Samsung’s Android versus stock Android: how six common tasks compare

I didn’t get around to reviewing Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge after their introductions at Mobile World Congress this February, but a couple of months ago Verizon Wireless PR offered to loan me one anyway. The device had a useful cameo role in a story about mobile payments, I did my customary battery-life tests, and then I had one last chore: taking notes on the differences between Samsung’s “TouchWiz” version of Android and the stock-condition software I have on my Nexus 5X.

Galaxy S7 and Nexus 5XThese interface gaps aren’t as jarring as they used to be, thanks mainly to Samsung having an attack of sanity and no longer putting a menu button where Android’s standard recent-apps button should be. Instead, a back button occupies that space, with recent-apps’ overlapping rectangles moved to the bottom-left corner.

But some differences remain, and I should keep them in mind the next time I’m writing up a cheat sheet about how to tackle certain Android chores. Consider this post a little FYI to myself…

Enable airplane mode:
• Samsung: Swipe down from the top of the screen to show the Quick Settings bar, swipe left to reveal the “Airplane mode” button, tap that. You may see a confirmation dialog if you haven’t told the phone not to nag you about this again.
• Stock: Swipe down twice (or swipe once with two fingers) and tap “Airplane mode.”

Check data usage:
• Samsung: Swipe down to show Quick Settings, tap the gear icon, choose “Data usage” in the Settings app you just opened. Or, less obviously, swipe down twice or swipe once with two fingers, then tap and and hold the “Mobile data” icon.
• Stock: Swipe down twice or swipe once with two fingers, then tap the signal-strength icon.

View app permissions:
• Samsung: Swipe down to show Quick Settings, tap the gear icon, choose “Privacy and emergency” in the Settings app you just opened, tap “App permissions.”
• Stock: Swipe down twice or swipe once with two fingers, tap the gear icon, select “Apps” in the Settings app, tap the top-right gear icon, tap “App permissions.”

Pair with a Bluetooth device:
• Samsung: Swipe down, tap and hold the Bluetooth icon.
• Stock: Swipe down twice or swipe once with two fingers, tap the menu below the Bluetooth icon.

Check per-app battery consumption:
• Samsung: Swipe down, tap the gear icon, choose “Battery” in the Settings app.
• Stock: Swipe down twice or swipe once with two fingers, tap the battery icon.

See how much storage space is left:
• Samsung: Swipe down, tap the gear icon, choose “Storage” in the Settings app.
• Stock: Swipe down twice or swipe once with two fingers, tap the gear icon, choose “Storage & USB” in the Settings app.

Overall, I don’t see Samsung’s interface saving any time compared to Google’s. Which makes me wonder yet again why it bothers to craft such a different front end for this operating system.

Weekly output: old TVs, Mark Zuckerberg, rebooting, deleting old e-mail, wireless charging, Android phones, wireless carriers, smartphone features, smart apartments

Another Mobile World Congress went into the books when I flew home from Barcelona Thursday. I’m glad that show and that city have become a regular part of my travel schedule.

2/21/2016: It’s really time to let go of that old tube TV, USA Today

Circling back to a topic I covered in 2013 allowed me to note some good HDTV options for under $200–including the Wirecutter’s $170 pick–and the unfortunate end of Best Buy’s free TV recycling.

Yahoo Tech Zuckerberg MWC post2/22/2016: Zuckerberg at MWC: Getting the World (and Someday His Daughter) Online, Yahoo Tech

The Facebook founder’s Q&A session started at 6 p.m. local time, meaning the press room closed while I was still writing my recap. I finished it on a bench in the hall outside–MWC, unlike CES, has free WiFi throughout the facility.

2/22/2016: Tip: Sometimes You Really Do Need to Reboot the Damn Thing, Yahoo Tech

I’d written this tip item weeks before, not knowing that a colleague had just filed a different tip item around the virtues of rebooting. Fortunately, our devices did not get any less buggy over the ensuing month.

2/23/2016: Tip: How to Quickly and Easily Get Rid of Old E-Mails, Yahoo Tech

You read a version this three and a half years ago at USA Today, but that didn’t give enough credit to Microsoft’s Outlook.com for nailing the task of automatically deleting e-mails over a certain age.

2/23/2016: Why Wireless Charging Is Still a Tangled Mess, Yahoo Tech

Once again, the wireless industry seems dead set on balkanizing itself between two ways to do the same thing.

2/24/2016: Your Next Android Phone: Smaller but Expandable, Yahoo Tech

This was my attempt at a State of the Union address for Android phones.

2/24/2016: Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

Our first major update to this guide since September factored in the end of two-year contracts at AT&T and Sprint… and two days after it went up, I learned that Sprint had restored two-year contracts. We should have yet another update up in a few days.

2/26/2016: Your next smartphone should have these features, USA Today

My last MWC post inventoried six features that I think you’ll want on your next phone–and another that nobody should care about for a few more years.

2/27/2016: Emerging Multifamily Technologies Panel, NWP Energy Summit

The morning after I got home from Spain–professionalism!–I moderated this panel discussion with NWP’s Howard Behr, Greystar’s Pam Darmofalski, Embue’s Robert Cooper and Remotely’s Mike Branam about how smart-home technology is changing apartments.

Weekly output: Apple-Samsung patent fights, Rocky Agrawal, Google Voice

On a trip where I was supposed to be covering other people’s news, I wound up ever-so-slightly in the news myself after my friend Rocky Agrawal had a Twitter meltdown for a few days. I wrote about our meeting Monday night and tried to suggest that onlookers consider more than the past 72 hours in judging his character, and Business Insider ran a story written around my post. (Hi, new readers. Please stick around.)

Yahoo AppSung post5/6/2014: Apple v. Samsung, Unspun: Patent Warfare Is a Slow, Costly Habit with Few Winners, Yahoo Tech

I led off this analysis of the latest Apple v. Samsung verdict by suggesting that the only sure winners were the children of the patent lawyers involved, who could now count on having their college tuition fully covered. A reader countered in a comment: “As the spouse of a former patent litigator, I take issue with the first paragraph. The children of these attorneys do not win in this scenario. The hours spent on this case are hours these parents will never get to spend with their kids. So pretty much everyone loses.” Fair point.

5/9/2014: Concern on Twitter for the mental health of a former PayPal executive, The Columbia Journalist

Freelance journalist and Columbia j-school student Sara Ashley O’Brien interviewed me for this recap of my friend’s situation.

5/11/2014: Google hangs up on Internet calls for many Voice users, USA Today

Google’s imminent end of support for a protocol that let third-party Internet-calling apps hook into its Google Voice service meant I had to explain why advice I’d offered a year ago in my USAT column is no longer operative.

Making use of misfit review hardware

One of the recurring First World problems in technology journalism is possessing review hardware that you don’t get around to reviewing anywhere. That’s easier to happen than you might think: The device you want to review only works with another one that doesn’t warrant a writeup from you; a PR shop sends along a gadget you don’t need along with one you requested; you ask for a loaner device but then can’t interest a paying client in a story on it.

Chromebook Pixel with Galaxy Note 3 and Republic Wireless Moto XEither way, I hate to send the hardware in question back without getting some journalistic value out of it. (No, I don’t get to keep review hardware for my own use–and selling it on eBay isn’t an option either.) Here’s how I’ve tried to make additional use out of three gadgets that found their way to me without making it into a detailed review by me.

Galaxy Note 3: This size-XL phone was a supporting actor in my reviews of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch. I’ve since used this Sprint-spec Note 3 as a guinea pig in tests of the charging speed of its forked USB 3 cable (it was only about 22 percent faster than a generic USB cable) and of Absolute Software’s Lojack kill-switch app. I’ve also been taking notes on which of Samsung’s default settings merit changing–starting with that annoying whistle notification sound. Look for a cheat sheet on that topic, here or somewhere else.

Moto X: When Republic Wireless sent me its version of this phone, I was sure I could sell somebody on an assessment of how its WiFi-centric wireless service has evolved since last summer’s cruder offering. Nope! The loaner unit got a brief mention in a post about some positive trends in the mobile-phone industry and hasn’t shown up in any stories since then. I’ve used it to check the speed of Sprint’s LTE in my neighborhood (just now at my desk, a weak 4.51 Mbps down and 4.58 Mbps up) and to check its battery life (unsurprisingly enough, it’s vastly better on WiFi).

Chromebook Pixel: At Google’s I/O conference this May, journalists were invited to take home loaner units of this $1,299 Chrome OS laptop. I thought it would be educational to see how the Web looked on an ultra-high-resolution, 2560-by-1700-pixel display. Answer: pretty sharp! But I’ve spent surprisingly little time on the thing. For me, at least, the utility of a laptop with all of my usual apps trumps the beauty of a screen bereft of those tools. My last intensive use of the machine was to set up a fake Facebook account so I could check the social network’s default settings for a how-to post at Yahoo Tech, but this laptop’s smooth gray finish has also served as a backdrop in a few gadget close-up shots.

If you have any lingering questions about these devices that I might be able to answer, speak up now–sometime in the next few days, they’re all going home.

Weekly output: car connectivity, business models, virtual voting, LTE fragmentation, Google Keyboard

I hope you all enjoyed your more-or-less four-day weekend. I did–and managed to spend enough time away from my various keyboards that I’m now posting this after midnight Sunday. Oh well…

7/1/2013: Car Connectivity Nears A Fork In The Road, Discovery News

My last report from CE Week covered the philosophical split I saw between companies vying to make car dashboards smarter by essentially turning them into smartphones, and those looking to provide easier and more powerful phone-to-dashboard links. I’m hoping the second contingent wins out, but I see a lot of ways they might not.

7/3/2013: Transparency About Your Business Model Ought To Be A Competitive Advantage, Disruptive Competition Project

First I saw the popular Google Reader replacement Feedly get criticized for not having a  business model (it does but has been weirdly quiet about it). Then I read blogger Andrew Sullivan’s impressive transparency about his venture into reader-supported publishing. Then I decided it was time to call out dot-commers who don’t think they need to tell their users how they plan to make money.

KTVU virtual-voting spot7/3/2013: Bill would allow virtual voting in Congress, Cox Media Group

A House resolution would let representatives attend committee hearings via videconferencing and even cast some non-controversial votes remotely, so it seemed  appropriate to have Cox correspondent Jacqueline Fell interview me about the bill via Skype. And so viewers in such places as Atlanta, the Bay Area (linked above), Palm BeachPittsburgh and Reno could have seen me briefly identified as a “Technology Expert.”

7/7/2013: Carriers have different ways to spell ‘LTE’, USA Today

A reader asked Sprint customer support a simple question–can your LTE phones roam on Verizon–and got a wrong answer, and things got more complicated from there as I dove into the tangled universe of LTE bands here and overseas. The tip part of the column is a lot simpler: If you hate your (new-ish) Android phone’s keyboard, install Google Keyboard today.

On Sulia, I poured one out for the now-officially-defunct Nextel, noted a documentary profiling five D.C. tech startups I’ve covered, griped about TiVo’s dismissive, “sorry”-free response to a friend’s perfectly reasonable query, and called out glib, alarmist rewriting of a mobile-security company’s report of a partially-addressed Android vulnerability.

Weekly output: SXSW (x2), Google Reader, bookmarks, Galaxy S 4

Another travel week ends as it should: me at home, photos from the trip posted, expenses duly categorized in Mint and a flurry of LinkedIn invitations sent.

Discovery News SXSW 2013 post

3/13/2013: SXSW Sights: Silly Robots and Serious Wi-Fi, Discovery News

This year’s SXSW didn’t feature any breakout apps, or even a particular category of app that had people excited. Here, I wrote about the panels, talks and demos that caught my interest instead–and noted the conference’s most pleasant surprise, reliable, fast and free WiFi almost everywhere I went.

3/15/2013: Digging Into A Few Of SXSW 2013′s Disruptive Dreams, Disruptive Competition Project

In this SXSW recap, I focused more closely on a few topics that interested me at the festival: 3-D printing, HTML5 apps, mobile finance and our not-fully-rational responses to transformational technology. I wrote about three-quarters of this on the plane home; the remaining one-fourth took the last three-quarters of the time.

3/15/2013: What’s the big deal about Google Reader’s demise?, USA Today

Google’s surprising (and, to many, infuriating) announcement of the July 1 shutdown of its Google Reader RSS service sparked this column, posted a couple of days early. I thought about linking to the “Hitler finds out Google Reader is shutting down” Downfall parody video, but I wasn’t sure all of the potential audience would be hip to the joke.

3/15/2013: Can the new Samsung Galaxy S4 take on the iPhone?, WTOP

D.C.’s news station had me on the air for a couple of minutes to discuss Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone. (Samsung invited me to what turned out to be a hot mess of a launch event at Radio City Music Hall; I opted not to run up to NYC the day after getting home from Austin, but part of me regrets not going.)

Sulia worked well for sharing my notes from SXSW in something close to real-time: for instance, highlights from Oatmeal cartoonist Matthew Inman’s keynote, details about one startup’s dubious patent filing, and a glitchy demo of Siri’s Eyes Free Mode in a Chevy hatchback on the show floor. I also noted Google’s backpedaling after a stupidly terse  post had people thinking the company was ending support for the open CalDAV schedule-syncing standard.

End the CES press conference as we know it

LAS VEGAS–Around 1 p.m. yesterday, when one of the two lines to get into Samsung’s press conference had already stretched around the corner of one long corridor in the Mandalay Bay hotel’s conference center, I had to question the use I was making of a painfully long day.

CES journalists assembledPress conference day has been part of the CES routine for as long as I’ve known the show. From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the day before the show actually opens, a line of consumer-electronics vendors take turns pitching their plans for the coming year. It should be a good opportunity to get a read on their priorities and see most of their new products.

But the massive crowds these events attract–and the lack of any meaningful Q&A time, usually a requirement in real press conferences–increasingly make them a no-win proposition. First you wait half an hour or longer to get in line (if you’re lucky or on excellent terms with the PR types running the show, you can squeeze in later), then you hunker down on the floor, in the back or the side of an enormous room (to get a seat, you’d need to have camped out more like an hour in advance).

You then watch a parade of executives bantering on about the company’s hopes and dreams and showing off their upcoming wares, which is good and useful–but from the cheap seats, you see no more detail than you’d get from watching video offsite. And except for Sony’s presser, which takes place in its exhibit area at the Las Vegas Convention Center, you rarely get any hands-on time with the new hardware either.

And only a lucky few reporters get to have any sort of conversation with the executives involved before everybody has to rush off to the next press conference–make that, the one happening an hour later, since the one kicking off in 10 minutes is already at capacity. TechnoBuffalo’s Roy Choi came up with an apt description of the phenomenon while standing next to me on one of these lines: “It’s really more of a lecture.”

If you’re a large and successful tech-news operation, you can work around this inefficiency by flooding the zone with reporters–CNet sent 90 people to cover CES, a fact that kind of makes me want to cry. But if it’s only you and one or two other journalists, you have to question spending a day like this.

So next year, maybe I’ll fly out on press conference day instead. I’d still have the full show itself before me–and, to rebut the “CES is dead” crowd, being able to see almost an entire industry’s worth of upcoming products and talk to the people involved remains worth the time and travel expense. And in the bargain, I’d have an extra day with my family.