Friday, December 30, 2011

Troubleshooting wi-fi connectivity with Intel Centrino Wireless N-1030

There is a problem which has cropped up recently on my Dell Vostro 131. It refuses to connect to my Linksys WAG54G2 router, and when it does, the connection breaks almost immediately. I established that it could not be a router issue (I sit and work on the sofa next to the damned router) and besides, other devices including my iPad and my old Dell XPS laptop are connecting perfectly well. So I figured that it's a problem with the network adaptor/ drivers.

Here is a summary of the steps that I took to address the problem. They seem to have worked, but I will be calling Dell customer support if the problem persists. Do note that I use Windows 7, and the screenshots I have posted may not be applicable for XP/Vista machines.

Intel acknowledges that there is a problem with several products - see the list in the article for details. The feature called 'Power Saving Polling' which is intended to save battery life but can cause problems if the router or access point cannot implement it correctly.

Intel and other support forums for Dell and MS offer three simple workarounds for the adapter issue;
1. Go to the start menu and type 'device manager'. You will see this screen:

2. Right click on the network adapter (Intel Centrino N-1300 in my case) and select 'properties' from the menu

3. The  Intel Centrino N-1300 Wireless Properties Box will open. Select the Advanced tab ; the first option you will see is 802.11n mode - check 'disable' in options.

4. Next go to the Power Management tab and uncheck the box which says "Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power and click 'OK'.

These steps will disable PSP, but you need to take one more step to correct the issue-
1) Go to Control Panel/ Hardware and sound/Power Options. Choose your current power plan and click on 'Change plan settings'

2) Click on 'Change advanced plan settings'

3) The power options box will open, under that select 'Wireless adaptor settings/ power saving mode. From the drop down menu, enable the option 'maximum power' for both 'battery' and 'plugged in'.

I would say that this has fixed 80% of my problems. I still experience a problem re-establishing the wi-fi connection when the laptop goes into sleep mode. Microsoft help forums suggest another fix, which is editing the registry. I wanted to avoid doing this but maybe I will try it now.

Disable the DHCP Broadcast Flag in Windows 7

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Handy Guide to the Samsung Galaxy Range

There's one word to describe the Samsung Galaxy smartphone range - confusing . Well, Nokia did much worse with the endless alphanumeric combos like C2-03 and X2-01 and I spent half a day figuring out what they all stood for when I composed my handy guide to Nokia phones earlier this year. Samsung has not made it too easy either. The company tags "Galaxy" to every Android phone/tablet it makes and "Wave" to every bada phone and after that, price is really the only cue to figure out what's at the top of the heap and what's at the bottom.

So here's the low down on the Galaxy range. Earlier this year, Samsung introduced a naming convention to define the Galaxy Range (thanks, Mobile Gazette for the lowdown!) which is as follows;

S = Super Smart (Top End phones)
R = Refined (High End Devices)
W = Wonder (Upper Mid Range Phones)
M = Magical (Mid Range Phones)
Y = Young (Entry Level Smartphones)

In addition, a 'Pro' handset will feature a QWERTY keyboard and 'Plus' signifies an upgraded  version.

The nomenclature of course, means nothing much till we dive into the features and see what Samsung offers in each of its self-defined categories.

1. The S Series (Galaxy S I9000, Nexus S, Galaxy S LCD, Galaxy S II, Galaxy S Plus I9001)

The Galaxy Note and the new Galaxy Nexus are standalone and do not form part of the S Series. However, the other phones here are almost all best sellers for Samsung. Typically, these are in the Rs.20,000-30,000 range  unless you are lucky to find an older model going cheap. All these phones run at least a 1 GHz processor, have a 3.5 inch plus capacitive touchscreen and run Android Gingerbread. Some have Samsung's SAMOLED screen.

The Galaxy S2 is of course the flagship and current bestseller in this range, and should receive the update to the newest Android 4.0 ICS early next year. It is currently priced at. Rs.30,000 on Flipkart.

The best selling Galaxy S I9000 has been replaced with the newest addition in the S Series -  the Galaxy S Plus priced at Rs. 23,000. It offers a 4 inch AMOLED screen and 1.4 GHz single Core CPU and it  runs Android Gingerbread. The CPU has been upgraded from the old 1 GHz processor in the Galaxy S and it runs Android Gingerbread out of the box. 

If you want good specs on a budget, there is still some stock of Samsung Galaxy S I9003 with 4.0 inch LCD screen, which is way cheaper than a SAMOLED and priced at just Rs.18500 on Flipkart. The other specs include 1 GHz Hummingbird processor and 512 MB RAM.  But do note that it only runs the older Android 2.2 FroYo and Samsung has just  announced that it will not receive the upgrade to ICS (Android 4.).

The Nexus S (now discontinued) has a 4.0 inch SAMOLED touchscreen, but otherwise shares the same internals as  the Galaxy S series. It runs stock Android and has already received an update to ICS. 

2. The R series (Galaxy R I9103)

I could not really get a clue how the R series ("refined phones") would be different from S series phones and the Galaxy R I9103 really does not help to solve this puzzle. It features a dual core 1 GHz processor (that's the same power as an iPad 2) and a whopping 1 GB of RAM which should please gamers. However, the 4 inch screen is S-LCD and not AMOLED. It runs Android Gingerbread and sells for a tempting Rs.21,000 on Flipkart. This is an attractive handset if you consider that it's a bit wasteful to spend Rs.30,000 on a phone.

3. The Y series (Galaxy Y S5360)

Targeted by Samsung at young users (who are also on a budget), the Y series Galaxy phones  run Android Gingerbread and have a processor speed of 800 MHz. They also have 3 inch TFT screens and 2 MP cameras - a big step down from the Galaxy S phones, but this also keeps the price point at Rs.7500.

Currently the range offers 2 options - the Galaxy Y and the Y Color Plus which offers 4 additional changeable back panels for a moderate price premium.

4. The Galaxy Pro B7510

Pro devices from Samsung feature a QWERTY keyboard. The Galaxy Pro B7510 has a slightly small (2.8 inch) TFT touchscreen in addition to a QWERTY keyboard and packs an 800 MHz processor. It runs Android FroYo and is priced at approximately Rs. 10,000.

5. The Galaxy Ace S5830

While it does not fall into Samsung's classification system, this mid-priced (Rs.14,000) phone has been justifiably popular. It packs an 800 MHz processor, and the Adreno 200 GPU for handling graphics gives it a little performance bump compared to Samsung's budget offerings. The 3.5 inch TFT screen offers decent real estate for browsing. It runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

6. Entry level phones - Galaxy Fit S5670 and Galaxy Pop S5570

These phones may have gotten a bit outdated with the launch of the Y series, as they run on the older Android FroYo and it's unlikely that Samsung will upgrade them. They have slower 600 MHz processors and 3 inch touchscreens. They are also in the same price range as the Galaxy Y S5360 - in fact at Rs.9000 and Rs.8000 respectively on Flipkart, they are more expensive. It seems unlikely that anyone would pick one of these over the Galaxy Y and I expect that once the stock is over, they will be withdrawn from the market.

Doing this post definitely helped me to clarify my own confusions about Samsung's range and I hope it helps you too!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review of Dell Vostro V131

I don't usually do reviews - there are so many sites who do a fantastic job (and more importantly, do it at the time of launch - whereas, I am usually  a late adopter). But the Dell Vostro V131 is likely to interest a lot of people like me who are buying on a budget so I thought I would do a quick recap after two weeks of using it. This does not purport to be an exhaustive review - I'll give you some links to reviews that helped me to make up my mind at the end of this post. It is rather a recap of the good and bad points.

I bought this laptop for work use (I am self employed). I was looking for a light, 13 inch laptop with good service support at a price point under Rs.60,000. No graphics card. Good keyboard. The choice narrowed down to  the Dell Vostro V131 and the Sony Vaio S series which features some models under Rs.60,000. I also considered the Dell XPS 14, but did not see an additional value for paying Rs.65,000 other  than the good looks. As an aside, the XPS range has really gone downhill. At the time when I bought an XPS 1330 nearly four years ago, nothing could match the XPS range. Now, everything seems to have overtaken it in specs, but not in price!

I bought the Vostro V131 primarily because of the attractive price (Rs.48,000 including 3 year extended warranty for parts and next day business service). And also because the service support for Vostro is best in class.

My machine comes with an Intel Core i5-2430M processor (2.4 GHz), 4 GB of RAM and a 500GB 7200 RPM Drive from Western Digital.

Firstly, let's see the good points;

1) The battery life is awesome

I get an average of 8 hours a day working non-stop, with wi-fi on. It is fully worth the ugly little 'battery bump' that Dell created on the laptop. It's good for almost an entire working day without power.

2) It has a decent keyboard

Frankly, I am not a fan of the chiclet-type keyboard which first showed up on Macs and is now being copied on all laptops. I liked the old 'floating island' keyboard on my Dell XPS 1330, because it had more depth and tactile response. But, I guess I am  getting used to the keyboard. Keyboard is THE most important thing for me on a business laptop - I need to be able to type fast and smoothly and so far, no complaints about this keyboard. Just as well, because it would have been a deal breaker otherwise.

3) The build quality is reasonably good

I mention this because many of the reviews point out that the build  quality is poor and flimsy compared to more expensive  machines like  the Dell XPS 14 or the Dell Latitude. I appreciate great design and a strong build, but there is nothing much wrong with this. My Dell XPS 1330 had a good build but shoddy finishing around the (then) ultra-thin LED screen and after three years of use, it looked pretty scuffed up. The V131, ironically, seems better finished overall, and less likely to show wear and tear with its matte and scratch proof surfaces. Maybe it won't survive a fall, but I am thankfully not in the habit of dropping laptops. Cellphones yes, but laptops no. Having said  that, I have invested in a good laptop bag and a slipcover for transport.

4) It  runs cool
My comparison point is the Dell XPS 1330, which would expel hot air in a steady stream all the time. The Vostro 131 is thankfully cooler. I have not felt the need to purchase a cooling pad for this one.

Now, for the flip side

1) Terrible, terrible screen

After keyboard, screen is the next big deal breaker for me. I need to say this upfront - the screen sucks big time. It's not so noticeable when working on a powerpoint, but it is really bad when I watch video. Maybe, if I had seen the display before purchase, I would have been put off. I can live with it now, but let's just say that it's going to drive me towards wearing reading glasses prematurely.

2) Dell Bloatware is a nuisance

The Vostro V131 comes with pre-installed Dell Bloatware including Dell DataSafe online backup and a Dell Support center which is pretty redundant, given that Windows 7 can take care of itself, thank you very  much. Disabling the automatic  back up and updating options requires you to dig into the settings.

I would still recommend this to anyone whose primary  use is business - which is what the laptop is designed for anyway. The poor quality screen rules it out for movie watching or gaming. Otherwise, it's a fantastic package, at a starting price of only Rs.42,000 for a Core i3 processor. You will not find an ultraportable at a comparable price point in India. The battery life and keyboard make it great for daily business use.

For me, the average life of a laptop is 3 years. At that point, whether it's working or not, I upgrade because hardware  and software have moved way ahead and a laptop is a basic business investment for me. Also, let me confess that I get bored  and I need a change. So it does not make sense for me to spend big bucks on a laptop. I look for a reliable and trouble-free three year performance and that's it. And I feel very sure that the Vostro V131 will be working just fine for the next three years.

Here are links to the reviews that helped me to make up my mind-

The AnandTech review
The LaptopMag Review
The CNet Review

Will Windows Phone be the third wheel in the mobile party?

It's been  a year of massive upheavals in the volatile mobile phone market. First of all, smartphones now constitute 30% of mobile shipments worldwide. Secondly, according to Gartner, in Q3 2011, Android gained more than 50% market share globally, doubling its market share over 2010. And Samsung overtook Nokia to become the world's largest cell phone manufacturer. The casualties were RIM and Nokia - Symbian lost nearly half its market share while RIM plummeted below 10% in the US market. Nokia continued to maintain some momentum thanks to a slew of low end devices aimed at  the emerging markets, but RIM did not have the same fortune.

Now in a scenario where Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS rule the market, is there room for a third player? And who is it likely to be?

The logical answer is of course Microsoft with its WP OS. Microsoft has so far not made a dent in the mobile market - it is stagnating at less than 2% market share even  after the launch of the new operating system. Even the old Windows Mobile OS has  a better share, with nearly 8% of the market, thought it's expected to dip rapidly.

But it's still too early to write off the still-nascent WP platform. The operating system has been praised in the tech press for its polished UI  and its potential integration with Microsoft Enterprise, Office, Web and Cloud products. And with Skype in its arsenal, and a growing base of apps and developers, Microsoft can offer an attractive proposition to both business and individual users - a secure, well built operating system optimised to run well on handsets at different price points.

Till now, the growth of WP OS  has been hampered by  the less than enthusiastic response of hardware partners like HTC and Samsung, who have released very few handsets compared to the steady stream of Android handsets from both companies. Of course, Microsoft is also to blame for this, as the company  has imposed severe restrictions and controls on the hardware from the start. It's not an ideal position to control specs when you have no real control over what manufacturers do! But Microsoft would seem to have overcome that hurdle through the partnership with Nokia. Now that Nokia has thrown in their fortunes entirely with WP OS, Microsoft has a powerful ally in their battle to build a strong market. And while Nokia may have failed to create a viable smartphone operating system, they sure know how to build good phones!

Gartner seems to have a positive outlook for the alliance, predicting that Microsoft will gain upto 11% market share in 2012 and 19% by 2015, pushing it to third position behind Android and iOS in the smartphone market.

The low hanging fruit for Microsoft is really the enterprise/business segment - which is rapidly being vacated by  RIM, creating a gap that MS is uniquely able to fulfill. Android and iOS smartphones are increasingly being used for business, but they  do not command the equity that Microsoft has already built in this segment. If Microsoft is able to convince businesses on the aspect of security, and ability to integrate smartphones with enterprise needs and applications, then they might have a winner on their hands. Of  course, they did not have great success with Windows Mobile, but WP is a new proposition altogether.

I for one, am looking forward to the launch of Nokia's new WP handsets. I do feel that we need a viable third  alternative and frankly, no one else seems to be offering one right now!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The best 3G data plan in Mumbai

If you use 3G a lot, on your smartphone or tablet, you would also have figured that 3G data plans are prohibitively expensive and restricted in many ways. For example, there are almost no unlimited plans, you pay extra for roaming on other networks and 3G coverage is patchy.

MTNL Mumbai has some extremely attractive unlimited 3G packs. The pick of the bunch is the 3G 4500 plan which gives you unlimited data for 6 months at just Rs.4500. Pair this with the seamless 3G roaming on BSNL networks at no extra charge and you have the best plan for Mumbaikars as of now. This plan is available for both prepaid and postpaid MTNL users and can now be purchased online.

Do bear in mind that MTNL Mumbai does not offer MicroSims for iPad so you will have to purchase and cut the SIM yourself to use with an iPad. That's easy to do, and TechRadar has an excellent guide which I followed to create my own MicroSim.

Here are the MTNL 3G settings for iPad in Mumbai.

How to increase partition size of C (System) Drive in Win 7

I am back to blogging after a long gap!

This post is based on my practical experience (Read : struggle) with partitions in my new Windows 7 PC. Windows 7 provides a disk management tool which makes it very easy to create new partitions. You simply go to Control Panel/ System and Security/ Create and Format HD Partitions and you get a window which lets you  easily and intuitively create partitions.

So creating partitions is easy. The problem starts when you later decide that you want to increase the partition size of C Drive. There is an option called Extend Volume but it shows up greyed out and it cannot be used. So you are stuck with lots of extra free space elsewhere and you can't use it on C Drive. What do you  do?

At this stage, you need  to get a third party software to help you. I used EaseUS Partition Manager which is a great freeware tool. Ten  minutes and one boot up and my C drive volume got extended.

Here are the steps:

1) Backup your data!

2) Download the partition manager and fire it up.

 To extend the C Drive, you first need to make free space available next to it. So click on the drive with extra space (in my case D Drive) and select the option to resize/ move partition. You should get this window:

Use the slider to select the amount of space that you want to free up for your C Drive and click on OK, then Apply. You should be able to see the free space available next to C Drive.

3) Next, select the C Drive  and the option to merge partitions. You should see this window;

Tick the boxes next to C Drive and the contiguous space that you want to merge. Click OK and then click Apply

4) The software will ask you to reboot your machine. Merging of the two drives happens during the reboot.

When your machine starts up again, your C Drive volume will be extended.