During my upcoming Road Trip in September 2011, I’ll be cycling the 3471km route of the 2011 Tour de France, without a team car or any other assistance. During what some might consider a Mad Adventure, I’ll be reliant on a few pieces of technology, one of which will be my smartphone, the HTC Desire.
To be more precise, I would consider the current run of Smartphones as small Internet enabled touchscreen computers with the ability to make and receive phone calls. When I say Smartphones, I’m talking about the Iphones and the ones using Google’s Android operating system, such as the HTC Desire.
I must admit that last month I had to send this phone back, under guarantee, to HTC who repaired it within one week, during which time I had to revert to using my old phone, the HTC TYTN2. That phone uses the old Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system which, in it’s day, was considered to be a top-notch operation system. However, having been used to Push email, instant cloud based synchronisation of Contacts and Calendars, Google Maps and Navigation with near instant GPS localisation, and Apps for Twitter, WordPress, Weather and Music services to name but a few, you realise just how good the HTC Desire is.
So, why do I like this phone so much?
The HTC Desire caters for all my needs perfectly. As soon as I get an email, it’s pushed to the phone and I am notified of it straight away. The interface and toushscreen are so good that, in order to deal with the email, I don’t have to log onto my laptop. I can reply, forward or create emails straight from my phone. I can also view and store email attachments. This is possible because of the effortless integration between the Android operating system and Google. In order to use this phone to it’s full potential, you really do need to embrace Google and the Cloud in it’s entirety. One of the first things you have to do when you get any Android phone is to enter your Gmail address and password. As soon as you do this, it synchronises wirelessly with the cloud and within seconds, all your contacts, Calendar entries and Emails are synchronised to the phone. If you add, delete or edit either a Contact, Calendar entry or Email using the phone or any other device or computer, that change will be replicated instantly anywhere you have access to Google’s Gmail services.
“What about security?” I hear you ask. Obviously, you have to lock your phone. Android uses a rather ingenious system in order to unlock your phone. Instead of entering a PIN or Password, you draw a pre-defined shape on the lock screen. If you do lose your phone or your phone is stolen, all you have to do is change your Gmail password using the nearest computer and all your contact, Calendar entries and emails stay secure.
I used to have a Tom-Tom SatNav but I don’t use it anymore. Instead I use Google’s free Navigation application on the phone. This uses Google Search to find addresses so you don’t necessarily need to know the actual address of your destination. For example, if you wanted to go to the new John Lewis store which has just recently opened on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, you can just search for “John Lewis Tunbridge Wells” and it’ll find the address. It even warns you of traffic problems along the route.
It does, however, have a couple of downsides. The first is that of all the SatNavs available, the voice used on Tom-Tom Satnavs is the least annoying. That’s why I tend to mute the volume when using Google’s Navigation on the phone. The second is that although Google Navigation is available in France, the data charges incurred when using a UK Sim in France makes it exorbitantly expensive to use as none of the information is stored on the phone. It’s all downloaded from the Cloud as and when you need it.
Wireless Access Point
This is something which I’ll have to investigate further, not so much for using the satnav in France but for using the phone as a wireless access point. At present, I have a 90 minute train commute to work. In the morning, I tend to sleep all the way but coming home, within a few button presses on the phone, it is converted into a wireless access point through which I can access the internet using my Netbook. This obviously uses my unlimited dataplan from my phone’s contract however, should I want to do this in France, which I intend to, the cost of data roaming will make it prohibitively expensive.
One option would be to get a Pay-as-you-go French Sim. As my HTC Desire in unlocked, this would work but, looking at French mobile phone tarrifs, they are still quite a lot more expensive than the equivalent in the UK. The alternative is to use data sparingly and, as I intend to stay in hotels which provide wireless broadband, use that to the full in order to update this blog.
There’s an App for that!
It’s not just Apple who have an App for this and an App for that. Android also has it’s App Market. Browsing through the 140,000 Android Apps, you will find a whole bunch of useless Applications but, there will be some indispensable one also, depending on what your needs are. Personally, I have a small number of what I consider to be invaluable such as a WordPress, Twitter and a Podcast apps. I also have a Rail Planner which provides me with live feeds from any rail station in the country with details of platform numbers and delay details.
There’s also a service called Evernote, which I would urge everyone to use. Evernote is a free depository of personal notes. These notes can take the form of text notes, Images, audio and webclips. Once the notes are synced, they are searchable and viewable either from your laptop or you Android phone using their Android App. By searchable, I don’t just mean the note name; I mean that any text within that note is searchable, including text within photo notes.
I have reduced the amount of paperwork I keep at home by scanning anything I think I might need in the future and upload it to my Evernote account. This includes receipts, insurance documents, letters, statements etc. That way, wherever I am, I have access to all my documents. This has already proved to be a bit of a godsend on a number of occasions.
In preparing for this trip, I have uploaded loads of notes about hotels, Train times, points of interest along the route, thoughts etc etc, some of which may or may never be looked at again, but I know that if I do need something, it will probably be there, on my phone, on Evernote.
I also use Skype which will be invaluable once on the trip as, using the hotel’s WiFi, I can make phone calls at a fraction of the cost of those made while roaming on the mobile phone network.
So, there you have it. A quick overview of why I love the HTC Desire and why it’ll be a great tool during my Tour de France trip. Having said all that, there are still over 9 months to go until September 2011 and in the Mobile Phone world, that a really long time. I’ve only had this phone since it came out in the UK in April 2010 but already, the HTC Desire HD is already available and with the end of my current contract running out in February 2011, who knows what I’ll go for next. Actuallly, I do know!
Update (22nd December 2010) – I know it’s not February yet but I’ve upgraded early, to the HTC Desire HD. Review available here.