There are show notes below which document what was covered in the show and include timeline links, so you can watch just the part of the video that you want. If you are not a Geeks on Tour member, you can watch Episode 63 video on YouTube, but you won’t get the show notes. Become a member here. This episode covers:
Tip o Week: Wallpaper
Beginner’s Lesson: Connecting to Internet with WiFi or Cellular
We travel all over the country in our Motorhome and we depend on our website, GeeksOnTour.com, for our living. Internet connections are very important to us and we rely on Verizon thru our Android phones to provide that connection. We also live-stream a smartphone educational show every week. It’s called What Does This Button Do? and we do it from our motorhome. In case you are not aware, “Streaming” and “Internet Hog” are synonymous!
I have to be reminded that some people use their phones to make phone calls! Just to be clear, we’re only talking about Internet … Data … connections in this article. Voice is a different topic which may or may not be affected by the same factors.
Most people judge their cellular Internet connection by simply looking at the signal bars on their phone. 1-2 bars = bad; 4-5 bars = good. But that’s not always true.
Using Ookla Speed Test App
Signal strength is only one measurement, and in my opinion it is not the most important one. We have been in places where we were seeing only 1-2 bars, yet our Internet performance – the speed – was very good. We have also seen 4-5 bars and had low speed. We use the Ookla Speed Test app to check our speeds. We’ve seen download speeds ranging from .2 Mbps to 74. But, those numbers don’t always correlate with the signal strength.
In the image above you can see that the signal strength is not that great, yet the speed is VERY good! And, we’ve seen the results go the opposite way as well; where the signal strength has been registering 5 bars, yet the speed is <1Mbps.
When we pull into an RV park now, we drive around with our cell phones out and Ookla Speed test running. At each possible site, we’ll do a speed test. We were recently at the Thousand Trails park in Hershey, PA and we planned to be there for #48 of our What Does This Button Do?, so we really needed good Internet. When we pulled into the park, our signal strength was registering only 2 bars … of 3G. Not good. There were some areas where we saw no signal at all. Then we found one area with 2 bars of 4G, so we started an Ookla speed test and saw less than 1Mbps of speed. We thought we would need to leave and find another park, but we kept looking at other sites and doing speed tests. We found one, where Ookla registered 2-3 Mbps both up and down, so we parked. Surprisingly, we were able to do our show just fine.
Not all Cell Towers are Equal
Realize that the signal strength bars are simply measuring how strong the signal connection is between your device and the nearest cell tower for your service provider. So, there may be times when you are very close and have good signal strength, but it’s an old tower with outdated equipment. A better connection doesn’t help if what you’re connecting to isn’t any good. And vice versa – you may have a weak connection but if the cell tower you are connecting to has the latest and greatest technology, you may still get good results. Realize that “Old” and “Outdated” may be measured in months!
Cellular technology is very fast-moving. If you want to learn more about this, we recommend the excellent book: RV Mobile Internet Handbook by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia. You can find the book and much more on their website RVMobileInternet.com.
The Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story
You can’t just look at the numbers and know how good your Internet connection is. I thought we would be unable to do our streaming show from the Hershey campground based on the numbers, but it went just fine. There are so many factors in this complex technology. It’s your experience that counts. Browse to a website; did it load fast or are you still waiting? Try to play a YouTube video; does it start right away and continue straight thru or does it stop ever few seconds to buffer? Try uploading a video; does it complete or does it die halfway through? If you’re not getting the results you want, there are signal boosters that will help, but only IF the problem is signal strength. If the problem is cell tower equipment quality, you may need to move!
Windows has released their latest OS to the public. It started rolling out to computers via Windows Update on July 29. I don’t necessarily recommend everyone upgrade their computers right away. There is no hurry, especially if you are doing ok now. If you do decide to upgrade I recommend having a current backup of your important data and performing a disk cleanup to get rid of junk on the drive. A high capacity and stable Internet connection really makes a difference. I can only be responsible for the safety and security of my own computers, not yours.
There are two main reasons for any update. Number one is to fix bugs. Number two is to add functionality. Bugs can include security holes in the software. Hardware is changing all the time and the OS needs to adapt to make use of the advances. New software is made for new hardware, and vice-versa. If you are running old or limited hardware, you may have problems upgrading.
They Like it!
I have been an early adopter of the latest and greatest(?) operating systems from Redmond going all the way back to DOS 2.1. This upgrade is most interesting in that I have heard very few complaints about it. Indeed, I have mostly heard acceptance and even some grudging praise about Windows 10 from the gurus I follow and trust.
I installed this upgrade on our ASUS laptop (just used for seminars) as soon as it showed up in the system tray. I did not need to do anything special and it worked fine. My Surface Pro computer did have a hiccup the first time through the upgrade. I was low on disk space on the C: drive. The install automatically rolled back to Win 8.1. I used the standard Disk Cleanup to free up some space and tried again. This time it upgraded just fine. I have heard some reports of device drivers not working initially, but there is usually a fix for those. My Bluetooth keyboard and external monitor only came to life after a couple of reboots.
We were in the middle of a rally where we rely heavily on the seminar laptop for our presentations and live demonstrations. I didn’t even notice much of a change. That’s the thing about operating systems. You don’t really use them. They are just the way to get to your programs so you can get your work done. All my programs work fine, even Photo Story 3, which was made for Windows XP.
I do appreciate that Microsoft listened to unhappy users and brought back the Start Button. The new IE replacement Edge Browser has some cool features that I will report on as I learn more. I am still using GoogleChrome as my primary Internet browser.
Caution for those using Cellular Data
Mobile users and those using metered data plans need to be aware that the download can be quite large and can easily put you over your monthly data allotment. If that is you, I recommend connecting to a public WiFi at the library or such. In addition, there are some settings everyone should be aware of to lessen data usage.
The Windows Update Delivery Optimization (WUDO) is a new way to distribute important updates. But, if you are using a limited wireless connection to access the Internet, it will use large amounts of data. It is optional and you can save precious bandwidth by disabling it .
Here are the steps to disable WUDO on your Windows 10 machine:
Open your Start Menu
Go to “Settings”
Select “Update & security”
In the left-side pane, select “Windows Update”
In the right-side pane, select “Advanced options”
In the new pane, select “Choose how updates are delivered”
Move the slider under “Updates from more than one place” to “OFF”
Another potential data thief is WiFi Sense. It’s a reciprocal feature introduced in Windows 8 that can let your contacts share your WiFi network without knowing your network password. It in turn connects you to networks and hotspots that your contacts share with you. It is only for Internet access; they can’t see your passwords and stuff, and you can’t see theirs.
In the “Settings” window, click “Network & Internet”
Go to “Manage Wi-Fi Settings”
Turn off the connection sliders.
If you have upgraded to Windows 10, let us know how it went for you. If you are putting it off, let us know why. If you prefer Mac or Linux, or anything else, that is fine. Just please ignore this post.
There are show notes below which document what was covered in the show and include timeline links, so you can watch just the part of the video that you want. If you are not a Geeks on Tour member, you can watch Episode 43 video on YouTube, but you won’t get the show notes.Become a member here. This episode covers:
Quick Tips: Voice Control of Camera, Transcribing Voice into Typing
Beginner’s Lesson: 3 ways to get Internet away from your home
Internet access while traveling has been a primary topic of ours for many years. But we’ve only traveled in the US. Now we’re on a trip visiting friends in England and we’re taking the opportunity to learn about Global Internet access.
Three Ways to Get Internet Overseas
Use local Wi-Fi hotspots. Turn off the phone’s mobile data, or turn on Airplane mode.
Use your cell provider in Roaming mode. Depending on your provider, this can be very expensive (Verizon) or included at no extra charge like with T-Mobile.
Buy a SIM card from a local provider and put it in your phone.
Cellular Voice and Data Service while in England
When I turned on my Verizon phone after landing in London, I got the message: Allow Data on this trip? If I said Yes, there would be “substantial” charges. Or, they gave a number to call to arrange for a global plan. A global plan from Verizon would have cost us $25/100 MB. Since we can use 100MB in less than an hour that was not the plan for us!
Jim’s iPhone on T-Mobile rang while we were walking through a field near Cambridge. It was someone from Virginia who had dialed his normal, Florida-based phone number. They chatted for a while and took care of business, without even knowing where we were.
Jim’s Nexus 6 appears to be his phone of choice. This was the device he used for Google Maps to navigate from Cambridge to Methwold, and from Bexhill to Belgium. While I was feeling quite out of sorts not being able to access any internet resources on my Samsung, not even a local map.
While at our friends’ house, we were able to use their Wi-Fi. For the couple of nights we stayed in a hotel, there was good, free, Wi-Fi available, and several of the pubs and restaurants we visited also had free Wi-Fi. But, this didn’t help when we were in a car or on a boat.
A SIM card is the “Subscriber Identity Module,” a tiny card that establishes the connection between your phone and the cellular service provider. Once it is installed your phone has a new phone number and data service. In England, you can buy SIM cards at the checkout line in the grocery stores! The card only costs $1.50, then you install it and call the cell company to add $30 worth of service for 2-4 GB of data for the month. Here is our member video on installing a SIM card:
We were going to be in England for a couple of weeks and we wanted to use our phones for navigation like we do in the States. We also needed to stay connected. How did we do it?
Like most smartphone owners, I have become accustomed to the convenience of having maps at my fingertips when I need to find an address or look up directions.
Offline Google Maps are Worthless
Here at home in the U.S., we have a Rand McNally RVND 7720 Dashboard GPS in our motorhome. All maps are stored locally and no Internet connection is needed to do our routing. But we use Google Maps on our phones when driving the car. Google Maps uses Internet (data) for the maps. If you know you’re going to be out of cell service, you can save a section (a small section) of map offline. We tried that in England but quickly discovered that when using the offline map, you are not able to search or navigate. All you could do is look at the map. So, what good is that?!?
We did verify however that, if you start navigating when you have an Internet connection, the map along that route will be good even after you lose connection. If you deviate from your active route, all bets are off. Part of our travels were driving in the NE Norfolk area of England where none of our phones had any signal. No data to run Google Maps! When we stopped for lunch we found a Wi-Fi hotspot and connected. We loaded Google Maps and asked it to navigate to our next destination while connected to the Wi-Fi. That navigation was good even after we disconnected from the Wi-Fi and were traveling thru data-less territory!
T-Mobile is Good in England and much of Europe
Planning ahead for data is the key to success. We had been wanting an iPhone for our weekly “What Does This Button Do?” show, so we decided to get a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus on the T-Mobile network which includes international capability. We were very impressed with the connectivity we had using this phone throughout England and even during our two day jaunt to France and Belgium where our British friend’s phone did not work, the T-Mobile phone did! See the countries included in T-Mobile’s plan on the International page of their website.
Chris had her Verizon Samsung Galaxy S5 phone and AT&T iPad Mini. We purchased local SIM cards to connect over there as international roaming on Verizon and AT&T is prohibitively expensive.
Just before we left for England, I got notification that my invitation-only experimental Google Project Fi world phone was available. Another phone! Great. I’ll be talking a lot more about Project Fi and the 32GB Nexus 6 phone in future posts.
Google Maps turn-by-turn voice navigation works the same in Europe as here. It is the best. We wanted to look at other inexpensive or free apps for our mobile devices, too. We were running both iOS and Android. If we were staying longer, there are plenty of more expensive choices including dedicated satnav units.
Get good paper maps for the areas you will be visiting!
Do not rely on your mobile device exclusively unless you don’t mind getting lost occasionally. Actually, getting lost sometimes can be fun. You may discover things you never expected. Planning ahead using a paper map will help with your orientation and give you a better sense of direction and distances. Especially when we were walking, consulting our phones for directions was often more confusing than helpful.
No app or dedicated device is perfect! Any of them can try to take you the wrong way down a one-way street, or tell you to turn where there is no road. Most don’t care if the road is gravel or appropriate for your mode of travel. Use your head.
One problem we experienced was the speed of GPS location updates on the maps. We missed a couple of turns in the car because of that. The issue is even more pronounced when walking in cities or towns. We got completely turned around more than once because the GPS didn’t know which direction we were walking. Other times, the GPS fix was lost because we were surrounded by tall buildings. GPS needs to “see” the satellites in the sky.
Here are a few apps which were recommended to us. It is not a comprehensive list, by any means. These are available for both Apple and Android unless noted. We tended to trust Google Maps most as we had connectivity on one device or another most of the time.
Maps.me: Free mapping. Totally offline, worldwide maps, fast, and detailed. Only need the Internet to get the app and preload the maps. There was no voice direction for turn by turn navigation as we discovered. We are spoiled by Google Maps clear spoken directions.
OffMaps2: iOS, $0.99. Offline maps for over 4000 cities and tourist destinations.
Telenav Scout: Freemium (extras like voices and traffic cost more) First country map is included free. They partnered with Trip Advisor and Foursquare, great for tourists.
MapFactor Navigator is a free turn-by-turn GPS navigation app for Android phones and tablets using OpenStreetMaps data. Maps are installed on the SD card so there is no need for an Internet connection when traveling. Map and app updates are FREE every month. It has voice guidance in several languages with door-to-door route planning and can handle border crossings without the need to switch data files. Those data files can get pretty big, so you need plenty of capacity.
Sygic is another well regarded app with a free component. The premium app looks to have much better features. It may well be good choice for frequent overseas travelers.
Let us know if you have a favorite navigation or mapping app.
Our Data Plans
T-Mobile’s $70/month Simple Choice Plan features unlimited talk + text and 3GB of high-speed (4G LTE) data at home. They will throttle your speed if you go over 3GB during the month. Unlimited text and slower-speed (256KB) data is included in 120+ countries. Voice calls are $0.20 per minute overseas. WiFi tethering is included and there is no annual contract. You can purchase higher speed data.
Google’s Project Fi Plan is $20/month for unlimited voice + text using the Sprint and T-Mobile networks at home. Add $30/month for 3GB of high-speed data. Additional data is $10 per 1GB, no throttling. Like the T-Mobile plan, tethering is included and voice calls are $0.20/minute overseas. No annual contract.
There are show notes below which document what was covered in the show and include timeline links, so you can watch just the part of the video that you want. If you are not a Geeks on Tour member, you can watch Episode 42 video on YouTube, but you won’t get the show notes.Become a member here. This episode covers:
Quick Tips: Making capital letters using the Swype keyboard, How to find the built-in bubble-level on an iPhone
Beginner’s Lesson: Getting started with the new Google Photos
Like water and electricity, Internet usage may be metered.
Many travelers use their cellular devices as Wi-Fi hotspots. For example, we have smartphones with a Verizon Data Plan for Internet access. We turn a phone into a hotspot and connect our computers’ Wi-Fi to that hotspot. When the computer is working on the Internet, it is consuming Internet resources from our Verizon Data Plan. Many other people have a mobile hotspot called a MiFi or a Jetpack that their computers connect to. These are also powered by a cellular contract for data (Internet usage.) If your cellular contract has data limits, Windows 8 refers to it as a “Metered” connection. That means it is not free and usage needs to be watched.
Everyone’s limits are different. You need to know what your cell provider contract specifies. Let’s say you have a 5 Gigabytes/month plan. If you download a 2 Gigabyte Windows update, and watch a 2 hour movie on Netflix, you’ve used up the majority of your plan – and you may only be 2 days into your month! If you go over your limits, there will probably be a charge. This also depends on your contract. Some mobile internet providers do not charge for overage, they throttle your connection, meaning they slow it way down.
Other Wi-Fi connections, like a free RV Park Wi-Fi hotspot, or a home network, may be unlimited. That would be considered an UNmetered connection to the Internet.
There are three things that Windows 8.1 can do for you:
Track the amount of data (Internet usage) that is happening over a given connection
Define a connection as metered or unmetered
Limit the Internet usage when connected to a metered connection
You can see your possible Wi-Fi network connections by clicking on the 5-bar Network icon in the task bar (bottom right.)
If you don’t see the taskbar, just move your mouse to the bottom of your screen and it will appear.
You will see something like this (with different names.)
In that list, MrGeek is the name of our smartphone’s hotspot. If you right click on the name, you’ll see: Choose “Show estimated data usage” and the number of Gigabytes used will show up: Click on “Set as metered connection” and special rules will now apply when this connection is in use.
Settings while using a Metered Connection
Updates: While connected to a metered connection, Windows Update will only download priority updates, not all updates.
Store: The Windows Store will pause downloading apps — including updates for apps.
Start Screen: live tiles on your Start screen won’t update.
Search: Bing search will not automatically give search suggestions or web results
OneDrive Synchronizing: You can choose to allow (or not) OneDrive to upload and download files while using a metered connection. Open (or search for) your PC Settings->OneDrive->Metered Connections.
Upload and Download files over metered connections. Turn that OFF
Sync and backup settings over metered connections. Turn that OFF (although this uses less bandwidth and you may choose to leave it on)
Learn more about Wi-Fi and Mobile Internet
If you use Internet while you travel there is a lot to know. If you like using public Wi-Fi hotspots and want to learn how to get better results, we recommend the booklet from our friends at TechnoRV titled: Guide to Boosting your RV’s WiFi. It’s a quick read with plenty of pictures. You will understand a lot more of what’s involved in connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can be an educated consumer. The booklet also details the 3 levels of solutions that TechnoRV sells. We know that they use everything they sell and they know what they’re talking about.
If you want to learn everything about mobile Internet – not just Wi-Fi, but cellular and satellite as well, check out our Technomadia friends. They are devoting themselves to keeping up with all the options and they have a website and a book focused on RV Mobile Internet. See RVMobileInternet.com
Here is Episode 8. There are show notes below the video which document what was covered and include timeline points, so you can watch just what you want. If you are not a Geeks on Tour member, you can watch Episode 8 video on YouTube, but you won’t get the documentation. Become a member.
How to use Google Earth on your smartphone to find places. Watch Chris find a campground in Gainesville, Florida, call them for a reservation, then get turn by turn directions all while using the app. Continue reading →