Weekly output: net-neutrality politics, secure smartphones, wireless charging, MWC, Apple Pay

I gave myself an extra day to explore Mobile World Congress, yet I still ended this year’s pilgrimage to Barcelona wishing I’d had more time to check out all the gadgets/services/apps on display. It appears I need to work on my MWC clock management.

But I did come home with a significantly larger Evernote file and a packed camera memory card (see the results on Flickr), plus some ideas about how I can better cover the show next year.

3/3/2015: How Comcast, Verizon, and the Rest of Big Telecom Blew the Net-Neutrality Battle, Yahoo Tech

I’d had this column in mind since President Obama’s surprising switch to advocating a Title II reclassification of Internet providers as “common carrier” telecom services. Which is another way of saying that I should have had this finished before I got to MWC instead of wrapping it up in the press room Monday afternoon.

Yahoo Tech secure-smartphones post3/4/2015: The Big Problem with the Secure New Smartphones of the Snowden Era: Other Phones, Yahoo Tech

A look at the absence of PGP-encrypted messages in my inbox should be reminder enough about how hard interoperability is. But seeing three different smartphone platforms at MWC that may not be able to talk securely to one another was instructive too.

3/5/2015: Wireless Charging May Not Be Doomed To Irrelevance, Yahoo Tech

MWC left me slightly more optimistic about the prospects for wireless charging being something that people look for in a new mobile gadget, then use regularly once they buy it. And yet: I was able to charge my own, Qi-compatible phone wirelessly all of one time.

3/5/2015: 7 Things We Learned About the Future of Technology at MWC 2015, Yahoo Tech

I contributed a graf or three to this recap of the show. I also had a photo of mine show up in Jason Gilbert’s look back at MWC’s weirder sights.

3/8/2015: Is Apple Pay not NFC?, USA Today

Some grumpiness over press coverage treating Apple Pay as a species separate from NFC payments got me to start asking a few questions, leading to a column in which JetBlue PR essentially left some of its earlier statements inoperative.

 

 

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Nexus 4 long-term evaluation

About seven months ago, I turned on a new Android phone and started installing and configuring my usual apps. That’s not an unusual event for me, except this time it was a phone I’d bought for the sum of $327.94. I’ve been using this Nexus 4 every day since, so I’ve gotten to know this device a little better than the average review model. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Nexus 4 backBattery: This was my number-one concern–a loaner model had tested poorly in this area, and it was only after I found a loaner Nexus 4’s battery life workable during Mobile World Congress that I decided to go ahead with the purchase. Seven months later, I’m surprised by how rarely the phone’s battery has gotten into the red.

I’ve learned to put this phone on WiFi whenever possible (that extends its battery life considerably) and I’m more careful about recharging it if I’m sitting down than I once was. But this experience has me a little more skeptical about relying too much on any one battery-life benchmark. I mean, if a phone can make it through SXSW without dying or needing a recharge every few hours, its battery life can’t be that bad.

Android: I love using the stock Android interface, without any spackled-on layers of interface from a phone vendor and without any bloatware locked in place unless I root the device. I also love not having to wait more than a few days for an Android update to land on the phone. I’m trying to think of what would get me to buy a non-Nexus Android phone… still thinking… let me get back to you on that.

Camera: This is the weakest part of the phone, even if it’s not enough to induce  buyer’s remorse. The lack of optical image stabilization makes this 8-megapixel camera clumsy at most outdoor photos after dark, and its shutter lag is just bad enough to make taking pictures of our toddler or any other fidgety subject (like, say, a monkey) a trying task.

In this camera’s favor, it can take some great photos, and not just with the sun overhead. One of my favorite shots involved early-morning sunlight streaming into the National Airport; I suspect the aging Canon point-and-shoot I had with me would have had trouble balancing that exposure. The Nexus 4’s also done well with food porn, sunsets, panoramas and photo spheres.

Bandwidth: The Nexus 4 doesn’t have LTE, and I don’t care. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ routinely hits 15-Mbps download speeds in the Speedtest.net app. LTE can run faster still, but when my phone’s mobile broadband matches my home’s Fios access I’m not going to mope about the difference. (Those mean things I wrote about carriers marketing HSPA+ as “4G”? Maybe not so much.)

T-Mobile’s coverage is not what I’d get with Verizon. It can also be frustrating to have the phone lose a signal inside a not-large building. But I’m saving about $50 a month compared to what VzW charges. And since this phone is an unlocked GSM phone, I can also pop in any other GSM carrier’s micro-SIM card–as I did when I went to Berlin last month for IFA.

Storage: As the price I mentioned should have indicated, I cheaped out and got only the 8-gigabyte version. So far, that hasn’t been an issue–I still have almost a fifth of the 5.76 GB of user-available space free–but at some point I may have to delete some of the apps I’ve installed and then forgotten about. If I could pop in a microSD card, I wouldn’t have that concern. But I can’t.

Durability: Considering how beat up my older phones have gotten, I worried a little about buying a phone with a glass front and back. But I’ve babied this thing (I never put it in a pocket with change or keys) and after seven months it still looks pretty sharp. You need to hold it up to the light, as in the photo above, to see any faint scratches. I remain paranoid about dropping it–which may explain why I haven’t. Should I buy Google’s bumper case anyway?

Extras: You may not be surprised to read that after seven months, I have yet to buy anything with the Nexus 4’s NFC wireless. I have, however, used that feature to install apps, look up data and stage quick Android Beam file transfers. This phone’s Qi cordless charging has also gone unused at home, although I’ve verified that it works at a couple of trade-show exhibits.

Any other questions? I’ll take them in the comments.

Weekly output: cordless charging, Vivek Kundra, car2go, hard-drive lifespans, camera cables

This list includes a rarity for me: a story that appeared in print–glossy print, no less–before showing up online.

5/2/2012: Cordless Charging Awaits A Jump Start, CEA Digital Dialogue

I’ve been talking to the people at CEA about revisiting some past stories from CES–we in the media often fail to follow up on show debuts to see how they’ve fared, while the association, obviously enough, would not mind more publicity for its signature event. This post looks at the fragmented market for cordless and wireless charging; the next day, Samsung announced its Galaxy S III smartphone with a wireless-charging option that, to judge from its membership in a new, vaguely defined trade group, may not work with either of the current semi-standards.

5/3/2012: Vivek Kundra: Boiling The Ocean, Washingtonian

In my first piece for the monthly magazine, I interviewed former federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra about his experiences working in IT at local, state and federal levels. (The article would have run sooner had I asked more big-picture, non-techie questions in our first conversation.) He has some harsh things to say about how the government does computing–the phrase “boiling the ocean” is Kundra’s term of art for doomed IT projects that try to solve every possible problem out of fear that the currently available funding won’t be around next year–but also remains optimistic about the difference you can make there.

5/5/2012: The Borrow-At-Will, Park-Anywhere Smart Car, Discovery News

I was introduced to Daimler’s point-to-point car-sharing service at SXSW, when one of the people I stayed with ran me around town a few times one of car2go’s Smart Fortwo vehicles. Two weeks later, the company set up shop in Washington, and I took advantage of a free-registration discount code (“CAPITAL,” expiring today) to open an account and use the service for a couple of crosstown drives. In the bargain, I got to shift gears in a car without a tach for the first time since maybe 1993.

5/6/2012: Will audio files kill my hard drive, USA Today

A reader asked if using a new iMac as a home recording studio would shorten the hard drive’s lifespan; I don’t think so, but the question gave me the opportunity to talk about how the drive usually is the first thing to go–and can be one of the most difficult components to replace. The column also has a tip for those of you still habitually reaching for your camera’s USB cable to transfer photos to a camera: Set it aside and pop its SD Card into your computer’s slot instead.

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