Weekly output: Chrome vs. unencrypted sites, Google vs. the headphone jack, international roaming, freelancing, Facebook and fact-checking

As expected, this was an exhausting but fulfilling week. The Online News Association conference was its usual informative, eye-opening self (but this time, with travel expenses miniaturized down to Metro fares), Friday’s NLDS game left me feeling wrung out, and then Saturday’s left me feeling a whole lot better. And then I didn’t get to sleep in as much as I wanted Sunday…

10/2/2017: Google Chrome is about to warn you even more about insecure sites, Yahoo Finance

I knew in the back of my head that Chrome would start flagging unencrypted sites as “Not secure” more often starting this month, but a tweet from Google’s Adrienne Porter Felt last week reminded me of that, which in turn gave me a reason to check up on the adoption of site encryption.

10/4/2017: Not OK, Google: The headphone jack exists for a reason, Yahoo Finance

I teed off on Google for its idiotic decision to follow Apple’s foolish removal of the headphone jack. Google, unlike Apple, can’t count on tens of millions of loyal phone shoppers to suck it up, so I hope a chastened company will reverse this decision for its next batch of phones.

10/5/2017: $5,000 cell bill while traveling: How to avoid this, USA Today

This was one of the crazier stories I’ve come across lately. But after USAT ran this tale of a Verizon subscriber who got socked with that bill in Saudi Arabia (then had VzW forgive the bill after I inquired about it), another reader tweeted about an $11,961.03 T-Mobile bill run up in Mongolia (they, too, forgave it, but before I could get around to asking).

10/7/2017: Hunting, Gathering and Accounting: Freelance Survival Skills, ONA17

I broke a three-time Online News Association conference losing streak by having this panel idea accepted. I got the idea of offering practical advice to self-employed journalists (or those about to be self-employed but don’t know it yet) from a conversation with veteran freelancer Rose Eveleth at last year’s ONA. Then I picked up a capable co-panelist in Katherine Lewis, who’s been freelancing since 2008, seems a lot more disciplined about it than me, and is a poised public speaker. I didn’t hit every point I wanted to, but I think that combined the both of us left the audience better informed than when they arrived. Really neat bonus: Nashville-based attendee Ayumi Bennett did a terrific sketchnote of our talk.

10/8/2017: Facebook and fact-checking, Al Jazeera

My ambition of celebrating my first day with zero work appointments since Monday by not shaving went awry when a D.C.-based producer at the Arabic-language news channel asked if I could come into the studio to speak about Facebook’s latest attempts to combat fake news with fact-checking. The conversation I had (overdubbed live into Arabic but not, as far as I know, archived online, hence the lack of a link) wound up focusing more on the broader issue of other countries trying to influence U.S. Facebook users.

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Early impressions from a late Pixel adopter

Not that many people have bought either of Google’s two Pixel phones–as little as one million as of June, per Ars Technica’s estimate–and I bought my Pixel later than most.

And Wednesday, Google will introduce the replacements for the Pixel and Pixel XL, so this will be one of my less relevant reviews ever. But I still think it worthwhile to write down my three-months-in impressions… just in case I hate the phone later on.

But so far, I don’t. For something that I thought would be an interim advance over my now-dead Nexus 5X, the Pixel has impressed me.

The most pleasant surprise has been battery life that frees me from having to look for a charger on normal days–reading, I’m not at CES or some other phone-battery-destroying event, but I still leave the house and do my usual poor job of avoiding social media. I realize that sounds like thin gruel, but it also represents progress.

The camera has been an unexpected delight, easily the best I’ve used on a phone and more than good enough for me to leave my “real” Canon in my bag at the IFA trade show two months ago. Seriously low-light indoor exposures can still flummox it, but for the vast majority of my shots it delivers great results. The HDR function does some particularly amazing work with fireworks and illuminated structures at night. But judge for yourself: Have a look at my Flickr and Instagram feeds.

My major gripe with this phone is a weird one: It seems too easy to unlock. As in, the positioning of its fingerprint sensor seems to catch my finger more than the 5X’s sensor did when I slip it into a pocket.

So far, I have only pocket-texted one person–“App eye, meàl,” the message began before sliding into complete incoherence–but that was embarrassing enough to get me to try to grab the Pixel by its sides when pocketing it. And to change its “Automatically lock” screen setting from five seconds post-sleep to immediately.

If the rumors are true, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL Google will introduce Wednesday won’t feature expandable storage but will drop the headphone jack. If so, that will make me feel pretty good about taking Google on its offer of a full refund on my bootlooped 5X and applying that to a Pixel.
But it will also leave me profoundly uneasy over what my next Android phone will look like. I don’t want an uncompromised Android configuration to be a deeply compromised choice of outputs.

Goodbye, Nexus; hello, Pixel

I’m no longer rocking a four-year-old phone. Instead, I’ve upgraded to a 2016-vintage model.

This Google Pixel represents–I hope!–the end of the smartphone saga that began when my increasingly glitchy Nexus 5X lapsed into a fatal bootloop. The refurbished 5X Google offered as a free out-of-warranty replacement never shipped, notwithstanding the “confirmed” status of that order, so after a second call with Google’s store support I took their fallback offer of a full refund of my 5X purchase.

(It’s possible I got special treatment–Google should know how to Google me–but comments in Reddit’s 5X-bootloop thread report similar outcomes.)

I opted to use that money (technically, future money, since I won’t get the credit until the dead 5X completes its journey back to Google) on a Pixel for a few reasons. It remains the Wirecutter’s pick as the best Android phone; a pricier Samsung Galaxy S8 would subject me to tacky interface alterations and delayed security fixes; the new OnePlus 5 would be cheaper but comes with an even weaker record of software updates.

(I did consider buying an iPhone 7, but its absence of a headphone jack has not stopped seeming idiotic to me. And my frequent iPad experience of seeing apps revert to the stock keyboard instead of Google’s better Gboard isn’t something I need to repeat on a phone.)

It bugs me a little to upgrade to a device that shipped last fall, barely a year after the 5X’s debut. Although the Pixel’s camera does indeed seem terrific, in other respects this phone doesn’t represent a major advance over the 5X. But smartphone evolution has slowed down in general–a point people forget when they whine about Apple not shipping breakthrough products anymore.

It’s possible that the next Pixel 2 will add cordless charging, expandable memory and water resistance, and in that scenario I may wish my old phone could have staggered on for another few months. Or maybe Google will follow Apple’s foolish lead and get rid of the headphone jack on its next Pixel, in which case I’ll be patting myself on the back for timing my phone failures so well.

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: IFA (x2), iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (x2), headphone jacks, pay-TV apps, iPhone 7 purchase options

Over the past few years, I’ve often found myself observing September 11 by flying somewhere. This year didn’t have me on a plane, but the day did finally get me to post a Flickr album of photos from my visit two years ago to the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. If you’ve never gone, try to do so sometime–but know that it will be a difficult time.

9/6/2016: Gadgets from Europe’s big tech show you can’t get in the US, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this “we can’t have nice things” post from the press room in Berlin on Saturday, but it didn’t go up until Tuesday. Note that we changed up some of the art after an editorial mixup had a couple of errant images in the post.

9/6/2016: The most bizarre things I saw at Europe’s biggest tech show, Yahoo Finance

My original headline began with “IFA inanities,” but my editor correctly pointed out that many readers have no idea what “IFA” is.

9/7/2016: The forecast for Apple’s new iPhones, WTOP

I spoke to Washington’s news station a little after 8 in the morning about predictions for the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

9/7/2016: Apple’s new iPhones, WTOP

I returned to WTOP just after 5 to talk specifics about Apple’s new smartphones and their wireless AirPod headphones, which I may have called “AirBuds” once or twice.

yahoo-iphone-headphone-jack-post9/7/2016: Apple just demonstrated why people hate the tech industry, Yahoo Finance

I teed off on Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Nothing I’ve seen since, including BuzzFeed’s long feature, has convinced me that Apple really had no choice–remember, the company did find room to jam in a second speaker. This leaves me once again content not to own an iPhone, even if the cameras on the new models sound amazing.

9/9/2016: FCC tweaks its proposal to free Americans from cable box fees, Yahoo Finance

Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler rolled out a new proposal to give customers options to the traditional cable (and satellite) box that’s largely built around the cable industry’s own proposal. Big Cable has yet to appreciate this flattery much.

9/11/2016: How to buy an iPhone 7 without getting locked into a carrier, USA Today

I asked my editor if they needed anything iPhone-related this week, she suggested looking into purchase options, and I realized they had changed quite a bit from a year ago–in a customer-friendly direction.