Friday, October 15, 2010

What if you could install your own software?

I've had the Nexus One for 6 months now, and today was the first time I downloaded and installed software on it that wasn't from the Marketplace.

It was easy. I followed a barcode link, the pointed by Barcode Scanner app at it, and within 30 seconds, it was downloaded.

It was secure. After downloading, I was presented with the permissions the app wanted and asked to approve.

It was fast. I was up and running Angry Birds very quickly.

It didn't drain the battery. After over 2 hours of addictive play, my battery was still at 75%, which is pretty good for this time of day anyway.

So when you here people talk about marketplace fragmentation or the difficulty and dangers of downloading apps directly, just know that they're coming from an iPhone centric perspective and can't imagine what freedom really feels like. A little pity and a little understanding will get you a long way. They'd be envious if they knew better.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"I don't see a real need"

The unofficial motto of the Apple apologist is "I don't see a real need..." followed by something that Apple doesn't allow. Hot girls on your iPhone, games compiled from Flash, alternative browsers, South Park app, and today, let's add wireless syncing. jcmark42 on cnet's discussions, consider yourself famous.

As a former iPod Touch and iPhone user, I'll tell you exactly why I'd like that app. I live in a 3 story condo. The bottom story is a two car garage. The second story (from the back), is the entry level from the front, and contains a living room, dining room, and kitche. The third story has two master suites. My Mac Mini media center is in the living room, and my office is one of the suites upstairs. As I'm sure I have mentioned before, I enjoy my podcasts. Before my N1 arrived, I would have the Mac Mini download them into iTunes, and then plug in my iPhone to sync. Sometimes, I might forget to do that when stopping home in the middle of the day before heading out the gym. Sitting in my truck, I'd realize that and just want to sync those podcasts. It would take two minutes or so and save my knees from a trip up and down the stairs. So jcmark42, there's the real need.

As I've noted before, podcast management with Android is a lot more flexible, as there are several apps that can help you manage them on your phone much easier than how iPhone does it. So wireless syncing is less desirable for me now that I have the N1. But I'd have killed for it 100 times over when I carried my iPhone around. Oh, and pre-iPhone, when I have my iPod Touch hooked up to the Alpine car stereo, same deal. I could have left it plugged into the car to charge and let it sync when it got in range rather than have to carry with me to the living room every time I bought a new album on iTunes or wanted fresh podcasts.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


The iPhone was out of the drawer for a couple days... charging on my Mac Mini. I forgot about it until it let out a little beep this afternoon.

Chad Ochocinco is my boy... But, can't he be a little more polite with the push notifications? Not on iPhone he can't.

On Android, this would appear in the "notifications" area with other notifications and not interrupt whatever I am doing until I am ready to look at them.

With iPhone, you have to act or dismiss notifications one at a time, in order. With Android, if you have 5 notifications waiting, you can deal with whichever one you want to deal with first, or just clear them out wholesale. While iPhone might be simple, Android wins on elegance.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

2 Reasons HTML5 Canvas is Bullshit

Experiment time... Mac users, open a Terminal. Type the command "top". This will show you processes that are running and the resources they are consuming. Now, open this link in a new tab:

Wait for it to load, then click to start. While it animates, check out how much CPU Safari is using. On my 1997 MacBook Pro (dual core), it's using 90%+ of one core. It doesn't seem like such a difficult animation. And this is how the all-knowing Steve Jobs says we should do animation now instead of using Flash.

So here's a Flash example that appears to do a lot more animating:

On my same MacBook Pro, Safari uses about 45% of one core to keep that running.

Since I knew the HTML5 Canvas example (the first one) was such a pig, I asked someone who has an iPad to try it out. It was too slow to be tolerable. I also tried it on my Nexus One in both the Google Browser and Skyfire Browser. Both are WebKit based. Neither was able to draw the graphic characters. Google Browser did the captions and the rotating box parts of the animations. Skyfire kinda hung there.

There are couple of conclusions to draw from this...

(1) The poor performance of that first animation is because the author of it is redrawing the whole scene for each frame being drawn. That is moving a lot of bits! And so that's why it takes so much CPU for what appears to be very simple incremental changes.

A problem with HTML5 Canvas is that this is an obvious way to do animation. It lets the developer do it very inefficiently. Flash, by contrast, doesn't bother the developer with that particular decision. The developer sticks some objects in the frame, tells them what to do, and the Flash runtime handles it more efficiently. So this is a case where 3rd party middleware promotes efficiency and would promote better performance and battery drain than a "native" solution. It does better by ensuring that the developer does the right thing.

(2) Today, we can pretty much depend on Flash objects to run consistently across platforms. HTML5, even from the same WebKit open source doesn't seem to have that consistency yet.

I really hope the developer of that HTML5 Canvas example doesn't take that page down. It is like a gift that will keep on giving for those of us who are skeptical of Apple's anti-Flash crusade.

Standby time of iPhone, Docking the N1 midday.

I learned this last week that the stand-by battery life of my iPhone is something south of 4 days. I charged it Sunday night and it wouldn't power up on Thursday -- the next time I took it out of my laptop bag because I needed a phone number.

I also learned this week that if I set my N1 in the car dock when I drive to lunch, I end up with more than 50% charge at the end of a long day.

I only make these point because there is so much attention paid in the great Flash debate to battery life and all that. Seemingly small alterations to your routine, like getting a hands-free car dock, can make all the difference in the world to how you perceive battery life. While the engineers argue over ever last theoretical CPU cycle, out in the real world, some simple things we probably should do anyway can make the battery question mostly moot.

Daring Fireball

Would somebody please tell me why if Jon Gruber is so wise and knowledgeable about user experience and user interface... why is his site white text on medium grey, with the default (and recommended) font size 11 point?

Seriously, if his actual writing doesn't give me a headache, the font size and color choice does.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flow vs. Modality, Take 2

Over on, at least one genius commenter has said he won't be reading my blog because I'm not objective. This post is dedicated to that person, who I won't bother to look up.

In a previous post, I noted that Android flows from task to task, while iPhone goes modally into an app, then out of an app. It's flexibility on the Android side versus simplicity on the iPhone side, with elegance falling squarely on the Android side when the device is in my hand. In the car though, it's a different story. I don't want flow. I want to be able to do the phone things I need to in the car using the minimum amount of attention necessary. Voice dialing with the Nexus One works well when it works, but can fail miserably when it doesn't quite work, requiring you to hit the backup button or choose from a list.

Fortunately with Android, a good developer could write an app that does car thing right. Large text, voice feedback, large target areas. Color to differentiate options. That's probably where I would start.

The Docks

Last week, I ordered the car dock and the desk dock for my Nexus One. The car dock is the typical universal disk attachment. I have a 2002 Chevy Blazer Xtreme. And yes, damnit, I am conscious of the badging when I buy used vehicles from friends! It doesn't have great places to mount gadgets, so I will probably go with the bean bag and put it in that giant front garbage tray.

The car dock works best when mounted in portrait mode. Incoming calls always display portrait even when the phone is landscape. For some reason, I'm partial to landscape for navigation, but I will try portrait out and see how it does. The dock lets you reorient easily, so maybe it goes default portrait and then landscape when i need to.

The car dock has a built in speakerphone. I tested with a voice dialed call to my Dad without the car running and he said it sounded great. The dock actually works via bluetooth, so you can't also use a bluetooth headset. The speakerphone seemed like it would be plenty loud with engine and road noise. We'll see.

The home dock charges the phone and connects the phone to an external amp. The dock uses Bluetooth to get sound from the phone. However, it still allows use with a Bluetooth headset. The home dock only accepts the phone in portrait mode. I haven't decided what I think about that yet. I have been using a cheap business card holder as my dock, which positions the phone in portrait position.

More on these docks as I have time to try them! Off to dinner. Maybe a report on the car dock later this evening...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Another Android v.iPhone difference is flow. The iPhone is very modal. You start at your home screen. You go into an application. You do what that application does. You leave that application and are back at the home screen. On Android, by contrast, you dig in and back out. You jump between applications. You can back up to where you were.

Here's an example. Open up the Clock app. Flip the phone into landscape mode. Click the Music icon. Now you're in the Music app. Click back, you're back to the Clock app. Now wait for an email. You get a notification. Click the notification bar and jump to the email notification. You're in the email app. Read your email. Back button to the Clock.

That's flow. Android has it. iPhone dreams of it.

Day 8

A week with the Nexus One, and the only thing I miss my iPhone for is the address book. In fact, when I turned on the iPhone today, I noticed that it needs to recharge again.

I've finally figured out the whole podcast thing. But first I'll make an observation about Android vs. iPhone. Pretty much all the built in stuff on Android is somewhere between 80% and 120% as good as the built in stuff on iPhone. So if you're just about the built-in stuff, you'd probably be fine with either platform. For someone like my Mom, there is no compelling ease of use reason today to switch a phone contract to AT&T just for an iPhone. The iTunes approach to music is different than that of Android, as I explained in a previous post. Syncing is a little easier with iTunes. Playlists are way easier with Android.

The big observation, though, is with a little research, you can come up with some interesting solutions with Android, even/especially with the built-in stuff. On iPhone, the built in stuff, like the music player, has been mostly if not wholly off-limits. This gets me to podcasts. I found an app called MyPod that can download my Jim Rome show podcasts, which Google Listen won't do because they are password protected. However, the interface for MyPod is quite cluttered and confusing. The controls are just a little too small. I've figure out how to make it download podcasts, but for the life of me, can't get the player to work quite right. I can't get the repeat play to turn off, which is a bit of a buzzkill for falling asleep.

I discovered that after mounting my Nexus One's SD card on my MacBook Pro that the podcasts appeared in the Music app after I unmounted. Looking around on the SD card, I saw where MyPod downloads them and noticed that it named them as the files were named on the server originally. Google Listen, by contrast, uses a mangled filename and no extension, so Music doesn't pick it up. But I couldn't figure out how to make Music app rescan the drive. It only picked up new stuff when I mounted the SD card on my MBP. So I looked through the Google Code forums and found a few people who'd asked about how to program that rescan. I learned that there is a process called MediaScanner that handles that. Finally, I searched the Marketplace and found a free app called SDrescan. If I use MyPod to download the podcasts, then fire up SDrescan, my podcasts appear in Music, where I can easily make a playlist or just play them.

The Apple way, if you have a problem, there is an app for that. Well, maybe, and probably not if it involves core iPhone functionality that doesn't meet your needs. The Android way, there might be an app that does what you need. Or there might be a set of apps that can work together to solve your particular problem. Things are tinkerable. You don't have to tinker, but you can.

Looking forward to seeing this on an Android tablet

Wired has a story today on Apple's removal of the Scratch app. A year ago when I was telling my Mac friends that the App Store approval chokepoint for the iPhone platform was pure evil and that I wished Apple every conceivable bit of grief for anointing itself censor in chief, I could not have imagined a more perfect example.

The developer terms and conditions are just fine for approval into Apple's App Store, provided that they don't limit end-users' ability to install what they want. But they do, because end-users have no such ability, short of jailbreaking their iPhones, voiding the warranty and violating the terms they agreed to.

There's no reason for most of the restrictive end-user and developer terms in their respective contracts, other than to guarantee Apple unnatural secondary revenue streams over which it has absolute control. But hey, 12.9 million of you out there signed up to work for Apple last quarter. And I'll plead guilty too. Before they started acting belligerently with the rights they had reserved, I signed up for two of the damned things. My Mom still loves hers and my grandmother would like nothing more than to get mine as a hand-me-down.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 6 and 7

I ordered the home and car docks  today. One thing I noticed on the order page was that a replacement battery is $25. And users can replace it themselves. Magic!

Scott asked about the GPS. Just opened the Maps app and it had me within 4 meters after about 30 seconds. I hope to try turn by turn directions later this week when the car dock arrives.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 5 -- Music and Clock

I ended Sunday with 68% battery. But -- big but -- the phone was plugged into my computer for awhile Sunday, so it got to recharge some. With podcasts downloaded directly by the phone, I don't foresee syncing as often in the middle of the day as with my iPhone.

Before going to bed, I made a little playlist to listen to, then plugged the headphone into my iHome speaker. I plugged in the charger too. The Clock app makes a really neat alarm clock. I mentioned that brightness button previously. It sets the brightness of the screen very low. The screen will remain on when the Clock app is running the foreground and the device is plugged. It's very easy to read in the middle of the night. I tried to prop the phone up on its side -- what I really need is a business card holder, which I'm sure I have 20 of somewhere!

One thing I need to figure out is how to get the Clock to play its alarm through the headphones rather than (or in addition to) the phone's built in speaker. As nicely as I propped up the phone, it ended up on its back, so the alarm was muffled.

Another thing I miss from the iPhone is the timer alarm. My morning routine is (1) alarm at 5:15, (2) alarm at 5:30, (3) if I don't get up, hit countdown timer for 20 minutes. The problem with having a set alarm at 5:45 is if I do get up, then that one is going off while I'm in the shower.

One possibility I see here is to port my Alltock Procrastinators' Clock. Now that would be a kick-ass alarm clock!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Creating Playlists in Music app

I figured this was going to be a challenge. One thing I really love about my iPhone is the way it lets me create an "On the Go" playlist without having to bring up my media server computer in a Screen Sharing window, create the playlist in iTunes, add songs to it, then resync my iPhone. On iPhone, what you go is go to the "On the Go" playlist, then you enter an "add songs" mode where you pick out the songs that you want. You can't rename this playlist, and it gets demoted to "On the Go 1" (or "On the Go 29" eventually) after you sync. But you can really tell that Apple thought through how to make these playlists easy... back before the iPhone and iPod Touch.

In the Music app on Nexus One, as you're browsing your library, and you stumble on a song, you tap and hold. It brings up a menu, with an "add to playlist" option. You click it and then select a playlist, or create a new one. They even let you give your new playlist a name. Imagine that.

Another thing I discovered is that I can set any song to be my phone ringtone. Click the song, hold. select "Set as phone ringtone". More on ringtones later. I'm trying to figure out how to buy them from the iTunes Store </sarcasm>.

What does "Don't be Evil" mean?

Something I see oft repeated lately in Mac circles is that Google's "Don't be evil" motto is just hollow and meaningless. In actuality, it has a much deeper meaning than you might think. Paul Buchheit, the originator of the phrase, describes it to EconTalk as follows (rough transcript):
Buchheit credited with the phrase "Don't be evil." True? Any other significance? Yes, true. Company meeting in early 2001, trying to decide on company values. Typically bland, forgettable company values. Took on a life of its own. Has a lot of value: gives everyone in the company license to question the decisions. Important process; often attitude is that it's not your job to worry about that, it's your job to shut up and do what you are told. Can quit, but better to question than quit. Everyone had permission, created a more thoughtful organization.
 You can listen to the entire fascinating podcast here.

And here is what Steve Jobs thinks of the mantra. In a closed meeting with Apple employees after introducing the iPad in January, he called it bullshit. Of course he'd think it was bullshit! For example, isn't there a single person in that company who thinks the war on Flash is a bad idea? Yet we hear no audible dissent from the entire company, or even, surprisingly, from Apple-centered publications! Is there not a single person in that company who sees the utterly destructive folly of disallowing MIT's educational Scratch app? Apple delisted it because it lets essentially anyone (like your kids) create an iPhone app.

Even my Apple Store contact, when I needled him about Flash not being on iPad, told me, "Brad, we believe that Flash offers a sub-par experience, consumes too much battery, and is too crash prone for our customers." So I asked him whether customers should be able to decide that for themselves and he said, "Brad, that is what we believe." I can't wait to ask him why Apple doesn't want to inspire kids to program on their devices anymore!

I decided to switch to Nexus One because I didn't want to be a walking billboard for Apple anymore. But I'm speaking out against Apple because (oh, irony) their leader is a cancer on the industry.

Facing the Music

Perhaps the most compelling thing about the iPhone, and the reason I bought mine, is that it integrates top notch music player with phone. I used to carry a Sanyo M1 flip phone (great phone, BTW) and an iPod Touch. The Touch was for music and email. The Sanyo was for phone and photos. Having just one device in the cell phone pocket of my shorts was most of the appeal of the iPhone. Syncing music and podcasts with iTunes is easy with the iPhone.

So it's time to face the music with Nexus One. First, I plugged my Nexus One into my MacBook Pro. The flash disk did not mount automatically. Reading the manual, I learned that you have to deal with a notification on the Nexus One that dismounts the compact flash card so the computer can mount it. That makes sense. It also leaves the Nexus One usable while syncing, unlike the iPhone.

Once the drive was mounted, I noticed immediately that iPhoto was ready to transfer my photos. That should not have surprised me, but it was nice. The superior camera on Nexus One is all win!

One way the Nexus One differs from iPhone and iPods is how it deal with music on the device. On iPod and iPhone, the music files are organized and indexed by iTunes on your computer during the sync process. I know way too much about this having reverse engineered much of it in the iPod Photo days to develop a vertical app that would have allowed hotels to manage fleets of iPods to be leant to guests. Unfortunately, we never found a customer.

On Nexus One, you just copy files over, and the player apps figure things out. So I opened up the Finder and browsed to my extensive iTunes library and started copying artists I wanted. I have far more than 4GB of music, so I had to be selective. I also skipped over artists that I knew I bought from iTunes Store more than a year ago, because the files would be DRM encumbered. As I write this, I'm copying about 3GB over the home wireless network from my media server, through my MBP, and onto the Nexus One.

This process is easy with music, and it's a once in a while process, because my music collection is fairly static. I might add a couple of albums a month. With podcasts, this process wouldn't work well on a day to day basis, because I'd want to remove old episodes, copy new ones, etc. Moving podcast management to the Nexus One will solve this problem, but may present others. It is nice having the complete archive of EconTalk on my media server, so I can pull up a classic episode when I want to listen again without needing 5 or 10 minutes to download.

OK, my copying is almost done... So I unmount the drive from my Mac, then go up to notifications on Nexus One and turn USB off. Then the moment of truth, starting the Music app and seeing what it does with all that music. It quickly displays available music and appears to scan through the files and update what's available as it finds things. The process took about 15 seconds. I know I copied over some DRM'd music, and it just skips processing it.

So copying music is easy enough if you know where iTunes hides its files. I'll do a separate post on synchronization software.

Day 4

Today was voicemail day. I finished off by setting up my Google Voice number and adding a little widget to my page. If you want to leave a comment or give me an idea of something to compare between iPhone and Nexus One, feel free to use that too.

As best I can tell, Google Voice is not available yet in Canada. Some Android users up there have found some creative ways to get visual voicemail on their phones, including hooking up with for cheap VOIP forwarding to voicemail services in the USA like This company has apps for both iPhone and Android, so you could try out the whole system before switching. But this is supposed to be easy! Blame it on your telco.

One review of Android I skimmed today suggested the AMOLED screen was terribly difficult to read outdoors, and the iPhone's backlit display was better. I hadn't noticed much of an issue, but I also hadn't spent much time looking at the N1 screen outside and we've been cloudy here in SoCal all week. I'll look into this in more detail soon.

Finally, my battery is 32% tonight. I spent a couple hours on the phone today and played with all this Google Voice stuff. Also listened to Pandora channels for Run D.M.C. and The Lonely Island walking the dog for an hour.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Figuring Out Voicemail, WOW!!!!

Like I said in my Day 3 post, I'm not voicemail guy. My greeting message is usually totally obscure. Right now, it's the play-by-play call of Brett Favre throwing an interception in the NFC Championship game. My favorite voicemail I've received lately is my grandmother, totally confused by it, talking to my grandfather about whether they have my correct phone number or whether maybe I just don't like getting voicemails. She hit the nail on the head, and I have since explained it to her :-).

Yesterday, I wondered about voicemail though, iPhone users know about visual voicemail. It makes it so you don't have to dial in to check voicemail. They just appear on your screen as they come in. I had tried to set up Google Voice on the evening of day 1, but got distracted or scared or something. But yesterday, I realized that if I'm in a dead zone and an important call is missed, I'd be hosed.

So today on another blog, Charlie asked me about Visual Voicemail. I'm here to take the arrows for you guys so I decided to figure it out.

Google Voice is the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

I went through the set up wizard, had it set Google as my voicemail provider, then tested it out. From my home phone, I called my cell phone and left a voicemail. 2 minutes later, I got an email to my gmail account with this in the body along with the sound itself:

Hello, Just testing my voicemail. Goodbye.
Then I asked my friend Bob to leave me a message. Here's what it did with it:

Hey Brad, This is just calling to say hi, just roll over the all copies on here and they can another cup of coffee. Anything enjoying the sunshine bright and sunny herein Tennessee. So I turn what you're up to. Yeah, I know that the did say that you'regoogle voicemail. Subscriber is not available right now so that's what I'm saying.I'll talk to you Later. Bye Bye.

It doesn't transcribe perfectly, but I can really get the gist of what's going on. There is nothing like this at all on the iPhone. Apple rejected it. I told you all how I used to feel about voicemail above. This has changed my mind completely. I have to give it more of a try, but I think I could almost prefer if some people leave me a rambling voicemail now :-).

So, a week ago, I was willing to spend $580 because I was frustrated with Apple and pretty much didn't want to be a walking billboard for them with my iPhone and white earbuds. After 2 days with my Nexus One, I changed my plan about proceeding with caution. Today, I'm here to tell you that if voicemail is an important part of your business, it might be worth the $580 to switch right now to something that just does it right.

Day 3

If you followed posts yesterday, you know that I spent the morning listening to I-Heart-Radio, messing with the camera, comparing clocks, etc. Had to get some real work done too, and was on the phone for a couple hours through the day. I picked up an audio cable so I could hook my N1 to my iHome speaker I've been using with my iPhone. I need to do a post on that topic soon.

I also realized that I may need to figure out voicemail. It's not a huge item for me because I just return missed calls and insist that most people who need for anything important email their emergencies. But I know voicemail is important to most people, especially those who use Visual Voicemail on iPhone.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why I'm doing this...

There is a wonderful website called The Blue Logo which graphically reminds us what the problem with Apple is. Imagine what the world would look like without Flash. Steve Jobs has and has force fed it to iPhone and iPad users.

I never would have even looked at Android if Apple wasn't so ridiculously controlling of its mobile platform. That violated my expectations of Apple. After a few days with my Nexus One, I'm starting to care a lot less.

Alarm Clock -- For Scott on "I'm with Adobe"

Scott Barnes asked me about the clock. Here's what he posted on Facebook:
Do you take requests? I occassionally use "Alarm Clock" on the iPhone. I adjust the brighness down to the lowest setting, and the black background on the display is still gray. I suspect the Nexus with its whateverOLED will have black devoid of light, but I'd be interested in knowing!
First to answer your question. I selected the black with bright Nexus One logo for my wallpaper. On the iPhone, I went to Settings and turned brightness down to minimum. I started Flip Clock on the iPhone and Clock on Nexus One. Clock has a little brightness button that toggles minimum brightness. So I did that. I went into a dark room, and could definitely see the difference. You get much deeper blacks on Nexus One, as you'd expect from the AMOLED display. Then I switched back to the active wallpaper I like. And even that didn't feel like it was leaking light.

Here are a couple of pictures showing how the brightness button works on Nexus One. These are taken in full indoor light with the iPhone. The brightness button is in the top right and looks like a half moon. It's nice that you don't have to go to settings to make things less bright for while you sleep.

Playback is a bitch

As I noted in another post, I am a sports radio degenerate. The first Hack Off starts in 4 minutes as I write this. So what better time to compare some playback issues between Nexus One and iPhone?

As I work on the MacBook Pro, I like to have my phone next to me on the desk playing a podcast or some sports talk radio. Built in speakers are fine for this as talk doesn't have a lot of dynamic range. My phone is also an information appliance. It's faster to bring up the Amazon app on iPhone and Nexus One than to open a browser window sometimes.

Nexus One
The speaker is on the back of the phone, near the top. So you lose about half the volume if you rest the phone on its back. And you lose the screen if you put it face down. At left, you can see my improvised ceramic Nexus One dock.

Note that with multi-tasking, I can listen to I-Heart-Radio and have my home screen available for other tasks. I can pick up the Nexus One and use another app and the show keeps playing.

The iPhone has its speaker on the bottom of the device. This has repeatedly bugged me since I got it. Because sometimes I'll be listening to a podcast and playing a game like Farkle or Scrabble or Doodle Jump and I want to rest the bottom of the phone in the cupped palm of my left hand, but that blocks the speaker.

It's a small thing, but the HTC crew got it better with speaker placement. Nor perfect but better. If they moved the speaker slot up 1 cm to the curve at the top of the back of the phone, I probably wouldn't need the ceramic dock.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A little change of plan

The plan was to alternate phones for 30 days and make a decision at the end. I think I'll be leaving the SIM card in the Nexus One. It might be that I was really bored with the iPhone or it might be that the Nexus One just feels better enough to not look back. I'll keep updating the blog. There is still a lot to discover and learn. And a lot to talk about. Some of my peers have suggested Nexus One is a phone for nerds, while iPhone is intended for regular people. We're going to explore that theme a lot in the coming days.

Day 2

Today, I listened to podcasts from about 6:30 am to 9:00 am, then i-heart-radio from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm with a few phone call breaks in between. Yeah, I'm a sports talk junkie. So shoot me. I pay for the Jim Rome premium membership so I can get commercial free podcasts. More often than not, I listen at the gym in the afternoon or walking the dogs in the evening. With the iPhone, I had to sync up with my living room media server to get the latest Jim Rome podcasts, as getting them directly from the phone did not work via iTunes -- a combination of the podcast not being listed in iTunes' database and no way to specify my log in credentials. My other favorite podcast is EconTalk. While it's listed and not login protected, it often weighs in over the download limit enforced by the iPhone for 3G. So I usually have to sync with my living room server to get that on iPhone.

It took a few tries, but I finally found a podcast app in the Marketplace that could handle the Jim Rome podcast called MyPOD. To make it work though, I had to manually enter the feed URL. And I haven't read all the instructions, so the background/foreground playing and lots of the controls are mysterious to me. I've used many similarly confusing apps on iPhone too. One app I really liked but that wouldn't handle authentication was Google Listen. It's one of those side projects that Google employees are encouraged to do. It's open source. And it's really a nice demonstration of how to make a clean, simple mobile app. But it won't handle my favorite podcast :(.

Rome-ee comes on live in SoCal at 9, so I grabbed I-Heart-Radio to listen live. It works exactly like the iPhone app. As a platform straddler, I really appreciate that, despite all the animosity coming from Apple over cross-platform apps. Those of you who stay loyal to your iPhone, remember, it's your iPhone, not Apple's. If you like an app but it breaks some user interface rules that some platform engineer at Apple wrote down, think about whether you like that app because it breaks the rule, rather than in spite of breaking it.

A couple downsides I found today... First, the headset does not initiate voice recognition. And neither can a Bluetooth headset. This will mean that I'll need to car dock to safely place a call while driving. Nexus One does have a very nifty car mode that gives easy access to voice dialing, maps, and directions! To be fair in comparison, when I purchased my iPhone last August, I had to wait about 3 weeks for Apple to unleash voice control. The headset control also doesn't work quite as documented. The discussion forum seems to indicate this might be a problem specific to the AT&T version of the phone.

Second, no Skype app. I did find an app called Fring which claimed to do Skype chats and voice. I have not tried it yet.

I really love the screen. I've powered the iPhone up a few times to get a phone number today. It looks dull to me, lots of muted slate blue. Nexus One is really vibrant!

So one of the big concerns Apple has with letting users and developers do what they like is battery use. It's now 9:30pm. I've been messing with the Nexus One for an hour as I wrote this post. It hasn't been plugged in for 15 hours and 6 minutes. Battery level is 19%. Maybe instead of suing HTC, Apple should have them build the iPhone. (That's my way of calling bullshit on Apple. I'm sure it will be a recurring theme.)

Until next time...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Nexus One is not an iPhone clone or rip-off

One charge I've seen repeatedly over in the forums is that Nexus One is an iPhone rip off. I do understand where the typical Apple fanboy is coming from, thinking that Apple is the most innovative company in the world and that Apple always gets screwed by the copiers. But in this case, there's no truth. A good percentage of iPhone users wouldn't want Android. It feels way more flexible and powerful than iPhone, while iPhone has an attractive simplicity if that's what you're after.

Android switches contexts much easier than iPhone. In iPhone, contexts come from apps, and right now, it's one app at a time. So if I'm walking the dog and listening to Pandora, I need to leave that app and open the email app to check email. Then I need to leave email and open TwitBird Pro to check twitter. On N1, Pandora keeps playing and my email keeps checking itself every 15 minutes (the setting I chose), alerting me with a little doorbell if something new came in. I can flip over to the Facebook app or a Twitter app and see what's up there while all this other stuff keeps going. iPhone right now feels like it has a mostly one track mind. Android can really do all those things I need in the background and let me know when one of them needs my attention.

So back to the topic of N1 being an iPhone rip-off. In no way whatsoever. N1 has four haptic buttons on the bottom, not just 1 main push button. It's got a little thumb jogger/clicker below that. N1 has a nifty little internal "bounce" to indicate that an action has been done. Of course, the OSs come from entirely different places. I think with iPhone OS 4, we're seeing Apple play a lot of catch-up, wrapped in the message of taking its time to really think out all these features. It's still catch-up.

So if you really believe that nonsense about N1 being an iPhone clone, you haven't spent 1//2 day with an N1. And if you actually have spent 1/2 day with an N1 and still think that, you're making crap up to suit your agenda.

Day 1

First off, I lied about the SIM card. It goes under the battery and requires removal of the battery to install or remove.

The screen is beautiful. Comparing to the iPhone 3GS, the N1 looks sharp and vibrant, while the iPhone looks washed out and boring. The phone comes preloaded with a few apps on the main screens. I quickly figured out how to get to the whole catalog of apps installed on the phone. You can actually place an app on multiple screens. So maybe I'll customize one screen for work -- email, voice dialer, messaging, etc. And maybe one screen for walking the dogs -- email, Pandora, Twitter, etc.

There is a lot of talk these days in iPhone circles about how everything has to be done Apple's way to preserve battery life. If there's much/any truth to it, then Apple is a decade behind HTC in terms of efficient hardware. When the screen is on, there are "active wallpapers". I settled on the little pond, where the leaves fall and make small ripples, or you can touch and make big ripples. Completely silly, but that wallpaper is running in a Java virtual machine. It's not even machine specific code like apps on the iPhone.

Another thing the N1 does now is multi-tasking. I was surprised to find out that you don't actually quit applications on the N1. It will quit them for you when it needs to. So as I walked the dog this evening for an hour, I had Pandora pumping in Run-D.M.C. and the email app alerting me every 10 minutes of new messages. All that exchanging data over the 3G radio. I've been exploring the phone heavily since it completed its charge at around 3.30pm. It's now 10.30pm and I've got 40% of the battery left.

The camera has a flash, so it takes indoor and low light photos much better than iPhone. Not sure about the megapixels offhand.

Now the downside... If you use your iPhone for your own music, podcasts, and audiobooks, you're going to be instantly disappointed with N1. I need to look into Missing Sync from Mark/Space to see what they've done on iTunes integration. I looked in Android Marketplace for a good podcast app. I like my EconTalk and Jim Rome podcasts. Giant market opportunity!! The 5-star apps were impossible to figure out. That said, podcasts don't work well on iPhone if your podcast isn't in Apple's index. I can't get new episodes of the Jim Rome show on the iPhone -- I have to sync with iTunes.

It's here! Some notes...

The Nexus One comes in a simple, white brick box. The phone itself feels lighter and looks slimmer than the iPhone. It has a removable battery that needs to be inserted and charged before using the phone. So right now, it's charging. You just charge until the amber indicator light turns green. Simple enough.

I turned it on after plugging it in -- couldn't resist. The screen is amazingly vibrant, I'd say almost magical. Nexus One uses an AMOLED display, while iPhone uses an LCD display. I can't wait to see how readability compares outdoors.

It comes with cheap but cute pouch with an embossed Android logo. Nice little touch.

The SIM card gets inserted in the battery compartment without having to remove the battery.

My first overall impression comparing the iPhone and the Nexus One. I can see why Apple sued HTC. And what I mean is that HTC builds an amazing little device with several thoughtful details, like the removable battery and the SIM card above the battery. If Android achieves (or has achieved) software and ease of use parity with iPhone OS, I doubt iPhone can remain competitive at the high end. Apple does not know how to build phone hardware like this. Nexus One is two steps up.

More when it's charged...

Patiently waiting...

Which one of you jacked by FedEx delivery guy?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My first list of things to check out.

Don't get me wrong. The iPhone was a breakthrough and tend-setting product. After carrying an iPod Touch and a flip phone for a year and a half, I really wanted them to be one single device. And that is why I got my iPhone, switched a family plan to AT&T, etc. It is the politics of Apple that have prompted me to look for a suitable replacement.

While iPhone was a breakthrough device, and my reason for getting the Nexus One was Apple shenanigans, iPhone is by no means perfect, or more importantly, perfect for me. Here is my short list of where iPhone falls short for me and I wonder if Nexus One will do better.

1. I spend a lot of time at friends' and family members' homes near where I live. At one place, I get great reception outside, but nothing unless I'm close to the front window inside. I'll be using the same SIM card to do the comparison, and I would not be totally surprised if the result is different with the Nexus One. I'm not at all knowledgeable about wireless frequencies and their idiosyncrasies, but I know that the construction of the friend's home is very similar to that of my own home, and I get 5 bars outside there.

2. Can I find some interesting Android app on an independent website, download it, and side install it on Nexus One. How much work is involved? Can I do it directly from the phone, or do I need to cable up to my latptop?

3. Does Nexus One have voice recognition for dialing? Is it as easy to invoke as the iPhone's? How well does it recognize my strong 6th generation native Californian accent? iPhone does about 4/5 times. If it mis-recognizes a command, is it easy to cancel even if you're driving? The iPhone misrecognizes my sisters' name quite often and I end up dialing a different "Jen" who is a business contact that I'd just purge from address book except I do talk to her every few months or so. If I'm driving (where VR is supposed to make things safer for me), sometimes it's a bitch to cancel the call. I've ended up just powering the iPhone off because it wasn't safe to look to find the "end call" button.

Those are my first three issues that I'll specifically focus on. Can anyone think of any other super obvious tests?

Order Update

I ordered my Nexus One phone with engraving at 4:37 pm Monday. It shipped from Indianapolis today at 9:00 am with free overnight FedEx delivery. It is expected to arrive Wednesday by 3:00 pm. Signature required, of course.

So far, so good.

Monday, April 12, 2010


When I look at the control Apple now wants to exert over the iPhone software ecosystem, I'm disgusted. I feel stupid for not trusting my instincts and seeing it coming. But last summer, I had to have an iPhone. Two in fact. I gave one to my Mom.

So the time finally came to buy an Android phone and see how it compares. The Nexus One for AT&T's GSM network was about $580 engraved and delivered. Perhaps it's a high price to assuage my guilt, likely a price few of the most disgusted iPhone users would pay. But we need to know if there are realistic alternatives, and I'm here to help.

The only thing I promise is to be honest. If it turns out that the iPhone is in any or every way better than the Nexus One, I'll let you know. But I won't mislead you about my main bias. Open is far more desirable to me than closed. The attitude of Google is that my Nexus One belongs to me, and I can decide what I want to put on it. Apple thinks they know best, and that's a huge turn-off. I'm still steaming over the rejection of the South Park app more than a year ago -- and I still bought two iPhones in the meantime. Go figure.

I invite your comments. I'm sure I'll spark heated debate and nasty flames. And that's fine. Just do us all a favor and let us know in your posts if you've ever owned or used any of the phones discussed. That work for you?

My Nexus One should be here by Friday! I'm ready to dive in!!