Monthly Archives: September 2012

iPhone 5: Maybe it “isn’t the Droid I was looking for…” (?!)

Well, now that we’re a week into the whole hype about the iPhone 5, I’m still not much further along in my cell phone upgrade decision than I was last week.  😉

To summarize:  I currently use an iPhone 3GS.  It is, not surprisingly, a bit on the slowish side, particularly when taking pictures – and I’d like to upgrade.  I’m not currently on contract anymore, so my choices are pretty open.

At first, I thought the hardest “choice” I’d have to make was simply, “what carrier”?  AT&T’s reception had been notoriously bad in my home office since June compared to others – such as Sprint (which, in fairness, was only slightly-better than AT&T in my building) – so switching off of them had seemed to be a foregone conclusion.  However, AT&T’s reception and service seems to have gotten possibly, incrementally better.

And this begins to set the stage for my constructive criticisms of the latest iPhone launch – as well as the hype-machine behind them:

First, I have to admit that I’m not immediately, super-enthusiastically “wowed” by the new iPhone, except in a couple of categories.  It very much feels like a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of a release, for reasons I’ll get into further below.

The pluses that I see are the LTE capabilities, the display, the camera, and the speed.  All of those are, without question, superior to the iPhone 4S, and probably to many other phones as well.

The minuses, however, are not insignificant, and have caused me to have to ponder my next steps with a far greater amount of hesitation than normal.  Dislikes include the new “lightning” connector (it’s almost “too small”, in my opinion – not to mention, incompatible with pretty much everything else) – as well as the fact that the headphones jack is on the bottom.  It’s just in the entirely “wrong” place, IMHO.

The entire controversy about the Maps application is disconcerting, but doesn’t directly impact me.  I’m not a huge fan of using phones for vehicle-oriented GPS, to begin with – for many reasons – including safety, and reliability.  A phone’s GPS is fine when walking around, but in a car, it’s just too many things packed into a single device to work efficiently, compared to a Garmin or in-car navigation system.  Not to mention, you run into tons of issues with battery life, screen brightness/contrast, and/or just being over-distracted in case a call comes in, or some other event occurs on the phone.  IMHO a car navigation system – whether it’s portable, or built in – should have a single function, just like any one of the other car’s critical instruments.  Especially with the roads already choked with hyper-distracted ADD-prone drivers as it is, with regards to vehicle GPS – you want to be able to quickly glance at it – just like glancing at the speedometer, the fuel gauge, or any other critical instrument – without it doing or displaying something you’re not expecting that’s not related to the task at hand – which is, navigation.  But, vehicle safety and distracted driving is an extended rant, for another time…

However, this brings us back to the topic of the iPhone release.  Clearly, the Apple Maps application doesn’t sound like it was ready for prime-time.  Put in other words, had this non-Google Maps application been the “first” release of the iPhone, I’m sure it would have attracted a lot more negative criticism than it has.  It’s true that the Apple apologists have been out in force, explaining that they’re working “really hard” to fix the problems in the app. – but this iPhone release essentially violates what tends to be one of the cardinal, common-sense rules of new software or new technology – which is, “Never make a feature or function worse than it was in the prior release”.  Second only to the other #2 cardinal rule, which is, “Try not to take away, or start charging extra for, features or functionality that used to be provided in the prior release”.

Then, there’s the aspect about the iPhone 5 being slightly taller, or larger, than the 4.  I actually don’t consider this a “plus”, either.  The taller size means more surface area to potentially get scratched, bumped, etc. – and just a “larger” device that needs to be carried or made-room-for.  Larger isn’t always better.  For instance, I currently have a Samsung Galaxy Android phone as a secondary phone which is currently being loaned to me by a phone company that will remain nameless, which has a gorgeous display and a very nice interface (very similar to iPhone’s), but it’s simply “too big”.  I barely carry it and barely use it – even though it’s “free”, at least for the time being.

Simply put, the iPhone 4S was the “right size”.  Not too big, not too small. Take the Maps fiasco aside – which really doesn’t concern me too much, although I find it amusing – and we’re left with a small number of features I’d really enjoy having on the iPhone 5, but also several potential nuisances that I’d have to deal with, forevermore, including the Lightning connector, the audio plug being on the bottom, and the “taller than it needs to be” thing.  The audio plug part really bugs me, because I was looking forward to retiring my slowly-dying iPod with whatever the next iPhone was going to be.  (Note:  My primary iPod is an old 60GB from several years ago, whose display long ago started getting lines on it, and now it barely can play an entire song all the way through without skipping).

Another area which is difficult to understand, is why the Sprint and Verizon iPhones still cannot simultaneously send and receive data while talking on the phone.  AT&T doesn’t have this restriction.  So, here again is my “carrier dilemma”.  I’m used to being able to transmit/receive data and be on the phone simultaneously.  This may sound like a nitpicky kind of a feature, but anyone who’s had to be on a conference or tech support call (or similar) for over an hour or more, and then get deluged by a million missed notifications or emails that queued up during the call – not to mention, being not able to access Internet during the “live call” – will know how much of an impact that capability (or lack thereof) would be.  So, if I switch to Sprint (or Verizon), there’s something that I lose.  While I understand that the reasons behind this are a combination of technical capability and Apple’s decision not to add an additional radio into the iPhone5, it still presents a crummy compromise or a “satisficing”, from a technical perspective.  In other words, why hasn’t this limitation been fixed, already?

In that respect, this latest “Antenna Compromise” feels very much like the whole “Maps compromise” thing.  Clearly, decisions were made at the corporate level at Apple to dump Google maps, it would appear, perhaps prematurely – more for competitive or strategic reasons – rather than for technical or customer-satisfaction ones.  It just feels very much like the same arrogant stubbornness that Apple uses to justify not allowing Flash on its platform.  While I certainly like many things about Apple products – and I’m also not a huge fan of Flash in general – it chafes me when popular standards like Flash seem to be excluded, or singled out, for reasons that don’t seem to be sufficiently justified.  Yes, it’s true that Apple “owns” the iOS platform and everything that goes with it – including the App Store, etc. – but then again, that’s also part of the problem too, isn’t it?  This is part of the reason, in fact, why the Android platform is overtaking iOS – iOS and Apple are seen as being too closed, too proprietary, and/or too parochial.  It may indeed be true that the closed approach does mean that their products tend to run more smoothly and are better or more consistently supported – that’s not in dispute at all.  I’ve often been frequently impressed by their technical support – particularly in their retail stores.  However, the whole iOS versus Android “holy war”, to me reminds me of a modern replay of the VHS versus Beta struggle of the 80’s, in many respects.  While I’m not suggesting that Apple or iOS is going to go the way of Beta – at least anytime soon – I find it interesting that many of the drivers are the same.  You have one, possibly technically superior vendor who wants to keep everything “to themselves” – versus another, who is more willing to license out their technology to others – particularly, to equipment manufacturers – who will continue to refine the overall platform, offer more interesting products and options, etc…

What this all means is that what originally was going to be a “slam-dunk” upgrade from someone like me – who’s technically inclined, not currently in contract, and you would expect to be a prime prospect for an upgrade – now is hesitating and considering other options.  While I doubt I’d go the Android route for my primary phone – stranger things have happened – particularly, if I find a Droid phone that I really like, that’s the right “size and shape” for me.

Last but not least, the final thing that I find interesting about the current iPhone 5 release, is how quickly and quietly Apple has decided to sunset the other iPhone 4S models with the higher storage sizes – e.g. the 32GB and 64GB models.  These are all now disappearing from retailers faster than the iPhone 5’s themselves are.

So, if I want to get a new iPhone 4S 32GB or 64GB – which may end up, ultimately, being the route that I take – I suppose I better hurry up and make up my mind, already.  😉

— DB

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Dave’s Tablet PC “Skepticism,Confessions, & First Nexus 7 Impressions”

Okay, I have a confession to make about tablets.  Actually, several:

First, I was originally very skeptical of the entire concept of tablet computers.  I will confess that I still remained skeptical, even after I had the good fortune of winning an older iPad about a year and a half ago.  It was right around the time that the iPad2  had just been released, and while I was still glad to have won the iPad, I was still very skeptical as to its value.  To me, why would I bother with something “less” than a full laptop computer?  I promptly gave my iPad to my wife, who immediately embraced it, and loved it – albeit, admittedly, mainly for playing games on it – but she still loved it.

Not too long after this, something else fairly improbable happened.  I won another iPad (yes, once again an original iPad).  This time, I did not give it to my wife – or to anyone else.  I briefly considered selling it, but then decided to give it a try – figuring, in the worst case, I could always sell it “used”, and still come out “ahead”.  After all, it was free, right?

Well, there were a couple of things that quickly changed my thinking about tablets in general.  The first was, around this time, we got a cellular MiFi hotspot.  This allowed the iPads (which were WiFi-only) to have portable, cellular Internet service.  The other one was remote control software (I won’t specify the exact name for security reasons).  The combination of these two items was a real game-changer.  What this now meant is that for a quick trip which normally may have involved taking a full laptop – e.g. “Just in case” some sort of IT system “blew up” that might require signing in remotely – these kinds of tasks could now be handled by the iPad.  While it’s true that the iPad, nor any other tablet device, are probably never going to fully displace a full laptop (in my opinion) for every single task – particularly for creating new content, like documents, web design, etc. – it certainly can help for tasks that are more of “consumption” of content – such as browsing web pages, reading and/or short responses to e-mails, etc..

In other words, “Boy was I wrong” about tablets.  ;-).  So, I’ll now admit that I’ve finally purchased my first tablet (as opposed to winning older iPads over a year ago), and it’s a Google Nexus 7.  Believe it or not, they have a few of them at Walmart, which, not normally being a place I go to very frequently (Target is more my style), kind of surprised me.  But, this meant that I could actually purchase one in advance, and have it waiting for me in the pick-up desk.

I like the Nexus 7 a lot more than the iPad in terms of its size and shape – smaller and lighter really work for me.  But I have to confess, I still like Apple’s iOS overall, a lot better than Android OS – in terms of its design and usability.  What I don’t like about iOS is how it’s such a “closed system”… although, I have to say, the quality of the iOS applications tends to be better (in many cases) than the Android ones.  However, there’s many more to choose from with Android.  And, with recent rumors that Apple may be releasing a “smaller iPad” soon – that could potentially  be the “ideal tablet device” (possibly) that I’ve been looking for…

The one big disappointment I’ve had about the Nexus 7, is that for some reason, Microsoft Lync IM software does not run on it.  While that’s not Google’s fault directly (it’s supposedly because of how the Lync client was written), it’s still annoying that the program doesn’t run on it, while it does run on Android phones.  A lesser disappointment is that the Home screen on the Google Nexus does not “auto-rotate” when tilting the device – although there is a third party application which allows this- but I find it odd that such an add-on is necessary.  (it’s similarly odd that the behavior has to be turned on, explicitly, in the Settings menu for other applications).  <shrug>.

Summed up – iOS definitely wins praise from me for elegance of design and just looking and working “great”.  However, its closed-off, isolationist, “walled garden” approach is a bit of a downer.  iOS versus Android very much reminds me of the VHS versus Beta wars of the 1980′s for VCR’s – actually, reminding me more so of that battle, than the more stereotypical “PC versus Mac”argument  – for many reasons, which I’ll probably write a separate article about in the future.  However, if you’ve read some of my other recent posts, you’ll note I’ve been going through a similar struggle with my whole “iPhone versus Android phone” dilemma lately.  That issue should become more clear after next Wednesday, when Apple is expected to announce information about the iPhone5.

In the meantime … happy tablet computing for all.  It’s amazing to see how far things have come with tablets and cell phones since the days of the PalmPilot PDA (my first tablet-like device) and the Apple Newton (I never had one, but knew 1-2 colleagues who did, back in the day).

– DB

iPhone wars: Sprint vs. AT&T; Carrier & Cell Phone Pro’s & Con’s

We recently made some changes to some of our cellular service here at RiteTech in tandem with a recent move, and I wanted to share some of our observations and “house secrets” in terms of how we help evaluate (or recommend) cellular companies or carriers.

First, some background.  Over the years, we’ve probably had pretty much every major US cellular carrier at one time or another, with the exception of Verizon.  That includes T-Mobile, AT&T, Nextel (before the merger), Cellular One (also Pre-Merger), etc, and now Sprint (post-merger) and AT&T.  We’ve also used CBeyond, who uses the Sprint network, but provides their own technical support and billing.

That said, it is certainly true that there’s no perfect carrier, and that’s an “eternal truth”.  Each one will have different pro’s and con’s.

We were on AT&T for ages – and on iPhone 3GS’s in particular – for a number of reasons, although our relationship with AT&T was never a perfect one, nor is it today.  In fact, when I first bought my current iPhone 3GS about 3 years ago, I actually returned it within 30 days, because AT&T was having so many problems in the Washington, DC area, that I frequently missed e-mails, etc..  I never encountered that problem in other areas that I traveled with AT&T (e.g. Charlotte, NC, Florida, etc.), however with DC as the primary location, that became a big issue.  In any case, the Windows Phone that I switched to after the “30 day iPhone” incident was, unfortunately, practically unusable from a design standpoint.  This was one of the older versions of Windows phone – and before Android was really as refined, or with as many choices as now.  Not to be meanspirited to Microsoft, but that release of Windows phone was really, really, bad.  I ended up returning that phone within 3 days, and went back to the iPhone 3GS, although this time I had been shown by an AT&T rep about the various “workarounds” for the DC area’s chronically overloaded data network – such as, disabling 3G mode if needed.

Fast-forward to about 2-3 months ago.  Our old house and office never had great AT&T reception to begin with – calls would frequently go straight to voicemail, and texts would get delayed, etc..  However, this got even more problematic after our move this summer.  So, with both iPhones now off of contract, we decided to switch one of them to Sprint to try it out – leaving the other one still on AT&T, for the time being.

The Sprint phone, although not perfect, definitely has better reception in our new place than AT&T does – which is a big deal, of course.  In particular, we “stress-tested” calling the phone multiple times, and every time, the call went through with Sprint – whereas with AT&T, about 30-50% of the time, the calls went straight to voicemail, or texts got delayed – despite seeing 1-3 bars on the AT&T iPhone.  Not exactly the track record you want to have at one of the places where you spend the most time.  We also tried Verizon (on a prepaid phone) just to see if their signal was any better than AT&T – and it really wasn’t – we just must live in a really solid, very well shielded or insulated building.

One of the differences, however, is that AT&T does allow iPhones to be on the phone simultaneously for a voice call(s), while also simultaneously transmitting data – such as e-mail, Internet traffic or browsing, etc..  For instance, you cannot send or receive email (or pull up web pages, etc.) *AND* talk on the Sprint iPhone phone simultaneously.  I believe the Verizon iPhone may have a similar limitation.  This is part of the reason I’ve held off on switching my AT&T iPhone – because I do use the phone heavily, and am frequently on it.  In addition, Sprint doesn’t have a concept of “rollover minutes” – whereas AT&T does.

A pleasant Sprint discovery, however, is that you can TEXT and TALK simultaneously on the Sprint iPhone.  So, it’s not impossible to send an urgent message to a Sprint iPhone user who may happen to be on a long conference call or technical support discussion – you just need to ensure that you send it as a text message, not an email or otherwise.  In addition, every interaction we’ve had with Sprint has been very friendly, competent, and professional – I cannot, unfortunately, honestly say the same of AT&T – who sometimes “offshores” their customer care and technical support during peak call volumes.  They seem to suffer the same challenges of many larger organizations, too, which is just that they’re so large, it’s difficult to get consistent, competent, personalized service.  With Sprint (as well as CBeyond), the level of care has been much better and more personal – and part of that is probably because they’re both smaller companies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of offering better customer service quality.

Over the next month or two, I hope to finalize my decision of whatever my “next gen” cell phone is going to be.  I’m still using my extremely antiquated iPhone 3GS on AT&T as my “primary” phone, despite the reception issues at our home, however I’ve been trying out a couple of Android phones informally/temporarily on a separate carrier and phone number in the meantime – one’s an hTC Evo, and the other is a Samsung Galaxy.  My hope is to have a final decision by around the time that the new iPhone is rumored to be announced, etc..  I did take a brief look at Windows Phone, but wasn’t too terribly enthused – at least, not yet – but I’ll probably take a closer look at it again before I make my “final” decision…

Lastly, I wanted to share what was, I think, the most clever way I’ve heard of to help determine the best “carrier” who has reception at your home (or any other location, for that matter).  A former colleague of mine had a similar situation (moved into a new home), so he did something very pratical – he had a housewarming party, and while that was going on, asked to see a few of his guests’ cell phones to see how their reception worked in the new home.  He used that information to help him determine which carrier he should look at.  Bravo!  Very smart…

In a future post, I’ll further describe how the cell phone decision ends up going…

— DB

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