About robpegoraro

Freelance journalist who covers (and is often vexed by) computers, gadgets and other things that beep.

Weekly output: Firefox update, 6G, Google Messages updates, Mudge speaks in D.C.

This afternoon’s exciting plot twist: I successfully replaced the shattered screen of my Pixel 5a, using a Google-authorized iFixit replacement kit. Detaching the old screen was a lot more work than I expected, but everything after that was surprisingly easy.

10/18/2022: Mozilla Makes Private Browsing in Firefox Easier, Adds PDF Editing, ‘Firefox View’, PCMag

Five days into using this update, I can confirm that the new “Firefox View” start page represents a real improvement–while the other additions in Firefox 106 have essentially escaped my notice.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Chrome on a Pixel 5a.10/19/2022: 6G advocates mash up a metaverse-centric sales pitch, Light Reading

Yes, 6G. I spent Wednesday and Thursday of the previous week at a conference in downtown D.C. devoted to talking up the notional next generation of wireless broadband and, as you see, did not come away too sold on the concept.

10/20/2022: Google Messages App Finally Lets Android Users Send Tapback Emoji to iPhones, PCMag

The Q&A period during the press pre-briefing Tuesday was more informative than I expected, yielding a reasonably coherent explanation for why Google hasn’t published an API for the RCS messaging standard that such third-party messaging apps as Signal could use instead of falling back to unencrypted SMS and MMS.

10/21/2022: Twitter Whistleblower: Stop Treating Cybersecurity Like Folklore, PCMag

CyberScoop’s CyberTalks conference Thursday closed out with an onstage Q&A featuring veteran security researcher Peiter “Mudge” Zatko. He didn’t discuss his experience as Twitter’s head of security (and subsequently Twitter’s highest-profile whistleblower) but had some insightful observations about how infosec types can fail to communicate with their corporate overlords.

Weekly output: AT&T and Verizon C-band progress, Gen Z online habits, lunar LTE, connected TVs vs. streaming media players, NFL Sunday Ticket, warnings of Russian and Chinese hacking, electronics recycling

Two weeks from today, I’ll be at Dulles Airport to fly to Lisbon for Web Summit. And I still don’t know if I’ll be able to take Metro all the way to IAD or if I will once again have to transfer to a bus for the last few miles.

Screenshot of story as seen in Chrome on an Android phone, including some rather generic stock art of beams of light shining past a 5G logo.10/12/2022: AT&T, Verizon Continue to Gain 5G Ground With C-band Rollouts, Opensignal Finds, PCMag

AT&T’s progress since its small-scale initial deployment of fast, reasonably wide-ranging C-band 5G was the big surprise of this Opensignal report.

10/13/2022: Sorry Parents, Your Kids Think Your Online Habits Are Cringe, PCMag

My kid made an unnamed appearance in this writeup of an interesting survey of attitudes about online privacy and security among Generation Z kids and their parents.

10/14/2022: Why Nokia wants to put an LTE network on the moon, Fast Company

As a native New Jerseyan who grew up in the 1980s with a lot of AT&T kids, it’s still weird for me to write about Bell Labs as the Garden State research operation of anybody but the company once known as American Telephone & Telegraph Co.

10/14/2022: Connected TV or streaming media player? Yes., Fierce Video

Two days of filling in at this trade-pub client started with a report about a survey covering U.S. attitudes towards watching streaming video on connected TVs and streaming media players.

10/14/2022: NFL throws flag on Apple’s request for Sunday Ticket flexibility, Fierce Video

I often feel like I’m speaking a foreign language when I write about NFL TV deals, because the horrendousness of the local franchise led me to check out of pro football a long time ago.

10/14/2022: Cybersecurity Pros Warn of Danger Ahead With Russia, China, and Beyond, PCMag

Heading into downtown D.C. to watch a panel discussion and enjoy a reception afterwards provided me with a delightful return to Before Times professional socializing–and, more importantly, left me with some insights about the state of international information-security politics.

10/14/2022: electronics recycling, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on for the first time in weeks to talk about obstacles to recycling and repairing electronics, and I made sure that the cracked screen of my phone played a cameo in this overdubbed appearance.

Why are my iPad browser choices all so terrible?

My iPad mini is like every other computer I use, in that its Web browser gets more use than maybe any other app on the device. But this tablet is unlike every other computer I use, in that the browser situation on it generates more ongoing frustration than any other app situation.

The problem starts with Safari, the default browser that I don’t remember being so terrible. At some point in the last year or so, Safari for iPadOS started unpredictably closing every tab open in the primary view. Sometimes a crash heralds this development–but Safari for iPadOS, unlike Safari for macOS, seems incapable of restoring tabs lost in a crash automatically and does not offer the Mac browser’s “Reopen All Windows from Last Session” command. At other times, I switch out of a tab-group view (those extra, named collections of open pages somehow seem immune to this glitch) and find myself staring at a blank browser view instead of however many pages I had left open before.

Apple’s iCloud browser sync doesn’t help as much as it should, because its synchronized browsing history presents a flat, chronologically-sorted list of every page as last opened on every iCloud-synced device. In theory, I can use its iCloud Tabs feature–relocated last year to the bottom of the start page–as a kludgey workaround to see on my Mac what I had open on the iPad, but I keep finding that lags behind my use.

This problem–one other people have often reported–makes Safari for iPadOS dicey for any longer-term research unless I think to create a “tab group” and move those page to it.

With 2020’s iOS 14, Apple finally allowed its mobile-device users to set other browsers as their defaults, but the more time I’ve spent exploring that option the less I like it. To start, you can’t import your browsing history from Safari to another iPad browser–that requires turning to a Mac, doing the import from there, and then using that alternate browser’s sync feature to pull the imported history and bookmarks to down to its iPad version.

Apple also still forces competing browsers to use its WebKit rendering engine, ensuring that they stay exposed to vulnerabilities in that until Apple pushes out a system-level security patch that will leave my tablet useless during its 10 minutes or so of reboot-required installation time.

But Apple’s competitors aren’t helping their cause with me either by failing to copy one thing I do appreciate in Safari: the tab-group optio that I find handy for collecting pages on a particular topic (like “recipes” or “shopping”) and keeping them all open without cluttering the main browser interface. Chrome does support tab groups but doesn’t sync them between devices (and is immensely worse on privacy grounds), while Firefox’s “Collections” feature inexplicably remains confined to its Android app.

Microsoft’s Edge gets closest to Safari with its own Collections feature that syncs across devices and platforms, even if this Chrome-based browser does not let you reorder pages in a collection the way Safari lets you move pages around inside a tab group.

So one answer to my problems using Apple’s browser on an Apple device might be… installing a Microsoft broswer? That is a possibility so bizarre that I’m going to need a little more time to process it.

Weekly output: Verizon admin-fee increase, mmWave 5G smart repeaters, White House AI policy, Pixel 7 calling features, alternative social platforms, U.S.-EU privacy framework, Mark Vena podcast

In addition to the work you see below, I also spent most of Tuesday afternoon volunteering at a vaccination clinic–about a week and a half after getting my bivalent booster at the same clinic.

Screenshot of the column as seen in USAT's iPad app, where it's topped by a video explaining how C-band 5G might interfere with radar altimeters on airliners.10/3/2022: Did Verizon just raise prices? Administrative fee increase is another price hike, USA Today

Corporate executives apparently continue to believe they can cram a price hike into a fine-print fee without customers noticing. The e-mails I’ve gotten since this column ran suggest that this belief is grossly incorrect.

10/4/2022: A new pitch for mmWave: smart repeaters, Light Reading

I spent Thursday morning hearing out a variety of pitches for millimeter-wave 5G wireless broadband’s latest possibilities, then filed this report for one of my favorite trade-pub clients that included some caveats from industry experts.

10/4/2022: White House AI Bill of Rights Looks to Rein in ‘Unaccountable’ Algorithms, PCMag

I thought this would be a quick post to write, then realized that this document ran about 30,000 words.

10/6/2022: With the Pixel 7 series, Google tries again to answer the call of harried phone users, Fast Company

This story might have come out differently if I had not been forced to rely on a non-Pixel Android phone, devoid of the Pixel-only calling features I’ve gotten used to in recent years.

10/6/2022: Only 6% of US Adults Get News From Alt-Social Platforms Like Truth Social, PCMag

The Pew Research Center gave me an early look at this study… and then I still didn’t file it until after the embargo expired, because I had too many other things going on Thursday morning.

10/7/2022: Biden Executive Order Implements New Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Safeguards, PCMag

Another executive-branch tech-policy document became another long read for me this week.

10/8/2022: S02 E37 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

This week’s edition of my usual podcast (also available in video form) featured a new addition to the usual gang of tech journalists: my PCMag colleague and fellow New Jerseyan Angela Moscaritolo.

Late or never Android updates remain a problem

Here’s yet another unintentional benefit of my shattering my Pixel 5a’s screen last weekend: an opportunity to reacquaint myself with how slowly many Android smartphone manufacturers still ooze out Google’s system updates.

This is not a new problem, as I can see from re-reading a piece I wrote almost 10 years ago that’s aged a little too well. I had thought that architectural changes Google made to Android starting back in 2017 would have put a dent into this problem by removing much of the recoding work from manufacturers. But dusting off the budget-priced Android phones I reviewed for CNN Underscored early this year (most of which I had not yet returned to the companies responsible, because my desk is a mess) revealed the error of that thought.

Photo shows Android phones stacked on a wooden floor, each showing their software-information screen. The Samsung Galaxy A13's screen is most visible, showing it's running Android 12 with the July 1 security patch.

After multiple cycles of checking for updates on these six phones, installing these updates, rebooting these phones, and checking for updates again until every device reported it was current, here’s where they wound up:

  • Moto G Power: Android 11, August 1 security update
  • Nokia X100: Android 11, August 1 security update
  • OnePlus Nord N200 5G: Android 12, September 5 security update
  • Samsung Galaxy A13 5G: Android 12, July 1security update
  • TCL 20 SE: Android 11, August 1 security update
  • TCL 20 Pro 5G: Android 11, April security update

The current month is October and the current Android version is 13, so the problem should be immediately obvious. And not only did none of these devices have the Android release that I installed on my beloved, now battered Pixel 5a in the middle of August, only one of these devices had Google’s latest security fixes–and only two had the Android release that Google shipped a year ago.

The good news, such as it may be, is that a low price doesn’t condem an Android phone to obsolescence. The A13 sells for $250 and the N200 $240, but both have aged better, software-wise, than the pricier Android devices in that review. You may want to consider that a factor in favor of OnePlus and Samsung if you’re shopping for a low-cost Android phone–while the lagging performance of those other vendors should rate as a serious strike against them.

Weekly output: Qualcomm’s automotive ambitions, MEF Connects USA, corporate America’s tech ideas, Verizon 5G home and gaming news, Halo car sharing

I went to my last Nats game of the year Saturday–a 13-4 trouncing of the Phillies that reminded me of better days in the past and, I trust, the future. We also had tickets for Sunday, but with rain forecast all day I declined the opportunity to participate in the sunk-cost fallacy.

9/27/2022: Qualcomm sells a story of in-car inevitability, Light Reading

I wrote this recap of Qualcomm’s pitch to the auto industry at an event in New York the previous Thursday. Note that Qualcomm’s pitch to invited attendees included comped travel; I already had my train fare to and from NYC covered by the Back Market conference at which I spoke earlier that week but did accept two nights in a hotel to simplify my logistics–after obtaining my client’s permission.

A printout shows the order of panels at the Mobile Ecosystem Forum's MEF Connects USA conference.9/27/2022: MEF Connects USA, Mobile Ecosystem Forum

After joining this industry’s group’s podcast in April, the MEF people asked if I’d be interested in speaking at the conference they were organizing for the day before MWC Las Vegas. I wound up emceeing the afternoon half of the program and moderating three panels–one about the future of mobile identity yielded a what-if post for my Patreon readers, while two others on carrier billing for services educated me about aspects of the mobile industry that I’d overlooked.

9/29/2022: Sorry, But Your Boss Is Pretty Hyped About Today’s Most Annoying Tech Trends, PCMag

I can’t claim any credit for the headline on this post summing up a KPMG survey of attitudes among senior U.S. tech executives towards such topics as cryptocurrency and VR.

9/29/2022: At MWC, Verizon unwraps upgraded FWA receiver and 5G gaming gambit, Light Reading

With the MEF folks having agreed to cover my airfare and two nights of lodging, sticking around for another two nights on my own dime to cover MWC Las Vegas was an easy call. This recap of Verizon’s announcements during the opening keynote was the first of two posts I wrote for my telecom trade-pub client that week.

10/1/2022: Hello, Halo: This Car-Share Service Remotely Drives Its Vehicles to You, PCMag

With nothing blocking my schedule Thursday afternoon, I opted to ditch the conference for a few hours to try out Halo, the car-sharing service I’d covered for Fast Company last summer that has the car meet you, controlled remotely by a professional human driver, instead of your having to make your own way to the vehicle. As I quickly learned, the reality of this service in its beta-test stage includes some safety-driven inefficiencies.

A humbling gadget-handling lesson

The past four weeks have involved four work trips that took me to events in two other countries and two other states, with travel fatigue compounded by unchacteristically bad sleep in hotel rooms and jet lag from going five time zones to the right, twice, and then three to the left–so of course the place where I would break my phone was less than a mile from my home.

On my walk to Metro to go to Saturday afternoon’s Nationals game, as a drizzle started to turn into real rain, I thought I’d check to see if the team had announced a rain delay. I grabbed my Pixel 5a, opened Twitter, checked the Nats’ Twitter feed and saw an announcement that the game would start half an hour late, and one-handed the phone back into my pocket–except the rain-slicked device slipped free and fell to the sidewalk with a sickening little splat.

A Pixel 5a's screen shows a wide-ranging web of cracks, with trees above reflected in the glass.

Cursing too loudly at myself, I picked up the phone and saw a web of cracks sparkling out from the bottom right, plus a smaller crack on the right above the power button.

First thoughts: You dumbass! You couldn’t have waited until you were in the station and out of the rain?! I mean, I had somehow never shattered a phone’s screen before; the worst I’ve done is drop my Nexus 4 years ago at just the right angle to put a crack in its glass back cover.

Second thoughts: Now what?

The phone that I bought barely 10 months ago not only looks hopelessly janky but makes any sort of onscreen interaction a trying experience. It is usable only under duress.

(Having my phone borderline offline did at least force me to experience the game much more in the moment, in between hearing my friend Anthony recount his recent experience hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro.)

Then I remembered the deal Google announced with iFixit in April to provide “genuine parts” for Pixel devices. Alas, that DIY hub’s $99.99 Pixel 5a repair kit is out of stock at the moment. And while I could obviously pay any third-party shop to fix my phone, that would probably cost more and certainly wouldn’t yield any how-to recap for me to sell somewhere afterwards.

Google no longer lists the Pixel 5a in its online store, and while the Pixel 6a that replaced it seems to be a fine phone in its own right, it lacks a headphone jack and otherwise doesn’t represent a huge advance over the 2021-vintage 5a. There’s also the upcoming, also headphone-jack-deprived Pixel 7–but as I trust I’ve made clear, I’m not a fan of buying the next high-profile phone on the day it ships.

Speaking two weeks ago at a conference hosted by the refurbished-device marketplace BackMarket reminded me that buying a refurb Pixel 5a is an option as well. But unless my phone abuse inflicted injuries beyond my 5a’s screen, I’d feel a little dirty spending a large fraction of the original device’s purchase price when it only needs that one major component replaced.

(No, the iPhone 14 is not an option. Neither is any other iPhone until Apple kills off its Lightning cable. I am so done needing proprietary charging cables.)

Fortunately, I don’t have to decide just yet. My old Pixel 3a continues to gather dust at home as a backup device, and I also still happen to have too many of the budget-priced phones I tested for CNN Underscored at the start of the year. And since it’s been a while since I’ve drunk deeply of Samsung’s flavor of Android, that makes my temporary decision for me: I’ll spend a few weeks, hopefully not more, with a Galaxy A52 A13 5G (I forgot that I’d already shipped back the A52) as my daily phone. And I will do my utmost not to drop the damn thing.

Weekly output: gadget customer satisfaction, Google Pay fact-checking rewards, right to repair, Mozilla browser-choice report, AI image generators

Through two years of building back my business-travel schedule, one frequent destination from the Before Times had remained off my calendar until this week: New York. My overdue reunion with NYC allowed an equally belated inspection of Penn Station’s Moynihan Train Hall (one thing I didn’t expect was how great it would be to see the sky through that glass ceiling as I ascended the escalator from the tracks) and not enough time to wander around that other city on the Northeast Corridor.

9/20/2022: Amazon Sees Uptick in Consumer Satisfaction With Its Fire Tablets, Kindles, PCMag

I got an advance look at the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which suggested that Amazon’s e-readers and tablets have been winning some fans in the last year.

9/21/2022: Some Google Pay Users Offered Tiny Bribes to Check Transaction Data, PCMag

I decided to try to sell this story after Google prompted me in Copenhagen to verify that its app had correctly recorded a transaction at a ticket-vending machine in that city’s central train station–which should be among the easier paperless transactions to confirm.

Photo shows the slide identifying me and my fellow panelists: Lisa Kemp of Sims Lifecycle Solutions, Ildar Manoprov of WCell, and Dylan Jackie of Back Market.9/21/2022: Right to Repair Panel, BackForum

The gadget-resale platform Back Market had me moderate a panel at its one-day conference in Brooklyn, in return for which they covered my Amtrak fare from and back to D.C. This was originally going to be a one-day trip, but after Qualcomm invited me to an auto-tech event it was hosting the next day (with lodging covered), I opted to stick around NYC through Friday morning.

9/22/2022: Mozilla says users are being denied browser choice. It’s not that simple, PCMag

My first prominent endorsement of Mozilla Firefox happened 18 years ago, and yet I still found this report that browser’s developers to be surprisingly unpersuasive. 

9/25/2022: Why This Online Archivist Isn’t Feeling Much Angst About AI-Generated Art, PCMag

After arriving at Union Station late Friday morning, I bikeshared over to the Wharf for the conference hosted by The Atlantic that was a fixture in my Before Times calendar. The talk by the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott immediately struck me as material for a post, and then I had a moderately mind-expanding talk with him an hour and change later.

I forgot my laptop’s charging cable–and it wasn’t disastrous

NEW YORK

My e travel scenario revealed itself a few minutes after my train pulled out of Union Station Wednesday morning: My gadget-accessories bag was missing the USB-C-to-USB-C cable that I was counting on to connect my compact travel charger to my laptop and phone.

HP Spectre x360 laptop trickle-charging off a USB cable plugged into an aging Palm Pixi charger.

And yet I freaked out less than I would have imagined after realizing I’d forgotten to reclaim the cable that I’d handed to my wife for her Android phone migration–and then deciding to leave my laptop’s heavier charger at home to travel a little lighter.

Fortunately, unlike the could’ve-been-disastrous CES trip that started with me leaving without a proprietary charger for my Washington Post-issued Dell laptop, my HP laptop uses the same charger as most new laptops, Apple’s included. I assumed that would mean I’d have no trouble borrowing chargers after arriviing in NYC, or at least I’d have less trouble than when my old MacBook Air’s power cable fatally frayed at SXSW years ago.

But while I quickly plugged in my computer at my Wednesday-afternoon stop at gadget-reseller Back Market’s Brooklyn offcies–where I led a panel discussion about people’s rights to repair the things they’ve bought–I had to get more creative afterwards.

The front desk at my hotel near Madison Square Park (disclosure: paid for by Qualcomm as part of an event for press and investor types that I attended Thursday) did not have a spare cable, so I tried using the USB-A to USB-C connector that I did have to plug the laptop into the USB charging port next to a nightstand in my room. To my pleasant surprise, that worked, sort of: The computer charged, so slowly that the taskbar icon didn’t even indicate that it was plugged in.

For regular use, this hack of a solution wuold not fly–the trickle of current it provides is so slight that the battery only drains a little more slowly when in active use. But in sleep mode overnight, that slow drip brought the batttery back to full. I repeated this exercise during some idle time Thursday, using the ancient but tiny Palm charger that I had long ago tucked into my gadget-accessories bag on just-in-case grounds.

Once again, it helpd that I’d replaced the battery on this HP last fall, allowing a vastly better battery life than what I would have suffered with a year and a half ago.

Now that I’ve made it through this unplanned exercise in power management and am headed back to home and a full set of chargers and cables, one thing’s for sure: I will not repeat my mistake Wednesday of leaving home without consulting the travel checklist that I’d prepared years ago to avoid this exact situation.