Tag Archives: smart phones

The Case For Business Cards: Android Apps For Business Cards

aaaBeing in a technology field for so long I don’t really like business cards. So much so that I refused to have one for a very long time. However, once you start talking to more people than those 6 cubicles of separation – you might need some of those so that people will remember you when they throw them out of their wallets.

Friday I have returned from a summit hosted by one of the largest ERP vendors. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve sat through a lot of demos. My wallet got fat from all the business cards I was handed (and I ran out of mine in under 30 seconds). My first impulse was to throw this thick stack of dead tree remains into garbage, but I have realized I might need to get in touch with some of these people. However, there is no way I will have enough time to input contacts from all these cards into my phone manually. So I ventured on a quest for mobile app that will allow me to scan these cards into my contacts. My needs are simple – it has to be free app so I could try it before purchasing “Pro Elite SpetsNaz Ninja” version, it has to scan the card, convert it into contact information and store it in my address book. I don’t need any kind of cloud sync since my contacts are already syncing perfectly fine thanks to Google accounts. In fact – I don’t need to store MY contacts anywhere else aside from my own address book. On top of that – I don’t think I even need to store an image of the card. Once I got all the juice out of it the image can be discarded. It doesn’t get any simpler than that, right?

I had a chance to run through six apps for Android since I am using HTC Thunderbolt. I deliberately skipped paid only apps because I don’t feel like paying for something I can’t try and I don’t want to bother with requesting refunds, disputing charges and so on. If you don’t have a way for me to try your app – it doesn’t exist (unless I already know what it does and how it does it from another source). Disclaimer – none of the developers had anything to do with me reviewing their apps. I did this on my own time and when I saw my own need for the app like this.

In order to create this ad-hoc review I have selected 5 business cards (2 of them are mine, three were handed over to me at the summit). In most cases I discarded the worst result and compared the performance on the rest. I considered the card scanned properly if it picked up person’s name, phone and e-mail (these are must), company name and company URL are nice to haves, everything else is optional. Two of the cards are aligned vertically and in addition to company logo contain text only. Other cards were: text only, average boring corporate business card where company name is a fancily obfuscated Times New Roman text and a business card with plenty of text that looks like cheap flyer (my old business card, in case you wonder). All testing was done in a regularly lit office space. Here’s the outcome, sorted by performance.

GK Business Card Reader LiteGK Business Card Reader Lite. Score: 0 out of 4
This is the most impressive failure of the app. Not only it failed to properly extract information from any card I fed it, the information extracted was a pile of garbage – nothing that was even remotely recoverable. However, it was really fast at failing and had only the permissions necessary for an app like this – read/write contact data, modify/delete storage contents. I’m sure it might have worked better for someone else, otherwise it’s hard to explain those 25 positive reviews. The full version of the app costs $1.99 and has only 2 reviews. I guess that tells enough to make a decision.

Presto!BizCard FreePresto!BizCard Free. Score: 1 out of 4
This app simply does not stand out. Average speed, some issues with scanning simple cards and font confusion – it scanned more complex card, but failed at simple card that used Terminal font. Allows image import, which is convenient if you have a pile of cards and don’t feel like scanning them one by one – might as well snap a picture of a card on the go and scan when you get around to it. This app also has proper permissions (read/write contact data, modify/delete storage contents). In addition to poor performance the app sports somewhat confusing interface – all visible buttons for calling/emailing/texting to the contact instead of actually managing the contact. The full $3.99 version of this app has only one review with the score of 1 in app store. Not good.

CamCard Lite - Business Card RCamCard Lite – Business Card R. Score: 1.5 out of 4
Yep, that’s the name for the app. I guess other 5 names were taken already. It scanned and recognized information here and there, but failed to provide consistent results. Simply ignored all my attempts at scanning vertically aligned cards by cropping the top part of it and refusing to change its behavior. There is also an issue with app’s permissions – it wants to read from the system’s various log files. Why would it need to do that is beyond me. Not a keeper, even though it is priced at $4.99 for full version.

ScanBizCards LiteScanBizCards Lite. Score: 2 out of 4
I really want to like this app. Even though it’s a slow, two step process – take a picture, wait, review the image, scan, wait a little more, review the information, save it. Even though it made out only two out of 4 cards. The reason for me wanting to like it is its interactive, user friendly way to get the card scanned properly. The app gets out of its way to really please and asks a bunch of questions about whether it got the information right, is the image positioned properly and whether or not the company name is really that weird word with “, Inc.” at the end. Permission-wise it’s the same as most other contenders: directly call phone numbers, send SMS messages. Why every app wants me to use it to make phone calls I have no idea. But I appreciate the fact that developers of this app have realized the imperfection of their OCR system and provided an interactive and user-friendly way to assist the user in fixing recognition errors. I am keeping it for more testing. There is a limit on a Lite version: “This version only saves two cards per week to the address book”, but for what effectively is a useless trial version of the $6.99 app it’s fine.

ScanCard Free Trial VersionScanCard Free Trial Version. Score: 3 out of 4
This app doesn’t quite stand out, except for weird permission to let the app change the Wi-Fi state. What does business card scanning app have to do with Wi-Fi? Moderate speed, but less than decent interface – fields are represented by tiny blurry icons. Given that app recognizes different text as different fields it’s hard to guess, initially, what each icon means. During my first run I got 2 out of 5 cards recognized, but after fiddling with settings I figured that the default language is set to Chinese. When I switched to English I got a better score of 3 out of 4, however it still failed at some fairly simple lines on a couple of cards. The full version of the app costs $5.99 and comes with support on Beijing time.

Card reader - YCardCard reader – YCard. Score: 4 out of 4
Before you even able to use this app there are two things that hit you right in your face. First is a set of permissions this app requires: coarse (network-based) location and fine (GPS) location, directly call phone numbers and change Wi-Fi state. I can imagine it yet another app that wants me to make phone calls directly from it, but what the heck does it need my GPS location for? Second – it requires a registration to use it. Not just some “come up with a stupid user name” registration – it actually asks you for an e-mail, sends you a confirmation link and only when you click it – you are allowed to use this free app. On top of that all the images of business cards you take are uploaded to “the cloud” for processing, so no actual OCR takes place on your phone. Which is, probably, why it has the highest score out of all other apps – it correctly recognized information on all cards I fed into it. It took it’s sweet time averaging just under 5 minutes for each card and, of course, requiring a constant internet connection for exchange. While it does work flawlessly, the fact that it requires so much information to run makes me uneasy, so I don’t feel like keeping a foreign watchdog on my phone.

If you don’t care about privacy or other fancy stuff on your phone than the last app is definitely a winner. Otherwise – I am having a hard time choosing which app I would want to use on a daily basis. As always – take the reviews in app store with a grain of salt and use common sense when picking an app for your use.

Customizing Your Smart Phone – Part 4

Part 4 of Customizing Your Smart Phone series (part 1, part 2, part 3), final installment. This time we are going over the most complicated of the three steps I have mentioned before – installing a customized OS and software package into phone’s permanent memory.

Since phones have two different kinds of non-volatile memory, understanding what goes where is a bit tricky. There’s a part that will hold on to the data even if you do a hard reset. There’s a part that will keep your data if you pull the battery out, but will not survive hard reset or memory clearing operation. And there’s a part that will keep your data only as long as the battery is alive or a power provided. So installing a new OS/software package involves rewriting data in both first and second parts of the memory.

Such packages are called ROMs, and these come in two flavors. Standard ROMs come from either a hardware manufacturer (HTC in our case) or cell phone provider (AT&T). Alternatively (and that’s where the fun begins), they are “cooked” ROMs and these come from “chefs” – those geeky types who just love to tweak their phones beyond comprehension. Cooked ROMs are, generally, created following chefs’ philosophies – that means either stuffing as much as possible into a crumpled phone’s memory or by leaving out as much as humanly possible to free up scarce phone’s resources.

That’s where the tricky part starts. Some cooked ROMs will only work with certain types/versions of radios. That means that you, essentially, have to think the whole process through even before you started (but shouldn’t you always?). Luckily, latest versions of radios generally tend to work with every modern and supported ROM out there, but doing a homework wouldn’t hurt. Once you done browsing through all the feature listings and screen shots, jot down a list of ROMs you tend to like and get going.

Install a HardSPL and the latest available radio. Then download and install each of ROMS on your list for initial testing. Most likely critical bugs will pop out fast that your list would shorten pretty quickly (I had to go through that twice because not a single ROM satisfied my needs, so I’ve got what seems to be the closest match and then went on with customizing it). Some ROMs come so overloaded that it’s almost impossible to get anything done, others quite snappy but lack important features. Once you’ve made your choice – start customizing and testing.

When testing, aside from looking at how glorious your brand new interface looks like, you should also pay attention to:

  • phone reception quality, especially in places where you know services have been exceptionally good or exceptionally bad;
  • battery drain, especially during normal patterns of activity (i.e. if your battery survives longer then usual even though you started to play with your phone more – you’ve made the right choice);
  • GPS reception and time to lock on satellites;
  • overall system responsiveness (does opening browser or bringing up the phone takes longer or shorter, comparing to what you feel comfortable);
  • are there any critical issues that send your phone into reboot or force you to reset your phone? If yes – you may be using an unstable ROM or ROM/radio combination.

Overall process took me two evenings and a weekend, but right now I am a proud owner of the same old AT&T Tilt (a.k.a. HTC TyTN). However, the new TouchFLO interface with software lock that looks like iPhone’s “Slide to unlock” (you actually have to slide your finger to unlock the phone, but still get to use your favorite Windows Mobile OS – isn’t it cool?), updated Mobile Internet Explorer and Opera browser, clean Windows Mobile 6.1 installation with updates and fixed GPS connectivity. And plenty of memory is available to install more stuff as I need.

Customizing Your Smart Phone – Part 3

This is part 3 of the Customizing Your Smart Phone series (part 1, part 2). This time we will look at the most important part of customizing your phone – installing a new software for the radio in your smart phone. If you look at the specs of any phone, you will see a bunch of frequencies that phone is capable of operating on. The most universal is considered a GSM quad-band that consists of four bands of GSM/GPRS/EDGE frequencies: 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz. Whenever you hear a 3G moniker, or lesser known in Northern America UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA bands they usually refer to 800/850/1900/2100 devices operating in UMTS frequency bands (data interchange bands, as opposed to voice interchange). While these numbers mean little to an unprepared mind, it’s important to understand that a connection possibility and quality of the call directly relate to which bands are supported by device and cellular service provider.

What the radio (and it’s software part) does is basically take care of how well your cell phone radio and your GPS behave when doing directly what they supposed to do. Interesting enough, certain versions of radio software behave better in certain markets, so you might want to go through a little testing. Pack an extra phone (don’t forget to charge it too) in case your updated radio version really suck. I spent about an hour per each version of radio and I only tested last three, so you shouldn’t do any worse than that.

If you have a HardSPL installed, then flashing the radio (i.e. installing a new or updated software package for your radio) should present any surprises. There’s a belief, although with little, if any, backing to it, that between radio updates it is a good idea to flash a stock radio (i.e. one that came from either original equipment manufacturer or cell phone company). I can hardly believe it’s true, but you’re welcome to acquire your own experience. Do your homework and follow the instructions to the letter, as missing the steps that might look small or insignificant may result in bricked phone or a failed flash.

There’s not much to the process of flashing of a new radio except for following the instructions. Make note which exact version did you test and what were the results. Pick a few spots where you know for sure the reception was good, decent and bad and test there thoroughly. Number of bars, no matter how heavily promoted by AT&T’s commercials, doesn’t mean anything – make calls longer then 3 minutes, note the call quality during the call. Take note on a battery drain as different versions of radio may consume power differently and the last version does not necesserily means the best. Remember, that you are testing same hardware in the same locations and the only thing different is your phone radio’s software. Pick the one that works best for you and move on.