Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Android 4.0: A disappointment

I feel bad about making this post, I really do. Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS for short for the rest of the blog) has been a major letdown for me.

First off, let me preface this with the good. There are a lot of great things I do like about ICS. First of all, hardware acceleration. This has what fans of Android have been clamoring for since the beginning. The buttery smooth action of the iPhone is very desirable and most thought this would be it. Sadly, an Android developer has said that it won't happen because of the way Android is made. However, it does create a very good amount of smooth transitions between windows on the main UI. Other programs can take advantage of this and I've seen some so far like ADW Ex Launcher which is as smooth as the iPhone.

A few other good things. Syncing with Chrome bookmarks, a redesigned and faster browser with very smooth zooming, syncing pictures to your gmail account, some much needed UI polish, a few tricks pulled from third party ROMs like swipe to remove notifications.

However, there are some major issues. First, the stock launcher. While the Eclair/Froyo/Gingerbread launcher was very smooth with its opening transition animation and 3D rolodex drawer, the stock launcher on ICS is choppy, counter intuitive, and buggy. The opening animation for the drawer often takes at least a second to even register compared to 2.1-2.3 where it was always instant. The removal of the widgets selection when holding down on the screen to integrating it into the launcher is confusing to say the least and very slow. Having to flick through many different widgets depending on what you have installed to find the one you want as opposed to just a list is a major turn-off. Thankfully, the original method still exists in third party launchers. I also have experienced many crashes of the launcher itself.

The UI, while refined, is really all over the place. Every part of ICS looks like it belongs somewhere else. The calendar has one look while the browser another. The UI only look vaguely uniform and it can really be a distraction for those used to Froyo or Gingerbread stock.

I also seem to encounter a bug where the gallery won't read my SD card (or partition when talking about the Nexus S). It takes a bit of fiddling around with the gallery's data and the camera to get my files to show up. Definitely a deal breaker as I use custom wallpapers.

Lately, it's been shown that the build has a bug, specifically for the Nexus S, but likely for all phones, that prevents the phone from sleeping. This was the dreaded bug that basically ruined Android in the earlier versions (pre 2.0). My Behold II had this problem and I could lose battery after mere hours. I'm certainly not going to upgrade unless Google gets this fixed.

I'm not giving my seal of approval on ICS. While Eclair/Froyo/Gingerbread maintained the good components of the previous generation and added to it, ICS seems to be a step back for Android. This is one of those rare instances where a skinned version of Android is going to be better than stock.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Who will be in the sequel to the Mortal Kombat game reboot?

Needless to say, there's a lot of spoilers here. If you haven't beaten the game with all of the characters or played through the Story mode, then you should probably stop reading.

That being said, Story mode for the new Mortal Kombat game is a major clusterfuck. With the game basically setting itself up for a reboot of Mortal Kombat 4, nearly all of Earthrealm's warriors dead or really screwed up, you wonder who will be in the next game. So let's just get down to business.

First off, the ones that you can bet will be in the next game.

Shinnok - End game boss easy. I see him as a non-playable character as opposed to his first fighting game appearance (he originally appeared in Mythologies as the final boss) where he was both a playable character and the final boss. I imagine him having all of his old moves and some new ones to boot.

Quan Chi - Also easy. He caused all of the problems in the reboot. I know he will be in the next game.

Scorpion - Another easy one. He's a specter so you can't kill him and he's under Quan Chi's control. Also probably a fan favorite and the most popular character in the entire series.

Noob Saibot - Also a specter. Destroyed in the reboot after being sucked into the soulnado. Could be a bit difficult to explain, but hey, he's already dead. Can't get much worse off can he?

Sonya, Johnny Cage, Raiden - The only Earthrealm warriors to survive the Story mode. Probably some new looks for them plus new moves, but they're staples at this point.

Cyrax - Becomes a good guy in the original continuity. Captured by Sonya and reprogrammed to return his soul. Joins Special Forces. (OR according to his Ladder ending, becomes good and hangs out at the Shaolin Temple)

Sektor - Becomes the new grandmaster. Could be an enemy to Cyrax now.

Kano - After Cyber Sub-Zero's chapter in Story mode, he's never seen again so it's reasonable to assume he's still alive.

Sheeva - Also still alive, but her Ladder ending suggests she takes the Shokan to Earthrealm making her a possible Good alignment.

Mileena - Still alive, probably takes over Outworld in Shao Khan and Sindel's absence.

Reptile - Also still alive. Without Shao Khan and Shang Tsung around his allegiance is anyone's guess.

Baraka - Also alive and probably not doing anything since his character is more of a thug.

Ermac - Not only still around, but with Shao Khan dead his ladder ending could become his future. King Jerrod takes over his body and he joins Earthrealm.

Character that could possibly appear in the next game.

Liu Kang - Dies in Story mode at the hands of Raiden accidentally, could be resurrected. His (and Shang Tsung's) Ladder ending suggest he becomes a God to protect Earthrealm. He could easily be restored from the Elder Gods and takes Raiden's place with Raiden becoming mortal for killing him as punishment.

Smoke - Dies in Story mode, but his Ladder ending says he's part demon. No reason why he couldn't be resurrected.

Motaro - Killed by Raiden in Story mode. Safe to say he now resides in the Netherrealm thanks to Quan Chi's bargain with Shao Khan. Could be the secondary boss before Shinnok.

Mavado, Kobra, Kira, or Jarek - With Kabal dead (but Kano still alive), the Black Dragon might wonder what happened to him. I likely see Mavado, but Ed Boon didn't want any clone characters so Kobra is most likely since he isn't like any other character in the game.

Bo'Rai Cho - Seen in some of the Ladder endings, he could be involved finding out what happened to his student Liu Kang (or trying to stop him).

Tanya - Seen in Shao Khan's arena stage in early prototypes, she could make an appearance, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Havik - Very slim chance. He appears in Noob Saibot's Ladder ending, but that would suggest that Noob turned on Quan Chi which is unlikely.

Hotaru - Johnny Cage's Ladder ending could suggest him since Johnny suddenly has a problem with his powers. Still, I doubt Ed Boon is going to involve all of the other realms this early on.

Rain - A DLC character, his Ladder ending suggests he takes over Outworld so without Shao Khan around he could very well rule it.

Kenshi - Another DLC character. I doubt this some since his whole purpose is to defeat Shang Tsung and he was killed via transfer into Sindel to amplify her power. Without that, what is he going to do?

Skarlet - Third DLC, very strong that she returns, possibly even for Earthrealm. With Shao Khan dead because of the Netherrealm she might ally herself with them to get revenge.

Cyber-Subzero - Hard to say. He was killed by Sindel, but his ladder ending suggests he is possessed by Shao Khan's spirit. He could very well be in the next game with no real alignment at the time being.

Reiko, Frost, Taven, Daegon - All were either mentioned or seen at one time. Taven is unlikely since he was in hibernation as of the old continuity (things have changed though), Frost has no one to train her since Sub-Zero is no longer around in the same way, Reiko and Daegon seem the most likely since Reiko is mentioned in Story mode and Daegon can be seen fighting on the Pit stage (he is also active according to MK: Armageddon)

Characters not coming back most likely.

Kitana, Jade, Stryker, Jax, Kabal, Nightwolf, Sindel, Kung Lao, and Shang Tsung - All killed by either Shao Khan or Sindel at some point in Story mode.

Kratos and Freddy Krueger - These are characters from entirely different franchises. I feel that these guys were one-offs.

So, barring they don't decide to just bring everyone back (possibly evil since they are under Quan Chi's control), here's what I perceive provides the most realistic roster.

Boss: Shinnok

Mid-Boss: Motaro

Roster: Quan Chi, Ermac, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Raiden, Scorpion, Noob Saibot, Cyber Sub-Zero, Rain, Reptile, Baraka, Sheeva, Skarlet, Bo'Rai Cho, Mileena, Reiko, Liu Kang, Cyrax, Sektor, Mavado.

Add in a few DLC: Tanya, Daegon, Nitara, Zombie versions of dead characters, etc.

Seems like a great start. Of course, like with Cyber Sub-Zero and Skarlet, the MK team might just make a few new characters we have never seen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

5 months down the line....thoughts on my Nexus S

Now that I have had my Nexus S for five months now, have rooted it, and installed custom ROMs, I thought I should give a bit of an update to personal peeves and enjoyable things I have found about it.

First off, the good. After tinkering with it for some time, I managed at one point to get a custom ROM/custom kernel combination that netted me 45 hours of battery life on one charge. I have since moved on to a newer ROM that isn't that great on battery life, but it shows with the proper settings and software that one can really crank out the battery life on this phone.

Secondly, the minor annoyances. There are really only three types of ROMs at the moment. There are tons of actual ROMs, but all come from the same variances. It's either CyanogenMod 7, AOSP (the basic stock option that comes with the phone initially), and MIUI (a Chinese derived variant with some blendings of Cyanogen and AOSP and custom UI).

I spent a lot of time with Cyanogen because of all the customization that worked so seamlessly. However, CyanogenMod has been unstable at times. It's slowly improving, but not fast enough considering Ice Cream Sandwich will be out by the end of the year and they haven't even managed to lock down 2.3.4 stably enough for daily use. It was my go to ROM until recently.

MIUI, on the other-hand, has just as much customization, if not more, than CM 7. However, I found that certain themes would cause my text to be rendered too dark to read. Because of many of the Chinese oriented themes which clash with my American sensibilities, I found I had to put together a hodge-podge theme. In the end, I couldn't really get the ROM the way that I wanted it in spite of its benefits. I still keep a backup just in case I want to upgrade to newer versions which are improving all the time.

Right now I'm rocking SuperAOSP 8.6 . It's a hybrid ROM combining AOSP with CM 7. This gives it the stability of AOSP with the customization of CM 7. I have to say that I passed up on this ROM for some time. I had a backup of it but did little with it. After dealing with Voodoo color issues, reboots, and other problems, I have abandoned CM 7 for the time being. My current ROM is the most up to date at 2.3.4 with only a few minor quirks like Voodoo color taking a second to kick on after turning my screen on.

Finally, the bad. There seems to an issue with the back capacitive button on my phone. It's fairly intermittent and it seems to span across all ROMs, but I'm not sure if it is a hardware or software related issue. Basically it seems that the button is either difficult to press or outright non-responsive. Sometimes though, like after playing Gem Miner for a bit, the button works flawlessly. My Zagg shield may be partially to blame, but I'm not sure right now.

I've had issues finding a decent case to keep it in. The lightweight plastic is a liability for me and my phone was purchased off contract so I'm not taking any chances with it. I initially used an Amzer Jelly case with my Zagg shield. It was decent, but I wanted to up the protection. I tried TPU cases, but they made it where I couldn't push the power button without difficulty. I already have issues with the back button so I chose to abandon these types of cases. I then moved on to a Trident Aegis case. The case itself is actually wonderfully designed and very unique. However, the plastic part of the case (two piece case) has soft touch material that began to flake off, likely because of how often I put it in and removed it from my pocket.

In the end, I went with the Seidio Convert case. It consists of a snap together soft touch plastic case (materials are better with this case than the Trident one), which can be upgraded to a second case that goes on top of it, making it like a Otterbox Defender case that I had with my Nexus One. It also comes with a belt holster which was something I decided to move to. Having the case on my belt actually saved battery because it was no longer next to my leg giving off heat which causes the processor to work harder. The battery itself heats up as well which is also not good for overall performance. So far the case has been great. The snap together case is difficult to get off if I need to, but not agonizingly so. The back button issue may be exasperated by the case, but I'll take the risk.

Aside from all this, the phone is really good. I'm disappointed that no companies have really jumped on the idea of using the NFC chip for debit transactions. Paypal was supposed to do this, but seems to be slow going to get to it. I was personally hoping that the whole NFC thing would take off, but as of now it is a useless feature that draws battery when its on. I likely see NFC getting big if the next iPhone adopts the technology like everyone predicts it will. Sad to see Apple dictating when people should be adopting technology.

I'm a little depressed at the limited accessory offerings. Unlike the Nexus One, that has a wonderful desktop dock and car dock, the Nexus S desktop dock is really rather bland, costly, and can only be ordered through Samsung's site. I don't really have an opinion of the car dock. Neither were available through the website for some time before the desktop dock was finally made available. I sense that the Nexus S isn't doing as well as one would hope from its limited accessory offerings. I see this as a problem from Google. Had they utilized a different chipset (the first gen Hummingbird could only do 7.2 mbps max), or chose to not try to cram in a NFC chip when the tech wasn't being adopted (it's the reason why the Nexus S doesn't have 720p recording because of the front facing camera and NFC taking up a great deal of space) they might have succeeded better. The loss of the SD card for this phone is really the baffling part as all Android phones, down to the crappiest one you can find, have SD card slots.

Still, the phone is good in spite of its shortcomings. It will definitely hold me until the rumored Nexus Prime comes later this year. Hopefully, Google is willing to do what they did with the Nexus One and push the bar while providing a good mix of future proof technology.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our patent system is failing us...

It's become extremely apparent that our patent system has been hijacked by corporations. The patent system was intended to give the creators of their inventions the chance to profit from them for a predetermined period of time while licensing it out to others and preventing the creator from taking the invention with them in death. That giant sentence aside, the patent system as it stands now has been hijacked as a weapon by corporations against corporations (and people in certain instances).

Most of this hijacking is by tech companies patenting existing technology or obvious things. One just has to look at the recent lawsuits between Apple vs Samsung and HTC, Microsoft's shady mafia cut dealings, the absurdly abstract software patents of Apple, among others.

Of all these, Apple has to be the worst with Microsoft a close second. Apple has been on the warpath now that Android has eclipsed its market share in the smartphone arena. Apple and many others on the lawsuit wagon can't directly target Google with the exception of Oracle, so they hit the cell phone manufacturers. Apple started with HTC and moved on to Samsung. The problem is the fact that many of these disputes won't even be valid by the time the perceived patents are granted.

One of the biggest problems with patents in general is the time it takes to approve them. This is why you frequently see patent pending on products or why the patent number is usually in the millions these days. At the rate computer technology moves these days, most of the things we use are considered public domain long before the patent is even granted. Even worse, the patent office seems to have to real cataloging because they have granted already existing patents again.

What all this amounts to is corporations are suing each other to prevent losses on technology they don't even have patents to. Some of it has been played off as other arenas such as trade dress and outright theft, but the end result is still the same: corporations waging legal war to be top dog. Apple of all of them is the worst. For all of their advancement in the field of operating systems and the way we use our technology, they continue use underpowered hardware to create huge profit margins while suing their competitors to maintain their lead. They're anti-competitive, dirty, and by using these patent suits, driving technology in reverse by slowing down what could be great hardware.

However, let's not forget Microsoft. The software giant has learned from its previous mistakes in the 80s and 90s by no longer be overt about things. Recently, Microsoft has taken to making deals with Android phone manufacturers. By taking a small cut of the money sold on each handset, they won't sue for their patents. This isn't licensing, this is mafia style extortion. We've never, as a public, even been privy to what these patents are. Barnes and Noble however, are going to go ahead and fight it.

This madness needs to stop. The recent auction of Nortel's patents to a consortium of Microsoft, Apple, and others whom competed against Google for them showed that they are out to pummel the search engine giant. The patents are the guns and the judges are the generals. We are in need of dire patent reform and soon. Because eventually, innovation will be crushed and these corporations will have so much power from patents, legal loopholes, and mergers that the people will no longer have any recourse. Once you only have a couple of choices for the things you like, you're forced into purchasing from a business you had taken a stand against. Let's hope something gets done in favor of the consumer for once.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Beginning of the End of the First Round That Leads Up to the End

Confusing title aside, the first of what will likely be many meetings with AT&T, T-Mobile, other companies, and congress took place. Needless to say, it was just fucking hilarious. Most of the proceedings can be read on tmonews (AT&T Senate meeting).

Try as they might, AT&T and T-Mobile's CEOs couldn't sneak in an inch on the first round of senators. Some highlights I thought were fun were:

 * AT&T claims merger will help rural areas with better converage - Franken (comedian who used to be on SNL) launched this one out of the park by saying that AT&T advertises nationally, not locally so why should the deal be looked at as such. Totally valid but not a blockbuster point. Building rurally tower-wise is more of an issue with the land owners. Many rural people don't want towers in their backyard because they are visible like a sore thumb unlike urban areas where towers can be concealed. Plus, I've rarely had issues with coverage in rural areas. I didn't have high speed data, but I was able to make calls and texts which are really the primary functions of the phone. This merger is more about data than coverage, after all AT&T says they cover 97% of Americans.

* Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint tells the committee that this merger will likely spell the end of Sprint through a Verizon merger...potentially - Very true. Both AT&T and Verizon would cover 82% of Americans if this deal passes. Sprint will have about only a third of the customers that the Big Two would. Eventually, Sprint would no longer be able to compete as the companies now have basically buyout other companies until there is more spectrum up for sale. Sprint would find themselves merging with Verizon since they use the same technology for their 3G network and have loads of spectrum to use. Of course, this could be a bit of fear-mongering, but is a very realistic future.

* AT&T continues to ignore T-Mobile's position as a competitor - AT&T is still saying that the smaller companies (with less than a tenth of AT&T's customer base) are competitors while almost refusing to admit that T-Mobile is one. Senator Kohl finally blurted out that they were competitors, asking them to just admit it. This is something I don't fully understand. I fail to see how AT&T thinks all of these regulators and politicians are simply going to believe that a company with 33 million customers isn't a competitor to AT&T. T-Mobile has maintained consistent build out of their network and generate excellent data speeds at affordable prices. My only guess is that AT&T has to downplay T-Mobile in order to convince everybody that T-Mobile needs them. Truthfully, they don't. HSPA+ and HSPA Evolved have the capabilities to reach 680 Mbps. Not as fast as LTE, but still very good with minimal impact on battery life. Just because T-Mobile may not have the capital to upgrade to LTE doesn't mean they are out of the game.

* The deal is worth a total of six billion dollars if it fails - This is the three billion dollars in money, two billion in spectrum, and one billion in roaming charges that T-Mobile gets if the deal fails. Certainly I would like to believe that T-Mobile is just playing AT&T, but the truth is more than likely this is the limit in how much AT&T will push in bribes, lobbying, and advertising to make this deal look good to politicians and officials. Technically the actual value of T-Mobile is only about half as much as AT&T is paying. It shows how desperate AT&T is for TMo's spectrum. I doubt AT&T even cares about the customers so much as it is in keeping up with Verizon that already has their 4G network building out rapidly. Even Clearwire, the company that Sprint rents spectrum from, has gone on to say that switching to LTE is nothing more than having the proper phone and a software upgrade for their towers. AT&T runs the risk of falling behind and losing customers with it.

There are plenty more of interesting tidbits, but these are what I find most interesting. As more of these bits of information come out, I realize how badly AT&T wants T-Mobile's spectrum. The reality is that AT&T's spectrum issues are not quantity, but quality. They own spectrum at tons of frequencies, but not many that are close to each other. This results in dropped calls, data loss, etc. While T-Mobile on the other hand, pooled their spectrum close together (mostly in the 1700 MHz band range for 3G/4G) which is why their network suffers a bit in buildings but has far fewer dropped calls and issues.

The thing is, AT&T wants to use the 1700 MHz spectrum from T-Mobile to build their LTE network. While it's common knowledge now that LTE is the future of cellular technology, why waste time reconfiguring an entire network when they could just get pentaband phones and build on top of T-Mobile's existing network? It would be cheaper, faster to do, and wouldn't alienate the T-Mobile customers that swing over after the merger from having their smartphones rendered useless. AT&T sure isn't thinking this through. I only hope the deal gets rejected.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Apple sues Samsung - Samsung sues Apple, hilarity ensues...

Oh the hilarity. It seems like the mobile tech world is just rife with stupidity and lawsuits. This is pretty much how lazy companies prosper and how competent companies stay relevant.

Apple just recently filed a lawsuit against Samsung for their Galaxy S cell phone line that includes not only the base model and the unique American carrier offerings, but also the Galaxy Tab and the Nexus S. The first thing that strikes me as odd is the fact that this lawsuit is coming right before Samsung releases the Galaxy S II line, the successor to the first in much of Europe and Asia and about a year or so after the release of the original Galaxy S.

The lawsuit goes on to describe the Galaxy S infringing upon the overall appearance of the iPhone, particularly in the UI department, but also pertaining to just the overall shape and buttons on the phone. First off, I have a hard time seeing the hardware copying here. Yes the base model Galaxy S does indeed have a single home button on it....surrounded by two other buttons on each side of it. There's also that big old Samsung logo on it, so there's no confusing this with an iPhone. Now Touchwiz, yes, it's a shameless imitation of iOS. Depressingly so, in fact. Considering that Touchwiz 2 (Touchwiz 3 is the iOS look-a-like) looks and behaves nothing like the iPhone, it makes me wonder why Samsung would take this route.

However, the most telling thing of this lawsuit is that they included the Galaxy Tab and Nexus S in the lawsuit. Unless there is some underlying tech element I haven't read up on, the Galaxy Tab bears almost nothing in common with the iPad or the iPhone. More importantly, is the Nexus S aka my phone, in this lawsuit. For the record, the Nexus S is extremely uniquely designed in comparison to any of its Galaxy S cousins and runs stock Android. There is absolutely no way you could confuse a Nexus S for an iPhone.

What does all this tell me? Apple is flanking Google. Plain and simple, they're getting ready to go after Google for Android.  Apple has already went after HTC and Motorola for various phones that they say violate their patents. Each case cites different patents, a certainly odd maneuver, but painfully obvious. Apple knows they can't go after Google directly. They lost the "look and feel" lawsuit with Microsoft and they've been bitter about it ever since. So instead, they are targeting the rest of the Open Handset Alliance. They figure if they put enough holes in the manufacturers, they'll bail from the whole Android scene. Problem is, these companies are also billion dollar corporations.

So, obviously, Samsung retaliated with their own suit. Their lawsuit claims they infringe on ten different patents. I don't know about HTC, but Motorola is one of the forerunners to cell phones at all. I know they're packing a shit ton of patents. These are electronic giants, not fly-by-night companies that will back down and pay whatever you ask. Plus the way I understand it, Samsung may have a few edges in this case. One is a lawsuit Apple lost to a company called Meizu whose phone looked nearly identical to the iPhone and the other is the Samsung F700 which was coming out at the same time as the iPhone. Either way, Apple has a long journey on these suits and the companies aren't going to back down so easily. Combine that with the fact that the Oracle vs. Google (aka the elephant in the room) case may be wrapping up sooner than anticipated thanks to a recent statement by the judge presiding over it and Android may be coming out on top in the future.

Either way, Google has the money to defend itself against Apple. It also helps that the people in general like Android. Shutting down an OS that is installed on over 30 million handsets and growing is no easy feat. Worst case scenario is settlements and payouts, but even then Apple is just going to have to get used to the fact that the iPhone isn't the top dog OS (not that it ever was, that distinction goes to RIM and Nokia, but Apple doesn't know any better).

My take? Apple is trying to stay relevant (hence the second sentence of this post). They've had to delay the iPhone 5 for a few months longer than they would like and need to remain a presence in everyone's minds. In the tech world today, a few months can spell success or failure. Apple will still be around, but their potential dominance in the mobile market will be in jeopardy which is why they are mounting the offensive against the OHA. Either way, it's hilarious to watch Android vs. Apple fans fight over it, ridiculous lawsuits get filed on overly vague patents, and multibillion dollar companies crying about things rather than continuing to push the envelope in innovation. At the same time, it's pretty depressing the state of affairs, especially with the patent office since if their were some reform and restructuring, these type of lawsuits would go away.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tethering: The Carriers' New Double Dipping

I have a very hard time feeling any sympathy for corporations. They take in billions of dollars a year from their consumers, they're allowed to break anti-trust laws (see Microsoft), mergers that are anti-competitive (NBC/Comcast, AT&T/T-Mobile, etc), and gain major tax breaks from the government. So I don't shed a tear when corporations are taking it up the ass from the consumers (file sharing). The newest thing in the last coupld of years in the cellular industry is tethering.

Tethering, in relevance to cell phones, is just using the data connection on the phone to connect to a computer like a portable modem of sorts. There's also WiFi Hotspot which allows you to use the WiFi chip in your smartphone to allow multiple people to connect to your data connection. Before the 3G movement hit, tethering was really not anything to be paid attention to. Carriers didn't care if you did because their networks weren't even close to being bogged down. Plus, the barely 56 Kbps modem speed you could get hardly made it worth it.

This was what I would call the golden age of data. Unlimited plans were the norm because the consumers rarely used their internet connections. The connections were slow, had horrible lag, and the phones had terrible browsers to work with. All in all, the carriers were making out like bandits on data plans. They were virtually worthless to the consumer at the time, more of gimmick really, but the carriers could make huge bank on it.

As the golden age of data is now fading, the end of 3G movement and into the newly christened 4G movement have brought us a much greater use for our smartphones now. Android and the iPhone are the biggest contributors of this. With full-fledged browsers, Flash on Android, and higher speed connections, consumers are now getting greater use out of the data plans.

Carriers are now charging varying rates for their tethering plans, but the fact of the matter is that they are bullshit. Tethering, specifically in Android 2.2 and greater, is native to the operating system. It's built-in for free along with WiFi Hotspot. So let's just get the whole costing the carriers' anything argument out of the way.

Secondly, and most importantly, data connections are mostly limited. Carriers are moving away from unlimited data because they can no longer handle the network load. This is largely their fault. They had years of government tax breaks to improve their infrastructure, but chose to take the low road with purchasing other companies to obtain spectrum and towers. So in response, we now have limited plans (AT&T being the worst with a paltry 2 GB).

What this amounts to is the carriers double dipping. They are charging consumers for the same data twice. Only in the case of AT&T are consumers being allotted more data for taking on the plan. Never mind the fact that a user could run out their data streaming HD video on YouTube or instead WiFi Hotspot some friends. Either way, the user only has a limited amount of data to work with. This is the crux of the case. If users still had unlimited data, I could understand such a charge (partially), but since the data is capped, why should the carriers charge twice for it?

This is why the recent declarations by the FCC on net neutrality are complete shit. They provided an outline for what the land line companies could and could not do in order to preserve neutrality, but wireless carriers were exempt. Their reasoning even included the fact that Android was open which has absolutely nothing to do with the argument. By allowing the wireless carriers to define whatever terms they want, they effectively screwed the customers. Just look at recent events such as AT&T promising fines and fees to iPhone users that were tethering, a kernel in the Samsung Fascinate that was coded to report tethering, or a recent text message my girlfriend received about how tethering would be blocked.

Carriers are trying to police their consumers' data use with bullying tactics that are outright deceitful. Why should it matter how I use my allotted data? Would you really buy a DSL or Cable internet plan if they said you couldn't use a router to provide internet for the entire household? Why are we holding wireless carriers to different standards that land line providers? What is the point of net neutrality when we arbitrarily make the rules up as we go?

The charging for tethering has to stop. Carriers and service providers are supposed to be a dumb pipe. They are simply there to open the pipes for use. Allowing them to dictate how we use our data is the beginning of the end of net neutrality. It can only get worse from here folks.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

AT&T acquires T-Mobile...and it will likely never happen

Yep, it's just like it sounds. AT&T in all of their infinite insanity worked out talks with Deutsche Telekom, aka T-Mobile's German owner, to purchase T-Mobile for $39 billion. Of course, it will likely never happen. There's too much riding on the fact that adding in T-Mobile's 35 or so million customers would make AT&T the biggest wireless provider (sounds eerily familiar as to what happened when they got themselves broken up) with over 130 million customers. Next in line is Verizon with about 102 million customers. Finally, followed by Sprint with 40 million.

See the problem here? The term oligopoly comes to mind. When AT&T switched to tiered data plans or raised the prices on text messaging, all other carriers followed suit. More commonly called collusion, it's a disaster for consumers. With no real competition left in America, the wireless companies can charge outrageous prices for their services and no one can oppose them. As of last check, the big four (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint) controlled 89% of all wireless in the USA. Sounds pretty rough, but hey, at least you had four choices or sometimes more depending on your location. In my town, there are really only three. There are things like Boost Mobile, Virgin, etc, but these are really just derivatives of the big four (possibly three now).

Of course, T-Mobile, in a bid to protect AT&T's investment, released the press junket with a Q & A on what was going to happen. This is just subterfuge for the reality of the situation in that all T-Mobile customers are going to get fucked.

It's funny how you can correlate specific events in your life to other events totally unrelated and make sense of something. My example here is my time working for Ryan's Steakhouse. I came in right around the fall of our Ryan's here in my town of Kokomo. Mismanagement, corporate fuckery, sagging sales, and stronger competition had led to the restaurant on the verge of collapse. Still, the place did have its moments and could show off some pretty nice numbers around the holidays.

A few months before the store closed down, word came to us that Old Country Buffet had acquired with Ryan's Restaurant Group. For months, rumors swirled at our business that they were going to shut down the weaker stores (ours had became one of them). However, we never knew it was coming until the very day it happened. The managers all told us it was a simple merger at the time and to not worry about it. This is the same logic that T-Mobile is doing right now. They're assuring the customers that nothing is going to change, but we all know that it is.

If AT&T does manage to get this through, you can say good-bye to the affordable rate plans, unlimited data, unique offerings that only T-Mobile had (UMA and WiFi calling, EM+ plans, etc), and of course, customer service. This is a bad deal in the making and the worst part is that if they do push it through, my choices and those of other consumers in my town and elsewhere, is extremely limited. Verizon's plans are expensive and their CDMA network is slow and outdated plus they are ridding themselves of unlimited data. Sprint has unlimited data, but suffers from poor signal where I live.

This is why we need solid competition. Monopolies and oligopolies strip the consumers of any choice, freedom, or buying power. Wireless communications is the future with more people abandoning land lines for it, and that future is dark indeed. We need this to be blocked because when we lose a competitor, everyone loses. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Nexus S Review

Well, it's finally here. After waiting breathlessly for three months, my taxes arrived and I purchased my Nexus S. This will be my review of the phone based on heavily technical perspective along with one of custom builds as I rooted the phone.

I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled the Nexus S out of the box for the first time. Whoever did the photos for the product page needs to be fired. The photos make the Nexus S appear to be some morbidly obese phone that would make hardware keyboard sliders blush. The reality is that it is an incredibly slim phone. Except for the reverse chin that the Galaxy S phones are known for, this phone is less than half an inch thick.

The overall appearance of the Nexus S is that of a faceless black slate. The extremely responsive capacitive buttons beneath the screen are not visible without the screen being on. There are only two hardware buttons, a volume rocker and a power button. The back has only one noticeable feature which is a chrome bezel around the camera lens, harkening back to the Nexus One. Needless to say, Google has intended this phone to be more art than industrial.

Like all Galaxy S phones, the Nexus S has the 4" Super AMOLED screen. This is one of the best looking screens on the market today. Its closest competitor is the IPS Retina display on the iPhone 4. While the SAMOLED display doesn't match up in the sharpness department, it more than makes up for it in the color production, contrast, blacks, and power saving departments.

Sadly, the phone is made with slick, glossy, lightweight plastic. After only a couple days of owning it, I already have a minor scuff mark on the rear. I've ordered a silicone case for it. Sure it reduces the overall sex appeal of the Nexus S, but I'd prefer to keep my phone scratch free. The only other thing of external note was the curved glass screen. I've heard that it is for ergonomics and to reduce glare from sunlight. Personally, I can't say whether either of these are true, but it certainly makes the phone unique.

Internally, the phone is powered by the same 1 GHz Cortex A8 processor known as the "Hummingbird". Performance wise, the phone is pretty much better than first generation Snapdragon processors and roughly equal to second generation versions. The big claim to fame however, is the PowerVR SGX540 GPU powering the phone. Every game, benchmark, and user interface element is made smooth and fast by the 200 MHz GPU.

The phone comes with much of what you would expect out of a modern smartphone. It has Wifi (b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1, forsaking 3.0 on the original Galaxy S), A-GPS, Accelerometer, and 5.0 MP rear camera. The unique features are the near-field communication (NFC) chip, gyroscope, and front facing camera. Clearly Google has intended this phone to set the bar for future Android phones. It doesn't lead the pack like the Nexus One did, but it does set the standard.

There are some drawbacks to the hardware, depending on your point of view. The Nexus S lacks an SD card slot. Some will find this a deal breaker, but I never used up my 16 GB card on my Nexus One so I wasn't bothered by it. The plus to it though is the 16 GB iNAND chip inside the Nexus S has ridiculous read/write speeds near 20 MB to 32 MB per second. The Nexus S also lacks 720p recording due to a hardware limitation. Personally, I didn't see this as an issue as it can do 480p which is sufficient for videos on the fly. Finally, the Nexus S only has 7.2 Mbps data speed and not HSPA+ or 4G speeds. Depending on your location, this will or will not make a difference. Either way, I achieved 2 to 4 Mbps speeds with the Nexus S and I have no issues loading up webpages quickly.


Much can be said about the Nexus S and its version of Android. The phone runs the latest version of Android (2.3.3 as of this post), code named Gingerbread. Mechanically, Gingerbread isn't really superior to Froyo. It does have better battery life thanks to an enhanced presence in killing unneeded apps, plus the JIT engine has been improved. No, most of what make Gingerbread unique is the UI overhaul. Google has traded out much of the silver-grey appearance for black and green. Icons have been changed along with a few other aesthetic changes. The two most prominent are the "force field barrier" when one hits the end of a menu and the CRT-like screen off animation. Both are wonderful, but largely Gingerbread is incremental rather than exponential like Froyo was. 
The real weak spots in Gingerbread are really not related to the OS itself, but the apps. Many apps don't yet take advantage of Gingerbread's newer drivers and guts. My favorite launcher program, Launcher Pro, runs choppy at times compared to the butter smooth appearance that it had with my Nexus One running Froyo. Until the developers catch up to the newest version of Android, it will continue to seem incomplete. Also, bear in mind, that it took until 2.3.3 to fix some very devastating bugs in the OS.

Battery Life and Performance

In terms of battery life, after rooting and installing a custom kernel and OS, my battery life is probably anywhere from 16-20 hours of light use. This is not nearly as good as the 24-32 hours I could achieve with my Nexus One, but decent enough to make it through a day without issue. 

Data speeds tend to remain constant in my area at 2 Mbps+. Peaks are usually around 4. Signal strength is weaker with this phone compared to my Nexus One. I found myself losing signal in areas that my former phone wouldn't. 

Voice quality has been excellent. Callers sound distinct and clear and have had no issues with hearing me. The Nexus S excels in call quality.


The Nexus S once again shows the cutting edge of Android. It isn't the most powerful out there as new dual cores overtake it, but it does have the newest version of Android and a huge developer community behind it. The phone probably isn't for a novice however. It is better suited to an advanced user that either wants to root or develop for Android. 

Pros: Beautiful screen, artsy design, excellent performance, future proof for NFC, good battery life, easy to root. 

Cons: No HSPA+, no SD card slot, no 720p, many programs not up-to-date with Gingerbread, no native video chat yet, plastic body is a liability.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Future Fall of Nokia and Apple's "Potential" White Flag

I usually don't do two postings in a day because I don't have that much to blog about. However, today is different because there have been two significant pieces of news out there. The first is confirmed and the second is in the rumor stage.

To the first piece of news, Nokia has killed Symbian and made a deal with Microsoft to produce Windows Phone 7 phones. This has got to be the beginning of the end of Nokia. Nokia's strength was their innovation in hardware and software. Nokia along with Motorola basically laid all the groundwork for the modern cell phone market. Without them, there would be no smartphones or even regular cell phones.

Nokia's announcement comes at a time when their ship has been sinking. So much so its practically the actual words by the new CEO at the USA branch. Nokia has pretty much rested on their laurels and made incremental updates to their painfully dated OS, Symbian. New slides from their recent announcement show no Symbian in the future with even less Meego (if that was even possible).

I've read some posts about that this seems like a coup. This same thing happened when I worked at Ryan's Steakhouse in my town. They merged with Old Country Buffet and then OCB started shutting down Ryan's around the country. Obviously Nokia hasn't merged with Microsoft, but there's always a possibility.

The new CEO is a former Microsoft employee. This is obviously where they drummed up the idea for using WP 7. Nokia had announced that they would seek an outside ecosystem to work off instead of internal software development. There was some initial hope that Android would make its way to Nokia, but that was to not be the case. With the new CEO's former ties, Android is only a competitor that he seems very eager to squash.

The problem is it won't happen. Even if WP 7 can be shrank to work on low end phones, we're talking about a major transition for long time users of Symbian. Most people when committed to something, prefer not to change. If they are forced to, they gravitate towards something that replicates the feel of their lost tech. Android gained its strength from being just like iOS. Anyone who had ever used a iPod Touch or an iPhone had a pretty good idea how to work the basics of Android. This made the transition easier.

No, I think Nokia will lose even more ground from this endeavor. Eventually, if they lose enough market share, which is very possible considering Android and iOS's growth, Microsoft may get the potential to buy the company. Also, the loss of Symbian is going to put many of its programmers out of jobs. This will all around hurt the company. They may get some short term gains, but at the cost of long term stability as WP 7 isn't yet proven unlike its two competitors. In the end, Nokia will fade into the dust. A tragic loss of a great company.

On the rumor front, it's believed that Apple may be attempting to create a low-end version of the iPhone to compete with Android. Android has a major strength in the fact that the OS is scalable and fits on a variety of devices. Android does have a problem with fragmentation, but that too could become Apple's problem if they attempt to fill that niche.

Unless the specs for the new phone(s) are similar to the iPhone 4, you're probably going to see some apps that won't make their way onto the weaker model. This could cut into the app sales which is really where Apple makes a good chunk of its money. There will still be iTunes, but chances are most of those people already have an iPod Touch or an iPhone.

Apple wants to bring the potential phone in at $200 off contract, the same price as the T-Mobile Comet or the LG Optimus One. Of course, one still has to keep a data plan on phones purchased on contract, so I'd hazard to guess why would anyone bother with a low-end limited capability iPhone when they could just pay a little more for the real thing. Sure Apple could clean up with off contract sales, but why not just mod the iPod Touch hardware some and slap a radio in it for a little more than it currently costs. Apple has been talking about dual band GSM/CDMA radios for their iPhones. This would allow them to sell off contract unlocked phones on their brand name and be successful in an area where Google failed. They may already be doing this.

Still, this seems like raising the white flag to Android. They would effectively be conceding the fact that they're not competing as well. The marketing department might be able to spin it to Apple zombies, but I think the true tech nerds would see this. The reality of this is that Apple probably would have never attempted to release a low-end iPhone if Android would have never came onto the scene. Apple's profit margins are huge and this would effectively cost them some money in profitability. Is it a bad idea? Of course not. Many people choose not to get the iPhone because of the network or the cost. However, many people choose other phones because they are NOT Apple. Still, if even a small percentage of people buy this new phone, Apple will have gained more market share at the cost of letting Android give them the "I told you so" look.

The Next Wave of Android and Technology Overkill

I've got to say, I'm a huge technophile. I've got a wicked curiousity for any new tech that comes out. I just heard about the specs and seen the first pictures of the next generation PSP. Just from that I know I'm getting one. These things make me happy about technology, but there's comes a major burden with it as well.

The Consumer Electronics Show came and went and we got our first look at some major Android brewings. Dual core phones and 4G speed are the newest buzz words. You'll likely here it everywhere you go if you're involved with technology. Manufacturers and carriers are hedging their bets on this, but it's not all it's cracked up to be.

This blog post is really going to be a culmination of previous blog posts. I've rambled on about stuff like 4G, but this is really where it all comes together. Like reading a mystery novel, you don't fully get it till all of the pieces are together.

Some of the first dual core phones are getting ready to come out in addition to some of the first 21 Mbps 4G phones. Reviews have been praised mostly, but battery life isn't any better. Aside from higher capability and media options, battery life is supposed to be a major selling point for dual core phones. The principle is that having two cores allows them work at lower speeds together, effectively reducing overall battery use. So far, that has not been the case.

The real problem is two-fold. First, these are the first dual core phone chip sets so they're going to be a lot like the first 1 GHz chips. Good performance, but below-average to average battery life. Also, the manufacturers keep increasing screen sizes, more power hungry radio chips for 4G, additional media capabilities, and the same size batteries as older models. If the manufacturers aren't going to increase battery capacity, then we're not going to see better battery life which is the MOST important element of portable electronics.

The Atrix, which is considered at the moment to be the most powerful Android phone, is getting ready to hit soon. Early reviews have praised its overall function and speed, but noted that even with its battery that is quite possibly the largest cell phone battery, it's no better in battery life than competing older phones.

There were recent speed tests for the Galaxy 4G that showed it averaged around 7.87 Mbps. Certainly not bad, but nowhere near claims of top end 21 Mbps. This is mostly because although the networks can theoretically go that high, network load from several thousand or more customers will never let it go that high.

We're in technology overkill right now. We have amazing technology that is largely affordable in comparison to what it might cost a decade ago. The problem is maturity. These technologies aren't really ready to deliver on their promises. I personally think that spending the money on them is pointless. Unless you are ready for an upgrade, there's not a whole lot of reason to go out an pay early adopter prices on these new phones and other tech. My city only tops out right now at around 4.5 Mbps on speed with an average of usually 2.5 Mbps so getting a 4G phone right now doesn't make any real sense. Certainly I could do it for future proofing, but I'd rather take a mature technology that works reliably than one with bugs or shoddy performance.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tablets: Overpriced, Overhyped, and the Next Big Fad

It's been my desire to purchase an Android tablet at some point. I thought about how wonderful it would be to stream videos, play Angry Birds on a huge screen, read e-books, or listen to music. Up till this point, there hadn't been many Android tablets worth a damn.

You see, the iPad hit it big and helped kick start this little tablet revolution. Tablets aren't a new thing by any means. They've been around for quite a while. They were mostly relegated to running Windows horribly since it wasn't optimized for it or proprietary software for businesses of varied purposes.

I really hate Apple. I really do. It's not their hardware because their hardware is top notch. It's not their software because iOS and OS X rarely ever encounter the problems that Windows or even Android would have. No, I think it's their attitude and marketing hype. Apple has always had this yuppie, self-important attitude that they knew technology better than everyone else and that they have been the cutting edge. They then play into this and hype their products to their Apple zombies to buy up.

The iPad is the result of these attitudes. See, the iPad, while well constructed, is nothing more than a large iPod Touch. Does it have its uses? Of course, Apple has a good relationship with many developers that helps them create wonderful programs for it. Is it, dare I say, magical? Hell no.

Apple has this horrible trait of taking existing technologies and packaging them together with their software and calling them revolutionary. They're not. As I said, tablets have been around for a good long while. Apple simply polished up a turd and sold it to their zombies. Of course, the iPad sold big so now every one wants to get in on the tablet game with Android, the main competitor to Apple right now.

Here's the problem: there's no consistency or quality control. Apple controls every aspect of their hardware and software. This gives them a very polished and worthwhile product. Android, being the wild west of software development, has produced so many low end junk tablets it's horrifying. A good deal of these come from China, but even those produced outside of China were terrible. They are cheap, but they run outdated versions of Android that haven't been optimized for tablets on crappy hardware. They are a consumer's worst nightmare.

Out of a sea of early tablets, only a couple have been worthy. First is obviously the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The size is a bit small but the hardware is worthy. Problem is it requires a contract and even then the subsidized price point isn't that great. The second is the 7 and 10 inch variants of the Archos line. They are very affordable at around $300 with no contract, but suffer a bit in the hardware. The hardware is still pretty good but not high end.

So now to the real point of this post. Browsing the forums that I usually do, I noticed that the Motorola Xoom had been rumored to be $800 with a requirement to purchase at least the first month of data. This is just a joke. Yes the hardware for the Xoom is the best in class at the moment and Motorola has a great track record with their products durability.

The problem is that tablets in the form that the iPad has dictated are media consumption devices. A laptop is a productivity device. A cell phone is a communications device. The prices of these devices are extremely affordable. A low-end but usable laptop now runs at around $400 for 15.6" of screen real estate while smartphones can cost nothing on contract and usually peak at $530 or so for unlocked ones. These devices are a part of your everyday life.

Tablets, however, should be something of an impulse buy or present for that media hungry loved one. No matter how you spruce them up, they're not going to replace a laptop or a smartphone. This is not to say that they can't have productivity or communications features, but that's really not their intended function. So when I could get both a laptop and cell phone for less than the cost of a Xoom, I have to wonder what they are smoking at Motorola.

See the Xoom comes in just below the highest costing iPad. Note that I said "highest costing". The iPad has several variants that you can purchase, some without a contract. This is why the iPad sells so well. The lowest one costs only $500. A fairly hefty price, but leaps better than the Xoom. Just about every decent Android tablet that has been released has been forced into a contract. No intelligent consumer is going to buy an Android tablet with a contract when they have an Android smartphone with WiFi hotspot capabilities. They are already paying for one data plan, why add another?

No, tablets are a fad right now. They are media consumption devices no matter how productivity applications you put on them. They're too expensive right now and the manufacturers and carriers are working together to force consumers into contracts in order to make them more affordable. I'll get a tablet, but not until they are in the $400 or less range without a contract. Most of the guts of these tablets are based on the same chipsets as the cell phones so there's no reason for them to be this much. So guys, but you're going to have to con someone else.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

This 4G nonsense is getting old....

Typically, I don't pay much attention to advertising. I've already generally made up my mind on what I'm going to purchase before I ever see a commercial about it. For me, anything over $50 is extensively researched to see whether or not it is worthy of purchase. Excessive? Probably, but the economy is in the toilet here and my wallet is empty. So any high dollar item better be worth it. In all my years I've only had a few buyer's remorse from my purchases.

That little diversion aside, this 4G nonsense is getting out of hand. The constant advertising of it feels like the carriers are attempting to beat me over the head with it. The worst part of it all is that it's complete and utter bullshit.

Now, I'm not going to go down the route of whether or not existing technologies like WiMax, HSPA+, and others are 4G. The reason why I'm not going to is because they are. The ITU re-established the guidelines for 4G after certain advancements have been made in tech like HSPA+ which can now exceed 100 Mbps. These techno nerds need to get a life constantly arguing that HSPA+ isn't a 4G tech when the ITU has already declared it so. I can't imagine the level of self-entitlement these people have to believe that they are a greater authority than the ITU.

No, my issue with this nonsense is that the carriers are shoving this crap down our throats like it means something. First, our hardware isn't truly capable of the official definition of 4G which states that the data must maintain 100 Mbps consistently. Right now the best we have (or going to have) is the Samsung Galaxy S 4G at 21 Mbps. Generally, a lot of the "4G" phones out now can only go to 14.4 Mbps.

Secondly, and most importantly, network coverage of 4G isn't really widespread right now. If you live in a 4G city like me then great. Those that don't will never benefit from this technology. The max we have in speed is only 21 Mbps with T-Mobile predicting 42 by the end of this year. Verizon's LTE seems to hover around 30 Mbps. Sprint's WiMax around 10-15 Mbps max. So the technology isn't really ready for prime time right now. You're better off waiting for about three years or so when these technologies start maturing.

Finally, what good is having blazing fast speeds when for one, cell phone browsers typically use data compression needing only a fraction of a desktop browser and screen resolutions aren't to the point that streaming HD video is relevant. Then, you have these draconian data caps that the carriers enforce. What's the point of being able to download at 100 Mbps if I can only reach 2-5 GB of data.

While it seems that the carriers really want to push the whole wireless internet thing with laptops, cell phones are their major forte. Data caps need to be eliminated before 4G matures otherwise its like have a supercar that can only go 30 mph.

Also, Sprint's recent change of adding $10 to all smartphone data plans is suspect if you ask me. Sprint is renting airwaves from Clearwire and this just seems like a stab at paying that bill rather than any arbitrary reason they feed the public.

Long story short, 4G isn't ready for public consumption. The hardware isn't there yet, the signal speed and coverage isn't there, and heavy handed caps on data only enforce the notion that 4G is pointless at this time. Until these things change, don't bother with 4G. You're only spending more money on a service and hardware that will just be outdated. Getting locked into a contract for 2 years with a phone that can only go a fraction of the optimum speed is a joke as well. Just stick with what you have and avoid companies that want to gouge you extra for their "4G".

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why doesn't Google work with CyanogenMod?

Well a recent announcement from T-Mobile said that the Cliq XT would not be getting an upgrade to 2.1. What I've learned is that the majority of the first generation Android phones weren't very future proof. However, if a lone developer can make Froyo work for the Behold II, why can't an elite team of developers do it for the Cliq XT?

I've always wondered why Google doesn't just accept help from CyanogenMod and his team of developers. The way I see it, Cyanogen is ahead of Google in development. While I suppose you could say that Google merely lays the framework for anyone else to fork off of, their attempt to pretty up Android with Gingerbread and Honeycomb says else wise. Hell, if you're having that much problem putting user interface polish on your operating system Google, then contact the developers of MIUI or some of the people that work on themes for Android ROMs.

I like what Google has done with Android so far (being that I started with version 1.5) and I'm really excited about some of the changes that they have made for Gingerbread and Honeycomb. That said, I think it seems like the Android team is a bit stretched thin. Unless there is a separate development team for the Google apps and Android itself, they're running into difficulties. Case in point is Gingerbread for the Nexus S. While it is relatively stable, there have been some hideous bugs like the SMS bug and the random reboot bug.

Google should have taken their time with Gingerbread instead of attempting to meet some arbitrary deadline. Had they have given Gingerbread a few more months we could have seen more phones get ready for it and older phones given the time to get to Froyo. The Nexus S might have been released with the dual core Orion chip set rather than the tried and true Hummingbird.

The word on the street is that Honeycomb is going to be for tablets and separate from the phone development. Then, after some time when cell phones are on par with the power of the tablets, the two lines will merge. Seems like a bad deal if you ask me. We already have rampant fragmentation. While fragmentation is beginning to wind down with almost every phone being released now with Froyo, there's still a long way to go.

With the speed that CyanogenMod is working on version 7 of their OS, you'd figure that Google would recruit them. They certainly have the additional resources to spare as Eric Schmidt went on to say that Google would make a billion dollars in advertising revenue this year from Android alone. I think with a dedicated team like CyanogenMod, Google could speed up development, identify and patch bugs more quickly, and add new unique features to Android to please the general public. It's not too much to ask is it?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The hardware of Android

I was reading a post by one of the lead developers for Honeycomb, the version of Android specifically tailored for tablets. He mentioned a some good points, none which this is about, but I found myself down in the comments section as I am want to do. It was here that someone mentioned the fact hardware manufacturers are moving too slow (in contrast to the belief many have which Google is moving to quick) and I agree. It wasn't until the Nexus One that manufacturers stepped up their game on hardware. Hell, if it wasn't for Android and the iPhone, I doubt we would be at the technological advance we are in mobile devices, dual core phones coming and all.

Anyway, someone mentioned that the manufacturers are practically going bankrupt on manufacturing these Android phones. For one, I think this is patently false. An independent website that analyzes the cost of hardware estimated that the cost of my Nexus One would be around $275 (at the time of its release, obviously a lot cheaper now) when the phone costed $530 off contract which is typical of high end cell phones. Subsidized prices I don't take into account because the difference is paid into by the carrier.

From here the post mentioned the fact some of the limitations of the Galaxy Tab compared to the iPad and the fact Samsung could only get the price down by $30. There's seems to be a big fallacy here. Couldn't the real truth be more likely Samsung is just attempting to maximize profits as much as possible? The reality of the situation is the Tab's main cost is the Super AMOLED screen which hasn't reduced itself in price enough to be totally affordable or even profitable. Obviously if you look around you don't see TVs with the technology or even laptops with it. The cost is simply too much right now.

However, even if the screen is the most costly thing about the tablet, it doesn't account for the fact the rest of it is rather cheap. Next in line would be the System-on-Chip with the processor, but after that, the majority of the hardware is cheap things like cameras. One must also remember there really is only one Galaxy Tab while there are several variations of the iPad which can go as high as $830, more than the cost of my laptop.

To think the hardware manufacturers are going bankrupt or barely recouping costs is just plain silly. They wouldn't sell their products at a loss now would they? (Obviously new tech like the Playstation 3 sold at a loss for a time, but Sony had the ridiculous capital to take the risk) What kind of capitalist business sense would that make? No, the only reason the hardware manufacturers are behind the times is because they are greedy.

We've had 1 GHz chips since late 2009, but they're not in every cell phone running Android right now. Why? Surely the cost must have came down since then. One has to consider the fact shoving an old 528 MHz 2005 processor into a 2011 phone must not cost a great deal. Then, consider the mark up when sold to the carriers for subsidization or consumers buying unlocked. The carrier recoups their cost on your contract. You're stuck in a 2-year contract with a low end phone while the manufacturer churns out new phones every three months.

Look, there's nothing wrong with making a profit. It's largely what America is based on. However, we're not talking about me only making $5 profit off a deal, but companies making millions and sometimes billions of dollars of profit. These companies are not hurting and I find it extremely disingenuous when manufacturers and carriers keep bringing out low-end tech which should have passed on a long time ago or high end tech with outdated software. So yeah, manufacturers aren't bringing out tech fast enough to keep up with Android because they keep recycling the same old tech. Of course, then you get the carriers wanting outdated versions of Android on their phones which is why you can see how disastrously out of whack Android is becoming.

This is why I stick with the Nexus phones. Google wanted to change the American way of purchasing phones in favor of the European way, but unfortunately, America is just too stupid right now. Maybe someday we'll figure it out the carriers are pitting us against the manufacturers and roadblocking us from purchasing whatever phone we want. In the meantime, I'll enjoy my timely updates of Android.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The sad realization of Android and handsets...

Samsung's piss poor support aside, I'm still getting the Nexus S next month. I'll be replacing my trusty Nexus One. It was at this point that I really began to think about why I was replacing it.

The Nexus One was a major technological leap for Android. It was the first one with a 1 GHz processor, Android 2.1, a new method of purchasing, and one of the phones (the Motorola Droid being the other one) that I believe started the Android revolution.

I then thought about the shortcomings of the Nexus One. Probably the biggest was the touch screen sensor. The Clearpad 2000 was terrible and it shows since the two finger rotation in Google maps 5 is disabled. The GPU is also pretty weak and the phone's got a pretty limited storage (though I've never had much of an issue with this).

I next thought about the Nexus S. It has a better touch screen sensor, GPU, a front facing camera, the NFC chip, super AMOLED display, and a unique design. Clearly, this phone would be worthy of long time ownership.

However, what bothers me now is all of the new phones coming out. No, I'm not having second thoughts about what to get. If I really wanted to, I could just spend the money on another phone and alternate. I realized that Android and the phones have became like PCs. While I have echoed this for some time that Android and smartphones would be like portable computers, I now see the downside.

There is a lot of growing concern with enthusiasts of Android about the fragmentation. There's really no problem on Google's end. They continue to produce the OS and new versions arrive quite quick. Almost too quick. No it seems that the carriers and manufacturers have entered in to the game of PCs.

PCs have always had one terrible stigma as long as I have used them and that's a new computer will be out in less than 3 months that is far better than the one you bought. We're still seeing some major leaps in computers, but we've hit the point where a decently priced unit with good specs will last you several years without the necessity to replace it. However, we're now stuck in the 90's with smartphones.

New smartphones are hitting the market everyday with better and better specs. However, there's a problem with this. The market is growing, but not nearly as fast as the PC market was. Adoption to PCs was quick and widespread because they were useful to the entire family or businesses or just a regular Joe. The cost of ownership was what you paid upfront. The choice to upgrade components or the operating system wasn't a necessity.

The problem with this rapid influx of new smartphones is the adoption rate of them is dramatically slower than with PCs. There are really only around 250 million smartphones worldwide roughly compared to the billions of computers (some households such as mine own multiple computers). The cost of ownership is much higher. One typically must enter into a contract with a cell phone carrier which will give them a subsidized cost on the phone varying anywhere from free to $200. These contracts (particularly in the US) usually have to keep a data plan on them costing around $30 generally. Contracts are signed the majority of the time for 2 years. Even if you obtain the lowest basic plan for talking and a $30 dollar data plan (you can sometimes get $15 plans, but the amount of data is so small it renders the main portion of the phone useless if you ask me), costing on average around $70 a month with the hottest, newest phone at $200, you're looking at around $1900. You could buy almost 4 to 5 decent PCs for that amount.

Since the customer is locked in the contract and can usually only upgrade 2 months before it ends, choosing a smartphone is almost like purchasing regret. Newer phones are being brought out monthly that make your purchase look inferior. The only choice at that point is to purchase a phone unsubsidized which usually runs $400 to $500 for a high end Android phone.

Do I think I'll feel regret after purchasing my Nexus S? Not likely. I still own the same laptop that I bought two years ago because it's still powerful. It may not run with the new big dogs out there, but it gets the job done for me. Likewise with the upgrade from Nexus One to Nexus S, I'm going to a much higher end phone in terms of graphical power, efficiency, and features.

Still, the manufacturers are over-saturating the market right now and the game is rigged. Manufacturers make all of their money on the initial purchase of the phone where the carriers rake in all the future dollars. With the carriers wanting to strip Android of specific features so that consumers must purchase their services and manufacturers having no urge to upgrade phones when you can purchase a new one, the consumer is getting screwed. All capable phones should be on 2.3.2, the latest version of Android, but these two knuckleheads are preventing it from happening to bend the customers over the rails. This is the sad state of Android and its openness. Open for manufacturers and carriers so that they can close the door for consumers.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Samsung fails again, Android is spiraling, and other silliness

Well, Samsung did it again. I could have seen it coming a mile away. My first Android phone was a Behold II. At the time, rooting (or jailbreaking for the iPhone crowd) was unknown to me and the source code for the phone wasn't released (it would be released till almost a year after I ditched it) so there wasn't any reason to root. I almost gave up on Android early on just because of how bad this phone was.

Instead of giving up on Android, nearly two months after purchasing the Behold II, I opted to buy the Nexus One. My faith in Android, renewed from the overall performance of the phone and the timely updates of Google, brought me back in full force. I vowed to never purchase another Samsung device afterwards.

Samsung, however, came back with the Galaxy S series. It was a leap up in many technological areas that other phones couldn't touch. The phone was released internationally before it hit the USA. When it did hit the USA, Samsung and the carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile) did something unique which was to release the phone in many different incarnations depending on the carrier.

Coming out with Android 2.1 first and promising to upgrade to 2.2 shortly after it was released, I already knew what would happen. See the Behold II was released with version 1.5 and publicly promised an upgrade to 2.X. After months of dodging the question when we would see the update, Samsung announced that the phone could not go to 2.X and that 1.6 would be the only upgrade in order to avoid a potential lawsuit. This of course, turned out to be a bold faced lie as a hacker had managed to put a mostly function version of 2.2.1 on the Behold II after the source code was released.

Now we sit at the same crossroad again. Samsung has managed to upgrade the international version to 2.2, but none of the ones in the USA have it. Then, T-Mobile announces the Vibrant Plus (a upgraded version of the original Vibrant, T-Mobile's version of the Galaxy S with HSPA+, front facing camera) that ships with 2.2. The public was not happy. If the Vibrant Plus has 2.2, why doesn't the original have it if it's ready?

And now we see the disaster unfolding. Android is fragmenting rapidly. The only reason we don't see timely releases for the upgrades across all the carriers and manufacturers is greed. The carriers want certain features stripped from the releases like tethering to charge more to the customer. The manufacturers want to push new phones rather than updating old ones. Because the carriers have to strip out features, they keep sending the updates back to the manufacturers who then must make sure that the modifications don't interact with their user interface.

Google needs to step in. There's a time for neutrality and there's a time to take a stand. Google risks losing its rapidly developing user base because of the carriers and manufacturers. They need to be proactive and establish some guidelines for their clients in order to fix the fragmentation. Obviously since Android is open source they can't simply tell them no to that, but they could prevent carriers from using their closed source apps like the market or maps. Either way, Google needs to get all current cell phones on even footing this year or Android risks turning into Linux: a massive jumble of ROMs in which the consumer can't tell what is what and the OS loses any potential mainstream appeal.

The worst part: I intend to buy the Nexus S, but only because Google is behind the updates.