Smart Connect–A useful mobile phone app for Android phones

Smart Connect

I am not someone who makes a great deal of use of apps on a mobile phone, or someone who downloads apps regularly – hence very few reviews in this area, but this app I have made major use of on my Sony Experia and I thought I should mention how I use it.  The app is from Sony, but is available for Android phones from the app store and I know it works on a Samsung S4.

The concept of the app is that you can use it to control certain functions on your mobile phone and it is particularly focussed on playing music and control of the sound system of the phone.  The most obvious use of this app is probably the easiest to setup and perhaps one of the most useful – to switch off the sound from the phone during specific periods of time (e.g. at night while you are asleep) to prevent the arrival of email and message alerts.  The beginning and end times can be adjusted to suit your lifestyle and the sound switched off between the set times.

However, you can also program music play following attachment of headphones or earphones.  This is really useful if you hate having to find the music app and play a specific album – I like to use this to play a list of favourite tracks listed on the phone, but i guess the one drawback is that it simply plays whatever was being played during the last session.  I have also set this app to play music, via a bluetooth audio adapter, which is very useful when I want to play music through my HiFi system.  The way this works is probably the best illustration of how this app can be used – the app is set to run a series of events when connected to the Bluetooth Audio Adapter (which occurs when I switch on Bluetooth).  The first is to switch off Wireless Internet to prevent email arrival announcements, then the sound level is set to maximum to ensure a good signal to the amplifier via the Bluetooth Audio Adapter and then the music is played (usually the last track played on my favourite list).  When Bluetooth is switched off the app switches back on the WiFi and sets the sound level to 75%.

I like this simple but useful software!

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Using Sky Broadband – some interesting problems

Sagem router

41SjWSLJnGL__SX300_When we moved to our new house we were obliged to use Sky as there is no cable supplied on the estate and the house is wired for a dish supply.  This worried me as I have never used Sky before and I was unsure about broadband, service support and the eventual ownership of the hardware.  As soon as Sky was installed I became aware of an immediate problem – we have a patio that sits above the dining room, on a concrete support, which reduces our mobile phone signal to almost zero and almost wiped out the WiFi signal from the router.  However, despite my concerns about aftersales service, I was, at the time, able to contact the Helpdesk directly by phone and they were very helpful.  They provided, free of charge, a wireless extender, but this did not overcome the problem and, as a consequence, I decided that my best solution to this problem was a TP-Link powerline system that transmits the internet connection via the mains system in the house.  The setup purchased consists of a link to the router, a wired link that allows me to connect my smart TV to the internet and a wireless/wired link that allows me to connect the Sky box in the dining room, while also providing the missing wireless signal in the same room.  This solution works really well and, by using the same SSID for the TP-Link as provided by my Sky router, my laptop connects automatically as I move around the house.  The system seems very stable and has only been switched off a couple of times over the last year.

So one unusual problem solved, but the take home message for me was that Sky provided really good support at the time and did all they could to resolve a problem that was not of their making.  However, this telephone help service was withdrawn and things are less good now……

Some while ago I posted a message, on the Sky Community, about a problem with the SAGEM router supplied with my Sky broadband.  The problem I had was that I could not get my HP inkjet network printer to connect to the router.  This is an annoying situation as one reason for purchasing the printer was that I could access the printer anywhere within the house, using a laptop, without having to have the main desktop computer switched on – the printer should work after plugging a network cable into the printer and the router.  This worked fine when I was with Virgin, but, as detailed in my Sky Community post, not with the sky Router.  In fact the router delivered a network address that simply “said” the device was local, but did not register the device on the network.

On the Community Pages, I was given a few pointers of things to try (which you can read in the link above), but nothing worked and a bit more reading outside of the Sky Community led me to conclude that the router is locked down using something called MER – MAC Encapsulated Routing – which allows Sky (in this case) to disable certain features and requirements and allows them to “support” their broadband service in a predictable way.  While I understand why sky are doing this, I was very disappointed by the lack of support for my problem, from the Sky Community, who eventually simply archived my post without ever addressing the issue.  To me, to lock the router down such that a printer cannot be attached, is an excessive restriction on use of the machine, which should be declared up front – especially since the SAGEM has available network connections suggesting this is possible.  However, I have overcome this situation by installing my own router, which was easier than I thought; although, it does infringe the Terms and Conditions of the Sky package, but I understand they do not enforce these conditions in reality.  I was worried that installing my own router would be a difficult process, but I was pleasantly surprised about how easy this was, once I had gathered the required information.

The first stage of this process was to get the Username and Password for the router, which is different from the supplied SSID and password that Sky provide and is not available from Sky.  In fact discovering this information was the most difficult step and information around the Internet is fragmented at best.  So, here is what I hope is a simple explanation of what to do:

The first step is to obtain the LAN MAC address for the modem and identify the make and model of the router supplied by Sky – in my case this was a SAGEM F@ST2504 and the MAC address is available from the routers status page as detailed on the video HERE.  If you have never accessed Router Status Page then watch this video first and take your time to have a look at the Router setup and what information is available where (Type http://192.168.0.1/ into your web browser and the Username is admin and the Password is sky – N.B. this is not the username and password required to setup your own router!).  This information is used to generate a Username and Password at https://www.cm9.net/skypass/.  Once you have this information, setting up your own router is easy.

TD-W8970-1_0-02Choosing a suitable router is not as easy as I thought as I wanted a system that would readily accept the username and password, but I was not sure whether all routers would do this – I now think that they would once you choose the required protocol for the new router, which is PPPOA.  However, this slight problem was easily solved for me when I discovered someone was recommending the TP-Link routers as a replacement for the SAGEM, so I bought a TP-Link TD-W8970 V3 from Amazon (it is also available from WH Smith).

In summary:

  1. Obtain the model of the current Router and its LAN MAC address from the Router Status Page at http://192.168.0.1 – Username admin Password sky.
  2. Use this information to generate the required Router Username and Password at https://www.cm9.net/skypass/.
  3. Connect the new router to your computer and access the setup page as detailed in their instruction.
  4. Choose PPPOA as the protocol, enter the generated username and password when requested.  Change the default SSID of the new router to that of the SAGEM (usually SKY*****) and enter the WPS security password (as provided on a small business card by Sky).
  5. Plug in the ADSL connection used to connect the SAGEM  router and off you go!

Mine worked immediately; although I did have to register the computers on a Home Network.  I will update if I have any problems, but what is important is that I now have my printer networked as originally required.  I am now looking at whether I can attach a USB drive to the router and use this as a NAS Media Server.

A SMART TV–The Toshiba 40 inch 40RL953B

I recently bought a new TV for the lounge of the new house, we have a large gap on the TV cabinet and a 40” set fills this perfectly!20121003_092

When choosing the TV I decided I would explore these SMART TVs, which connect to the internet and a local network.  The TV also has a sound outlet, through a headphones socket, which allows the volume to be set for a output via my HiFi amplifier (which you can see just below the TV on the left) and the TV speakers to be switched off via the setup controls.

The TV was bought via Amazon and was less that £400, which is quite reasonable I thought.  Delivery was very prompt and setup was easy – the TV has Freeview available, but we connect through a Sky Anytime+ HD box (visible on the right under the TV).  As I mentioned above I connected the headphone output to the auxiliary input of my amplifier, set the volume level with the TV speakers set to a minimum and then muted the TV speakers through the TV setup.  This means the volume level is fixed, adjustable only through the amplifier volume control, but the TV mute button doesn’t work Sad smile .  The sound output from the TV, through the amplifier, is excellent, but the TV speakers are poor because they are so thin (I guess).  The picture in HD is very clear and refreshes very fast, so is good for sport.  Various screen modes are available, but I tend not to use them.  I connected the TV to my home network using a cable connection to a Powerline network adapter and the TV found the local network quickly and without problem (WiFi connection needs a USB adapter).

m1-T2ubJdnPTuC3TXY8I2tgThe TV has BBC iPlayer, which is handy for catch up TV as Sky have not implemented this yet!  This loads quite fast, but the sound level, through my system is very high and this can be a shock if I forget to turn down the amplifier sound – I cannot find a way to offset the level for iPlayer!

It also has Youtube, but I have not used that much yet, so I will have to come back to this part and update it.  Finally, there is Toshiba Places, which provides music, radio, movies (pay as you go) and social networking connections.  Again, I have not made much use of this facility yet, so I will have to come back and update the blog.

The network connection allows media streaming and I have managed to get the TV to talk to the main computer (required setting the streaming setting in Windows Media Player) and it loads and plays music (again the level is higher than I would prefer, as with iPlayer), but switching between albums is a little slow.  This slowness probably reflects the number of albums/folders that it has to display, but can take as long as a few minutes for a large music collection.  The display of the music/albums is neat and it picks up playlists, genres, artists, albums etc., as displayed in media Player.  I like this network media player and use it a lot.  I understand it should be possible to play from the computer, to the TV, but I have yet to accomplish this yet!  Music and movies can also be played through the USB port, from a FAT formatted memory stick or external hard drive and this works really well for movies.  The music folder displays the folders, so you should see the artists names if you store music like I do, but it is not a well designed player and is a little clunky in places.  Recording to the USB memory stick / hard disk is also possible, but I am unlikely to make too much use of this as I record to the Sky box – we will see if it is useful.

Overall, after a week of using this TV I am very happy with it and think it is both good value and very versatile.  I would recommend it to others, but I will update more about the features as time passes.