The cost of sending a Samsung emoji

A few months ago, my Galaxy S4 Mini (click this link to go to my series about it) updated to Android KitKat – from Jelly Bean. KitKat was released in 2013, but because Samsung like to fiddle with Android before they roll it out to users – or as I now like to say, apply their Disney layer – kudos to David – it takes a while for their handsets to get the updates.

Apart from a few minor interface changes – some good and some not so good – I didn’t really notice much of a difference with the KitKat upgrade. Some of my icons changed colour, my screen mirroring functionality seemed to stop working and GPS got renamed Location. There were a few other changes but at this moment they escape me.

Oh and how could I forget, that annoying emoji/emoticon button! KitKat added a terribly annoying button to my keyboard, a smiling face, which whenever you accidentally click on it, becomes the default extras button; that’s the lovely little button next to the space key that gives you the option of voice typing, pasting, visiting settings, and now also adding an emoji.

Samsung emoji keyboard

The emoji on my Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini keyboard

Now I’m not against emoji, some of them are pretty cool… :-)

…what I am against is Samsung emoji. The super-duper Samsung upgrade to KitKat may have enabled me to send emoji – yay! – but it came at a cost: MMS. If I want to send an emoji, Samsung very kindly converts my text message (an SMS) into an MMS.

This isn’t a problem if you get a large number of MMS messages included in your contract, but most people (at least here in the UK) don’t. I’m not someone who does either, so when I tried to send a message (no bigger than one standard text message) with an emoji in it, I got charged 33 pence by my provider and worst of all the recipient was unable to receive MMS messages, so they didn’t even get to see my 33p text!

The BBC and Money Saving Expert are just two sites that have recently been warning consumers of the hidden costs linked to emoji usage.

Cue Textra.

Textra SMS

iPhone owners don’t suffer the same fate as I did, because Apple’s default messaging application doesn’t treat emotion icons as images. They may take up more than one character, but you can use them in SMS messages. Not wanting to be outdone, I went on the hunt for a better SMS app.

First I tried Google Hangouts. I have never got along very well with Hangouts, but when I started using it for text messages, I didn’t find it quite so bad. I could send emoji as text messages, and I could type as many characters I liked and it would just send multiple SMS messages; Samsung’s default messaging app converts messages larger than three texts into MMS messages too.

After a week or so, Hangouts’ lack of features and general design started to get on my nerves, so I was out on the hunt again for another alternative. After reviewing a handful of very viable alternatives, I decided to give Textra SMS a try.

Textra SMS quick reply

When you get a new text, Textra SMS enables you to reply quickly, without opening the full app.

To put it simple, Textra is fantastic. You can do pretty much everything you can with Samsung’s standard messaging app, and more. You can customise the look and feel, you can send as may characters as you like without it converting into an MMS, and you can send emoji!

One of the awesome features that got me hooked on Textra is the message preview. Say you are browsing the web and you get a text. Texra has the option of a notification which appears at the top of your screen; the notification is basically a message preview. If you ignore it and it disappears after a few seconds, but if you click on it and it opens a small version of the app over the top of whatever you were doing previously. You can type a reply and then as soon as you click send, it disappears and you are back to what you were doing.

If you are looking for an alternative texting app for Android, I would definitely recommend Textra.

Possession App Review

Watching a soccer match is exciting enough on its own. Imaging taking that experience and making it more engaging by being able to keep your own stats on the game while you watch. You don’t need pencil and paper. Nope, there is an easier and more technology-driven way to do it, keep it, and share it.

Possessions, by John Shackleford, is a neat little app that allows you to keep score and more of each game you attend or watch on TV. You could be watching a game at a youth soccer match, or you could be watching the English Premier League. Either way, this app that works on both iPad and on iPhones will be at the ready, allowing you to tap away game scores, shots and corners without blinking an eye. The app has a bit of a price tag, costing $10.99, but it packs a punch in valuable data, whether you use it to strategize for your child’s team, or you map trends for your favorite team as it treads its way towards the World Cup.

Possession screenshot

Once you download the app, you’ll see how easy it is to use. The main screen features a timer that can be “assigned” to each team as possession of the ball passes between them. This is done with just tapping either Home or Away. The timer will time the game in general and will keep individual possession times for each team as you indicate the switch when the ball changes “hands.” The main screen also shows the number of Goals, Shots and Corners for each team as well as a clear graphic that indicates the percentage of possession time for each team. This is essentially a bar colored in two shades, each increasing or decreasing in width to represent possession time by each team, and is also flanked by a percentage on each end.

Starting stat collection requires you to press New Game and then swipe the Timer ON. Before turning on the timer, it is wise to move over to the Report page so you can enter each team’s name, their gender if you wish, their age and then select whether or not you wish final stat reports to be emailed. On the subject of emailing, you can specify email recipients on the Mail page. This makes sharing much easier and allows others on the team, like the coach and fellow parents to see the stats. If players are older kids, they may want to get in on the action as well.

The easiest way to use this app is to set up the static information on the Report page first, and then move over to the Game screen, or main page. Next, start the timer and select the team in possession. Now, you might want to quickly move over to the Stats page so you can easily tap on Corners and Shots as they happen. Soccer moves fast, so you need the screen up and ready, or you may miss a moment.

The only thing that I found to be a bit tricky in using this app is the need to switch between the Game and Stats screens. It would be easier to use if you had controls to switch possession and update shots, goals and corners, all on one page. Yet, overcoming this one issue, Possession can make data collection on games much easier and produce a wealth of knowledge for your team for seasons to come.

Alternative Food Provisioning Networks

As a continuation of my food series, I would like to take a look at alternative food provisioning networks, via a review of Italian anthropologist Cristina Grasseni’s new book ‘Beyond Alternative Food Networks’. The book describes strategies used by groups to avoid interaction with the industrialized food mechanism, much of which I have debated in the other posts in the series.

Beyond Alternative Food Networks

Beyond Alternative Food Networks

Grasseni’s book gives an account of the inner workings of Italy’s solidarity purchase groups. These groups are informal collections of families, working together to procure food and other products from mainly local producers in order to reclaim sovereignty over their purchasing.

The model is extremely innovative, both in terms of its positive health and social benefits and financial implications. Groups make agreements with local farmers to buy their produce in return for guarantees regarding production processes (organic, tax paid, worker’s rights etc). The producer benefits because they can sell their produce directly to the consumer, and so is not held hostage by distributors and retailers. The consumer gains because they know who has produced their product, how, where and under which conditions. Group members can buy hygiene and baby products, detergents and a range of household goods through the network, offering a source of income to specialist socially and environmentally friendly producers.

Although this system might sound like a Utopian fringe, Grasseni points out that the groups spend about 80 million Euro a year in Italy alone (about $110 million), in effect moving this sum from the regular economy into this more direct exchange. The number of groups is in rapid expansion and has led to the creation of networks of groups, national conferences and organizations and even the creation of ‘districts of solidarity economies’.

The book argues that this alternative economics structure is trust based, with all parties within the transaction knowing and directly relating with the others. Several organizations work entirely within the structure providing goods only for the groups. The following examples of the dairy and the shoemaker really show the potential of the model.

In 2009 a local dairy farmer converted to organic production in order to supply these groups. This involved downsizing and specialization, but several years later the farm found itself in financial difficulty. Members of the groups ran an email campaign and in about a month raised 150 000 Euro (more than $200 000) to bail the dairy out. The money was passed on, the dairy survived and now produces milk and cheese for the very same groups that saved it. With the banks no longer involved, the farmer can sell the produce at retail prices directly to the groups and make enough money to live and repay the initial bailout loan.

The story of the shoemaker is similar. After being forced into downsizing the shoemaker was left with capability but little market. He withdrew from the mainstream economy and now provides made to measure shoes through the network. There is a traveling catalog, so once found you can choose a style and size and order your new shoes that then arrive through the post. They are also sold through a network of non profit organizations that have relationships with the groups.

This book certainly leads the reader into a new way of thinking about food production. The cover contains a quote from Peter Utting, Deputy Director of the united Nations Research Institute for Social Development. He states that “Grasseni provides fascinating insights into how alternative approaches to food provisioning can transform social and economic relationships in ways that bode well for contemporary global challenges of sustainability, social justice and rebuilding human relations built on trust”.

If you would like to learn more about these alternative approaches, take a look at the following links:

Rete Gas is the Italian national GAS network.

The Food Alergy and Anaphylaxis Network has a dedicated page.

The Grassroots Innovation website also has plenty of information.

Beyond Alternative Food Networks by Cristina Grasseni is published by Bloomsbury and available through Amazon via the link above.

I would like to add that although this review is not paid, I do know the author very well. I am also a GAS member.

Concluding a series on the S4 Mini

This is the conclusion article in a series reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.

Here we are at the end of another series. This was my most inconsistent series, which I should have ended in October, but here I am in January 2014 finishing it off!

In the first article I introduced my new purchase and started the series. I am still (very) glad I chose Android over Apple and a Samsung Galaxy over other rivals. I really like the (in the words of David) Disney layer Samsung add, having compared it to various other Android devices, not running the Samsung version of the OS.

D3O case for the S4 MiniWhilst I do like the S4 Mini, is hasn’t been an easy ride. Before I got my D3O case and Tech21 screen protector, I dropped my phone. The screen hit something and it bounced to the floor. This completely ruined the screen. I took it in for repair and £100 later I had my phone back.

Note to self: always get a really good case, as the cost of that is way less than the cost of a repair. Oh and try not to drop your phone.

A few weeks later my battery started playing up. It wouldn’t hold charge and depleted very quickly. I wasn’t sure if this was related to the earlier drop or not, but I took it back to the shop I bought it from and they said that as it was still within warranty (Samsung give a two year warranty) they would take a look and repair it for me. A few days later I got my phone back (again) and since then nothing has gone wrong.

I recently dropped it again (by accident) outside. It landed on the pavement and bounced to the ground. Luckily the D3O did its work and my phone is still perfectly fine.

Anker S4 Mini Screen ProtectorIn terms of screen protectors I would say the Anker one was much better than the Muvit alternative, however since that post I have purchased a Tech21 Impactology screen protector and I would rate this the best yet. It cost £20 which is five times the cost of the Anker one and I don’t think it is really that much better. Clarity, responsiveness and adhesion are pretty much the same, it’s only the level of protection that I think is probably a little better. Check out this video for more.

My final article reviewed the RoadWarrior car holder for my S4 Mini. Depending upon the car it can be awkward to place, and I am worried it might damage my phone (if I am not really careful when inserting/removing it) but the FM transmitter and spare USB port are great features that I value.

Overall I enjoy using my S4 Mini. It is a good little phone with great capabilities. The battery life could be improved and the OS could be made a little sleeker/easier to use in some places, but on the whole it is a very good handset to buy; it’s more affordable than it’s bigger brother – the S4 – whilst offering a similar experience, from a more conveniently sized device.

Four and a Half StarI think the S4 Mini is worthy of a 4.5 star rating. :-)