Saturday
Dec312011

My first Android phone will be my last.

 

I’m not talking about me, as I’m on my second Android phone (First was an HTC Hero, current is HTC Evo), but I know several people who have told me they are fed up with Android and are looking at either an Iphone or in some rare cases Windows Phone. One thing I’ve noticed about all of these people is that their current Android phones are typically cheaper hardware that have sub 800 MGHz processors. Or the Skinning on Android that manufacturer used caused the phone to be unstable.

I actually saw a user get so fed up with how their Samsung Galaxy (which does have better hardware internals) because it would freeze and crash a lot. That user finally went out and paid full price for an Iphone 4S. Other cases were similar saying the phone is too buggy or has become too slow.

I’ll be honest, even my Evo can get slow and weird; if an App has memory leaked. A great example is Zynga’s Words with Friends which is really good at slowing a phone down to a crawl. Too be fair the iOS version isn’t much better, as it’s prone to crash often. So in some cases it’s isn’t the poor phone’s fault.  I’ve made this argument before, smart phones share a lot in common with their PC big brothers. Better and faster internals will go a far way in those 2 year contract lock ins; but so will better software.

Samsung’s  Touchwiz and Motorola’s Blur skin are great examples of where Skinning as not only caused Fragmentation issues but also performance issues. Even HTC Sense, which is arguably the best done skin still can cause a significant battery drain over the stock Android UI.

So what do you tell an Android user where their phone has left a bad taste in their mouth swearing off Android all together. “No, no, it’s not Android it’s just bad software, or your hardware is out of date” Doesn’t that just border on being an Android apologist? It’s not like Apple doesn’t suffer a similar strife by still offering the Iphone 3GS. But it seems that Iphone users like most apple users understand that Apple really doesn’t offer much support for Hardware that is 3 years old, and they are willing to shell out for next generation of stuff. And in Windows Phone’s case (like Apple) they have now taken a harder stance on Minimum hardware spec. I’d also say that Microsoft and Apple have stricter guidelines on Software, but there are still some glaring exceptions (cough, cough, Zynga).

A year ago, I was talking about how I had seen more Android phones at my work then I did Iphones, today it seems like the wind is shifting back to the Cupertino wiz kid device. In large part I think this because the Iphone is available on the 3 providers. Part of the appeal Android had was that it the only option next to sickly looking Blackberry and Windows Mobile, this just isn’t true in today’s market.

I’m not saying that I believe iOS is superior, or that Android sucks. I use both of the mobile OSes daily, but I am seeing a trend in my work that users are looking for a mobile experience that just works, and when their old wasn’t perfect or it just didn’t always work right they are far more willing to make a change at the end of their 2 year sentence.  

Saturday
Oct152011

Day 1 with the Iphone 4S

Day 1 with the Iphone 4S

 

So as many of our twitter followers know, I have been trying out iOS 5 on a Sprint Iphone 4S. I thought it was time I would actually do more than just tweet and construct some longer thoughts.

 

I’m coming from an HTC Evo 4G, that was on Sprint, running a custom ROM of Gingerbread (Android 2.3) with HTC Sense 3.5. So some of my thoughts will be comparisons, after all iOS 5’s largest new feature (other than Siri) is the new Notification Center. Which a lot of people have compared to the Notification Drawer in Android.

They are similar, you pull them both down from the top, and they will display application notifications, but some of the similarities drop right there.

First, let me talk about calendar notifications, If you turn them on, they don’t act like Notifications, infact they act more like a calendar widget. Rather than showing you just a reminder for an upcoming appointment, they instead show you all of your next appointments (depending on how many you have set in the setting for it to display). More frustrating, is that I can’t dismiss upcoming appointment notifications, they are pinned to the notification center like a calendar widget.

This is weird, because other notifications have a little “X” near them that clears them out of the center. But Calendar doesn’t. Infact the calendar Notifications are more like the stock ticker and Weather widget in that way. I suppose it all depends on your tastes weather you will like that or not, but to me, it should be called a widget and not notifcations.

Next up, Email and text notifications… This has a similar problem in that it shows new email and texts in the same way as upcoming calendar appointments, displaying each new email as separate notification and only the number you preset in the settings. So if you tell it to only display 1 Email or Text, and you get two new ones, it will only show the most recent, and will forget (or dismiss) the only slightly older message. In Android, instead of showing the individual messages they will give me a summary of how many new email or texts are in. And when you tap on the notification it takes you to the entire inbox. In iOS when you tap on the email it takes to that specific email. Only way to see an inbox view is to click on the Messages or Mail app.

 

Further annoyances with Email iOS is the Unified inbox, yes Windows Phone 7 Mango and Android do this, but Android doesn’t focus on it, unless you want to.  Also Android and Phone 7 let you make Widget shortcuts to individual mail boxes rather than having to use the single mail app. Also, my favorite feature and I even tweeted about this: is that android lets you make custom notification tones for each individual mailbox. In iOS you can only set one tone for all new Email. May not be a big deal for you, but for someone who is an on call Tech. It’s nice to distinguish between your on call mailbox and your personal email.

 So is all complaints on Day 1? Not at all, I really like Siri, it’s not perfect. It will screw up still. But it’s certainly one of the better Voice integrated systems I’ve seen since Android 2.2 (2.3 Voice recognition apparently is broken on my Evo 4G).  While the voice keyboard isn’t available in all functions like Android, it’s certainly more functional and more available then in Mango (why only Texts and not email?).

Also, the 4S is snappy. Sure the Evo was no sloath, but the Dual Core A5 CPU is blazing. And so is the camera. Again, it’s not that the Evo was bad, it’s just the 4S is better. And I’m not a Stranger to iOS in general I have an Ipad and had an Ipod Touch that both run the A4 cpu, and the A5 CPU is an improvement.

As for the rest of Hardware… The phone is sleek, almost most a little slippery. The screen despite being smaller is usable, probably because of the incredibly high resolution. And yes, I do love the IPS panel over a standard LCD.

I’m going to give it a few more days, but I still think I’m leaning towards returning to my Evo. Despite how beautiful the Iphone hardware is, Android just offers far more customizations than iOS.  And for me I take advantage of that in my day to day use.  

Wednesday
Oct052011

Iphone 4S, a let down? Really?

 

A lot of Tech reviewers are commenting that Iphone 4S is a big let down.

 

Why? Because it's not a new form factor? Because it's Specs are incremental over the iphone 4 (Stolen from Engadget):

 

  iPhone 4S
 
iPhone 4

 
Price (on contract) $199 16GB, $299 32GB, $399 64GB $99 8GB
Processor Dual-core Apple A5 Apple A4
Display 3.5-inch IPS 960 x 640 3.5-inch IPS 960 x 640
Primary camera 8 megapixel AF with flash and f/2.4 aperture 5 megapixel AF with flash
Secondary camera VGA at 30fps VGA
Video recording 1080p at 30fps, optional iMovie 720p at 30fps, optional iMovie
Cellular Hybrid GSM / CDMA "World Phone", Bluetooth 4.0 Quadband GSM, pentaband HSPA
WiFi 802.11b/g/n 802.11b/g/n
Orientation sensing Accelerometer, digital compass, gyroscope Accelerometer, compass, gyroscope
FaceTime video calling Yes Yes
SIM standard Micro SIM Micro SIM
Battery life Up to 8 hours talk time on 3G

14 hours talk time on 2G

Up to 6 hours data on 3G

Up to 9 hours data on WiFi

Up to 40 hours audio

Up to 10 hours video
Up to 7 hours talk time on 3G, 14 hours on 2G

Up to 10 hours data on WiFi

Up to 40 hours audio

Up to 10 hours video
Weight 140 grams / 4.9 oz 137 grams / 4.8 oz.
Dimensions 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm

 

This incremental increase, actually could be a good thing for consumers, as the Iphone 4 isn't going away, it's price dropped to $100 on 2yr contract. Also both the Iphone 4 and 4S are going to be available on Verizon, AT&T and now for the first time: Sprint.  Also the 3GS will be free on AT&T, but I would strongly recommend not looking at this SKU, as it's already over 2 years old.

 

   

So if you are looking for new Iphone, it really comes down to those minor feature differences, personally I would still go 4S, not for dual core CPU or 1080p video recording, but for Siri the voice interface personal assistant that includes voice dictation features.

 

 

I know... Big whoop... Android, and now Windows phone 7.5 (Mango) already has those features. Wrong! Mango doesn't have dictation built into every keyboard function, and the latest gingerbread update on Android phones seems to have made the Voice Keyboard in operable (at least on my Evo 4G and a Droid X I've seen)

 

I guess, it's all in the eye of the Beholder... I personally was disappointed in a lack of new Ipod announcements (a white Ipod touch, is not a new Ipod). And the price drops were more like a "duh" yeah, tech gets cheaper over time.

 

 

But as for the Iphone 4S goes... I think it's going to be success, a third Cell provider in the US, that will carry both the new 4S and the 4 is going to be awesome for consumers. Also I don't believe the difference between the 4 and 4S will be nearly as painful as the differences between the 3G and 3GS. A 1GHZ CPU seems to be just enough for almost all functions on a Smart Phone, a Dual Core CPU is great for when you want to turn your smart phone into a gaming console.

 

What do you think?

 

~Graham

 

 

 

Saturday
Aug272011

Turn that old Smart phone into a decent MP3 player

Recently I lost my Ipod Touch (4th Gen). Rather than buy a new one, I decided to wait and see what apple announces in September/October.  I did however still want to listen to tunes and podcasts. So I opted to use an old Palm Pre, that was no longer in use and was collecting dust in the bottom of a drawer. And it occurred to me that a lot of old smart phones could easily be turned into fairly decent MP3 players if not fair PMPs. Most Smart Phones of the last 2 years use standard 1/8” headphones  (unlike some of the weird standards of the past), and have a fair amount of storage, or could be easily expandable via memory cards, which have come severely down in cost.

 

How to turn that old smart phone into a really nice MP3 player.

 

1)      The assumption is that you are using an old phone that no longer has service. So turn off any services that may run in the background that aren’t needed for this device to be a media player:

 

  1. Email accounts
  2. Calendars
  3. Notification applications that require web services (ebay, twitter, etc…)
  4. Contacts

 

2)      Download any additional applications: like Podcast apps, or Video players. Or even alternative music players.

 

3)      Disable Radios you don’t need as they are just a drain on the battery.  Bluetooth is a given unless you are using a BT stereo headphones. But most importantly is the Cellular Radio. One Method is air plane mode, but that will turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well. 

 

On the Palm Pre, I found a code you can use in the phone dialer that disables only the phone radio (##633#) Different phone have different methods of doing this, so Google search it.

 

Also, I found that I still use Wi-Fi on occasion for the Podcast app, so I have a shortcut in the launcher so I can quickly turn on/off the Wi-Fi when I need it, so that way I’m not just draining the battery.

 

4)      Setup your launcher/Desktop for media centric controls. Remember this isn’t a phone anymore so Shortcuts to email, phone and messaging really don’t need to be at the forefront. I personally setup my launcher with Music And Video front and center (and the previously mentioned Wi-Fi control.

 

5)      Set setting to turn off the display.

 

Unless you are flipping through the music, or choosing a video to watch, you really don’t need the screen on for a prolonged amount of time, so setting the display to shut off after 10-30 seconds of nonuse is probably a good move and will also help to conserve battery power.

 

I can easily go a week without needing to recharge the battery (I listen to tunes for about an hour a day in my car). So far I’ve been impressed. My only real disappointment has been the lack of Podcast apps for WebOS. Android has a ton including Google’s own “Listen” app. I personally use Acast myself on my Evo.

Tuesday
Jul262011

Why I had to return my “4G” Mifi

 

As many of you know, I was grandfathered into a unlimited 3G Data plan on my Sprint Air Card Plan. And that I would fight them tooth and nail before I gave it up. Including once when they switched me off of it, I proved I blew past the 5GB cap in the prior months and had them find my old account code to put it back.

I like many others have been less than impressed with Sprint’s 4G Wimax roll out. I typically find that I can’t use 4G anywhere, because I am inside a building, and the 4G signal is too weak to go through a wall or in some cases even the window  I am sitting by. But that hasn’t stopped Sprint from Marketing the hell out of it, and pretty much including it any device you buy these days.  Like the Evo 4G I use as cell phone (of which I almost always have 4G turned off to prevent my battery from dying even faster).

 

Well, like any good consumer, I still don’t mind jumping on the bandwagon if it means I pretty much get 4G if I just upgrade my device to it. So I called Sprint customer care, asked if I upgraded to their new Novatel Mifi 4G if I would be able to keep my awesome unlimited plan, and get 4G. Customer care said sure, “No problem, and would you like a $50 bill credit for renewing two years as well?” I of course said okay. And about a week later I purchased the 4g Mifi.

Now it’s about 2 months later, and I’m in a class in Edina, a city which I know has the best 4G coverage I’ve seen to date.  So I switch my Mifi to use 4G preferred instead of 3G only. I had it set to 3G, because 4G signal was too weak elsewhere to use. And as soon as I try to surf some where I am redirected to a Sprint landing page that tells me my plan doesn’t include 4G…

My first response is “WTF?!?!?”

I switch back to 3G only  and am able to surf fine. Weird!

I call Sprint, customer care is clueless and redirects to me Technical Support. Tech support tries to switch a few check marks on my account without changing my plan, but is unable to do so. Then I’m forwarded back to Customer care. I’m a little pissed at this point, because I feel like I’ve been lied to, since I asked customer care about this before I upgraded and agreed to a 2 year renewal of my contract. Customer care agrees that it sucks I’ve been lied to, and says they are willing to break the contract if I send back the 4G Mifi. I agreed, since it’s essentially the equivalent of my 3G Mifi I was using before, just with a bigger battery and a Micro SD Network store (both of which aren’t features I would renew for 2 years over).

 

Wrap Up

This whole situation has left me just angry. I don’t blame Sprint customer care for basically lying to 2 months ago. My situation is rather unique with my older plan. Plus Sprint has always been good to me with bill credits, and letting me keep the older data plan. But it’s frustrating having gone through the motions of the upgrade only to have to flip everything back to how it was. Also, now I have to consider my options for the future. While I can just keep trucking with Unlmited 3G, I know it isn’t the fastest thing out there, and I would love to take advantage of current speeds, but without sacrificing the unlimited 3G, or paying any more.

 

Here’s a chart of current Mifi Devices offerings vs. my existing plan:

 

My existing Sprint Plan

No Contract

Comcast (Using Sprint as Backend) 2yr

Sprint’s 3GB plan

2 yr

Sprint’s 5GB plan

2yr

Verizon 5G Plan

 

2yr

Virgin Mobile 3G Only

*

3G only, No Data Cap

5GB cap on 3G/ Unlimited 4G

3GB cap on 3G / Unlimited 4G

5GB cap on 3G / Unlimited 4G

5GB cap. 3G/4G

5GB Soft cap, start packing Shaping after

$60 / Month

$40 / Month

$45 / Month

($35 / Month if you have a Sprint phone)

$60 / Month

($50 / Month if you have a Sprint phone)

$50 / Month

$10 per GB overage

$50/ Month

 

*No Contract

 

 

~ Graham

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