Posts tagged: best phone

Choosing the World’s Best Mobile Phone… Again!

Up until now, we’ve resisted the temptation to wade into the iPhone vs. Nexus One battle. And there have been many thought-provoking contributions on both sides of the discussion. Our take on it is that, for many folks, it’s now come down to the Ford vs. Chevy debate. We know lots of Ford enthusiasts that would never set foot in a GM vehicle. And vice versa.

In the cellphone world, there are some differences between Apple and Google philosophically that you really don’t see in choosing between Ford and Chevy. If you’re looking for a cellphone that just works, that requires little involvement on your part, and that basically functions as a phone, a music player, and a handheld game device, then you’ll love the iPhone. Apple controls the entire user experience end-to-end, and they’ve gotten it just about right after three years of evolutionary development. If you’re looking for a cellphone that functions more as a mobile office, then the choice comes down to Blackberry vs. Nexus One at least in our book. The Blackberry still is the hands-down winner if your business runs on Microsoft Exchange although the Nexus One performs admirably. For everyone else, the Nexus One is your baby. That’s where we are today. But what about next year, and…

It’s Integration, Stupid! Unless you’ve been living under a rock, Cloud Computing should not be a new concept. The whole corporate world is moving there. Why? Because it’s too damn expensive to manage the complexities of modern data processing technology in house. And when it comes to Cloud Computing, there’s no one better at it than Google. The tight integration of email, messaging, voice communications, directories, calendaring/scheduling, and maps in the Google universe is legendary. And Google is damn close to Microsoft on the document preparation and spreadsheet front. Google’s search technology is simply the icing on the cake. But what icing! It ties all of these components together in a way that others only Bing about.

What the Nexus One brings to the table is a mobile computing platform that is fully capable of taking advantage of all of Google’s integration strengths. Email is always synchronized with your Gmail account. Your Address Book is always synchronized with your Google Address book. Your calendar is always synchronized with your Google Calendar and those of your coworkers. Your phone rings on your Nexus One at the same time it rings in your office or home. And your outbound calls, including your CallerID, can be processed just as if you were placing the same calls from your office or home. Simple, isn’t it? Can Apple do the same thing? To some extent, certainly. But the Apple MobileMe sync technology is archaic compared to the Google model. With Apple you’re synchronizing Address Books and Calendars from Apple-only desktop machines to a central server (for a fee) on a scheduled basis. That leaves 90% of corporate America out of the loop. With Google, there is only one Address Book and Calendar, and they’re both already stored in the Cloud. So you don’t have the endless problems associated with keeping a dozen or a hundred or thousands of users’ information in sync.

Long Live the Soup Nazi. For Seinfeld fans, no one can touch the Draconian deeds of the Soup Nazi. But Apple comes close: pushing out updates that reportedly bricked the iPhones of users that sought a bit more freedom in their software choices, telling the FCC that unlocked iPhones threaten the security of the national cellphone network, ruling the Apple Store with an iron fist. This is not acceptable corporate behavior in our book. For the average cellphone user, this conduct may not matter, but it should. The choice really comes down to spending your dollars with a company that fosters and encourages open source development versus a company that treats you as if you’re too dumb to know what’s good for you.

Our Pick: The Nexus One. We’ll leave you with our Baker’s Dozen reasons for choosing the Nexus One over the iPhone. YMMV! For the best and most balanced technical review to date, visit Ars Technica.

1. Google Apps Integration (see above)
2. Navigation integrated with Voice & Google Maps (video)
3. Phone-wide Speech-to-Text Voice Integration
4. Multitasking and Recent App Switcher Button
5. Back Button to non-destructively back out of anything
6. One-Touch App Directory plus 5 Custom Screens
7. Goggles & Dolphin Multi-Touch Browser
8. SIP and Google Voice integration with WiFi and Cell Nets
9. Intuitive store without corporate content control
10. Unlocked phone, easily rooted, Cyanogen
11. Replaceable battery
12. Expandable storage
13. Flash

In the immortal words of Bernie Mac, “Whatcha gonna do, America?”




Need help with Asterisk®? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Meet The iPhone Terminator: The World’s Best Mobile Phone

Photo courtesy of HTC and androidcommunity.com

With apologies to Arnold’s infamous line, all we can say to iPhone enthusiasts of the world is that once you try this Android phone, you won’t ever go back. Google has done for the mobile phone what Apple did with Mac OS X except Google also opened up the hardware platform. Unfortunately, Apple opted for locked and proprietary hardware and software in rolling out its iPhone. Now that the second-generation Android phones are appearing, the difference is palpable.

Update. There’s now a third-generation Android phone that’s even better than this one. You can read all about it in our latest article.

Choosing the World’s Best Cell Phone is obviously fraught with peril. All other things being equal we would have bestowed the honor on Nokia’s E71 which we reviewed recently and have personally used until a month ago. That’s when we jumped into the Android World which we will tell you up front is still a bit of a work in progress. But, all we can say is WOW! The openness, the technology, and the creativity showcased in the new Android phones point to an inescapable conclusion. Google once again has struck the Mother Lode. Seeing is believing as they say. And today we’ll digress from our usual format to bring you a pictorial tour of the HTC Magic. No. You don’t have to carry a white one like Arnold. Heh. A shiny black one is readily available. We actually had planned to walk through the process of rooting the phone, but we’ll leave that for another day primarily because this mobile phone provides sufficient flexibility in its native state to deliver an almost perfect cellphone experience even without root access.

We’ve already covered our objections to the iPhone in a previous article so we won’t repeat them here other than to note that SIP clients can’t run in the background on an iPhone which makes them next to worthless for inbound calls. Yes, there are kludgey workarounds, but these open yet another can of worms. We’ll dispose of the Nokia product line by telling you they’re headed in the wrong direction just like Microsoft with the wrong operating system(s), the wrong product design, and the wrong technology mix. Just when the world is finally looking for a mobile platform that provides flexibility in transitioning between the cellular networks, WiFi, and WiMax, Nokia kills the SIP stack and SIP client on its entire line of new cellphones. So a company that once was THE innovative cell phone manufacturer in the world suddenly is looking a bit like Yahoo, lots of thrashing around but no cigar. Sadly, it’s mostly the result of self-inflicted wounds. But we’re not going to dwell on the past today. We’re going to look at what the future holds in mobile communications. And the one word that best sums up our hopes for future mobile telephony is Google… more precisely, Google’s totally open source Android Platform.

So let’s again go about this by the book… with a requirements analysis! You can match it to your own wish list. We want a cellphone that makes cellular calls from most locations, and we want the ability to decide which cell provider we use depending upon where we are. We want the option to make phone calls through our own SIP provider, or Asterisk® server, or Google Voice whenever we feel like it with or without a Wi-Fi connection. And, of course, we want VoIP Prioritization. This means we want our cell phone to prioritize incoming and outgoing calls by attempting to use VoIP services first, cellphone carrier second. We also want to be able to check our email using gMail, POP3 and IMAP servers at 3G data speeds. For the business community, we also think Microsoft Exchange support is indispensable. When we need to send or receive something on our notebook computer and there’s no WiFi around, we want our cellphone to provide data connectivity. We’re not going to be downloading movies and 1,000-page books all day long. We just want to get an important file attachment from the office so we can read it on a normal screen. If the cellphone provided a PDF viewer, so much the better. And, finally, we’d like a QWERTY keyboard for messaging, and we want to be able to change our own battery, add a memory chip, and swap out SIM cards whenever we’d like. We also want the ability to gain root access should we ever wish to do so. After all, it’s our phone! Bluetooth for phone calls and A2DP for music in the car would be great, and a good camera as well as GPS functionality would be nice to have on the phone as well. For those in the U.S., we’d add one additional requirement: support for AT&T’s 3G network so you’re not stuck with T-Mobile’s dog-slow (and incompatible) wireless data network. Most of the Android phones currently flunk this test leaving you with nothing but EDGE service if you use a provider other than T-Mobile. Of course, with T-Mobile, you get mostly EDGE service in the U.S. as well. :roll:

And the winner is…

Our pick is the unlocked Rogers HTC Magic phone, the only Android phone that we could find which supported rooting and AT&T’s 3G network in the U.S… albeit from a Canadian provider. That’s the price U.S. consumers pay for a government that continually rewards the telephone oligopoly with exclusivity rip-offs. So how does the HTC Magic stack up to our wish list? We’d give it a 94. It does everything on our Wish List… and more. The images which follow incidentally were taken using the screen capture utility that’s part of the Android 1.5 SDK. It is easily installed on either a Windows or Linux PC or your favorite Mac (except Snow Leopard for the moment). There’s a great tutorial on how to install the Android SDK as well as a YouTube video and tutorial on rooting the Rogers HTC Magic phone should you desire further information on those topics.

Getting Started. Before proceeding, set yourself up a Gmail account if you don’t already have one. As with most provider-specific cellphones, this HTC Magic phone is hard-coded to the Rogers network in Canada. Assuming you want to use AT&T’s network in the U.S., step #1 is to enter AT&T APN settings when you first turn on the phone. After inserting the AT&T SIM and booting the phone, press the Menu key before doing anything else. Next click Add APN. Enter the following values leaving the remaining fields blank:

Name: att
APN: wap.cingular
Password: CINGULAR1

Now press the Menu button again and choose Save. For other providers, try this Google Search.

Main Screen. Once you’ve entered your Gmail credentials, the phone will boot and display a Main menu. It actually is three screens wide. You can move to the other screens by swiping your finger to the left or to the right. You’ll notice a thumb tab at the bottom of the display. By dragging this up, you can access all of the other applications on the phone. Move it back out of the way by dragging it back down or pressing the Back button (←) which is the third from the left button just below the screen display.

Applications. Here’s the first page of our Applications. You scroll through the list using the trackball, or you can drag your finger vertically on the screen to reposition the display up or down. Tapping on an entry starts the application. Pressing the Home button on the far left just below the screen display returns you to the Main Screen. Every app is displayed in this listing except for Widgets. Widgets are more like scripts and typically are used to toggle functions on and off. In the left Main screen above are four widgets to toggle WiFi, BlueTooth, GPS, and Ringer/Vibrate/Silent functions of the phone.

Android Market. All of these applications didn’t necessarily come with the phone. Google’s Android Market has been set up for developers to display their wares. You can become a developer, too. And, unlike the iPhone apps, most of the Android apps still are free. Just another advantage to open source technology. To access the Market from your phone, just choose the Market app and follow the intuitive menus. There’s a great Search function. Again, unlike the iPhone, these applications get stored on a MicroSD card. A 2GB card comes with the phone. Do yourself a favor and start with a $50 16GB card.

Messaging. As you might expect from Google, the Android platform excels at messaging of all flavors. Whether it’s text messaging, Gmail, or POP3/IMAP email connectivity, Android has you covered (see above). And the support for Microsoft Exchange is nothing short of brilliant. In the social networking department, there’s full-featured support for Twitter and Facebook, among others. Using the Search function in the Android Market, you can have your phone set up with your favorite tools in just a few minutes.

Android Security. Securing your phone is also nothing short of brilliant on the Android 1.5 platform. Simply draw an unlock code pattern using your finger, and that becomes the signature for future access to your cellphone. Also works pretty well as a sobriety test. :-) If you can’t unlock your phone, don’t unlock your car! You also can lock your SIM card to your phone and set a password if you’re nervous about losing your $500 crown jewel. What the security system really demonstrates is that the open source community has nothing to apologize for. The quality of this software is every bit as good if not better than the software produced by the other cellphone players.

Placing Calls. Yes, we hear you. What about making phone calls? You’ll be pleased to know that the HTC Magic can do that, too. We were just saving the best for last. In fact, this phone can make calls in three different ways: through your cellphone provider, through SIP using your Asterisk server or another provider, and through Google Voice. Once you install the Google Voice application from the Android Market, simply configure it with either your cellphone number or an intermediate provider such as SIPgate or IPkall. You then have a choice of whether to make Google Voice the primary or secondary calling source. Or you can choose to be prompted for each call as shown above. Google Voice calls that go out through your WiFi data network connection incur no charges in the U.S. and Canada.

SIP calls are placed using the SIPdroid application which also is available in the Android Market. Shown to the left is a sample setup for SIPdroid to connect to your Asterisk server on a private home network. In the SIPdroid Call Options, specify whether to use WiFi and/or 3G/EDGE for the SIP calls. And set a preference for how your calls should be placed, i.e. cellphone carrier or SIP. The only tricky part is the Extension Settings on your Asterisk server. Just create an extension in the usual way using FreePBX. But make sure your settings include the following entries: canreinvite=no, nat=yes, and qualify=no.

To route outbound calls through SipDroid instead of your cellphone provider, just append + to the end of the phone number. You can generate a + symbol on your phone keypad with a long press of the 0 button.

Android Backups. No article would be complete without some mention of backups. The Android platform currently supports four options: Android images, MyBackup, and Google and Exchange Synchronization. Android images can only be created if you gain root access to your phone or load a different image on your phone. MyBackup is a $9.95 app from the Android Market that lets you backup your Applications and Data separately onto your MicroSD card. Unless you’re a techie, it’s well worth the money. Google and Exchange Synchronization you will find under Settings, Data Synchronization. With Google Sync, you can back up your Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts data automatically and as a background task. Be sure to activate it. Finally, you’ll see displayed above a browser display from mundy.org/whereib that you may find helpful from time to time. It displays not only a map of your current location based upon your IP address, but also shows your public IP address.

Android 3Gtest. We’ll leave you with a hot tip about one additional application: 3Gtest. Just download and install it from the Android Market and then run it. You’ll be amazed by the results. Not only will it tell you how good your upload and download speeds are, it also will tell you some interesting tidbits about whether your provider is living up to their oft-repeated promise of Net Neutrality. Our download 3G speed in Charleston, South Carolina was actually close to T-1 performance. Interestingly, our upload speed was pitiful… about as fast as a circa 1860’s telegraph machine.

Android System Backup. We said we weren’t going to cover rooting your phone, but we do want to point you in the right direction and also show you how to get a perfect image backup of your phone. If you’re not comfortable entering system commands, stop here! We are Mac snobs so what follows is the Mac way of doing things which is incredibly simple compared to the hassle with Windows in getting the correct USB driver loaded to make things function properly. If you’re determined to use Windows, be sure to install the Android SDK before you connect your phone to your PC. And read up on how to install the appropriate USB driver for Windows. With a Mac, all of this just works… out of the box. As we mentioned previously, we’ve only tested this with Leopard and Snow Leopard, and Snow Leopard does NOT work!

Before proceeding, you must enable USB Debugging on your phone. You’ll find it here: Settings->Applications->Development->USB Debugging

To get your Mac set up with the proper toolkit, do the following. There’s nothing tricky here. Just don’t skip any steps. And you only have to do this once! First, download the Android 1.5 SDK for the Mac from here. Unzip android-sdk-mac_x86-1.5_r3.zip on your Desktop and rename the folder to android-sdk. Now drag that folder into your Applications directory. Next, open a Terminal window and create/edit .bash_profile: nano -w .bash_profile. Add the following entry: export PATH=${PATH}:/Applications/android-sdk/tools. Then save the file: Ctrl-X, Y, Enter. Now run the same command from the CLI prompt to update your PATH now: export PATH=${PATH}:/Applications/android-sdk/tools. Next, download fastboot-mac onto your Desktop from the HTC Support site. Unzip the file and rename the file to fastboot. Then, download recovery-new.img to your Desktop. Drag both fastboot and recovery-new.img into the Applications/android-sdk/tools folder.

Now we’re ready to make your backup. Plug your phone into your Mac using the USB cable that came with the phone. Open a terminal window on your Mac and change to the SDK tools directory: cd /applications/android-sdk/tools. Run the following command and make certain your phone shows up in the listing: adb devices. You should get a display with the serial number of your phone:

List of devices attached
HT95RNK02843 device

Assuming your phone shows up in the list, you’re ready to proceed with a backup. Turn off your phone. Then, while pressing the Volume Down button, turn your phone back on. Hold down both buttons until you see a screen that says <BACK> FastBoot Mode with dancing Androids on skateboards at the bottom of the display. Press the BACK button (←) and the FASTBOOT USB menu will display. In your computer’s Terminal window (NOT on your phone), type: fastboot boot recovery-new.img. Your phone will reboot and display a screen with several options in blue. Use your phone’s trackball to carefully scroll down to the Nandroid Backup 2.1 option. Then depress the Trackball button to begin the backup. You’ll see a yellow display message indicating that the backup is proceeding. When the backup completes, choose the Reboot System Now option to restart your phone normally.

You’ll find the new backup on the SD card. To copy it to a safe place on your Mac, drag down the Message Bar at the top of the display after your phone has rebooted. Tap the USB Connected Select to copy files to/from your computer option. Then tap the Mount button. A new drive NO NAME will appear on your Desktop. Double-click on it and drag the nandroid folder to a safe place for permanent storage of your backup. To unmount the phone, do it on your Mac desktop first. Then reverse the mount process we initially used on the phone to mount it. Simple!

Rooting Your Phone. We have NOT done this so you’re on your own. You’ll probably void the warranty on your phone by proceeding. The best article we could find on the procedure for rooting and restoring your phone is here. But it doesn’t have the correct backup image. If you restore the wrong image, your phone’s radio may no longer work on your provider’s network. The consensus seems to be that the proper image for a rooted Rogers HTC Magic is here. The best tutorial for actually performing the magic appears to be here. But we would stress again that we have not actually tried this, and you really, really are on your own if you proceed past reading this article. It’s your $500 phone… or brick as the case may be. Before doing anything further, we would strongly recommend you make several backup images as outlined above and also spend some time doing a careful review of the postings in this forum until you are very comfortable with all of the wrinkles and procedures. If something goes wrong, post your problems there, not here. :-) We’re handing you the map, but it’s your choice whether to jump off the cliff. Enjoy!

Update: The unlocked Rogers HTC Magic phone used for this review is now available for purchase from Nerd Vittles. It supports 3G networks of both Rogers in Canada and AT&T in the United States. Just make us an offer we can’t refuse. It’s still a terrific phone!



The Future of Android. For a glimpse of what the future holds for Android, see this Giga OM article published on October 7.


Web Site of the Week. For all of your favorite Nerd gifts, don’t miss the new Mashable collection.

Articles of the Week. For another excellent technical review of the HTC Magic, check out TechRadar UK’s review. And be sure to check out Justin West’s Free Homebrew VoIP with Google Voice and Intel Atom.


Enhanced Google Maps. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added yet another Google Map to Nerd Vittles. Now, in addition to showing our location with Google Latitude, we also are displaying your location based upon your IP address. We’ll show you how to add something similar to any LAMP-based Linux system in coming weeks. It’s a powerful technology that has enormous potential. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Maps, click on the Hybrid and Satellite buttons and then check out the scaling and navigation options. Double-click to zoom. Incredible!


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.



Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…


VoIP Prioritizing The World’s Best Traveling Phone

photo courtesy of skitch.com image sharing service

We follow a lot of really smart geeks on Twitter. As you might imagine, there’s a good bit of chatter about the world’s best cellphones. About half are die-hard iPhone users, and the rest are all over the map. Our iPhone is now a glorified iPod and, when you finish reading today, you’ll understand why.

What always has set Macs apart from PCs in our humble opinion is flexibility. So why is it that Apple has gone out of its way to strip that feature from the iPhone? Well, we all know the answer. AT&T and the iTunes Store. Or in a word, money. So what’s missing? For openers, there’s no tethering, the ability to connect your PC to your cellphone when the power goes out so you can send an emergency message or check on your servers at work. And then there’s free calling: the ability to place free SIP calls or Google Voice calls using your cellphone from almost anywhere. And then there’s the money thing. If you’ve traveled to foreign countries with an AT&T-powered iPhone, we don’t have to finish this story. For everyone else, let’s just say the cost of using your iPhone in a foreign country or on a cruise ship is stratospheric.

We’ve watched our friends and colleagues purchase all sorts of add-on gizmos to make up for the shortcomings in the iPhone. These have included secondary cellphones and more recently the MiFi devices which let you pay one of the companies in the American cellphone oligopoly another $60++ per month to tether your notebook and netbook to the cellular data network. Let’s get this straight. We pay a cellphone provider for an unlimited data plan as part of our service, but to transmit data to or from our PC through the plan, add another $60 a month for another data plan with a bandwidth cap. Huh? This is for a service that most of us use intermittently and would prefer to never use because of the lousy performance. Here’s our #1 traveling rule. Never stay in a hotel that doesn’t have WiFi, period. Why would you? The one next door has it!

So let’s go about this by the book… with a requirements analysis first! We want a cellphone that makes cellular calls from most locations, and we want the ability to decide which cell provider we use depending upon where we are. We want the option to make phone calls through our own SIP provider, or Asterisk® server, or Google Voice whenever we feel like it with or without a Wi-Fi connection. And, of course, we want VoIP Prioritization. This means we want our cell phone to prioritize incoming and outgoing calls by attempting to use VoIP services first, cellphone carrier second. Good luck with that one! We also want to be able to check our email using POP3 or IMAP servers. And, when we need to send or receive something on our notebook computer and there’s no WiFi around, we want our cellphone to provide data connectivity. We’re not going to be downloading movies and 1,000-page books all day long. We just want to get an important file attachment from the office so we can read it on a normal screen. And, finally, we’d like a QWERTY keyboard for messaging, and we want to be able to change our own battery, add a memory chip, and swap out SIM cards whenever we’d like. And the music, camera, and GPS functionality would be nice-to-haves on a phone.

Is this so hard? Well, if you’re in the United States and you’re planning to purchase a phone through Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon to get one of those sign-away-your-life phone discounts, the answer is IMPOSSIBLE! And, to those that are chomping at the bit to tell us how they’ve accomplished some of these miracles with their hacked iPhone, let me just remind you that Apple considers it a national security threat to hack your iPhone thus explaining why Apple also considers it honorable to brick your hacked iPhone at any time despite the fact that you paid for it. Ask yourself if you really want to invest your cellphone dollars with a company spewing forth this kind of bullshit stuff.

And the answer is…

The unlocked U.S. version of the Nokia E71 costs $289.99 at NewEgg, and it’s worth every penny. We’ve been using ours all day, every day for the better part of a year. We’re not going to do a full review of the phone when there’s already an excellent one out there. Start with the allaboutsymbian review and then pick up again here. What isn’t covered in that review is the critical component that we believe sets this phone apart from everything else out there: incredibly simple SIP connectivity and VoIP setup with an Asterisk server because of the native SIP stack and SIP client which is built into the E71’s firmware. And, as you will soon discover, this transforms the E71 into the perfect traveling companion because it makes the E71 just another telephone extension on your home office Asterisk PBX. If secure communications matters, there’s VPN support as well.

Implementing Incoming VoIP Prioritization. Here’s how we’ve set up connectivity to our E71. First, create an extension on your Asterisk server that will be dedicated to remote SIP access from your E71. Let’s use extension 371 in this example. Give it a very secure password because the IP address of your E71 will change as you move from place to place so we can’t really lock down the extension with anything other than a secure password, or you won’t be able to connect. Next, create another extension (372) and forward all incoming calls to that extension to the regular phone number of your E71, i.e. the one provided by your cellphone provider. Then create a Ring Group on your Asterisk server (373) and set up 371 as the only number in the ring group extension list. For the destination if no answer, choose extension 372. Finally, set up your Google Voice number with a destination extension that forwards calls to ring group 373. So the way this will work is that incoming calls to your Google Voice number will ring the SIP connection on your E71 (371) if your E71 is registered to your Asterisk server via SIP. And, when it’s not registered, the calls will be forwarded to the regular phone number of your E71 (372) without any delay since extension 371 isn’t registered with your server. If you get in the habit of searching for WiFi wherever you happen to light and connecting back to your Asterisk server, (as you’ll see, this is a one-click operation), then you’ll have dirt-cheap remote cellphone service on your E71 almost all of the time. And, if you travel to foreign countries, it means that any time your E71 is registered with a WiFi HotSpot, all incoming calls will be free instead of costing an arm-and-a-leg in per minute international roaming fees.

SIP Setup for Nokia E71. John Rogers over at geek.com has written an excellent piece with lots of pretty pictures to show you how to configure your E71 with Asterisk. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s the link. It only takes a couple of minutes. We do have a few tips to get you started on the right foot. Make certain that the IP address you enter for your Asterisk server is the public IP address or fully-qualified domain name for your server, not the private IP address inside your firewall. As you roam from one WiFi network to the next, the E71 will automatically configure the phone for the new networks as soon as you choose WLAN Scanning, select a WiFi network, and choose to Connect to your Asterisk server. This is performed from the default screen on your phone so there’s no wading through layer upon layer of menus. After linking and unlinking to different networks about a dozen times, we have found it’s a good idea to shut down the phone, remove the battery momentarily, and then restart the phone. It keeps awkward connect problems from ever occurring. To enable VoIP Prioritization for outbound calling, all you have to do is change one default setting on the Nokia E71: Menu, Tools, Settings, Phone, Call, Default Call Type: Internet Call.

Depending upon your choice of router, using the public IP address of your Asterisk server may cause connectivity issues when you attempt to make a connection through the same WiFi network on which your Asterisk server resides. You can solve this by investing in one of dLink’s Gaming Routers which also provide the necessary tools to prioritize VoIP traffic on your network. Second, make sure you load the latest Nokia firmware for the E71 before you begin configuring your phone. You can check which firmware is installed on your phone by pressing *#0000#. If it’s less than 200.21.118, you need to upgrade, and you’ll need a Windows machine to do it. Here’s the link to Nokia’s upgrade site.

Where To Go From Here. Once you have your E71 performing as a remote Asterisk extension, there are some other must-have’s for your phone. First, you’ll want to purchase JoikuSpot Premium for 15.00€ (about $20). It turns your phone into a WiFi HotSpot whenever you need tethering. Next you’ll want to load Nokia’s OVI store which includes a number of free downloads including Internet Radio, Fring, Nimbuzz, and Web Server. With the web server, you can actually create a blog and let visitors share photos and take pictures using your E71. Try ours to get a taste of what’s available. We think you’ll also find Google Latitude to be a fascinating addition. It lets you produce a free, GPS-enabled map with your current location just like Where In the World Is Nerd Uno. In fact, that map is produced from GPS data generated on our Nokia E71.

A Word of Caution. Finally, we’ll close on a cautionary note. Tempting as it may be to buy Nokia’s latest and greatest cellphone, DON’T! Nokia quietly has dropped the native SIP stack and SIP client on almost all of its newest cellphones presumably to win the love and affection of companies like AT&T. These are the same companies that continue to claim in FCC filings that they have nothing against VoIP on cellphones. The list of VoIP-impaired Nokia cellphones includes the N97 as well as the AT&T-branded E71x. Nokia also has been less than clear about the new N900. Historically, this has meant that SIP functionality has disappeared. So beware of shiny new things… that may not work worth a damn. It’s too bad. Nokia was one of our favorite companies, but it looks like they’re ceding the VoIP technology business to Google’s Android which happens to be next on the Nerd Vittles Radar. Here’s a complete list of Nokia’s SIP-compatible phones. Enjoy!


Enhanced Google Maps. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added yet another Google Map to Nerd Vittles. Now, in addition to showing our location with Google Latitude, we also are displaying your location based upon your IP address. We’ll show you how to add something similar to any LAMP-based Linux system in coming weeks. It’s a powerful technology that has enormous potential. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Maps, click on the Hybrid and Satellite buttons and then check out the scaling and navigation options. Double-click to zoom. Incredible!


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.



Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

The World’s Best Asterisk Phone

For long-time readers of our column, you know that we've spent lots of time looking at and testing just about every Asterisk®-compatible SIP telephone on the planet. At long last, we have found the hands-down winner. Before spilling the beans, let us just say that we really wanted to love the Cisco 7970 phone with its color display. It is certainly the most expensive phone out there and it feels solid and the voice quality on both the headset and speakerphone is excellent. The problem is that Cisco proudly hates SIP and open source. Cisco support is worse than awful. And Cisco's SIP firmware is so bad that it's embarrassing to associate it with SIP at all. After watching its evolution through five or six versions, we're convinced that the bugs, quirks, and lack of features are for the most part intentional. We actually have had XML applications for weather, news, and AsteriDex working for the better part of a year on our 7970. But we've refused to release the applications because we didn't want to do anything to encourage anyone to buy one of these phones. Nothing that Cisco has done in the last year has changed our mind. So... Adiós Cisco. Take our advice: don't waste your time. Life's too short. </rant>

So much for the bad news. We have belatedly found a phone that meets every single business requirement any company could have. And it fulfills those functions transparently with minimal installation and setup. Every phone can be configured and upgraded quickly using either a phone or web interface or simple scripts on your Asterisk server. Voice quality and the speakerphone are incredible. For those with PBX in a Flash systems, it's even easier. Download and run our install script on your server, and we'll preconfigure your phones in under a minute with every bell and whistle in the universe. If you're a reseller, this phone with its feature set will sell systems without your having to lift a finger. No other commercial offering can touch it. Period!

We've just returned from the FreePBX Telephony Training Seminar that was held in Charleston, South Carolina last week. Suffice it say, this phone stole the show. So what is it?

THE WINNER IS... Aastra's 57i or, if you'd like up to four wireless phones to go with it, the Aastra 57i CT is also a winner. One cordless handset is included with the 57iCT. Before we roll up our sleeves and put the phone to work, let's digress for a minute and provide a little background.

For those unfamilar with Aastra, they're a Canadian company that's been around for over 25 years. When the telecom industry imploded at the turn of the century, they purchased several divisions of Nortel including their Meridian Centrex products and their telephone hardware. Several years ago, they also acquired the telephony division of Ascom. Suffice it to say, like their phones, the company is rock-solid and reliable.

That brings us back to the Aastra 57i. Believe it or not, one of the most difficult transitions for many small businesses is finding a PBX that can mimic the functionality of a key telephone. Here's a typical scenario: a secretary answers a call for the boss, places the call on hold, announces the call to the boss, and the boss picks up the call on hold. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, the Nerd Vittles setup for the Aastra 57i using PBX in a Flash and FreePBX 2.3 or 2.4 brings it back with ease. And let's dispense with the secrecy and tell you what else lies in store using this phone. Many thanks to both Aastra and Schmooze Communications for developing and sharing this technology with the Asterisk community!

So what do you get with the 57i? For openers, you get 4 lines per phone with a voicemail message waiting indicator that actually works. The lines also can be used for Call Presence indicators. There's an intercom button, and a Day/Night button for controlling the Day and Night functionality of your system as you've implemented it in FreePBX. Then there are Park and Parking Lot buttons that simulate key telephones. When a call comes in, answer it. To place the call on "hold," press Park. The system will tell you on which extension the call is parked using the built-in speakerphone. Then announce the call in the traditional way, and the callee can retrieve the call by simply dialing that extension. If they forget the extension, no problem! The call recipient simply presses the Parking Lot button for a list of calls waiting to be answered. Scroll to the call desired after viewing the CallerID information for each of the pending calls, and press the Answer button. Presto! Finally, a drop-in key system replacement with no retraining or learning curve.

Perhaps the most creative new feature is Visual Voicemail. If you've used an iPhone, then you already know what it is. And it works the same way on the Aastra 57i. When you press the Voicemail button, a list of pending voicemails is displayed with CallerID information for each message. Highlight the message you want to retrieve and press Play. Voila! The message is played on the speakerphone of your 57i. You can delete the message by pressing the Delete button. It's simple to use and makes you wonder why no other SIP phone has it. You'll never have to wade through the VoiceMail IVR to get your messages again.

Two directories also are provided on buttons: Nerd Vittles' AsteriDex and the Asterisk Phonebook, both of which now can be incorporated into FreePBX under the Tools tab. If you'd prefer to use SugarCRM instead of one of these, the code for that one also has been provided by Aastra and is available for your use with a simple configuration change. There's also a Contacts Directory which we'll get to in a minute.

To round out the button collection on the front of the phone, there is a customizable Speed Dial list for each phone, a Redial button tied to a list of recent calls, a Call Forwarding key to redirect your calls to another location, and a Do Not Disturb button. We should mention that the Night button, Call Forwarding button and DND button all illuminate dedicated lights plus a console message when the features have been activated. And, believe it or not, the lights actually turn off and the messages disappear when the features are disabled. We're, of course, (again) poking fun at Cisco which never has been able to get all the lights working reliability on their phones using their SIP firmware.

When an incoming call arrives or whevever you place a call, the bottom third of the screen magically changes to reveal Drop, Transfer, and Conference buttons which work as advertised.

Now for the fun stuff. When the phone is sitting idle, another menu of choices is available. And the magic for most of the technology on Page 2 is thanks to the phone's beautiful display and support for XML-based web pages, all of which are generated on your Asterisk server assuming you have Apache and PHP installed. The second page of functions for your Aastra 57i is activated by pressing the More button.

Page 2 replaces the display on the bottom third of the screen and provides new buttons for Callers, Contacts, Services, Reminders, and Other Apps. The Callers button displays a list of CallerIDs for recent calls with convenient buttons to Dial a number or Save an entry into the Contacts Directory. The Contacts or Dir button displays a list of contacts which have been saved from previous incoming calls. The Other Apps button provides access to an almost unbelievable collection of XML applications, most of which were developed by Aastra specifically for the Asterisk community.

The XML Applications button basically turns your phone into an Internet access and retrieval device using almost three dozen popular RSS Feeds. The list of applications includes all of the following:

  • Ask Google
  • CNN News
  • Top Stories
    World News
    US News
    Politics
    Law
    Technology
    Science and Space
    Health News
    Entertainment
    Travel
    Education
    Video
    Offbeat
    Most Popular
    Most Recent
  • ESPN News
  • Top Headlines
    NFL
    NBA
    MLB
    NHL
    Motorsports
    Soccer
    College Basketball
    College Football
  • Horoscopes
  • Weather
  • Movies
  • Stock Quotes
  • Today
  • Word of the Day
    Famous Birthdays
    Today in History
    Quote of the Day
  • World Clocks

Today's Project. Our objective today wasn't just to tell you about the phone. We're actually going to put all of this technology in your hands, too. Sorry to report that you still have to buy the phone. They retail for just under $300. With a little Googling, you can find them for about $200 in the U.S. The 57i CT including one wireless handset runs about $100 more. Up to four handsets and nine simultaneous calls are supported on the 57i CT.


So, here we go. Step 1 is to install a TFTP server on your PBX in a Flash server if you don't already have one. If you don't have our server, then any Asterisk 1.4 server will do so long as you have installed FreePBX and the LAMP stack: Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Now you're ready to download Aastra's latest firmware for the phone as well as all of the cool applications. Finally, you need to tell your new phone the IP address of your TFTP server and reboot it to load the new firmware and Aastra's software goodies. The whole project on a PBX in a Flash system takes about 5 minutes to complete. YMMV! Setting up extensions is a simple matter of building a .cfg file with the MAC address of each phone for the filename and placing it in the /tftpboot directory. Then you reboot the phone. Complete and unbelievably thorough documentation for the commands is available here. In the alternative, you can access the web server on the phone by pointing a browser to the phone's IP address and configure everything. You can accomplish most of the configuration on the phone itself. The account name is admin and the default password is 22222. We'll leave that for your homework project.

Installing TFTP Server. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands to install the TFTP server.

yum -y install tftp-server
/sbin/chkconfig --level 345 xinetd on
/sbin/chkconfig --level 345 tftp on
service xinetd restart

To make sure that the TFTP server installed and is running, issue the following command:

netstat -nulp|grep 69

You should see a result that includes a line that looks similar to the following:

udp 0 0 0.0.0.0:69 0.0.0.0:*

Installing the Aastra 57i Firmware and Applications. While still logged in as root, issue the following commands:1


cd /tftpboot
wget http://www.aastra.com/cps/rde/xbcr/SID-3D8CCB6A-9420713E/04/↩
57i_FC-001088-00-09_sr_2.2.0_0312.zip
unzip 57i_FC-001088-00-09_sr_2.2.0_0312.zip
wget http://www.aastra.com/cps/rde/xbcr/SID-3D8CCB6A-9420713E/04/↩
57iCT_FC-001089-00-09_sr_2.2.0_0312.zip
unzip 57iCT_FC-001089-00-09_sr_2.2.0_0312.zip
wget http://www.aastra.com/cps/rde/xbcr/SID-3D8CCB6A-9420713E/04/↩
55i_FC-001087-00-09_sr_2.2.0_0312.zip
unzip 55i_FC-001087-00-09_sr_2.2.0_0312.zip
rm *.zip
rm *.txt

As mentioned previously, there are two config files that get loaded into your Aastra 57i from your server each time the phone is rebooted. These files are located in the /tftpboot directory along with the current firmware. The aastra.cfg config file is loaded into every Aastra phone on your network. You typically set up your line buttons in this file, but it's unnecessary to get started since you can configure those in the web interface. For now, make a change in aastra.cfg to reflect the IP address of your PBX in a Flash server. So log into your server as root and issue the following nano command:

nano -w /tftpboot/aastra.cfg

Now press Ctrl-W and enter 192.168.0.178 as the search term. Press Ctrl-R. Then press the Enter key. Then type the IP address of your server and press the Enter key. When the entries are completed, save your file: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

Configuring FreePBX for Aastra 57i. First, edit /etc/asterisk/features.conf and change the blindxfer line under [featuremap] so that it looks like the following. Too many SIP phones have difficulty sending two simultaneous # codes so we'll change it to one # code to make things work all the time.

blindxfer => #

Now log into FreePBX using a web browser. First, check the upper left corner of the screen and make sure that you are running FreePBX 2.3 or later. Now we want to edit the Parking Lot Configuration under the Setup tab. Make sure your entries look something like the following. The number of Parking Lot slots is, of course, up to you to meet your requirements.

Parking Lot Options
Enable Parking Lot: checked
Parking Lot Extension: 70
Number of Slots: 5
Parking Timeout: 30
Parking Lot Context: parkedcalls


Actions for Timed-Out Orphans
Parking Alert-Info: leave blank for now
CallerID Prepend: LOT
Announcement: leave blank for now


Destination for Orphaned Parked Calls

Choose an option here to meet your needs. This is the destination for unanswered calls by both the callee and the receptionist that parked the call.

Activating Intercom and Paging in FreePBX. By default, the intercom and paging functionality is turned off. To activate it, click the Setup tab and choose Feature Codes. Scroll down the list to Paging and Intercom. Check and enable all three feature codes. *80 preceding an extension number initiates an intercom or paging call. As we have implemented it, it will switch to an open line, activate the speakerphone, and let you blast your message to the desktop whether the person is on the phone or not. *55 lets them turn that off whenever they'd like, and *54 lets them turn it back on again. If you initially read this article within the first couple days of publication, this section wasn't available. And your phone configuration (/tftpboot/aastra.cfg) needs to be modified slightly. Just substitute the following lines for the corresponding lines in the existing code that you downloaded. Then reboot your phone(s).

sip intercom type: 3
sip intercom line: 4
sip intercom prefix code: *80
sip intercom mute mic: 0
sip allow auto answer: 1

Implementing Day/Night Service in FreePBX. In order to use the Day/Night key on the Aastra 57i's, you first have to enable it in FreePBX. In a nutshell, the Day/Night feature lets you define where calls should be directed when the feature is in Day Mode and where they should go when the feature is toggled to Night Mode. For home and small business use, you may alternatively use it as an In/Out button where Day=In and Night=Out. This is the first routine triggered when an inbound call arrives in your PBX. Before you can use it, you have to create a Day/Night Feature Code. We're going to set up Feature Code 1 because that's what your phones are set up to manage with the Day/Night button.

From the Setup tab, click on Day/Night Control and choose Add Day/Night Code. Now fill in the form by inserting 1 as the Feature Code index and DayNight1 as the Description. Be sure Day is set as the Current Mode. Now you simply direct where calls should be sent if it is Daytime and Nighttime. Typically, for the Day setting, you'd send the calls to a preexisting Time Condition which has been configured to activate a certain IVR during the day and a different one at night. If you're only going to control Day and Night modes with the button, then you could redirect Day calls directly to an IVR. But then it's a manual operation whereas Time Conditions are automatic. For the Night mode, choose IVR or VoiceMail you wish to activate when Night mode is activated. Remember, if you're using this in conjunction with Time Conditions, you'd probably want the Night destination to be the same as the Night setting in your Time Condition setup. Otherwise, you get two different results depending upon whether the Day/Night button is pressed or your system automatically activates Night mode based upon a Time of Day Condition. Once you choose a Day and Night destination, save your Day/Night Control Code and reload the Asterisk dialplan. Now test it by dialing *281 from a phone connected to your system. This should toggle the Day/Night mode.

But it still doesn't do anything for Inbound Calls. Why? Because you have to define the Day/Night Control DayNight1 as the initial destination for all of your Inbound Routes. So edit the Inbound Routes that you plan to manage with the control and reload your dialplan.

So the Flow Control for inbound calls works like this. The call arrives at your PBX. The Inbound Route for the DID or CallerID or Default Inbound Route sends the call to the DayNight1 control. The DayNight1 control deciphers whether it is set to Day mode or Night mode. It doesn't really matter what time of day it actually is! Depending on the setting, the DayNight1 control sends the call on to the next destination. Usually, if its Day, the call is routed either to a realtime check using a TimeCondition control or to an IVR, but the call also could be routed directly to a ring group or an extension. That's what you define in the Day/Night Control. If it's current setting is Night, the call is routed to the next hop specified as the Night option in your Day/Night Control Code. Whew! That's all the FreePBX tweaking you'll need to do to get the most out of your new phones.

Installing AsteriDex. If you haven't already done so, let's quickly install AsteriDex which provides a web-based dialer for your system as well as a MySQL-based Rolodex-like phone directory. Log into your PBX in a Flash server as root and issue the following commands:

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/asteridex4/asteridex.pbx
chmod +x asteridex.pbx
./asteridex.pbx
amportal restart
wget http://pbxinaflash.net/scripts/asteridex.tgz
cd /
tar -zxvf /root/asteridex.tgz

The entire install takes less than 15 seconds. Complete documentation is available on our Best of Nerd Vittles site. The FreePBX module can be installed by accessing Module Admin, clicking on the AsteriDex module, highlighting Install, and clicking Process. Reload the dialplan when prompted.

PBX in a Flash 1.2 Addendum. For those using PBX in a Flash 1.2 or FreePBX 2.4 which is included in PBX in a Flash 1.2, a couple of simple changes need to be made to get all of the features above working. This is because FreePBX no longer permits you to change the ## setting for Blind Transfers, and this function is used for a number of features on the phone. As noted elsewhere on Nerd Vittles, some SIP phones do not reliably support ## transfers so we have changed it to #. To do this, go to FreePBX Setup, Feature Codes and disable BOTH the ## Blind Xfer option and the # Directory option. Reload the dialplan when prompted. Then log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

echo blindxfer=# > /etc/asterisk/features_featuremap_custom.conf
chown asterisk:asterisk /etc/asterisk/features_featuremap_custom.conf
asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

  1. Join the following line to the original line with no intervening space when you encounter the ↩ character. []

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