Siddharth runs a technology business related to security and home automation. Siddharth is a self-confessed gadget geek who takes interest in anything electronic. He has years of experience with smartphones, tablets and PCs of all varieties, and loves helping people with tech-related issues.
Getting the BSNL Huawei USB Modem was a real pain. The customer service centres kept sending me from one branch to another until finally at the fourth branch someone admitted to knowing who to contact for a 3G Dongle. After I contacted the required person, he made me fill out a form and give my documents after which he gave me a modem and SIM card, and said my service would be activated within two days.
After two days, I was finally able to setup and get the modem working. Signal strength was never full indoors, but it worked great outdoors, with no bars in many indoor locations. Their systems were not all 3G ready, so there were problems using 3G in certain locations, but when 3G was working, I got respectable speeds of between 3.5 and 6.8 Mbps of their advertised 7.2 Mbps.
Sadly, I was never able to get those speeds at either of the two locations where I used it the most because of low or no signal strength, so in the end, I gave up and returned the SIM.
I was, however, pretty blown away by the coverage in rural areas, BSNL worked at every single village and town I tried, with 3G working almost always.
Support and troubleshooting was pretty much nonexistent with BSNL, their support line could not handle anything more than initial setup and were completely clueless about anything else. They were quick to blame anything and everything but their product for any problem, and were at times almost illogical and frustrating to deal with. Thankfully configuration issues could usually be solved by looking around on the web.
It took my representative four visits and eighteen days to surrender the SIM card and another one month to get my refundable deposit back.
Conclusion: BSNL is awesome in areas where they have near full coverage, particularly rural areas, but if you have signal issues with BSNL where you need it, you should pass. Support is pointless, so don’t expect them to help you if you have problems.
The worst part about getting used to a whole different kind of phone is the touch input. People who used phones with keypads, qwerty or otherwise, find it pretty difficult to get accustomed to touch-only input. Some people even put off buying a touch-only phone because they don’t think they can ever get used to it.
There are some pretty nice alternatives to using the standard touch keyboard, and though they probably never will replace true physical keypads, they make input on your Android phone much easier. Here’s a look at some of them.
Graffiti for Android
If you ever used a Palm, Tungsten, Zire or Handspring PDA or phone, you would be familiar with their input method, called Graffiti. Released by Access Co. Ltd., the owner of PalmSource, Graffiti for Android brings the immensely popular Palm single-stroke input method to Android.
Instead of typing on a touch screen keyboard, Graffiti provides you with a blank space where you can draw letters in a single stroke to input them. Graffiti provides you with a list of strokes for characters and punctuation, with the left side of the input box dedicated to drawing alphabets and punctuation, and the right side for numbers and symbols.
Be advised, though, if you haven’t used Graffiti before, the learning curve is a bit steep and will take some time to get used to.
SwiftKey X offers a standard keyboard with incredible auto-complete and auto-correction. On setting up, SwiftKey scans your emails, text messages, Facebook and Twitter to be able to better predict words that you might use.
Not only does it complete the word you’re typing, but it also offers you choices on what word you might type next! The keyboard in itself is skinnable and resizable, and you can make it look as close to the stock keyboard as possible.
SwiftKey also has a fairly accurate voice input, gestures support and support for all keyboard layouts.
However, the kicker is that if your phone has a physical qwerty keypad, or you have a Bluetooth keyboard, SwiftKey integrates its own auto complete, prediction and autocorrect to work with your hardware keyboard.
My personal favorite, Swype is a simple method of input. Instead of typing words one letter at a time, Swype lets you slide through the letters in one stroke. For example, if you’re typing ‘hello’, instead of touching all the keys individually, you just have to slide your finger over h, e, l, l and o in one stroke. Strokes don’t have to be exact, Swype will detect the words even if you slide through approximately the correct letters.
Swype inserts all spaces automatically each time you lift your finger to Swype the next word. It has an extensive dictionary with the ability to add words, and it automatically inserts all the names from your phonebook.
Swype also functions as a regular touch screen keyboard, so you can switch from Swyping to regular touch input effortlessly. It takes some getting used to, but once you do it is indispensable.
Many phones have Swype preloaded, but if not, you can grab a free beta version from http://www.swype.com
Price: Free (beta)
SlideIT’s functionality is somewhat similar to Swype, with the method of input being swiping from letter to letter, but many people prefer SlideIT to Swype because they find it to be more accurate.
SlideIT’s auto-complete function is slightly better, and it has the added advantage of being able to tap the first few letters and swipe the rest. SlideIT is also skinnable, so you can customize the look as you please. Another unique feature on SlideIT is handwriting recognition. Though I found it to be somewhat inaccurate, I’m sure it would have given me better results with a little practice.
On the downside, this app is the most expensive one on this list.
Vodafone was the quickest to respond to my request, and I got my connection within 2 hours of asking for it on their call centre number, with activation taking another two hours. Their customer service and other staff were incredibly efficient, courteous and knowledgeable.
I think Vodafone’s 3G was the best of the lot, with speeds of at least 1.5 Mbps and maxing at 6.5 Mbps late at night. Coverage was decent in cities and highways, but nonexistent in rural areas.
However, there was one really big drawback to Vodafone’s 3G, which is that they don’t have any method of checking usage, which is just silly, because they have no unlimited plans, and they charge you after a certain free usage that you pay for with a monthly charge. This pretty much means you would have no way of knowing when you cross your limit, and the bills start increasing at an astronomical rate.
The only thing Vodafone was able to offer me to counter this was to call the customer support line and ask for your unbilled usage, not including discounts and free usage. My unbilled amount climbed to Rs. 22,000 before I put a stop to it and disconnected my service! Thankfully, after deducting free usage from my unbilled amount, my bill was only around Rs. 1,900.
Conclusion: If you can keep track of your usage reliably, and want to use it only in the city, Vodafone 3G is your best option. Don’t panic on seeing huge unbilled amounts, though, it’ll probably be greatly reduced once free usage is deducted.
This is second in the series of posts about our experience with 3G services in India. Read our Reliance NetConnect+ post.
I have been using Airtel’s cellular services for close to ten years, and was very happy with them, so the day they launched, I bought the dongle. Since Airtel did not have a 3G license for my circle, they launched a roaming agreement with Idea and Vodafone to share 3G spectrum for my circle.
From the day I started using the service until today, I have never got a download rate more than 900 Kbps, with most of the speed tests giving extremely disappointing results of between 250 and 500 Kbps.
Upon complaining to customer service, which I found to be the most incompetent, I was given the runaround for 20 days during which they kept telling me every day that someone would call me within 24 hours and nobody did. I then sent a mail to their appellate authority, which elicited a call within 8 hours, and they told me they were working on my issue and would get back to me within 72 hours.
Sure enough, I got a call about two days later, and I was informed that my problem had been addressed, settings tweaked and that everything should be working as it should.
To test this, I fired up a YouTube video and it loaded without stuttering for the first time on the lowest quality only. Speed tests showed my speeds between 700 and 900 Kbps for that day. The next day I was back to 250-300 Kbps. The same was the case when I tried in a different city where Airtel had their own 3G spectrum.
One unique feature on Airtel’s 3G is the ability to monitor your usage by sending an SMS or calling customer service. This is nice and helps limit bills since Airtel does not have an unlimited package, so you can curb your usage if you cross your limit.
Conclusion: Don’t expect lightning-fast speeds or great service, but they have decent coverage under the spectrum sharing agreement.
This is the first in a series of documenting our experiences with 3G services in India. First to be covered is Reliance Netconnect+. Later in the series, Tata DoCoMo, Airtel, Vodafone and BSNL will be covered.
3G services have been around for a while now, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Unfortunately, since the telecom companies got so badly squeezed by the government during the 3G auctions, there aren’t too many options that are really worth their salt.
Having spent thousands of crores on buying their spectrum, and paying through their noses in taxes, interconnectivity fees and other charges, I don’t blame the mobile companies for being sub-par all across the board.
I really struggled to find a good 3G provider, even though there are several choices, because they all had their drawbacks, some more so than others. I guess the only option is to choose the lesser of the evils and leave it at that.
I’ve been using this one for a couple of years now, at a rural location. Reliance’s Netconnect Broadband+ works on CDMA, hence the speed is lower than GSM’s HSPA+ at 3.1 Mbps. However, everywhere that I have taken my dongle, it has never let me down. Though it’s a lot slower than the GSM based competition, it gets the closest to advertised speed consistently.
To get my dongle, I walked in to the closest Reliance World store, filled in the application, provided the documents and within about 2 hours, my dongle was up and running. It has worked flawlessly throughout, and I have never felt the need to contact customer service.
Speed tests within city limits clocked their slowest at 1.1 Mbps, the fastest at 2.8 Mbps. Outside city limits gave me respectable speeds of between 800 Kbps and 1 Mbps. Coverage has never been an issue no matter where I take it. The dialler shows at least 2 bars any where I go.
Conclusion: Unbeatable coverage, decent speeds, great reliability. However the technology limits its speed to 3.1 Mbps, so it will never be faster.
Got yourself an Android Tablet? More and more tablet-optimized apps are available every day. Though many of these apps are optimized for Honeycomb tablets such as the Motorola Xoom or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, there are alternate versions available for your older tablets too. Here’s a list of some must-have apps for your tablet.
This one is especially for Honeycomb and is not available on older versions of Android. Designed specifically for Android Honeycomb tablets, this app offers all the Facebook features you would need in a slick and tidy interface. It takes full advantage of large, high-resolution screens.
FriendMe is ad-supported with an in-app purchase option to remove ads, and requires Android 3.0 or above.
Team Viewer is the immensely popular Remote Access and Remote Desktop Sharing software, used by over 100 million people worldwide. The Android app allows you to remotely access your Windows, Mac or Linux computer right from your tablet from anywhere in the world.
All you need to do is install and set up unattended access on Team Viewer on your PC, select a user name and password, enter it in the Android app, and you’re good to go.
Both the PC and Android app are free for personal use, and are available for any version of Android greater than 1.6.
Odds are, if you have a Samsung tablet, this app comes pre-installed. If not, I highly recommend it. Pulse is a news reading app with a difference. It allows embedded images, videos and sound. The design is really easy on the eyes, even if you have a small screen.
Pulse has several hundred news sources already available in its catalog, in several categories, and you can also integrate your Google Reader RSS feeds, Facebook or Twitter into the app. You can also save and share stories you like. If you have multiple Android devices, Pulse syncs your sources and saved stories to all your devices. The Honeycomb-optimized version makes everything much neater, with a lot more displayed on each screen.
Pulse is freeware, and is available for all versions of Android above 2.1.
Amazon’s Kindle for Android turns your tablet into an e-book reader, and allows you to purchase and read any of Amazon’s 800,000 e-books. The tablet version shows you a really neat digital bookshelf with all the books you have on your devices.
The best part about Kindle is Amazon’s Whispersync technology, which can sync the last read page, bookmarks and annotations on your Kindle readers, Android, Blackberry, Symbian, PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, so you can continue reading on multiple devices from exactly where you left off.
Kindle for Android is free, but books need to be purchased. Pricing for books varies from $5 and above. Thousands of Kindle format books are also available for free online.
Dropbox is a free cloud-based online storage application that lets you store your files online for access from anywhere. Dropbox is the best app for syncing files between all your devices and computers. You can store your photos, videos and documents online and easily share them with family and friends. Documents can also be edited with Dropbox. It even has an option to save email attachments directly to Dropbox.
Dropbox is freeware and available for all versions of Android above 1.5. Basic 2GB storage is free.
If you don’t like Swype, and the default Android keyboard is a pain for you to use, this Rs. 120 app will be the best investment you ever made for your tablet.
Thumb Keyboard is available for all devices from Android 2.2 and above, with a Honeycomb optimized version available.
If you store a lot of full movies on your tablet, you need this app. MovieBrowser is a movie catalog and organizer with a slick interface. It scans your storage for all the movies and creates a visual catalog, automatically downloading additional information about the movie such as genre, actors, poster and rating. You can even view the trailer of the movie on YouTube.
Bear in mind that this is NOT a movie player, it only catalogs and presents your movies in a visual format, you will still need a player to play them.
MovieBrowser is a Honeycomb only app and requires Android 3.0 or higher.
StumbleUpon is a discovery engine that helps you find the best of the web with the click of a button. The PC toolbars have been around for years, with several million users.
All you need to do is select your categories, click the stumble button and it’ll take you through sites related to the categories you have selected. These sites are customized to your interests and have been selected by similar users from all over the world. Once it gives you a website, you can choose to like or dislike it. Depending on what you choose, the next site that shows up will be more suited to your tastes. The more you stumble and rate, the better StumbleUpon will come to understand the types of sites you like and dislike.
The Android app takes it a step further, allowing you to browse for interesting sites on the web right from your tablet or phone. You can also choose to stumble only pictures or only videos if your tablet does not have a very large screen.
StumbleUpon for Honeycomb, however, is a whole new level, which, as with all Honeycomb apps, presents everything in a beautiful interface, and gives you a full blown dose of the best of the web.
StumbleUpon is free on all versions of Android, with an optimized version available for Honeycomb.
Dolphin Browser is an alternate browser for your tablet that supports many more features than the standard browser that comes with your device.
Among these are Gesture Control, which allows you to perform specific actions, such as opening a website, by pulling from the corner, and drawing a certain pattern. It also supports tabbed browsing, address bar auto completion, speed dial and pinch-to-zoom.
There are also several free add-ons to Dolphin Browser available in the Market, such as password managers, PDF viewers and screen capture tools.
Dolphin Browser HD is free for all versions of Android above 2.0. A Honeycomb optimized version is also available.
HD Widgets takes full advantage of large high-resolution screens to give you a load of extremely impressive looking widgets for your home screens. There are widgets for clocks, calendars, weather and forecast, location and utilities. All the widgets are completely configurable, with hundreds of possible variants.
All HD widgets are controlled with swipes to select, modify and run various tools. Though not free, the configurability and variety in this widget set makes it well worth the price.
HD Widgets is priced at about Rs. 100, and is available for all versions of Android above 2.2. The Honeycomb optimized version, however, is a class apart.