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: LG Optimus F3, Samsung Ativ S Neo, Galaxy Gear (x2), piracy, e-books, iOS 7 on an iPhone 4, apps near me

Courtesy of a few stories I’d written earlier all getting published in in the same 30-hour period, Monday and Tuesday had me looking vastly more productive than I normally am.

9/30/2013: LG Optimus F3 (T-Mobile), PCMag.com

This compact Android phone had some terrific battery life, but LG’s questionable additions to the stock interface were an especially poor fit on its smaller screen.

9/30/2013: Samsung Ativ S Neo (Sprint), PCMag.com

A phone vendor can’t alter the Windows Phone interface, so this Samsung phone did not suffer from the UI alterations I grumble about when reviewing this manufacturer’s Android phones.

10/1/2013: Galaxy Gear Watch’s Time Has Not Yet Come, Discovery News

The first of two reviews of Samsung’s connected Android watch took a higher-level assessment of the thing and suggested ways that upcoming smart watches could do better.

Boing Boing Galaxy Gear review

10/1/2013: Samsung Galaxy Gear is a timepiece with an agenda, Boing Boing

In this review, I could get a little more into the weeds. I also had fun coming up with that photo–the corrugated tube those watches rest on is a bendable flashlight you can wear around your neck for hands-free illumination.

10/1/2013: NetNames Piracy Study Follow-Up: Even Incorrigible Infringers Can Still Be Good Customers, Disruptive Competition Project

The author of the study I questioned at DisCo two weeks ago wanted to chat further; our conversation led to me reading a different piracy study that found that habitual infringers are also great paying customers.

USAT Best Years story10/1/2013: Turn the Page, USA Today Best Years

I wrote an introduction to e-books for USAT’s quarterly magazine for 50-and-over women. I made sure to spell out the usage limits created by e-book DRM early in the story (on sale in print, not available online), but I could not stop Amazon from shipping an improved Kindle Paperwhite a few days after the story went to print.

10/6/2013: How to help iOS 7 run faster on an older iPhone, USA Today

A reader query about sluggish typing on an iPhone 4 led to me to offer some general suggestions about improving iOS 7’s performance on older models–but then a reader pointed me to the unlikely fix of disabling iCloud’s “Documents & Data” sync, which he swore fixed the exact problem the first reader had reported. I left a comment passing on that tip, and a third reader said it worked for him as well.

On Sulia, I chronicled my so-far-unsuccessful attempts to set up an account at HealthCare.gov, reported that the clunky USB 3.0 connector on the Galaxy Note 3 doesn’t charge the phone all that much faster from an outlet, noted a case of my agreeing with one of the RIAA’s tech-policy positions, and called out Samung and Sprint for including an unnecessary second browser on the Note 3 and then tarting it up with an adware toolbar.

Belated updates to this year’s stories

You don’t have to run a correction when a story changes after you’ve written about it–but it is polite to follow up. Here’s a not-so-short list of updates to stories I’ve done this year.

Old stories sepia toneWhen I wrote that Google’s new, unified privacy policy would almost certainly be recast to let users opt out of having the company assemble a detailed portrait of them based on their use of separate Google services, I was wrong; that has yet to happen.

Sonic.net’s groundbreaking fiber-to-the-home service–a steal at $69.95 a month for 1 billion bits per second–seems to be off to a fine start in Sonoma County, but the planned expansion to San Francisco’s Sunset District is still on the way. It hasn’t shown up as an advertised offering on this Santa Rosa, Calif., Internet provider’s home-services page either.

Remember when adjacent-friend-discovery apps were going to blow up after their moment in the sun at SXSW in March? Didn’t happen. Facebook bought Glancee (and has yet to do much publicly with its technology), while Highlight seems to have fallen off the map (maybe I’m not hanging out with the right crowd?).

The ethics of outsourced manufacturing, fortunately, have stayed in the headlines since I wrote about them in March for CEA. And we may even be seeing legitimate progress, to judge from the New York Times’ story earlier this week recounting upgrades in pay and working conditions at contract manufacturers Foxconn and Quanta’s Chinese factories.

I’m still waiting to see comparable progress in liberating e-books from “digital rights management.” The sci-fi publisher Tor/Forge–a subsidiary of Macmillan–went DRM-free in July, but other branches of the major publishing houses have clung to this self-defeating measure. 

After saying so many good things about the car2go car-sharing service–and seeing that story get picked up in a few other places–I have to confess that I, ahem, haven’t used the service since. Capital Bikeshare is even more convenient and cheaper for trips under two miles, plus I need to make my way into the District to jump into one of car2go’s Smart fortwo vehicles.

I tempered my praise for Sprint’s Evo 4G LTE by wondering how long its users would wait to get Google’s software updates. Answer: almost six months, the time it took HTC and Sprint to deliver the Android 4.1 release Google shipped in June.

I was pretty sure I’d buy a Nexus 7 tablet after liking it as much as I did in July. But now that I own an iPad mini, that purchase seems like it would be redundant. Am I making a mistake there?

After teeing off on Apple Maps in the first chapter of my iPhone 5 review for CNNMoney.com, I have to give Apple credit for fixing the two worst flaws I called out. It now lists the correct address for the Kennedy Center as its first search result and provides a route to Dulles Airport that don’t cross any runways. But it still doesn’t know about Yards Park or the new 11th Street Bridges across the Anacostia–and the latter omission means its directions will now send you on a closed stretch of freeway.

My upbeat review of Samsung’s $249 Google Chromebook noted some build-quality concerns, in the form of a loose corner of the screen bezel. I found out the hard way that it’s more delicate than that; its LCD is now broken, and I don’t even know how. (We do have a two-year-old at home, but it’s also possible that I dropped something on it.)

My advice about enabling multiple-calendar Google Calendar sync on an iOS device by setting up your Google account as a Microsoft Exchange account will soon be obsolete. Effective January 30, Google will no longer support Exchange syncing on new setups (although existing ones will still work). Fortunately, it’s also posted instructions to enable multiple-calendar sync without the Exchange workaround.

3/23/2013: Updated the link for the car2go review after the post vanished in a site redesign and, for CMS-driven reasons that escape me, could not be re-posted at the same address. 

Weekly output: iPad mini, iPad mini vs. Nexus 7 vs. Kindle Fire HD, Galaxy Note II, lost phones, deactivated phones

It’s been an interesting week for reader comments.

11/5/2012: The iPad Mini: Apple’s Big Little Tablet, Discovery News

As I wrote here yesterday, I’m liking Apple’s smaller tablet more than I thought I would, and didn’t mind saying so in this review. I don’t know why it didn’t incite the usual comments flame war (“Apple’s awesome!” “No, Apple sucks!”), much less what to make of the gibberish replies a couple of readers left. Was that a case of pocket-commenting, or were they confused about how to spam the comments?

11/7/2012: Tablet showdown: iPad mini vs. Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD, CNNMoney

I’ve been trying out Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD for several weeks, but I didn’t get around to writing about it until I did this comparison of it, the iPad mini and Google’s Nexus 7. I’m less impressed with the Seattle retail giant’s tablet efforts the second time around, while the Nexus 7 still holds up pretty well against the iPad mini.

I thought I might get some grief from readers for kicking the Kindle Fire HD to the curb like that, but instead I got several comments from irritated fans of… the BlackBerry PlayBook.

11/10/2012: Galaxy Note II Is More Than A Handful, Discovery News

Speaking of irritated fans, this dismissive review of Samsung’s latest oversized phone enraged a few Galaxy Note II partisans, who took to the comments to argue (paraphrasing loosely) that only limp-wristed losers would find this phone too big. One reader even wrote at length on on Google+ that most people don’t even use phones one-handed; I give him credit for saying so in a literate and civil manner, but I still have to regard that as the most delusional analysis I’ve seen since Karl Rove’s election-night math.

11/11/2012: How to find a lost or stolen smartphone, USA Today

I’ve been meaning to write this overview of find-my-phone apps for months, but the wireless carriers’ launch last week of a stolen-phone database finally got me to finish the job. The post also reminds readers that they can turn a deactivated smartphone into a poor man’s iPod touch that can also dial 911 in a pinch, a point I made in a CEA post last fall.

Weekly output: iPad mini (x), Windows 8 (x2), Lightning cable, OS X updates

Was there any surprise about which two stories would dominate my time this week?

10/23/2012: New iPad Mini Eats Steve Jobs’ Words, Discovery News

My reaction to Apple’s announcement of a smaller iPad had to remind readers of Steve Jobs’ lengthy explanation two years ago of the functional impossibility of a quality tablet experience on a screen smaller than 10 inches.

10/23/2012: Apple’s iPad Mini much pricier than rival tablets, Fox 5 News

That evening, the folks at the local Fox station had me on to talk about the iPad mini. Our conversation focused on the gap between its $329 starting price and the $199 cost of two smaller tablets, Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD. I left out the iPad mini’s lack of a Retina display, but then again I’m not sure I’ll notice that when using the thing. (I’ll find out soon enough, as I pre-ordered one on Friday; if I don’t like it enough to keep after writing up my reviews, Apple doesn’t charge a restocking fee.)

On Wednesday the 24th, I moderated a good panel discussion with Potomac Tech Wire’s Paul Sherman, the Washington Business Journal’s Bill Flook and the Washington Post’s Steven Overly about how tech reporters interact with public-relations types. But there’s no record of this event, hosted by the PR agency Environics Communications, besides a round of tweets.

10/25/2012: Windows 8 release, Fox 5 News

Two days later I was back in WTTG’s newsroom–even standing on the same marker tape on the floor–to talk about the impending arrival of Microsoft’s Windows 8. I spent most of this brief hit talking about its new, wildly different interface and didn’t even mention Windows RT and the Surface tablet. Considering that Microsoft has papered the Gallery Place Metro station with ads for Surface, that might not have been the best call.

10/27/2012: Windows 8: Twice The Interface, Third The Price, Discovery News

This review was supposed to run on Friday, but a miserable all-nighter of an installation experience ensured I’d need more time. I’m glad I took it; the insight that Windows 8’s new Start-screen user interface could be seen as a descendant of such simplified, media-playback front ends as Microsoft’s Media Center and Apple’s Front Row didn’t come to me until Saturday morning.

10/28/2012: Apple’s Lightning cable: Making the switch, USA Today

This is my attempt at summing up the long-term complications of Apple’s switch to a smaller cable for its mobile devices. Anybody want to bet how long it will be before cars that today ship with dock-connector cables will leave factories with Lightning cables instead? The column wraps up with a reminder about how you can repair a botched OS X patch installation by downloading a large “combo update” from Apple’s site.

To all reading this along the Northeast Corridor: Stay safe, stay dry, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Weekly output: Nexus 7, mobile-ized desktop interfaces, Yahoo passwords, HTTPS always

I ended this week with two more stories filed beyond those listed below, so next week’s version of this post should make me look busier.

7/10/2012: Nexus 7 Writes New Chapter In Android Tablets, Discovery News

I finally found an Android tablet I like–and, indeed, will probably buy. (Like everybody else who attended Google’s I/O developer conference, I got a Nexus 7 for free, along with a  Nexus Q media player and an unlocked Galaxy Nexus phone; as a journalist, however, I had to sign an agreement confirming that all these products are loans due back Dec. 31, and I will honor that commitment.) This review has one error I’ve since corrected: The Nexus 7 includes the Google Wallet app, even though a search for that app in the Play Store didn’t show any results and I stupidly didn’t think to check the apps list on the device itself.

Since this post went up, I’ve seen a few reports on Twitter from other tech journalists who say their Nexus 7 review units won’t charge, or won’t charge over anything but the tablet’s own charger. I didn’t have that experience–having seen how an iPad can slowly replenish itself off a generic USB charger even when it says it’s not charging, I figured that the Nexus 7 would follow that pattern and saw that it did. But should I have spelled that out explicitly in the review? Should I add that detail now?

7/13/2012: What Your Phone Owes Your Next Computer, CEA Digital Dialogue

My not-entirely-pleasant experiences trying out an advance version of Windows 8 and living with Apple’s OS X Lion led me to write this reassessment of the wisdom of making our desktop operating systems more like the software running our phones and tablets. I see some clear-cut improvements–app stores, for example–but also serious downgrades (touch-first interfaces). And even the positive steps can be undermined by other things OS and third-party software vendors do (see, for instance, the extra steps Mac developers have to take to meet the Mac App Store’s “sandboxing” security requirement).

7/15/2012: Give your passwords a security check-up, USA Today

Last week’s massive breach of user-account credentials at Yahoo’s Yahoo Voices site gave me an excuse to revisit older advice on generating and saving passwords that both resist guessing and cracking attempts but can also be memorized by normal human beings. The column wraps up with a reminder to enable the site-wide encryption option offered by Facebook and Hotmail, but not yet the default at either site.