Posts Tagged ‘Android’

Try Again

7 September 2011

Dear J-

The few small successes I’ve had with backing devices are usually undone by something as simple as an upgrade or bugfix that requires me to go through an endless cycle of hacking and rehacking without an end in sight. I rooted my phone so that I could run a custom ROM and connect to a Bluetooth HID keyboard which worked great yesterday yet today requires an endless dance of pairing, unpairing, connecting and not connecting. This in turn leads me to think that maybe there’s a fix for this or a hack and please say that it’s not going to require me to re-load the ROM because then I lose all my settings and applications and …

You know, there’s just not enough time in the day to deal with all of that. I’ve been using a bluetooth keyboard (to be precise: the SAME bluetooth keyboard) for years now with several different devices, from a Treo 650 to Nokia N800 and now to this Android phone. A good keyboard is worth its weight in gold; devices, not so much. Given that time spent fiddling is not time spent using, there’s something inherently wrong with any device that requires you to spend more time setting up than using. The measure of success should be how quickly you’re able to get it working, and at the moment, iOS is winning that race. Note that it’s probably ludicrous to carry around a keyboard that’s larger than your phone in order to type efficiently, but we won’t get into that.

I remember this with the PSP, which sounded great at the time, promising emulation action — finally, here you could have a portable 16-bit Final Fantasy. The problem was two things happened: Square started going crazy with SNES/SFC remakes on the DS, and Sony started waging war with the hackers by forcing firmware upgrade after upgrade to play the latest games (and you could count a third cause, too: the PSP hardware was a battery-sucking hog on the order of the Nomad or Game Gear) and you had to choose: legitimate games or retain the hack? I eventually chose neither and the PSP has been sitting in a box somewhere for years now. It is why I’ve been so hesitant to root the phone: I’m sure it can be done. I just don’t have the time to deal with it.



Phone Roam

19 August 2011

Dear J-

I suppose everyone has a curmudgeon inside but I wonder what the actual utility of a large-screened phone is. if you recall Jeff Hawkins, one of the founders of Palm, carried around a block of wood for a week in order to come up with his ideal shape and size — 120 x 80 x 18mm, 180g. Lately though it seems like the newer the phone, the bigger the screen (the leaked Droid HD has a 4.5″ screen), the bkgger the device, and the bulkier our pockets become until we’re all left toting around something way bigger than a stack of 3 x 5″ cards (it’s the closest analogy I can think of to the original Palm Pilot 1000).

I’m sure the saga of Palm will be dissected throughout the week until some bigger tech story moves on to displace it (it has been a bad week for hardware, with Motorola and now HP/Palm; I’m beginning to understand why my brother now has to work in Taiwan). Us personally, we’ve had a fair amount of involvement with the products. I got a TRGpro, sort of a forked Palm IIIx with a CF slot for theVet when she was in vet school (we managed to wipe the memory twice and she stopped using it). Then when I graduated to a team lead I picked up a Palm IIIc and used it usefully a few times (the contact list was pretty nice for keeping tabs on the little telcos and LECs, and the color screen was pretty whizzy at the time). Various other models followed including a couple of Cliés and the original Tungsten T, nice and solid, but the one most useful was a Treō 650. Between wireless (bluetooth) sync and keyboard I wrote most of the entries from 2007-2009 or so on that beast.

I picked up a used Pre not long ago as I was interested in seeing what webOS was like. That was the device which provided the tipping point and I jumped into a smartphone six months ago and its associated bad habits (charging every night, turning off radios and managing RAM). There are those who will not accept anything less than full control but for me, the whole point has been to have the computer make some of the mundane decisions for me. I shouldn’t have to root the phone to gain increased stability and performance: if that’s not already standard that tells me they aren’t sweating the end user experience. I stayed with Palm OS for so long because of its relative polish and am considering dumping Android for tis lack of the same. Selling phones based on feature points and scrren size is like buying audio equipment on THD and watts.


On Bias

26 July 2011

Dear J-

Cory Doctorow reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Tab a few days ago and it’s interesting to note his laments — namely that despite the slick hardware, the proprietary connector (replacement cable, $70) and limited expansion (no microSD slot on the Wi-Fi models) mean that it’s really no better than the segment leader iPad (inasmuch as there can be considered a “tablet market” and not an “iPad market”) and often far less useable. Doctorow famously eschews the use of proprietary, “closed” systems in favor of Linux and Android. John Gruber of Daring Fireball commented to the effect of TANSTAAFL: no matter what happens, you’re not going to get Apple-level products without Apple-levels of sweating the details. Elsewhere there’s a story about how the editor of Windows Magazine became a Mac fan and one of the salient points of that article is that Apple as a company provide the appearance, at least, that they back their products and care about the user experience instead of trying to squeeze profits out by spec’ing the cheapest parts and allowing adware and spyware to be built-in to the initial software load.

There are a lot of people who are anti-Apple and will not buy their products to prove a point but I’ll tell you my concluson first: if there is a lower-cost iPhone coming out this September for my carrier (Virgin Mobile) I’m dropping this Samsung Android phone like the piece of foistware crap that it is and bolting back to iOS. The school of thought that everyone should root their phones and make all the electrons inside free from enslavement is laughable: I want to be a computer user, not a system administrator. If the USER experience out of the box is so bad that you have to root the phone to remove bloatware and speed up functions then there’s something wrong with the phone, not me. It’s sort of like slathering hot sauce on your food as soon as it’s out of the kitchen or sticking a lime in your beer as soon as it’s opened: why do you need to modify the default? Is the defalt that bad, or is your modification that much better, and why shouldn’t it come that way to begin with?

I know all the cool kids run rooted phones and Linux on their laptops. Neal Stephenson famously compared Linux to free tanks that go anywhere and get great mileage, but has since switched to OSX five years after that article dating back to 1999. In the course of writing this post I got a “low memory” warning because Samsung was too cheap to double the RAM and ROM at an additional manufacturing cost of maybe fifty cents. That infuriates me: they’re telling me oops, we don’t care enough about your experience to provide the best hardware we can, we didn’t user test sufficiently, and we didn’t pick an OS that might actually have sufficient memory management schemes to keep you from overrunning your allotment (if you have less than 20MB or so of free space in the flash ROM under Android the system gets pretty pissy at you). In the end Android’s success is going to kill it: no one wants to feel unloved but that’s precisely what the user experience is about.


P.S. it’s funny how Ubuntu has gotten excoriated for trying to grow its market by moving to a Windows-like skin: which has a higher potential userbase, Windows converts or Linux diehards? Rooting Android has the same feel to me, a vocal minority acting like exclusive hipsters: why use the phone if you can’t root it?

Android Gripe

4 May 2011

Dear J-

I suspect that much of this phone’s lack of speed may be attributed to the multitasking OS that just doesn’t have enough breathing room. Now that Virgin Mobile is offering a 3G sled for the iPod Touch (2G and 3G) I’m wondering if I wouldn’t be better off returning to the iOS fold at least until they get more of these bugs ironed out. I do not consider that I have a ton of unusual applications installed but the phone says I’ve maxed out the storage space and regularly runs with less than 25M of RAM available (this is still more than 3x the RAM of the computer I used through college, but that was 20 years ago too) which brings all processes to a crawl.

The one download I shouldn’t have to keep running is a task killer to end background tasks. I also shouldn’t have to have three different email programs (Android mail, GMail, and Yahoo! Mail) so perhaps I could consolidate those into a single client (that would save having all three open too). The same people who regularly extol the cost of service on Virgin extrapolate from experiences with their high-end phones, not what’s actually available (one nice but fragile LG and one complex and slow Samsung, whose 2.2 upgrade hasn’t fixed some of the problems I’ve seen). Yet would VMob be able to sell a $400-600 unsubsidized phone with the capabilities to match the service? Considering the payback rate versus comparable contract serviceswould be $30/month or so, that puts you at 13-20 months to recoup the initial investment, by which time you’re looking at your sadly outdated handset and wishing you had some of your time back.

For what it’s worth the phone itself has been pleasingly solid aside from a few oddities — the auto-brightness is easily confused but I choose to look at it as part of its charm, almost like the phone is breathing. If Samsung had spent the extra $5 to double RAM and flash memory space this could easily be a much easier phone to work with, though if the OS was smarter about managing background applications that wouldn’t be an issue. It makes me wonder if it’s that hard to get in on user testing of new phones; I’d certainly have a mouthful of feedback to the service provider of choice here whether or not they’d want to know.


Grass is Greener

14 April 2011

Dear J-

One of the truly dumb things I did was buy a smartphone. The temptation of having a full-bore connection to the Internet wherever I go (in the limited network) makes it incredibly tempting to pull out the phone and disconnect from the rest of the world at large. Plus the battery needs to be charged often and thus I’m ever vigilant/paranoid about keeping it topped off before heading out on trips or car rides. The phone in question is a low-end Android machine with a good service plan, assuming you have coverage, and has been held up as a prime example of why Android is winning the smartphone market over iOS (Apple) and WebOS (HP, neé Palm). Why would anyone pay more, right?

Well first off I agree that most service plans are a ripoff in this country, driven there by lax regulatory pressure (most of the people who complain about high prices are the same ones who turn a blind eye to anti-competitive market monopolization) and complacency along with the unknown handset subsidy costs built-in to that two-year contract. But having lived with all three systems (my favorite is WebOS, which would be great if it wasn’t for the limited choice of applications) and several devices there’s nothing enthusiastic to say about Android except that it’s competent and tweakable, but sometimes you’d rather just get things done than tweak and tweak. For instance, iOS now has native Bluetooth HID support built in (and I believe the latest iteration of WebOS does as well) but I can’t find something similar on Android without an extra-cost download. People decry the closed nature of iOS but when the focus is on doing the heavy lifting and getting out of the way of the usability of the item I’m all for it.

The particular device I’m using, a Samsung Instinct, has  a built-in hardware keyboard, the use of which disables all auto-correct and auto-suggest except for the most common contractions. I have never felt more illiterate in my life. The memory needs constant attention — when the available RAM drops much below 40MB all tasks run slowly, and so the one application that’s always running is an app to kill other apps (including itself) rather than the elegant card interface of WebOS that didn’t stutter as badly as this phone. Still, though, knowing the limitations it’s useable and useful besides, letting me consolidate my life and multiple gadgets into one place, which was the dream of five years back. I just think that should my carrier — Virgin Mobile USA — ever release an iOS or better yet WebOS device (it could even be a Prē or Prē Plus, I’m not picky) I’d drop this phone in a heartbeat.


Tech Horizon

2 September 2010

Dear J-

As expected Apple introduced new iPods yesterday; the Shuffle regressed to the 2nd generation design (controls on the body), the Nano became a square-format touchscreen player (no separate applications and, supposedly, no plans for such, either), and the one I’d been waiting for, the Touch grew ever-closer to the iPhone, now sporting the high-resolution screen, A4 processor, and dual cameras for FaceTime and 720p30 video. The role of ubiqutious camera now falls on the Touch, as the Nano’s camera has been removed. Unlike the iPhone, though, the Touch’s back camera seems unnecessarily limited: no LED flash and more critically, no resolution, as stills are stuck at single-frame resolutions of 960×720 (it’s there in the tech specs if you don’t believe me). That’s lower than even the original iPhone, yet for web use that’s probably perfect as no one appreciates multi-megabyte emails with high-resolution attachments.

So life is hard again. Assuming that the Touch sports the same connectivity as the rest of the A4-equipped line, that means I can pair a Bluetooth keyboard and blog on-the-go, finally coming full circle from the PalmOS and Maemo devices I’ve been using (a Treo 650 and then a Nokia N800). The integrated camera means it’s relatively easy to integrate pictures into writing, and the iOS WordPress application is a solid piece of work. If the SD card reader for the iPad works, in fact, I’d have no reason to lug around the N800, which was useful though limited in being able to upload real-camera pictures wherever I can get a WiFi signal (the limit being that more than five pictures at a time and the program would start doing funny things to flickr).

The trick is that Android already offers most of these things with hardware that’s as cheap though less capable: built-in card reader, Kindle, WordPress, flickr all accounted for. I’m comfortable with the idea of the Touch, though, even if the perception is that it’s a system for people afraid of technology. I looked at the process of installing unsupported upgrades to Android: it’s entirely possible, and the instructions are detailed enough, but that you’d have to install the Android SDK onto your computer and build your own image stops me cold. It’s fiddly, and it means less time actually using programs. That’s fine for those who delight in modifying settings, but I’m getting too old and impatient for that stuff already.