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Radios

Before I get started discussing the Droid's various radios, I'm going to give you an overview of the acronyms associated with mobile technology. Unfortunately, alphabet soup comes with the territory.

Wireless acronyms

Tables 4.1 and 4.2 list some of the common acronyms used to represent the various types of data connections, network speeds, and network acronyms.

Table 4.1. Speed Acronyms

Acronym

Meaning

Kbps (Kilobits per second)

1,000 bits transferred over a 1-second period

Mbps (Megabits per second)

1,000,000 bits transferred over a 1-second period

Gbps (Gigabits per second)

1,000,000,000 bits transferred over a 1-second period

Table 4.2. Network Acronyms

Acronym

Meaning

2G/2.5G (Second generation, GPRS)

The 2.5G telecommunications hardware standard is a stepping stone between 2G and 3G that's capable of producing download speeds of 50–100 Kbps.

3G (Third generation)

This telecommunications hardware standards is capable of generating data throughput of up to 14 Mbps (download) and 5.8 Mbps (upload). See CDMA2000 later in this table.

4G (Fourth generation)

The 4G telecommunications hardware standard is capable of generating data throughput of 100 Mbps (down) and 30 Mbps (up) while moving and a screaming 1 Gbps (down) while stationary.

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)

CDMA is a shortened version of CDMA 2000.

CDMA2000 (Code Division Multiple Access 2000)

This family of 3G mobile technology standards, based on CDMA, is used to send voice and data between mobile phones and cell sites. All Droids run on Verizon's CDMA2000 network in the United States.

EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized)

This telecommunications standard for transmitting data wirelessly via radio signals is used primarily to access the Internet. It's part of the CDMA2000 family of standards and is frequently referred to as 3G data or mobile broadband. EV-DO Rev. A is theoretically capable of generating download speeds of up to 3 Mbps, but in practice, you'll find speeds to be closer to 1 Mbps.

GPRS (General Packet Radio Service)

GPRS is a packet-oriented mobile data service used on both 2G and 3G GSM networks.

GPS (Global Positioning System)

GPS satellites help your phone calculate its longitude and latitude; then the phone uses this information to pinpoint your location on a map. I review all kinds of other cool stuff that GPS does later in this chapter.

GSM (Global System for Mobile communications)

GSM is a 2G system used by more than 80 percent of the mobile market. GSM also pioneered Short Message Service (SMS), which has been adopted by most phone carriers worldwide.

LTE (Long Term Evolution)

LTE, the successor to CDMA2000, is marketed by Verizon Wireless as 4G. It's more accurate, however, to call LTE "pre-4G" or "3.9G" because it delivers download speeds of only 10–30 Mbps—a fraction of the 100–1000 Mbps speeds defined in the 4G specification.

LTE Advanced (Long Term Evolution Advanced)

LTE Advanced is a preliminary mobile communication standard that will be finalized in 2011. Hailed by users as true 4G, it represents the pinnacle of Internet access, with a peak data rate of 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) stationary and 100 Mbps while moving, as well as improved power management.

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System)

This 3G mobile communication technology borrows and builds on GSM concepts. Currently, it's morphing into a 4G technology capable of producing even faster data-transfer rates.

Wi-Fi (Wireless fidelity)

If 4G isn't available, Wi-Fi usually is the next-fastest Internet access option. Speeds vary widely, depending on the wireless access point you're connected to. I cover Wi-Fi in detail later in this chapter.

Wireless standards

It's important to understand the differences between the two major telecommunications hardware standards. Although many other standards exist (see Table 4.2 in the preceding section), 3G and 4G are dominant in the United States, so 3G and 4G smartphones are the primary flavors.

4G

4G devices use the latest wireless radio and antenna technology to deliver blistering fast Internet speeds—up to 10 times faster than 3G—and are truly the next generation of mobile-phone technology. As they began hitting the market at the beginning of 2011, 4G devices running on the Verizon LTE network have been clocking download speeds as fast as 20–30 Mbps. That's fast! It shames my home Internet connection, which pokes along at around 8–10 Mbps down.

Fast data connections make things like videoconferencing and HD video streaming possible. 4G networks are so fast that you can download a song in 4 seconds and upload a photo in 6 seconds—about ten times faster than the best 3G connections available.

The Droid Bionic is the first member of the Android family to ship with so-called 4G technology, but soon, most high-end phones sold will be 4G.

The two downsides of 4G technology are build-out and power consumption. At this writing (February 2011), Verizon Wireless is offering LTE coverage in only 38 of the largest cities in the United States (including San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia) and in 60 major airports. Verizon says that LTE will cover 110 million people in 2011 and that by the end of 2013, 4G will be available everywhere the company has 3G now.

Because they require more power, 4G radios consume more power than 3G radios do, making battery life an issue. Vigilant battery conservation (see "Managing Battery Life" in Chapter 3) is necessary to get the most run time out of next-generation 4G smartphones like the Bionic. Luckily, battery conservation in the Android OS has improved with the hardware, allowing most users to make it through a full day on a charge by using modest conservation settings.

3G

Because 4G is relatively new, most Droid use 3G telecommunications hardware standards. As you might expect, 3G devices are faster than 2G devices but slower than 4G devices (refer to Table 4.2 earlier in this chapter).

The biggest advantage that 3G has over 2G—or, more accurately, 2.5G—is faster wireless data. Apps that stream audio and video (including Pandora and Netflix) are the greatest beneficiaries of faster download speeds. Because 3G is capable of moving data faster than 2G is, the Internet feels faster on a 3G phone. Sites load faster, and audio and video play more smoothly.

Theoretically, 3G is capable of downloading data at 14 Mbps. In practice, it generates download speeds of about 1–3 Mbps, which is still much faster than the lowly 2.5G standard that it replaces. 2.5G can muster only around 50–100 Kbps down, can barely stream audio, and can't stream video at all.

Wireless coverage

Like anything that involves sending and receiving data, coverage can vary. Location, demand, structures, hardware, and software affect the signal quality and strength that your device gets. Also, as you'd expect, data coverage can vary widely by city and carrier.

You can check your carrier's data coverage by going to its Web site and searching for a coverage map. The four major U.S. carriers—Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint—maintain coverage maps on their Web sites.

Be forewarned, though: Don't take a coverage map at face value. Just because the coverage map says your area is covered by a given network doesn't mean that it actually is. Because many variables can affect coverage, it's best to test the quality of the network before signing any long-term contract.

One easy way to do this is to borrow a friend's device that operates on the carrier in question. Vigorously test the quality of the voice and data network in the locations where you're going to use your device most—typically, at home and at work. Stress-test it by placing and receiving numerous calls and by streaming high-definition audio and video on the device at different times of day. Odds are pretty good that if the network is up to stuff on your friend's device, it'll work acceptably for you too.

Testing isn't a guarantee, however. This type of test doesn't take into account changes in hardware and software if you're getting a different device from your friend's.

If, after purchasing your Droid, you discover that your coverage isn't acceptable, don't fret. Verizon Wireless allows you to terminate service within 30 days of activation—for any reason.

Wireless technology

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is one of the two main competing network technologies for mobile phones in the United States. The other is GSM (Global System for Mobile communications). In this section, I cover both technologies.

CDMA2000

CDMA2000, based on CDMA, is a mobile-technology standard that's popular in North America and parts of Asia. It's used to send voice and data between mobile phones and cell sites.

As of 2009, 308 operators in 116 countries offered CDMA2000 networks, including several in rapidly growing markets like China and India, pushing worldwide subscribers to more than half a billion people. More than 25 percent of those subscribers are EV-DO (mobile broadband) users. Major CDMA carriers in the United States include Sprint PCS, Verizon, and Virgin Mobile.

There are two types of CDMA2000:

  • 1x. Also known as 1x and 1xRTT (or 1 times Radio Transmission Technology), 1x is the first and most basic CDMA2000 wireless standard. The standard supports packet data speeds of up to 153 Kbps, with real-world data averages between 60 Kbps and 100 Kbps.
  • 1xEV-DO. EV-DO is a wireless telecommunications standard designed specifically for the transmission of data. Faster than straight 1x, 1xEV-DO has a theoretical downstream rate of 2 Mbps and real-world download speeds of 300–700 Kbps, which is comparable to basic DSL. A faster version of EV-DO called Revision A or just Rev. A is capable of supporting data rates of 3.1 Mbps down and 1.8 Mbps up, although 1 Mbps down and 500 Kbps up are more realistic.

Actual download and upload speeds are based on a variety of factors, which I cover earlier in this chapter, so your mileage may vary.

GSM

GSM is a 2G mobile-phone system that's the primary competitor of CDMA. Like CDMA (which is used in the Droid), GSM sends voice and data between mobile phones and cell sites; unlike CDMA, it's used by more than 1.5 billion people in more than 212 countries and territories, outnumbering CDMA by a large margin.

Wi-Fi

The stratospheric growth of the Internet is directly related to the proliferation of wireless technology. In the not-too-distant past (before 1999 or so), accessing the Internet meant sitting down in front of a computer with an Ethernet or RJ11 cable plugged into a jack on the wall. The wires went only so far, though, and users were forced to step away from the computer to do things like dress, walk down the street, and drive to work.

Well, no more. The invention of the wireless router and a funny protocol called 802.11b allowed us to access data from as much as 300 feet away—without wires. Wi-Fi, as it became known, was a huge contributor to the rapid rise of the Internet.

Wi-Fi was a definite tipping point for technology at the turn of the century, liberating us from the shackles of the cables and wires that previously bound us our desks. Today, it's easier than ever to use an inexpensive wireless router to surf the Internet from the couch, kitchen, or bedroom with ease. Now that wireless Internet access is everywhere (or so it seems), many gadgets come with wireless radios built in.

Android-powered Droids are no exceptions. In fact, Wi-Fi is a bona fide requirement for a smartphone these days. Consumers simply won't buy a smartphone if it can't connect to their Wi-Fi networks at home and at work. (In November 2008, RIM and Verizon Wireless released the original BlackBerry Storm without Wi-Fi, and it was universally panned by critics, including me.)

Using Wi-Fi

Like most things on the Droid, Wi-Fi isn't very complicated to set up. Just touch Settings > Wireless & Networks to set up everything you need to access a Wi-Fi network at your home or office. When Wi-Fi access is set up, your preferred wireless access points are stored on the Droid, so you can pretty much set it and forget it. Next time you're within range of a Wi-Fi access point that you've connected to before, the Droid will switch automatically from 3G to the faster Wi-Fi.

To connect to a Wi-Fi network, touch Settings > Wireless & Networks to open the Wireless & Network Settings screen (Figure 4.9); then touch Wi-Fi Settings. In the resulting Wi-Fi Settings screen (Figure 4.10), touch one of the networks listed in the Wi-Fi Networks section. Networks that are encrypted with a password (such as Galaxy in Figure 4.10) display a lock over the Wi-Fi icon and require you to enter a password to gain access. Open networks, which don't require a password, display the basic Wi-Fi icon sans lock.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 Wireless & Network Settings screen.

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 Wi-Fi Settings screen.

If you want to connect to a network that's not in the list, just touch Add Wi-Fi Network at the bottom of the Wi-Fi Settings screen. In the resulting screen (Figure 4.11), enter the network's Service Set ID (Network SSID), choose an option from the Security drop-down menu, and enter a password as appropriate for that particular network; then touch Save.

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11 Adding a Wi-Fi network.

When you're connected to a Wi-Fi access point, you'll see a Wi-Fi icon in the status bar. (For a chart of the popular Android status-bar icons, flip back to Chapter 3.) The four segments in the icon indicate how strong your connection is. A Wi-Fi icon with a question mark over it indicates a problem with the wireless connection.

Surfing safely

To wrap up this section, I want to leave you with a little anecdote about Wi-Fi security. In short, don't trust unknown networks with your confidential information. It's trivial to create a network called Starbucks, Marriott, or Hilton Honors and then monitor the traffic of anyone who connects to it—a practice called spoofing. A spoofed network is designed to look and operate like a normal Wi-Fi network, with one nefarious difference: The person who set it up could be scanning the traffic flowing through it for potentially valuable information.

If you plop down in a comfy chair in your favorite coffee shop and connect to the first free wireless access point that pops up, you could be connected to the laptop of the guy next to you, and he could be capturing your login information as you access your online bank account.

Not all free wireless access points are set up by hackers to steal your information, mind you. My point is that you must use common sense when using unknown Wi-Fi networks. Surfing the Web is pretty safe on a wireless network, for example, but logging in to your email account can expose your login credentials to a bad guy. I'd refrain from logging in to any financial Web site (bank, credit union, investments, and so on) whatsoever while you're logged in to a Wi-Fi network that you don't know. It's just not worth the risk.

GPS

One of the most useful features of the Droid is its dedicated GPS hardware, which gives you access to the 24 to 32 GPS satellites circling overhead. These satellites provide the Droid hyperaccurate positioning data that previously was available only to the military.

GPS satellites broadcast signals from space, and GPS receivers like the one in the Droid use those signals to provide three-dimensional location data (latitude, longitude, and altitude) and the precise time. The heavy lifting is done on the handset itself, where apps like Google Maps (Chapter 7) translate the longitude and latitude coordinates sent by the satellites into a dot on a map representing your current location.

With an accuracy of 1 to 10 meters (depending on how many "birds" you're locked onto), there's no denying that GPS is perfectly suited for navigation. Its popularity is exploding as new smartphone apps designed for GPS flow into the market.

You can turn the GPS feature on and off easily with a quick trip to the handy Settings app. Simply navigate to Settings > Location & Security, and check (or clear) the green boxes labeled Use GPS Satellites and Enable Assisted GPS (Figure 4.12 on the next page).

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 Settings that enable the GPS receiver are tucked away in the Location & Security Settings screen.

If you're not a heavy user, I recommend keeping GPS on all the time, because it adds a new dimension of utility to your phone (as you see in this section) with almost no downside. But when you're using the Droid for real-time navigation, GPS is a major battery hog; in fact, it's one of the biggest battery consumers on the Droid.

A little common sense goes a long way here. If you're planning an all-day walk, hike, bike ride, or any other event that will have you away from power for an extended period, you should turn off all unnecessary radios (like GPS) unless you need them. When this feature isn't in use, the GPS chip goes into low-power mode, saving precious milliamps. (See my battery-conservation tips in Chapter 3.)

Bluetooth

Bluetooth—an open wireless protocol for exchanging data over short distances—seems to have been invented for mobile phones. Compared with 3G and Wi-Fi, which are designed primarily for Internet access, Bluetooth has a short range. Bluetooth 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) supports theoretical data transfer speeds of up to 3 Mbps at a range of about 33 feet, but you can expect more like 10 to 20 feet in the real world.

Like the other radios covered in this chapter, Bluetooth drains the Droid's battery quickly when it's enabled, although not as quickly as 4G, GPS, and Wi-Fi do. It's important to practice good conservation techniques and use Bluetooth sparingly when you're away from power for long stretches of time.

Bluetooth has many uses, such as creating personal area networks and sharing data between devices, but its primary application in mobile phones is wireless headsets. I cover various applications of Bluetooth in the following sections.

Headsets

Although they make us look like Borgs wandering around talking to ourselves, Bluetooth headsets have become part of the technology landscape. There's no denying the convenience of being able to talk to someone on a mobile phone completely hands-free; it expands the freedom that started with cordless phones at home. The difference, of course, is that instead of being able to wander around our houses yapping, now we can walk just about anywhere in the world yapping.

Setting up a Bluetooth headset in Android is simple. After you initially pair your headset and your Droid, the phone will remember the settings so that you don't have to repeat the pairing exercise each time you want to use your headset.

To get started, follow these steps:

  1. Touch Settings > Wireless & Networks to display the Wireless & Network Settings screen, which includes Bluetooth and Bluetooth Settings options (Figure 4.13).

    Figure 4.13

    Figure 4.13 The Wireless & Network Settings screen is where you change Bluetooth settings.

    You can tell at a glance whether Bluetooth is turned on; if it is, you'll see a check in its check box.

  2. If Bluetooth isn't turned on, touch the check box to enable it.
  3. Touch the Bluetooth Settings option to open the Bluetooth Settings screen (Figure 4.14).

    Figure 4.14

    Figure 4.14 The Bluetooth Settings screen is where you pair your Bluetooth devices.

    The Bluetooth Devices section of this screen is where all the action happens. Here, you'll see any Bluetooth devices that are within range of your phone and discoverable. If your headset isn't listed, make sure that it's in discoverable mode (if you're not sure how to do this, consult your headset's user manual for instructions) and then touch Menu > Scan for Devices.

  4. When you see your headset in the Bluetooth Devices list (mine is called Jawbone ICON in Figure 4.14), touch it.
  5. If you're prompted for a personal identification number (PIN) for your headset, enter that code to gain access to your device.

    Consult your manual for your particular device's PIN, or search for it on Google.

When Bluetooth is on, you'll see its blue icon in the status bar. For more information on status-bar icons, flip back to Chapter 3.

Bluetooth profiles

Bluetooth isn't limited to wireless headsets. It's also about profiles—wireless interface specifications for communication among Bluetooth devices. A total 28 Bluetooth profiles are available, each with a different application.

The Motorola Droids support stereo Bluetooth 2.1 and the following profiles:

  • HSP (Headset Profile). Allows Bluetooth headsets to be paired with mobile phones. Not surprisingly, this bad boy is the most popular profile of them all because it enables an entire category of wireless Bluetooth headsets to be used with your phone.
  • HFP (Hands-Free Profile). Allows a hands-free kit in a car to communicate with mobile phones inside the vehicle. More than 170 car manufacturers, from Audi to Volvo, now build in Bluetooth at the factory. This feature allows you to pair your phone with your car so that you can hear callers through your car's stereo system; callers hear you through a microphone installed near the driver's seat.
  • A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). Allows you to stream music from your Droid to a pair of wireless stereo headphones over Bluetooth—great for wireless headphones at the gym!
  • AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile). Provides a way to control TVs and other stereo equipment, turning the Droid into a universal remote control.
  • PBAP (Phone Book Access Profile). Allows the exchange of Phone Book Objects between devices and is typically used between the device and a Bluetooth car kit. PBAP allows the Bluetooth in your car (see the HFP item earlier in this list) to access your contacts on your Droid so that you can look up and dial a contact's phone number from your car's touchscreen.
  • OPP (Object Push Profile). Enables you to send pictures, business cards, and appointment details to another device. You could use OPP to exchange a contact or appointment between two mobile phones, for example, or between a mobile phone and a computer.

That brings the hardware chapter to a close. Next, I want to give you a closer look at some of Android's core software applications—Phone, Contacts, and Calendar—which I do in Chapter 5.

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