independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Getting the most from your mobile

Can't tell the difference between Viber and Whatsapp? Technology Editor Adrian Weckler takes the mystery out of smart phones with this essential guide

THE BASICS

Which is better -- iPhone or Android?

A. For beginners, iPhones are probably a little easier to use and have marginally more apps available. But they are also more expensive and have limited screen sizes (which makes it harder for those with eye-strain to browse the web on them). For those with iTunes digital music collections, iPhones are better. But for battery life, some Android models are better.

Q Do I have to upgrade my phone every year?

A. No. Although people change their phone every two years, smartphones generally work fine for at least three years. A phone from 2010 still works fine with most smartphone services -- including apps -- today.

Q Do I have to sign a monthly contract?

A. No. Some operators operate 30-day rolling contracts that are a little cheaper than pre-pay and can be cancelled at any time. However, you will pay more for your phone up front.

Q Is phone insurance a good idea?

A. On balance, probably not. Phone insurance doesn't cover you for lots of things, including theft from vehicles. Some policies don't even cover screen damage (the most common form of smartphone damage).

Q Should I switch it off when I go abroad?

A. Roaming costs are still very expensive. But smartphones allow you to switch roaming on and off. That includes data. If you're using apps or the internet, it's best to try and find a wifi hotspot, even if you have to pay for it. Otherwise you could be charged €5 (or more) just for checking email or Facebook.

3 SMARTPHONE TIPS EVERY BEGINNER SHOULD KNOW

Aside from apps, cameras and internet browsing, smartphones have a couple of tricks that older, traditional phones can't match. Here are three core smartphones tricks every beginner should know.

1. How to never lose your phone contacts again

One of the big hassles with replacing a lost phone is retrieving contacts. Traditionally, they're stored on your phone's sim card. But you can make sure they're never lost again by copying them into your Google account with a couple of swipes. (If you have a Gmail account, you have a Google account: it uses the same login and password.) This way, whenever you start up a new phone, you can 'restore' the contacts to the new phone from your Google account (the phone will prompt you to do this when you first use it). Here's how to copy the contacts. On an Android (eg Samsung, HTC or Sony) phone, go into your 'contacts' settings and choose the 'merge' feature. On an iPhone, go into 'contacts' settings and choose 'Add CardDav Account'.

2. How your phone 'makes' wifi for your laptop or tablet

Your smartphone has a digital switch that lets laptops and tablets wirelessly use it as an internet wifi source. This is called different things on different phones, such as 'tethering', 'wifi hotspot' or 'personal hotspot'. You'll find this feature in your phone's settings. Tap it on and it will give you the wifi password needed for other laptops or tablets to use it as a wifi source. You should only do this if you have a decent monthly data plan.

3. Your smartphone lets you text and call for free

One of the big cost advantages to smartphones is that they let you call and text people for free, anywhere in the world. They do this through free apps. Two of the most popular phone calling apps are Skype and Viber, both free from the iPhone and Android app stores. Two of the most popular texting apps are Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, also free to download. (You need to have a Facebook account to use Facebook Messenger.)

APPS AND APP STORES

One thing that really defines a smartphone is its ability to use handy programs called apps (short for applications). These range from games to accountancy software and everything in-between. They are available to download directly onto a smartphone. On an iPhone, apps are downloaded from Apple's App Store. On an Android Phone, they are downloaded from Google's 'Play' Store. Around three quarters of all apps are free.

10 GOOD FREE STARTER APPS

Here are 10 excellent free apps for both iPhones and Android phones to start you off.

1. TuneIn Radio (free)

Phone: iPhone, Android

Some phones (such as iPhones and Samsung's Galaxy S4) lack an FM radio receiver. This app allows you to listen to any radio stream, so long as the station has a web stream.

2. Real Time Ireland

If you want a single view of bus, train and Luas schedules, the National Transport Authority have put this app together. It's basic but usable. For Dublin bus commuters, the Dublin Bus app is essential. It tells you when the next bus is due and you can search stops by their route or their location.

3. Yahoo Weather

While Met Eireann has its own app, Yahoo's new weather app is arguably better. In addition to a specific five-day (and five-hour) forecasts for your locality, it shows local satellite, wind and temperature maps.

4. Hailo

This clever app gives you a real-time view of taxis in your area (Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick) and allows you to request one. You can pay by credit card, call the driver at any time and get a receipt via email.

5. Livescore

This is a free results-based service that covers football, tennis, basketball, hockey and a few other sports. Its main concern is football and it covers all of the world's major leagues with instant, live scorelines.

6. Evernote

If there is one note-taking app you should download, this is it. It works right across almost every type of device, meaning that you can access all of your notes, memos and documents (from years back, too) on any gadget you like. It also allows voice notes and images.

7. Runkeeper

Phone: iPhone, Android

You've probably seen lots of people updating their Facebook statuses with this particular app: it keeps track of your runs using GPS. Because it's social, it's a very effective motivational tool to keep your exercise up.

8. Whatsapp

Phone: iPhone, Android

This is the most popular app for texting and chat for free to friends who also use the app. The system works in the same basic way that an email works. It bypasses most operator charges.

9. Gmail

Phone: iPhone, Android

Gmail is now the default webmail address for many people, partly because it integrates so neatly with smartphones' notification systems. Both tablet and smartphone versions are easy to use.

10. Sky Go (free)

Phone: iPhone, Android. If you're already a Sky subscriber, this allows you to watch almost anything on your phone that you're already signed up to on Sky. That includes the sports and movie channels.

SMARTPHONE SECURITY: THREE WAYS TO BEAT THE THIEVES

One problem with smartphones is that they are a target for thieves. Here are three practical things you can do to protect your device.

1. Jot down your phone's unique code

Your phone has a unique identifying tag in the form of a number code. This code -- called an IMEI number -- is automatically recorded when your phone connects to any mobile network for the first time. If your phone is stolen, you can report your phone's IMEI number to your operator, which will disable your phone from connecting to any other operator. To find your phone's IMEI number, just dial *#06# into your phone's dial pad and the IMEI number will immediately appear.

2. Apps to beat the thief

If you have an Android (eg Samsung, HTC, Sony) smartphone, there are lots of apps that can shut your phone down remotely in the instance where it is stolen or lost. Some, such as the 'Plan B' app (€1.50) can even be downloaded after your phone is stolen. Other apps, such as 'Where's My Droid' (free) wipes your phone when asked and sets off an alarm on it, remotely.

3. iPhone anti-theft features

If you have an iPhone, there are already some anti-theft features built in. For example, there's a 'Lost' mode that can be activated on it. This locks the phone and tracks its location for you. For older iPhones, apps such as 'Find My iPhone' allow you to track the device on another Apple device.

JARGON-BUSTER

Data: this is the amount you are allowed to download in any given month. For example, visiting a web page on your phone can take up between 1MB and 5MB (or more) of data, depending on how many images or videos the page displays. Streaming services (such as Spotify music) can use up quite a lot of data. A basic smartphone pre-paid plan will only offer 250 megabytes (MB) of data, which is only enough for those who rarely use their phone's internet. 1 gigabyte (equal to 1,000MB) is adequate for light data users, while those who use their phone a lot for social media, browsing or streaming should have more.

4G: Most high-end smartphones are '4G compatible'. 4G is short for 'fourth generation' mobile technology and means that the phone can access online services much, much quicker than ordinary smartphones. 4G phones only work on operators who have upgraded their networks to 4G standards. So far in Ireland, this is limited to Meteor and Vodafone.

Android: This is the interface (or 'operating system') made by Google and used by phones from Samsung, HTC, Sony and others. This is the most common smartphone operating system, used by about four in five smartphones sold globally.

iOS: This is the interface (or 'operating system') used exclusively by iPhones (and iPads). This was the first mainstream touchscreen system used for smartphones. Some applications, such as iTunes, only work on iOS (and, thus, only on iPhones).

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