How a Samsung phone and an iPad mini don’t mix

After accidentally invoking Siri on my iPad mini for the fifth time this morning, it hit me: The proprietary layout of buttons on the Samsung Galaxy Note II that I just reviewed is making me stupider at using Apple’s mobile devices.

ImageSamsung veers from the lineup of Android system buttons that Google established with last year’s Ice Cream Sandwich release: Instead of back, home and recent apps, arranged left to right, Samsung’s Android phones offer menu, home and back buttons. (LG also departs from the Android standard, but its back-home-menu array keeps the back button in the expected place.) To see your open apps, you have to press and hold the home button.

On my iPad mini, that same gesture opens Siri, while I have to tap the home button twice to see open apps.

(Yes, when I first wrote about ICS, I was skeptical about removing the menu button and thought that requiring a long press of home to see open apps was good enough. I was wrong: I rarely miss the menu button, while I hit the recent-apps button all the time.)

It’s an exasperating situation, and if I were to get a Samsung Android phone and keep my iPad I’d have to waste brain cells on memorizing this unnecessary difference. You can’t remap the system buttons on a Samsung phone or change Apple’s home-button behavior;  if you disable Siri a long press of the home button will instead bump you over to iOS’s search.

If, on the other hand, I get a phone with the regular ICS buttons–many vendors alter Google’s interface in other ways but stick with that lineup–I face a lot less confusion. At worst, I’d find myself pressing the phone’s home button twice and having nothing happen, which beats launching an unwanted app and hearing Siri’s “ding-ding” prompt.

So that’s one thing that I know will govern my next phone purchase.

Weekly output: Chromebook, newspapers and search engines, Amtrak, photo spheres, Google Calendar, Gmail

What’s not on this list? Any gift-guide pieces or reports about Black Friday sales. I can’t say I miss those two staples of Thanksgiving-week tech coverage… and yet I feel vaguely guilty about dodging them.

11/19/2012: Google’s cheaper Chromebook: enough of a computer, Boing Boing

Having this fall’s implementation by Samsung of Google’s Chromebook laptop concept priced for half of last summer’s made the results easier to like. But Samsung also gave this $249 model better battery life and faster performance, while Google contributed more offline-compatible Web apps. I’m tempted to pick up one to have as a backup computer, which was not the case a year ago.

11/19/2012: A Business Perspective on the Snippet Tax, Disruptive Competition Project

My second post for this tech-policy blog picked up where a 2009 rant over stupid newspaper publishers whining about news-search sites had left off. Now, it’s news organizations in other countries complaining that Google News and sites like it are taking away readers; I’m not any more persuaded by that logic three years later.

11/20/2012: Amtrak’s New App: Does It Actually Make Travel Easier?, The Atlantic Cities

I like trains, and I like smartphone apps that simplify my life a little. I wasn’t sure that Amtrak’s offering for iOS and Android would be worth keeping around, but after using it to book and manage a round-trip from D.C. to NYC, I see where the railroad is going with it.

On Wednesday, USA Today was kind enough to publish a condensed version of last weekend’s Q&A about adding a Start menu to Windows 8 in its print edition. That was the first time I’ve appeared in a newspaper of any kind since Roll Call ran a version of a post I did for the Consumer Electronics Association just over a year a ago , and my first spot in a general-interest paper since I logged off from the Post in April of 2011.

11/24/2012: Spherical Panoramas from a Phone, Discovery News

Writing about a feature confined to a new Android release that most users of Google’s operating system won’t see for months, or ever, seems unfair, but the 4.2 edition’s “photo sphere” option genuinely intrigued me. Alas, I initially neglected to note that the older iOS app Photosynth–from a Redmond, Wash.-based software developer called Microsoft you may have heard of–can also generate interactive spherical panoramas from a phone’s camera.

11/25/2012: How to sync your Google calendar with your iPad, USA Today

Credit for this Q&A item goes to my wife, who asked me about this problem on her iPad. Credit for the tip about a new Gmail search option goes to the Google Operating System blog, an old favorite of mine, which brought that change to my attention last week.

Weekly output: Microsoft Surface (x2), Kojo Nnamdi Show, soundbars, NFC payments, This Week in Law, HDMI DRM, remote-control apps

Microphones played almost as big of a role in my work this week as keyboards usually do.

6/19/2012: Microsoft’s Tablet: No Depth Below The Surface, Discovery News

I wasn’t invited to Microsoft’s Monday-afternoon event in Los Angeles to unveil its Surface tablets (not that I would have been too keen to fly across the country on four days’ notice), but I didn’t mind that much after learning how attendees didn’t actually get to use the display units in any meaningful way.

6/19/2012: New Microsoft Tablet Is Unveiled, Fox 5 News

The local Fox station’s Will Thomas interviewed me about Surface on its morning-news show. As I did in the Discovery post, I noted what Microsoft left out of its introduction of the two Surface tablets: a price, a ship date and even vague promises about battery life.

(Update, 5:53 p.m. Oh, one other thing… the next guest on the show was rapper Ice-T. That does not make me his opening act, but it did result in a photo of me with the gentleman and his wife.)

6/19/2012: Personal Tech Advice, The Kojo Nnamdi Show

About three hours later and half a mile south on Wisconsin Avenue, I talked about cell-phone pricing, iOS 6’s maps app, password security, car2go, and, yes, Surface with two old friends: veteran tech journalist Wayne Rash and guest host Marc Fisher, who remains one of my favorite people at the Washington Post.

6/22/2022: No Soundbar To Mass Adoption, CEA Digital Dialogue

This week’s CEA post chronicles my evolution from a set of what I’ve called Single Guy Speakers to a far more compact soundbar system and discusses how many other people seem to have decided to trade some sonic fidelity for a less bulky (and more baby-proof) setup.

6/22/2012: The High Cost Of Paying By Phone, Discovery News

My first attempt to buy something with the Google Wallet app on the Evo 4G LTE phone I reviewed last month was a flop. The second one worked–and then the entire Wallet app stopped working. I don’t know if I’ll have a chance for a third try before I have to return this loaner phone.

6/22/2012: Episode 167: Are You Game?, This Week in Law

I talked about politicians on Twitter, privacy rights in an age of ubiquitous cameras, how “quantified self” apps might push us to do dangerous things, and the latest DMCA anti-circumvention debate with host Evan Brown and fellow guests Joseph Gratz (a San Francisco-based lawyer) and Sherwin Siy (a vice president at Public Knowledge). I look forward to my next spot on TWiL–one of a series of podcasts produced by TWiT.TV, a Petaluma, Calif.-based network–and hope that it won’t feature Skype locking up and crashing with about 10 minutes to go.

6/24/2012: TiVo ‘viewing error’ a rights issue, USA Today

You may recall me venting on Twitter two weeks ago about an annoying HDMI failure on a Samsung HDTV; this column is the result of that failed troubleshooting session. It also includes a tip about using smartphone or tablet apps as remote controls that I explored at greater length on CEA’s blog last month.

Weekly output: laptop, Android and iOS security, spectrum, Galaxy Note (x2)

The lineup of sites that have run my work lately is a little different this week.

2/19/2012: Tip: How to secure your laptop data, USA Today

I was a little worried that some of the advice I was throwing around in this column–using apps like TrueCrypt to encrypt files, adding third-party DNS services to your Internet setup–would be too technically-involved for a general-interest audience. (I rewrote the DNS item to make some definitions clearer because of that concern.) Did more than a handful of readers add OpenDNS or Google Public DNS to their computers after reading the piece?

2/21/2012: Samsung Galaxy Note: Large, Not In Charge, Discovery News

I wondered what Samsung was up to when it splashed enormous ads on the side of the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES to tout this oversized Android device–“Phone? Tablet? It’s Galaxy Note!”–then ran that goofy Super Bowl ad . I’m even more puzzled by its intentions after reviewing the Note itself. Then again, check out all the comments from people professing that they love this phone and would even prefer that it came with a larger screen.

2/22/2012: Samsung Galaxy Note Review, Boing Boing

I’ve been reading Boing Boing for years; this is the first time I’ve written for the site. The piece decries some of the more common problems in Android phones, as exhibited by this device. Note the extensive comments thread: Many readers critiqued some assumptions I made while writing the piece, but they were generally civil about it. I can appreciate that.

2/22/2012: A Change of Channels on Spectrum Policy, CEA Digital Dialogue

The wonkiest thing I wrote all week, this post unpacks the deal the government worked out–contrary to my own predictions of two years ago–to transfer some airwaves from TV stations to wireless services. Everybody seems content with the outcome, which I can’t recall ever happening with a tech-policy issue affecting so many different interests.

2/24/2012: Who Defends Your Phone: Robots or Humans?, Discovery News

I’d meant to write this right after Google announced its “Bouncer” automated screening of Android Market apps for signs of malware, but got sidetracked by other items for a few weeks. That delay allowed me to put a lot more reporting into the piece and broaden it to address some app-trustworthiness issues that have cropped up more recently with Apple’s App Store.