Top 10 NZ Android Apps

That is, the top 10 NZ Android apps as judged and used by me!

Since I last posted a bunch of  New Zealand apps, lots of new ones have been released – some of which I’ve grabbed and use frequently. Here’s the 2012 list of my favourite NZ Android Apps…

MetService

Firstly, a disclaimer – I work at MetService! That said, the MetService app is fantastic and I use it every day. The app is focused on city forecasts with up to the minute current conditions overlayed on beautiful background photos to match the forecast. You can also view warnings, live radar imagery, rainfall maps or spot forecast data, MetServiceTV videos and traffic cams. And if you want to customise the app a little, you can set your own background photos then brag to the world by sharing your personalised forecast. 🙂

  

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Stuff.co.nz

Stuff remains my goto site for news and afaik the app hasn’t changed since I last posted about it. The default section remains “top stories” (which can’t be changed) but it is easy to get to the menu to swap to another section. When viewing an article, swipe left or right to navigate through that section. While the app is free, you can expect little banner ads mixed into the article list. My only real gripe is that it doesn’t have the “pull down to refresh” action – instead the refresh button is hidden in the menu (could easily be a button on the top menu bar).

  

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My Account – Vodafone NZ

Vodafone have made a nice job of this app – it presents everything I need to know about my account from current usage, to calling rates in both NZ and abroad along with other plan details. As you might expect it also lets you top up your account and has a handy store finder map in the event you need to visit a Vodafone retail store.

  

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PriceSpy

Great for the tech enthusiasts out there, or anyone about to buy some computer hardware, electronics, games, gadgets or devices! Before purchasing, I always use PriceSpy to get a roundup of prices from many retailers to ensure I’m getting the best deal. The app has a few ways of getting to a product listing – either via searching for a specific item, browsing categories, or scanning a barcode.

  

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Trade Me

The Trade Me app is new since I last composed an apps list around a year ago and following a few updates it now has most of the features people were looking for in early releases. There are plenty of options for both buyers and sellers including searching and browsing, watchlists, bidding, listing items, asking/answering questions, providing feedback etc. And to ensure you don’t miss out on that next bargin, the app also has push notifications for items closing soon, when you’re outbid or have a fixed price offer to review.

  

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Flicks.co.nz

Flicks.co.nz is a New Zealand movie guide with info, reviews and trailers for current and upcoming movies. As you might expect, you can also get session times per movie in your local area, or you can browse all movies screening at a particular theatre in the next few days with theatre listings including contact info and a map. While the app is free, you will see some little banner ads at the bottom of each listing.

  

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GeoNet

This is another new app since my original list and is the official app from GeoNet using data from their Rapid (Beta) service which is automated and very fast following a quake. The app has options to let you filter quakes based on location or intensity and you can also change notification settings. In addition to a listing of recent quakes for your settings, you can also view quakes on a map with links through to the GeoNet website for for details.

(at time of writing the app appears to have a bug on Jelly Bean preventing scrolling and/or pulling up more info on the main quakes list. I’ve emailed GeoNet who will hopefully respond and/or fix it!
UPDATE, 20 Aug: Richard Guest, GeoNet Senior Software Engineer, has advised there is indeed a bug that is now scheduled for a fix with the next release. Yay!
)

  

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Wellington Airport Flight Info

This one is a simple app to view arrival/departure info for both domestic/international flights at Wellington. Handy if you need to drop off or collect someone to see if flights are running to schedule, but also to answer questions from kids when plane spotting! The app is free but plugs parking services with little banner ads interspersed with the flight info.

  

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Countdown Shopping

Another newcomer to my list, and personally handy as I chose to shop at the local Countdown Supermarket. This app takes a fair amount of time to set up in that you’ll need to populate your shopping list(s) by either searching, browsing or scanning to find items – scanning barcodes is by far the fastest for getting items into a list. Once you have a master list, you can then change the number of items you want for the pending shop, with the list automatically sorting to match the local store layout. The app also has a few other features including specials listings, Onecard integration for your points balance and of course there is a store finder.

  

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Snapper Mobile

This one is pretty specialised in that you need to be a Snapper user, with a NFC enabled phone, and preferably with a Touch2Pay SIM from 2degrees! If you can tick all those boxes, then you can use the app and your phone just as a regular Snapper card. I’m not a 2degrees customer, but I still find the app useful for both checking my Snapper card balance and topping it up.

  

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But wait! There’s more! Here’s my bonus app…

Air NZ mPass

The sole reason this isn’t in my top 10 NZ apps is that I fly infrequently so rarely use the app. That said though, when you are flying Air NZ this is a great app for access to all your flight info including digital boarding pass, seat/gate numbers, Airpoints balance along with airport info and maps.

  

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There are of course lots of other NZ apps on Google Play, but the above have earned a place on my phone for regular use. If you’ve read down to here and have your own favourite NZ app that’s not mentioned above, give it a plug in the comments…

Note, screenshots above were taken today on a Nexus S running Jelly Bean 4.1.1 – except for the Air NZ mPass screenshots that were snapped on the same phone running ICS earlier in the year.

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No Carrier IQ on my Samsung Galaxy 580

Last week there was a bit of media kerfuffle about “Carrier IQ” – a hidden application installed on some phones that can log all sorts of things for the phone company (see this Lifehacker article with links to Android developer Trevor Eckhart’s posts here and here – the dev who discovered the app).

While I’m not overly concerned about the app, given that Vodafone NZ deny using it and as it turns out the logging/spying appears to have overblown given this post by security researcher Dan Rosenberg, I thought I’d try out one of the detector apps to satisfy my curiosity. The app I tried was the Voodoo Carrier IQ detector and it came up clean for me:

Part of the reason I wanted to check myself is that I’m not running the phone+software as purchased from Vodafone NZ. I rooted my phone and installed a new Froyo ROM on it (see this post) and as such is not running fully vetted/authorised by Vodafone NZ.

So, despite a lack of concern it’s nice to see it’s not on my phone. 🙂

For completeness, my phone is a Samsung Galaxy 580 (aka Galaxy 3 or GT-I5800) running Froyo 2.2 (an XXJPM build) on the Vodafone NZ network. Here’s my about/status screens:

 

Google doodle for NZ election

Nice little Google doodle for today:

New Zealand General Elections 2011

🙂

NZ Android Apps

A quick post to share the New Zealand focused Android Apps I’m currently using.

Stuff.co.nz

My goto site for NZ news – Stuff.co.nz. The app is nicely done and has earned a place on my homescreen. It defaults to “top stories” when you open it, but has easy access to sub-sections and once in a story you can swipe left and right to cycle through the articles in that section.

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My Account – Vodafone NZ

As you might expect, this app gives you fast access to your account summary, top up and plan details. It also sports a store finder map in the event you need to visit the bricks and mortar to see a human or fondle a phone.

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Quick Quake Viewer

This app provides info on both worldwide and NZ earthquakes, using GeoNet information for local quakes. Area options include Worldwide M5+ or M2.5+ and NZ M2.5+ and the app can optionally auto-update in the background. The quick view list includes magnitude, location, time and distance from you or a set location, and if you long-press a quake in the list you can get at the full GeoNet info, or tap to get a Google map with location marker.

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Wellington Airport Flight Info

A nice, simple interface to get at flight information for domestic/international arrivals/departures. Great if live near the airport and need to collect people or have kids who like plane spotting (as I do on both counts!) Feel free to smile at the kiwi-isms for the flight status e.g. Sweet As! for on time and Bugger! for delayed. 🙂

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Flicks.co.nz

A local movie guide with two basic sections for browsing – Movies and Sessions. Movies are presented with poster thumbnails grouped into Top 10, Now Playing and Coming Soon, linking to movie info, trailers, reviews and theatre session times.

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PriceSpy

If you buy tech hardware including computer components, electronics and games in NZ (or Norway and Sweden) then you should always visit PriceSpy first to check out online price comparisons. Admittedly I don’t use the PriceSpy app much (I frequently visit their website instead) but it does give the same info as the website and could well come in handy if you’re out and about and contemplating an impulse buy!

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So there you have it. My top 6 NZ specific Android apps. If you’ve got any other favourite apps for kiwis, let me know in the comments!

Android 2.2 Froyo on my Samsung Galaxy 580 (NZ)

After waiting for months for any word of Froyo coming to the Galaxy 580 (aka Galaxy 3, or GT-I5800) here in New Zealand, including calls/emails to both Vodafone and Samsung here in NZ, I found the following post by admin “johnr” in the Vodafone forums,

Aarrgh! Damn you Vodafone.

Not content with that answer, I decided to take matters into my own hands, void my warranty and flash Froyo onto my phone. In short, I got it up and running on the second try and am stoked to be rocking 2.2. 😀

Pics or it didn’t happen right? Sure, here ya go:

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Here’s the nitty gritty…

Rooting and Flashing.
First up, the standard disclaimer. If you do this, you will void your warranty and you may lose some functionality on your phone, gain undesirable behaviour, or could even totally brick your phone. If that freaks you out or you can’t afford to replace it if it goes horribly wrong, don’t do it! And don’t be blaming me if it goes pear shaped!

That said, there are plenty of benefits in rooting and/or flashing your phone. Gaining root access will let you get at some deep dark parts of your phone and the OS, permitting you to run powerful apps (e.g. Titanium Backup). AFAIK rooting is reversable, so you can undo it. Flashing a new ROM on the other hand may not be reversable, unless you have a backup of your pre-existing ROM, or can get your hands on one to flash it back.

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Froyo 2.2.
My Galaxy 580 came with Eclair 2.1 installed. Since this was my first Android experience (I came to it from a Nokia 6234) I was impressed. However, being the geek that I am I started poking around, installing apps at will, and soon found some limitations that I knew were addressed in newer Android versions. The two features I most wanted was a solid way to disable packet data and the ability to move apps to the SD card to both free up internal phone memory and to allow more apps to be installed. Of course a shinier interface and newer features never goes astray either!

When I asked Vodafone directly about an update to Froyo via email they replied with:

2.2 has been released but to confirm it is available for your model phone and how to get you are best to contact Samsung directly

So I emailed Samsung and got the following response:

Unfortunately at this stage no release date has been set. please feel free to check back with us at any stage

Then I found the forum post in the screenshot above which made me angry enough to immediately flash my phone!

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Resources and Requirements:
All the info, software and background reading you’ll require can be found at xda-developers.com (specifically in the forums) and at SamFirmware.com. I’m not going to duplicate everything here, but you will need USB drivers for your phone, the Odin downloader software and a Firmware to flash.

Here’s the references I used (in the case of the forum posts, I did read most of the threads – not just the top level posts):

xda-developers:

SamFirmware:

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Notes on my experience:

  • I did root my phone first (using z4root) so I could run Titanium Backup, although root isn’t required to flash a new ROM.
  • Backup backup backup! I don’t keep any text messages and all my contacts live at Google which just get synced to the phone. As such, the only things I needed to backup were my apps/data on the phone (which I actually didn’t care about since they can all be installed again later, incl apps you’ve paid for. I didn’t worry about game saves etc, so I lost all game progress – meh, I was over Angry Birds anyway!). Note that anything on the SD card (photos, files etc) is left untouched.
  • Prior to flashing I did remember to record the VFNZ APN settings for both Internet and PXT. These have to manually set after flashing, and are listed online in the Vodafone forum here.
  • I used a stock Samsung Firmware without a bootloader – everything I read suggested this would be more stable and the lack of bootloader means you won’t brick your phone. Initially I tried I5800XWJPF but it didn’t work – my phone wouldn’t startup and hung on the boot screen, so I then re-flashed with I5800XXJPM which worked fine! I grabbed both firmwares from the xda forum not samfirmware – might as well let someone else remove the bootloaders!
  • I didn’t install Kies first – I had it a while ago, but it’s a POS (just like iTunes!) IMHO so I deleted it soon after installing it! This is recommended so you have the latest USB drivers, but you can get them from samfirmware. The only thing you need Kies for is to get software updates, and well, since Vodafone don’t appear to be doing amy more for the 580 I’m turning my back on them and Kies and doing it myself. Note that I can still transfer files to/from my PC via USB using the phone as a mass storage device, or via ftp over wifi – nice!
  • I did do the flashing without the SIM and SD card installed just in case anything went wrong. Some people say it’s not necessary, but I decided to play it safe.
  • Once done, I reset the APN and phone settings, re-installed my apps, synced to Google and other services and it was all good.

And that’s about it! Now, I should probably answer two post-flash questions you might have…

Any problems?
Not really. However I do think the reported size of apps (via the manage apps settings) is incorrect. Not a biggy, as it still reports the correct usage for the SD card and internal storage.

How’s the performance?
Awesome! In fact I think the phone is snappier through menus etc now under 2.2 than it was under 2.1. It could just be the eye candy distracting me, but I think my phone actually runs better now.

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Final words…
So, it does take a leap of faith to do this sort of thing, but I’ve been voiding warranties, flashing firmwares and building PC’s for a while now so I’m quite happy doing so.

If it ain’t broke, take it apart and fix it! 😉

Thumbs down to the new Copyright Amendment Bill

By now most people in NZ are probably aware that the Government rushed into law the Copyright (Infringing File-Sharing) Amendment Bill on Thursday under urgency on the back of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill. Formerly dubbed the guilt-upon-accusation or 3-strike law, this new law includes a revamp of Section 92A that sparked much controversy and backlash in 2009. Instead of providing a run-down here, I’ll throw up a bunch of links worth checking out to see what others have to say. Incidentally, the new bill was supported by both National and Labour and only the Greens, Hone Harawira and Chris Carter opposed it.

The bill itself:

Comments and reactions:

And how’s this for the ultimate in hyprocracy – National MP Melissa Lee, who spoke in favour of the bill, has inadvertently ousted herself as a pirate! Check out the offending tweet and subsequent news story from NBR and TorrentFreak.

Finally, I think this cartoon from around the time of S92A in early 2009 sums up the situation nicely,

Oh, and just in case you were concerned, as noted in the cartoon it’s not subject to copyright. It has been released into the public domain.

Broadband data caps in New Zealand

Yesterday Ars Technica ran an article titled “It could be worse: data caps around the world“, which took a very brief look at some broadband data caps in Canada, the UK and Australia – no doubt to make those in the US feel better about their own (large) data caps.

Here in NZ we like to pride ourselves on being up there with the best in the world, and pricy capped/tiered broadband data plans are no exception! In fact, I’d wager we were strides ahead of much of the world in introducing tiered plans for both speed and data. I base this assumpution on the complaints I’ve heard over the months/years on the various tech podcasts I listen to (mostly from the TWiT network). On most (if not all!) occasions I could easily refute those complaints with a statement not unlike the title of that Ars article – “hey, it could be worse – come to NZ!”.

So what is the state of broadband data caps here in New Zealand? Here’s a quick look around the five main broadband providers in NZ (as listed by the Commerce Commission in their Dec 2010 broadband quality report)…

Note, the summary below only lists the main plans from the respective ISPs. There are other options available, but these are probably not the norm and are not directly comparible across ISPs (eg Vodafone and Slingshot offer naked broadband plans with similar data caps to their other plans and TelstraClear offer economy broadband with speeds of 256kbps and data packs of 500MB).

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Telecom

Telecom lists a maximum data cap of 40GB – “Great for heavy internet users“. The plan details page also says “Quench all your internet thirsts with a huge 40GB of data, but if that’s still not enough, you can choose to upgrade your Total Home Broadband package to 60GB or even 80GB“. Incidentally, if you want that 80GB package you’ll have to fork out $145/month which does include a landline (a requirement on all listed plans). And if you go over that cap? Don;t worry, they’ve got you covered: “If you exceed your monthly data allowance, you can choose to continue at dial up speed for free, or your usual speed at a $2 per GB rate for the rest of your billing month“.

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TelstraClear

Unlike Telecom, there is no limit on how much data TelstraClear will let you use, you just have to buy another add-on pack for the same price as your usual monthly pack – the largest of which is 25GB for $30 (on top of a baseplan starting at $75/month). That 25GB data pack is described as “Ideal for the more serious user. Approximately 8 hours per day of frequent, heavy downloading of files and services. E.g. 2,500 hours of gaming” and if you go over it “another pack of the same size will automatically be allocated“.

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Vodafone

The largest data cap from Vodafone is 30GB on their “Ultimate” plan  – “Ideal for heavy internet users who frequently download and share music, photos and videos, or use the internet for gaming“. If that’s not enough data, “you have the option to slow down to 64kbps for the rest of the month or buy extra data“. To buy extra data you can double your data on any of the listed plans for a fee (eg $5.10 for another 2GB on the Basic plan, and $30.60 for another 30GB on the Ultimate plan).

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Slingshot

Slingshot offer a max data cap of 40GB on their Elite plan – “If you want full noise, then this is it! Full Speed up and down and a massive data cap“. However, all their plans also come with “free off-peak” data meaning that whatever data is used during the offpeak period (essentially overnight, but varies according to plan) won’t count towards the monthly data cap. Extra data can be purchased in blocks (2GB=$5, 5GB=$10, 20GB=$25, 50GB=$50) or alternatively “If you don’t want to purchase additional data we’ll just ease you back to dial-up speeds“. Also wirth noting here is that Slingshot offer “data banking” explained as follows: “If you buy a data block, the unused amount at the end of the month will roll over into the next month for when you next need it – each block lasts for 12 months“.

(Note, for comparitive purposes with other ISP plans presented here, you’ll need to add Slingshot’s homeline cost of $49 to the prices listed below.)

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Orcon

Orcon have two separate ranges of plans depending on whether you’re in the “Orcon+ Network” or not (ie exchanges that have been unbundled – mostly in Auckland). Either way, their largest data cap is 30GB on their Platinum plans. Additional data is charged at $2/GB or you can purchase a data block (5GB=$9, 10GB=$15, 25GB=$27, 50GB=$55, 100GB=$85, 200GB=$165, 300GB=$245). Line speeds for all plans are listed as “Maximum download and upload speeds that your line can support“.

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So there you go. Whereas in the US you can get 150GB from AT&T or 250GB from Comcast, and in Canada you can get an “Ultimate” plan from Rogers with 175GB, here in NZ the biggest data cap on a base plan is 40GB with free offpeak data via Slingshot. You can of course get more data than the standard caps ranging from 25-40GB, but you’ll have to be willing to pay more than the monthly costs ranging between $100-130 (for both broadband and a landline phone).

As with providers in other countries, data beyond the listed caps is covered by a mix of either throttling or purchased data blocks. For speeds however, no guarantees are made with all ISP’s cunningly listing speeds as “max” for the line – which could mean anything in the real world!