Categories
Apps Reviews Smartphones

The cost of sending a Samsung emoji

A few months ago, my Galaxy S4 Mini (click this link to go to my series about it) updated to Android KitKat – from Jelly Bean. KitKat was released in 2013, but because Samsung like to fiddle with Android before they roll it out to users – or as I now like to say, apply their Disney layer – kudos to David – it takes a while for their handsets to get the updates.

Apart from a few minor interface changes – some good and some not so good – I didn’t really notice much of a difference with the KitKat upgrade. Some of my icons changed colour, my screen mirroring functionality seemed to stop working and GPS got renamed Location. There were a few other changes but at this moment they escape me.

Oh and how could I forget, that annoying emoji/emoticon button! KitKat added a terribly annoying button to my keyboard, a smiling face, which whenever you accidentally click on it, becomes the default extras button; that’s the lovely little button next to the space key that gives you the option of voice typing, pasting, visiting settings, and now also adding an emoji.

Samsung emoji keyboard
The emoji on my Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini keyboard

Now I’m not against emoji, some of them are pretty cool… 🙂

…what I am against is Samsung emoji. The super-duper Samsung upgrade to KitKat may have enabled me to send emoji – yay! – but it came at a cost: MMS. If I want to send an emoji, Samsung very kindly converts my text message (an SMS) into an MMS.

This isn’t a problem if you get a large number of MMS messages included in your contract, but most people (at least here in the UK) don’t. I’m not someone who does either, so when I tried to send a message (no bigger than one standard text message) with an emoji in it, I got charged 33 pence by my provider and worst of all the recipient was unable to receive MMS messages, so they didn’t even get to see my 33p text!

The BBC and Money Saving Expert are just two sites that have recently been warning consumers of the hidden costs linked to emoji usage.

Cue Textra.

Textra SMS

iPhone owners don’t suffer the same fate as I did, because Apple’s default messaging application doesn’t treat emotion icons as images. They may take up more than one character, but you can use them in SMS messages. Not wanting to be outdone, I went on the hunt for a better SMS app.

First I tried Google Hangouts. I have never got along very well with Hangouts, but when I started using it for text messages, I didn’t find it quite so bad. I could send emoji as text messages, and I could type as many characters I liked and it would just send multiple SMS messages; Samsung’s default messaging app converts messages larger than three texts into MMS messages too.

After a week or so, Hangouts’ lack of features and general design started to get on my nerves, so I was out on the hunt again for another alternative. After reviewing a handful of very viable alternatives, I decided to give Textra SMS a try.

Textra SMS quick reply
When you get a new text, Textra SMS enables you to reply quickly, without opening the full app.

To put it simple, Textra is fantastic. You can do pretty much everything you can with Samsung’s standard messaging app, and more. You can customise the look and feel, you can send as may characters as you like without it converting into an MMS, and you can send emoji!

One of the awesome features that got me hooked on Textra is the message preview. Say you are browsing the web and you get a text. Texra has the option of a notification which appears at the top of your screen; the notification is basically a message preview. If you ignore it, it disappears after a few seconds, but if you click on it and it opens a small version of the app over the top of whatever you were doing previously. You can type a reply and then as soon as you click send, it disappears and you are back to what you were doing.

If you are looking for an alternative texting app for Android, I would definitely recommend Textra.

Categories
Internet Reviews Technology

Monitive – 1 year on

Last year the founder of Monitive.com, Lucian Daniliuc, contacted me, asking if we wanted to run a competition to giveaway 10 Monitive licenses; I accepted and we launched our first ever competition.

I was also given a Monitive account, and have been using it for a year now. In this post I am going to review my experience of the service after a years use.

Latency

One of the main things I use Monitive for is to monitor site response times. Latency is very important, and can have a huge effect on traffic, as the longer people have to wait, the more people you loose before the page loads.

With superfast broadband, many of us are becoming incredibly impatient, and if something isn’t responding, we might ditch a site in a matter of milliseconds.

Before using Monitive, I had no idea how long Technology Bloggers took to respond. Monitive allows me to see on a daily basis how long the blog takes to respond, in multiple locations, all around the world. I know that if you live in Liechtenstein or Ireland, the blog on average seems to take around half a second (500 ms) to respond. In the UK it’s about 0.6 seconds, whereas in the USA, it takes just over a second.

This lets me ask the site’s host why the latency varies so much, and ask them what they can do to improve global response times.

Response times Technology Bloggers - April 2012 to April 2013
A chart showing the average global response times of Technology Bloggers.

Uptime

Whilst response time is important, it has no value if your site is offline. Monitive is accessing Technology Bloggers every 5 minutes from hundreds of locations around the world, to ensure that the site is live and accessible. If the blog goes offline for more than 3 minutes, I am sent an email. These are my personal settings, you can make checks/notifications more/less frequent, and can get notified via SMS and Twitter.

Quite disappointingly I report that Technology Bloggers went offline 23 times in the last 30 days. During this period, you couldn’t access the site for more than 10 minutes on 6 occasions. If I wasn’t using Monitive, I would only have spotted one or two of these outages myself. I can now report these to the site’s host, and ask why the site has gone offline so many times.

Uptime graph 2013
A chart of the uptime and downtime Technology Bloggers experienced in April/May 2013.

Unless you pay for load balancing, to mirror your site on various servers across the world, and effectively distribute traffic, to ensure 100% uptime, you should expect some downtime. It is expected that most sites will have some go down at some point, however how frequently this happens, and how long they remain offline for is something to consider.

We have a 99.9% uptime guarantee on the blog, yet this year so far, uptime has been 99.85%, meaning around five hours of downtime has occurred this year already.

Improvements

One thing I don’t like about the service is that it doesn’t allow on demand checks. I think it would be very useful to be able to check the status (including response time) of a site at a desired location, whenever you want; but as of yet, this can’t be done.

As I have set Monitive to check the blog every 5 minutes, and then notify me after 3 minutes of downtime, it can be a while before the system updates. For example, if the site is checked at 13:00 and at 13:01 I check and the site is down, it wont be checked again until 13:05, and I wont be notified until 13:08. In such a situation, being able to check the current status, could be useful.

Chadrack

One of the winners of our Monitive competition was Chadrack Irobogo. I asked him what he thought of the service.

“I can say, it was great because throughout the period I was able to know what was going on with my site. Before then, I really did not know anything about site monitoring. It was during the use of this program I learned when my blog was either down or up. And all of these was done without my doing anything. Unfortunately, I cant really give any details about the program. Only thing I can say is, it is really good.”

I agree with Chadrack on his point about the service being an eye opener to downtime. I really didn’t understand how often sites go down, even if only for very short periods of time.

Like Chadrack, Monitive is the first commercial website monitoring service I have used, so I don’t know how Monitive compares to its competitors. I am however suitable impressed by their services to want to keep using them.

If you are interested in Monitive’s services, do check out their uptime monitoring website. I have found website monitoring very useful, and am thankful to Monitive for my license, and for giving us prizes for our competition last year.

Categories
Series Technology

Setting up and testing my heating schedule

This is the 150th article I have posted on Technology Bloggers!

This is the fourth in a series of articles in which I am exploring Remote Heating Control – a technology of the future. Learn more about this series by reading the introductory article, called stepping into the future of smarter living.

In the last few weeks it has been getting colder, and around a week ago, I decided that it was time to put my heating on. I would usually try to hold off until October, however this year, as I now have Remote Heating Control installed, I didn’t think about it in the same way. Why set a date before which you will not turn on your heating? If it is cold in September but warm in October, why not have your heating on in September and off in October?

With Remote Heating Control I can tell my heating to come on only when the temperature in my house drops below a certain level. I know it may sound odd, but I can have my heating scheduled to come on in July if the temperature drops below say 15°C. Is that likely? Probably not, however if it were to happen, I would be able to justify putting my heating on, as it isn’t the time of year that should govern my heating habits, I believe it should be the temperature.

Setting Up A Heating Scheduled

I was now ready to become one of the first people in the country to programme a heating scheduled via the internet!

To set a schedule is really simple. I login to myHome, and on the homepage click the heating box – remember from last time, there are two boxes on the home screen, temperature and heating. This takes you to the schedule screen where you can set your heating schedule.

The schedule is split into four sections, Sleep, Wake, Away and Home. Sleep covers late at night until early morning, Wake covers early morning, Away covers the day, and Home is the evening. These times are obviously just guidelines, and you can use them for whatever you want, but I imagine most people will use Sleep for when they are in bed, Wake for when they get up in the morning, Away for when they go out, be it for leisure, work, school or whatever, and Home for when they return.

That schedule plan worked for me, so I set mine. For the moment, as it isn’t that cold, I decided that at the time of day I want my house the hottest I would have it at 18°C – I don’t mind wearing a jumper, but I don’t want to freeze! That is in the evening and morning, when I wake up and return home. During the day I am out, so I don’t mind the house getting colder so I have set this to 8°C – no point heating empty rooms! Then at night, I want to be comfortable if I get up, however I should be in bed for most of it, so I have set the temperature to 15°C. It will keep the house from going cold but wont waste unnecessary gas.

The image below shows my heating schedule.

Remote Heating Control Simple Schedule - Simple View
My heating schedule

The image above shows the temperatures at which my heating will be triggered. You may notice that there is one schedule for weekdays, and another for the weekend. This is because of a weekend, you are likely to do different things than on a weekday, so you may want your heating different. If your days are all pretty much the same, then setting your heating via the Simple schedule is probably the easiest way. For me however I use the Advanced schedule option (see the blue tab at the top right of the image).

Below is my heating schedule as viewed from the advanced view.

Remote Heating Control Schedule - Advanced
My heating schedule – advanced view

As you can see, throughout the week my heating has slight daily variations. I can only make these changes on the Advanced heating schedule tab. Some noticeable variations are that on Monday morning, my heating comes on a little earlier than the rest of the week. This is because I have to get up slightly earlier. On a Friday and Saturday, my Home period lasts slightly longer, keeping my house warm later into the night, this is because I will usually stay up later on these days. Also on a weekend I am usually in the house all day on Sunday, so during the day my heating is at 18°C.

The brilliant thing about setting a schedule is that I can still change the temperature whenever I like. Say it is Monday and I come home at midday, my heating will only be set to come on if the house temperature drops below 8°C. When I arrive home I want the temperature to be 18°C though. The change is really easy to make, I just get out my phone and text HEAT ON 18 to a number British Gas have given me, and for the duration of that heating cycle (which would be Away) my heating schedule will be overridden and my house will stay at 18°C. When the next cycle (Home) starts, the heating schedule will automatically turn back onto the default temperature for that time.

I could also change the schedule via an app. Both Android and iDevice apps are available, so you can change your heating temperature via any iDevice or Android powered phone with an internet connection.

The heating temperature can also be altered from within my house on the smart linked thermostat, but it is often much more convenient to do it remotely – it means coming home to a warm house!

Hopefully you now understand how the schedule part of British Gas’s Remote Heating Control technology works. I have been using it for around a week now, and it has been really great. I have been getting up and it has been warm, and when I come home of an evening the house is already warm.

I am sure in the weeks to come when it gets colder, I will change the schedule, to make it hotter than 18°C, however at the moment, with the weather like it is seem to be just the right temperature to be comfortable whilst not wasting too much gas.

An interesting and useful tool that the myHome system has is that is tells you the temperature your smart linked thermostat has read in the recent past month. This means you can work out when your heating will have been triggered, and when it wont have because the temperature will have been above the ‘kick in’ level.

I am able to use the temperature history graph (reached by clicking on the temperature box on the homepage) to see what sort of temperature my house has been at recently, and judge against how I have been feeling (e.g. too hot, comfortable, nippy, cold etc.) the temperature it has been, to ensure that I only have my heating come on when I really want it to.

To conclude this article (4/6 in this series) I am really glad to have been asked to be a pioneer in testing the technology, as it is proving very useful at saving my money – we will have to wait for a bill to come through to try to see just how much.

Next Time

The next article in the series will go live on Friday the 19th of October, when we will be well into mid-Autumn, and looking at a 14 day forecast the temperature outside will be around 9°C where I live, so I will surely be using the heating every day, most of the time.

In the next article I will be talking some more about the other resources that are available behind the buttons on the myHome console. I will also be updating you as always on my experience of the system.

Categories
Series Technology

Installing Remote Heating Control

This is the second in a series of articles in which I am exploring Remote Heating Control – a technology of the future. Learn more about this series by reading the introductory article, called stepping into the future of smarter living.

In this article, I will be reviewing the installation of the technology I have had fitted in my home: Remote Heating Control.

The Parts

The install involved three main parts: the wireless hub; the wireless receiver; and a new thermostat.

Installation

The wireless receiver was installed first. This was installed near to my boiler, and receives the wireless signal from my new thermostat controller. The wireless receiver is connected to the boiler using a cable.

British Gas Remote Heating Control
My British Gas wireless receiver

After the wireless receiver was connected, Nick (the British Gas engineer who installed my technology) installed my new smart linked thermostat. This looked much more advanced than my previous thermostat controller, and wasn’t just a dial. My new thermostat controller has an LED display and four buttons for programming. Programming can be done via two main methods, on the device itself, or via the online portal. The online portal can be accessed either by smartphone or computer. The easiest way to manage my heating will be online.

British Gas Remote Heating Control
My British Gas smart linked thermostat
British Gas Remote Heating Control
My British Gas wireless hub

Finally, the wireless hub was installed. This is a small device, which plugged into my internet router and the mains – AC power supply. I needed one spare Ethernet port in my internet hub, and a free mains plug socket nearby, which I did. I imagine for most people the mains plug socket shouldn’t be an issue, as the likelyhood is that your router is near a plug socket, so an adapter plug or extension lead can be used. I would also imagine that you will have a spare Ethernet port in your internet hub, however if you are using all the available ports, you may need to buy an extension hub to ensure that you can still have all your devices connected.

How It Works

Here is a brief synopsis of what is now installed in my home, i.e. the technology that makes up Remote Heating Control. My boiler is now connected to a wireless receiver. This wireless receiver ‘talks’ (communicates wirelessly) with my smart linked thermostat, which communicates with my wireless hub. The wireless hub it plugged into my router and sends and receives information to and from the online portal.

To control my heating I can either login to the British Gas portal, online or via a smartphone app, text commands to my heating via SMS, or programme it manually. My new smart linked thermostat which can be used to control the system is wirelessly connected to my boiler. When I change settings on my smart linked thermostat, this affects the behaviour of my boiler, and the information is transmitted to British Gas, which updates the online system.

Opinions

I have a few opinions and thoughts on the installation that I would like to share with you.

The first is that Nick (the engineer) was very friendly, curious and acted professionally. He phoned me before his arrival to check it was okay with me still and let me know his estimated time of arrival.

When installing my wireless hub, Nick asked me to plug it in at the wall, and into my internet router. This is because he didn’t know exactly how my technology worked, and therefore didn’t want to damage it. I have a standard router, however I think it is good that he asked me to do it, yes it removes his liability, but it does mean that I know nothing was broken.

My impression of what British Gas staff (specifically engineers) are like is very good, Nick seem to be no trouble to deal with.

Regarding my smart linked thermostat, it is a little inconvenient that it runs on batteries. My old thermostat was directly wired into my boiler, however this one is wireless and takes two AA batteries. The batteries are no big deal really, I imagine it will get as routine as checking/changing a smoke alarm, however it is a task I had not anticipated I would need to do. That said, it will be easy to know when to change the batteries, as there is battery indicator online!

Online Control

In order to set up my online control I need to log in and get the devices to find each other. It was really easy, and the web based interface gives you a really well explained walk through. Once my devices had been discovered by the system, I was asked to create a four digit pin, which I would have to use when texting heating commands. If you get Remote Heating Control, it would be a good idea to write this down – which I did needless to say!

Next Time

In the next article in the series I will give you my first impressions of using Remote Heating Control for the first time. I will be exploring any issues I encounter, how it helps me, and the potential I believe it has.

Categories
Competitions Internet

Win 1 of 10 Monitive accounts with Technology Bloggers!

Technology Bloggers has been growing for over a year now, and today marks the announcement and launch of its first ever competition!

We have been approached by a few firms in the past offering to give us prizes for giveaways, and have never really got round to launching  a competition. However now thanks to a new widget/bit of software I have discovered called Rafflecopter, we are able to run competitions with relative ease!

If this competition is a success, then I hope that we can run more in the near future! 🙂

The Prizes

So, to the prizes! We are very lucky to be able to give away 3 Monitive Premium Accounts and 7 Monitive Basic Accounts. Check out their pricing plan page for more info on the accounts.

Monitive

The kind sponsor of this contest is Monitive, who provide site monitoring services, so you know if your website goes offline. Many people have written on Technology Bloggers how site uptime is a vital part of a hosting package, as customers could be lost, and your site could lose rankings, if it goes down.

With a Monitive account you get weekly emails, which let you know if your site has gone down. With basic, pro and premium level accounts (all but the free) you can have it check your site as frequently as up to once every minute, and if it ever finds your site is down, it can email you, text (SMS) you, and it even offers Twitter DM alerts.

Does your site go down on a regular basis, maybe at a time you are not ever online? Well without a Monitive account, you probably don’t know! If your host regularly takes your site down at night, and you don’t know, it could seriously affect your overseas traffic – especially traffic from the other side of the world.

If your website, blog, forum, search engine etc. goes down, it isn’t good. That is why Monitive offer to check it is up, by sending regular (as regular as you choose) requests from servers all around the world.

International servers checking Technology Bloggers uptimeWith a free account you can monitor one website, and get 4 free introductory texts. With a basic account, you can monitor five websites, and get 10 free introductory texts. Pro accounts get to monitor 10 services, and get 10 free text messages every month. If you have a premium account you can monitor up to 30 websites, DNS’s, FTP servers, MySQL databases, POP3’s etc. and you get 30 text messages every month, so if a single site, server, FTP etc. goes down, you know – fast.

Technology Bloggers server status - MonitiveI have been using the service for around a week now, and it works really well. It is easy to use and has all the data you want to see.

How to Win!

I want to make it as easy as possible for you to enter, and I want to make it so that everyone can enter, as we are a community blog, which means everyone should be able to benefit.

To enter is really easy, you only need to do a few things, but the more you choose to do, the more entries you will get.

The first thing you must do is sign up for a ‘Free’ Monitive account. Once you have done this, you can start entering.

Sign in to the Rafflecopter widget below, however you like, Facebook or email. The first thing you must do is tell us the email address you used to set up the account, as we will need this to upgrade your account if you win. After that, do as many or few of the options which become available to you, the more you do, the more entries you get!

Rafflecopter

The Rafflecopter widget loads below this text, it seems to be taking its time (at least when this article went live it was) so be patient, it should load in after a few seconds – and it doesn’t load on some pages, so make sure you go to the giveaway page to get it to work.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winners

This competition will end at 12.00 am on Saturday the 19th of May. Winners will be announced within the following week, and then their accounts upgraded accordingly.

Best of luck to everyone!

I hereby declare Technology Bloggers first ever competition, live!

Categories
Gadgets News

PingPing – a revolutionary new way to manage your money

In Belgium, a revolutionary new technology is now in use. This technology is known as PingPing, and I believe that it is going to change the way we all pay for things.

ping.pingSmartphones are becoming evermore popular by the day, and the Belgian telecom operator Belgacom, is now providing a service which is capitalising on this change. They are providing users with a way to connect their wallet to their phone.

Okay we have seen this sort of thing happen before right? Google Wallet and others have tried to bring your wallet and your phone closer. PingPing is something completely different though, as it turns your phone, into a portable bank account – quite literally!

What is PingPing?

PingPing is a system whereby you create a PingPing account, credit this with money from your bank account, and then wherever you go, you can access this at the push of a button, or swipe of your phone, and pay for almost anything.

If you are out and about, you can pay for your car parking simply by sending an SMS. You can buy your sandwich with a swipe of the PingPing electronic tag on your phone. You can pay for your online shopping by texting a code to a given number. You can even text money to friends, which is credited instantly. Owe someone a tenner? They can have the money in their PingPing account in five seconds (quite literally) and all you need do is text it to them.

How does the PingPing service work?

With PingPing, you are able to make payments from your smartphone, by texting, or even easier, simply by swiping your phone on a PingPing reader.

Say for example you want to buy a drink from a vending machine. Usually you would have to fumble around and find some coins, only to discover the machine doesn’t give change, right? Well with PingPing, all you would need to do is swipe your phone on the machines PingPing tag detector, and it will link straight to your PingPing account – which you can easily top up with a bank transfer. This means that you can buy your drink within seconds, and the money is removed directly from your account. No loose change, no hassle. Confused? Watch the video below to see my example in action.

In the past, we have had to wait to get paid, checks can take days to clear, as can bank transfers. With PingPing, you are able to transfer money in (quite literally) 5 seconds, and all you need is your phone.

This technology is not just limited to vending machines though! With PingPing you can pay for anything – which is PingPing compatible. As I mentioned earlier, your sandwich, car parking, online shopping, in-store shopping, your bus fair, even charging your electric car, quite literally anything!

Can I use it?

There are many similar services to PingPing, which are live. I have heard that in the UK, Barclays bank are trialling such systems, and in Africa, there are many similar systems which have really taken off.

PingPing is currently only available in Belgium though. The software and technology is still relatively new, but I think it will spread fast.

Your Turn

What do you think about the PingPing service, will it take off elsewhere? Will it be a revolution, or is there too much competition already? Your thoughts, comments, opinions and facts are welcome as always 🙂

Categories
Gadgets News Smartphones Technology

Is your smartphone too clever?

Smart phones are amazing. 50 years ago who would have predicted that you could hold a device smaller than your hand that could:

  • Take pictures
  • Connect with your car
  • Listen to music
  • Send text messages (SMS)
  • Make a video call with someone on the other side of the world
  • Track your location
  • Surf the internet
  • Understand your voice commands
  • …and loads loads more

Notice anything that could be a security risk from the list above? Well if you listen to the news, you will probably have heard the bad PR iPhone have got themselves by discovering a glitch which showed everywhere their owners had been!

Is the iPhone Safe?Apple have denied that they have been tracking users, but if someone got hold of an iPhone they would be able to download a list of every place that that phones (and probably it’s user) had been to, via the use of GPS.

Do you think that all these flashy features come at a price? Is the security of our private information being exposed more and more in this modern-day ‘technology powered’ world?

The thing is, it isn’t just the iPhone – the iPad has also been tracking users locations!

If you want to find out more, check out this online Q and A page on Apples website.

Another privacy issue…

A few days later Sony announced that it was taking down its PlayStation Network service, due to hacking which affected 77 million gamers!

Sony say that that the data might have fallen into the hands of an “unauthorised person” following a hacking attack on its online service. This data it thought to include things like names, passwords, addresses, date of births and email addresses. Another reason why it’s very important not to use one password for everything.

If you think you might have been affected by this other breach in security, check out Sony’s blog post on the issue.

Your views

Are we too dependant on technology? Do we give away too much information (often sensitive) about ourselves? Do firms really need all this data from us, and do they need to take a greater responsibility in implementing more measures to keep our info safe?

Categories
Gadgets News Smartphones Technology

Is your smartphone too clever?

Smart phones are amazing. 50 years ago who would have predicted that you could hold a device smaller than your hand that could:

  • Take pictures
  • Connect with your car
  • Listen to music
  • Send text messages (SMS)
  • Make a video call with someone on the other side of the world
  • Track your location
  • Surf the internet
  • Understand your voice commands
  • …and loads loads more

Notice anything that could be a security risk from the list above? Well if you listen to the news, you will probably have heard the bad PR iPhone have got themselves by discovering a glitch which showed everywhere their owners had been!

Is the iPhone Safe?Apple have denied that they have been tracking users, but if someone got hold of an iPhone they would be able to download a list of every place that that phones (and probably it’s user) had been to, via the use of GPS.

Do you think that all these flashy features come at a price? Is the security of our private information being exposed more and more in this modern-day ‘technology powered’ world?

The thing is, it isn’t just the iPhone – the iPad has also been tracking users locations!

If you want to find out more, check out this online Q and A page on Apples website.

Another privacy issue…

A few days later Sony announced that it was taking down its PlayStation Network service, due to hacking which affected 77 million gamers!

Sony say that that the data might have fallen into the hands of an “unauthorised person” following a hacking attack on its online service. This data it thought to include things like names, passwords, addresses, date of births and email addresses. Another reason why it’s very important not to use one password for everything.

If you think you might have been affected by this other breach in security, check out Sony’s blog post on the issue.

Your views

Are we too dependant on technology? Do we give away too much information (often sensitive) about ourselves? Do firms really need all this data from us, and do they need to take a greater responsibility in implementing more measures to keep our info safe?