every day, and this could be significant. Sure enough, my real-world bandwidth is a cool 30+ Mbps download and around 4 – 5 Mbps upload. This was totally unexpected and a wonderful upgrade. Thanks, Comcast. I take back almost all the bad things I’ve ever said about you.
e-Books of the Week
I have been using the iPad as my primary e-book reader all week, and I am happy with the result. I enjoy holding it like a book and reading for hours at a time. The big screen is pleasing to the eye, and it’s working well for me.
I finished Jeffrey Deaver’s book Roadside Crosses, the book I started last week. I bought it through the iBooks app on the iPad, and I found the app to be a decent reader. I prefer Kindle for the iPad, as I find it easier to use for reasons I can’t put my finger on (pun intended), but iBooks is OK. Roadside Crosses is a good mystery novel done in typical Deaver style.
Wrap-up
That’s my week as it went down, and as always I enjoyed sharing it with you. Until next week, stay safe.
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