Today Google sent me an invite for Ingress – their latest augmented reality game [1]. The fact that they sent me the invitation while the Google Play store page for Ingress [2] tells me that it’s not available in my country (Australia) is interesting. Google obviously aren’t using their Big Brother powers effectively!

The way to install Ingress if you are in Australia, New Zealand, or other countries where it’s not supported is to do a Google search on the words “Ingress” and “APK” and take the highest available version (1.08 at the moment). Then you will find a web site that offers it with no authentication and the potential of getting a trojan version. Forcing people to install the software in an insecure manner doesn’t seem to be in the best interests of Google.

I first installed the game on my Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 which has a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 CPU and runs Android 2.3.3 compiled by Sony-Ericsson and performance was terrible. It often would fail to respond to the UI effectively, it would process touch actions after I had repeated them because they didn’t seem to have registered, scrolling text at the same speed as playing audio was apparently impossible.

Then I briefly tried running it on my Samsung Galaxy S which has a 1 GHz (ARM Cortex A8) CPU and runs Android 2.3.7 with a CyanogenMod-7.1.0-GalaxyS build. It seemed to be a bit faster but the difference was small enough that I could have imagined it.

I tried it on the cheap Onix tablet I bought from Aldi this morning [3] but it refused to work every time I tried and eventually crashed the tablet and forced me to use the reset button.

Finally I tried it on a Kogan Agora 10″ tablet running Android 4.0.4 with what Kogan describes as a 1GHz ARMv7 CPU and it seemed a lot more usable. I haven’t yet tried actually playing the game on the Kogan Agora tablet, but the fact that I can read the messages from other players is a significant improvement over the experience on the phones. On the phones the poor performance of the UI made it almost impossible to read messages from other players, now it’s merely extremely annoying.

I’m very disappointed with this. Almost three years ago I reviewed the Seer augmented reality software from IBM that performed tasks that are more demanding and did it well [4]. The IBM Seer software ran on a HTC Hero which had a 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7600A CPU, it’s really disappointing that Ingress can’t run well on modern phones – particularly as the “augmented reality” part of the game which I’ve seen so far is not much different to what Google Maps, Osmand, and other mapping programs do.

The IBM Seer software was good enough to drive the purchase of new phones. When I first got an Android phone almost two years ago I wanted to run such augmented reality software and it was a factor that determined my choice of phone. Unfortunately I still haven’t found anything to live up to that promise. IBM’s software was tailored to the Australian Open even a tennis fan would find it to be of little interest for about 360 days of the year and I haven’t found any other augmented reality software that is useful and works well (please let me know if there’s something I’ve missed).

I find it difficult to imagine that anyone would be inspired to change their phone purchase plans after seeing a demo of Ingress on any hardware that I own. It seems that it will probably be usable on my Xperia X10 and all features should work on the Kogan Agora tablet, but I don’t think that any of them will allow the game to live up to the hype.

Cheap Android Tablet from Aldi

back of the onix 7 inch tabletfront of the onix 7 inch tablet and cover of manual

I’ve just bought a 7″ Onix tablet from Aldi. It runs Android 4.0.4, has a 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU, 512M of RAM, 16G of flash storage, and a 800*480 display. They are selling rapidly and I don’t know how long they will last – probably you could get a returned one next week if you can’t get one today. But if you like pink then you may be able to get one (the black ones are selling out first).

The tablet seems like a nice piece of hardware, solid construction and it feels nice to hold. Mine has a minor screen defect, but that’s the sort of
thing you expect from a cheap device, apart from that the display is good.

The Wifi doesn’t seem to have as good a range as some other devices (such as my phones and the more expensive 10″ tablet I got from Kogan). This isn’t a
problem for me (the data intensive uses for this device will be in the same room as the AP) but could be a killer for some people. If you have your phone or a dedicated 3G Wifi AP in your pocket while using the tablet then it should be fine, but if you have an AP at the wrong end of your house then you could be in trouble. I found Youtube unusable due to slow downloading even when sitting next to my AP but I can play videos downloaded from iView that are on my local web server (which is more important to me). I expect that I will be able to play local copies of TED talks too.

The camera is bad by phone camera standards, fortunately I have no interest in using a tablet as a camera.

I had no real problems with the Google Play store (something that caused problems for some users of an earlier Aldi Android tablet). Generally the tablet works well.

The people who build Android for modern devices seem remarkably stupid when it comes to partitioning, every device I’ve seen has only a small fraction of the storage usable for apps. This tablet is the worst I’ve ever seen, it has 16G of storage of which there is 512M partitioned for apps of which only 400M is free when you first get the device! It comes pre-installed with outdated versions of the Facebook client and Google Maps (which isn’t very useful on a Wifi device) and some other useless things. If you upgrade them to the latest versions then you’ll probably lose another 100M of the 512M! Fortunately the Android feature to run apps from the VFAT partition works so I haven’t been prevented from doing anything by this problem yet.

In conclusion, it’s not the greatest Android tablet. But you don’t expect a great tablet for $100. What I hoped for was a somewhat low spec tablet that works reasonably well and that’s what I got. I’m happy.

Leaving Three

In February I started the process of moving my phone and my wife’s phone to Virgin from Three [1]. The reason is that Three didn’t offer any good phones on affordable contracts, the cheapest that was suitable was a HTC Desire HD which would have cost me $55 per month, while I could justify spending that for my own phone (which is used for responding to SMS from Nagios to fix client servers) I didn’t have the budget to spend that much on my wife’s phone too – and I really want us to have the same type of phone for ease of support. So I chose Virgin who offers the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 for as little as $29 per month – I chose a $39 per month deal that included 1500MB of data transfer and also had three months free which makes it effectively $34.12 per month.

When using previous phones that weren’t particularly smart I had also carried a Netbook and a 3G modem with me most of the time. Now that I have a phone that is a ssh client I don’t need that so I tried to cancel the contract today.

Three allows you to do almost everything over the Internet except cancel a contract – their web site doesn’t even give a phone number to call for that purpose. This must keep their support people busy, Vodaphone (which has just merged with Three) has recently had a horrible security breach because their sales booths used public Internet access for all customer data [2]. Also there is currently a law suit against Vodafone for poor network performance and misleading claims about service areas [3]. My experience with Three performance has been reasonably good apart from the fact that they advertised 3G service in Bendigo and provided none.

As Three are apparently desperate to retain customers they offered me free service for 6 months if I don’t close the account now. So I have a SIM that supports 1G of 3G data transfer per month for no charge until December (worth $90). What can I do with it? I don’t own a 3G modem as I gave that to my parents (who are quite happy with pre-paid 3G net access via Three) and the phones that I have which can be used for tethering are a little slow (usable for ssh and basic web access but not for Youtube etc).

Is there a way of selling such a SIM? Note that my name is still on the contract and any excess data or roaming fees will be billed to me so I can’t just put it on ebay.

I guess that one thing I can do is to use the SIM for receiving phone calls. For example if a friend was visiting from another country and wanted to receive calls without paying roaming fees I could lend them a phone.

Any ideas?