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Pilch

The Tech Singularity is Upon Us

1 min read

Here is a clickbait-y headline for you: "The 15 most important announcements from the Apple Watch, iPhone 6 event." Here are all the items from the article, and how not new they are.

 

Awesome Apple Thing Already Been Done By...
Bigger Phones! 4.7 and 5.5 inches! Moto X (2013) and Galaxy Note (2011)
Optical Image Stabilization! LG G2 (2013), and likely before that
Landscape Mode! Power button on the side! Practically every Samsung phone
NFC Payments! Secure element! Galaxy Nexus (2011) (although NFC on top makes more sense - call this a draw)
Watch "crown" wheel! iPod click wheel (2001)
Watch "communication button"! Nextel push-to-talk (mid-00's)
You can long press the watch screen! Android 2.0, if not before that
Screen widgets! Custom keyboards! Android 1.0, Swiftkey/Swype (2011)
Here's U2 to play at the end! ...

/sarcasm

These things are all kind of cool, but it is dumb to assume that Apple will "bowl over" its competition by, essentially, osmosis. All the things will soon be 5.15-inch metal-rimmed slabs. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Pilch

HTC One (M8) Flash Review

2 min read

The phone du jour is the One M8, and I am a phone connoisseur. My JUMP-grade came up, and I had to pull the trigger. The Nexus 5 was a fantastic phone, but it was lacking in a few areas: battery life, camera, and tap to unlock. So I pulled the trigger and have been using this beast for a few weeks. Here are my thoughts so far.

  • HTC makes a really pretty device. The Nexus is very utilitarian, which comes from prioritizing price over build quality. Samsung and LG focus on adding mostly-useless crap and letting their phones look like a Band-aid and a child's toy, respectively [see update]. I would rather have brushed aluminum and front-facing speakers than a heart monitor and 4 different ways to unlock my device and take a screenshot simultaneously.
  • Speaking of speakers, the BoomSound speakers on the One are amazing. Before, I was living in a world where cell phone speakers were just supposed to be low-quality and tinny. Not anymore.
  • Blinkfeed is OK, I guess. If there were a way to add my own RSS feeds, it might be useful. Hopefully they will add this feature (or make it less complicated to find).
  • Motion Launcher needs to be on all phones, from now on. It makes so much more sense than the side buttons.
  • T-Mobile bloatware is dumber than Verizon bloatware. They offer you a 30 day trial for voicemail transcription, but only if you agree to pay $4 per month after that. All for something Google Voice does for free.
  • The camera is pretty solid. The low resolution freaks people out, but it is a , not a Nikon. Standard smartphone cameras don't take good pictures in low light, but this one does pretty well. The editing tools are great as well. The Duo Camera is just ok - it is not a necessity, but adds some editing options to close-up pictures: [caption id="attachment_1281" align="aligncenter" width="600"]greetings Charlie greets me[/caption]  

All in all, the HTC One M8 is a solid phone, and I would recommend it to anyone. It comes at a premium price, but it is the one phone available right now that has the looks, feel, and function of a premium device.

Update: LG announced the G3 while I was writing this, and it looks like a phone that an adult would use.

Pilch

To Jump or not to Jump

2 min read

I am a gadget enthusiast, so when T-Mobile announced their JUMP program a year ago, it caught my attention. If you haven't heard of it, the program allows you to trade in your device after 6 months for a new one. It also offers insurance on the device. From the outside, it looks like a ripoff. Here's why it's not.

A flagship phone will cost you around $650. If you get it through T-Mobile, you are paying $0 down and $27/month. JUMP costs $10/month, so after 6 months, you have paid $162 for the phone, and $60 for insurance1. T-Mobile pays the difference, regardless of the condition, and you walk away with a new phone.

Doing this on your own will cost you $600-700 up front, plus the time to sell a device (and ship it to the buyer). And if it breaks in that 6 months, you are on the hook for repairs or a replacement.2 You may get slightly more than the 75%3 of the price T-Mobile "pays" for it, but not enough to offset the streamlined transaction and insurance.

The real issue is whether it is prudent to upgrade a phone every 6 months. Probably not, but right now the HTC One hits some checkmarks4 that my Nexus 5 did not, and I've already paid for the JUMP, so I am pulling that trigger as soon as I am eligible.


  1. I'm not sure about other insurance plans, but T-Mobile also covers theft and loss. Basically, you are paying to always have a phone. 
  2. I have been down this road, about a week after paying in full for the phone. Then it is another 1-2 weeks before it comes back from Samsung. You never need that insurance until you do. 
  3. If you are not grandfathered in, they only pay half the cost of the phone. It is basically the same story, just over 1 year instead of 6 months. 
  4. Battery, external storage, tap to wake. 

Pilch

LG G2 Flash Review

4 min read

Due to a combination of horrible timing and a lack of my second and third choices1 at the T-Mobile store2, I have been using an G2 for about a week and a half. In that time I mostly just used it to search 'Nexus 5 T-Mobile release date' over and over again (finally announced last Friday), but I thought I should jot down some thoughts about this interim phone.

  • Knock-On is awesome. All phones should have it. It's a great way to make sure the power button survives your phone contract. I have already tried to do it on other devices unconsciously.
  • There is a huge amount of LG bloatware, but I weirdly don't find it as oppressive as Touchwiz. It was a big deal in the Droid X days, but now you can just disable things you won't use.
  • The processor can handle it all, too. Top of the top of the line (and yes, I typed that twice). But then, so can the Nexus 5, because they share the same processor and amount of RAM.
  • I understand the Nexus is bloat-free, but that doesn't mean you don't also take time to set it up as your own. It probably took 1.5-2 days to set this phone up the way I like it, and would probably take about half that on the Nexus.
  • Battery life has been fantastic, but damn does it get hot playing Plants vs. Zombies 2.
  • The back casing is horrible. Feels like a toy phone the first time, then it just feels gross because it sucks all the oils from your hand onto the phone. Gets pretty greasy.
  • That is easily remedied by the Poetic Palette case, which adds a soft touch to the back but leaves the smooth bezels. I like them for some reason.
  • The case also frames the rear buttons, making them slightly easier to find. The button design works in theory, but practice is a different story. Your index finger does not naturally rest where these buttons are, as your thumb does on every other phone you've ever used (top power buttons are for iPhones). You also can't adjust the volume of the phone if it is sitting on a table; it has to be in your hand, which seems dumb.
  • This is odd, because LG is one of the only manufacturers forgoing the front hardware buttons (home, back, menu). I put that firmly in the plus column. itself removed the necessity of hardware buttons 2 years and 4 major software revisions ago with the Galaxy Nexus, a phone with a special place in my heart.

Saturday is the end of my 14-day return period for this phone, and the drops there Thursday next Wednesday (in store).3 I was really hoping for some overlap there, but I still can't bring myself to keep the G2. The power user in me (the one that was mashing the F5 button on the Play Store on Halloween) recoils at the cartoony animations throughout the G2 . Maybe someday the hardware manufacturers will understand that their custom software is their weakness. I want to see what this hardware can do when the software gets out of the way.4 I don't want an LG phone - I want a Google phone. So much so that I am willing to buy a burner and wait 3-4 days to get one.

photo: Creative Commons License LG전자 via Compfight


  1. Moto X (not available in-store) and Nexus 4 (long since liquidated), respectively. 
  2. Suck it Verizon! You won't stop being the worst carrier for Android people, so you give me no choice but to vote with my wallet. 
  3. I didn't want to buy it through T-Mo, but again, the first part of the combo at the very top was horrible timing. Next year, when we are not paying VZW ETFs, it will be Play Store all the way for me. 
  4. And I don't want to have to go the DIY route to get there again. 

Pilch

Phablet Couture, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Touchwiz

5 min read

I've had a Galaxy Note 2 for about 6 months. I bought it because I got the itch to upgrade, and it was the best phone available at the time (caveat: on Verizon. I would have gladly gone with the One, or 4, or any other flagship device that skipped Verizon for reasons I outlined a while back). Being a ROM aficionado, I knew hardware was the biggest factor for me. My loyal Galaxy Nexus was a solid phone, but with heavy use it would die by early afternoon without a charger nearby. Better processor and gigantic battery (and dearth of options) made the Note 2 a no-brainer.

But I heard a panelist on a recent episode of This Week in Google (could have been All About Android too) talk about the zen of wanting the phone you have, or something like that. It is a noble concept, and I tried to live up to it with my previous phone (until I didn't). But it is easy to do with a Nexus device, or an iPhone, because you are at ground zero of the operating system. So I dove down the rabbit hole that is , to look for enlightenment.

Been down this rabbit hole before

This was a formidable challenge, too. After spending my first 2 years of smartphone ownership in the hellscape of MotoBlur, my reluctance for anything but AOSP (or stock Android, to the uninitiated) cannot be overstated. My initial reaction to any overly skinned version of Android is usually minor wretching. The Verge put it well in their review of the new Note 3:

Pen Window is almost something you have to see in person to really grasp how silly it is.

This can be said for many features packs into these phones. I am supposed to live with this device for 2 years, according to my carrier. I am not looking for "silly."

That being said, there are some very useful features. Before, I would have to download Tasker, re-learn how to use it, and hack around to get settings automated on my phone. Samsung preempted this use case and launches menus automatically when I do things like plug in my headphones or pull out the S-pen stylus. It follows that if I do those things, I am going to do something with my phone. Touchwiz lubricates that interaction.

The S-pen would probably increase smartphone adoption among the older demographic if it were packaged with more phones. There is something satisfying about pulling it out and launching the built-in note app and jotting things down. It is still not faster than typing; the last several years have conditioned me to type faster than I write. But I am still conditioned to remember things that I write down with a pen or pencil.

The size is not that big of an issue, pun intended. You acclamate pretty quickly. I do miss being able to reach the opposite upper corner of the screen with my thumb, as Google has slowly moved Android design to use it more often for menu overflow. Other than that, though, I have no trouble operating the phone with one hand. Touchwiz (and now Swiftkey, actually) uses customizable keyboards for one-handed use on larger devices.

Greener grass

For all its usefulness, I keep pining for features that are native to newer versions of Android. Dash Clock has probably been the first app I install on every 4.2.x-and-up ROM I've used since it was released. Actionable notifications are fantastic, and I often use the abililty to expand and minimize them at will. And it pains me to use a phone with hardware buttons anymore after the GNexus proved them to be unnecessary. Samsung, though, has kept this phone running the software it was released with, nearly a year later. The only reason it will get a 4.3 update at all is Samsung's ill conceived smartwatch that (as of right now) only works with the Note 3.

But there is still that part of me, once I arrive back on , that misses the pen features and the other custom Samsung firmware. So I would switch back. I have been indulging this fickle dual-boot scenario for almost a month. I still haven't landed on one or the other.

Luckily, this first world problem has solved itself. My wife has an upgrade, but Verizon won't let us keep our unlimited data if she uses it. I did some research and found that T-Mobile covers our area, has unlimited data, and will save us a bit over $500/year over the course of our next contract (In fairness, VZW would save us ~$300/year if it took away our unlimited data). We can stick it to Verizon, and I can finally hop to the flagship phone I was looking for 6 months ago. Hello 5!

Pilch

The trouble with mobile

4 min read

I am stuck in the second half of my 2 year phone contract. The first half is when the phone is all new and shiny and the manufacturer keeps it up to date with current software. The second half is when all those benefits fade and you are still on the hook for another year. For whatever reason the a one year contract tier is now a thing of the past. Locked down or contract-free are the only options left.

On top of that, my contract is with Big V (for “Voldemort”, but worse). Verizon has built a great network, but it is horrible for tech enthusiasts (I have no experience with AT&T, which is probably just as awful, but in different ways). I don’t have a landline (and who could afford one with the price of a smartphone plan?), so sticking with solid service seems to make sense. But I also don’t make many calls, so my gigantic cell phone plan is mainly for data. That’s not so bad, because it is unlimited. At least, until Verizon caps my data when I renew my contract.

Other random VZW problems:
- Can’t use their phones anywhere outside the US without paying out the nose. This is a Sprint problem too, because neither use GSM technology, but I’m not sure that Sprint requires you to hack THEIR OWN global phones to get them to work correctly
- They instated this fee two weeks before my last official upgrade (mostly just personal bitterness there)
- They don’t fight for users’ privacy rights. Even Comcast and AT&T pretend like they care.

Clearly, they are an easy target for user ire. Rightfully so, because of how much of my time and my income is spent on them and their phones. But this brings up another major problem. Demanding the highest quality devices from the company with the highest quality wireless service should not be the leap in logic that the market is making it out to be. New flagship phones are coming to VZW late or not at all, and I believe the reason is the Galaxy Nexus Saga.

In October 2011, Google unveiled Android 4.0 and its flagship device, the Galaxy Nexus, exclusive to Verizon in the US. Presumed to be the ideal phone on the ideal carrier, it would receive timely updates from Google because it ran stock Android (the specific reason I bought it!) while running on the fast VZW LTE network. But then the phone was delayed for a month while Verizon disallowed Google from putting its own Wallet software on the phone. After release, each new Android iteration would update international and unlocked GNex units, leaving VZW customers months behind. The phone is finally up to date as of March, over a year after its release. I have heard it called the Fallacy Nexus (by nerds), and I am inclined to agree.

The problem with mobile computing is this carrier influence. Even five years ago, the hardware and software used for personal computing was controlled by (surprise!!) the hardware and software companies selling the computers. Now that most personal computing is done on phones, the phone companies have changed that dynamic. They push the innovators into conservative design decisions, market only the devices that kowtow to their demands, and preach “pay no attention to the duopoly in the corner.” Until they function like a (mostly) dumb pipe like cable internet, this is the way the world will be.

via Tumblr http://craigpilcher.tumblr.com/post/52243082687

photo: Scott Ableman via Compfight