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Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Droid Razr first look.

Friday, November 18th, 2011

First impression is very good. The industrial design on this makes the iPhone look clunky. The screen is much bigger, the overall feel reeks of quality, just like the iPhone. The haptic feedback felt slightly odd at first, but I think I will like it when I get used to it.

I was disappointed when the phone failed to detect my 5GHz Wi-Fi network. This is like the iPhone, but the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Nexus support 5 Ghz, and I had assumed parity for the Razr.

Oddly, bearing in mind its dual core processor, the Droid Razr sometimes seems sluggish compared to the iPhone 4. But the Android user interface is polished and usable, and it has a significant user interface feature that the iPhone sorely lacks: a universal ‘back’ button. The ‘back’ button, like the ‘undo’ feature in productivity apps, fits with the way people work and learn: try something, and if that doesn’t work, try something else.

The Razr camera is currently unusable for me. The first photo I took had a 4 second shutter lag. On investigation, I found that if you hold the phone still, pointed at a static scene, it takes a couple of seconds to auto-focus. If you wait patiently for this to happen, watching the screen and waiting for the focus to sharpen, then press the shutter button, there is almost no shutter lag. But if you try to ‘point and shoot’ the shutter lag can be agonizingly long – certainly long enough for a kid to dodge out of the frame. This may be fixable in software, and if so, I hope Motorola gets the fix out fast.

While playing with the phone, I found it got warm. Not uncomfortably hot, but warm enough to worry about the battery draining too fast. Investigating this, I found a wonderful power analysis display, showing which parts of the phone are consuming the most power. The display, not surprisingly, was consuming the most – 35%. But the second most, 24%, was being used by ‘Android OS’ and ‘Android System.’ As the battery expired, the phone kindly suggested that it could automatically shut things off for me when the power got low, like social network updates and GPS. It told me that this could double my battery life. Even so, battery life does not seem to be a strength of the Droid Razr. Over a few days, I observed that even when the phone was completely unused, the battery got down to 20% in 14 hours, and the vast majority of the power was spent on ‘Android OS.’

So nice as the Droid Razr is, on balance I still prefer the iPhone.

P.S. I had a nightmare activation experience – I bought the phone at Best Buy and supposedly due to a failure to communicate between the servers at Best Buy and Verizon, the phone didn’t activate on the Verizon network. After 8 hours of non-activation including an hour on the phone with Verizon customer support (30 minutes of which was the two of us waiting for Best Buy to answer their phone), I went to a local Verizon store which speedily activated the phone with a new SIM.

Deciding on the contract, I was re-stunned to rediscover that Verizon charges $20 per month for SMS. I gave this a miss since I can just use Google Voice, which costs $480 less over the life of the contract.

iPhone 4 gets competition

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

When the iPhone came out it redefined what a smartphone is. The others scrambled to catch up, and now with Android they pretty much have. The iPhone 4 is not in a different league from its competitors the way the original iPhone was. So I have been trying to decide between the iPhone 4 and the EVO for a while. I didn’t look at the Droid X or the Samsung Galaxy S, either of which may be better in some ways than the EVO.

Each hardware and software has stronger and weaker points. The Apple wins on the subtle user interface ingredients that add up to delight. It is a more polished user experience. Lots of little things. For example I was looking at the clock applications. The Apple stopwatch has a lap feature and the Android doesn’t. I use the timer a lot; the Android timer copied the Apple look and feel almost exactly, but a little worse. It added a seconds display, which is good, but the spin-wheel to set the timer doesn’t wrap. To get from 59 seconds to 0 seconds you have to spin the display all the way back through. The whole idea of a clock is that it wraps, so this indicates that the Android clock programmer didn’t really understand time. Plus when the timer is actually running, the Android cutely just animates the time-set display, while the Apple timer clears the screen and shows a count-down. This is debatable, but I think the Apple way is better. The countdown display is less cluttered, more readable, and more clearly in a “timer running” state. The Android clock has a wonderful “desk clock” mode, which the iPhone lacks, I was delighted with the idea, especially the night mode which dims the screen and lets you use it as a bedside clock. Unfortunately when I came to actually use it the hardware let the software down. Even in night mode the screen is uncomfortably bright, so I had to turn the phone face down on the bedside table.

The EVO wins on screen size. Its 4.3 inch screen is way better than the iPhone’s 3.5 inch screen. The “retina” definition on the iPhone may look like a better specification but the difference in image quality is indistinguishable to my eye, and the greater size of the EVO screen is a compelling advantage.

The iPhone has far more apps, but there are some good ones on the Android that are missing on the iPhone, for example the amazing Wi-Fi Analyzer. On the other hand, this is also an example of the immaturity of the Android platform, since there is a bug in Android’s Wi-Fi support that makes the Wi-Fi Analyzer report out-of-date results. Other nice Android features are the voice search feature and the universal “back” button. Of course you can get the same voice search with the iPhone Google app, but the iPhone lacks a universal “back” button.

The GPS on the EVO blows away the GPS on the iPhone for accuracy and responsiveness. I experimented with the Google Maps app on each phone, walking up and down my street. Apple changed the GPS chip in this rev of the iPhone, going from an Infineon/GlobalLocate to a Broadcom/GlobalLocate. The EVO’s GPS is built-in to the Qualcomm transceiver chip. The superior performance may be a side effect of assistance from the CDMA radio network.

Incidentally, the GPS test revealed that the screens are equally horrible under bright sunshine.

The iPhone is smaller and thinner, though the smallness is partly a function of the smaller screen size.

The EVO has better WAN speed, thanks to the Clearwire WiMax network, but my data-heavy usage is mainly over Wi-Fi in my home, so that’s not a huge concern for me.

Battery life is an issue. I haven’t done proper tests, but I have noticed that the EVO seems to need charging more often than the iPhone.

Shutter lag is a major concern for me. On almost all digital cameras and phones I end up taking many photos of my shoes as I put the camera back in my pocket after pressing the shutter button and assuming the photo got taken at that time rather than half a second later. I just can’t get into the habit of standing still and waiting for a while after pressing the shutter button. The iPhone and the EVO are about even on this score, both sometimes taking an inordinately long time to respond to the shutter – presumably auto-focusing. The pictures taken with the iPhone and the EVO look very different; the iPhone camera has a wider angle, but the picture quality of each is adequate for snapshots. On balance the iPhone photos appeal to my eye more than the EVO ones.

For me the antenna issue is significant. After dropping several calls I stuck some black electrical tape over the corner of the phone which seems to have somewhat fixed it. Coverage inside my home in the middle of Dallas is horrible for both AT&T and Sprint.

The iPhone’s FM radio chip isn’t enabled, so I was pleased when I saw FM radio as a built-in app on the EVO, but disappointed when I fired it up and discovered that it needed a headset to be plugged in to act as an antenna. Modern FM chips should work with internal antennas. In any case, the killer app for FM radio is on the transmit side, so you can play music from your phone through your car stereo. Neither phone supports that yet.

So on the plus side, the EVO’s compelling advantage is the screen size. On the negative side, it is bulkier, the battery life is less, the software experience isn’t quite so polished.

The bottom line is that the iPhone is no longer in a class of its own. The Android iClones are respectable alternatives.

It was a tough decision, but I ended up sticking with the iPhone.

Skype for iPhone

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Well, that last post on the likely deficiencies of VoIP on iPhones may turn out to have been overly pessimistic. It looks as though Hell is beginning to freeze over. Skype is now running on iPhones over the Wi-Fi connection, and for a new release it’s running relatively well. AT&T deserves props for letting it happen – unlike T-Mobile, which isn’t letting it happen and therefore deserves whatever the opposite of props is.

6 hours after it was released Skype became the highest-volume download on Apple’s AppStore. In keeping with Skype’s reputation for ease of use, it downloads and installs with no problems, though as one expects with first revisions it has some bugs.

My brief experience with it has included several crashes – twice when I hung up a call and once when a calendar alarm went off in the middle of a call. Another interesting quirk is that when I called a friend on a PC Skype client from my iPhone, I heard him answer twice, about 3 seconds apart. Presumably a revision will be out soon to fix these problems.

Other quirky behaviour is a by-product of the iPhone architecture rather than bugs, and will have to be fixed with changes to the way the iPhone works. The biggest issue of this kind is that it is relatively hard to receive calls, since the Skype application has to be running in the foreground to receive a call. This is because the iPhone architecture preserves battery life by not allowing programs to run in the background.

Similar system design characteristics mean that when a cellular call comes in a Skype call in progress is instantly bumped off rather than offering the usual call waiting options. I couldn’t get my Bluetooth headset to work with Skype, so either it can’t be done, or the method to do it doesn’t reach Skype’s exemplary ease of use standards.

Now for the good news. It’s free. It’s free to call from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. And the sound quality is very good for a cell phone, even though the codec is only G.729. I expect future revisions to add SILK wideband audio support to deliver sound quality better than anything ever heard on a cell phone before. The chat works beautifully, and it is synchronized with the chat window on your PC, so everything typed by either party appears on both your iPhone and PC screen, with less than a second of lag.

After a half-hour Skype to Skype conversation on the iPhone I looked at my AT&T bill. No voice minutes and no data minutes had been charged, so there appear to be no gotchas in that department. A friend used an iPod Touch to make Skype Wi-Fi calls from an airport hot-spot in Germany – he reports the call quality was fine.

The New York Times review is here

Low cost international calls from your mobile phone

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I wrote about the vast array of ways to bypass international tolls in my Internet Telephony column a while back. Now there is an interesting web site, LowCostMob.com, that gives a listing of the services available and technical explanations of how they work.

If you go to the “contact us” link on the website you can type in “user feedback” with mini-reviews of the services. I presume that over time the database of user comments will become an additional helpful resource on the site.

All these services work to make calls to international destinations cheaper, but if you actually travel abroad you still have to pay exorbitant roaming charges for using the cellular network. The benefit of dual-mode (Wi-Fi plus cellular) phones is that with some of them you can use the Wi-Fi connection to make VoIP calls and completely bypass the cellular network, avoiding international roaming charges. Not all the listed services support this feature, and not all dual mode phones do either.

iPhone activation experience

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

I sat down with my iPhone and my MacBook, turned on the iPhone and tapped on the screen where it said “Activate iPhone.” The screen went black. Not a good sign.
Then I remembered that the iPhone needs to be plugged in to the PC physically to activate it. This is weird, because one of the things I like best about my MacBook is the way I can just put my Mororola Razr on the desk near it and download photos without any fuss.
So I plugged in the iPhone to the USB and fired up iTunes to do the activation.
Some of the questions were intrusive. It forced me to enter my social security number, also a credit card number for iTunes. I would have preferred to wait until I was ready to buy something from iTunes before giving it credit card info.
The minimum billing I could find was $59.99 a month plus a $36 activation fee for an obligatory 2 years.
This is a $1,536 commitment; add in the $600 for the phone and this toy costs over $2,000.
iTunes showed me my new phone number, and the phone screen said:
“Waiting for AT&T activation. This may take some time.”
This sounded ominous, but within a minute the phone said it was activated.
I made a phone call. Sounded OK.

Mossberg pans FlipStart UMPC

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Mossberg pans the FlipStart UMPC in today’s Wall Street Journal. Comes to the usual conclusion that the in-between form factor falls between two stools rather than finding a vacant sweet spot. The keyboard is too big for thumbing and too small for touch typing. The screen is too small for regular Windows work. It doesn’t fit in your pocket. He goes further than these generic objections to UMPC in his critique of the FlipStart, saying it’s riddled with bugs, too expensive, too thick and too heavy, though he likes the screen size and the battery life.

Citing the iPhone, he concludes that the mobile PC of the future will evolve from the smartphone, rather than the laptop. I agree.

LG Shine

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

On the phone front, a review in today’s Journal is the LG “Shine,” This looks like a Razr that slides instead of flips, and with a much bigger screen. The large LCD is a mirror when the phone is idle. This LCD/mirror technology is reminiscent of the Philips Miravision TV, a product that would be a runaway success if they priced it competitively. The Shine is the next step in LG’s project to bring fashion design to cell phones, preceded by the Chocolate and the Prada phones. Judging by the photo in the paper, the Shine is just a regular simple phone – which is exactly what a huge segment of cellphone users want. If it performs this basic function superbly – making clear calls with good reception – it will be a hit. Unfortunately the Journal hints that the fashion trade-off may have gone too far; the trendy metal casing may impair reception of the wireless signal.