Ask Maggie: On getting Android Apps, wiping devices clean, and syncing music

CNET's Maggie Reardon answers readers' question about how to sync iTunes music to Android phones, wiping devices of all personal data, and getting access to all the coolest Android apps.

Smartphones are hot, but it's the mobile applications that make the devices so appealing to wireless subscribers.

Ask Maggie

Discovering new applications and figuring out which ones to use are not as easy as it sounds. A couple of readers have asked questions for help. And I've enlisted the help of CNET mobile-app expert, Jessica Dolcourt to find the answers. Also, what happens when you've got your phone loaded with apps and you want to get rid of it? I've answered a question about how to wipe your smartphone clean.

And finally, I've tried to take the mystery out of why your phone sometimes roams onto another carriers' network when it can't get a signal and other times simply can't connect to the network.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column. I'm always looking for good questions, so send an e-mail to me at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com.

iTunes for Android?

Dear Maggie,

I think one of the major reasons people would like a Verizon iPhone is the iTunes music capability of Apple. If Verizon used iTunes, I think many people would quit wanting the iPhone. Is there an app that offers a similar functionality for Android phones?

Thanks,
Fred

Dear Fred,

There are apps that let you sync iTunes music and other media to your Android smartphone from your computer. Jessica Dolcourt, a senior associate editor for CNET who reviews mobile applications, suggests using DoubleTwist. This free media player application for Google Android phones is an easy-to-use desktop syncing application that allows you to move your music, photos, and videos from a media library, such as iTunes, to your Android phone. It works on both Macs and PCs.

The DoubleTwist app for Android is available on the Android Market for free, but this may only be for a limited time. The company may charge for it later.

Jessica only gave the app a three-star rating in her review last month, citing failed sync errors during testing and slow syncing.

"In theory, DoubleTwist will allow you to sync your iTunes library on an Android phone," she said. "But right now, it seems like more of a kludge that will hopefully improve over time."

For more details, check out her review.

Cell tower roaming

Hi Maggie,

My wife and I travel extensively in the U.S. and abroad, and neither of us has had reception issues of any significance with our iPhones. The phone simply switches to another carrier if there is a weak or nonexistent signal from AT&T. In the U.S., this happens automatically. But when traveling abroad, we get a notification that we will be charged for roaming. Why are there reception issues at all if phones can roam onto other networks with stronger signals?


Herb

Dear Herb,

I have also noticed that certain devices roam onto different networks when there is a weak signal or no signal from a particular carrier at all. But sometimes this doesn't happen. For example, when I'm trying to use a Sprint phone at my father's house in Delaware, I can't get a strong Sprint signal. Meanwhile, phones on Verizon and AT&T get full bars in his house.

My Sprint phone won't roam onto another network. But my Sprint wireless data card for my laptop will roam. Why would one device be able to roam and another one not be able to roam even if they are on the same carrier network?

Wireless carriers negotiate roaming agreements with one another, and one of the first clauses in these agreements is that each party agrees not to disclose the terms or nature of the agreements. So it's difficult to know exactly what the agreements are between different carriers.

Some roaming agreements are for voice only. Others are for voice and data. Some are for nationwide coverage, while others are only regional, etc.

Part of the reason that iPhone subscribers, in particular, may have more problems in urban areas is because carriers may not allow each other to roam on their networks in these markets. My guess is that all four major carriers are competing aggressively for customers in major cities, like New York City. And because competition is so intense in these areas, they do not have agreements that allow customers to roll over onto another network when the signal is weak or the network has reached capacity. This is probably why many customers experience dropped calls and poor reception in those places.

App madness

Dear Maggie,

Would you happen to know of a good place to get apps for Android phones from Verizon Wireless? I have the "Android Market," and I am looking for some new free stuff to add to my new phone.

Thanks,
Harry

Dear Harry,

I checked with CNET's Jessica Dolcourt, who reviews mobile apps. She said that the Android Market is the central location for all Android apps. That said, if you are part of a beta program that is testing certain apps, you can also download APK files directly from developers. An APK file is an Android Packet File, and it's a format that is used by developers to distribute and install bundled components onto Android mobile devices.

You might be able to find some applications that use the APK format that are not on the Android Market, but most developers are using the Android Market to distribute their apps.

Another place to look for Android apps is GetJar. It's the largest application store you've never heard of . It's actually the second largest app store in the world, and it offers apps for almost any kind of phone, including Android devices.

The way it works is that GetJar is able to detect the type of phone a wireless subscriber is using when they connect to the GetJar mobile Web site. It can also detect the type of phone used from the regular Web site using a wireless subscriber's phone number.

Based on this information, GetJar is able to direct app shoppers to the applications that will work on their phones.

If you're looking for some good recommendations of Android apps to download, check out Jessica's Android Starter Kit.

I hope this helps and happy app shopping!

Wiping an Android phone clean

Dear Maggie,

I bought an HTC Incredible but after using it for a while Verizon agreed the unit was defective, so they sent me a replacement phone. The SD card was removed, but how do I clear the internal drive of private data before returning it to Verizon?

Thanks,
C. Michael

Dear C. Michael,

Lucky for you this is an easy process. You just have to get the phone back to the old factory settings.

Here is how you do it:

  1. Go to the Home Screen
  2. Click on Settings
  3. Click on SD card & phone storage
  4. Select Factory data reset.

And then you should be all set. Please note that doing this completely wipes the phone of all data and settings. So make sure you don't need that information anymore before you wipe it clean.

CNET Senior Associate Editor Jessica Dolcourt contributed to this report.

 

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