The silent shame of bringing an older Android phone to a Google event

MOUNTAIN VIEW–I really didn’t think my Nexus 5X phone was that old until I saw so many others at Google I/O here–being used by event staff to scan the RFID tags in people’s conference badges before admitting them to talks.

Badge-scanning duty is typically the last lap around the track for a mobile device before it gets put out to pasture. Or sent to the glue factory. But that usually doesn’t happen until years after its debut; for instance, at SXSW this year, I was amused to see volunteers use 2013-vintage Nexus 7 tablets to scan badges.

Google didn’t introduce my phone until September of 2015, after which I waited a month to buy my own.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the hardware milieu at this conference that’s been making my phone look obsolete. Over the past few months, my 5X has gotten into the embarrassing and annoying habit of locking up randomly. Sometimes the thing snaps out of it on its own; sometimes I have to mash down the power button to force a restart.

I’ve factory-reset the phone once, with all the reconfiguration of apps and redoing of Google Authenticator two-step verification that requires, and that doesn’t seem to have made a difference. It’s been good today, but yesterday I had to force-reboot it twice. I only hope fellow attendees didn’t notice the Android logo on its startup screen and start judging me and my janky phone accordingly.

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Weekly output: unlocked phones, headphone jack, foreign phones, Android security, smartphone trends (x2)

I had a busy week in Barcelona at my fifth Mobile World Congress smartphone show, and in just a few days I head to Austin for SXSW. So I may need a little more time to flesh out my Flickr album from MWC.

2/27/2017: 3 ‘unlocked’ phones that might make your carrier unhappy, Yahoo Finance

My first file from MWC focused on a few phones that manufacturers will sell direct to consumers, not locked to any one carrier–a trend I applaud.

yahoo-mwc-2017-posts 2/28/2017: Sorry, Apple, the headphone jack isn’t going anywhere, Yahoo Finance

This post must have fetched the biggest audience of anything I did from MWC. The Verge’s Vlad Savov gave me a shout-out, and a Reddit thread on my story racked up more than 2,000 comments–about 70 times as many as people left after the piece itself.

2/28/2017: 4 new smartphones you can’t get in the US, Yahoo Finance

You’d think “is this phone coming to the U.S.?” would be a question any MWC show-floor rep could answer. You would be wrong.

3/1/2017: What you should and shouldn’t worry about in Android security, Yahoo Finance

Some enlightening conversations with security professionals led to this report. Key lesson: While you’re far safer sticking with Google’s Play Store, malware can sneak into it. And as a visit to the MWC exhibit of an Iranian app store reminded me, some parts of the world don’t get the Play Store at all.

cr-mwc-2017-recap3/2/2017: Best Smartphone Tech of 2017, Consumer Reports

I fired off an e-mail to my editor at CR in the middle of packing two Fridays ago, asking if he needed any sort of a wrap-up post from MWC. This wound up being the last thing I filed from the show floor, then the next morning I sent in a revision from my Airbnb addressing my editor’s comments before I headed to the airport.

3/4/2017: 4 changes coming to Android phones, USA Today

This shorter look at Android-phone trends went through two changes after posting: We corrected the headline so it no longer referred to five changes, then we fixed an errant reference to a Galaxy S3 on the show floor (it was a Galaxy S7 Edge). As is my practice, I called out those alterations in a comment.

Weekly output: Google’s 2017 to-do list

The slowest week of the entire year saw only one story appear under my byline. I’ll more than make that up this week as I cover my 20th CES in a row (!). Any gadget news you’d like me to look out for while I’m in Vegas?

yahoo-google-2017-post12/26/2016: OK, Google: Please do these things in 2017, Yahoo Finance

My contribution to Yahoo Finance’s end-of-year coverage was a post about what Google should do in 2017. Will that company follow up on all of my suggestions? Probably not. I’m reasonably confident that we’ll get a better Android Wear watch from Google, that we haven’t seen the last of Google broadband, and that advertising on fake-news sites will take a hit from stricter Google policies. But I’m less confident that Google will ship an end-to-end encryption plug-in for Gmail, and I would be pleasantly shocked to see the firm start selling an ad-free upgrade to Gmail.

 

Weekly output: Google phones (x2), SXSL, e-mail encryption

I just watched the second presidential debate, and I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of tech-policy banter. You?

yahoo-tech-google-phones-post10/3/2016: Why it matters that Google might be producing its own phones, Yahoo Finance

My suggestion at the end that Google might offer an installment-payment option for the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones–something analyst Jan Dawson suggested to me in an e-mail–panned out when Google introduced just that.

10/4/2016: Google’s new phones, WTOP

I spoke briefly about the Pixel and Pixel XL to the news station. One thing I wish I’d mentioned: These two new phones aren’t waterproof, unlike the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7.

10/4/2016: Obama gathers top tech to tackle US problems, Yahoo Finance

I spent most of Monday at the White House, which is not a bad way to while away an afternoon. This South by South Lawn event did not feature free beer (at least during the day) and so fell short of being a D.C. salute to Austin’s South by Southwest festival, but on the other hand SXSW has yet to allow me to see Rep. John Lewis (D.-Ga.) speak.

10/9/2016: How to protect your email from snooping, USA Today

Freelancing for multiple clients can sometimes lead to situations where one client asks you to write about an issue involving another.

Weekly output: IMAX VR, HDR, laptops, IFA

My fifth IFA is in the books. The biggest surprise of this year’s trip to Berlin: I did not get into any involved conversations about the election with Germans, only with other Americans. In a weird little bookend to that, I spotted Donald Trump’s 757 parked at the far end of Newark International Airport earlier today.

Note that as in prior years, the organizers of IFA are covering most of my travel costs, an arrangement my regular editors okayed beforehand and with which I’m okay in certain situations.

8/31/2016: IMAX wants to add VR to your next movie, Yahoo Finance

I finished writing this at the evening event during which Samsung introduced its new Gear S3 smartwatch. Having a hard deadline–as in, wanting to get dinner at Samsung’s reception upstairs–helped me get this done faster than other stories this week.

Fierce HDR story9/1/2016: The Progress of HDR, FierceCable

This post about cable, satellite and online video’s adoption of high dynamic range video is my first for this outlet. One thing I’ve realized I like about writing stories for trade publications: The research required to get into the weeds for those clients can save me serious time when I need to write something quickly about the same subject for a consumer site. Note that you’ll have to cough up an e-mail address and some other details to read the post and the others collected in Fierce’s miniature e-book.

9/2/2016: Your next laptop could have a fingerprint reader and USB C, Yahoo Finance

This report from the show floor went up with a stupid typo–I wrote that a Lenovo laptop was 5.6 inches thick, not the correct .56 inches. I haven’t done something like that since I made the reverse error for a Post review of an Apple laptop, describing it as a quarter of an inch thick instead of (if I recall correctly) 1.25 in. thick. My Yahoo colleagues fixed that on Saturday.

9/4/2016: Cheaper phones, brighter TVs rule IFA tech show, USA Today

I wrote a quick recap of notable consumer-relevant trends in laptops, smartphones and TVs seen at IFA. If this story doesn’t offer enough detail, I should have two last IFA items going up at Yahoo in the next day or two.

Weekly output: “Beyond television,” cable boxes and apps, Google I/O (x3), Chrome OS, security, Android N

I had a two-city, four-airport week: I spent Sunday afternoon through Tuesday evening in Boston for the cable industry’s INTX show, flew to SFO that night and spent Wednesday through Friday at Google I/O before flying home Saturday morning. I am seriously exhausted… so it’s not optimal timing that I’m writing this from Dulles. Why? I was invited to moderate a panel at the Connected Conference in Paris later this week (and on the side, meet a bunch of French startups the government wants to show off). I haven’t been to my family’s one-time expat home in 25 years, so this would have been difficult to turn down. But I did think about that.

5/16/2016: Beyond Television: Extending the Media Brand Across the Digital Forever, INTX

I moderated this discussion with BET’s Kay Madati, Fusion’s Jigar Mehta and Scripps Networks Interactive’s Vikki Neil about how cable networks are trying to connect with current and potential fans outside the big screen. I may be a cord cutter, but I do have one of Alton Brown’s cookbooks and I often turn to Fusion’s tech coverage, so I guess I’m an example of successful beyond-television marketing.

Consumer Reports I O preview5/17/2016: What to Expect from Google I/O 2016, Consumer Reports

My debut piece for CR (no subscription required to read it) was a preview of Google I/O’s expected news that I think mostly holds up.

5/18/2016: Live at Google I/O, Jefferson Graham

Right after I picked up my press badge, I ran into Jefferson and a few other USAT pals, and he elected to do a Facebook Live stream on the spot.

5/18/2016: Cable operators are trying to fix the single biggest problem with their apps, Yahoo Finance

I wrote a reality-check piece about the cable industry’s “but we have apps!” response to the Federal Communications Commission’s “unlock the box” proceeding. The cable operator that now seems most far along in providing TV apps that can take a cable box’s place without compromising on major features? Comcast.

5/18/2016: Google just made it clear that it’s trying to catch up in 3 big areas, Yahoo Finance

This recap of the keynote that opened up I/O disappeared sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon due to a publishing glitch nobody noticed at the time. Sorry for the mess!

5/19/2016: Google just revealed it’s ‘bringing the Play Store to Chromebooks’, Yahoo Finance

The news that Chrome OS laptops and desktops shipped in the last two years will get a free update opening them up to the Play Store’s catalogue of 1.5 million Android apps may have been the biggest consumer news out of I/O.

5/20/2016: Google: 3 steps you should take now to secure yourself online, Yahoo Finance

Like at last year’s I/O, Google’s security chief Stephan Somogyi gave a great presentation about the state of security that I judged worth a writeup.

5/22/2016: 6 big changes coming to Android phones, USA Today

My last I/O post broke down the changes coming to the next major Android release. I wound up finishing it on my Android phone–an excruciating experience–after my laptop ran out of battery on Caltrain on the way into San Francisco.

Pros and cons of taking Google I/O outside

My most recent tech event took place in an unusual venue: a concert amphitheater set into the hills of the San Francisco Bay.

Android statueHeading into Google I/O, I was uneasy about Google’s decision–announced in a January 12 tweet from CEO Sundar Pichai–to move its developer conference from Moscone West in San Francisco to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. Unlike that convention center three blocks off Market Street, Shoreline promised no meaningful pedestrian, cyclist or transit access.

Fortunately, the traffic dystopia I feared did not quite happen at I/O 16, and this location revealed some redeeming qualities.

Having the analog environment of nature around was foremost among them–especially on Wednesday, when the temperature soared into the ’80s. Typing on my laptop in the shade of the press center brought back pleasant memories of 2012’s Tech Policy Summit, staged at a resort outside of Napa. But even in the concrete surroundings of the seating bowl, the noise of birds chirping offered a healthy reminder that much of the world doesn’t care what we humans do with circuits and code.

(This avian accompaniment was not risk-free. Analyst Jan Dawson almost had a bird poop on his leg.)

Shoreline is surrounded by parking lots, but they looked much better covered by tents and stages for I/O’s various panels and talks. And looking up on walks from one location to another often rewarded me with the sight of 747s and A380s low overhead on their approaches to SFO.

Shoreline stageThe official hotels Google suggested were no cheaper than most San Francisco hotels, but the clean, comfortable Airbnb suite I found in downtown Mountain View was much cheaper than anything I’ve seen listed in the city.

Finally, we did get to experience a concert at this concert venue, Wednesday night’s performance by Charli XCX and Kygo.

But while Google’s shuttle from the Mountain View Caltrain station–not advertised in advance–got me to I/O surprisingly quickly on Wednesday, on Thursday two shuttles in a row left without me because they had no seats left. On Friday, the bus arrived sorely late and then crawled through traffic, finally depositing me at Shoreline after almost as much time as it might have taken to walk the distance.

The weather also got less idyllic after Wednesday, even as the risk of sunburn remained the same. My teeth may have started chattering once or twice Thursday night and Friday afternoon. (Cardinal rule of packing for the Bay Area: Whatever season it is, bring a fleece jacket.)

And while having class outside is usually a great idea, it remains difficult to see a laptop’s screen in sunlight. Brightening the screen was not always a smart response at I/O; power outlets were a lot scarcer than they would have been in a conventional convention facility like Moscone.

All things being equal, I’d rather see I/O move back to San Francisco. But I suspect that Google is content with staging its event at a private space next to its headquarters that it can take over–a sort of Google Island, if you will–and that next May, we’ll have the same battles with traffic and logistics.