Sunday, July 12, 2009

Making your mobile phone more useful with Google, part 1

While the following tips and tricks are old and tested, I still thought that I'd list some mobile services and applications that I find useful, since so many people that I talk to have powerful, Internet capable phones only used for work e-mail and calendar. These applications work on my Nokia N95 but I can't guarantee that they will work on all models, you have to try them yourselves.

Also, the cost of mobile Internet varies, in Finland it's relatively inexpensive and I'm quite confident that Google OS, referred to in the previous post, will gain substantial following among the tech-crowd.

The first post in the series of 2 posts covers:

Google Mobile Applications

While everyone uses Google search engine on their browser, surprisingly few use it on their mobile phones. The fast, very lightweight application opens up a search window at the press of a single button and displays the search results nearly instantly in a format readable even on the smaller phones. The search application is included in a pack that includes Search, Gmail (both the normal and the app's version), Google Maps and Picasa Web Albums. If you should need more than one Google Apps e-mail (like me), there's a way to circumvent the limitation by installing both an earlier version (version 1.*) of the Gmail for mobile application alongside the new Google Mobile Applications Pack, allowing you to have a single Gmail for Apps or personal account in addition to those allowed in the pack.

To obtain the application, head over to with your phone's mobile browser click on the link "Download Google Mobile App". There are some other useful applications at the same page, I'll cover those which I find useful later in this post. The availability of applications varies with your phone and language choice (e.g. Google Talk is not available on Nokia N95 and Tasks described below is not available in finnish).

Contents of the pack explained

  • Gmail: A fast and lightweight application that allows you to access your mailbox on your mobile phone. Included are Contacts, from which you can call your friends if their phone numbers have been saved in the contact information. Available for free/personal (Gmail) and Apps accounts simultaneously.
  • Calendar: Like Gmail, a lightweight calendar. Great for browsing and notifications (SMS reminders are my favourite, especially since they're included in the data plan for my phone so they're practically free) but adding new appointments is very limited (e.g. in US time formats and without many of the details). Works in personal and Apps editions simultaneously. I've sometimes played around with the thought of setting up repeating sms reminders for the elderly, e.g. for medication since the cost is only the SMS-message according to the user's plan.
  • Google Maps: I'm sure most are familiar with this free service, that includes GPS tracking on mobile phones, so I'm not blabbing about it. I use it alot.
  • Picasa Web Albums: a less known of the set but a great piece of software anyway. Mainly useful in browsing the stored photos on the mobile phone (I have about 6GB, which requires a small annual fee as it exceeds the 2GB free limit, and which would be quite unrealistic to carry around on a phone). An unfortunate limitation of the software is that you can't as yet upload photos directly from your phone, at least not on the Nokia 95.

Tasks, linked to your email account

At the same download page there's also a link to "Tasks", which is the to-do-list feature found in Gmail and Google Calendar. While it's not as agile as the built-in to-do-list on my Nokia N95, it is shared with the one in Gmail and Google calendar. There are two links for this service, both are web-pages instead of installable applications.

Google Sync

Available at the address (why didn't they link it directly, instead of writing out the address?). Funnily enough Nokia N95 isn't supported, so you can't synchronize your calendar (I'm a little skittish about this since there are commercial solutions to this).

If you want to synchronize your addressbook with Gmail contacts, it is however possible. Please note that the synchronization will create duplicate entries if you have the same person written in different forms on your phone and contacts, i.e. Niko Kotiniemi, and Kotiniemi Niko will create two addressbook entries and thusly I always keep the same format (lastname, first name).

Guide to: synchronizing Gmail Contacts with Nokia N95 addressbook (all Nokia S60 -series phones).


This is an interesting implementation as I'm an avid fan of the browser version. While it is more limited (e.g. single column only), it allows for collecting those most important gadgets into a single location, available through the mobile phone.


Another installed application which I rarely use but may be of use to those that use Orkut more extensively (I'm biased towards the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter axis).


This implementation of Youtube for some mobile phones is actually pretty amazing, it's fast, usable and fun to use. I use it while waiting for transportation etc. I should warn you however, that it's bandwidth heavy and therefore should be considered only with those plans that contain unlimited bandwidth. This application is available in the aforementioned download menu.

Google Mobile Applications that aren't worth the time (my time at least).

On the listing there are numerous applications/links for mobile services that I won't vouch for.

  • Notebook: a nice service that I use, but discontinued for new users so unless you've used it previously.
  • Docs: Too slow and cumbersome at least on my Nokia N95, after many determined attempts to make use of it, I gave up.
  • SMS: possibly useful in the States but not in Finland
  • News: somewhat useful, especially if you use Google News but on the mobile phone it seems a little awkward, plenty of clicking and choices to get to those news that you're into. Personally I'm an RSS fan.
  • Reader: usable and useful, unfortunately at least in my experience the read feeds aren't marked as read on the actual browser servicel. Meaning I'd need to re-browse the already read feeds. Unforgivable.
  • Blogger: Why would I want to start a new blog with using the service? Rather I'll send email to the address provided in the existing blogs.
  • GOOG-411: Maybe useful in the States, but it isn't available in Finland and I really prefer the Search to calling anyone for search information

Dissatisfaction with Twitter and LinkedIn

I've considered making a petition to improve the password security of Twitter (unlimited attempts) and LinkedIn (12 characters max), since I feel these are unacceptable. With people choosing easy and short passwords, the risk is theirs to carry, but the fact that you cannot use safer passwords is simply unacceptable. Read the article on Wired the password security which was breached (with trivially easy means).

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