One good reason

One good reason I’ve found to stick with Android is this:

RedPhone by Whisper Systems

In case you don’t feel like reading about it, it’s a free (for personal use) end-to-end encrypted VOIP client.  There may be other methods out there, including personal Asterix PBXs, but this seems to work with the least fuss. Google Voice may or may not work with it I believe, as native SMS’ing must be working by default on the phone.  To test I used my native phone number instead of my GV number, it worked fine over data.

Also for Android, AGP offers OpenPGP compatibility and the K-9 Mail client app then integrates the GPG functionality.

Bingo. Bango.

UPDATE: As of late November 2011 it appears RedPhone has been pulled from the Android Market and the app itself can no longer connect to Whisper Systems’ servers.  The application was in Beta, so this could mean there is a full release coming out or perhaps something required that it be pulled from the Android Market.  So for right now, I’m unaware of any other end-to-end encrypted VOIP applications for Android.

Virgin, VOIP & the LG

As a follow-up, after a couple of months using the LG Optimus V (on Virgin Mobile) I’d say for the cost, it works as well as can be expected. When you stray too far from the highway 3G and 1X data often disappear completely. Sometimes the 3G radio doesn’t refresh (which apparently is a bug in Android 2.2, but this phone certainly exhibits it) so in a spotty 3G location it takes a few minutes to find the data signal. Again, for $25/month this seems acceptable. A higher end smartphone, or an iPhone, cost closer to $90/month. Depends what you need as an end user, but Z & I find it totally acceptable, especially considering the cost savings and Google integration.

The downside of the $25/month plan is only 300 “anytime” cellular minutes (and no free night/weekend minutes). To get around this I’ve registered my Sipgate One phone number with the Nimbuzz app for Android. When I have a quality wifi connection I disable all cellular radios (Airplane Mode). To make an outgoing call I use the Google Voice Callback app, so I must first answer the call in Nimbuzz (Sipgate has free incoming calls like a landline) and then it connects me to whomever I’m calling. I tried using SipDroid and CSIPsimple, but neither worked consistently. For whatever reason, Sipgate and Nimbuzz work better together.

As far as apps that make the small screen on this phone more usable, I really like the Miren Web Browser over the stock Android Browser. For one, you can easily go in and out of full screen mode. Secondly, it’s easy to turn off images over 3G to improve browsing speeds. For a while I searched high and low for a decent RSS reader app to sync to Google Reader, and finally I realized a better browser would really make the difference, and I was right. Miren using Google Reader’s mobile page is quite usable and is much quicker than any of the other stand alone “readers” I tried. Thirdly, the stock Android Browser didn’t support HTML5 audio and video tags correctly, Miren seems to handle these better and is much quicker than Opera Mobile.

While certainly not Siri on the iPhone 4S, Android’s ‘Speech to Text’ functionality works quite well. I’ve taken to using it for sending short SMS’s and for dictating short emails, especially while walking. The touch keyboard isn’t great, especially on a screen this size. Swype is better for some things but I find the predictive standard 2.2 keyboard to be a little bit faster. Again, I think the dictation engine is clearly the “way forward” but right now on this phone, it can be a little sluggish at times.

I think if you’re willing to accept these limitations this phone is a terrific value. I’m pretty sure the Optimus V can be bought outright for ~$100. Virgin’s $25/month plan increased recently to $35/month and for $45/month you get 1200 minutes (with “unlimited SMS & data”). So again, it’s still significantly less expensive (per annum) than any of the other carriers, but you must be willing to accept potentially sub-optimal cellular coverage and a smallish screen on a slightly underpowered phone. But it works. And I have been quite happy to have unlimited calling on Wifi. So there you go.

Note of full disclosure: I bought my LG Optimus V at retail price using my own funds. I have no stake in LG, Sprint Nextel or Virgin Mobile. This is simply a blog post about a phone.

I Can Blink

C turned me on to Blink, a very high quality SIP communications package, which just happens to be GNU General Public Licensed, v3. With Android 2.2 and Google Voice I’ve been forced to use a mix-mash of modes to make cSipSimple work reliably. Part of the issue is forwarding phones. With Google Voice I am now forwarding to Gmail, Virgin Mobile, and now SIPgate One. When I turn off all cellular communcations in theory cSipSimple should be the only phone to ring, and in theory it shouldn’t use mobile anytime minutes.

I managed to get this to work on the PEAP encrypted 802.1x Wifi on campus, so in theory at home it should work fine. ICE/STUN with NAT seems to help call quality. The SIPGate iOS application also seems to work fine, though sometimes there is a bit of crackling not present on SIP>SIP calls using other clients.

A third option, which may or may not be in the works at the Googleplex [sic] is the integration of SIP directly to Google Voice. Google was likely testing this functionality as Dan York wrote in his blog, however, it appears Google pulled the plug on it publicly. It would be incredibly convenient to not have to route via the PSTN for Google Voice because as Dan mentions, the calls are already IP based, if only they could stay that way Google Voice users would have higher quality calls and an easier time of it. To test if you have any SIP functionality, plug in +1xxxxxxxxxx@sip.voice.google.com, where that number is your GV number.

Huwaei Bitches! Taking over the world one inexpensive Android handset at a time

I was in need of a phone after dropping off the map and switching my cell line to virtual carrier 3jam. In the US post-paid contracts vary between $40-$100/month (by which American’s pay the most in the world on a per-minute/megabyte rates) and often the the cheaper plans gouge on text messages and have fewer minutes.

So, I bought a Huwaei Ideos (T-Mobile “Comet”) pre-paid, off contract.  It features Android 2.2 & runs Skype natively.  So far I’ve been happy with Skype’s $3/mo unlimited calling plan, and 3jam forwards to Skype natively using OpenSky. Problems in the system arise when you’re masking numbers (IDs) and sending text messages (IDs again) and dealing with multiple voicemails and trying to use Google Voice. Here is a short list of bullet points in my limited experience so far with virtual lines and consumer VoIP telephony.

1) Skype has the best call quality, using both smart phones and computers, in/out of PSTN and VoIP & as an added bonus Skype can ID itself as your cell line.  The downside to Skype (even with their new 5.x beta) is that the user interface is absolutely terrible.  Using 2.8.x for OS X involves managing three different windows with countless notifications that are difficult to turn off or remove.  In the 5.x beta I made a video call, switched to chat mode, and was unable to ever switch back to the video call!  I was stuck in chat mode for all future calls.  I reverted back to 2.8.x.  I’m not sure if it’s a function of eBay slowly bleeding them to death or they simply are not hiring professionals in UX/IxD; either way it’s embarrassing.

2) Google Voice and SIP tend to result in garbled conversations, usually forcing a Skype Out call.  Google bought Gizmo5 which now gives any Gmail user a “phone” when they’re logged into Gmail.  Again, the sound quality isn’t superb but there is the convenience of taking calls from within an already open window.

3) 3jam.com has great SMS features but their web interface (which lacks an HTML5 mobile interface) and pricing structure need an overhaul.  Probably the most killer feature of 3jam (and GV) is being able to send and receive SMSs within Gmail. And the fact is they were the only company I was able to find on planet earth that allows you to port-in your number and send/receive SMS’s eg. they’re a virtual number switching service just like Google Voice.

4) Google Voice doesn’t allow adjustment of their voicemail ring extension (25 seconds = however many rings) while 3jam allows you to adjust pickup time in seconds. And to make things worse, Skype’s voicemail is implemented based upon your subscription which once enabled, cannot be turned off! The work around seems to be to cancel your subscription, which seems ridiculous if you bought a year subscription and need to turn off Skype’s voicemail (note: when Skype is running there is a “disable voicemail” option, however, when Skype is not active its voicemail takes over).

So all of this is to say that I’m not sure if it’s the best system for everyone. It’s certainly more versatile, in that I can forward my main number to any number I want (in the world) and pay reasonable rates while doing it, call screening is unlimited and voicemail is transcribed and emailed to me. I do think Skype’s $3/mo unlimited calling is a terrific deal and it does consistently have very good call quality. In the US Sprint (& prepaid Virgin Mobile) each have very inexpensive plans, T-Mobile averages $0.10-$0.15/min prepaid. It really depends on your usage and how many minutes you talk on your cell phone while outside of the house, and perhaps even what mobile network your friends/family use.

VoIP had/has the potential to drastically reduce user’s cost of telephony except that cable and phone providers are in the business of making money and not reducing consumer’s communications bills. “Triple Play” packages that usually start at $100/mo are not a good value when you consider that these companies are paying pennies on the dollar now to provide phone service (that is now routed digitally). Similarly, mobile data plans costs are on the rise as carriers begin to cap total data usage and/or charge for extended features such as tethering4GLTE etc. Verizon and Skype even penned a deal whereby Skype minutes (even over Wi-Fi) result in monthly minutes being used! This is to say, if they can make money and “offer value” to consumers while decreasing mobile network usage they’ll do it. More about the Ideos phone in another post.

Small Dogs

My friend Chris turned me on to this movie trailer [below]. We’ve been working nights and it looks like more rain. Not good. I had two Dunkin’ Donuts lattes today. I was trying to figure out if Skype is available on the 8830 (it is not). GPRS / EVDO may not have the data rate to do it. Apparently there is a Windows Mobile version that works well, Wi-Fi I think is required though 3G may work. T-Mobile has been pushing for Wi-Fi enabled mobiles to extend their cellular coverage by utilizing existing broadband networks, which seems to be the general direction of things. I am tired. Z has been drinking white wine and watching episodes of “The Wire” without me and it makes me sad. Looking forward to driving back to NY at 9am like a meth addled junkie jonsing for his next fix, only instead of meth, it’s called work, and by fix I mean sleeping in my own bed.


HTML5: http://youtu.be/0mI808JK6-Q