Category Archives: mobile

Review: the Novatel Wireless Mobile Hotspot (MiFi to you and me)

MiFi

For the last month or so I’ve been playing around with a review copy of Novatel’s MiFi, a portable wifi hotspot that allows you to connect to the web with multiple devices.

It’s a cute bit of kit – slightly shorter than an iPhone, and ideal for journalists because it bridges the need for a wifi hotspot while addressing the limitations of a 3G smartphone.

The technology is pretty straightforward: inside the MiFi is a SIM card which pulls a 3G signal that is converted into that wifi hotspot.

Up to 5 devices can then connect to the web through that hotspot – there’s a password which is shown, intelligently, on the back of the battery cover.

Clearly you need a 3G signal for the MiFi to work – it’s great in urban areas but less successful where there’s poor mobile coverage. But even with a relatively low 3G signal the wifi hotspot is surprisingly strong. And even if you already have access to wifi – or a 3G dongle – the MiFi provides a second, often more reliable, connection for uploading material.

In fact, if you’re relying on 3G connections for mobile journalism I would recommend having a MiFi on one mobile operator, a pay as you go 3G dongle with another, and a smartphone on a third.

I managed to stream video very easily from my laptop, connected to the web on the iPod Touch, and had a group of MA Online Journalism students using it to access the web while we conducted a lesson. (aside from journalism it’s perfect for mobile education).

Sadly, I didn’t get to try out the Eye-Fi card alongside it, but now that it’s hit the UK I’m hoping to play with that too. The Eye-Fi sends images and video straight from an SD card to social media via a wifi hotspot, so you could use an SLR camera or mini camcorder with a MiFi to upload your footage as soon as you shoot it without having to mess with laptops or smartphones (or police officers).

The major weakness, however, is battery power: the specifications say that the MiFi should have 4 hours battery life after a charge (which is, to its credit, quick). But this is shorter if you have multiple devices, and after 4 weeks of using it (and yes, it will have been used by other reviewers), the battery no longer held its charge. Given that you have to sign up to a contract to get the MiFi*, this is rather worrying.

UPDATE: The company that sent me the unit tell me “Standard warranty for the Novatel Wireless Intelligent Mobile Hotspot 2352 is 24 months.”

That aside, this is a must-have piece of kit for me.

*Contract details:

T-Mobile:

  • Pay Monthly Contract (18 months)
  • Device is free at point of sale, then £20/mth (3GB data according to T-Mobile Fair Usage Policy)

Vodafone:

  • Pay Monthly Contract (24 months)
  • Option (1) Device purchase is £69.99, then GBP 15/mth with 3GB data
  • Option (2) Device is free, then £25/mth with 5GB data

What does a mobile journalist need?

In my MA Online Journalism session this week I’ll be looking at mobile journalism. As part of that, below I’ve compiled 4 lists of things I think a mobile journalist needs: hardware, software, systems, and mindset. I’d welcome anything you can add to this.

In the spirit of mobile journalism, I will also be streamed the session live on Bambuser from 9am UK time on Thursday, for around 45 mins – if you can join us online and chip in, please do. I’ve embedded the player below (skip past it for the lists of things a mojo needs).

A note from the comments

Some comments rightfully point out that this list is potentially terrifying. I’m not suggesting you need all these things – my favourite response said that you needed a Posterous blog, a smartphone, and lots of batteries, and I’d go along with that. But here are a whole lot of potential things to explore when you get itchy…

Mobile journalism – hardware

  • Smartphone with camera, video, audio, unlimited data plan
  • Digital camcorder, e.g. Flip, Kodak Zi8
  • Digital dictaphone or Zoom (a Livescribe pen is also useful)
  • Portable mic
  • Portable mini tripod?
  • Batteries (including extra mobile phone battery)
  • Extension lead – and chargers
  • Portable chargers, e.g. solar
  • Bluetooth keyboard
  • Mifi and/or 3G dongle
  • Eyefi card
  • Wifi laptop or netbook with webcam

Mobile journalism – the software

  • Apps for your phone and services you can email or text to. Good ones include…
  • Shozu
  • Spinvox – blog via voice
  • iBlogger
  • Audioboo
  • Twitterfone
  • Twitvid
  • Twibble – GPS twitter updates
  • Zyb – synchronise contacts and calendar
  • Opera Mini; on iPhone use bookmarklets on Safari like ‘Read Later’, ‘Post with Tweetie’, ‘Save to Delicious’, ‘Share on Tumblr’
  • Qik, Bambuser, 12seconds – streaming video
  • Posterous – blog via email (shutting down April 2013)
  • ZoneTag – geotag images
  • JoikuSpot – create wifi hotspot from 3G phone
  • Google Maps

Mobile journalism – the systems

  • Email must be set up – more than one account as backup (Google Mail occasionally goes down)
  • Useful phone no.s, e.g. Twitter, Twitterfone
  • Useful emails, e.g. Twitpic, YouTube, Twittermail, Facebook, Posterous etc.
  • Map of wifi hotspots
  • Map of mobile and 3G coverage
  • Blog via email or text – Postie plugin/Posterous/app/etc.
  • Pulling RSS feeds from Twitter/Flickr/YouTube/Posterous/Tumblr/Google Docs
  • Embedded players for livestreaming/liveblogging
  • Geotagging information for mapping
  • Mashups
  • Preparation: web-based video/audio/image editors
  • Collaboration – preparing the users, hashtags, tweeting, feedback

Mobile journalism – the mindset

  • ‘Always-on’ approach – tweet on the go; share images; stream quick video. Think humour, art, quirky, as much as ‘news’. Prepare yourself and users for when you need it.
  • Play with new mobile tools – follow TechCrunch etc.
  • Try out mobile apps
  • Find the stories that are not online
  • Be part of a mobile community – follow people like @documentally @alisongow @ilicco @patphelan @moconews
  • Be creative with mobile, not formulaic: the rules aren’t written yet

What’s good for TwitPic may be bad for photojournalists

Yesterday Mashable ran an interesting story about how iPhone will soon become the top camera for images uploaded onto Flickr. Previously that spot belonged to the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, which is basically the DSL-R for beginners.

With each production cycle, mobile phone cameras are getting more sophisticated. Meanwhile it’s incredibly easy to upload a just-taken photo from your sophisticated camera phone onto the web. I recently upgraded my BlackBerry to the 8900, which has a 3.2MP auto-focus camera. Not a lot of megapixels, but the autofocus is what makes it a great camera phone. Taking a photo and uploading it to TwitPic takes less than a minute. The quality of the photos are pretty good, too.

The proliferation of iPhones, BlackBerrys and other camera phone brands has meant more people are photographing the things they do and putting them up on the web. For small and mid-size papers, getting art for a story could be as easy as doing a TwitPic search by keyword and see what pops up. If a user-taken photo of an event pops up, you could contact the author, ask for permission and post it. At worst, they’d ask for a small fee, which when paid would still be a money saver compared to sending a photojournalist to an event.

The same could be said for videos. If a video of an event is uploaded to YouTube or any of the other video hosting sites, a news organisation could contact the person who shot it and ask permission to use it.

As the line between reporter and reader becomes further blurred, technological advances and the will of the people may mean that photojournalists are primarily employed by news organisations who feel they can both print the photos and sell the originals for a nice profit.

If the public is providing printable photos either for free or at a fraction of the cost of employing a photojournalist, that won’t be a terribly difficult decision for any executive editor to make.

N97 gets touch screen – but here are 10 reasons the iPhone already sucks compared with the N95

Nokia have unveiled the N97 and Robert Scoble makes a compelling case for its superiority over the iPhone. Curiously, many of his points mirror ones I had prepared in a blog post comparing the iPhone to the N95, giving me the perfect excuse to finally publish it.

The iPhone is overrated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Yes, it’s got great usability, but for a journalist it just doesn’t compete. And here are 10 reasons why:

  1. A crappy camera. 2 megapixels is terrible – the N95 has 5. Not to mention auto-focus, flash, etc. etc.
  2. No video camera. Inexcusable in the YouTube age. Yes there are workarounds but…
  3. You have to jailbreak the iPhone to use streaming services like Qik. Installing Qik (or Bambuser, or Shozu) on the N95 is pretty straightforward. The fact you have to jailbreak the iPhone at all says a lot about Apple’s attitude. Nokia’s Symbian operating system is open (if not open source yet).
  4. You can’t save webpages. Once again, you can on the N95.
  5. No alternative browser. Opera Mini is great on the N95.
  6. Battery power. You can at least have a spare battery for the N95.
  7. No recording of audio. You can on an N95, and email it to Posterous for instant podcast.
  8. Walled garden for apps. Apps on the N95? Get them anywhere, without the worry that Nokia will lock them out in the future.
  9. Fiddly keyboard. Particularly difficult when there are…
  10. No external keyboards. You can buy a number of cute bluetooth keyboards for the N95 which make it possible to type updates and blog posts very quickly.
And that’s not to mention bloody expensive. If you know of any solutions to these weaknesses, let me know. You see, I do have an iPod Touch…

US election coverage – who’s making the most of the web?

Elections bring out the best in online journalism. News organisations have plenty of time to plan, there’s a global audience up for grabs, and the material lends itself to interactive treatment (voter opinions; candidates’ stances on various issues; statistics and databases; constant updates; personalisation).

Not only that, but the electorate is using the internet for election news more than any other medium apart from television (and here are some reasons why).

PaidContent has a good roundup of various UK editors’ views, and decides blogs, Twitter and data are the themes (more specifically, liveblogging and mapping). Continue reading

Mobile phone users want the web. Apparently.

The first annual U.S. mobile phone user survey by Azuki Systems Inc. suggests that the long-heralded move to the mainstream mobile web is getting closer*. Some choice quotes (via Research Brief):

Almost 80% of those surveyed said they wished it were easier to access information from the Internet on their mobile phones, and an equal percentage stated they wished it were easier to access rich media on their mobile phones. Continue reading