Tethering Droid to Laptop: PdaNet app

My friend teflaime recently got a Droid, and he was wondering if there was an Android app that lets you tether your phone as a wireless access point—that is, connect your phone to your laptop or desktop computer in order to use the phone’s data plan for Internet access.

When I first looked into this functionality when I got my Droid back in December, all the apps I found required you to root the phone, but I was curious so checked Android Market to see if there had been any new tethering apps developed. And there has!

Downloaded PdaNet from Android Market to my Droid and installed the computer-side setup from the app developer’s website on my VAIO laptop. Ran the setup on my laptop, plugged in phone to laptop using the USB cord, turned on the app, and it works! No rooting required. I’ve turned off my laptop’s wireless and am posting this using my Droid’s 3G connection. Have already done some trial surfing too. Very cool!

PdaNet can also tether via Bluetooth, although I haven’t tried that yet. And there’s a version for Mac O/S as well as Windows and also ones for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Palm O/S.

The free version blocks secure websites after a 14-day trial period (the license is $18.95, on sale from 23.95), but even after the trial, you can still use the free version to access non-secure sites.

Sweet! I can get Internet access on my laptop anywhere I can get 3G now.

Skype on my Droid

I installed Skype Mobile on my Droid last night which allows me to make Skype-to-Skype calls for free. Thought at first it might be billed to my phone minutes, but nope, confirmed it this morning, Skype-to-Skype is free and unlimited.

fosteronfilm and I play in a cross-country D&D 4E game on Fridays run by dude_the with teflaime and dean13. We use Skype to conference call all of us together and MapTool as the tabletop emulator. I usually run two machines for it, my VAIO laptop for Skype and our old, clunky HP laptop, with its much larger screen, for MapTool. (The HP is somewhat ancient and has a tendency of throwing a hissy fit if I try to run both Skype and MapTool on it.)

Thinking about trying Skype for our gaming tonight on my phone so I don’t have to have quite so many machines going. Although, admittedly, there is a certain geek-joy in being surrounded by all that glowy tech.

Droid Gmail Error: Engaging My Google-fu

This morning kept getting a force close “process com.google.process.gapps has stopped unexpectedly. Please try again” error on my Droid every time I tried to a launch the gmail app. Annoying and alarming.

Initial perusal of various Android forums suggested I do a hard wipe and reset to factory settings, the prospect of which triggered a prolonged (silent) wail of anguish. Decided not to do that and filed it into the “last ditch solution, to be exercised only in an excess of desperation and after every other solution has been attempted and failed” drawer. Kept digging and found folks suggesting I uninstall third-party apps one-by-one as one of them might be the culprit. Better than doing a factory reset, but striking me as a random, laborious, catch-all troubleshooting effort which, furthermore, made no sense since I haven’t loaded any new apps or upgraded any old apps lately. Filed that into the “to be tried if no better/more sensible alternative presents itself” and kept digging. Finally found someone suggesting that clearing the Droid’s gmail cache and gmail data might fix the problem. Now that tingged the “reasonable solution”-o-meter of my programmer sensibilities. Fingers crossed, I cleared both, rebooted, re-synced, and voila, no more scary force close error.

Whew.

Long story short, if folks either sent or are expecting an email from me this morning, it might’ve gotten lost in the gmail force close debacle. It might be wise to re-send any urgent emails or give me a nudge for reply.

Top 10 Fun Droid Apps

Rounding out my series of Top 10 Droid apps, herein my Top 10 Fun/Entertainment Apps (in alphabetical order):

  1. Aldiko Book Reader: Read and download thousands of books, most for free, or import your own ePub files. Excellent and customizable navigation and viewing, including font color, margins, bookmarks, etc.
  2. Bubble: When I first reviewed my Droid, I said that I couldn’t find an app to enable me to use my Droid as a level. Silly me.
  3. Droid Comic Viewer: An image, comic, and manga viewer that can open CBZ/ZIP, CBR/RAR, JPG, PNG, and BMP files and image folders.
  4. Listen: Podcast catcher. Searches, subscribes, downloads, and streams.
  5. Google Sky Map: Your own personal planetarium on your phone.
  6. MagicMarker: A touch-paint program for writing and drawing neon on a black background.
  7. Metal Detector: Yes, it turns your Droid into a metal detector. How cool is that?
  8. Torch and ColorFlashlight Fun Flashlight: Another two-fer. Torch turns the Droid’s LED camera flash into a flashlight and provides a widget for the home screen. Also has strobe and Morse code FX. ColorFlashlight Fun Flashlight turns the Droid’s screen into a flashlight. Again with various FX.
  9. Pandora: Personalized Internet radio goodness.
  10. TV.com: Streaming television shows.

And some honorable mentions that didn’t make my Top 10 lists.

Essential Apps:

  • MyBookmarks and Bookmark Importer: Used both of these to import my Firefox bookmarks into my phone, first to the default browser and then via the default browser to Dolphin. The process wasn’t pretty, or exactly what I’d call efficient, but it worked.

Useful Apps:

  • Food Finder: Quick and easy way to find a nearby restaurant based on cuisine type.
  • GPS Status: Displays your GPS and sensor data, including the position and signal strength of satellites, your position, speed and acceleration, and bearing.
  • Twidroid: A solid Twitter client.
  • Voice Recorder: A voice recorder with widget option.

Fun Apps:

  • LED Scroller: Creates a scrolling LED marquee.
  • Moon Phase: Shows the current phase of the moon.
  • Phaser: OMG it’s a phaser simulator.
  • The Schwartz Unsheathed: OMG it’s a lightsaber simulator.
  • Text to Speech Toy: Speaks the text you enter. This was a close contender for Top 10, but the voice is a bit too robotic. Although, y’know, I may use this app this year at Dragon*Con if—as I always do—I lose my voice again.

Top 10 Most Useful Droid Apps

As I promised yesterday, herein my list of the Top 10 Most Useful Apps that I’ve found thus far for my Droid (in alphabetical order):

  1. AnyPost: A Ping.fm client. Lets me update my Facebook, LJ, Twitter, and MySpace accounts with just one update from my Droid.
  2. AP Mobile: Associated Press news headlines and articles.
  3. ColorDict Dictionary/Thesaurus: Offline and online dictionaries and thesaurus.
  4. ColorNote Notepad Notes: Nice text/notepad app. Allows you to add widgets of individual notes onto the home screen.
  5. Dial Zero: Gives the customer service numbers of over 600 companies and advice on how to skip directly to a real, live person so you don’t have to wade through those annoying voice prompt menus. Used this when the satellite TV went out at my mom-in-law’s over Christmas. Got a real person immediately. When we called back later using the number provided on her billing statement, got the voice prompt runaround. Dial Zero win.
  6. DockRunner and Lightning Bug: Okay, that’s two apps, but they serve a similar purpose, and I couldn’t decide which one to include. DockRunner toggles the docking mode without needing the dock station, launching the snazzy clock/weather/slideshow/music display. Lightning Bug is another bedside clock app, this one with new age sound effects like rain, waves, and white noise to lull you to sleepy land.
  7. Google Goggles: An amazing visual search app. Instead of searching via words, it uses a picture taken of an object from the Droid’s camera to recognize the object and return relevant search results. Amazingly accurate.
  8. Movies by Flixster: Movie show times, trailers, reviews, etc.
  9. ShopSavvy: Use the Droid’s camera to scan any barcode and get a listing of online and local prices of that item.
  10. Talk to Me and Google Translate: Another two-for-one, but again, they perform similar functions, and I couldn’t choose between them. Talk to Me is a real-time speech-to-speech translator, but the number of languages it can do is limited. Google Translate only handles text-to-speech translations, but its database of languages numbers over 50.

Top 10 Essential Droid Apps

Okay, I’ve had my Droid for about a month, and I no longer bring my laptop in to work with me every day. Yes, my Droid has replaced my Sony VAIO ultraportable laptop.

Granted, in addition to my Droid, I’ve added a 320GB passport external hard drive containing all the files on my laptop, a mini USB cable and a mini-to-micro USB adapter, and a Bluetooth dongle (for faster file transfers from my work PC) to my daily gadget paraphernalia. But those are ancillary and could easily be forgone. Also, this is the busy time of the year at my day job, which is also a factor in my not carting my laptop back and forth. But it is a very real testament of how powerful a little computer the Droid is that I’ve felt capable of leaving my heretofore perpetual sidekick at home.

I also went app happy, which is another reason I feel able to leave my laptop behind. The apps I’ve installed have extended my Droid’s functionality, providing me with (most of) the missing tools to make it a viable alternative to my laptop.

Currently, I’ve got over 50 installed—all free with one notable exception—and I continue to regularly peruse Android Market for shiny, new ones. Over the next couple days, I’ll list my Top 10 Most Useful and Top 10 Fun apps as well as some honorable mentions. For today, here’s my Top 10 Most Essential Apps (compiled in alphabetical order).

Top 10 Essential Apps:

  1. Advanced Task Killer (Free): Kills applications running in the background that I don’t want up in order to keep my Droid zipping along.
  2. ASTRO File Manager: Directory navigation, file/folder management, etc. If this hadn’t been free, I would’ve happily paid for it.
  3. AudioManager Widget: Home screen widget to get live readings of and adjust volume levels.
  4. Bluetooth File Transfer: Lets me use FTP and Object Push Profile (OPP) to send and receive files wirelessly to and from my Droid/PC.
  5. Documents to Go: The only app I paid for. The free version allows you to view MS Word and Excel files and attachments; the pay one lets you edit them as well as provides a PDF viewer and a PowerPoint viewer/editor. Yes, I can now write on my Droid.
  6. Dophin Browser: A better browser than the default IMO. Provides multi-touch/pinch-to-zoom, tabs, and gesture recognition, and I think it’s faster, too.
  7. Photoshop.com Mobile: Edits and transforms photos—crop, rotate, flip, saturate, blur, etc.
  8. SysTray Monitor: Provides a status bar indicator for battery percentage remaining and SD space, internal storage, and RAM memory available.
  9. WeatherBug: Location specific and ongoing current conditions, forecasts, maps, severe weather alerts, etc.
  10. WiFi Status: Places a notification in the status bar if wifi is turned on and you are not connected to a network. Saves battery life.

Droid in Review

Okay, I’ve had my Droid for a little over a week now. Overall conclusion: I LOVE it. There are some aspects of it which I think could be improved upon, some of which may actually be fixed, as the Android OS continues to be upgraded, but all in all, it rawks hard.

Of note, as soon as I booted it, my Droid informed me that it had an OS upgrade that it wanted to install, which I ignored the first half dozen times the notification popped up—as I was too busy playing with it to want to give it a moment to load and reboot—but which I finally allowed it to implement when I had a brief pause in oooing. However, I hadn’t had enough time to really get to know Android 2.0 to be able to identify the changes and comment upon the upgrade from 2.0 and 2.0.1. But I like that OS upgrades can be pushed to my phone without me having to download or install anything manually.

(Some of) the Pros:
• First off, the screen resolution is nothing short of spectacular. As someone who depends upon her eyes for both work and recreation, I simply can’t gush enough about the Droid’s amazing screen. The incredible crispness and brightness allow for unstrained viewing of teeny-tiny letters which I would otherwise be squinting at on my laptop or desktop monitors. It’s utterly wowsome and must be seen to be believed.
• The Droid multitasks like a speed demon. On the drive to Elgin, we were using the GPS to navigate and check traffic conditions, playing music via Pandora (Internet radio), checking out the Avatar movie trailer on Flixter (well, I was, fosteronfilm was driving and listening to me make impressed noises at the video quality and streaming speed), keeping an eye on weather conditions with Weatherbug, and sending last-minute Christmas gifts via Amazon.com on the Droid’s browser—while I also checked email in a gleeful-compulsive fugue state. The Droid responds lightning-fast and can easily switch back and forth between applications without batting its red, glowing eye. Wi-fi is faster than 3G, of course, but I didn’t see a huge lag when switching between 3G and 1X (although there was one).
read more