Weekly output: encryption, wireless carriers, Gear S2, IFA

I’m home from Germany, but not for long. Tuesday afternoon, I depart for CTIA’s Super Mobility Week show, and two days later I head over to Portland for XOXO. I thought about skipping CTIA’s show, but two nights’ hotel in Vegas and the extra air travel added so little to my trip costs that I decided to go ahead with it. (No, I’m not going to Apple’s event Wednesday in San Francisco; Yahoo and USA Today already have reporters covering it.) Check back next weekend to see if I still think this schedule was a good idea… I already have my doubts.

9/1/2015: What Politicos Don’t Know About Encryption Could Make Us All Less Safe, Yahoo Tech

I filed this somewhat overdue update on the encryption debate (hint: security experts say there’s nothing to debate) Monday evening over one of Canada’s maritime provinces. I’d complain about the WiFi cutting in and out, but it’s important to keep perspective: I wrote from a chair in the sky! With Internet access!

Wirecutter best-carriers guide9/1/2015: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

Didn’t I just update this guide? Yes, I did. But then AT&T revised its prices, Sprint announced it would drop two-year contracts by the end of the year, and some new third-party research came out. I took advantage of the opportunity to redo our usage scenarios to reflect reports of higher average data consumption.

9/3/2015: Hands On: Samsung’s Gear S2 Brings Some Elegance to the Smartwatch, Yahoo Tech

I had about an hour to play with this interesting smartwatch Wednesday evening in Berlin. The lede popped into my head the next morning, in plenty of time for me to file before Samsung’s embargo expired.

9/6/2016: Four trends spotted at the IFA tech conference, USA Today

A few weeks ago, the folks at USAT asked if I could occasionally switch up my column from the usual Q&A format to address issues raised at tech-industry events like IFA. I said that sounded like a reasonable idea, and this is the result. Next weekend will probably see me again hold off on the Q&A to write about whatever I learn about the wireless industry at CTIA’s event.

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Apple Watch coverage as a spectator sport

I didn’t see or touch an Apple Watch until yesterday–when I played with a couple in an Apple Store, just like anybody else could.

Apple Watch close-upThat was a somewhat unavoidable consequence of my freelancer status intersecting with Apple PR’s choosy habits (as seen in 9to5mac’s fascinating chart of which places did and did not get review hardware before earlier iOS device launches): An outlet big enough to merit early Apple Watch access will already have a full-time staffer ready to review the thing.

It happens and doesn’t really bother me, although it did when I was at the Post and felt that One of America’s Most Important Newspapers was being snubbed. To the Apple reps I yelled at over decisions made by their bosses: I’m sorry.

Anyway, it’s been positively relaxing to sit out this round of the new-Apple-gadget media circus and instead read everybody else’s reviews at my leisure. I started with those from my regular clients–David Pogue’s at Yahoo Tech, Ed Baig’s at USA Today–and then proceeded to check out John Gruber’s reviewJoanna Stern’s critique at the Wall Street Journal, Nilay Patel’s lengthy assessment for The Verge, and Farhad Manjoo’s evaluation in the New York Times.

Apple Watch reviewsAs ever, it was fascinating to see what issues each reviewer focused on and which ones didn’t merit a mention. Fun fact: None cited the watch’s thickness (at 10.5 mm, or .413 inches, it’s thinner than the Moto 360 I did not like enough to buy). Maybe I’m an oddball to be so persnickety about smartwatch thickness?

I also enjoyed seeing the Verge’s designers get to play with the layout of that piece, and I thought the day-in-the-life-of construction of that review and the WSJ’s was a good way to unpack the Apple Watch’s utility–and the limits of its battery life.

So now that I’ve played with the Apple Watch up close, am I tempted to buy it? Of course not: I have an Android phone. And even if I’d broken my streak of never owning an iPhone, this entire category of product still looks at least one update cycle away from earning a spot on my shopping list.

 

Smartwatch withdrawal

For the first time since last summer, I’m about to depart for a trip without including a smartwatch and its charger in my luggage: I returned the Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live I’ve been trying out to Google PR on Wednesday.

The 360’s face picks up a lot of glare.(I took advantage of having to go to NYC for the day to hand-deliver those Android Wear watches and a few other loaner devices to a Google publicist–less because of the money I’d save on FedEx, more because I wouldn’t have to find a box and enough bubble wrap for all of these things.)

I don’t miss having to charge a smartwatch–always with a proprietary adapter that’s easy to misplace, not easy to replace–every day. But I do miss the soothing sense that if something important happens in my digital life, a device on my wrist will tell me about it and relieve me of the need to grab my phone.

Somebody used the phrase “digital triage” to describe that aspect of smartwatch usage, and that sounds about right: Unlike a beep or a buzz from a phone, the name and subject of an e-mail flashed across a watch’s face tell you instantly if the message is something that demands quick attention or can wait.

That use case seems as compelling to me as it did after two months of trying the Gear Live–maybe more so after I realize how often I was checking my phone during a dinner Thursday night. Fortunately, I was with other tech types, so I’m sure my fellow diners weren’t offended. Much.

And, sure, I once again have to reach for my phone to tell the time.

This trip will take me to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, where I expect to see a new crop of smartwatches–Apple’s excluded, as that company doesn’t show off its products at other people’s events.

Some of them should be thinner and lighter and run longer on a charge than the Motorola and Samsung watches. Some may do away with the need for a proprietary charger, either by accepting a standard micro-USB charger or using wireless charging. Some may even look sharp enough to wear with a suit. With each of those advances, the odds of me buying one of these things will tick forward another notch.

4/8/2015: fixed a broken link

Weekly output: cell-phone lane, iPhone 6 pricing, wireless carriers, Moto 360, iOS app bandwidth

NEW YORK–I spent two fascinating days here checking out Maker Faire (and catching up with some old friends), and now it’s time to head home. Make that, 16 minutes ago was the time to head home, except my train is late. Yay, travel.

9/15/2014: Chinese cellphone lane inspired by D.C., WTOP

The post I did for Yahoo Tech about a mock cell-phone lane on a D.C. sidewalk was back in circulation after a city in China staged a similar exercise, so WTOP quizzed me about what I’d seen earlier this summer.

Yahoo Tech iPhone 6 pricing plans9/16/2014: iPhone 6 Plans Compared: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, Yahoo Tech

This column was about 50 percent shopping advice, 50 percent a desperate plea to the wireless carriers (T-Mobile excepted) to simplify their offerings. As one heading from the story cried out: Why, Sprint, why?

I know some of you wanted me to offer guidance about family-plan deals for the iPhone. We didn’t have room for that in this piece, but I did file an update to my Wirecutter guide to wireless service with that info and much more; it should be up soon.

9/17/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers Today, Tested.com

Speaking of, I wrote a condensed version of that guide, complete with updates to account for iPhone 6/6 Plus pricing, that the site’s syndication partners could run. Tested.com posted its version on Wednesday… and tonight the link is coming up 404. Not sure what happened there.

9/19/2014: Moto 360: A round smartwatch not yet ready to roll (review), VentureBeat

This review had an amazingly short gestation time compared to some of the things I’ve written: I started it on the train up from D.C. late Friday morning, and it was up by mid-afternoon. That’s a great feeling.

9/21/2014: Check it: Which iPhone apps are data hogs?, USA Today

I was mostly done reporting a different Q&A column when I discovered that I’d covered almost the same topic last summer. (Oops.) Fortunately, I had this idea as a backup; unfortunately, I left out one step in the tip about iOS 8’s per-app battery-usage data, so we had to update the story this afternoon to fix that.

Speaking of column updates, we also revised the prior weekend’s column to add a couple of paragraphs explaining the NFC-mobile-payment app Softcard’s hitherto under-documented security options.

Call me crazy, but I’m warming to the smartwatch concept

From the thumbs-down I handed out to a Microsoft “SPOT Watch” in 2004 to last year’s “try again” dismissal of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, I have not looked too favorably on the idea of wearing a smartwatch with a data stream of its own.

Android Wear watchBut now that I’m wearing yet another one of these devices, the Samsung Gear Live loaned to me at Google I/O, I find myself thinking of reasons why I’ll miss this thing when I have to send it back to Google PR.

Here’s the key thing it does right: provide a no-hands-required external display for my phone’s notifications list. If I’m cooking, gardening, biking or holding my daughter’s hand as we cross the street, I often have no ready way to get at the phone and so can only wonder if the beep or buzz of a notification is something I need to check or not.

Now I can see for myself. In some cases, I can dictate a reply by voice, but I’ve only done that once or twice; just knowing if what’s new on my phone is important enough to require taking it out of my pocket is good enough.

(I have, however, been surprised by how often I’ve leaned on Android Wear’s voice control while grilling: “OK Google, set a timer for five minutes.”)

Android Wear’s unavoidable updates are not always advantageous. As I noted in a Yahoo Tech column, I did not need or appreciate having the watch light up to alert me of a new e-mail (of course, spam) as I was putting our daughter to bed.

And that’s where Google could do a better job. Gmail has multiple ways to prioritize your e-mail–starring messages, marking conversations as important, displaying them in the “Primary” inbox tab–but none of them seem to inform what pops up on an Android Wear watch’s screen.

Should Apple surprise absolutely nobody by introducing an “iWatch” next month, I trust that such a timepiece will have an option to only notify you of new mail from people on your “VIP” list.

I also expect that any Apple smartwatch will be thinner than the Gear Live–which at roughly 3/8th of an inch thick, itself represents a welcome advance over the nearly half-inch thick Galaxy Gear and the 3/4-inch thick Microsoft-powered Suunto I hated in 2004.

That, in turn, should push the next Android Wear–or Pebble smartwatch, another promising contender–to get smarter and sleeker. And with these things costing $200 and change, that may be enough to get me to buy. And then you all can point and laugh at the nerd who decided he had to walk around with not one but two interactive gadgets.

Weekly output: smartwatch etiquette, Kojo Nnamdi Show, Android tips, finding an ISP

With the arrival of August, I’m supposed to be able to slack off now that everybody with more sense temporarily flees D.C. Somehow I doubt things will work out that easily. 7/29/2014: Smartwatch Etiquette: We’re Making It Up as We Go, Yahoo Tech

Does wearing a smartwatch mean I no longer have to be the annoying person who’s always checking his phone, or does it turn me into the annoying person who’s always checking his smartwatch?

7/29/2014: A Short History of Gadget Hate, Yahoo Tech

I enjoyed putting together this sidebar listing past denunciations of wearable technology, from the watch itself to the Sony Walkman.

Kojo Nnamdi travel-tech show7/29/2014: Travel Tech for a Great Vacation, The Kojo Nnamdi Show

I talked about airfare- and hotel-search sites, out-of-town bandwidth, navigation apps and other travel-tech topics with National Geographic Traveler editor Keith Bellows and Washington Post travel writer Andrea Sachs.

8/1/2014: 9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Android, Yahoo Tech

The little Android crash-test-dummy toy in the picture atop this post was a giveaway at last year’s Google I/O conference. More interesting than yet another screen shot, don’t you think?

8/3/2014: How to find the best Internet service provider, USA Today

A friend’s question about replacing his wretched EarthLink DSL led me to realize how the lack of competition in broadband seems to have dried up the market for find-an-ISP sites. (Not that I miss the insane amount of work I sank into compiling directories of local ISPs for the Post.)