Saturday, July 23, 2011

Note taking apps

It seems strange to me that my Droid Charge didn't come with a note taking application.  I've been sending myself text messages instead.  Here is a very quick comparison of 3 popular note taking apps across several devices.

1. Post-it notes

I'll start with the most popular note taking application ever: the post-it note + a pen.  Prerequisite: knowing how to write.  Beyond that, learning curve = zero.
Now, lets see how that compares to the electronic versions...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Android battery life meter

Android has a really cool, very detailed battery life indicator.  As a software engineer, I have no idea how it is even possible to do this, so I question the accuracy.  Charting CPU use is just not enough to really do this.

To see it, press the settings button then select Settings - About phone - Battery use.  Screenshot below:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Battery Life Problem: Part 2

This is a follow-up to Battery Life Problem: Part 1.

After uninstalling Fring and rebooting, the battery life today seems good... a little too good.  Take a look at this screen shot:

How is my battery at full power at 5pm?  So I look at the system status screen (Settings - About phone - System Status) and the discrepancy becomes clear:

Aha!!  The battery indicator shows full, but the battery status screen shows 81%.  So the battery meter at the top is stuck.  A Google search reveals that I am not the only one to have this problem.  A forum post suggested I restart my phone, and while it didn't fix the problem immediately the next time I checked (15 minutes later perhaps?) the battery meter was working again.

Arrgh!  Another failure of the most simplistic functionality.  Ironically, I got the Droid Charge because the HTC Thunderbolt was considered "buggy."

I'll try reinstalling Fring and see if that is what killed the battery life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Battery Life Problem: Part 1

Update: See part 2 of my battery life saga here.

Yesterday my phone's battery life suddenly dropped from about 30 standby hours to about 4 standby hours.

According to the nifty meter that tracks what is using battery life (how do they do that!?!?!?), the display was using 60% of it - even though it was locked the entire time.  Reducing the screen brightness was ineffective.  It just kept draining and draining.  Today, the phone made it to about 3pm and was at 18%.  This time it said WiFi was the culprit, despite not being in a WiFi area and not using the phone at all (up until the point that I noticed the battery issue).  I tried stopping applications, disabling WiFi and BlueTooth, but no good

I installed Fring about 3 days ago, and have not used it.  The phone claimed that Fring used 3% so that isn't the culprit either.  Assuming I trust the meter which I no longer do.

Lots of people have complained about battery life isssues, so this begins my search for the cause.  First two step: uninstall Fring, reboot the phone.  I'll update this entry as the experiment begins...

Samsung bloatware

Here is an example of some bloatware that came on my Samsung Droid Charge:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The calendar reminders are just wrong

I love the reminder options on my Android phone.  I would love them more if they worked.  My phone sends me reminders at seemingly random times.  Here is one example:

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The phone only understands one call volume which applies to the earpiece, bluetooth, and speakerphone.  This is silly.  The iPhone remembers each of these volumes independently.  With my Android phone, every time I hit the Speakerphone button I have to crank the volume up, then crank it back down when I switch back.

I think even my old flip-phone supported this.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Viewing pictures taken with your Android phone

Camera phones take pictures.  You should be able to view those pictures too.  For some reason this basic functionality is limited on my Samsung Droid Charge.  So far I found 2 photo viewers on the phone.  One good, one less good.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Size matters

One problem with the Droid Charge is that it is too large to fit in women's pant pockets.  In general, men's jeans have deeper pockets.  The phone is large enough that my coworkers keep asking me about my new laptop, and if I need a bag to carry it around.

That's it: my next phone is going to be twice as big.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Yaaaay! Voice text messages! Voice *everything*

2 of my favorite iPhone features are voice dialing and Google's voice search.  Android has taken voice recognition to a new level, although the voice dialing has a nearly fatal flaw.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Conversation view

One horrible misfeature of the iPhone is that the iPhone does not always show the date and time of text messages.  It seems like if the messages are close enough together it groups them as part of a conversation, and it only displays the time stamp of the first one.  This has been a problem for years and is a constant unaddressed complaint. 

While this does save a bit of screen space, it is frustrating when someone replies with "I'm running behind, if you don't see me in 15 minutes just go ahead without me." and you didn't notice the message right away.  Apple deserves a smack-in-the-back-of-the-head for this one.

Fortunately, this is resolved on Android.  Every message shows the time stamp.  Comparison shots below.

(iPhone screen shot courtesy of tyler ingram's blog)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pointless settings

I like options, but not pointless ones.  Here are a few on my phone:
[√] Voice Privacy
Enable enhanced privacy mode
Why would you disable that?  How about another one, with no description at all:
Noise reduction
Think about it this way.  Suppose the options were the other way around:
[√] Increase Noise
[√] Disable Privacy
Allow others to intercept your phone communications
Now, these options must be there because there is some disadvantage to them.  Perhaps the noise reduction feature causes your voice to cut-out more often.  Perhaps the privacy mode uses encryption that uses more battery life.  This is where Apple shines.  Apple would simply make an executive decision and remove these options.  If the noise reduction didn't always reduce noise, they would disable it.

Given the choice, I'll accept a few pointless options if it means I get the features I need.  But for more phoneaphobics, these options are obstacles.

P.S. Noise reduction defaulted to off.  A Google search reveals the opinion that the feature uses the dual-microphones to cancel noise.  Apparently noise reduction it isn't good for recording live music.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Accurate cursor positioning

I like the way they handle cursor positioning in a text box on Android.  The fundamental challenge here is figuring out how to position a 1-pixel wide cursor using a 40-pixel wide finger.

On Android, you touch a spot and the cursor goes there.  Then you get a little bubble that you can drag around for more precise positioning.  This allows you to be accurate without the bubble getting in the way.

On the iPhone, you touch and hold, which displays a magnifying glass showing you a blow-up of the screen.  The magnifying glass lets you see the cursor position more clearly.  The magnifying glass vanishes when you pick up your finger.  The problem I had was that after I released my finger the cursor would be one character to the left or right of where I was.

The magnifying glass isn't a general purpose magnifying glass though.  It only magnifies some parts of the screen while others are mysteriously blank.  The screen on my Droid is bigger, so maybe it doesn't  need the magnifying feature anyway.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Google Blogger does not work on a Google Phone

I was quite surprised to learn that Google's does not work on Google's web browser on their own operating system.  Here is what it looks like:
It doesn't just look bad, the toolbar doesn't work.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Screen protectors?

Do screen protectors actually help?
Do they reduce the sensitivity of the touch-screen ?

I had the Verizon rep install my screen protector based on their recommendation.  But after 2+ years my iPhone screen never got visibly damaged, even with my keys scraping against the screen in my pocket.  Supposedly the new screens are even stronger.  The iPhone touch screen was failing, but I don't think that was something a screen protector could have fixed.  When the screen would stop responding I would have to lock then unlock the phone to fix it.  There were no bad spots and no inaccuracy, so I conclude it was electrical or software.

I think the touch screen on my phone could be more sensitive, although it is adequate.

Post your thoughts:
- Do screen protectors really help?
- Do they have any downsides other than bubbles?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Calendar: good features but UI wastes space


I already had a few items on my Google Calendar, so there was already stuff to fool around with. I clicked on an event, but... how do I edit it?  Here is what I tried:
X Edit button
X Hold down on event in the calendar view
X Hold down on date in the calendar view
X Hold down on anything in the detail view
Settings button!

Okay, it took me a moment to get the concept that the settings button is the equivalent to right-click for Android.  Now I like the idea - no screen real-estate required.  Still, after trying all of those items I expected something would respond like an edit screen.  Oh well, this is why one should RTFM.

Screen Layout

The screen has a ton of wasted space.  On my iPhone, all the calendar options appear on one screen.  On Android, I have to scroll down to see all the options.  Now granted, there are lots more options which is great, but I think it could fit much better.  Here I show the actual screen on the left, and my modified screen on the right:

Slide to unlock

Samsung unlock screen
Instead of "Slide to unlock" we get "fit puzzle to unlock" which seems like a way to get around some Apple patent.  It functions just like the iPhone except once you start to receive voice mails and text messages.  At that point, you get different puzzle pieces which unlock to various screens.  So you can go directly to the message screen, or the visual voice mail, or answer a call.  It makes total sense.

Apparently this is a Samsung thing, so good job Samsung.  So too is the screen shot capability I used here.  The Droid Charge lets you take screen shots by holding down the Back button for 3 seconds then pressing the Home button.  The screen shots get dumped into a ScreenCaptures folder off the root.  Yay for USB mass storage mode!  Apparently other Android phones require a bunch of downloads and installs to be able to take screen shots.  This earns Google a smack-in-the-back-of-the-head.

Since everything in Android is customizable, I assume there is some App to make it a Rubik's cube or a dancing Android or something.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The home screen

Android phones, like Windows PCs, come preloaded with garbage.  This includes trial software (Rock Band, Lets Golf 2), redundant software (Verizon vCast Apps), and apps that seem to do nothing except display license agreement (VZ Navigator, Thinkfree Office).

But before I get into that, lets talk about the home screen. 

The home screen is missing the basics I came to use every day on my iPhone.  These are:
• Calendar• Notes• Camera• Maps• Weather

They are all probably there, but buried.  So what do Samsung and Verizon think are the most important things that belong on your home screen?  Mobile Hotspot, Media Hub, Android Market, Verizon Apps, VZ Navigator, and Guided Tour.

I don't expect to use any of these things on a regular basis.  The VZ Navigator might make sense, and I get why the Guided Tour is on the home screen.  Buying apps isn't something one does regularly.  Nor will most people be using their phone as a mobile hotspot.  I think the criteria for "most important apps" must be the ones with the longest license agreements.

This is no different from how Microsoft Windows comes out of the box.  If you buy from an OEM you get 50 icons in your Start Menu so you will have a tough time figuring out how to write a letter.  Fortunately, Android does have a Dock.

The Dock contains Phone, Contacts, Messaging, and Applications.  All of those make sense except Applications.

If you have an application and you want to use it, it should go onto one of the available screens.  If it isn't on one of those screens, the app should be uninstalled.  So I see this button like the Windows "Add/Remove software" button.  Other than that purpose, having a button that gives you a disorganized, unsortable list of apps is silly.  Apple got this part right - no "applications" button.

Items to resolve:
• How do I take a screen shot?
• What note taking app is on the phone?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I switched: AT&T

I have had a love-hate relationship with my iPhone since the day I got it.  Ultimate power (muhuhahahaha!) in my pocket, yet completely unable to do the first few things I wanted it to do.  I couldn't copy files to it, couldn't copy my music collection to it, and compile existing code for it for it.  It refused to run apps in the background (fixed now).  The Bluetooth doesn't work with the Bluetooth on my Mac.  And the phone doesn't even show as a USB flash drive when you plug it in: WTF???  But after time I too learned to drink that oh so tasty kool-aid.  The voice search was wonderful, answers to bar trivia flowed faster than the beer, and the birds had a good reason to be angry.  But since I couldn't get AT&T service from my home or my work, the device became an expensive toy.  PHONE FIRST, APPS SECOND.

AT&T's solution to service issues is to sell you a microcell.  That absolutely was not possible at the office, and I was under this (obviously mistaken) impression that I paid AT&T to provide service.  If I buy a cell tower and provide the bandwidth then what am I paying a monthly fee for…?  Their staff was unhelpful on this issue.  They would look at a map and say "well, that area is covered."  I wonder if AT&T employees would drive across a lake if the map said there was a bridge there.

I'll talk about Android in my next post.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My new phone

Vital Stats

Samsung Droid Charge
About 1.5 iPhones
Battery life:
Barely 1 full day of charge
Oversaturated, but pretty
Same as iPhone

I got this over the HTC Thunderbolt despite loving HTC for not locking their bootloaders.  The real blow here is that the Thunderbolt is buggy, and the battery life is really really bad.  I can handle buggy...  Maybe.  But without decent battery life it can't even be a decent phone.  PHONE FIRST, APPS SECOND.  Supposedly, the display shows better in the sunlight than the Thunderbolt, although I don't think does any better than any other screen I've seen.. errr… not seen… in sunlight.

First impression

Imagine someone simultaneously choking and burping simultaneously, while trying to say the word "DRRROIIIDDD!"  That is the default sound on my phone.  My first smack-on-the-back-of-the-head goes out to the Google marketing team for this one.