Weekly output: LG Optimus F3, Samsung Ativ S Neo, Galaxy Gear (x2), piracy, e-books, iOS 7 on an iPhone 4, apps near me

Courtesy of a few stories I’d written earlier all getting published in in the same 30-hour period, Monday and Tuesday had me looking vastly more productive than I normally am.

9/30/2013: LG Optimus F3 (T-Mobile), PCMag.com

This compact Android phone had some terrific battery life, but LG’s questionable additions to the stock interface were an especially poor fit on its smaller screen.

9/30/2013: Samsung Ativ S Neo (Sprint), PCMag.com

A phone vendor can’t alter the Windows Phone interface, so this Samsung phone did not suffer from the UI alterations I grumble about when reviewing this manufacturer’s Android phones.

10/1/2013: Galaxy Gear Watch’s Time Has Not Yet Come, Discovery News

The first of two reviews of Samsung’s connected Android watch took a higher-level assessment of the thing and suggested ways that upcoming smart watches could do better.

Boing Boing Galaxy Gear review

10/1/2013: Samsung Galaxy Gear is a timepiece with an agenda, Boing Boing

In this review, I could get a little more into the weeds. I also had fun coming up with that photo–the corrugated tube those watches rest on is a bendable flashlight you can wear around your neck for hands-free illumination.

10/1/2013: NetNames Piracy Study Follow-Up: Even Incorrigible Infringers Can Still Be Good Customers, Disruptive Competition Project

The author of the study I questioned at DisCo two weeks ago wanted to chat further; our conversation led to me reading a different piracy study that found that habitual infringers are also great paying customers.

USAT Best Years story10/1/2013: Turn the Page, USA Today Best Years

I wrote an introduction to e-books for USAT’s quarterly magazine for 50-and-over women. I made sure to spell out the usage limits created by e-book DRM early in the story (on sale in print, not available online), but I could not stop Amazon from shipping an improved Kindle Paperwhite a few days after the story went to print.

10/6/2013: How to help iOS 7 run faster on an older iPhone, USA Today

A reader query about sluggish typing on an iPhone 4 led to me to offer some general suggestions about improving iOS 7′s performance on older models–but then a reader pointed me to the unlikely fix of disabling iCloud’s “Documents & Data” sync, which he swore fixed the exact problem the first reader had reported. I left a comment passing on that tip, and a third reader said it worked for him as well.

On Sulia, I chronicled my so-far-unsuccessful attempts to set up an account at HealthCare.gov, reported that the clunky USB 3.0 connector on the Galaxy Note 3 doesn’t charge the phone all that much faster from an outlet, noted a case of my agreeing with one of the RIAA’s tech-policy positions, and called out Samung and Sprint for including an unnecessary second browser on the Note 3 and then tarting it up with an adware toolbar.

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Belated updates to this year’s stories

You don’t have to run a correction when a story changes after you’ve written about it–but it is polite to follow up. Here’s a not-so-short list of updates to stories I’ve done this year.

Old stories sepia toneWhen I wrote that Google’s new, unified privacy policy would almost certainly be recast to let users opt out of having the company assemble a detailed portrait of them based on their use of separate Google services, I was wrong; that has yet to happen.

Sonic.net’s groundbreaking fiber-to-the-home service–a steal at $69.95 a month for 1 billion bits per second–seems to be off to a fine start in Sonoma County, but the planned expansion to San Francisco’s Sunset District is still on the way. It hasn’t shown up as an advertised offering on this Santa Rosa, Calif., Internet provider’s home-services page either.

Remember when adjacent-friend-discovery apps were going to blow up after their moment in the sun at SXSW in March? Didn’t happen. Facebook bought Glancee (and has yet to do much publicly with its technology), while Highlight seems to have fallen off the map (maybe I’m not hanging out with the right crowd?).

The ethics of outsourced manufacturing, fortunately, have stayed in the headlines since I wrote about them in March for CEA. And we may even be seeing legitimate progress, to judge from the New York Times’ story earlier this week recounting upgrades in pay and working conditions at contract manufacturers Foxconn and Quanta’s Chinese factories.

I’m still waiting to see comparable progress in liberating e-books from “digital rights management.” The sci-fi publisher Tor/Forge–a subsidiary of Macmillan–went DRM-free in July, but other branches of the major publishing houses have clung to this self-defeating measure. 

After saying so many good things about the car2go car-sharing service–and seeing that story get picked up in a few other places–I have to confess that I, ahem, haven’t used the service since. Capital Bikeshare is even more convenient and cheaper for trips under two miles, plus I need to make my way into the District to jump into one of car2go’s Smart fortwo vehicles.

I tempered my praise for Sprint’s Evo 4G LTE by wondering how long its users would wait to get Google’s software updates. Answer: almost six months, the time it took HTC and Sprint to deliver the Android 4.1 release Google shipped in June.

I was pretty sure I’d buy a Nexus 7 tablet after liking it as much as I did in July. But now that I own an iPad mini, that purchase seems like it would be redundant. Am I making a mistake there?

After teeing off on Apple Maps in the first chapter of my iPhone 5 review for CNNMoney.com, I have to give Apple credit for fixing the two worst flaws I called out. It now lists the correct address for the Kennedy Center as its first search result and provides a route to Dulles Airport that don’t cross any runways. But it still doesn’t know about Yards Park or the new 11th Street Bridges across the Anacostia–and the latter omission means its directions will now send you on a closed stretch of freeway.

My upbeat review of Samsung’s $249 Google Chromebook noted some build-quality concerns, in the form of a loose corner of the screen bezel. I found out the hard way that it’s more delicate than that; its LCD is now broken, and I don’t even know how. (We do have a two-year-old at home, but it’s also possible that I dropped something on it.)

My advice about enabling multiple-calendar Google Calendar sync on an iOS device by setting up your Google account as a Microsoft Exchange account will soon be obsolete. Effective January 30, Google will no longer support Exchange syncing on new setups (although existing ones will still work). Fortunately, it’s also posted instructions to enable multiple-calendar sync without the Exchange workaround.

3/23/2013: Updated the link for the car2go review after the post vanished in a site redesign and, for CMS-driven reasons that escape me, could not be re-posted at the same address. 

How a Samsung phone and an iPad mini don’t mix

After accidentally invoking Siri on my iPad mini for the fifth time this morning, it hit me: The proprietary layout of buttons on the Samsung Galaxy Note II that I just reviewed is making me stupider at using Apple’s mobile devices.

ImageSamsung veers from the lineup of Android system buttons that Google established with last year’s Ice Cream Sandwich release: Instead of back, home and recent apps, arranged left to right, Samsung’s Android phones offer menu, home and back buttons. (LG also departs from the Android standard, but its back-home-menu array keeps the back button in the expected place.) To see your open apps, you have to press and hold the home button.

On my iPad mini, that same gesture opens Siri, while I have to tap the home button twice to see open apps.

(Yes, when I first wrote about ICS, I was skeptical about removing the menu button and thought that requiring a long press of home to see open apps was good enough. I was wrong: I rarely miss the menu button, while I hit the recent-apps button all the time.)

It’s an exasperating situation, and if I were to get a Samsung Android phone and keep my iPad I’d have to waste brain cells on memorizing this unnecessary difference. You can’t remap the system buttons on a Samsung phone or change Apple’s home-button behavior;  if you disable Siri a long press of the home button will instead bump you over to iOS’s search.

If, on the other hand, I get a phone with the regular ICS buttons–many vendors alter Google’s interface in other ways but stick with that lineup–I face a lot less confusion. At worst, I’d find myself pressing the phone’s home button twice and having nothing happen, which beats launching an unwanted app and hearing Siri’s “ding-ding” prompt.

So that’s one thing that I know will govern my next phone purchase.

Weekly output: iPad mini, iPad mini vs. Nexus 7 vs. Kindle Fire HD, Galaxy Note II, lost phones, deactivated phones

It’s been an interesting week for reader comments.

11/5/2012: The iPad Mini: Apple’s Big Little Tablet, Discovery News

As I wrote here yesterday, I’m liking Apple’s smaller tablet more than I thought I would, and didn’t mind saying so in this review. I don’t know why it didn’t incite the usual comments flame war (“Apple’s awesome!” “No, Apple sucks!”), much less what to make of the gibberish replies a couple of readers left. Was that a case of pocket-commenting, or were they confused about how to spam the comments?

11/7/2012: Tablet showdown: iPad mini vs. Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD, CNNMoney

I’ve been trying out Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD for several weeks, but I didn’t get around to writing about it until I did this comparison of it, the iPad mini and Google’s Nexus 7. I’m less impressed with the Seattle retail giant’s tablet efforts the second time around, while the Nexus 7 still holds up pretty well against the iPad mini.

I thought I might get some grief from readers for kicking the Kindle Fire HD to the curb like that, but instead I got several comments from irritated fans of… the BlackBerry PlayBook.

11/10/2012: Galaxy Note II Is More Than A Handful, Discovery News

Speaking of irritated fans, this dismissive review of Samsung’s latest oversized phone enraged a few Galaxy Note II partisans, who took to the comments to argue (paraphrasing loosely) that only limp-wristed losers would find this phone too big. One reader even wrote at length on on Google+ that most people don’t even use phones one-handed; I give him credit for saying so in a literate and civil manner, but I still have to regard that as the most delusional analysis I’ve seen since Karl Rove’s election-night math.

11/11/2012: How to find a lost or stolen smartphone, USA Today

I’ve been meaning to write this overview of find-my-phone apps for months, but the wireless carriers’ launch last week of a stolen-phone database finally got me to finish the job. The post also reminds readers that they can turn a deactivated smartphone into a poor man’s iPod touch that can also dial 911 in a pinch, a point I made in a CEA post last fall.

Surface and iPad mini: Keep or return?

A few months ago, I got over my longstanding objection to buying gadgets just so I could review them. It beats waiting for a distracted or picky PR department to send a loaner unit, and it ensures I get the same hardware any reader might buy.

But unless I’m going to become a one-man stimulus program for the electronics industry, I can’t keep everything I buy to test. When I tried the iPhone 5, for instance, I had to return the phone within Verizon Wireless’s 14-day trial to avoid sentencing myself to a two-year contract.

(Returning used devices usually entails a restocking fee, but it would take a lot of those to equal what I spent on the ONA conference fee alone, much less all the other expenses it takes to stay in business.)

That brings me to my two latest review purchases: Apple’s iPad mini and the Microsoft Surface.

Going into this, I might have picked the iPad as the one more likely to go. We already own an iPad, I’d been leaning towards getting the Nexus 7 as our smaller tablet, and the absence of restocking fees at Apple’s stores would make returning it a cost-free proposition. The Surface, on the other hand, would be a new type of device in my home, and it would also allow me to experience Windows 8′s interface on hardware designed for it.

But now I’m thinking I’ll keep the mini and return the Surface. It’s a great little device, especially for use away from home, and our iPad 2 is starting to run out of space between the apps I’ve put on it for test purposes and those my wife uses for her job. Meanwhile, I don’t need Microsoft’s tablet to test Windows RT apps when my ThinkPad’s copy of Windows 8 also runs them. The Surface itself is too heavy to carry around as a tablet; when I tried using it on my lap, the Touch Cover flexed distractingly with my typing and the kickstand didn’t stop the screen from wobbling back and forth.

Plus, my MacBook Air only weighs a pound more than the combined Surface and Touch Cover but can do a lot more. It also cost twice as much–but that money was spent long before I set foot in a Microsoft Store to buy a Surface.

So that’s what I think I’ll do. If you think I’m making a huge mistake, you have until tonight to talk me out of it in the comments.

11/11/12, 10:34 a.m. Welcome, Loop Insight readers! I did, in fact, return the Surface last night–and found myself next to another Surface buyer at Microsoft’s Pentagon City store who was doing the same thing, for about the same reasons. The clerk apologized for the tablet not meeting our expectations and suggested that the upcoming Surface Pro might be a better fit. He could be right.

Weekly output: iPad mini (x), Windows 8 (x2), Lightning cable, OS X updates

Was there any surprise about which two stories would dominate my time this week?

10/23/2012: New iPad Mini Eats Steve Jobs’ Words, Discovery News

My reaction to Apple’s announcement of a smaller iPad had to remind readers of Steve Jobs’ lengthy explanation two years ago of the functional impossibility of a quality tablet experience on a screen smaller than 10 inches.

10/23/2012: Apple’s iPad Mini much pricier than rival tablets, Fox 5 News

That evening, the folks at the local Fox station had me on to talk about the iPad mini. Our conversation focused on the gap between its $329 starting price and the $199 cost of two smaller tablets, Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD. I left out the iPad mini’s lack of a Retina display, but then again I’m not sure I’ll notice that when using the thing. (I’ll find out soon enough, as I pre-ordered one on Friday; if I don’t like it enough to keep after writing up my reviews, Apple doesn’t charge a restocking fee.)

On Wednesday the 24th, I moderated a good panel discussion with Potomac Tech Wire’s Paul Sherman, the Washington Business Journal’s Bill Flook and the Washington Post’s Steven Overly about how tech reporters interact with public-relations types. But there’s no record of this event, hosted by the PR agency Environics Communications, besides a round of tweets.

10/25/2012: Windows 8 release, Fox 5 News

Two days later I was back in WTTG’s newsroom–even standing on the same marker tape on the floor–to talk about the impending arrival of Microsoft’s Windows 8. I spent most of this brief hit talking about its new, wildly different interface and didn’t even mention Windows RT and the Surface tablet. Considering that Microsoft has papered the Gallery Place Metro station with ads for Surface, that might not have been the best call.

10/27/2012: Windows 8: Twice The Interface, Third The Price, Discovery News

This review was supposed to run on Friday, but a miserable all-nighter of an installation experience ensured I’d need more time. I’m glad I took it; the insight that Windows 8′s new Start-screen user interface could be seen as a descendant of such simplified, media-playback front ends as Microsoft’s Media Center and Apple’s Front Row didn’t come to me until Saturday morning.

10/28/2012: Apple’s Lightning cable: Making the switch, USA Today

This is my attempt at summing up the long-term complications of Apple’s switch to a smaller cable for its mobile devices. Anybody want to bet how long it will be before cars that today ship with dock-connector cables will leave factories with Lightning cables instead? The column wraps up with a reminder about how you can repair a botched OS X patch installation by downloading a large “combo update” from Apple’s site.

To all reading this along the Northeast Corridor: Stay safe, stay dry, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Weekly output: Mobile patents, Facebook, Tech Night Owl, Twitter fakes, Facebook again

This list below shows me spending more time talking about my job than actually doing it, which isn’t really something to brag about. But I also filed one short piece for print that will hopefully pass muster with the editors involved. And if I hadn’t run into some technical issues trying out a new app, I would have had a post for Discovery here as well.

10/16/2012: Will $Billions in Patent Lawsuits Kill Smartphone and Tablet Innovation?, Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus

I discussed the smartphone-patent situation with lawyer and activist Marvin Ammori, American University law professor Jorge Contreras and George Mason University law professor Adam Mossoff, with Internet Caucus legal policy fellow Eric Hinkes moderating. InfoWorld’s Grant Gross wrote up the event and was kind enough to let a quote from me serve as the last word.

10/18/2012: Is Facebook Losing Its Cool?, Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit

That link only points to an agenda page, not a recording or report of this panel I moderated at a marketing conference in Baltimore. But I assure you that we–meaning me, Mitch Arnowitz of Tuvel Communications, SocialCode’s Cary Lawrence, Kari Mitchell of HZDG and marketing guru Geoff Livingston–had a great discussion about the changing engagement of Facebook’s audience and how that differs from the crowd you might draw at Twitter, Pinterest or some other social network.

10/20/2012: October 20, 2012 — Rob Pegoraro and Joe Wilcox, Tech Night Owl Live

Once again, I was a guest on Gene Steinberg’s tech-news podcast–this time, with BetaNews editor Joe Wilcox. I talked about satellite Internet access and broadband access in general, the almost-guaranteed arrival of an iPad mini this week and Windows 8′s potential fit with consumers.

10/21/2012: Don’t get fooled by fake Twitter accounts, USA Today

In this week’s column, I ticked off a few ways to spot a phony or parody Twitter account, from the lack of a blue “verified” checkmark to a sneaky use of the number “1″ in place of a lowercase “l” in a handle. Then I share a tip about inspecting how often and in what ways you’ve interacted with Facebook friends on that social network.