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The Google Phone Pocket Guide: On the Radios

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This chapter provides lots of information about the gPhone's various radios (the chips that the gPhone uses for communicating via 3G, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (GPS), and Bluetooth), including the most important tip of all: how to turn them off to conserve battery life.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In this chapter, I dig into a few of the Google phone's key hardware features—specifically, its radios. Radios are the chips that the gPhone uses for communicating via 3G, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (GPS), and Bluetooth. For the most part, these radios work invisibly, doing their thing silently in the background, but learning some subtle nuances of their interfaces can be helpful.

Although the topic can get a little technical, this chapter provides lots of information about the gPhone's various radios, including the most important tip of all: how to turn them off to conserve battery life. I explore the features and benefits of four of the gPhone's radios, and show you how to maximize their performance.

If you don't particularly like to tinker with things like settings and configuration screens, this chapter may not be for you. Feel free to skip ahead to the chapters on fun aspects of the phone (such as software), if that's more your speed.


The Google phone, at this writing, is based on the third generation (3G) of telecommunication hardware standards. 3G phones use advanced chips to communicate with transmitters on carriers' radio towers to move data and voice packets back and forth more quickly and efficiently.

As you might expect, 3G phones are better than 2G phones, but you won't notice the difference immediately while using one of them. You'll see the biggest difference between 3G and 2G (or, more accurately, 2.5G) phones when you use Internet-intensive applications that stream audio and video to your phone. 3G is simply capable of passing more data back and forth than 2G is, so the Internet feels much faster on a 3G phone.

3G devices can achieve data-transfer rates of up to 14.4 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 5.8 Mbps on the uplink. This speed is much faster than the lowly 2.5G (aka GPRS) standard that it replaces. 2.5G data rates vary from 56 to 114 kilobits per second (Kbps)—a slow speed that makes using the Internet on a mobile phone almost intolerable.

One thing to keep in mind is that print publishing represents a moment in time, and at this particular moment (May 2009), plans are under way for an even faster 4G network, capable of reaching speeds of 100 Mbps on a moving smartphone and 1 gigabit per second (Gbps!) on a stationary smartphone.

3G acronyms

Although this information may be overkill for some readers, I think it's a good idea to give you a quick overview of the various technical acronyms associated with the Google phone.

Preceding each acronym in Table 4.1 (on the next page) is the notification icon that pops up in the status bar when you're using that particular radio. (Read more about the status bar in Chapter 2.)

Table 4.1. Wireless Acronyms




GSM (Global System for Mobile communications)

GSM is a second-generation (2G) mobile phone system used by more than 3 billion people in more than 212 countries and territories, and usually is voice-only.


GPRS (General Packet Radio Service)

Think of GPRS as being the data side of GSM, with speeds between 56 and 114 Kbps.


EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution)

This technology provides improved data transmission rates on top of standard GPRS. Data rates range from 400 Kbps to 1 Mbps.


3G (third generation)

The third generation of telecommunication hardware standards is capable of generating data throughput of up to 14.4 Mbps.


Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity)

Wi-Fi usually is the fastest Internet access option, faster even than 3G. Speeds can vary widely, however, depending on the wireless access point you're connected to. I cover Wi-Fi in detail later in this chapter.


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.

Power-draw issues

The most important thing to keep in mind with the 3G radio in the Google phone is that it draws more power than the 2G radio. So there's a downside to slurping down all those delectable Internet bits at blazing speeds: shorter battery life. The more you use the radios in the gPhone, the shorter your battery life will be. It's as simple as that.

This same principle goes for all of the radios in the gPhone: The more you use them, the more power they will drain from your battery. Conservation rules the roost.

For reasons that should be obvious, your phone's battery life can be a safety issue. You need to keep a close eye on your battery-management techniques to maximize battery life, especially while you're traveling. If you're going to be away from power for a long period—going hiking, camping, or rock climbing, for example—and need to rely on your phone for safety, it's imperative to save battery power by downshifting from 3G to 2G networks (Figure 4.1). You should also disable the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios by tapping Settings > Wireless Controls (Figure 4.2) to conserve your battery for those critical times when you need it—like calling for a ride home!

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1 Android's Mobile Network Settings screen allows you to use only 2G networks to save battery life.

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2 Clear the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth check boxes to conserve battery power.

Another way to save battery life is to tap Settings > Sound and Display; then, in the Display Settings section (bottom of Figure 4.3), set both Brightness and Screen Timeout as low as possible. (The minimum Screen Timeout setting is 15 seconds.)

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3 The Display Settings options (bottom) let you reduce screen brightness and the screen-timeout interval to conserve battery power.

Conservation software

If you don't like having to dig through multiple layers of menus to find the Google phone's radio settings, download Useful Switchers from the Android Market (see Chapter 7). This $3 app allows you to toggle all the gPhone's radios on and off from one handy screen (Figure 4.4). Download it directly from the gPhone, or read more about it on the developer's Web site:

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 An extended screen shot (the actual screen isn't this long) of Useful Switchers, which lets you adjust the gPhone's various radios from one convenient location.

Another great application is Locale (Figure 4.5), from two forty four a.m. ( Locale takes conservation up a notch by managing all your phone's settings dynamically, based on conditions such as location and time. With this app, you can specify a situation in which you never want your phone to ring—while you're in court, for example, based on what time you're in court or even where the court is located.

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Locale takes settings management to the extreme, allowing you to control how your phone behaves based on preset situations.

Locale can change your phone settings based on your location data, which it gathers from your gPhone's numerous radios. You can set a profile of settings for your phone to be enabled as soon as you come within range of your company's Wi-Fi network, for example, and another profile to be activated when you're on your home network.

You can also set up a Low Battery profile that turns off all but the essential gPhone radios when battery power drops below a certain threshold—say, 20 percent.

Finally, if you're always missing calls when your phone is set to vibrate or mute mode, try Locale's VIP mode. It ensures that certain phone calls (such as those from the day-care center or your doctor) always ring through, even when your phone is in mute or silent mode.

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