Apple, Gadgets, Google, Microsoft

Project your device screen to TV

Video Projectors in conference rooms and Televisions are two equipments which have 98% unwanted user controls and features. In my view the job of a projector or a TV is to simply show the input it gets. There is no need for 200 buttons on them and in their remote controls. In every presentation I have done in last two decades there has been only a handful of events where I could effortlessly show my laptop onto the big screen. The sad truth is that it need not be this way and Steve Jobs with obsession over simplicity proved it.

In my living room I have been using Apple TV for last four years. To throw the display from any Apple device (say iMac or iPad) to a big screen, Apple TV is still the simplest. Thanks to Apple’s AirPlay technology and their Remote App.

Life was never meant to be easy, especially technology gadgets. My world is not Apple exclusive.  In my house & work there are Windows PC, Windows Phone, Android Phone apart from iMac & iPad. So what’s is out there that can help me. When I started searching on the subject I was prepared not to find a single device that will work across all platforms. Before I write down what I found, time for a disclaimer. I am yet to try out these gadgets on my own, what I have given below are my armchair observations. 

Teewe

We will start with a Bangalore (India) product. It’s called Teewe, this device is probably the cheapest you can get in India,  costing INR 1999 ($32).  It’s a small USB dongle like gadget that has just two ports, one Micro USB for power input and the second a HDMI port connects to TV/Projector to output video/audio. Teewe allows you to play content (Music, Videos and Pictures) from your local device or from YouTube, on to a big screen (TV/Projector). Teewe gadget has no controls on it (I like this). You control it remotely from an App that’s available for Android, iOS, Mac OS X & Windows PC (no Windows Phone). It requires an existing Wi-Fi Network to which both your device (Phone/Laptop) and Teewe gadget can both connect to.

One missing feature for me was Teewe not supporting screen casting. This means Teewe can’t mirror your entire device screen (say Android phone or Windows laptop) on to the big screen. This means you can’t project your Powerpoint slides or Excel spreadsheets or Internet browser.

If Music/Video/Photo/YouTube is all you want to play on a big screen and your device is Android, iOS, Mac OS X or Windows PC, you should try out Teewe.

An HDMI dongle which plugs into your TV.

Teepee – An HDMI dongle which plugs into your TV

Google Chromecast

In this HDMI dongle, this is the widely familiar product – Google Chromecast, costing $35 in USA. This week Google India that Chromecast will be coming soon to India for Rs.2999 ($49). This too looks like Teewe, has a HDMI and Micro USB Port (for Power), has an App for Android, iOS, Mac OS X and Windows PC devices (again no Windows Phone). It allows you to play any media (Video, Picture, Music) and YouTube content. Apart from this you can screencast what’s on your Android device (this works only for Android) and Google Chrome browser tabs. There is currently an “experimental” mode to screencast your entire desktop (PC screen) using Chromecast as well.

This gadget is a widely supported one across many apps and platforms, apps including Plex.TV support Chromecast.

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast

Update 12/Dec/2014: Google updated screen casting to work with any device running Android 4.4.2 or higher with the Chromecast app, which can now share screen to Chromecast.

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

You know it’s a Microsoft product because of the uncool name it has – Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter. Its available only in USA and it costs $60.

This is also a USB dongle like device with HDMI and MicroUSB port for power. It has apps for Android & Windows 8 that allows you to play not only media but entire screen including presentations from your Windows PC or Android devices. This is the only device that I could find that supports Windows Phone. It’s a Miracast supported device. Microsoft’s device uses Wi-Fi Direct which means even if you don’t have a Wi-Fi network your mobile device and Wireless Display Adapter can work together.

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Windows 7 Screencasting

If your device that you want to project is not an Android/iOS/Mac OS/Windows 8 but old Windows 7, then you need to buy any one of the 3rd party gadgets out there. I found this one called Actiontec Screenbeam costing $70 or so.

Others

Apart from the above products, I noticed there are two other popular gadgets. First is Amazon Fire TV Stick costing $39 and supports voice commands. Second is Roku Streaming stick costing $50. Both come with convenient remote control as well.

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Google, Microsoft, Miscellanous

USB to Ethernet Adapter

I have a  Surface Pro that I use when I am travelling. When you are travelling (I do little of it nowadays) you will find yourself in locations (strangely) that still has an Ethernet port available but no Wi-Fi. In some hotels Wired (Ethernet) Internet may be free, but Wi-Fi  chargeable. So it’s good always to be able to connect one of your device to wired ethernet. Surface Pro, just like MacBook Air or iPad doesn’t have an Ethernet Port. To connect you will need a USB to Ethernet Adapter. I was having one inexpensive one when I was using MacBook Air few years back, that I seemed to have misplaced.

I went to my local electronics shop and bought the below device. It was a Chinese made device called “Live Tech USB 2.0 LAN Adapter” that costed Rs.390 (USD 6) . Plugging it in Surface Pro, Windows 8.1 immediately recognised the device and installed the necessary drivers. I was up and running in few minutes. Speed was good for normal usage that I tested on.

Live Tech USB 2.0 to LAN Adapter

Live Tech USB 2.0 to LAN Adapter

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Gadgets, Google

VoIP Services I am using now

Like many in Indian Software services industry with teams in USA and servicing customers in North America, I too make many calls to US  every work week. To do this cost effectively and to have a US Phone number, the option is to use a VoIP (Voice over IP) service.

Vonage to Ooma

In my business, for last 10 years we were using Vonage.com VoIP service. For the two numbers based on our usage we were paying $80-130 per month inclusive of taxes. In the Internet world of lowering cost, this was strange, as our spends remained the same or was increasing slightly year on year. Recently we started to experience poorer voice quality, which I suspect may be due to latency in our Internet broadband in India (we are using a dedicated leased line of 16 Mbps for every ~50 users) and Vonage not being able to adjust dymanically to it. Few months back I checked out for alternatives, I came across many including Ooma.com, 8×8.com. They were offering Conference facility, Voice Mail, Business Extensions and so on. I was disappointed that Vonage was not innovating, though they were a good service, there was nothing new coming from them. (While writing this post, I checked out Vonage website, I noticed they have a new Vonage Business Portal with many new features).

In this background, on a friend’s recommendation few months back I moved my business connections from Vonage to Ooma Business. We got a new device from Ooma that supports attaching up to 4 phone instruments, unlimited extensions and other features. One by one we ported both our numbers (425, 206 Area code) from Vonage to Ooma, they guided on the process and it went well. We discontinued our Vonage subscription. Ooma currently don’t have a Mobile app for Business users. Now for last 3 months, we are paying around $58 ($40 for service plus taxes) for 2 numbers of unlimited calling to US. And Voice quality so far has been good, no complaints from users.

MagicJack

While I was using Vonage (and now Ooma) at work, I needed a VoIP connection in my house for late night calls from India. Few years back while visiting USA, I brought a MagicJack device which I had purchased for ~$50 which included a free subscription for 2 years unlimited calls to USA. Voice quality was fine, but to use it you had to connect the USB device to your PC and be running an app in your PC. This was a nuisance for regular calls. Later MagicJack introduced MagicJack Plus, which you could run without a PC, just plugin 3 cables (USB Charger, RJ11 to a Phone Instrument, RJ45 to your Network) to the device and you are good to go.  I found the MagicJack Plus device to be working fine for me, once the initial free subscription that came with the device ended, I renewed my subscription. At that time they offered a irresistible deal of 5 years unlimited calls to US at ~ $59.95, which I gladly paid.

Few weeks back the device (MagicJack Plus) conked off. I saw MagicJack was now having a new device called “MagicJack Go” for $59.95 plus taxes. It was advertised that the new device will include a one year free subscription (unlimited calls to US), but I was not sure whether my existing US number will port to the new device and whether I will get the remaining subscription period migrated from the earlier device to this new one. Anyways since a  colleague was returning from US I bought the device online.

Yesterday I connected the device (MagicJack Go) to my iMac at home, installed the app that it prompted me to do so. After logging in using my MagicJack credentials, the app wizard guided me to have my existing number (425 *** ****) ported from the old device to new one. In the process it added the remaining subscription duration to the free 1 year that came with the new device. This whole process from the time of inserting the device to making a call with the new device, was about 5 minutes. It was all self-service, no need to speak to any customer care. I have been using MagicJack for many years now, I was really surprised to see how far they have come in their online self-service and account management. In their initial days you had to literally hunt for the screen in their website to see your account details or even renew the service.

I have started using MagicJack App for Android Phone for last few months. The App has been impressive and extremely convenient to make calls even when I am not in my den. Unfortunately it has been crashing for last few days after I upgraded to Lollipop (Android 5.0) in my Nexus 5.0.

Skype Phone calls

Lastly, apart from VoIP services I use, I try to maintain a balance of Euro 10-20 in my Skype account all the time. This has been a convenient  and cheaper way for me to make calls to anywhere in the world from my phone/laptop especially when I am travelling. It is useful as well when I am outside work/home locations, using 2G/3G wireless data and want to make an outside India call. I also use it to make calls to other countries (non US) even when I am at work/home as its cheaper than the voice calls that the TELCOs charge.

 

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Google, Tamil, Tools

Tamil Handwriting

For nearly two decades this has been a dream for many of us in (when I was in) INFITT. In  all the handful of Tamil Internet conferences and in many other Indian language software related research this has been a popular topic.

It was to get Tamil Handwriting input working. Finally, early this year Google has included this as a feature in its Google Translate App. I came to know of this only last week, through a post in a friends’s Facebook page.

It is easy to use the service. Launch the app and write at the bottom, casually, the system recognised text is shown on top, below it is the English (or any other language) translation. It couldn’t be any easier. I  wish this is introduced as a keyboard input as well. I hope Google will take this technique, improve on it to an OCR service, incorporate it (if they haven’t done so already) to Google Books/Search to search in Tamil inside scanned books.

Tamil Handwriting Input seen in Google Translator App

Tamil Handwriting Input seen in Google Translator App

This is the second significant contribution by Google to Tamil (Indian) Languages, a year or two back it had introduce for the first time a translator service for Tamil texts (both from and to).

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Apple, Gadgets

iPad Air 2

The last iPad I got was in August 2012 and it was an iPad3. After a while, wife and son took over the iPad and I gladly agreed as I got myself a Microsoft Surface Pro in April 2013. Surface Pro with Windows8 is a great device combining productivity and consumption, but it excels as a laptop. I was missing my iPad especially the vast number of apps that are available only in iPad (or Samsung tablets). So when Apple announced their new iPad Air 2 I immediately ordered it. Nowadays I prefer buying devices locally in India (it may take a month or so to be available here, but that’s fine) due to the advantage of local warranty and the price being only marginally higher. This time a friend of mine was coming from USA so I ordered it online and got him to bring it to me.

My new iPad Air2

My new iPad Air2

I got the top end model with Cellular connection and I went for the gold, I like it.

  • Personalized iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular 128GB – Gold – US$829
  • AppleCare+ for iPad – US$99

When I held the device I was really impressed  with its light weight and thinner profile, both were surprisingly noticeable from iPad3. I have decided against putting a case for this beautiful creation, it will be a shame to hide. After using the device for some time, the highlights for me was Fingerprint login (accurate and effortless) and the crystal clear audio (speakers produce unbelievable sound for such a thin device). The killer feature for me in iOS7 & iOS8 is the availability of Tamil (my mother tongue) keyboard layouts out of box – both Anjal and Tamil99 (which I am using nowadays).

Tamil99 keyboard layout in iPad Air2 (iOS8)

Tamil99 keyboard layout in iPad Air2 (iOS8)

 

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