Android phone migration has gotten easier–except for Google Pay and Google Voice

Moving from my old Pixel 3a to my new Pixel 5a provided my smoothest Android phone-migration experience yet. I had much less home-screen housekeeping to do on my new device than two years ago, and one key Google app showed a particularly dramatic improvement. But then I had to deal with Google Pay and Google Voice.

Overall, Google’s instructions get across how easy process has become. Tap yes in the “Copy apps & data” button on the new phone, unlock the old phone, connect the two with a USB-C cable, tap yes in the old phone’s “Copy data to new phone?” dialog, then wait–about 21 minutes in my case.

A Pixel 5a showing the "Transfer accounts" screen in Google Authenticator sits atop a Pixel 3a showing the same screen in the same app.

Google’s Android-transfer system accurately reproduced my app-icon layout (the contrast with upgrading to iPadOS 15 did not escape my attention) and wallpaper, with the only missing item being a home-screen icon for Android Auto.

I did still have to wait for most individual apps to download off Google’s Play Store, and their new-phone user experience varied awkwardly. Some, such as Feedly, LinkedIn and FlightRadar24, didn’t need me to log back in; most demanded a new entry of usernames and passwords (made much easier by 1Password); a few required extra bouts of authentication.

One Google app pleasantly surprised me, given the sensitivity of its stored data. Google Authenticator previously required renewing each two-step verification code securing a site login as if your old phone had fallen into the ocean, an experience that Google security chief Stephan Somogyi in 2017 apologetically described to me as “a complete, total and unmitigated pain.”

But in 2021, an old phone’s Google Authenticator can generate a catchall QR Code for its saved accounts; scan it with the new phone’s copy of Authenticator, and you’ve got your one-time passcodes for those accounts ready there. Great!

And then two other Google apps showed how awkward this process can remain. Google Pay–not the mobile-payments app that debuted as Google Wallet, but the new release that shipped this spring and then required some non-trivial settings restoration–landed on the new Pixel 5a as if I had never used it before.

I had to start by typing in my cell number because this Google service relies on that for authentication instead of a Google account. As Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo explained/warned back in March, this setup resulted from Google electing to build a new Google Pay off code optimized for the Indian market, where SMS authentication apparently reigns supreme. And then I then had to add back my saved credit cards, one at a time.

The last hiccup, I hope, came with Google Voice. The oft-neglected Internet-telephony app that I use for my work number seemed to be configured properly on the new phone, but then a journalist trying to reach me for a radio interview had her call go to voicemail. Eight times in a row. The answer turned out to be that Google Voice’s account settings had my number associated with two smartphones and two copies of the same number, a level of confusion that the system evidently resolved by not patching calls through to the newest device.

But now that’s squared away, and I think I can make it through the rest of this trying year without further mobile-app troubleshooting. I hope that’s the case for everybody reading this too.

Weekly output: Internet Assocation, Mercedes EQS, NextGen TV in D.C., DJI investment ban, TikTok hysteria

I did not plan to spend so many hours this week in a fruitless search for at-home COVID tests–the worst kind of holiday shopping ever.

12/15/2021: After Microsoft and Uber Flee, The Internet Association Logs Off, PCMag

This post gave me an excuse to dust off some notes from IA events I’d attended in the Before Times.

Screenshot of the PCMag story as seen on an iPad mini 512/16/2021: Like an Electric Spaceship: Hitting the Road in the Mercedes-Benz EQS, PCMag

The EQS 580 I test-drove around Tysons was, at $120,000, easily the most expensive vehicle I have ever taken out for a spin. This was a fun post to write, even if dealing with Tesla fanboys on Twitter afterwards was not so much fun. (Remember, the block button is there for a reason; online malcontents are not entitled to waste your time.)

12/16/2021: ‘NextGen TV’ Broadcasts Now on the Air in DC, PCMag

Almost five years after I first wrote about this upgrade to broadcast television, NextGen TV (originally known as “ATSC 3.0”) is finally on the air in Washington, courtesy of Howard University’s WHUT hosting the signals of the four major network stations here. Another thing that’s changed since the early days of this standard: Compatible sets have gotten much cheaper, even if some major manufacturers continue to sit out NextGen.

12/17/2021: Feds Ground All US Investments in DJI, PCMag

Once the lede for this popped into my head, the rest pretty much wrote itself. Which is a good feeling!

12/18/2021: TikTok school-threat hysteria, Al Jazeera

As my friend Mike Masnick wrote at Techdirt, this wasn’t really a TikTok story but a pack-journalism story: Traditional media outlets raced to cover an alleged post or posts threatening violance against schools without ever pointing to specific posts making such a threat. Note that TikTok says they couldn’t find any such thing.

Better pizza at home with steel and paper

The last 20 months of enforced home cooking have allowed me more opportunities than usual to make one of my favorites, pizza. I’ve made my dad’s recipe, I’ve figured out deep dish–and lately the unlikely combination of a slab of metal and parchment paper has figured into my pizza adventures.

Pizza just out of the oven and still on the parchment paper, topped with sausage.

It all started years ago when my wife gave me a Baking Steel, a quarter-inch-thick steel plate that addresses a major weakness of baking pizza at home: Your oven can’t get hot enough to yield a crispy crust. Metal this thick, however, both soaks up heat and conducts it to whatever’s touching it–so preheating this slab in a 500-degree oven for 45 minutes ensures that pizza dough will get much closer to the crispy, lightly charred crust of a legit pizzeria.

The catch with this technique is that you need to transfer a fully-assembled pizza to this furnace of a surface as quickly as possible. But sliding a pizza off a wooden or metal peel risks part of the raw dough getting stuck halfway through–an anxiety-inducing scenario after you’ve sunk a couple of hours into this culinary project.

That’s where the parchment paper comes in. After finally thinking to look up if the 420-degree maximum temperature listed on the box meant all that much, I saw that Cook’s Illustrated pronounced parchment paper safe for up to 20 minutes of 500-degree heat–and pizza on a Baking Steel needs just nine minutes.

This belated insight radically simplified the whole production. I flatten out the dough and top the pizza right on a piece of parchment paper, slide a metal peel underneath that, have the pizza slide effortlessly off that onto the steel, and then retrieve the finished product. Bonus: The steel stays clean, requiring only a just-in-case swipe with paper towel after this heat sink cools off… some two hours later.

Weekly output: Devin Nunes, Mark Vena podast, tech journalists about tech PR, Instagram and kid safety, your data for sale, Charter CEO

As I wrote on my Patreon page Thursday, I continue to be happy to be off the gadget-gift-guide treadmill.

12/7/2021: Devin Nunes Quits Congress to Run Trump’s Social Media Venture, PCMag

I enjoyed noting how this famously litigious representative will now get to square his dislike of online mockery with running a social platform that touts its opposition to censorship.

12/8/2021: S01 E21 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

My contribution to this week’s episode was unpacking Qualcomm’s attempts to sell an “always-on camera” as a privacy upgrade for smartphones.

12/8/2021: NPC Lunch & Learn: Meet the Technology Media, National Press Club

I joined fellow panelists Musadiq Bidar of CBS News and CIO Dive and Cybersecurity Dive editor Naomi Eide in this Zoom panel, in which we discussed our interactions with tech-PR types.

12/8/2021: Instagram kid-safety moves, Al Jazeera

I joined the Arabic-language news network via Skype to discuss the Facebook-owned app’s moves to tamp down overindulgence by teenage users. One early thought: I’d like to see more like that from YouTube.

12/9/2021: Guess What? The Cops Can Buy Your Data Instead of Going to Court for It, PCMag

I wrote up a new report from the Center for Democracy & Technology about how often and easily government agencies can get the information they want by buying it from data brokers instead of getting a search warrant. The piece closes with a reminder that Android and iOS include useful tools to limit how an app can get your location; if you haven’t looked at those settings, please do so now.

12/9/2021: Charter CEO: Wireless is the future, video is not yet the past, FierceVideo

I’m getting tired of seeing cable CEOs profess that they’ve moved past from relying on video subscriptions even as their pricing continues to favor TV subscribers.

It’s not the same old Rock Creek Park trail these days

I went for a bike ride through Rock Creek Park this afternoon. That doesn’t set this Saturday apart from a great many others over my last 25-plus years–but the state of this long-neglected trail is finally changing from the cycling route I’ve known since I was a much younger man with far fewer gray hairs and a considerably faster average speed on a bike.

A long-overdue rehabilitation project led by the National Park Service and the D.C. Department of Transportation kicked off this spring, and it’s already yielded some impressive benefits and applause from cyclists. The Western Ridge Trail–the stretch from from the intersection of Beach Drive and Broad Branch Road to Klingle Road–is no longer a narrow, pothole-pockmarked relic. Further south, the Rose Park Trail, a spur that links the Rock Creek trail to M Street and Georgetown, has received the same upgrade.

But the really exciting work is still in progress: a new hiker/cyclist bridge over the creek just south of the Zoo tunnel. That will replace a shamefully narrow sidepath on the existing Beach Drive bridge that requires cyclists to walk their bikes unless nobody is coming in the other direction.

This work will also include rebuilding the trail’s Zoo bypass, closed since 2018 after part of it washed into the creek. Since then, cyclists have had to ride on a five-foot-wide sidepath in the tunnel that takes Beach Drive past the zoo–which, as tricky as that can be, is not outright terrifying like the two-foot-wide curb that cyclists had to white-knuckle their way along until an earlier renovation wrapped up in 2017.

From the state of construction I saw today, with piers for the bridge partially complete on either side of the creek, I’d like to think I will be able to enjoy this bridge no later than next summer. By then, the stretch of the trail south of the Taft Bridge should also have reopened, ending the need for a steep climb out of the creek’s valley up to Woodley Park. (Since that detour then sends me down Connecticut Avenue, past an old apartment of mine and through some of my favorite parts of the District, I don’t mind it that much.)

There’s a lot about 2022 that’s up in the air at the moment, but at least I have these little things to look forward to.

Weekly output: Russia’s tech-hostage law, Mark Vena podcast, Qualcomm’s always-on camera, T-Mobile 5G plans,

This week featured exponentially more air travel than a typical post-Thanksgiving week–about 9.570 miles’ worth–thanks to my attending Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit on the Big Island of Hawaii. And with that trip in the books, 2021’s business travel is done.

11/30/2021: Russia to Top US Tech Firms: Set Up Shop Here or Get Out, PCMag

Russia now requires that large U.S. tech companies establish a physical presence in the country–which I must read as a demand that these firms name hostages that Putin’s authoritarian regime can threaten if they don’t comply with its demands.

12/3/2021: S01 E20 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I joined this podcast from my hotel room in some downtime at Qualcomm’s event, which gave me an excuse to wear a Hawaiian shirt to the proceedings; my setup for the recording, however, also somehow resulted in repeated audio glitches.

Screenshot of story as seen in Firefox for Windows 1012/3/2021: Are you ready for Qualcomm’s new “always-on” smartphone camera?, Fast Company

It appears that Qualcomm did not expect that announcing an “always-on camera” feature as a privacy upgrade would yield much blowback. Hours after this post was published, a publicist with that firm e-mailed to provide some useful details–for example, this locked-down sub-system only captures 640-by-480-pixel images–that company executives had not through to mention in prior briefings.

12/3/2021: T-Mobile debuts new 5G layer cake, Light Reading

I spent half an hour at Qualcomm’s event quizzing two T-Mobile executives about the carrier’s plans for building out its 5G network. For another take on T-Mo’s 5G agenda, see this writeup from PCMag’s Sascha Segan, who talked to the same execs not long after I did.

A long-distance tech-nerd reunion

WAIMEA, Hawaii–One major upside of flying almost 4,800 miles to attend a tech event here was finally catching up with a lot of tech-journalism friends I hadn’t seen in almost two years… many of whom live only 235 miles north of my home.

Two torches lit on a beach, with the ocean and a post-sunset sky in shades of coral beyond it.

But for whatever reason, New York has yet to host any high-profile tech events that would have given all of us an excuse to meet somewhere in NYC. Instead, Qualcomm staged its Snapdragon Tech Summit at a resort here and covered lodging and airfare for invited journalists and analysts (me included, something I discussed in more length in a post for Patreon readers). And so in between keynotes and demos, I’ve had versions of the following conversations:

  • remembering how much work it was to get vaccinated early in this year and the continued frustration of having friends or family members who still refuse to get vaxxed;
  • testimony about surviving COVID-19 infections; one friend recalled being barely able to breathe at the worst moments, something that sounds utterly horrifying;
  • shared sighs over the psychic damage a year of pandemic-enforced isolation has done to our kids (usually followed by me feeling guilty over leaving my wife alone to deal with that);
  • recaps of what it was like reunite with distant family members after months of living a coronavirus-cloistered existence;
  • comparing when we started traveling for work again, to where, and for what purposes;
  • discussions of who will be at CES and MWC, and if those events will happen at all given the rapid spread and unclear risk of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus..

That last question felt somewhat safe to contemplate on an island that requires either a negative test or proof of vaccination if visitors want to avoid a mandatory quarantine–see, who says a vaccination mandate for air travel is impossible here?–but now we’re going home to uncertain futures.

My next travel will be for Christmas, after which I’ve got flights and lodging booked for Las Vegas and Barcelona, all refundable. I would like to be able to proceed with those plans and see at least some of my tech-nerd friends in those cities, but it’s not up to me.

Weekly output: Verizon Tracfone purchase approved, spectrum-sharing progress, cloud-storage choices

This year’s Thanksgiving, unlike last year’s, did not warrant descriptions like “house arrest.” And now I will follow up that overdue family time by flying almost 5,000 miles away from my own for a tech event, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit 2021. I have clients awaiting coverage of this event (and who are fine with Qualcomm covering the airfare and lodging, another departure of sorts for me) and I’m sure I will learn a lot and appreciate connecting with other telecom nerds starting Monday afternoon in Hawaii. But… yeah, if this travel schedule leads you once again to question my life choices, I can only reply “fair.”

11/23/2021: FCC Greenlights Verizon’s Purchase of Tracfone, With Conditions, PCMag

The Federal Communications Commission seems confident that a set of temporary rules can ensure that the nation’s largest wireless carrier buying the nation’s largest wireless reseller will not lead to harm to customers.

11/24/2021: Spectrum-sharing task force chair: ‘It really doesn’t have to be a spectrum fight’, Light Reading

This post offered a welcome chance to get into the weeds about the finer points of freeing up wireless spectrum currently in use by some non-trivial military hardware.

11/27/2021: Apple, Google or Microsoft? How to match cloud storage to your computers – and cut costs, USA Today

Yes, you’ve read a version of this column before, down to its emphasis on picking an online backup service that pairs best with the hardware you’re most likely to take out of the house. But unlike the 2018 release, this one incorporates some money-saving tricks I’ve picked up over the past few years–like checking to see if credit cards have cash-back offers on one company’s cloud storage, or if you can buy a gift card good for that storage at a discount from a third-party retailer.

Thanks, science

Unlike a year ago, I’m not writing a post-Thanksgiving post from my own house. Instead, my family and I were able to travel and spend this holiday with my mom as well as my brother and his family. And one of the many things for which we’re thankful is the unprecedented worldwide effort that allowed us all to get vaccinated, with the two youngest members of this family reunion getting their first doses earlier this month.

That was what I had hoped might somehow be possible once the awfulness of the pandemic broke through my early denial, but there was no guarantee that the scientists of the world could fulfill that hope. And there was even less reason to think that the United States would have three effective vaccines in sufficiently wide distribution to have more than 196 million Americans now fully vaxxed.

I am profoundly grateful to everybody who has spent long days in laboratories, hospitals, clinics and other medical workplaces to get us to this point. They have cleared a path for us all to move forward into the broad, sunlit uplands that Winston Churchill spoke of during another time of worldwide peril.

(Seeing this effort firsthand and making a microscopic contribution to it as an occasional vax-clinic volunteer with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps–most recently, a week before Thanksgiving, when I had the welcome sight of parents lining up with under-12 kids–has been a tremendous honor.)

At the same time, a year ago I would not have guessed that an early rush to get vaccinated would fade as people either thought the pandemic was done and they could sit out getting a jab–or believed the conspiracy lies of politicians and propagandists about vaccines. I also would not have thought that vaccine distribution around the world would still be this uneven this far along.

Today’s agonizing news of yet another coronavirus variant is the reminder we shouldn’t have needed that taking our eyes off a moving target will cost us. But while you cannot count out humans’ capacity for stupidity and sloth, the last year and change should also offer more than enough reminder that it’s unwise to bet against human ingenuity.

Weekly output: smartphone plans, online misinformation, Twitter perceptions, SpaceX Starship, cord cutting stats, online-privacy bill

I have a short workweek followed by my first family-reunion Thanksgiving in two years.

Patreon readers got an extra post this week: a look at my attempts to ensure that the panels on which I speak aren’t filled out by people who look more or less like me.

Wirecutter phone-plans guide, as seen in Chrome on a Pixel 3a Android phone11/15/2021 The Best Cell Phone Plans, Wirecutter

This update–the first substantial revision to this guide since the summer of 2020–should not have taken this long, but it’s been a trying year for everybody.

11/15/2021: How Do You Combat Online Misinformation? Katie Couric, Prince Harry Have Some Ideas, PCMag

I wrote about a report on online misinformation from an unusual group of experts.

11/15/2021: We Read Twitter for Entertainment, Trust It for News (Unless We Vote Republican), PCMag

This post covered a pair of Pew Research Center studies about people’s attitudes towards Twitter. The most susprising finding: how many Twitter users misunderstood their own privacy settings.

11/18/2021: Elon Musk’s Starship rocket may launch to orbit in January, Fast Company

The SpaceX founder was scheduled to speak for 30 minutes but spent more than twice as much time at this virtual National Academy of Science meeting. I could have filed a vastly longer story, but I didn’t want to write myself into a bad per-word rate.

11/18/2021: Cord Cutting’s Latest Toll: 1.34 Million Legacy Pay-TV Subscribers Gone, PCMag

I decided to write up this report on pay-TV subscriptions by comparing the numbers involved to cities. Hence: “The top seven cable operators combined to lose 700,500 subscribers, a figure you may find easier to visualize as ‘almost the population of Denver’.”

11/19/2021: Who Owns Your Data? Calif. Congresswomen Try Again With Online Privacy Act, PCMag

The Online Privacy Act reintroduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D.-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.) seems to get a lot of things right, but it lands in a Congress that seems singularly incapable of passing even incremental privacy upgrades.