Dec 27 2011

Google Voice Finally Useful…

Category: Android,VOIPPhil @ 12:01 am

Not my typical post, but I have been so impressed with my new toy(s), that I just had to blog about them! Over the years, I have tried every way possible to avoid paying Verizon for my phone service, there is nothing worse than paying for a home line, plus multiple cell phone lines! Yes, I have tried VOIP services in the past with limited success. I used ViaTalk for a couple of years and really liked their service; I unfortunately did not have access to real broadband, so their service was not really that great. VOIP services can definitely be cheaper than traditional copper land-lines, but still seem expensive for what you get; even Vonage is about $30 a month. Apparently, I don’t put a reasonable value on having home phone service!

Enter Google Voice. I have been a Google Voice user for a long time, even before Google purchased and rebranded it as Voice. I never achieved any great value from their service, but the integration with my Android phones was extremely nice. I mainly use it for the transcription of my voice mails. For the last year, I have used GV as my primary home phone, making most of my calls from the computer, using the Google Voice/Talk combination and a USB headset. This works pretty well, but sometime I miss talking on a real phone!

A couple of months ago, I happened to read about a free VOIP service, using an inexpensive hardware device from a company called Obihai. Their ObiTalk service provides both SIP-based VoIP and Google Voice integration.  ObiTalk provides a great amount of flexibility, including a Softphone solution, as well as applications for both iOS and Android based mobile devices.  To be honest, I really did not care about any of their advanced features, I just wanted the Google Voice integration.  I would have purchased the OBI100, but it was out of stock; so I ordered the OBI110.  Somehow, I happen to catch a deal, and picked it up for $45 from Amazon.

As you would hope, the OBi device takes no time at all to get working after you unbox it.  The first step is to create a ObiTalk account and register your device. The process is trivial, you just need to connect the device to your router and plug-in your phone. Next, click the add device button and follow the on-screen directions.  Simply dial the magic number provided by the site and your device will be connected to your account. I only encountered one surprise, the device unexpectedly rebooted a couple of times.  This behavior was actually expected, as the device has the ability to update itself from the central server. After a couple of auto-reboots, the device as been rock solid.

I have been using the service for about a month now and it has worked amazingly well. I’m not currently a fan of Google Voice’s call quality using my cell phone; I always blamed it on my Verizon service! Most of my calls seem to have a lot of strange echoes and delays, which you would assumed to be a GV server problem, not a Verizon issue.   However, the Google Voice call quality using the ObiTalk device is exceptional; I don’t think you would have any clue that the call was using a VOIP service.  The phone works as you would expect; you just pick it up and listen to that traditional dial tone, just like it always has been! I was also able to keep my Verizon phone number; the process to port  a land-line to Google is a little painful, but easily accomplished.  Because Google cannot port a land line, I had to first convert it to a wireless number, setting up a month-to-month contract. Once it was converted, Google quickly ported it over to their service, for a small $20 fee.

So, what is the downside? Today, nothing. Tomorrow, who knows! The future is the biggest concern; we have all seen numerous technologies quickly come and go over the years.  Google has not actually been very attentive to their GV user base, as enhancements to their service have been non-existent for years. Fortunately, the service continues to roll along and fundamentally works well enough for what it costs. The bigger question is how will Obihai survive?  Where do they get their funding to keep the ObiTalk service running? I’m sure they make a little money on their devices, but it hardly seems enough to fund the company in the long-term.  They provide exceptional service and a quality integration with Google, surely they will have to start charging for their service at some point. I could justify a nominal monthly fee, but if it is too steep, it would be easier to just give the money back to Verizon and user their VOIP package. Ideally, if Google has any long-term vision for Voice, they should seriously consider buying Obihai. It would give Google another open platform that would allow other SIP provides to integrate into their GV network.  It would also create a more economical and conventional solution for the typical, non-technical consumer to take advantage of VOIP technology and further expand the adoption and usage of the Voice product. I just hope that Voice does not end up like other recent Google technology victims…

One last point, Obihai does not seem to be slowing down. They are planning to release a new version of their hardware, the OBi 202. You can actually find quite a bit of information on that site related to Google Voice and the OBi services. You will have to read my next blog to find out what my other toy is!

Feb 04 2011

Social Bookmarking… Migrating to Diigo

Category: Android,MiscPhil @ 12:01 am

The pending demise of Delicious was blogged to death a couple of months ago. I too was saddened by Yahoo’s decision, having become quite dependent on this service. Like many, I began a search for a new solution, but nothing seem to be the perfect replacement. It now appears that Delicious will be sold off, but who really knows what direction it will take. I discovered Delicious a couple of years ago; I blogged about it, showed it to my friends, and used it as a “sharing” solution whenever I had the chance. I’m always looking for ways to be more effective and efficient, both remembering and information sharing. I’m not exactly sure why, but none of my friends were ever really jazzed about the tool or concept… I could only come up with a couple of possible reasons:

  1. Many of my friends are Apple Fanboys… There must be something in that space that performs a similar function, maybe they have their own club!
  2. None of my friends blog. Many of them read multiple RSS feeds, I guess they just read and run! They must be able to retain a lot more information than I can!

My environment and thought process must be a little different.

  1. I live in an Apple free world.  I look for tools that work across platforms.  Dropbox is one of my favorites. It runs on my Android phone, my Ubuntu machines, and even those pesky Windows machines I have to support for the family.  Delicious provided effective plug-ins for most of the web browsers, and there were multiple options in the Android marketplace; this solution pretty much guaranteed I could find what I was looking for!
  2. The more RSS feeds I read, the more topics I find to blog about! This is vicious cycle and quickly creates a backlog! It was so easy to create a simple bookmark in Delicious, and tag it for blogging.
  3. Many times, I start reading an article and determine that it is too heavy and need some extra time to comprehend it. I just create another Delicious bookmark, and tag it for follow up.

After a lot of Googling for Delicious replacements and I landed on Diigo (My Library). I like the free stuff best and they also had a pretty decent Android application. Diigo has one feature that I have really grown to appreciate, the “Read Later” option.  If you find a web page that is interesting, but don’t have the time to read it, you simply click the “Read Later” button on the Diigo tool bar. Pretty simple! When you find time and want to catch up on your reading, you just go to your library and browse the Read Later items. I have not actually taken the time to use the notes and highlighting features, but am completely sold on tagging. Tagging seems like such an efficient way of classifying and searching for information; at least it works for me!  Diigo almost seems like a cross between Evernote and Delicious. It has many more features that Delicious, but the question is…. how will they survive?  I can only hope and might actually have to give them some $$$ to support their efforts.  My only rant is they do not provide a “tag cloud” view in their Android client… If they implement this view, I promise to become a paid member!

I still believe there is real value in the community, I’m not sure I will find one that is receptive, but I can always hope! There has to be value in exploring what your friends and coworkers are discovering and recording as important. I have to assume that much of that information is the bond which brings people together in the first place and ultimately enables them to communicate in a much more efficient and effective manner.

I highly recommend that you give Diigo a chance, and better yet, add me to your network!

Jul 02 2010

Must have Android Applications…

Category: AndroidPhil @ 12:01 am

My wife gave me a Motorola Droid last December for my birthday. I have been refraining from blogging about it, as there are about a million other phone blogs out there…  However, there have been so many good applications released in the last few weeks, that I thought I would share my “Best Apps List”. I think the Android platform has made some significant progress in the last few months. It finally seems like the phone platform does not really matter any more, Android or IPhone OS.  All of the “must have” applications are available on the relevant platforms. This is great for consumers, as we are not forced into a platform for specific applications, but rather the experience or philosophy. With the recent releases of Dropbox, SlingPlayer and Kindle applications,  combined with all of the other major applications, WordPress, Facebook, Twiiter, Ebay, Flixter, NFL, DirecTV, etc… Now, you have the option to burn hours of your life away on the phone, rather than sitting at your computer!

I use the following applications on a regular basis, applications that give me the most value from my phone and make the experience fun! Sorry if you were looking for some good games, I’m not much of a gamer and most of the games seem pretty weak, when compared to the IPod Touch games that my kids play. Maybe that will all change with the 3.0 release of Android that was just announced…

LauncherPro I have not tried many of the home screen replacement applications, but Launcher Pro is a keeper. It supports the multiple desktops, tons of customization, and performs very well. I really liked the concept of Slide Screen, but the RSS reader did not sync with Google, and I don’t think it worked with IMAP mail servers.
Swype This by far the coolest application/utility on Android. It takes a little getting used to, but once you build confidence and become fluid with your swipes,  you can really crank out those words. I’m still amazed how well it seems to determine the words I swipe. It is still beta, but seems to be included in many of the newest Android phones. I hope they don’t take advantage of us when it comes out of beta; I’m sure I would purchase it; it is that good.
NewsRob Until this week, this has been my RSS reader of choice. It works very well, so well that I did not bother to purchase the pro version. I read a lot of feeds on my phone and don’t have any complaints. However, I just installed Google Reader, and am considering the switch. It works equally as well, but I think I like the user interface a little better; plus it gives you a widget for your desktop!
Kindle Not too much to say about this application, as it was recently released. It works exactly like my DX. I installed the software, logged into my Amazon account, and it synced right up the to book I was reading.  I have been waiting for this application for a long time, as I did not want to carry both my Kindle and phone. Now, I can pick up my book, any time I want. Sweet.. If there were only more hours in the day to read!
Pandora Pandora is just the bests. I run two miles every morning and listen exclusively to Pandora.  If I want to listen to my own music, I use ^3 (cubed). It seems much nicer than the default Android application, but it is just hard to beat Pandora!
WP Stats I use WP Stats and Google Analytics on my website to track what you are reading, but seem to only watch the WP Stats numbers. Google is obviously cool, but too much for my little blog. This application gives me most of what I really care about, daily visitor information. It can also provides a simple graph of our visitor trends. Unfortunately, the application does not do weekly or monthly roll-ups like the WordPresss plug-ing does, but still worth it!
Craigslist Notification Unless you are into Craigslist, this application will not do you much good! I use it to watch Craigslist for items and alert me when they show up. It actually works really well, providing multiple queries and pictures of the items that I’m interested in.
Dropbox I was very happy when Dropbox finally came out for Android. I have been using Dropbox on my home computers for quite some time. It works great to share files between my Linux and Windows machines, and even store files that you want to access remotely.
RAMDroid Widget This is a little widget that looks like an old fashion memory chip. You just give it a tap and it will show you how much free memory (system) you have left. More of a geek thing, but I like it. Another nice little geek utility, is Uptime. Makes me feeling like I’m really running a little Linux box!
Handcent SMS Text Messaging application, much more visually appealing than the default application. Pictures, audio, treading, pop-up notifications, and many other configurable options. Highly recommended.
Keepass Droid This is one of my favorite, multi-platform applications. I use it on my Windows and Linux boxes, and now Android. It is a basic, open-source password vault / manger. The Windows version is really nice; you can just double click on an entry and it opens the default web browser and fills in the user id and password. I realize there are lots of other solutions for this problem, but this one is free and works on all major platforms.
DiskUsage Another geeky utility. Use this to keep an eye on your disk (SD) usage. I thought the user interface was very innovative. You can do the typical pinch, zoom, double tap actions to explore your file system.
Google Voice If you have a Android phone, then you have to get Google Voice! I don’t use the VOIP feature; I’m thinking it won’t be a reality until Verizon rolls out their 4G network. I like the the voice mail features and it as my primary voice mail system. The application gives you “Visual Voicemail” without any additional cost. The transcription service is a little iffy, but the experience and interaction with your voice mail is simplified and streamlined.
App Brain This is a simple little application and web site to watch what other users are downloading or looking for. I check it out every so often to find new and popular applications.
Timeriffic Simple application that lets you configure profiles which can be automatically activated at different times of the day. I have a profile to mute my phone at 9:00 each night and another which turns it back on when I get back to the office. You can also control the WiFi, brightness, and several other phone functions.
Fancy Widget This is an HTC clone widget, which makes your non-HTC phone look ‘cool’. Unfortunately it was so nice, HTC has forced the developer to discontinue development and remove it from the market. I would keep my eye on this developer, as he promises to release an ever better version; I guess we will have to wait and see.