Getting a Smartphone? Get a data plan too.

One of the things I was concerned about (before splurging on an Android Phone) was the fact that I didn’t have a data plan. I got my first cell phone from AT&T in 2004 and after dabbling with the awful pay-per-use data plan, I opted out of their data packages. Back then, their data plans were ‘pricey’ to my still-broke self. Now (around the coming of the iPhone), most carriers require data plans so you won’t suffer this problem. These days, you should tack an extra $15 – $30 a month to your cellphone bill with data plans from the popular carriers. 🙂
In any case, I am still without a data plan and missing out on a bunch of cool applications.

I have since discovered that the *really* fun applications (barring games) require an internet connection. Yes, WiFi is good, but when you’re on the road, you’re out of luck. Without further ado, here are the “things” I (meaning you) am missing out on without a data plan:

Free Google Maps navigation

If you aren’t ready for paid Android navigation apps like Ndrive, Navdroyd, Copilot, the free Google Maps app is your next best bet. To use Google’s free turn-by-turn directions, you need a constant internet connection. However, you may be forced to use an offline maps utility which consumes space on your microSD card. I’ve currently got an 8GB Transcend microSD card in my G1 phone and planning an upgrade to a 16GB Transcend microSD card in order to take advantage of offline maps like Ndrive (North America maps for Ndrive consume nearly 6gbs of space which leaves me little room to install apps on my current 8gb microsd card). I’ve got a license to Ndrive navigation software that is begging to be used!

Social Services

Geo-location is the rage these days (see: FourSquare, Yelp, Gowalla, Whrrl, etc). It’s not my cup of tea so I won’t be telling the world where I am or where I’m not (unless I want to send a not-so-subtle message about how quickly I’m climbing a non-existent social ladder). That said, unless the restaurant/club you’re in has free WiFi, no checking in for you. The same goes for the Twitter/Facebook apps for Android. Unless you’re at home (in which case, I would be using my laptop), you can’t use these apps without an internet connection. Without WiFi, you’re out of luck. I wouldn’t be writing this post if there was free WiFi was as pervasive as cell phone towers.

Data Syncing

As you know, the Android phone is tied really closely to your Google account. I mean, contacts + calendars are all synced from your Google online account to your phone. This means, changes made to your contacts + calendars made from your phone won’t show up instantly on your online Google account if you aren’t connected to WiFi at the moment. If you’d had a data plan, you wouldn’t be worrying about when the carrier pigeons will ferry your data from your phone to your Google account. 😀 It’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve obviously survived thus far. It’s a pain, but workable.

That said, I’ve found my Android phone to be useful even without a data plan. In the Android Market, there’s no shortage of apps that don’t need an internet connection. For those old school people without a data plan (raise your hands in the air/ wave ’em like you just don’t care … actually, it hurts.), here are some recommended apps to pass time with until your next WiFi connection:

You can do … anything (almost)

Take your pick. On my G1, I’ve got the following apps that contain things I can consume until my next WiFi connection.

  1. Note-taking:Writers/BloggersArtists are incurable note-takers so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I swear by the Android app from Snaptic called 3banana notes. Even though I haven’t used any other because I can’t imagine anything that is simpler than this app, I love it. You can jot down anything that comes to mind, append images/location data & your notes are stored on your microSD card or phone to be synced to your Snaptic account or Google account!
  2. Factbook: Support the Android developers It’s a paid app and it is pretty much a copy of the freely available (online) CIA Factbook which has been ported to the Android phone. It comes in a pretty GUI and should keep you full of random trivia.
  3. The Holy Book (Bible, etc): The free bibles out there are mostly the King James’ version of the bible which is freely available on Project Gutenberg. The others are just fancy versions like NIV, etc. Simply read the reviews or test out the Bible apps to find “the One”.
  4. The Dictionary: I used to read dictionaries as a hobby when I was younger. I don’t do that enough these days, but with the ColorDict app, I can fill my head with more highfalutin’ words than necessary.
  5. Fresh of a recent reformat to install Cyanogenmod v. 6 (a.k.a. Froyo), I’m on the hunt for a good Android app to let me save articles from my browser to read them later. Basically, an Instapaper-like app for Android. I’m still looking so feel free to chime in with recommendations although I’m not sure this would work as I hope because it would require some syncing to go on from my browser to my phone and thus require an internet connection.
  6. Books: Pick your favorite eBook reader (I’ve settled on FBreader which has a simple eBook application for the Windows platform) and download hundreds of free eBooks from publishers around the world e.g. Smashwords, Feedbooks, etc. FBReader offers an easy way to browse and download quality reading material. When browsing the catalogs, FBReader offers more options for searching for books by authors, subject, languages, popularity, etc. , it’ll offer you a more ‘animated’ list of options.
    Feedbooks and Smashwords Catalog on FBreader
    FBReader for Android
  7. Medical ‘trivia’: I’m a fan of filling my head with largely useless tidbits of medical information (not a fan of the Michael Quach style of trivia apps polluting the Android marketplace). I’ve spent well over $100 on medical apps from Skyscape. Sidenote: Skyscape rocks for allowing me to transfer my apps from device to device. Then again, the Skyscape apps aren’t just $2 – $10 apps and if the previous phone is truly retired/dead, transferring is the least they can do. BUT Skyscape didn’t give me the run-around and that says a lot about their company.
  8. Have Fun with Exercise/GPS: With apps like RunKeeper and CardioTrainer, you can track more than just calories burned with your exercise routine. If you’re just curious to see what your daily route looks like on the computer, there is the My Tracks apps that can track and create an easily shareable file (i.e. gpx, kml or csv formats). Be warned that should you attempt to multi-task while recording a track, you’ll loose your spot on the map and have to restart. I can not wait for GPSed to be available on the Android market. I loved the GPSed app (I upgraded to the GPSed Pro version) on the Windows Mobile system and it rocked my world by making my commute less lonely. 🙂 Sidenote: The GPSed App is available as a .jar file and this can be apparently converted to Android package (.apk) file although I didn’t get that site to work and there might be another option for converting .jar files to .apk files.
  9. Fun with Pictures: I’ve got the paid PicSayPro application on my phone and it’s been a great app to edit the 3 megapixel photos I’ve taken with the G1. There are other photo editing apps available such as Adobe’s Photoshop Express, Urbian Inc’s Retro Camera, etc.

I’m sure I’m missing out on other things I can do even without a constant data connection (listening to music is blindingly obvious) so expect another post with me belaboring the point that I probably am better off getting a data plan soon. 🙂 Cheers!

Overview of BitDefender Total Security 2011

After over a year and some, I am giving BitDefender another try. I’ve been an otherwise satisfied user of Norton Internet Security 2010 for over 15 months , but when I got an email from the Social Media monitoring team at BitDefender offering me the chance to give their latest 2011 security product a whirl, I was sufficiently intrigued and leapt at the opportunity.

BitDefender Total Security 2011 comes with a lot of little extras that make it worth its price tag of $79.95 for a yearly license which covers 3 PCs. Currently, it offers the following main services:

  1. Antivirus scanning: realtime and on-demand
  2. Chat/File Encryption
  3. File Storage/Backup and File Deletion
  4. Parental and Privacy Controls
  5. PC Tune-Up/Monitoring/Optimization
  6. Verdict

The BitDefender Interface

Installation of the program is straightforward and you get a chance to pick the best viewing mode for you to use the BitDefender Total Security 2011.
BitDefender Mode Selection Screen

BitDefender Total Security 2011 has 3 modes to let you use and configure the products:
Basic, Intermediate and Expert.

Scanning

On-demand scanning with BitDefender Total Security 2011 is fast. I daresay it completed a full system scan in less time than it would take Norton Internet Security to perform similar task! My computer didn’t get bogged down appreciably so this is a huge positive. Like any Internet Security suite worth its salt, you can scan specific files via the Windows Explorer, perform quick/full system scans etc. However, BitDefender adds a couple of useful scanning options like auto-logon scanning, device scanning and contextual scanning.
BitDefender AV Scanning Options

Encrypted (Chat/IM and Files)

This IM encryption feature works with other computers that have BitDefender Total Security installed and it support two major Instant messaging programs: Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live messenger. For people engaged in sensitive data transfer or communication, this is invaluable. I’m not quite clear on what protocol BitDefender uses for encryption but I’m investigating. 🙂 Basically, you create a “container” (in this case, it’s a .bvd file) that will hold the files you wish to encrypt and the .bvd container is encrypted. When you’re done creating the file vault, you can open it which will cause it to act like a mounted drive in Windows. Placing files is as simple as dragging and dropping! Here’s what the creation and opening of a file vault looks like:
BitDefender File Vault Creation
bd-file-vault-open.png

File Storage and Secure File Deletion

With the File Storage/Backup feature, BitDefender TS 2011 will allow you to backup to your local hard drive or to their online system which is a measly 2 gigabytes of storage. Expectedly, you can purchase more storage, but that’ll cost you. However, if you don’t have an online backup system (like I do in the form of Carbonite), you’ll appreciate the ability of BitDefender to schedule your file backups to your local drive or their online storage system. I’m currently using the online backup option for a handful of select files and I appreciate the email reports I receive from BitDefender that let me know any changes to the folder I’m backing up. See a sample email report below:
BitDefender Email Report for backup

Parental Control and Privacy

This is one place that BitDefender Total Security 2011 scores a win against Norton Internet Security 2010. First of all, I didn’t have to download a separate add-on like NIS 2010 makes you. Parental control is already available in BitDefender TS 2011 and waiting to be turned on. With Parental Controls in BitDefender TS 2011, you can be as restrictive as you want even to the point of specifying applications (and times that said applications) can access the internet, specifying “forbidden” keywords that’ll cause a site/email not to load, specifying the child’s age and letting BitDefender decide what sites to block, et cetera. It’s incredibly granular and if you love messing with settings, you’ll fall in love with this feature. In an even more awesome ‘twist’, you can access the log from your online account at BitDefender! Alas, I have no kids, but I’ve turned on parental controls for myself anyway just for kicks. 😛 The image below shows the options available for using the Parental Control feature in BitDefender Total Security 2011.
BitDefender Parental Control
The Privacy control aspect of BitDefender Total Security 2011 covers the standard protections such as identity, registry & cookie controls which are meant to help prevent the leaks of private information (like social security number, house addresses, etc) or shady sites dropping cookies they have no business doing. Leave the default setting (identity control is enabled by default, but you have to add the items you need protected) as-is unless you really want to be notified every minute about what site is dropping a cookie on your computer, etc.

PC Tune Up

BitDefender Tuneup
A lot of the tuning services performed by BitDefender TS 2011 can be done freely on your computer and truthfully speaking, I generally prefer to run those tune-ups with Windows built-in tools such as Disk Defragmenter or Disk Clean Up.
Windows 7 Tune Up Tools
However, BitDefender also lets you monitor your computer’s ‘health’ with this easy-to-use visual tool and lets you see & sort what programs or processes have been resource hogs. In fact, this tool reminds me of the Resource Monitor in Windows 7, but as you’ll see, BitDefender presents the information, quicker and in a more digestible format. Expectedly, you can only view this performance monitor if you’re in Intermediate or Expert mode.

BitDefender Performance Monitor
Sidenote: To access the resource monitor in Windows 7, start the “Task Manager” and navigate to the “Performance” tab.
Resource Mon in Task Manager
Resource Monitor on Windows 7

Minor Gripes

  1. I had last used the 2009 version of BitDefender Internet Security 2009. Here’s what that product looked like. Since the 2010 and now, 2011 versions, the color scheme has changed from red to blue. The blue color scheme feels dissonant and at odds with the prominent red logo, but that’s just me being weird.
  2. The Online Backup feature of BitDefender is only good for 2 gigabytes of data. In my case, it’s next to useless, but I’ve saved a handful of files already just to give the feature a fair shake. In any case, I strongly recommend a proper and dedicated online backup service like Carbonite or Mozy.
  3. Ability to turn off Antivirus or Firewall with 1-click (from the system tray) isn’t available. In Basic mode, you’ve got to make sure you enabled “Configure Firewall” and “Configure Antivirus” in order to cause those options to show up under the Security tab. Only then can you click on “Configure Firewall” or “Configure Antivirus” to turn off those features. In Intermediate mode, things are much better and you can turn off either the firewall or antivirus scanning with 2 clicks (navigate to the “Security” tab and click on the status you would like to turn on or off. Turning on/off the Antivirus/Firewall features in BitDefender’s Expert mode is similar to how one turns on/off AV and Firewall while in Intermediate mode. Overall, my peeve is that I can’t simply right-click the BitDefender icon in the system tray and turn the antivirus or firewall ON or OFF like Norton Internet Security 2010 does.
  4. During a scan, I wish BitDefender would allow you to click through to see suspicious items as they are being detected. Again, not a dealbreaker because after the scan is done, there is a summary that lets you see what further action needs to be taken.
    BitDefender Scan Report
  5. I have a lot of items integrated into my Windows Explorer interface. Here’s what the rightclick menu in Explorer looks like:
    bd-rightclick.png
    There are 3 entries for BitDefender as opposed to the typical single entry I’m used to from other applications. It’s obviously not a dealbreaker as it has the effect of getting me to the options quicker, but “cluttering” my rightclick menu.
  6. During the installation of BitDefender Total Security 2011, there was a ‘strange’ windows that showed avc3.sys was being installed. I didn’t get any warning about what this system file was, but I was concerned initially until I searched online & found that this was a BitDefender file. It would be helpful to be more explicit about what all is being installed to the computer. If it’s not information you wouldn’t want the customer to see, then, make it more hidden.
    BitDefender avc3.sys
  7. Installation of BitDefender TS 2011 was surprisingly difficult. Word to the wise: If you’ve had a previous AV or Internet Security Suite on your computers and after uninstalling this AV/Internet Security suite, you’re having troubles with installing your new AV/Internet Security suite, I humbly suggest that you’d be best served by performing the following precautionary steps:
    1. Running the removal tool for that particular AV/Internet Security Suite. Here are the links for the major security products: Norton Removal tool, McAfee removal tool, BitDefender Removal Tool, Kaspersky Removal Tool, Removal Script for Comodo, and AVG Removal Tool. Don’t forget to restart your computer when done.
    2. That said, the issue I ran into while installing BitDefender Total Security 2011 (BitDefender TS 2010) was that the program was unable to register my copy or update definitions because BitDefender TS 2010 alone couldn’t connect to the internet. It was after some online sleuthing that I discovered that I might need to run the Norton Removal Tool. Another trick, that I didn’t try, could be disable BitDefender’s Firewall according to this BitDefender forum post, but I didn’t try that out.In any case, I would recommend you do your research online, search your AV/Internet Security website’s forums and contact the support folk as well.
    3. Update: I installed BitDefender Total Security 2011 on a different computer and it went smoothly so don’t expect problems from the get-go. Simply: uninstall your previous Antivirus/Internet Security suite, restart your computer, install BitDefender and restart. 🙂

Overall Verdict

  1. Ease of use: BitDefender wins big time here. I love the 3 modes (Basic, Intermediate and Expert) that let you have access to as much or as little information you want.
  2. Proactive Stance of BitDefender: Not only is my notebook being actively protected against malware, but BitDefender Total Security 2011 goes the extra mile with the addition of encrypted files/chats, parental/privacy controls that prevent your personal info from being compromised, and automated local and online storage!
  3. Use of Computer Resources: BitDefender doesn’t slow my computer down which is great. It’s on par with NIS 2010, but it feels marginally faster than Norton.
  4. Network management: The interface for the network management feature is well designed. I love having the ability to update definitions or start a scan on computers in my network.
  5. Based on the above, I call BitDefender Total Security 2011 a keeper. *throws confetti* If your antivirus subscription to a competing product like Norton or Kaspersky is running out, take a good look at BitDefender Total Security 2011 for your needs. Visit BitDefender.com and the BitDefender online store for more of their offerings.

Update: Full video showing an install of BitDefender Total Security 2011 from Start to Finish without any issues I mentioned in this post:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki-iMYrx4wg

Disclosure: I received a free license for 1 year to try BitDefender Total Security 2011.

I look forward to reading your comments, experiences or corrections!