Tracfone, Android and other thoughts

ZDNet has noted that Android users tend to be cheapskates: http://www.zdnet.com/article/cheapskate-android-switchers-are-hurting-apple/?tag=nl.e539&s_cid=e539&ttag=e539&ftag=TRE17cfd61

The post notes that “If your budget is $350 or under (whether that be buying the handset outright, or spread over two years with carrier financing), Apple’s got nothing for you.”

Yep. Guilty as charged.

Then again, I do like to say the dictionary definitions for “cheapskate” and “librarian” tend to coincide at about the fourth level or so.  Well, they do for me, anyway.

I’m not doing an endorsement for Tracfone; I’m just stating that I find that service works for me in this area and where I’ve needed it, so I use it. A no-contract cell phone is a practical choice for me and very low-budget.

Nearly two years ago, I had a vehicle breakdown at a busy intersection that proved I still needed to keep a cell phone handy, and most recently, I’ve used my new (larger 5″ screen) model for screen shots to update the ebooks instructions in the Using Ebooks LibGuide.  That, and reading ebooks while I wait someplace for dental appointments, etc.

The phone was under $50 and the case with belt clip under $10 from Amazon, and the 1 year card I got free from a credit card bonus points promotion (normally about $115 to $120). So at this point, I’ve spent less for a new phone and a year of use than most people I know spend in 1 or 2 months without changing phones. I’ve never used up a year’s worth of time yet on these. If I ever need to, I can add more time mid-year.

It is not the latest Android (4.4.2 KitKat) but pretty recent. It will probably not upgrade from that version of Android, which is a limitation of using the Tracfone system, but that’s new enough to have plenty of functionality for my purposes — I’m not that demanding. And the keys are now finally big enough that I can send a decent text if needed, without so much correcting (sue me, I like to spell correctly and I have stubby fingers).

While some who know me think of me as a “gadget” user, I don’t feel I have to have the latest/greatest, or the big brand name (I’ve never used this model’s brand before). I like functionality, rather than every bell and whistle.

And the kicker is, I have to post my cell phone number where I can find it easily, because I almost never give it to anyone, largely because I don’t have the phone on me all the time.

Okay, so I’m cheap and weird in our faces-buried-in-our-phone-screens culture.

Apparently, I don’t need a bite of Apple.

 

 

 

Adobe Digital Editions on Android tablets

I’ve been working on a problem with Adobe Digital Editions eBooks….

I had a student who wanted to download one of our downloadable eBooks directly to an Android tablet.

Now, the instructions on ADE pretty much say that in order to receive an eBook, you need a Windows or a Mac computer.  Then, you use a cable to transfer the file over to your ereader, tablet/iPad, etc.

Now, bear in mind that I’m working with Android 2.3.3 booting off a microSD card for a Nook Color, which is not exactly stock Android (and definitely not stock Nook Color) but should be close enough for government work…

I’m using Aldika as the ereader software, which is listed on the ADE list as working with their eBooks.  (I can’t use Bluefire as it won’t accept my Nook, perhaps thinking it is a regular Nook Color.)

I found references to being able to download Overdrive eBooks, which is the eBook provider the local public library use.  However, the Overdrive software, once installed on my device, wouldn’t recognize a non-Overdrive eBook, even though Adobe Digital Editions is also used for and reads both.

I tried a direct download from Dropbox.  I can get it on the device, but it’s still locked up in a URLLink.acsm file which I can’t open, even though Aldika has been authorized for my Adobe ID.  Mostly, the “Open With” function doesn’t seem to be working.

I can’t download it at all as an email attachment in GMail or as a file from Google Docs.

So, if anybody asks, they need to copy it over from a PC or Mac via cable, period.  That method, at least, I know works.

 

Nook Color part 2

Now it’s time to see about an upgrade to full Android on the Nook Color.

Backup the original system

Before any tinkering with the operating system, I decided to find a way to do a  backup to restore to the original settings.  Even though I did not plan to “root” the original hardware’s operating system on the built-in hardware (which would have voided the warranty and cut me off from seeing how the “normal” version operated), I didn’t want to take a chance on losing that “normal” capability.

Backup instructions are here on AndroidTablets.net from the very detailed work of Faceman, and much appreciated.

I downloaded and installed the Win32DiskImage software.

I’d bought a 2GB microSD card when I got the Nook Color.  Since it didn’t have to be high-speed or run the operating system, just be available for imaging the original system, I could go with one of the slower cards.  Many microSD cards come with an adapter to work with regular SD card slots, so it worked in my laptop.

RapidShare made me wait to get the 2GB  image file of the 3.0.2.8 CWR file (about 6 minutes), which is just how they operate.  If you don’t want to pay for the no-wait, faster downloading, you can join and pay for the service.  Since I don’t use it often enough to justify that, I scrolled down and picked the free download option, which is slower.  Much slower.  You get what you pay for, after all.

1,887.44 MB (1.8GB) for the CWR 3.0.2.8 image file.  Walk away and do something else for a while.  And… it failed.

Okay, try downloading the compressed rar version of the file.  That also means I need freeware 7-Zip to uncompress it afterwards.  Much faster download.  Uncompressed with 7-Zip to get the image file, and used the Win32DiskImage to burn the image file to the microSD.  Faster this way even with the extra step.

Flip the Nook Color over and open the compartment in the loop corner, and then insert the microSD, as per instructions.

Get a different boot and it loads ClockworkMod Recovery v3.0.2.8, with a menu (and on the landscape orientation, where it stays, like it or not.  Not a problem.).

I used the Volume Down button to scroll down to Backup and restore and the big N (Nook) button to select Backup and again to start it.  And away it goes.  Progress bar and the file names show.

When done, it goes back to the main menu and the top option is selected, which is to reboot now.  I remove the microSD card and hit the N button.

Normal boot.  I put the microSD card in my laptop and find new directories on it and a backup in place.  Looks good.  Set that aside and save it just in case.

Setting up for Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” from a microSD card

I ordered a Sandisk 8GB class 4 microSD card after reading this info about one function on the SanDisk brand that is much faster than many others, which makes it faster for running Android on the Nook Color.  I found I can also get these through the local Radio Shack stores.  Apparently one specific crucial function is faster on this brand than many others.

Rather than “root” the Nook Color, I wanted to just boot from the microSD with a full Android operating system.  That would not affect my warranty or the normal function.  Card in, boot from that.  Card out, boot to normal Nook system.

So, I went to the next set of instructions.  My thanks for that post to glasskeys.com, by the way.  This is for the 2.3 “Gingerbread” version of Android.

The Google Apps download link was broken at the time (there was a hard drive crash notice) so I used the “found via” link instead for that and the mirror site.

The instructions given are mostly for Macs, but I just used the Properties function on the microSD card (which was my “H” drive) and found it was Fat32 format with 7.39 GB available.

I used the Win32 Disk Imager to burn the generic-sdcard.img to the microSD card (my “H” drive).

Then I copied the update-cm-7.0.3-encore-signed.zip and gapps-gb-20110307-signed.zip files to the card, leaving them — as per instructions — still zipped.

Inserting the card starts the normal Nook system, so I shut that down and then turn it back on.

And boot.  There’s the penguin.  Lots of work being done, inflating files and such.  Finally it shuts itself down.  That’s supposed to happen.

I turn it on again.  We got Android!  And it circles around and around the little Android logo. Finally a menu option to use the Setup Wizard.

Can’t connect yet — have to set up the wireless and type that long password for my network in again.

And now I have the Android Market offering apps to install.  These are basics like GMail, YouTube, Google Maps.  I pick some.

Gmail app comes up, I okay it.  Google Maps, Street View on Google Maps, YouTube.  I okay the location data since it won’t be especially precise without GPS.  And it says my Google Account is now linked to this phone.  (Okay, 2.3 is not entirely up to date on tablets…)

Set the time/date stuff.

The manual for 2.3 is here.

Android 3.0 “Honeycomb”

Manual for 3.0 is here.

The Gingerbread version went so well I decided to check out the same thing for the later version, 3.0 “Honeycomb” Android.

Found another article on How to Run HoneyComb for use with the Nook Color.

That worked… up to a point.  I got to where I needed to enter my long password to get to my home wireless network and it got complicated.

The only way to put in this long password was to turn on the feature to make the password visible.  However, I found I could only access that option when holding the Nook Color in Portrait mode.  Following that, to actually enter the password and get it all in while remaining visible, I found I had to then turn it to Landscape mode.   Sounds simple now, but took a while to figure out the necessity while trying to do it.  7″ screens are not optimum for this particular activity, it would seem.

The automatic time/date did not work correctly.  Have to play with that some more.

Ended up finding 3.0 is much slower than 2.3.3, and a higher learning curve at this point.  Think I’ll wait for 3.2 or later to come to the NC.

Backup the card

Now, if I lose the card, or it fails, or whatever…  I wanted to backup the 2.3 version.

Win32 Disk Imager loaded.  Insert the card to be copied, and read the card to a file on my laptop.

Swap in a blank identical microSD card and write the image to it.

Tested it.  Now I have two identical microSD cards with 2.3.3, which is the more stable of the later versions.  By making changes on one, then backing up to the other every so often, I can keep them in close sync.

Gingerbread (2.3.x) on the Nook Color

I’ve gotten a few apps on this.  The Kindle app works fine, although not in as much detail as the version on my laptop (such as letting me easily sort to groups, for example).  I got some Kindle books to test and they work well, although I notice that the bottom line of the page on some books tends to be partially hidden behind the task bar — not illegibly, but a minor annoyance.  The sync with online Kindle works fine when I have the network on — I got these on my laptop, and they automatically synced and downloaded onto the NC next time I ran Kindle on it.  Ebooks are available offline although the placekeeping function is restricted to the NC.

The Nook ereader software also loads on here, so I have those eBooks via that if I want.  I’m thinking about the Aldiko ereader for general use, though.

I got the Dolphin browser, which I saw highly recommended for Android.  You can use gestures instead of a toolbar or key/mouse for the more common actions (if I can use them enough to remember them).  Here’s an example (based on iOS):

Dolphin gestures

Firefox has a beta version for Android, but I ran into a problem getting that.  The Firefox installer thinks I have a standard Nook Color, and so won’t install as it expects the limited standard version of Android.  I have no idea how to tell it that I’m running off a full Android version.    Turns out, checking around with other users posts, that even if I could get the apk file and install manually, it probably wouldn’t open.  So, no Firefox add-ons.  Nuts — I wanted my LastPass and XMarks, especially.

Of course, I could get some of my add-ons such as Xmarks in the Android version, but I have to pay for Xmarks on Android.  I’m not sufficiently committed to Android at this point to do that, but for Xmarks, I might give in later.

Instead, I have the regular system and the 2.3 system browsers set up to go to Symbaloo, where I have my more common links in several tabs, including one specific tab for Android.

And I haven’t even gotten Angry Birds yet….

 

Nook Color part 1

Broke my left radius (the forearm bone on the thumb side) in a fall just before Memorial Day.  By mid-June, 3 pieces had crumbled off, and a surgeon had to put in a plate to tie those back to the main bone.  So I’ve been in a cast most of the summer.  (The posts I’ve done since then were mostly already written before that; I just tweaked a word or two and posted.  Good thing I had some backlog posts.)  Now I’m catching up, editing my one-hand-typing posts.  And now you know that I am verbose even when I have only one hand to work with.

Anyway, since I had to be home a week recovering from the surgery, I had an excuse to get a toy to play with, right?  (Of course, as it worked out, the reaction to the surgery was much greater than expected and I didn’t feel up to it then.  But it was a good excuse, anyway.)

I don’t have a smartphone, but I wanted to experiment with Android, so that meant a tablet (with wi-fi only, and no phone costs).  If I can replicate what students are doing, I have a better chance of explaining how to do it when someone needs help, especially with eBooks.

I’d seen a lot of good comments about the Nook Color being a cheap way to get a tablet as well as an ereader.  People had already figured out how to “root” it (break into the operating system and modify or replace it in the device).  However, that sort of thing voids your warranty.

The alternative, which would not void the warranty, would be to put the full Android system on a microSD card and boot the Nook Color from that, which is also possible and described many places.

I considered a Kindle, but they are locked tight in terms of software, and don’t run even a modified Android — a Kindle only teaches you to use a Kindle.  In addition, the Kindles (at this point in time) don’t handle the epub format used for our library’s and the public library’s downloadable eBooks.  Also, the Kindles currently available don’t have color, which I might want for some reading.  A full Android operating system, however, could run the Kindle app and that would let me get eBooks that way as well.

The regular tablets are more expensive by a good chunk, although many of the screens are larger.  I could put up with a 7″ screen for just experimenting, I hoped.

So, please do NOT consider this an endorsement of a product; it is simply what I was willing to work with and what I wanted in a tablet for the price I was willing to pay at this point in tablet development.

I charged the Nook Color up.  The custom plug has the “N” symbol on it that is green when fully charged, and multi-colored when charging (or when you’re using it plugged in).

Had to dig out my very long WPA2-secure password for my home network and set that up, along with email and such.

The volume, even at max, is pretty minimal, so I’ll need to use headphones/plugs for this.  The sound on those is fine.

There were several videos to introduce it, although some of them wouldn’t run.

Software at startup was 1.2.0.

The screen is capacitive, like an iPad, so you need a finger to work it.  Response can be slow, especially on the web stuff.  I found that for some functions on web sites, it helps to use the spread-fingers motion to enlarge the part I need in order to activitate the correct one of several close choices (say, “Page 1 2 3 4 5 6”).  For web use, laying the NC on the long side makes it easier.

More to come in the next post in this series.