Sunday, 11 July 2010

launch2net premium - Mobile Internet made Easier

I've been using Mobile internet devices ever since they first became available but since moving onto the OS X and Apple platform I've have always found that the software provided leaves a lot to be desired. Windows users have always been fairly well catered for, but Mac users seem to have considered as second class citizens. I've always been able to get USB Modems and Dongles to work, but it's always been a fiddle, rather than a simple one click and it's done operation.

Most recently in the UK, I was using an offering from Vodafone, which made me get an initial connection using their rather substandard software, and then physically connect through the Network preferences or modem icon in the menu. If I wanted to monitor my usage (3Gb/month) I also had to run some 3rd party software. In my case I elected to use SurplusMeter by SkoobySoft.

However about a year ago, I chanced upon a piece of software that looked like it could make Mobile Internet on the Mac a much simpler experience. I think it may have been a promotion on MacPromo but I can't really remember anymore. I downloaded the trial and within a few minutes paid for a licence. The software in question was launch2net and it was a one stop click to connect and I think it included monitoring, but I can't honestly remember as I now use its grown up big brother launch2net Premium.

launch2net (I'll drop the premium suffix for the rest of this piece) is a stand-alone application that supports numerous mobile modem devices. It pretty much configures itself when a new device is plugged in, works out the appropriate settings, locates a suitable internet signal 3G, 2G, GPRS or EDGE, and waits for you to confirm the connection. Once you connect it then monitors your usage and signal strength, and when you are finished you simply disconnect by clicking on the appropriate button. Simple, huh?


It doesn't end there, however. The premium version also allows you to generate a wifi signal from your connection (with security) by setting up an internet sharing capability. This is a killer feature and is worth the cost of the licence for me. I'm currently living and working in Switzerland. Because I'm only here for a short contract, I can't get fixed line broadband so I need PAYG mobile internet. My flat is also out of reach of a commercial wireless network which makes my iPhones look a bit miserable.

With my Orange CH 3G dongle and launch2net I'm able to pick up a pretty good 3G signal and generate a 40-bit WEP encrypted WiFi signal which gets my both my iPhone 4 and 3G connected to the network. (I have two phones because one has a local Swiss SIM card in, and the other is my normal UK phone). To be fair to Orange, they have actually provided a pretty good connection application for the Mac, and it's a little bit quicker to use than launch2net, but then again it is dedicated to the Orange network and configured accordingly. It can't however generate the WiFi signal that keeps my phones on-line. launch2net can alternatively use 128-bit WEP encryption, but I'm not too bothered about that - I'm not on-line for long periods and there's not much confidential stuff going across the network anyhow.

launch2net isn't without its problems. I did have to configure the settings for the Swiss Orange network but the information was easily located by running a Google search. The 3G dongle modem supplied isn't listed as being supported by launch2net but it worked without any problems. For the technically curious it's a Huawei E1552 - 900/2100 HSDPA/UMTS, 4-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM with upto 3.6Mbps download speed.

The other functionality built into launch2net is an SMS messaging centre, which pretty much does what it says, and allows you to send, receive and manage SMS messages across the internet. There are also quite a number of configuration settings allowing you to choose between monitoring home or roaming sessions, and other interesting things. Of course, it's also possible to set up custom settings for networks as I had to for Orange CH.

Before leaving the UK I tried the software (I have a second licence) in my Hackintosh but I wasn't able to get it to work. Although the software runs in demo/trial mode, I cannot get it to activate with the licence information. The Novamedia technical support folk were very helpful but could not resolve the issue. This is a real shame, but it's one of the risks you take when using a Hackintosh - it's even more frustrating given that's thing that fails is not actually part of the real function of the software. I wish there was a file that they could send me to bypass the physical activation process and allow me to register my license but at the moment they've not provided me with that option. It's also disappointing because there were no problems at all with the previous version.

All in all, I'm really impressed with launch2net. I love its simplicity - it does all the technical stuff behind the scenes and simply allows me to do what I want to do - namely connect and go. The WiFi bonus is awesome - I can't over emphasise that - and it's great not having to remember to switch on a secondary monitoring programme. Novamedia strongly recommend that you try out the software before purchase to ensure it works with your hardware, which seems like pretty good advice.

Oh, and before you ask - yes it does work with Snow Leopard 10.6.4!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

iPhone 4 One Week On...

I finally got confirmation for the contract in Zurich and things were pretty hectic for a period of 10 days trying to get everything sorted out, and spending some quality time with my girlfriend and other pals before departure. Which makes the fact that I went and queued for just over 5 hours outside not just one, but two, O2 shops for an iPhone 4 even more ludicrous than it would normally have been. But I did, and I'm happy to say it was worth every second of waiting.
I've never queued up for an Apple product in the past. I'm generally an early adopter for new technology, but finances have been a bit tight recently and I've had to balance my desire for leading edge tech with the realities of post recessional Britain. So I got an 3G iPhone about 16 months ago and missed out on the 3GS. But with Switzerland calling, I decided to "go for it", so I'd have something to play with for the next six months.

Because of circumstances I ended up with a 16Gb Black iPhone 4 - it seemed that in O2 land you could have any model as long as it was a 16Gb Black one. On reflection, this was a good thing - I saved about £100 on the cost of the handset over the 32Gb model I had set out to buy. I figured that the extra space would be great for putting a larger number of songs on, but we'll come back to that shortly.

I suffered the same fate as a number of users in the UK on launch day - activation seemed to take an eternity. In my case it was about four hours from putting in the micro SIM card to having an operational phone. Luckily the old phone remained functional until just a few minutes before the new one clicked in. My initial sync with iTunes was fairly painless, but because I manage my music manually, the restore function from the 3G to the 4 ignored my old selection. This was disappointing as I've honed that list carefully over the past year and a half. All the apps seemed to transfer over without issue, but on closer look later, it turned out that I had to modify settings, userid and passwords on many of my apps.

For the first time I selected the option on the iTunes sync page to compress higher bit rate songs while copying them onto mobile devices. This had the effect of allowing me to load over eight hundred more songs than I'd previously had - thereby reducing the need for the extra 16Gb I had initially planned for. I personally can't tell the difference in quality - especially whilst out in the real world with all it's surrounding white noise.

What about the phone itself? It's definitely smaller and slightly more comfortable to hold, even with a "bumper" on. I couldn't tell any difference in weight. The screen is simply stunning, but you really notice the effect when looking at 3G and 4 models displaying the same picture at the same time. The 3G looks decidedly blurred in comparison to the "retina" screen. The responsiveness of the new model to touch also seems greatly improved, and I don't find myself trying to clean the screen of sticky finger prints anywhere near as much as I did with the 3G.
I've been fortunate enough not to have suffered from any of the (now) well documented issues. Despite being left handed I've had no problems with reception while holding the phone - but I'm not sure if having the Apple bumper may make a difference. I've also not noticed any of the yellow screen effects mentioned by some users. The whole phone blanked out on me a couple of days ago but normal service returned after plugging it into the MBP - scary, for a while, but no lasting damage other than to my nerves.

I'm quite comfortable with Apple's implementation of "multi-tasking" in iOS 4, although with the exception of the in-built apps, I'm not sure how many of my apps take full advantage of it. The test will come with updates to programmes like Text Expander or 1Password which are so frustrating to use on the current platforms. It is kind of cool however to play Bejewelled Blitz and be able to answer the phone without killing the game! I know, what an abuse of technology!
I've had a little play with the new video camera, one of the key features for me and I like what I see. Now I'm in Zurich I'll be able to put it through it's paces a bit more thoroughly. I also like the new standard camera and it's front and rear facing availability. However I've not tried FaceCall yet. I don't know anyone I can test it out on!

So there it is, iPhone 4 one week on. I'm really pleased with the new device - for me it has certainly lived up to expectations, and I've still got more stuff to check out. Maybe you should wait until Apple get the antennae issues resolved, or maybe you'll just have to wait because they're all sold out, but when you finally get your hands on one, you won't be sorry!