Smartphones, Tablets & e-books


Battery Bother On Android

Has your smartphone or tablet PC battery begun to rapidly lose its charge or run down overnight? Itís happening to a lot of users and there can be numerous reasons as to why it happens but more often than not itís due to rogue apps running in the background, sending or receiving loads of data, without so much as a by your leave. The problem is identifying the one thatís responsible. The Battery and Apps menus in Android Settings may provide a clue but the quickest way to catch the culprit is a free app from Google Play, called Battery Monitor Widget. It covers a lot of ground, including the all-important whoís using what and for how long statistics that should tell you whatís sucking your battery dry, but there is much more, including minute by minute details of where the power is going, some impressive looking graphs showing estimates of how much running time you have left, based on various usage patterns, thereís a battery health check, use times, and a calibrate feature that lets you set a benchmark and create markers, so you can track your batteryís health over time.



Park And Go

At a conservative estimate I would say that around ninety percent of smartphone and tablet PC apps are complete rubbish, but finding the potentially useful ten percent makes seeking the proverbial needle in a haystack seem like childís play. Speaking of finding things, hereís an Android app that definitely makes the grade. Itís called Valet Ė Automatic Car Locator, and I must warn you that itís a paid for app, but at just £1.30 from Google Play, itís hardly going to break the bank, and it could save you one hundred times as much the first time you use it.


Itís for anyone who has ever parked their car, and then had trouble finding it again. What sort of an idiot does that, I hear you ask? Me for one, several times in fact after hunting for ages for a spot in a busy and unfamiliar city centre and ending up down some distant side street. Once youíve parked up all you have to do is open the app, click Park My Car and it puts a pin on your exact location; if youíre on a meter you can set a timer to remind you itís time to feed it or go. The app will guide you back to your car using turn-by-turn directions. If your car has Bluetooth thereís an added bonus feature; when the phone drops its paired connection Ė after youíve left the car Ė it automatically marks the spot, without you having to do anything. It has a few rough edges, the UI screen is a bit naff and there are other ways to achieve the same thing, but if you are the sort of idiot that suffers from temporary vehicular dis-awareness, you will definitely be glad to have it!



Wake Up And Walk, Or ElseÖ

Having trouble getting up in the morning? Hereís a novel free app for your Android smartphone that is very difficult to ignore. It has all of the usual displays and makes noises at the appointed time, just like most other alarm clock apps, but this one wonít shut up until it senses that you are out of bed and walking around. It performs this clever trick by monitoring the phoneís accelerometer, and in case youíre thinking of fooling it, by giving the phone a shake, it has an algorithm that can tell the difference between shaking and walking. Fun for sleepyheads of all ages and thereís even an Evil Mode, that disabled the Snooze option, and it will allow you to set the number of steps you have to take before it switches off. Head over to the Google Play app store for the free download.



Free Phone Finder

It can happen to anyone and there is a high probability that most of us will either mislay or have our mobile phone or tablet PC stolen. If your devices use the Android operating system (weíll look at the Apple options soon) you can greatly increase the chances of finding it or getting it back by installing a freeware app called Android Lost, from Google Play. When it happens all you have to do is log onto your phone through your gmail account and you can then take control of its vital functions. This includes locating it by GPS or network triangulation, you can lock the phone so it canít be used, wipe its memory, erase the SD card, start an alarm and make the screen flash and the phone vibrate, read sent and received SMS messages. If it has been rooted. You can also set it to take photos if it has a front facing camera and speak a message like ĎI am lost, please pick me upí. Thereís an option to record sounds and display your call list. Given that itís free what you have got to lose, apart from your phone?



3G Data Watcher

If you havenít already got one you are probably thinking about buying a smartphone, but as you doubtless know, they can be a major drain on the wallet, unless you get on the right tariff and keep an eye on your data usage. Apparently generous allowances of 1 or 2 gigabytes a month can be easily swallowed up with a few multimedia downloads, and you may not know anything about it until the next bill arrives. That is unless you have an app on your phone to keep track of your data downloads. There are plenty to choose from but if you want to keep it simple, and free, have a look at Onavo Count. Android and iOS versions are available from Google Play and the App Store. Itís loaded with useful features, like user-set download limit and plan, customisable alerts to warn you when youíre getting close to your limit, or when roaming. It tells you which apps are sucking up your allowance and you can set it to switch off 3G, or set specified apps to only use Wi-Fi when youíve reached your limit.



Android Access All Areas

If youíve taken the plunge and bought yourself an Android tablet PC, you may have noticed that itís not much fun when you move out of range of your home Wi-Fi network, or away from a wireless hotspot. The fact is, at the moment very few models have 3G connectivity built-in. It will get better and more new models will have it, and itís worth saying that itís an option on some high end models and the iPad, but thatís not much consolation if yours isnít 3G enabled and youíre staring at a dead browser or empty email inbox, because you canít get a connection. The good news is that thereís no need to loose touch; if you have a smartphone you may be use itís internet connection by Ďtetheringí (connect by cable) to your tablet, or by Wi-Fi if you have a smartphone with a Mobile Hotspot app, but until recently it wasnít possible, or at least, not easy to hook up a 3G dongle to an Android tablet. Now it can be done, with a free app from Google Play, called PPP Widget. There are a few provisos; it doesnít work with all dongles, but most recent Hauwei models seem okay, it works best on a Ďrootedí system, and youíll need an OTG (On The Go) cable, in order to be able to plug your dongle into the tablets micro USB socket. If you can say yes to all of the above you may be in business and all you need to do is plug in the dongle, wait for it to log on to the mobile network, fire up the PPP Widget, enter your networkís APN and youíre connected.



Avoid Map Mayhem

Hereís one for i-gadget owners who have chosen to free themselves from Appleís grasp by Ďjaibreakingí their iPod, Pad, Phone or Touch. Itís a liberating experience but it all goes horribly wrong when Apple releases new versions of iOS, which, if accidentally allowed to progress, effectively de-jaibreaks the device. Itís easily done, and now, with the latest iOS release it is something that many users are keen to avoid, if only to stop the dreadful new mapping software getting onto their gadget, so hereís what to do. The starting point is a jailbroken device, and if you havenít done so already, itís very simple to do using packages like Absinthe. Open Cydia (the main gateway to non-Apple apps, and routinely installed during the jailbreaking process) and enter as a new source Pushfix using the URL:  Now all you have to do is tap on Pushfix, locate Recovery Guard and tap Install. Your device is now protected against accidental OS updates and forced Recovery, and it tricks iTunes into believing that your i-toy is always up to date. Of course Apple wonít approve and itís a warranty killer but if youíre already Jailbroken, and want to stay that way, check it out.



Taming Nexus

The Google Nexus 7 Android tablet is really starting to take off, and seems likely to trounce the Kindle Fire Ė my previous tip for the top Ė which has yet to launch outside the US. Itís also going to give Apple a big headache, which is planning to launch a 7-inch iPad tablet later this year. The Nexus 7 is a great piece of kit, but it does have a couple of annoyances. First, it has a micro USB socket but you canít upload images or files to its onboard memory without a PC. It might not sound like a big deal, but if youíve bought one to take with you on trips, itís handy to be able to use it backup pictures from your digital camera, or carry a few movies to watch on a flash drive. Second, the Home Screen doesnít rotate. Itís not a huge problem, just irritating, especially if youíre accustomed to Appleís slick offerings and smartphones. Fortunately problems are easily fixed, though if you want to avoid spending any more money* you first have to Ďrootí the Android operating system. This invalidates the warranty but these days itís a quick and safe procedure using free PC utilities, like Nexus Root Toolkit. Once rooted to enable reading USB flash drives and camera memory cards all you need is another free app from Google Play, called StickMount. To make life really easy get an OTG (On The Go) adaptor, which is a small cable with a micro USB at one end, and a standard USB socket on the other, these cost a pound or so on ebay. If you want to Import files from an SD card, visit your local Poundland, which sells multi-card readers for, you guessed itÖ   The screen rotate problem on a rooted Nexus 7 is fixed by downloading a free app from Google Play called Root Browser Lite. All you have to do then is navigate to System > Build Prop, open it in a text editor, enter the line Ďlauncher.force_enable_rotation=trueí (sans quotes) at the end and save it, job done.

* if you want to avoid rooting your tablet there's a paid for app called Nexus Media Importer from Google Play, that will do the job for £1.27.



Free e-Books for Kindle

If you have a Kindle e-book youíll already know that there are a few hundred free books for download on the Amazon website, and if you are into the classics thereís more than enough to keep you busy for years but if you really want to mine the motherlode of free e-books then pop along to Project Gutenberg, which currently lists almost 40,000 free and Open Source publications, including many out of copyright classics. And thereís more. If you fancy a trawl through work from new, independent and first time authors then head over to Free-Ebooks and Obooko websites where youíll find a wide selection of new works from up and coming writers and self-publishers, some of whom have gone on to become bestsellers, so you could well be delving into future classics. All of these books are available Kindle-friendly formats like pdf, or you can use the Calibre Kindle download tool that we looked at in a previous TopTip.



Out And About With Android

Okay, itís still only spring, but if you are an Android smart phone or tablet user, itís never too early to start planning for your holidays. As well as all the usual bits and pieces you need to take along with you, charger, USB cables, memory cards, screen wipes, carry cases and so on, hereís an essential free app you should download and install, before you go. Itís called Wi Fi Analyzer, you can get it from Google Play (previously Android Market) and it has to be one of the easiest ways to track down those all-important free wireless hotspots at airports, in hotels and cafes. The key feature is the meter display, which shows you the relative strength of all of the wireless access points (APs) in your immediate vicinity, but best of all, it has a bleeper, that gets faster, the stronger the signal, making them easier to locate. It also has graphical displays and channel ratings, showing whoís using what, plus details of each APís encryption and other vital statistics. Donít leave home without it!



All Fired Up

This Top Tip is by way of a heads-up on a  product that promises to be a real game changer. It's the new Amazon Kindle Fire. Ostensibly itís a wi-fi equipped e-book, with a 7-inch colour touch screen and 8-hour battery life. In addition to being a darn good e-reader itís great for downloading and watching movies and TV, programs, from Amazonís marketplace of course. It can also surf the web, send and receive emails, open documents and spreadsheets and much more besides. It lacks a camera and microphone (you can add the latter, via the headphone socket), but I seriously doubt anyone will miss them. However, the big selling point is the price, itís currently selling in the US for $199 and when it goes on sale here, in the UK in the next few weeks itís likely to be around the £150 mark. Thatís a pretty good price for colour e-reader but what makes it really special is that under the bonnet, and carefully hidden behind Amazonís front end is a well-equipped Android tablet PC. The trouble is, to unleash its fully potential and allow it to download non-Amazon approved apps itís necessary to carry out a process called Ďrootingí, which until now has been a bit too involved for most users. Fortunately our friends across the pond have been busy and now there are several easy to follow tutorials on how to do it. Basically it involves downloading a few files onto a PC connected to the Fire and typing a few command lines but itís all well within the capabilities of most Windows users. I followed this one from Nat3mill on YouTube, which uses the tried and tested BurritoRoot3; it took around ten minutes and at the end of it I had a tablet PC that stacks up really well against the iPad and other tablets, at around half the price.



Making E-Books Easier

If you have an e-book reader then hereís a must-have freeware utility that will allow you to import and convert e-books of almost any format into one that your reader supports. Itís called Calibre and the headline features include library management, e-book conversion, syncing to e-book, downloading, it has a built-in viewer and it can operate as a content server, so you can access your book collection from anywhere that has an Internet connection. So, without more ado hereís the list of e-readers that it supports and its worth noting that it can be easily updated to accommodate new readers as and when they appear:  Amazon Kindle, Android phones and pads, Apple iPhone/iPad,  Airis dBook,  Barnes & Noble Nook, BeBook/BeBook Mini,  Binatone Readme,  Cybook Gen 3/Opus, Entourage Edge,  Ectaco Jetbook,  Foxit eSlick, Hanvon N515, Irex Illiad/DR1000, Iriver Story,  eClicto, Kobo Reader, Longshine Shine, SpringDesign Alex, Sony PRS, Teclast K3, to name just a few.



Kwicker Kindling

Did you know that you can use the Amazon Kindle for reading Word and text documents and displaying pdfs and images? Itís true, but getting stuff from your PC to your Kindle can be a bit of a faff, at least it used to be.  Amazon have just made it a whole lot easier with a small free Windows application called Send To Kindle for PC. Once installed it appears on the Windows Explorer and Print context menus, so all you have to do to send a file to your Kindle is right click on it, or multiple items, and select, you guessed it, Send To Kindle. The file then wings its way direct to your Kindle via your wi-fi network, or using the Amazon Wispernet (on 3G enabled devices) . Files that you can send to the Kindle, and display on the screen include Word (.doc & docx), .txt, .rtf, .jpeg, .gif, .png, .bmp & .pdf. A Mac version is in the pipeline.



Key Code

QR Codes are all over the place, and for those who havenít come across them yet, the idea is you scan the code with your smart phone and a free app translates it as information or a web link. You probably knew that already but what you may not know is that you can generate your own QR codes, free, on websites like CreateQRCode. So what I hear you ask? Well Lifehacker reports on a clever wheeze, dreamt up by a blogger called Celtwolf. The idea is you create a QR code with your mobile phone number or email address, print it out and encase it in one of those snap-together keyrings. If itís lost the code makes it easy for whoever finds it to return them to you. There are plenty of similar uses for this technology, like luggage tags and stickers for your property. Okay, so youíve spotted the one obvious fly in the ointment, which is that this assumes that whoever finds your property has the means to read QR codes. Fair point, but nowadays, with smart phones becoming increasingly common, the finder may not have one but they almost certainly know someone who has.



Tablet Basics

The world and his wife have jumped onto the tablet PC bandwagon and there's plenty of opportunity to get it wrong. Within days of the iPad launch Chinese clones and copies were appearing in the Far East by the time the Samsung Galaxy reached the shops the market was awash with cheap 7 and 10-inch Android tablets. Most of them are pretty awful and the majority of the sub-£200 models have Ďresistiveí touch screens that are generally not as precise and responsive as the Ďcapacitiveí screens on the iPad, Galaxy and better Android tablets. Many of them use older or unlicensed versions of Android, which may not allow access the official Google Android Market app store; some features and apps do not work properly and the really cheap tablets tend to be underpowered or have insufficient memory. 


Unfortunately there is almost nothing you can do to improve a poorly designed tablet so at this stage itís best to avoid the cheap no-name models but donít let that put you off if you are in the market for an Android device.


Android is loosely based on the Linux operating system and it is very different to Windows, but once you get to know it, itís really easy to use. Early Android was a tad flaky but version 2.1 onwards is very civilised. However, it can be frustrating, especially for those accustomed to the relative flexibility of the Windows and Mac filing systems. Important configuration settings are protected, essentially to stop owners tinkering, so expert users resort to Ďrootingí their tablets and smart phones, to remove or bypass the controls that limit access to Androids higher functions.


Thereís no need to go to such extremes but newcomers can find it difficult to navigate their way around their new tablet or smart phoneís filing system. Itís often due to the fairly basic file manager programs included with some Android devices. One the best ways to get to grips with Android is to switch to one of the alternatives, like the popular Astro File Manager. Itís a free ad supported app, downloadable from the Android Market (the ad-free Pro version costs around £1.90). The tabbed display provides quick and easy access to files, it has a very effective Search facility and there are features for attaching files to emails, editing, sorting and viewing of all of the files stored on a device or memory card.



Wake Up Call

This one is for Android smart phone owners only, and in particular those, who like me, occasionally doze off on train journeys, usually on Fridays... Itís called Transit Navigation and itís a new feature in the latest version of the Google Maps app. The idea is very simple, you tell it where you are going and just before you reach your station the phone buzzes. Transit Navigation figures out your location from the phoneís GPS receiver, or the data connection, and it can also be set to give you stop by stop announcements. Currently it works in over 400 cities worldwide and covers a fair chunk of the UK rail network. Itís available now free from the Android Market Ė you know which buttons to press..



iPlayer App Mixed Blessing

This is one of those good news, bad news items, so lets begin with the very welcome announcement from the BBC, via Engadget, that it will be launching an official iPlayer app for both iPad and Android, probably in the next day or so. The facility to watch BBC programs, old and new on your phone or tablet is long overdue and thereís even a hint the iPad app may work for overseas users, though we wouldnít be surprised if thereís a subscription sting in the tail. And now for the bad news, it has been suggested that the Android app only works on the recently released Froyo Android 2.2, and tablets and phones will also need Flash Player 1.0. This will be a huge disappointment for all those early adopters who have first generation and mostly non-upgradeable tablets and phones running Android 2.1 or earlier, and weíre guessing they still make up the bulk of Android users.  


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Internet, Email & Network

Word Processing & Office

Folders, Files & Backup

Desktop Mouse & Keyboard

Crash Bang Wallop!

Privacy Security & Environment

Imaging, Scanning & Printing

Power, Safety & Comfort

Tools & Utilities


Display & screen

Fun & Games



Smart phone and Tablet Tips

Battery Bother On Android

Park And Go

Wake Up And Walk, Or Else

Free Phone Finder

3G Data Watcher

Android Access All Areas

Avoid Map Mayhem

Taming Nexus 7

Free e-Books for Kindle

Out and About with Android

All Fired Up

Making E-Books Easier

Kwik Kindle Upload

Key Code

Tablet Basics

Wake up for Android

iPlayer for Android





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