Tip o’ the Week #209 – Shhhhhhhh!


How many times have you been awoken by your phone, tablet or PC blaring an alert first thing in the morning, telling you it’s someone’s birthday (worse, someone you hardly even know)? Or reminding you it’s time to go to an optional conference call in the middle of the night (your time), that was sitting unnoticed in your diary?

As mobile platforms have evolved, sometimes favoured functionality in old versions gets sacrificed in the name of quick progress, and may be eventually added back in future. The Windows Phone 7 journey is a great example – compared to Windows Mobile 6.5, there were lots of features which didn’t exist yet most people either didn’t notice, or they did notice but quickly stopped whining, dried their eyes and got on with the rest of their lives.

Windows Phone 8 misses one feature that was present in many old mobile phones, (including that first “Stinger” phone, the Orange SPV, which showed up more than 11 years ago), namely the idea of sound profiles – you could set up several named settings (Meeting, Silent, Outdoor, Normal, etc), and easily switch between them, maybe even automatically. Later versions of Pocket PC-based phones had an array of 3rd party software that could not only create & manage profiles – a feature that didn’t exist on the PPC platform – but could even switch profiles on a schedule, so when you went to bed, the phone went to quiet mode but came back to life in the morning so the alarm still worked.

Windows 8.1 and Quiet hours

clip_image004Here’s a handy added-feature to Windows 8.1 which could be particularly relevant to hypnagogic tablet users, namely the ability to shut the machine up for specified periods of time. It’s even enabled by default.

To set up your preferred Quiet hours, either navigate through settings (Settings charm | clip_image006Change PC Settings | Search and apps | Notifications) or save yourself a lot of clicking or poking, by typing quiet hours at the Start screen, and select from the search results.

Maybe we’ll see the same Quiet Hours functionality built into the next generation of Windows Phone…? In the meantime, at least you can quickly switch between ring mode and silence by just pressing one of the volume controls on the side of the phone, then tapping the sound icon on the top right of the screen.

Tip o’ the Week #204 – Mirror, mirror, on the big screen


Many people who’ve had a new laptop in the last year will have experienced the frustration of showing up in a meeting room, only to find that you have no means of projecting onto the screen – there are at least 5 different types of connector that could go into the laptop, and 2 or 3 that might be supported by the screen in the room.

clip_image003Wireless projection has been promised for years, with a series of proprietary and clunky technologies that never really took off. All this is set to change, using a technology which started as a consumer function on high-end TVs, yet is filtering down to £200 tellies and will be mainstream on projection systems going forward. Maybe. For now, we have to live with a profusion of dongles while projecting at work, but what about in the home? Ever fancied delivering a PPT presentation to the gathered family?

Miracast” is a standard which allows devices – PCs and Android tablets, mainly (Apple does not support Miracast, preferring their own proprietary technology) – to replicate their display and sounds onto a remote device. Windows 8.1 now supports Miracast, and if your home TV is new, then you might well find it enables the screen mirroring technology too.

There are third-party Miracast devices which can bring wireless access to your “legacy” TV and sound system, potentially – EZCast HDMI WiFi adapters or the Netgear PTV3000. Maybe it’s worth treating your living room to some remote projection goodness?

A few things to check:

  • You can only use Miracast over WiFi – it’s not applicable using wired connections, and some WiFi networks won’t support it either.
  • Even if you’ve got an appropriate telly and a Windows 8.1 machine with the right kind of WiFi adapter, you may still need to get an updated display driver (either from your PC manufacturer or from Intel directly).
  • clip_image004Surface RT currently does not support Miracast even though the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC that powers the original Surface, does. Surface Pro and 2 should be OK.
  • You’ll need to add the TV to your PC, akin to pairing a Bluetooth device – a one-off process that is pretty self-explanatory, though if it doesn’t go smoothly, return to the “update your driver” section.
  • As you may see, this is still not exactly Plug & Play…

Having said that, when it works – it works well. Think of Miracast as like HDMI over WiFi, so could be a way of streaming music to a TV connected to a sound system. Hello Xbox Music Pass, bye-bye Sonos?

To find out more, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to project and some more details on how it works, here.

Tip o’ the Week #203 – Remote control of Office

clip_image002Anyone who regularly presents will have had the occasion when there’s a need to wander around the stage, or instead be marooned behind a lectern on the side, yet if there’s no presentation “clicker” provided, it’s difficult to control the flow. A/V professionals complain that they can never keep hold of clickers as they grow legs and walk, so unless you bring your own, you might be out of luck.

There have been any number of attempts to build remote control software for Pocket PCs, Stinger smartphones, but none have been altogether successful – usually requiring faffing about with esoteric networking to make them work. There was also the snappily-named Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000, which could be flipped over from its primary rodent function, to expose PowerPoint clicker type buttons below. It’s so bulky, maybe the mouse’s best use in retirement is to torment cats with its laser pointer.

clip_image001Enter Microsoft Research, who recently produced Office Remote – and a means, with your Windows Phone in paw, to remotely operate Office apps using a Bluetooth connection direct to the PC.

Frankly, controlling a remote Word doc (by jumping around the structure of the document, zooming in/out etc), or Excel (moving about, using Slicers/Filters/Pivots, as well as the jumping/zooming around) is something of a novelty. How many cases will you find yourself where you’re looking at a screen showing your document from your PC, but you don’t have the means to control the document directly?

Where the remote control really comes into its own, however, is with PowerPoint. You can read speaker notes and even use your phone screen as a virtual laser pointer on the main screen – as well as swiping back and forth to move through the slide being shown on the main PC.

There are two routes to go about installing the software – there’s an agent that needs to run on your PC, and an app on the clip_image003 phone. If you run the Setup app on your PC, then look under the “OFFICE REMOTE” tab in your Word/Excel/PowerPoint apps, you can remotely install the controller app on your phone. Or start with the phone install first.

Simply install the app on both PC (running Windows 7 or 8.x) and on your mobile device, bond the two together in Bluetooth settings (part of the setup to add a new device) and you’re off. Simple, effective and free. Thanks to Simon Boreham, Ant Austin, Rina Ladva and others for recommending the application.