Weekly output: police body cameras, mobile battery life, online publishing, DSL modems

It’s not Christmas yet, but I can see it before me. Which is another way of saying that I need to finalize my CES schedule, book my Mobile World Congress flights, and figure out where I’m staying for SXSW.

12/9/2014: 3 Questions to Ask Before Putting Cameras on Cops, Yahoo Tech

This column got a spot on the Yahoo home page, resulting in a flood of comments and a round of e-mails I wish I’d answered already.

Kojo Nnamdi Show mobile battery life12/9/2014: Powering Our Mobile Devices: How to Boost Battery Life, Kojo Nnamdi Show

I talked about what can prolong the time before your phone’s next meeting with a power outlet. My interlocutors: host Kojo Nnamdi and C|Net executive editor Ian Sherr,

12/11/2014: Mistakes made in online publishing, HHS Digital Council

News organizations have often chosen poorly when picking online publishing systems, so I had to accept a friend’s invitation to discuss that history before a group of digital-media managers for various branches of the Department of Health and Human Services.

12/14/2014: Weak Wi-Fi drags down DSL? Try moving the modem, USA Today

This column, like others, started with a call from a friend who had a technical question (in this case, about being able to replace an aging Verizon DSL modem with one that might get a WiFi signal to all of a house). That’s why I’m glad I write a Q&A column: It lets me monetize the inevitable tech-support queries from pals.

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Weekly output: Safari reloading, screenshots and privacy, Windows 8, SXSW and smartphones (x2), syncing, Android keyboards

I wrote the first three stories on this list using an external keyboard hooked up to my ThinkPad. That move came courtesy of the busted keyboard that stopped responding to certain keystrokes–including Enter, Backspace, 8 and h–sometime between my going to bed the night before SXSW and my getting on the first flight to Austin. That did not add to the business-travel experience.

3/11/2012: Tip: Avoid hiccups in Safari browsing, USA Today

I’m glad this column’s format doesn’t require using a specific reader’s name, because this problem comes from my own experience with Apple’s browser. (The day after this posted, Apple issued a 5.1.4 update to Safari that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t do much to solve the problem.) In the rest of the column, I offer a reminder that I too often leave out of pieces on privacy: If something online is sufficiently interesting, people will take a screengrab of it and share that image, regardless of whatever privacy settings once protected that item.

3/12/2012: Windows 8: The Shock Of The New, And The Old, Discovery News

I wanted to like Microsoft’s upcoming replacement for Windows 7. I still do. But blowing up a smartphone interface, Metro, to laptop-screen dimensions seems like a fundamental mistake. So does making touchscreen gestures critical to so many routine actions. Yes, many of my peers in tech journalism–see, for instance, ZDNet’s Ed Bott–have been far more positive about Windows 8. But most of those reviews were done on touchscreen tablets loaned by Microsoft , while I installed the Consumer Preview release alongside Win 7 on a non-touchscreen laptop.

3/13/2012: Smartphone Battery Life Goes South By Southwest, CEA Digital Dialogue

Forgive me for writing yet another rant about lame smartphone battery life–but my experience at the conference set a new low. And I wasn’t alone in this dilemma. The night after I wrote this, I found myself at a bar next to a spare power outlet. I plugged in my travel power strip and soon had people coming up to me with dead or dying phones, offering to trade a drink ticket for one of the remaining outlets on the strip.

3/16/2012: Which Apps Might Outlive SXSW, Discovery News

In retrospect, I could not have picked a much worse time for this post to go up–on the morning that Apple’s new iPad arrived, and only hours before the news of Mike Daisey’s duplicity would break. What was I thinking? Anyway, I do like how this piece turned out, so please read it when you get bored of reading about tablet computing and journalist standards–if not sooner.

3/18/2012: Tip: A cautionary tale about syncing, USA Today

I wasn’t sure this reader’s question about unexpected BlackBerry contacts syncing would be relevant enough until Andy Baio wrote a great piece for Wired.com about the perils of giving too many third-party apps access to your Web services. That inspired me to pivot from one person’s glitch to the larger issue of being too generous with access to our data. The balance of the column, a reminder to check for alternate software keyboards on an Android device, came about because commenters on my Boing Boing review of the Samsung Galaxy Note asked why I didn’t tell readers to switch from Samsung’s obnoxious keyboard.

Since I’ve now posted this summary on a Sunday two weeks in a row, I’m going to continue with that schedule. I trust that you all are okay with that. Also: If you don’t want to wait until the end of the week to see where I’ve been writing and/or find my Twitter feed too noisy, I’ve set up a tumblr blog under my LLC’s name, Prose Hacking, where I link to each story I’ve written more or less in real time. This is probably a misuse of tumblr, but–hey, I needed to develop a minimal level of competence with that platform, and I needed to do something with the domain name I registered for my company.

How I test smartphone battery life

Back when most people used mobile phones to talk–because any sort of sustained online use would be too painful–it was obvious how you should test their battery life: You’d want to know how long you could carry on a conversation.

So as a reviewer, I would have to stage a talk-time test, preferably without actually speaking for four or five hours at a stretch. For a while, I would call my desk phone at the Post with a review phone, then place the phone on hold and wait for its battery to run down. (I had to take the bus home from work a few times to avoid having the call drop on my way into the nearest Metro station.) Then I switched to a slightly more elaborate setup at home: As you can see in the photo at right, I’d tune a radio to WAMU, call my home line and place the phone in front of the radio’s speaker, where it would have uninterrupted hours of human speech to listen to and relay to the home line.

But once mobile Web browsing became something you might enjoy doing, I had to incorporate that into my evaluation. As I recall, my tests on the first iPhone included setting its browser to either the scoreboard page at Major League Baseball’s site or the Post’s home page, both of which refreshed automatically every minute or so.

Once I realized the appeal of on-the-go Web-radio listening and recognized how it required more data transfer by a smartphone, I decided I needed to test that as well. So I now start up the Pandora app–which has the advantages of being available for most major mobile platforms and of offering an “Auto-Lock” option to keep the screen illuminated for a worst-case test–and see how long it takes for a phone to run down.

Another realization came after I’d spent enough time with smartphones with a habit of fetching data in the background (such as my own Android model): Not all phones have the same standby time. For example, I discovered that while an iPhone 4 would have more than 90 percent of a charge remaining after 24 hours sitting on a desk, one Android model had less than half left.

When deadlines permit, I now conduct a standby test too, as you can see in today’s writeup of AT&T’s version of the Samsung Galaxy S II and Verizon’s Motorola Droid Bionic. (Both showed about 70 percent left on their battery gauges.) Between that and the Web-radio test, I think I have a good handle on a phone’s best- and worst-case performance in most contexts.

But not all. Using GPS for turn-by-turn navigation always runs it down quickly–if your car doesn’t have a USB port in the dash to charge the phone, buy a cheap, generic USB adapter and stash it in the glove box with a spare USB cable–and so does sharing its Internet connection over WiFi tethering. Taking a phone to a bandwidth-starved environment like CES, where it’s constantly hunting for a signal, kills its battery too.

What sort of battery-life tests have you found most useful? Which ones should I incorporate into my own research?