How To Update To DirecTV’s New HD Guide Right Now

Last week, DirecTV subscribers (including me) received an email letting them know that a new guide interface would be rolling out in the future, but the email did not say when users should expect it. It was a tease, showing awesome new features and a slick new interface for your HD TV, but with no information about when you would actually be getting the interface on your receiver.

Luckily, a little Google searching on my part discovered a way that you can pre-load the new software onto your receiver, which I did. The new interface is as slick as advertised, and contains a plethora of brand new features that will change the way you watch TV. I’ll provide instructions later on in this post, but first let’s go over the new features and interface that DirecTV is providing in its new software update.

How To Update To DirecTV's New HD Guide Right NowThe first thing you’ll notice about the new on-screen guide is the overall look and feel. Before, the interface looked like something that was designed in the ’90s for standard definition TVs and never updated. The font was blocky and not smooth at all, the large amount of space and resolutions on HDTVs was not utilized, and it just looked… bad. With the new 1080p guide interface, that’s all changed. The new look is more akin to DirecTV’s iPad and iPhone apps, utilizing darker blues, grays, and blacks to create menus that are very very visually appealing. Gradients and shadows add to the interface and bring it up to par with other modern interfaces. There’s little to complain about look and feel wise.

There are plenty of other enhancements as well. Users will find that the process of scrolling through channels is much smoother and faster, there are better tools for discovery, and the new interface makes it much easier to access your recorded shows and on-demand content. Movie posters and TV show graphics replace text in the on-demand and recorded content interface, so it’s easier to scroll through your content and find what you want quickly, and you’re now able to find every movie (both on-demand and airing on movie channels) in one place, so if you want to watch a movie, there is an easy place to go to see what’s on.

Finally, DirecTV has finally moved its receivers onto the Web in a more complete way. With the addition of TV apps, you can use your receiver to do things like browse Facebook, watch YouTube videos, see scores of your favorite games, and even check the weather and the stock market right on your TV.

Does all this sound amazing to you? If you are as excited as I was to hear about this new interface and want to get it as soon as possible, follow along. The process of manually updating your receiver to this new interface is relatively easy, but there are a few things you need to be aware of.

How to download the new DirecTV software

First of all, you need an HD receiver or an HD DVR to get this update. SD boxes are not supported by the new interface. If you’ve got an HD box, these easy instructions are all you need. Downloading the new software can only happen during specific time windows. If you try to follow these instructions at any other time than the times listed, your receiver will “update,” but instead of the new interface, it will just be the current national release of the old version.

How To Update To DirecTV's New HD Guide Right NowThe time that you can download the new update is between 11:00 PM and 2:30 AM EST, on Friday and Saturday nights. If you are on the West Coast, that’s between 8:00 PM and 11:30 PM. Take a seat on your couch during this time, turn on your TV and receiver, and grab the remote.

First, you’ll want to restart the receiver. On your remote, press Menu and then go to Parental, Favorites & Settings -> System Setup > Reset -> Restart Receiver. Press the Dash (-) button to confirm the restart. From here, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the receiver itself and its LED lights.

The blue LEDs will turn off when the receiver has shut down completely. Once this happens, make sure you have your remote in your hand, as you will have to be quick to trigger the download. Once the LEDs on the front of the receiver come back on or the first blue screen is displayed on your TV, whichever occurs first, press the following buttons on your remote, in this order, with about a half second to a second in between each press: 0 2 4 6 8. Press the number keys deliberately, allowing about a half second per press. Do not hold the keys down. Make sure that you press only the five numbers, one at a time, and nothing else.

After a few minutes, once your receiver boots, you should be taken to a blue screen that announces and goes through the 10-20 minute download and verification cycle. At this point you just need to wait it out, and do not touch anything. Your receiver will download and reboot twice, and after the second reboot, you will be presented with your new guide interface. It’s that easy!

What if something goes wrong?

Since you are essentially downloading a preview release of this new software, its not guaranteed to be 100% stable and perfect. If there are too many bugs or you don’t like the new interface version, you can easily revert back to the older version. The process for doing this is exactly the same as the process for downloading the new version, only you have to follow these steps at a time outside of the windows posted above. So if you downloaded the preview release on Friday and don’t like it, follow the steps again on Saturday morning to revert back to the classic interface.

Over all, this interface is fantastic for me and a huge improvement over the older version. I updated a few weeks ago and have not even thought of going back; I’ve been enjoying the new slick graphics and better navigation options entirely too much. For more, here’s a video from DirecTV going over the enhancements.

Is the Galaxy Nexus Ready to Take out the iPhone?

To iPhone or to Android? That is the question. That’s been the question for the last couple of years, and with webOS out and BlackBerry taking a way backseat in the smartphone race, it appears that this will remain the question for new smartphone buyers in the near future. I’ve been wrestling with which platform I like better over the last couple of years, and the decision is becoming harder than it ever has been with the recent batch of phones out now.

Is the Galaxy Nexus Ready to Take out the iPhone?My current daily driver phone is an iPhone 4S, but I also have a Samsung Galaxy S for testing and reviewing Android apps. I’ve used both devices extensively, as well as the original Droid, which was my first smartphone. While the 4S blows both devices I’ve owned out of the water, the Galaxy Nexus is the new Android phone hotness, and if there is anything that makes me want to switch away from iPhone land back to Android, this is it. Between the 720p screen, 4G, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the Nexus is very, very tempting. But is it a better phone than the 4S? Do the raw specs and cutting-edge features of the Nexus overshadow the ease of use and overall simplicity of the 4S? Let’s take a look at the two devices and see how they compare to each other.

Raw Specs

The 4S contains Apple’s state of the art dual-core A5 processor, a “retina display” screen with a 3.5″ screen and 960×640 resolution (326 ppi), and 512 MB of RAM. It has an 8 MP camera on the back with 1080p video support and a VGA-resolution camera on the front. On the other hand, the Galaxy Nexus has a dual-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A9 processor, 1 GB of RAM, and an absolutely huge 4.65″ screen with a 720p resolution (316 ppi). The camera on the Nexus is 5 MP, and it also shoots 1080p video.

The specs of these two phones mostly even out, with the Nexus getting a slight edge in the raw power and screen department. With the increased RAM and processor speed, you would expect the Nexus to be faster and snappier than the 4S, but that isn’t always the case. While the Nexus is the speediest Android phone yet, the fact that iOS is running native code while everything in Android runs inside a Java virtual machine mostly makes the devices perform fairly similarly. The screen debate is ongoing, but it comes down mostly to the size of your hands and your pockets. The Galaxy Nexus is a huge phone, and if you have small hands, you might have problems using it with one hand. Both screens look incredible, and you will be hard pressed to see a difference between the iPhone’s 326ppi and the Nexus’ 316.

Edge: Tie

Usability

Is the Galaxy Nexus Ready to Take out the iPhone?As someone who hasn’t spent a ton of time with Ice Cream Sandwich, I cannot totally vouch for the Galaxy Nexus in the usability department. Let’s take a look around the Web at some other reviewers who gave their opinion on Ice Cream Sandwich and its usability.

In his post comparing the two devices, GigaOm’s Darrell Etherington has this to say:

In the end, though, Android still has the same problems it always did: it’s harder for new and inexperienced users to get into and navigate, and apps either may or may not work with the device depending on what version of Android they’re coded for and/or what devices they support… The Galaxy Nexus is the best Android device yet, and ICS is the best version of Android to date, and they do a lot to narrow the gap between Google and Apple’s mobile efforts, but they don’t close it, at least not completely.

On the other hand, Josh Smith from GottaBeMobile says that Homescreen Widgets give Android a leg up:

Android still has a leg up on the iPhone when it comes to widgets, and the Galaxy Nexus takes advantage of new Ice Cream Sandwich features to make widgets even better. In addition to smarter built-in Gmail and Calendar widgets, you can customize the layout of most widgets with a drag and drop to fit the way you want your home screen to look. This is much nicer than looking for the right 4×1 widget in settings. Widgets provide fast access to information like weather, traffic, your inbox, and much more.

Over all, while widgets on Android are totally awesome and iOS could definitely use something similar, the experience of using iOS is simply easier. Ice Cream Sandwich is furthering the Android fragmentation problem, as as of now the Galaxy Nexus is the only device with the OS. Apps won’t all work with the new version, and who knows how long it will take for developers to fix all of the issues? In addition, while Ice Cream Sandwich has come a long way in the ease-of-use department, iOS is still a much easier OS for a computer novice to pick up and use.

Edge: iPhone 4S

Network

Here is perhaps the biggest difference between the 4S and the Galaxy Nexus. The Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus supports its new 4G LTE network, which is blazing fast. Pages load over 4G in no time at all, streaming music and movies is easier, and, once you’re used to 4G speeds, it is definitely hard to go back to 3G. The iPhone 4S remains with the same 3G network that ran the iPhone 4. If you are someone who spends most of their time on their phone with Wi-Fi, this isn’t a huge deal. But if you commute daily and are using your phone on the go a lot, the 4G is going to make a big difference.

The only caveat to the 4G is that it uses more battery than 3G, but it can also be turned off and on when you need it. Since we are just talking about the network and not the battery life here, the Nexus gets the edge in this category.

Here’s a video comparing the speeds of the 4S (3G) vs. the Droid Bionic (4G). You can expect similar speeds from the Nexus.

Edge: Galaxy Nexus

Conclusion

At the end of the day, we are looking at two incredibly capable phones, each with unique pros and cons that make deciding between them very hard. To be honest with you, there isn’t really a winner in this battle of the phones, but my money is that the iPhone 4S will end up being the winner of the real battle: the device that sells more. The iPhone 4S is cheaper ($200 vs $300 for the Nexus), has better brand recognition, and is easier for the average person to use. While the Galaxy Nexus might be a great device for a tech-savvy person, the iPhone 4S is going to be the device that your mom, grandma, and uncle buy, and that’s where most of the money is. The Galaxy Nexus is a great phone, probably the best Android phone of all time, but it’s not an iPhone killer.

How to Update Your Facebook and Twitter with Siri

I recently got an iPhone 4S, and as soon as I turned it on, the first thing I did was figure out all the awesome ways I could use Siri. While the built-in uses like setting alarms, getting directions, and finding food are super useful, of course my next mission was to figure out ways to make it do things it wasn’t originally designed to do. Telling Siri to “update my Facebook” or “send a tweet” just got me the classic “I’m not sure what you’re asking,” or “I can’t send Tweets for you” answer, but I knew there had to be a way to do it.

After some research and trial and error, I finally figured it out. While, at least for now, there’s not a way to natively integrate Siri and your social media accounts, you can use one of the things Siri can do — texting — to implement a workaround that allows you to use your digital assistant to send social media updates. Here’s how to do it with both Twitter and Facebook. You’re free to use one or both of these, depending on which services you use most.

Update Your Twitter with Siri

Twitter is the easiest to set up. First, log into your Twitter account on a desktop browser. From there, go to your account settings page and click the Mobile tab. What we’re doing here is setting up your Twitter account to accept text messages from your mobile number that it will then turn into tweets. Type your iPhone’s number into the Phone Number box and then click the Go button. Next, open up the Messages app on your phone and text the word GO to 40404 to confirm that the phone number is yours.

Once Twitter gets your message, you’ll be all set to post to Twitter from your phone via text messages. The next step is to add Twitter to your address box so you can use Siri to send texts to Twitter. Go to your Contacts app and add a new contact. Call it “Twitter” and, in the phone number field, put 40404.

From there, you should be all set, so try sending a test message. Pull up Siri by holding down your home button, and say “Text Twitter and say Tweeting from Siri.” Siri should understand that you want to send a text to Twitter, and show your message, as seen in the image to the right here. Have Siri send the message, and make sure it gets posted to your Twitter profile after that (you can always delete the text later on).

That’s all you have to do! Now you can use Siri to send tweets. There are also other things you can do using Twitter texts, and of course all of these will work with this Siri method as well. Here’s a list of mobile Twitter commands that you can use. (Remember, just tell Siri to “text Twitter and say…” followed by whatever you’d like to do.)

  • FOLLOW username – Start following a user.
  • UNFOLLOW username – Stop following a user.
  • ON/OFF – Turn all tweet notifications on or off.
  • ON/OFF username – Set tweet notifications for a user on or off (you’ll still be following them even if you set it to off).
  • GET username – Shows you the latest tweet from any user.
  • RETWEET username – Retweet a user’s latest tweet.
  • FAVORITE username – Favorite a user’s latest tweet.
  • DM username your-message – Send a direct message to a user.

So, for example, if you wanted to use Siri to follow me, @angelo_carosio, you would pull up Siri and say “Send a text to Twitter and say follow angelo underscore carosio,” and you’d be following me the next time you checked your Twitter stream. It’s that easy!

Update your Facebook with Siri

The process to update your Facebook with Siri is similar, in that you use text messages to do it. First, we’ll want to add Facebook to your contacts, so open the Contacts app on your iPhone and add a new contact called Facebook. In the phone number field, put in 32665.

Next, open your Messages app and text the word “Hello” to the Facebook contact you just made. Within a few minutes, you’ll get a message back from Facebook with a confirmation code and a link inside. All you need to do is tap the link in the message, which will open it in Mobile Safari. Follow the steps on Facebook to confirm your mobile number, and you’ll be all set with setting up mobile updates.

Once you have confirmed your mobile number, you’ll be able to update your Facebook in the same way you updated your Twitter in step 1: Just pull up Siri and say “text Facebook and say” followed by whatever you want the status update to be. Siri should write the text for you and send it, and it will be on your Facebook account instantly! The only thing it’s missing is that it says it’s posted by text, rather than “posted by Siri,” which would be pretty cool, if you ask me.

Conclusion

Over all, Siri is an extremely useful tool, but it does have its limitations in places. While a native way to update your Twitter or Facebook (especially Twitter, which is integrated in iOS 5) would be nice, Siri is still in beta and has a long way to go before it can do everything that we want it to do. It’s hoped that, with these workarounds, people will be able to make their Siri do a little bit more, and Apple will catch on soon that Siri should be able to send social updates in addition to all the other fantastic things it does for you.

Does anyone else have hacks and workarounds to make Siri do things it’s not originally intended to? Share them in the comments.

What Are the Best Android Devices Coming out This Holiday Season?

‘Tis the season for cookies, pretty lights, and an onslaught of new Android devices in all shapes and sizes. I hope you saved up your upgrades, because the number of new devices being released this season (especially on Verizon) is quite staggering. There are several flagship phones and tablets coming out in the near future, and the decision of which one to get for yourself or put under the tree for a loved one might be harder than ever. Whether you want the latest and greatest (and most expensive) device, or you would like to keep it simpler and cheaper, there’s something out there for everyone this December.

The following guide will mostly be focusing on Verizon devices, as the company seems to have the exclusive on the newest Android devices for now. We’re going to take a look at devices that are recently released or are coming out before the end of the holiday season, and go over pros, cons, and for who would most benefit from such a gift. So if you’re looking to surprise someone with some awesome technology under the tree, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s start.

What Are the Best Android Devices Coming out This Holiday Season?For the cutting-edge gadget geek: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

After rampant speculation for months, Verizon has finally come out with an official release date for this device: December 9th. This Friday is the day you will finally be able to get your hands on the latest and supposedly greatest Android device around. The reviews are in, and this is the device lots of Android fans have been waiting for. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is a major step forward for the Android platform, and the hardware on the Galaxy Nexus is sleek and the 4G speeds are blazing — the battery life is also much better than comparable 4G Android phones. Combine that with the largest screen so far on an Android phone — 4.7 inches — and you pretty much can’t do any better than the Galaxy Nexus right now.

If you’re looking for a gift for a fan of the Android platform or to buy someone their first smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus is a great (albeit, expensive) bet. The price clocks in at a stiff $300 on-contract, but that’s the price you have to pay for cutting-edge technology. I can assure you that the Galaxy Nexus is going to be worth the money.

What Are the Best Android Devices Coming out This Holiday Season?For the always-emailing professional: Motorola Droid 4

Some people use their phones to write so many emails that the on-screen keyboard on a traditional smartphone just isn’t going to cut it. Luckily, Motorola has the Droid line of phones, which have slide-out keyboards to make typing a little bit easier. The Motorola Droid 4 is no different, packing an even bigger, better keyboard than previous iterations while also throwing in a larger (4″) qHD screen and a 4G LTE radio.

The Droid 4 is out on December 9th on Verizon as well, and should prove a worthy follow-up to the best selling Droid 1, 2, and 3 that came before. The Droid 4 looks to take some design cues from the Droid RAZR, sporting some sharp lines and a kevlar back. If you are always typing or buying a gift for someone else who is a mobile typeaholic, the Droid 4 would be a great choice. The Droid 4 will be available on December 9th for $299 on-contract.

What Are the Best Android Devices Coming out This Holiday Season?For the anti-Apple tablet fan: Droid XYBOARD

There’s no doubt in my mind that the iPad 2 is the best tablet available today. There’s just no matching the iPad’s effortless user interface and huge app selection. However, some people just don’t like Apple, don’t agree with its business practices, or find iOS too limiting. If you’re one of those people, or you’re buying a gift for one, the Droid XYBOARD is Verizon’s newest Android tablet.

Running Android 3.2 Honeycomb at launch with an upgrade to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich planned for the near future, the XYBOARD is the current top-of-the-line Android tablet. These tablets run on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, have 1.2 GHz dual-core processors, 1 GB of RAM, 5 MP rear cameras, and 1.3 MP front cameras.

The Android tablet app selection isn’t totally flushed out at this point, but it will only get better over time. If you’re buying a tablet for an Android fan and want the newest and best, take a look at the XYBOARD. It will be out later this month (no specific date has been announced at this point), and starts at $429 for the 8.2″ version and $529 for the 10″ version.

What Are the Best Android Devices Coming out This Holiday Season?For the budget-minded: Samsung Illusion

Not everyone has $299 to plunk down on a top-of-the-line Android device. Luckily, Verizon still has you covered if you’re looking for a capable device that’s a little easier on the wallet. The Samsung Illusion has decent specs (Android 2.3, 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, and a 3 MP camera), is a nice looking device made by Samsung, a reputable company, but the price is much less than everything else on this list: only $79 with a two-year contract.

If you are thinking about your first smartphone but don’t want to spend a ton of money, the Illusion will be a more than capable device for you. The screen might not be as big as the others and the processor might be a little bit slower, but you’ll hardly notice most of this in day-to-day use. If you don’t need to brag about your phone, the Illusion is a great choice.

Roundup

Over all, there are a ton of great devices coming out or that have just been released on Verizon this month, and anyone shopping for a new phone for themselves or someone else will surely find something that fits their needs. Whether you want the latest and greatest or just a capable, everyday smartphone, Android’s flexibility ensures that there will definitely be something for you.

How to Make Sure Your Android Phone Isn’t Spying On You

Last year, iPhone users had to deal with “locationgate.” Now, Android users have their privacy to worry about, as recent information that’s been uncovered by YouTuber TrevorEckhart has shown that software made by a company called Carrier IQ, installed by default on many Android phones by the carriers and hardware manufacturers, is tracking a whole lot more about your phone usage than just your location.

What is Carrier IQ, exactly?

The software is hidden inside phones — there is little you can do to detect that it’s even installed, let alone remove it, and it tracks everything. Keystrokes, browsing and surfing habits, Google searches, and basically every single thing that you are doing on your phone and every button that you press is logged by this software. Jump to 9:00 in the YouTube video below for the proof — this is basically a keylogger running on your phone that you didn’t know about.

The company that’s creating this software claims that the point of the software is to deliver “analytics” about devices to the carriers to help them provide better service to their users. But is recording every keystroke really necessary for that information? Does not telling the users about this and making it near-impossible to opt out seem a bit fishy to anybody else? This software is on almost all Android phones made by the big names (HTC, Samsung, Motorola), and is even on BlackBerries and Nokia devices, as well.

Carrier IQ says in this public statement that it is “not logging keystrokes or providing tracking tools” and that its software is used to track performance, but the video proves entirely otherwise: this app is sitting in between you and the Android OS and is making a note of everything you do. Secure websites don’t help. Even using Wi-Fi doesn’t help. Your phone use is being logged by this software, and there is no way to easily opt out.

So what can I do to ensure my privacy?

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to protect yourself. There’s no switch that you can turn off in the settings of your phone or software that appears in your app drawer that you can simply uninstall. As far as the GUI of your phone is concerned, Carrier IQ isn’t even there. But it is there, hiding in the background, making sure that you don’t even know it exists. And for many, that’s just not cool. Your phone is a deeply personal device and contains lots of things (emails, photos, text messages) that many would consider totally private. Why should this company have access?

While I’m almost certain that the hubbub on the blogosphere that has resulted from TrevorEckhart’s research will force the company to come up with a way to turn its software off, that has not happened yet. In the meantime, Android users who value their privacy need some kind of a solution. If you’d like to make sure Carrier IQ is not on your phone, the best way to do that would be to replace the Android ROM on your phone with another that does not have Carrier IQ installed.

Here’s how to do it:

First, you need to root your phone. Rooting isn’t as scary as it may sound, and there are many guides available for the different devices. The best place to look for information on rooting is the XDA Forum. Search on the page for your phone name and go to the “General” forum for the device. There, you should find threads with guides on how to root and get the phone ready to install custom ROMs. The process varies widely phone by phone, so we can’t give you a definitive guide here, but XDA is generally on top of the best rooting processes for the major devices.

The next step is to find a ROM that supports your device that does not have Carrier IQ installed on it. Your best bet is to look for “AOSP” or “Vanilla” ROMs. These are versions of Android that have built entirely from the open source code for Android that’s released by Google each time a new version comes out. These ROMs will be free from carrier and device manufacturer tinkering, and won’t have Carrier IQ hiding in the background.

Another great custom ROM solution is Cyanogenmod. Cyanogenmod has some nice additional tweaks and features above stock Android, and is definitely the most well respected and most frequently updated custom ROM out there. Additionally, it’s available on most popular Android devices out there. We wrote a guide on installing Cyanogenmod earlier this year, as well as a guide on updating Cyanogenmod to the newest version. If you are worried about Carrier IQ, I recommend Cyanogenmod as the best solution. The developers are even working hard on the next version, based on Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich.

Final thoughts

I’ve had a custom ROM installed on my Android phone since day one, mostly because I don’t want to deal with Verizon’s bloatware, and I’m happy that this Carrier IQ tracking fiasco has not — and will not ever — affect me. It’s not okay that it’s affecting others, and the best way to combat it is to install a custom ROM and let Carrier IQ know that what it is doing is not okay. Here’s their website. Here’s the company’s contact page. We need as many Android fans as possible letting the people there know that they have installed Cyanogenmod specifically because Carrier IQ’s software invades their privacy. Let them know that unless they make this service opt-in rather than impossible to opt-out, you as a user will avoid their software and let your friends know that by default, their phone is spying on them.

In this digital age, privacy is more important than ever. Just because you “don’t have anything to hide,” does not mean that you shouldn’t value your privacy or fight for it when companies do things like this, especially with something as personal as your cell phone. While I understand that tracking some information such as phone performance and signal level anonymously is okay and important for carriers to optimize their networks, your keystrokes on your cell phone should not be logged, period.

Is Cluzee the Android Siri We’ve Been Waiting For?

If you know anyone with an iPhone 4S, you’ve probably played with Siri, Apple’s digital “personal assistant.” Siri intelligently responds to your questions and is able to induce meaning out of things like “What should I wear today?” and be able to give you correct answers (“It’s going to be 30, so you may need a coat”). Since this killer feature has been available on the iPhone, we knew it was only a matter of time before a developer came up with a similar solution on Android phones.

Is Cluzee the Android Siri We've Been Waiting For?Cluzee is one of the the first attempts at that magical app. Cluzee claims to be an Android replacement for Siri. It “bring[s] conversational interface, intelligence and many more capabilities on Android. I understand natural language variations. You need not memorize commands.” Cluzee is similar to Siri, but on paper claims to offer more features, such as doing things like updating your Facebook and managing a “personal radio” with news stories that can be read back to you.

While in theory this app could be as good as or better than Siri, in practice it doesn’t quite live up to the hype for a few reasons. The first is the simple fact that it’s not integrated into the phone. Siri is almost too easy to use; all you have to do is hold down the home button and no matter where you are on your iPhone, Siri comes up, and fast. With Chuzee, your best bet is to put a shortcut to the app on your homescreen, but that could still mean you need to close out your current app or unlock your phone, then swipe to the right homescreen, and then launch the app. Because it’s not a native app, it could not be in memory, and could take five to 10 seconds to load — which is way too long when the whole point is to get something done faster.

The second shortcoming with Cluzee is that is just plain isn’t as good at parsing speech as Siri is. I was frequently misunderstood; Cluzee would have to double-check to make sure it was opening the app that I told it to open. It just plain didn’t feel like something that was worth the time to use, and I frequently got frustrated giving it commands only to have it crash and burn trying to respond to them.

Even when it does respond, it doesn’t do as as fast as Siri — even though Siri is frequently under heavy load and can be much faster at some times than others. After playing with Cluzee, the verdict is that is isn’t Siri, but it’s reasonably close. With a little work, it could be just as good as Siri. However, Siri is a work in progress, too. Let’s hope that some friendly competition among developers will lead to better voice command systems for all platforms.

Below is a video from Android Central going over the pros and cons of Cluzee:

Can I Get Ice Cream Sandwich on My Android Device?

If you’re an Android fan, you’ve probably heard about Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s probably the biggest Android upgrade so far, bringing awesome features like a new, redesigned user interface, improved notifications, a new lock screen, improved keyboard, and a whole lot more. As of now, the only phone you can get with Ice Cream Sandwich is the Galaxy Nexus, but what if you have an older Android phone? Will you be able to get ICS on your device?

There are a couple of ways to get Ice Cream Sandwich. The first is to wait for your device maker to release an official upgrade to your device. This is the easiest way, because it does not require any work from you; just wait (it could be a long time) and most newer Android phones will receive an upgrade. If you want to know when, check with your device manufacturer, but don’t expect to be able to get a very concrete answer from it about the matter.

The other way to get ICS on your device is to install a custom ROM. This requires that your device be rooted and have a custom bootloader installed, but many users who are planning on going this route have those things installed already. If you are new to all this, check out the XDA Forum for your device to find instructions on rooting your phone or tablet. As of now, here are the devices that have Ice Cream Sandwich ports, and links to threads with the ROMs to download along with any instructions for their installation.

Keep in mind that the builds for these devices are not quite at 100% yet, so make sure to create a backup of your current install and do not install these builds on any mission-critical devices. There may be bugs, and you should never run beta / unstable OS builds on a device that you depend on every day. If you’re looking for some video of Ice Cream Sandwich in action on these devices, here are videos of it running on the Xoom and the Droid 3.

For those of you who have taken the plunge, what do you think of Android 4.0?

Verizon Shares More Info About Galaxy Nexus – Coming out Soon?

The Galaxy Nexus is the newest state-of-the-art Android smart phone. Running brand new Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, it’s the newest in Google’s Nexus series, which has so far had the Nexus One and the Nexus S. The difference with the Galaxy Nexus is that not only are you able to buy a GSM version of the phone unlocked, but Google is also partnering with Verizon to sell a CDMA version of the phone on contract.

So when is the phone coming out, and for how much? The ad you see below was appearing on many Android blogs before Black Friday, but unfortunately the ad took you to a page with information about the phone rather than a place to buy or even pre-order it.

Verizon Shares More Info About Galaxy Nexus - Coming out Soon?There has also been a stat sheet leaked by Verizon, which compares the Galaxy Nexus to some of the similar phones available on other carriers (like the Galaxy S II, which Verizon passed on). One of the things that hardcore Android fans will appreciate is the “User Interface” row on that chart, which lists No OEM Customization under the Galaxy Nexus column, meaning there is no TouchWhiz anywhere to be found on the Verizon version of this phone — it’s Verizon’s first pure Android device since the original Motorola Droid.

So the only question on most people’s minds is: “When can I get this phone, and for how much?” Well, it looks like the $199 price tag from the ad is the only hint we’re going to get, but we have no idea if that’s a promotional price or the full price, as Verizon has been charging $299 for 4G LTE smart phones recently. As for the date, it’s really anyone’s guess at this point until Verizon says something. Verizon is releasing this phone, and soon, but how soon is still up in the air. Verizon employees are being trained, the promotional material is leaking out onto the Internet, the Galaxy Nexus will be here soon.

Are you waiting for the Nexus Prime? Check back over the next few weeks and we’ll make sure that you know when the phone is going to be released.

New App Brass Monkey Turns Your Phone into a Cloud-based Game Controller

Your smart phone is great for gaming, but have you ever looked at it and realized that it could be better if you had an external screen to view the game, with the phone only being the controller? A new startup called Brass Monkey thought just that, and it has made it happen with a creative new iOS app.

The Boston-based startup has come up with the inventive idea of leveraging your iPhone or iPod touch as an external controller for video games that you can play in any Web browser. So whether you are looking at the Internet on your laptop, TV, or tablet, you can use your phone as a controller to play games on the larger screen. Any iPhone or iPod touch can be a controller, so you can grab your friends, tell them to bring their iPhones, and all of you can game together using your Web-connected TV.

New App Brass Monkey Turns Your Phone into a Cloud-based Game ControllerBrass Monkey already has a few games and it looks like it is opening up its API for other game developers to make their own games as well. As of now, there are only six games, including Monkey Dodgeball, Monkey Mini-Golf, a puzzle game called Candescent, and a zombie-survival game called “Contamination.” All of these games and the corresponding apps are free, so you really have no reason not to check them out if you have an iPhone.

Over all, the games have good graphics and using your iPhone as a controller is surprisingly intuitive, and does not suffer from lag like you might think. Up to four people with iPhones can join in on a game of Monkey Golf, so grab your friends and try out this new technology.

If this sounds appealing to you, check out Brass Monkey and install it on your iOS devices. From there, you can go to PlayBrassMonkey.com to load up the games and sync your iOS devices. If you’re a developer and interested in making your own games that use the Brass Monkey controller, you can check out their developer SDK page.

Have you tried Brass Monkey yet? What do you think?

Amazon Starts Black Friday Android Deals Early

In the market for a new Android phone this holiday season? It appears that Amazon has launched its Black Friday promotions a little bit early, and boy are they good if you’re an Android fan. Get this: every single Android phone in the Amazon Wireless store on Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T is going for one penny.

Yes, that’s right, you read me correctly. If you are a new customer on any of these carriers, your new smart phone isn’t going to cost you $200 or $100; it’s going to cost you one penny (plus your monthly bill, of course). If you’re an existing customer, the deals aren’t quite as good, but you can still get most phones on Amazon cheaper than you can at the Verizon or AT&T retail stores or websites.

Amazon Starts Black Friday Android Deals EarlyEven phones that are regularly $299 are a penny, including the brand new Droid RAZR from Verizon and the fan favorite Galaxy S II from AT&T and Sprint. In total there are a whopping 97 phones available for one cent with a new contract. This might be the best Android sale in years, so if you are interested, make sure to pick out your phone before Cyber Monday (November 28th), which is the last day of this fantastic promotion.

But wait, there’s even more: You can also combine this promotion with Amazon’s existing mobile hotspot promotion. If you activate your new phone with the mobile hotspot feature added on (around $30 more a month), Amazon will also hook you up with a $100 gift card. To sum up the total deal: If you buy a new Android phone from Amazon Wireless and activate the mobile hotspot feature when you buy the phone, Amazon will pay you $99.99. Yes, the deal is so good that you are being paid for getting a new phone with mobile hotspot.

Other mobile retailers must be shaking in their boots at this sale. Is there really any reason to buy a cell phone anywhere else on Black Friday?

YouTube for Android Updated, New Features Abound

YouTube for Android, probably one of the most popular Android apps while also one of the least updated, has received an update today that brings some new features as well as some key tie-ins to new Google services that will be very useful for YouTube aficionados.

YouTube for Android Updated, New Features AboundThe first thing you’ll notice if you update your YouTube app is that Google has added its now ubiquitous +1 button to all videos in the app, and giving something your approval is now just a click away. We’re not sure how Google is integrating the +1s into the overall YouTube sorting and ranking algorithm, but as of now, giving a video a +1 will simply add that video to the list of content that you’ve +1d in your Google+ profile. It’s fairly simple, but definitely an easy way to tag a video on your mobile phone to watch later on your desktop.

Another key feature added to this new YouTube version is Watch it Later. Desktop users have had Watch It Later for months, and it’s essentially a queue so you can tag a bunch of videos and then watch them all in a row. This feature could be great for long bus rides, as you can set up a series of videos to watch all in a row. To access this feature, just go to any video page, tap the + button at the top of the screen, and select Watch Later. Once you set up your queue, you can press Menu > Playlists > Watch It Later to access the queue and play back your videos.

Finally, the new version adds a feature for those of you who like to create and upload videos to YouTube right from your phone. Once you start the upload, you can edit all the video info right from that page without interrupting your upload. This is a change from the last version, where you had to wait until the video finished uploading before you could edit that information.

Over all, the changes in the new YouTube app are relatively small, but they definitely improve the mobile video-watching experience. Head to the Market and update your app today!

iTunes Match Goes Live – Here’s How to Sign Up

Apple was a little bit late on its promise of a “late October” release for iTunes Match, its new music subscription service that lets you have cloud access to all of your songs for $24.99 per year, but it has finally made the service available for everyone with the new iTunes 10.5.1 update.

If you’re not up to speed, iTunes Match is a service that scans through all of your MP3s (yes, all, whether they are ripped from CDs or downloaded from anywhere on the Internet) and “matches” them, giving you access to the corresponding songs on the iTunes Music Store. This means that if you have a collection of low-quality downloaded MP3s, you can “upgrade” them to HQ 256 kbps files from iTunes for $24.99 per year, and if you already have the quality you want, you will also have access to re-download any of your songs to your iOS devices or your five authorized PCs. It’s essentially access to all of your music at any time, without the painful upload process that comes along with similar systems like Google Music and Amazon Cloud.

If iTunes doesn’t have matching songs for something in your library, those files are uploaded to Apple’s cloud, so you’ll be able to re-download those, too.

iTunes Match Goes Live - Here's How to Sign UpIf you are interested in iTunes Match, head over to Apple’s iTunes site or run Software Update and upgrade your iTunes to 10.5.1. When you launch iTunes again after the update, you’ll see a new sidebar item underneath the iTunes Store called iTunes Match. Once you click that, you should see a button to Subscribe — just click that and you will be walked through the signup and scanning process. It looks like it is experiencing a high signup load right now and is only letting so many through, so if you get an error that says signups are temporarily unavailable, try back in a few hours.

For those of you who have made it through, what do you think of iTunes Match so far? How long did the initial scan and import take? Share your experiences in the comments.

How To Enable iOS 5’s Hidden Autocorrect Keyboard

At some point we’ve all complained about iOS autocorrect. There’s even a website — damnyouautocorrect.com — dedicated to laughing at the worst autocorrect fails. However, it looks like Apple is planning on doing something about it in future iOS releases, and the beginning of that has been uncovered as a hidden feature in iOS 5.

How To Enable iOS 5's Hidden Autocorrect KeyboardIf you have used Android 2.3 Gingerbread or a custom Android keyboard like SwifyKey, the image to the right might look pretty familiar to you. Instead of autocorrect guessing which word you want and giving you two options — either the suggested word or whatever you entered — those Android keyboards provide you with a list of possible completions above the keyboard. It looks like Apple is going down this route as well, and this new autocorrect keyboard can be enabled on any iOS 5 device (without even jailbreaking first).

If you want to try out this promising new feature, here are the instructions.

First, you’ll need iBackupBot, a program that allows you to modify the backups of iOS installations that iTunes creates. Download the software from the link and install it on your computer. Next, hook up your iOS device to iTunes and make a backup. Make sure that your backup is not encrypted (there’s a checkbox that says “Encrypt iPhone Backup” in the iOS devices’ settings page on iTunes; it needs to be unchecked).

How To Enable iOS 5's Hidden Autocorrect KeyboardNext, open up iBackupBot and find the backup that you just created. In this case, I picked the backup from today, Thursday, November 10. Scroll down the list of files until you find Library/Preferences/com.apple.keyboard.plist, and then open the file.

Finally, add in the following string to that file underneath the others:

<key>KeyboardAutocorrectionLists</key><string>YES</string>

Once the string has been entered, save the backup, and go back into iTunes. From there, restore the backup you just edited. Your iPhone will restart, restore the backup, and once you get the keyboard open, the autocorrect keyboard will be there waiting for you. It’s that easy! If for any reason you want to go back, simply remove that string from the backup file and restore again.

What do you think of this new hidden feature?

How to Update Your Epic 4G to Gingerbread

Finally, a whole year after Gingerbread was announced and released on the Nexus S, older devices are finally getting the official upgrades. If you are the owner of a Spring Epic 4G (part of the Samsung Galaxy S family of devices), we have a treat for you today: the official upgrade has leaked and you can install it right now.

If you are one of those people who gets worried about installing new OS updates on their phone, we can assure you this is safe. This file is exactly the same as the one you’d get if you waited for the over-the-air update to come, only you don’t have to wait. If you want to get some fancy new features on your phone like the new keyboard, improved copy/paste functionality, and the newest version of Samsung’s TouchWhiz user interface, follow along for instructions.

How to Update Your Epic 4G to GingerbreadFirst, download the official update file from Google. This link is straight to Google’s servers, so you know that it’s legit. Then, change the name of the downloaded file to update.zip. If you see the downloaded file without a .zip extension, you might have file extensions turned off on your PC. If that’s the case, make sure you just call it “update” or else it will actually be called “update.zip.zip”

Next, hook up your Epic 4G to your computer via USB and mount the SDCard per the usual process. Copy the update.zip file that you downloaded to the root folder of your phone’s SD Card.

Once the file has been copied, shut down your phone by holding down the power button and selecting “Shut Down,” and then turn it back on while holding down both the Volume Down and Camera button. Your phone should boot up and the update should run itself. Sit back, relax, and wait for your phone to update.

Once it’s done, your phone should reboot and you should be all good to go in Gingerbread! Enjoy your new phone OS.

How to Buy More iCloud Storage

If you’ve upgraded your iDevice to iOS 5, you are probably using iCloud already. If you are using it to make backups of your phone on a regular basis, that 5 GB that’s included free is going to fill up mighty fast. Luckily, Apple has made it easy to increase the amount of storage that your iCloud account has if you are willing to pay a fairly reasonable fee. If you want to make extra backups or store a lot of files in your iCloud account, follow along to upgrade your storage.

Upgrading Your iCloud Storage

First, go to the Settings app on your iDevice. Inside the Settings app, scroll down until you see the settings button for iCloud and tap it. Inside this panel, there are switches for turning on and off all of the iCloud services. Scroll down a bit past the options and you should see a button that says Storage & Backup. Tap that button.

How to Buy More iCloud Storage

The next panel you see will give you a couple of options for increased iCloud storage. There are a few options here, so pick the one that you think best fits how much storage you need. You can upgrade from the default 5 GB to 25 GB of total storage for $40 per year, or you can go with the mega-plan and get 55 GB of total storage for $100 / year. How much storage you need depends on what you are using iCloud for, but I can safely say that not many people will need the 55 GB plan unless they plan on backing up their whole phone very frequently, and not deleting old backups. 25 GB should be more than enough for most users.

How to Buy More iCloud Storage

Keep in mind that music and video you download through the iTunes store, while technically part of your iCloud account, does not count towards your total storage amount, and neither does media that you access through iTunes Match if you are paying the $25 a year for that service.