TagAndroid

Android Switcher

Recently, my wife and I switched from AT&T to Google’s Project Fi. Part of the reason for the switch is AT&T’s signal has been terrible at home and at work lately. We also got tired of paying for data we weren’t using and high prices for a plan we didn’t need.

The last straw was when I went online to downgrade our data plan which appeared it would save us about $20 per month. Only to find out it actually increased our bill.

I called customer service and couldn’t understand how that was possible and neither the customer service rep nor the retention specialist could give me a good answer to that. But they offered to give me the extra data back at no additional cost. But I didn’t want to pay $170 for two iPhones and 20GB of data every month. We’re trying to save money. And there seemed to be no way to do that.

To drop below the plan we had would have been a 5GB plan which was slightly too small for what we needed. This is before reports of their new plans coming out, which apparently neither the customer service rep nor the retention specialist were aware of, or able to talk about when I called and spoke to them.

So we decided to try Google’s Project Fi which is a plan provided by Google where you can use a combination of T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular’s networks for unlimited talk and text. Data is $10 per 1GB. You can set a data budget a pre-pay for the data but if you need more, it’s $10/1GB. And if you use less, Fi will refund you the money.

With AT&T, if you have a 5GB plan and you go over, you’re paying $15 for that 6th GB whether you use the entire GB or just a portion of it. With Fi, you pay only for what you use. So if I use 5.2GB, I pay for 5.2GB.

I haven’t used Android since the Motorola Droid. So I was curious to see how Android had come since 2010. I’ve owned a series of iPhones (4, 5 and 6+) in the intervening years. So when a fresh Nexus 5X arrived at my door, I was ready.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about Android since the switch.

Unlock PIN

When I enter a 4-digit unlock code. Why do I then have to press the check mark? Granted with a fingerprint, this is mostly a non-issue. But with the iPhone, it wanted 4 numbers and when I entered them it accepted or rejected it.

Back Button

I like the back button. But I’m never sure if it’s going to take me back a screen in the app I’m using or back to the home screen.

No mute switch

I miss the mute switch. My phone was silent when I was at work or out in public. It vibrated to alert me, it didn’t make a sound. Android is not silent.

Android is chatty

Bing. Boop. Blip. Donk. Everything makes a sound. Everything makes the same sound. I’ve taken to saying every time the alert sound goes off, “Something is happening! What could it be?” As I look at phone to see if it’s Facebook Messenger, Email, SMS, Twitter, Tumblr or some other app notifying me of something.

Facebook Messenger’s Bubbles

Who ever thought it would be a good idea to let Facebook Messenger’s little bubble show up over every single app on the phone should be fired. From a cannon. I can’t stand it. It’s enough to make me want to quit using it altogether.

Notifications

Everything’s a bubble at the top of the screen now. Apps don’t have any visual identifiers that something is waiting for you. I really miss the little red badge on iPhone apps to let me know there’s a message waiting (SMS/Facebook Messenger/email). I forget to reply to people because I don’t remember there’s a new text waiting until I open the app.

Download speed

Audiobooks and song from Spotify fly down to the device. Audiobooks especially seemed to take longer on the iPhone. Even downloading from Spotify to the phone took more time. I assume it has to do with writing to a file system versus however the iPhone handled it, but it’s been a noticeable improvement.

Emoji

I love Apple’s emoji. They were big and beautiful. I texted them to my wife all the time and I loved using them in text. Google’s make me want to cry. They’re tiny and the people look like gelatinous Simpson characters.

Android is Linux

The phone requires tinkering. The phone slows way down sometimes. Pokémon Go fails to render animations without struggling at times. The scrolling is iffy. When I press the screen, I have to wait and see if the phone is struggling to fulfill my request or if it’s just sitting there like nothing happened.

Battery Life

The battery life of my Nexus 5X rivals that of my two-and-a-half year old iPhone 4. It’s terrible and I don’t believe in turning off every optional service to make a phone last through the day. A mobile device should have enough power to make it through the day.

Charger can’t keep up

When using Waze navigation in the car with a podcast or music playing, my phone’s battery still drains when connected to a charger. This reminds me of my original Droid from Verizon.

Fi

AT&Tata

I am fed up with AT&T. We’ve been with them for a long time. My wife has been an AT&T customer since she had a smartphone. She started with a Windows phone well before the iPhone was invented.

I’ve been with AT&T since we combined our plans into a family plan when we became family 6 years ago. And we’ve been iPhone users ever since. Upgrading every 3 years as our phones wore out.

Recently, I was trying to cut my bill by removing some of the data allowance which we weren’t using any way. There’s no way to have less minutes which I would have happily done. We’re still heavy text users because not everyone uses iMessage. But that’s not expensive either.

I made a change which the AT&T’s site said would save us $30 a month on our plan. That was a relief.

Until the next billing cycle started and I saw my bill would not be $1 more than it was before. So I called AT&T and spoke to billing. The woman there basically said changing the plans only saved me about $5 a month. Which I said wasn’t even true based on what I was seeing.

We’re paying our phone off through AT&T Next 24 so that adds about $50 to our plan each month just for the phones since they no longer offer phones on contract. (Well, they do offer it, but it’s more expensive than using their Next program.)

At the end of the day, I was still paying almost $175 for two phones with data plans. There had to be a better way.

After Billing, I spoke to Colton in cancellation to ask what fees we would be charged if we canceled our plan.

Since we’re not under contract, there is no early termination fee. We’d need to pay off the balance of our phones or return them to AT&T. (We’ll see if this is true when we visit the store this week.)

Major Carriers

I looked at Verizon. Their plans are very similar to AT&T and we’d need new phones so we’d be right back where we started.

I debated T-Mobile but I worry about their coverage area. The same with Sprint. Even through they’re running a great deal now. They’re slicing AT&T’s fees in half and offering a second iPhone for free after you have one on the plan. So we’d be back paying for phones over time, but we’d get one of them for free.

I worry about the coverage areas of Sprint and T-Mobile. We’re in the DC area but we often venture out to see family in the middle of nowhere and drive through the country. I need a data signal that will guide my GPS everywhere I need to be. Not just in the middle of downtown.

My wife and I were weighing our options last night and neither of us are married to our iPhones. It’s a fine device. I’ve owned the 4, 5 and now 6 Plus. But they’re not magic. They serve no greater purpose than being pocket computers.

There’s very few apps native to iOS I rely on. And even fewer I can’t use on the iPad instead. So there’s nothing keeping us from Android. There’s no synergy with our old Mac laptops to take advantage of. iCloud is a necessary evil but not a joy to use.

Fi-nally

We are diving headlong into Android with Google’s Project Fi. As of last night, we have two 32GB Nexus 5X phones headed our way. We are leaving Apple for Google and traditional carriers for Project Fi which uses WiFi and a trifecta of cellular carriers to mesh together coverage.

Between Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular, they’ve created a network that cover most of the country and blankets the east coast in signal. We’ll see how it works this summer when we travel to San Francisco, Las Vegas and rural Virginia to see if the network holds up.

This will be our grand experiment and will save us money. We don’t use a ton of data each month and Fi’s pricing is a simple $10 per 1GB. If we don’t use what we’ve allotted we’ll get that money back. It’s not billed in round 1GB increments. If we use 1.2GB more, then we pay for 1.2GB, not 2GB. It truly is a pay what you use plan.

The phones should be here this weekend. We’ll be canceling AT&T once they arrive and we port our numbers over. I’m excited to try this out and see how far Android has come since the Motorola Droid.

Choosing a Platform

Choosing a platform

Tonight I read Gnorb’s article on how he views the smartphone landscape. The problem with choosing a smartphone is no longer as simple as choosing the phone and what the phone can do for you.

With the major players producing tablets, integration into that ecosystem is something to consider. In addition, there is the possibly integration with the computer of choice sitting on your desk or on your lap.

Google Android

Android as a platform has unlimited options, choices and freedom. Android is shopping mall. It offers a variety of wares at prices all across the board and you can get exactly what you want at the price you want to pay.

Android also struggles with fragmentation and being forgotten a year after its release. When I had an Android phone my problem was there was always a bigger, better, more amazing Android phone being released the next week.

Every. Single. Week.

Apple iOS

Apple’s platform is the opposite of Android. Apple is the high-end boutique. It offers a couple of variations on a theme but overall, the quality is high and the choice is small.

Where Apple shines is control. It controls the vertical, it controls the horizontal. To use Apple products is to not just use a single product but to play in Apple’s playground and live in their world. Apple has built an experience.

Because of this totalitarian control, Apple is able to offer longer support and a consistent experience across all the devices in their playground. Apple’s control wrinkles the noses of those who feel there is not enough freedom across the platform.

Apple’s control also assures nearly no malicious applications are released to the platform and they have safe guards in place to resolve any issues that may arise.

Microsoft Windows Phone

The last Windows Phone I used was a disaster running Windows Phone 6.5 which was basically Windows XP crammed into a smartphone body. It came with a stylus and extreme frustration.

Since then, they’re built a respectable platform and have embraced Apple’s control to make the hardware and software which should help the platform. I haven’t used or had experience with any of the new phones so that’s as much as I’ll say for the platform as I don’t feel it fair to talk about a platform I’ve not used.

Decisions

So what is a consumer to do? Buy into the Apple iLifestyle? You’ll pay a hefty price but will be rewarded with multi-year support and a consistent ecosystem. You’ll also be subject to the whims of the big red fruit and their seemingly arbitrary removal of support for features in older hardware. The tight integration between the mobile and computer platform can be real benefit to those living in both. However, if you only use one or the other, there is a lot of missing value.

What about the Open Android platform? There are phone sizes, speeds and carriers for everyone. There are a vast array of tablets. There isn’t a desktop companion but they play decently with the big players. The initial price is low but quality is all over the place from excellent to appalling. The overall lack of support could mean your shiny new toy get abandoned a year later and never see another update.

Then there is Windows phone which has some real potential. Microsoft is putting together a cloud-based ecosystem and is betting big on Windows 8 which features a lot of integration and visual similarity with their Windows Phones.

My experiences

I owned an original Motorola Droid. I was very happy with it though the lack of support from Motorola was disappointing. I had to root the phone to install an Android Operating System update after Verizon claimed the phone could not support it. There was also a large gap in the availability of applications in the earlier days of Android.

Many things were iOS only and Android support was more promised than delivered on. This was before the Amazon Android store and Google’s integrated Play store. This was before Android was a household name and more the domain of nerds and Blackberry refugees.

After the Droid, I got an iPhone 4 which is the phone I still use today. The instant upgrade in camera and software quality was welcomed. At the time I had a Mac laptop so the integration between phone and computer was a welcomed change, since there was no good way to sync media to Android and DoubleTwist was just being released. Though I used the Droid as my phone and primary device, I had an iPod Touch for all my music because Android was so frustrating to use.

I had an Android in the dark days of the platform and it has come a long way since then. However, it still has many of the same issues as it did when I had the Droid. Specifically, the lack of support from carriers after purchase, lack of OS updates to hardware that can handle it, the fragmentation meaning not every phone can run every app, or run it well and the constant New Big Thing means support quickly gets forgotten for the phone you choose in weeks instead of years.

What works for you

What is comes down to is what works for you. What is the best choice for what you wan to do. Are you a writer? Are you a photographer? Are you a technologist?

What phone best fits your lifestyle and what are you going to enjoy using for the next few years since most of us can’t afford to get a new device every year.

What I have

I have the iPhone 4. My contact is up in December, though I am eligible for an upgrade now. I am looking at the iPhone 5 because while it doesn’t overwhelm me, I do get all the features that came with the iPhone 4s as well. I still like the iPhone over the Android choices because of the ecosystem I bought into starting with an iPod Touch. I feel like I know what I am going to get with Apple. Like it or not, they’re consistent and I know I will see a new operating system in a year and possibly another one after that. With Android, I don’t know if I’ll ever see an upgrade, and when the carrier loses interest, so too goes the support.

I have a Lenovo Y570 laptops running Windows 7. My plastic MacBook died years ago and I wanted to get a laptop I could play PC games on, had enough power to last me a few years and have some room for upgrades. The biggest selling point was price since I had a small amount of money to spend on a computer and a new Mac or even used Mac was out of the budget. I work in IT Support so I live in Windows and Mac OS all day so I don’t have any allegiances to one or the other. Operating Systems are tools.

I also have a 1st Generation iPad which I did not buy. It was a Christmas present a few years ago. It is also easily my most-used device and my go to reading and chill out device and the device I am itching to upgrade the most.

I have a Google CR-48 Chromebook I was lucky enough to receive for free when Google first announced the new project. I use it from time to time and while I love Chrome on all my devices, the Chrome OS is not enough to be an everyday use platform. At least not for me. The CR-48 is a decent machine albeit under-powered and with a terrible track pad. I like the keyboard and the lightness. I wrote this post tonight on it because it was sitting next to my bed and within reach.

This is what I use and what I like. It’s not going to be perfect for everyone but it works for me. And that’s all that is really important.

A phone for everyone

What phone should I buy? That’s how it always starts. The question is always followed by, should I buy the new iPhone?
Should I buy the latest Android Phone Of The Week? I heard the new iPhone is going to have… and come out…

I get these questions a lot since I work in IT, I use Apple products and I am seen as the computer guy to a group of friends and acquaintances. They’re always looking for a short answer. Buy the iPhone. Wait for the new iPhone. Buy the Samsung Galaxy Whatever. They want a recommendation, one that’s hard to offer.

Everyone wants a phone for something different.

Some people talk on their phones all day everyday. To them a stellar battery life and pristine call quality are vital. Other people use their phones as pocket-sized media players. They want movies and music at their finger tips from the cloud or locally so they want great connectivity and larger storage sizes. There are others who use their phones as cameras. They shoot, edit and share video and photos with friends and the world so they’ll want a great camera and huge storage.

Everyone has different needs so recommending something to someone is harder than saying go buy this.

A recommendation comes with information. Otherwise you’re guessing.

I don’t recommend buying a rumor! Stop shopping for what Apple’s new phone might be and shop for something you can actually buy.

Blind Choice

I’ve read a couple of stories this week about people choosing their own devices in the office. This was true at the media company where I used to work. Even within our small IT department we had 1 Palm Pre, 1 iPhone, 2 Androids and two “dumb” phones.

The rest of the company was a mix of Blackberries, Androids, iPhones and the occasional Palm or two. I think there was even a Window Phone I saw once or twice.

I take issue with the claim that people buy their own devices because they chose it and it is what they want to use. People who are not tech savvy ask their tech savvy friends, co-workers, spouses, family members. They don’t do much choose what is best for them but what is recommended to them by a person they trust who is good with computers.

For a little background I’ve worked in ground-level IT since 2004. I’ve worked as a Desktop Support Technician ((That guy who shows up at your desk when you call the Help Desk.)) and Help Desk Technician ((Those people you love to scream at when something break.))

Lately, as policies become more lax and there is a better variety of smartphones on the market ((Remember when there was no Android or iPhone?)) people have gravitated towards a variety of devices which I can sum up as this.

  1. iPhone. Because they’re on AT&T already, or Verizon and want one because everyone has them and they’re easy to use.
  2. Android. Because they’re on T-Mobile or Sprint or don’t want to spend the money on an iPhone and associated contract.

The iPhone people are usually set once we setup their corporate email for them. They have few questions overall.

The Android people… look out! They’ll be waiting for you. The biggest frustration in trying to help with Android phones is trying to find which version of Android they actually have.

What dessert powers your phone?

After that, the next step is looking at the device, who made it, and which candy coating they slapped atop Google’s stock Android interface.

I used a Motorola Droid for over a year and was very comfortable with Android. I had a Google Experience phone which was code for “Stock Android phone.” There was no glossy, clunky UI over it.

The Android phones in the wild today could be running Android 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, or 3.0 and have HTC Sense, Motorola Blur, Touchwiz, or Timescape UIs running on top of that.

Now we’re at two layers of confusion for the user.

As an exercise, try walking someone through adding a Gmail account to their shiny new Android device over the phone. They’re at the store, or at home or ((My personal favorite)) about to board an airplane and they need help.

Maybe this will help you.

Android is a wonderful OS and has a lot of power and potential and offered a low-cost alternative to Apple and a freed a lot of people from Blackberries.

However, trying to support them in a business setting can be very time-consuming and frustrating for all involved.

The phone’s owner expect the IT staff to be experts on their phone. Having to learn the basics of navigation and naming on the user’s phone slows down the support process. ((Count the number of ways to get access to “Corporate Email” there are on Android phones.))

Normal people do not make technology purchases without consulting the trusted source. Whether it be their spouse, family member, IT Guy at work or ((God help them!)) the salesperson at the store, they will ask someone for advice. In many cases, they’ll follow that advice blindly.

They don’t know what they want. They’re not sure how to figure out what they want. They’ll follow the advice of the trusted source or sales rep and hope for the best.