Fortnightly output: Google and ITA, Android APIs, digital-TV converter boxes, cable-box power use, NFC, Android File Transfer

I had originally thought I’d post my usual weekly summary last Sunday, but then I remembered that I was on vacation–and besides, it would have been a short list then. So instead you get a two-for-one special, and I get a chance to use “fortnightly” for the first time on this blog.

6/4/2013: Remember When Google Was Going To Annex The Travel-Search Industry?, Disruptive Competition Project

One of the first ideas I pitched to the DisCo people was a look back at the predictions of doom that we all heard–and that I found somewhat credible–when Google proposed to buy the travel-search firm ITA Software. When I finally got around to writing it, I was surprised to see how little of a dent Google has made in the market for airfare queries.

SmartBear Android APIs report6/5/2013: Google I/O Android News: Location, Location, Location (Plus Cloud Messaging and Bluetooth), Software Quality Matters

A friend edits this blog, hosted by the software-testing firm SmartBear, and was looking for a report about the new Android application programming interfaces Google had unveiled at I/O. This was a lot more technical than I usually get, but I’m glad I did it. And I’m looking forward to seeing apps built on these new APIs, in particular those involving location services.

6/9/2013: How to get an analog TV set back on the air, USA Today

A friend on Facebook had bought a flat-panel set just before they all started shipping with digital tuners and wanted to know what her options were. And so, once again, I wrote a how-to piece about tuning in digital signals. I didn’t want to leave out cable subscribers, so I added a tip about a new initiative by major cable and satellite providers to ship boxes that use less electricity–which won’t help existing subscribers unless they ask for an upgrade.

6/16/2013: What exactly is ‘NFC’ wireless?, USA Today

My phone includes a Near Field Communication transmitter, and I’m still waiting for a chance to use it outside of specialty environments like tech trade shows. This column explains why, and adds a tip about Google’s Android File Transfer app for Macs that is really a plea for Google to update the thing so it doesn’t fit in so poorly with OS X.

I didn’t post anything on Sulia while I was out (thought about it, decided not having a work obligation outweighed passing up a week’s worth of stipend). But before and after my travel, I summed up a briefing about that cable-box efficiency program, compared the AT&T and Sprint versions of the Galaxy S 4, explained how car2go was more useful to me in Portland and Seattle than back home in D.C., and reviewed an Android app that can get a GPS fix on your position from 32,000 feet up and at 550 miles an hour.

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Four further Windows 8 issues

It’s now more than half a month since I reviewed Windows 8, and close to three weeks since I installed the shipping version of Microsoft’s newest PC operating system on my ThinkPad.

I’m still wrapping my head around how much time I’ll spend in its new interface (FYI, this weekend’s USA Today column covers ways to bring back a Start menu), but I’m also dealing with some smaller-scale issues. If you’ve got insight on how to fix them, please share it in a comment.

  • I’m hoping this is just my laptop, but WiFi looks outright broken. It keeps losing a working IP address, then won’t fix it on its own; I have to disconnect and reconnect manually. The problem can’t be my router (the Wirecutter-endorsed Asus RT-N66u), since no other device in my home exhibits this behavior.
  • The new Calendar app doesn’t seem capable of displaying anything but a default Google calendar account. That renders it useless to detail freaks like me who set up separate work and home calendars. I’d like to find a solution simpler than (I’m not making this up) impersonating an iPhone.
  • The desktop’s right-click “Send To” menu lists an option to send a document via fax–even though my laptop, like almost all sold now, doesn’t have a modem. (I hope the remedy I outlined in 2008 still works to remove that line.) The same menu doesn’t offer the Bluetooth file transfer that this ThinkPad does support, and which did appear in the Send To menu in Windows 7.
  • Is there really no way to have Windows set the time zone by the computer’s location? I’m tired of realizing I’ve had a computer stuck in Pacific time for days after I got home, even as OS X has been figuring out time zones more or less automatically since 2009.

 

Weekly output: Bluetooth and cheap smartphone data, Galaxy Nexus and Nitro HD, recycling, Google privacy

I did more work this week than the list below suggests–oh, to think of the days when an article a day counted as a healthy, if not heavy, journalistic workload–but you’ll have to wait a bit to see those two longer features.

1/22/2012: Tip: Bluetooth not just for headsets, USA Today

I don’t know why more people don’t use Bluetooth to beam files between devices; it’s quicker than using a USB cable or a flash drive. So I used this tip to remind people of that–and to nag Apple for its continued failure to enable this feature in iOS. The rest of the column revisits a question I addressed in the Post two years ago: Can I get a smartphone without the expensive data plan?

1/23/2012: Galaxy Nexus and Nitro HD Get Torture Tested, Discovery News

I first intended to review Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus in December but then decided to try it alongside another LTE Android phone, LG’s Nitro HD. Then CES got in the way, and finally I had to figure out a glitch that kept the Nitro from using LTE. But the delays did contribute to a better-grounded review than usual. I also may have found an answer to the awful standby battery life I and others have seen on the Nexus: Turning off WiFi seems to allow the operating system to sleep properly.

1/26/2012: Eyeing Your Electronics Recycling Options, CEA Digital Dialogue

Speaking of revisiting old Post stories, this one returns to the familiar topic of “how do I get rid of this old TV nobody wants”? The piece notes some progress on this front–my county now does curbside pickup of electronics and Best Buy stopped charging to recycle TVs up to 32 inches–but criticizes computer vendors for failing to provide fact0ry-reset options on a par with those available on most smartphones.

1/27/2012: Your Privacy On Google: Don’t Panic, Do Think, Discovery News

Google neatly solved the problem of “what do I write about?” by announcing a change to its privacy policy (first written up by my old Post colleague Cecilia Kang) that apparently freaked out a large proportion of the Internet–even though it’s not that big of a change. I tried to point that out in this post, written with the benefit of a day or two to reflect on the news and gather some context. Google still doesn’t seem thrilled with the piece but declined my invitation to leave a comment on it, so I added one summarizing their objection and then cross-posted it to Google+. The discussion that followed on the latter site is worth a read.

My next camera

Several years ago, I decided that my only practical response to the gadget industry’s unreasonable rate of obsolescence was to impose unreasonable purchase requirements of my own. That is, once I’d gotten comfortable with a phone, computer or other device, I would insist that its replacement vastly exceed its performance in a few significant ways–this way, I might wait longer to upgrade, but then I’d feel vaguely like I’d won.

I bought my current digital camera back in the summer of 2007, and by the usual camera metrics I’m clear to upgrade: I can easily get double the zoom lens as well as wide-angle capability, doubt the resolution, faster shot-to-shot performance, smart picture modes like automated panorama generation, and high-definition video recording with stereo sound. And this next camera would also be thinner than my current model (even if it probably wouldn’t take AA batteries).

Unfortunately, the camera on my phone–while inferior to my four-year-old “real” camera in every measure of picture quality–also geotags photos automatically and allows for near-instant sharing on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other online service with a phone-friendly site or app.

All this is to make clear my ulterior motive in trying out a round of cameras over the past few months, as written up for Discovery News on Monday. I’d hoped that a clear winner would emerge among the four models I tried there, three with built-in GPS–Canon’s PowerShot SX230 HS, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-ZS10 and Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G–and one that borrows geotagging from a nearby Android phone, Samsung’s SH100.

(I also tried a fifth model, Nikon’s 36x ultrazoom P500, but wound up only having room to mention it in passing in the Discovery piece.)

No such luck. The Canon and the Panasonic ruled themselves out for sluggish GPS performance or bad battery life, while the conceptually-impressive Samsung flunked for its clumsy, expensive system of pairing with too-few Android phones. If I had to buy a phone among this bunch today, the Casio would be the likeliest to land on my credit-card bill–but I’m annoyed by the fact that I can’t recharge its battery by plugging the camera into a computer’s USB port or any other USB charger, much less the fact that Casio still seems to think it’s okay to use a proprietary USB plug in the year 2011.

But I’d also worry, given the average useful life of a camera, that in a year or so, we might finally see the camera-to-phone fusion prototyped in the Samsung done right. (Hint: Use Bluetooth instead of WiFi to avoid making the user pay for tethering on the phone.) So it’s easier for me to wait and limp along with my four-year-old model–which, aside from its eroding battery life, continues to take decent pictures. How much longer do you think I’ll be doing that? Any other cameras I should consider?