Tag Archives: iphone

Passing Notes

Cell phones evoke strong reactions in many users, from camping out for days in advance of a posted release date, to igniting flame wares online debating the merits of the latest models. Some people are fully entrenched in one brand or the other and cannot conceive of ever using another model, while others flip back and forth depending on what deal they find at the time. Some people get a new phone every six months while others hold onto their phone until it completely stops working. I tend to fall in the latter group. My Galaxy Note 4 was on its last legs and it was time to consider a new phone. I held off getting a replacement until I knew whether or not Samsung would continue the Note line after its Note 7 debacle. I now have a new phone and a new carrier (kinda) and I am a happy camper once again.

I bought my Note 4 when my Note 3 failed. When my Note 4 began exhibiting battery problems after a year, I considered having my carrier upgrade me to the newly-released Note 7 (Samsung skipped the Note 6) as a replacement. Fortunately, my Carrier was able to get me a new Note 4 that resolved my issue and I didn’t have time to be disappointed because it was just then when the Note 7 began exploding in people’s pockets. The carriers very much want people to buy a new phone every year and it had been more than two since I bought my Note 4. Both Samsung and Verizon were keen on upgrading me to the Galaxy S-8. I even considered it, but it came down to the fact that there is no S-pen in the S-8. I just couldn’t do it.

All that changed at the end of July, when Samsung began teasing its “Bigger Things” ad campaign. Clearly from the silhouette, they were about to release a new Note! I was giddy with “New Phone” excitement. After Samsung announced the phone, the major carriers began offering pre-orders at different price points. The phone is not cheap. $960 from all the carriers, but that could be mitigated by trading in an old phone. Best Buy offered it for $150 less than the carriers, so that was the best deal, if I stayed with Verizon. One problem, though, was that I had finally finished paying off my Note 4 and my Verizon bill was about to be a lot lower, but if I bought the phone from them, I was stuck making payments for two years again. Verizon is not the cheapest data plan unless you get four lines from them. As I live alone, I certainly don’t need four lines. Their unlimited plan was a bit more than I wanted to pay, so I began shopping around.

The other major carriers were comparable to Verizon and nothing stood out. Comcast had recently launched their Xfinity Mobile service and I looked at that. As an Xfinity Internet customer, I could get phone service from them without paying a line access fee. That was cool. Their unlimited plan was cheaper than the other carriers as well. The only problem was that Xfinity Mobile wasn’t listing the Note 8 as being available, and I had to buy the phone from them to activate it. They do not yet offer a bring your own phone plan. Fortunately, the week after its announcement, the Note 8 appeared on the XM website for pre-order at $200 less than all the other carriers. That pretty much put the nail in the coffin for me. I ordered the phone and the “by the gig” plan ($12 per gig) and waited.

The phone arrived at my home via FedEx on the 15th (the official launch date) and I unboxed it immediately. It is about a centimeter longer than the Note 4 and about a half-centimeter more narrow. It is an all-glass body, which makes it challenging to hold onto. Also, it is very slippery and will readily slide on any slanted surface, so a tactile case is essential to prevent damage. It’s biggest cosmetic difference is the infinity screen, removing any hard buttons from the face of the device. No home button. No fingerprint scanner. Nothing. When the phone is off, it is just a black obelisk. The power button is in the same position on the right side and the volume buttons are on the left. One new button shares the left side at about thumb position and that is the Bixby button. More on that later.

On the flip-side, there are two camera lenses, the flash and the re-positioned fingerprint sensor. The dual 12 megapixel camera is an oft-touted improvement allowing for more portrait style photography giving simulated depth of field. The front camera has improved as well, now sporting 8 megapixels. The most significant improvement for me is the manual settings allowing the user to set aperture and shutter speed and ISO if they so choose.

The S-pen does more now as well. While it is still a WACOM stylus, Samsung has added more features in the system that uses the S-pen. It had a coloring program that allows the user to either color on predrawn art, much like those adult coloring books that were all the rage a couple of years ago, or free draw and color original artwork and share it in an online gallery for feedback. I have wasted a couple of hours doing that already.

The Note 8 is a Note, so it still works on the same principle as its predecessors and I am well familiar with it. My greatest impression is the faster CPU and the larger memory. The Octocore processor running at 2.35 GHz and the six Gigs of onboard RAM mean it is zippy fast. Samsung also brought back the micro SD card slot so the on board 64 Gigs of storage can be augmented by adding up to 256 Gigs of removable storage.

What I not as enamored with is the rear mounted fingerprint scanner. I have yet to get my finger in the correct position thanks to the thickness of my phone case/wallet. Fortunately, the Note 8 offers retina scanning as a biometric option as well as 3-D facial recognition. This is fine for unlocking the phone, but my apps and websites still want fingerprints.

Some of the updates to standard apps are not as welcome either. The mail app is missing the ability to register a domain as spam, meaning one can only register each message one at a time. Some menu items have been moved to other screens, which is just a matter of a learning curve.

All in all, I am quite pleased with my new Note 8 and I am glad I waited. I am also happy I got it for $200 less than the major carriers were charging, while I still get the Samsung promotion for a wireless charger and memory card. I even ordered a new wallet case which showed up one day after the phone. Apple announced the new iPhone just two weeks after Samsung announced the Note 8. At $1000, the iPhone X took the Note’s short –lived title as the most expensive phone on the market. At least until Samsung announces the Note 9.

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So Close And Yet So Far

Well, there is so much going on and it has been several days since I blogged that I don’t know where to begin. Apple unveiled the iPad device Wednesday that is basically a souped up iPod Touch or iPhone depending on which flavor you get; they have WIFI-N and 3G (with WIFI-N). They will market it as an alternative to the Kindle for ebook reading, while touting its color screen and cool iPod touch interface (the kindle is not a touch screen device). My first reaction to the press releases is “cool,” followed by “I could use that,” which was followed by “why?”

The device is just a bigger iPod. Sure it has a slightly beefier CPU, but it is not a productivity tool. It is an entertainment device. Even with that label, there is a small problem: the device is not small. The iPod slips into a pocket or purse with ease. The iPad is tablet-sized, which means it will have to be carried—either by hand or in the nifty flip easel/carrying case that you can buy from the Apple Store. It is thin, but not as thin as the Kindle. Of course, the big screen does come in handy for those tired-eyed people like me.

What about apps? We used to call it “software” back in the day. No tech toy or tool is worth the plastic it’s made from if it doesn’t run cool apps. Well, the iPad can run all the apps the iPod and iPhone can run, as well as running iWork. Of course, it has the app store, iTunes and now a new store app for ebooks. But it doesn’t run Office, which is a deal breaker for me. As a writer, I need a device that I can use to compose on the fly, and I do not see the iPad filling that bill until it gets a full-blown word processor. iWork’s “Page” app can generate text, but it is not as full featured as Word or even Open Office.

While the iPad beats Kindle on graphics (the Kindle is painfully slow turning pages), the Kindle smokes the iPad on battery usage. The Apple website says the iPad gets 10 hours of WIFI-powered app usage and a month of standby time. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying 8 hours of life when he announced the device at the unveiling. Either way, it isn’t much. Of course, it is more that the average laptop or netbook, but that isn’t saying much. The Kindle gets 2-3 weeks of reading usage and months (that’s monthS with an s) of standby time.

Also, buying the Kindle provides a 3G connection to Amazon anywhere. The cost is included in the price of the device. The iPad offers WIFI-N for those with wireless hotspot access, and they have a 3G flavor which will use a data plan that you have to buy yourself. They have not announced which carriers will support the iPad, but it will probably be the same one that supports the iPhone. So you can add a $40 per month charge to the overall cost of the device.

Another place where the Kindle has an advantage is the ebook market. Apple has made deals with several publishing houses to market new books for the iPad at slightly higher than market prices. Kindle has all of Amazon’s book marketing power behind it. More titles and cheaper (though not much) prices give the Kindle the clear advantage for now. Don’t discount Apple’s marketing team though. They managed to break the DRM pact on music and get the Beatles on iTunes, they can get more books for the iPad. Someday.

Remember, these are just first impressions based solely on the press release and articles touting the device. I have not touched it yet or even laid eyes on it. Once I do, you will be the first to know.

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The worst phone ever

One thing I have been procrastinating for the past three months is a review of the Sprint HTC Touch Pro2. The reason I have been procrastinating this is because I did not want to write a bad review without trying to get better results through various means. I have determined through exhaustive testing of all features and functions that there are no better results to be found. The Touch Pro2 is the worst Sprint phone I have had the displeasure of using.

I have been a Sprint customer since 1998 (I think…it was the weekend they launched the service in Houston) and I have upgraded my phone on average every 18 months to two years. Each upgrade was just that: an upgrade. I found a better phone with more features than the previous model. The first phone I had was the first model that offered both digital and analog service and it was the first model to offer what they called back then the Wireless Web. I thoroughly enjoy that phone and got my money’s worth out of it. Each phone since was more compact, had better battery life and—this is important—built on the same features as the model that preceded it while adding new ones.

The last phone I had was the Mogul. For my money, it was the best phone Sprint ever launched. I skipped the Touch, the Touch Diamond (though I got one for my wife and she loves it) and the Touch Pro. These models did not offer enough of an upgrade to make me give up my Mogul The only improvements I was looking for were a bigger screen and more RAM (and longer battery life would be nice too). The Touch Pro2 was announced by HTC before Sprint, but the specs that HTC touted were phenomenal. It had more RAM, a faster CPU, better CCD for the Camera, and the biggie…a huge screen. I was quite excited at the prospect of this phone. I checked the forums and websites regularly to find out the date of release for the TP2, fully intending on getting it as soon as it was available.

Well, I did. The day it was available for sale, I ordered it.

I shouldn’t have.

When the phone arrived, it came without a carrying case or headphones. The only accessories that Sprint included was an extra stylus and the USB cord/charger. I figured I could get a case on my own, so while inconvenient, it was not a deal breaker. However, that was only the first of the problems I would face.

Before I go into the problems, let me first talk about the good points of this phone. It has a huge screen. It is almost as big as the old PPC6600 phone with its full PDA-sized screen. This was a definite plus for me since the Mogul’s screen was causing eye strain. The TP2 also has great sharp graphics and good color; a must for phone photography. It has a slide-out keyboard with well spaced keys for my fat fingers. The screen tilts for movie playback, which aids in viewing. It has the Touch Flo 3D shell running on top of Windows Mobile 6.1—WM 6.5 is promised as a free upgrade soon. The shell has some cool features such as a stock ticker, a weather app, and a favorite contact app. The shell’s tabs also interact with several of the main applications like Sprint Navigation, the Calendar, Sprint TV, and many others. The phone also has a MicroSD slot for added storage, 3.2 megapixel camera, Speaker phone with additional microphone and an annoying magnetic sleep/wake function.

This last feature is one of the more annoying problems I have. The phone wakes in its case constantly, which enables the screen to launch apps or worse, make calls or send texts while in the case. This wouldn’t be a problem since Windows has a lock function in the today screen. HTC’s Touch Flo bypasses the today screen, however, so the lock function is not available unless you disable TF3d.

The other annoyance is that the TP2 has only four buttons and they are not mapable in most apps. The D-button is gone with this model, and the Mogul’s scroll-wheel (which I grew to love and can’t live without) is not on this model. The only user interaction is the touch screen, evidently to make it more iPhone-like. The TF3D may be touch-friendly, but WM has a way to go before it can get by without hardware navigation; and WM is still at the core of this phone. Besides, most applications still need d-button navigation.

Another annoyance: the slide-to-answer feature of the phone. I would just like to push a button to answer a call, not swipe my finger. Since this phone has an accelerometer, the screen rotates when the phone changes orientation. This causes a lag in response which has made me miss several phone calls. This leads me to one of the biggest problems: the memory. HTC did something with memory management and the cache to supposedly speed up some functions. I have not seen any speed increase, in fact, the phone actually seems slower than my mogul and uses memory even more inefficiently. This phone has more than double the memory, but has a smaller percentage available at any given time. I had to reboot the Mogul at least 3-4 times a week. I have to reboot the TP2 at a minimum of EVERY DAY to release memory.

The problem is not with Microsoft, and not solely with Sprint. I lay the blame squarely on HTC’s shoulders for this debacle. Maybe they hamstringed it to leverage their “Hero” android-based phone. Whatever their reasoning, they delivered a dud of a phone—one that I cannot recommend to anyone. I am sorely dissatisfied with the Touch Pro2, and am seriously thinking of leaving the WM platform for either an Android-based phone(not HTC’s), or—if Apple breaks with ATT’s exclusivity agreement—an iPhone in the future.

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