Category Archives: Android

Android’s better browser?

Folks using Android aren’t in much doubt about which is the better browser:

Firefox for Android vs Google Chrome Play Store ratings

Advertisements

Custom Firefox Sync servers now supported again for Firefox for Android

Around the Firefox v29 timeline, Mozilla changed the authentication mechanism for Firefox Sync to use Firefox Accounts. Consequently, the setup method for custom self-hosted Firefox Sync servers changed (note that my guide has yet to be updated), and for a few releases Firefox for Android did not support the new model.

Fortunately, custom Sync server connectivity has been restored as of Firefox for Android version 33. The full guide (including an add-on which enables custom sync server addresses) can be found on Nick Alexander’s blog.

Note that if you’re using a “non-standard” port for either your custom Sync or Firefox Account servers, you’ll run into the bug described at https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1046020, which as Nick says manifests itself as an authentication error. The workaround suggested is to use Firefox Beta, which works for me.

It’s terrific that Mozilla continues to offer its users the choice of self-hosting their solutions.

Firefox Sync on Android

Cisco SRP547W router – first impressions and VPN support

I’ve recently acquired a Cisco SRP547W router to evaluate as a replacement for the Cisco WRVS4400N. The SRP547W sports a similar feature set to the WRVS4400N, with the added bonus of a built-in ADSL2+ WAN interface. Because the WRVS4400N only features an Ethernet WAN port, I had to use the Draytek Vigor 120 as a PPPoA to PPPoE bridge (in New Zealand broadband is delivered over PPPoA). This worked great, but at the end of the day if I can reduce the number of links in the chain it can only be a good thing.

Connecting the SRP547W to Orcon’s ADSL2+ network was straightforward and painless. The device features a very nice first-run wizard, a cut above what you’d find in a vanilla router (as you’d expect given the price difference).

Cisco SRP547W setup wizard.

All of the security goodies of the WRVS4400N are present, with one difference being much-improved VPN support. The SRP547W features a built-in “Cisco VPN Server”. Although Cisco market this as being intended for use with their non-free Cisco VPN Client product (which is end of life incidentally), it’s actually just a standard IPSec VPN and works with a variety of other clients. I had no problem creating a VPN tunnel on Windows 7 using Shrew Soft’s excellent (and free) VPN client. The stock Android VPN client also worked right out of the box, as did Ubuntu Linux using vpnc (I’ve yet to try Mac OS X). A maximum of ten VPN users are supported, and the experience is generally much better than using Cisco’s poorly supported QuickVPN product as marketed with the WRVS4400N.

Price-wise the SRP547W isn’t too bad, not being too much more than the original cost of the WRVS4400N + Draytek Vigor combo – plus you also get analog phone support, a full SIP stack and more. I’ll be sharing some feedback on these other features in the near future.

IM+ Pro vs. Xabber as an Android Openfire client

Quick post for those looking for a capable Android client for Openfire. IM+ and IM+ Pro don’t support direct connections to an XMPP server such as Openfire: connections are made first to Shape’s servers then passed on to Openfire (see here for example). Of course, if you are wishing to connect to a private Openfire server, then IM+ Pro is effectively useless. It’s especially disappointing to find this out after shelling out for the “Pro” version, and Shape don’t exactly put a clear warning up or anything.

Xabber on the other hand does permit direct connections to an XMPP server, is free, ad-free, and comes with a nice UI to boot. So, for my purposes there is no competition to speak of 🙂

Xabber connecting to Openfire

Google Play store reviews now require a Google+ account…

… or in other words: “We can’t get people to sign up to our crappy social network, so we’re going to put you over a barrel to use it any which way we can!”

Google Play requires a Google+ account

Disable conversation view in the Gmail Android app

Actually, the title is total linkbait because you can’t. Google would rather inflict the wretched conversation view on you whether you like it or not. This might sound peculiar, but perhaps less so if you read “GMail: designer arrogance and the cult of minimalism“, and also this legendary rant from one of Google’s own prominent software engineers (Steve Yegge), of which a relevant excerpt follows:

“But when we [Google] take the stance that we know how to design the perfect product for everyone, and believe you me, I hear that a lot, then we’re being fools. You can attribute it to arrogance, or naivete, or whatever — it doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s foolishness. There IS no perfect product for everyone.

“And so we wind up with a browser that doesn’t let you set the default font size. Talk about an affront to Accessibility. I mean, as I get older I’m actually going blind. For real. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, and once you hit 40 years old you stop being able to see things up close. So font selection becomes this life-or-death thing: it can lock you out of the product completely. But the Chrome team is flat-out arrogant here: they want to build a zero-configuration product, and they’re quite brazen about it, and Fuck You if you’re blind or deaf or whatever. Hit Ctrl-+ on every single page visit for the rest of your life.”

 

So – if you’re like me and want to check out a great email app for Android which doesn’t use conversation view and includes all the bonus goodies the Gmail app is missing (think Thunderbird for Android), you should check out K-9 Mail:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fsck.k9&hl=en

The really nice thing is that if you want to support the developers of this fine application, you can pay a tiny sum for the deee-luxe version, which goes by the name of Kaiten:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kaitenmail

Kaiten Mail running on Android

Microsoft Surface – the short version

There are many words I could waste on the newly announced Microsoft Surface tablet, reflective of the company’s obsession with Apple Inc, and their increasingly obvious hail mary approach to staying relevant amongst mobile users – a market that I believe has well and truly left Microsoft behind. However, my feelings on it are perhaps best summarized by this:

Twitter search for vapourtrails hashtag

Yes, despite the inane statements and claims originating from certain (somewhat clueless) Microsoft staffers, the thing is vapourware, pure and simple.

If I had one piece of advice to give Microsoft collectively at this point, it would be – to paraphrase Gordon Ramsay – if you’re going to do this, then shut the fuck up and do it. Keeping customers in the dark about price, dates, or if it will even run half-decently at all can only translate to huge amounts of egg on face if or when it doesn’t match their expectations.

If anything, this is the one area they could do with aping Apple a bit more closely…

Stream video content from XBMC to an Android tablet (continued…)

In my blog entry describing how to stream from XBMC to an Android tablet, a commenter remarked that the ASUS “MyNet” application used in the example was an ASUS-specific product, and therefore not applicable to other non-ASUS Android-powered devices. A quick look in the Android market reveals plenty of other free and paid-for UPnP applications, so let’s briefly repeat this exercise using one such vendor-neutral app, which goes by the name of BubbleUPnP.

I am using the free version of BubbleUPnP (hence the ads visible in the following screengrabs), on the same platforms as described originally here.

After installing BubbleUPnP, fire up the application, browse to the Devices tab where you should be able to see your XBMC server listed. Make sure that the “Local Renderer” is selected as the renderer, and the “XBMC: Media Server” is selected as the library source:

BubbleUPnP - select renderer and library sources

Then, head over to the Library tab, and drill down until you find the relevant movie content:

BubbleUPnP - browsing the media library

BubbleUPnP - selecting available video media

On the first attempted playback, you will observe a prompt to select playback through one of the media player applications installed on your tablet. In my case, I am going to use the built-in Android “Video player” application, and set this as my default (of course, if you have other media player applications installed you would expect to see a different set of apps listed here):

BubbleUPnP - selecting the default video playback application

Et voila:

BubbleUPnP - playing back a streamed video locally

Again, the chunky video quality in the above screengrab is simply because I am using a low-quality example video, not because of any inherent quality issues with the source material, software, or hardware.

Clear Mobile History add-on for Firefox Mobile

Although I’m sure plenty of users lump in their “private” data with their browsing history when using Firefox for mobile devices, it becomes a right pain in the butt when you are also using a local Firefox sync server, and clearing your private data (clearing your browsing history only is not an option) also hoses your passwords – along with your Sync account and settings.

The following add-on is therefore indispensable if you are using Firefox mobile with Firefox Sync:

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/mobile/addon/clear-mobile-history/

More information here.

Weird that it’s not included with Firefox, but hey, that’s what a plug-in ecosystem is for I guess 🙂

Mobile Document Viewer – view ODF format files on Android

One of the most perplexing omissions from Google’s Android OS feature set is native ODF file format support. The Android market has applications up the ass for viewing Microsoft Office format files, but there is a seeming dearth of applications which will allow you to view your LibreOffice (or OpenOffice…) documents. Given Android’s open source nature, the lack of shipping support for ODF is puzzling.

Anyway, after having a sniff around I have found an application which on a basic level seems to work well enough – “Mobile Document Viewer”:

https://market.android.com/details?id=de.joergjahnke.documentviewer.android.free&feature=also_installed

Running it on an ASUS Eee Slider tablet, I loaded up one of my ODT files which I could open with no problems:

Mobile Document Viewer on the ASUS Eee Slider tablet

The application however converts the content to HTML and displays it in a browser window – so the formatting goes somewhat AWOL, but otherwise the content itself loads up fine. As a cute extra there is text-to-speech support, if you fancy having ODF files read aloud to you.

The free version is ad-supported (hence my message from “Elaine”…), but given the paltry fee for the full version this is a no-brainer purchase.