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.