Thursday, August 19, 2010

Samsung Vibrant: a Reflection

In Fall of 2009, Samsung launched its very 1st android phone, the Behold II. Over-hyped and under developed, the Behold II flopped both with critics and consumers alike. The clunky user-interface that Samsung slapped over the stock android software called ‘Touchwiz 2.0’ ended up hindering the android experience rather than enhancing it. The laggy response and ugly design pushed users away. Those that did adopt the device we slapped in the face with news that the phone would not be upgraded to newer versions of the android operating system thanks a lack of Samsung support. The mobile tech community was left soured, and bitter about the ordeal.

In Lieu of the Behold II’s botched release, It was no surprise that when Samsung announced its new line of ‘Galaxy S’ Android super-phones, the public was skeptical. Questions about the upgrade-ability and Samsung support for their devices still loomed in the air, and there was the ugly fact that a new version of ‘Touch-wiz’ was going to be appearing again. Negative speculations began to develop and fester on the bloggosphere, that is until the hands-on reports started trickling in.

Overnight, the tech-world’s previous impression of the mobile giant (Samsung Electronics LTD) had been spit-shined clean, thanks to a Dazzling SUPER-AMOLED display technology, and hardware specs that trumped all other current gen android phones. More importantly, Samsung trimmed down the Touch-wiz interface, allowing the android operating system to actually shine though. The icing on the cake however, was that the Galaxy-S would be released on all four major US carriers under different monikers.

I had returned my recently purchased MyTouch Slide, and was waiting for a more powerful Android device when I heard the news that T-mobile would be the 1st to release its Galaxy-S phone under the name ‘Vibrant.’ I had decided in my mind to give it a shot.

On the day of release, I was one of the 1st to pick my android phone from the local T-Mobile Store. I went immediately home to give the phone a proper breaking-in.

My 1st Impressions of the new interface can be summed up in one word. Iphone. The Touch-wiz 3.0 interface swappes the traditional android ‘app drawer’ and replaces it with 3 sliding app screens mimicking Apple’s operating system. Definitely an improvement over previous versions of touch-wiz, but as a die-hard android fan, I found this to be offensive. I can, however understand the need to market an android device that helps ex-Iphoners feel more ‘at home.’ Luckily because Android’s OS is open, I was able to easily to overhaul the user interface with a more traditional one that I found on the Android Market called Launcher Pro.

I began to fill up my phones memory with apps from my old G1 and found the internal app-storage memory large enough to accommodate all the apps I could ever want or need. I quickly replaced the SD card with the one in my G1 and was amazed at how snappy everything loaded up. All the pictures and movies are started at the touch, and there is very little lag when accessing the sd card (a shortcoming of my old geriatric G1). As an added bonus here, there are 16 (cout’em sixteen) gigs of internal memory built into the device so if you don’t have a large sd card, and its mostly music and pics you’ll be saving, the on-board memory should be fine.

What really knocked my socks off was when I took the phone on its 1st outings. The flashless camera’s night vision proved pub-worthy when out with by buddies, and video recorder was able to capture candid clips of my cousin’s bright and shiny wedding day in glorious 1280x720 HD. Adding to the multimedia features, is the option to use video-out to a TV with a 3 dollar cable that can be found on I am so happy to be able to replace two other gadgets with one. That’s less things stuffed into my pockets, and that is a good thing when cargo pants are a thing of the past.

Speaking of space, you’ll see that the 4-inch screen gives plenty of real-estate for web browsing or watching videos, and yet is one of the slimmest devices I’ve used to date. It’s light, but doesn’t feel cheap to me. It’s a well-designed phone from a utilitarian point of view.

Perhaps the one and only thorn in the heel of this ambitious phone is the GPS quality. Since day one, I’ve noticed a weaker than usual GPS lock, and the service at times isn't as reliable as it should be for a GPS enabled device. After trying countless versions of ‘online fixes’ without lasting success, I was happy to stumble upon this tweet a Samsung representative left via the company’s twitter page:

‘We’re testing software to optimize GPS on US Galaxy S. Expected updates avail. in Sept. Details & download to follow.’ (Thanks to the community @ for the find.)

A T-mobile rep I spoke with also confirmed that a software fix for the issue will be rolled out soon, and I am sitting here crossing my fingers that it will do the trick. It is good to see that Samsung has seemingly learned from the Behold II, that lasting customer relationships do matter over the long-run.

The GPS problem isn’t so bad that it can’t be used at all, in fact on major roads and highways it works OK, it’s the smaller streets that suffer, and for the most part, I hardly use the GPS at all. But the problem I see isn’t just the GPS. It’s about a Tech company’s ability to deal with a quality and service issue in a timely manner. For people who depend on GPS service, those who bought the phone under the assumption that they were buying a product that would provide them a specific service, this is no small issue. Between Samsung and T-mobile, a fix better come soon, and it better be thorough.

It’s really too bad the launch of the Vibrant has been shadowed by this GPS issue, because the longer it takes them to come up with a fix, the sooner the spotlight will shift to the next hot piece of tech. With all its other great features, the Samsung Galaxy-S stands to be an impressive piece of technology. If Samsung can manage deal with this problem quickly, they may not only have a winner on their hands, but some time left to brag about it as well.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Through the Talking-Glass

Consumer Question: 'what's up with the front-facing camera on newer cell-phones?'

Answer: 'Ugh.'

The launch of the latest batch of superphones like the IPhone4, and the Sprint Evo 4g, suggest that hardware manufacturers as well as service providers see a bright and shiny future for cellular face-to-face video calling. Tech sites are reporting that a slew of next-gen smartphone models that include a FFC (front-facing cam) are indeed headed down the pipes. It seems the FFC is the most-coveted feature for gadgeteers and cell phone geeks to swoon over these days. The more I think about it though, the more I think its a ridiculously dumb idea.

Tech is supposed to be forward thinking, and in my personal opinion, face-to-face calling is about as forward thinking today as it was back in the 60's when sci-fi dreamt it up. I mean, as a gimmick it adds some extra gloss to any full-featured device, but I'm convinced that there is no real advantage to communicating via face-to-face mobile. Do we really need to see each other while we talk and walk around the mall? Do we need another excuse to bury our faces in our phones more than we do now? If anything - cellular technology should afford us the ability to be free to communicate on the go - the video aspect simply bogs down the user's ability to do anything else but talk and stare. The Iphone4 video calling feature 'face-time' is limited to wifi-only areas, so why not just skype? I for one, am happy not seeing the face of the person at the end of the line. Call me what you will, but if I wanted to see your face we'd be having coffee, or a beer.

Don't get me wrong, there is a nice aspect to regular cell-phone video calling: the ability to share moments with friends and loved ones that can't be there for weddings, school plays, and picturesque vacation moments. But we can do that on current smartphones with just the single camera on the back of the device. Most phones today have an outward-facing camera (on the back of the phone) and are perfect for these kinds of calls. Calls where the focus is on the outside world: not your face. Companies like Fring and Qik have been offering mobile apps to allow mobile video calling for the past year, and are great for these kinds of purposes. Face-to-face mobile video calling on the other hand attempts to fill a void that does not exist. The FFC just represents another annoying zit on the face of technology.

The bottom line is this: don't always let the latest and greatest devices fool you into buying a something that has features you won't even use. When you get excited about that slick Iphone or Droid ad on TV, make sure sit down and look at what you are paying for. In my opinion, Face-to-face mobile calling is sure to do one thing: continue to encourage our growth as a self-absorbed society. We are blind to our surroundings, transfixed only on the things that happen to be directly in front of our noses.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why I'm returning the MyTouch Slide

If I wasn't so obsessed with Tech, there would be no reason to return this well-optimized, refeshingly snappy, android phone, and that is that.

The truth is, when I opened up that thoughtfully sleek carrying case and pulled the MyTouch Slide out from its foam resting spot, I realized at once this mid-range android device was going to impress me. The heft of it in the hand is commanding, but not so much it makes your pocket sag too souvierly. The body, as well designed as any HTC phone, is sleek and I have to admit, looks waay better in person than in photos. The slide-out qwerty keyboard is pretty well-thought out, spacious enough to type confortably, even if some of the 'alt' keys are laid out questionably.

What I noticed right away, is the graphic overlay HTC calls its 'sense user interface' that is basically a skin over the default android one. On the downside, there is no way to take sense away and revert to stock android, but on the plus side - the design is extremely nice and comes loaded with all the home screen widgets HTC is so famous for in its smartphone product lines. Attractive clocks, weather widgets, and stock market tickers are just a few of the goodies you'll find packed into the 'sense' experience. You can also overlay home screen replacement apps from the market if you really miss that classic android feel and need something familiar.

For an 600mhz processor, this thing is quick and responsive, and blazes though homescreen menus, thanks to the excellent optimization of software and hardware. In fact, in some benchmark performance tests, the Slide surpasses the Nexus one due to the fact that it can do more with less - a lower resolution screen needs less polygons to be pushed around. This cell phone in a very real sense triumphs where many other android attempts have failed: to mesh the OEM handset with the parts of technology that suit it to perform well. You will be missing the live wallpapers you might find on other android 2.1 devices, but are given in its place, an almost seamless experience between you and the tech, and if you are a nerd like me, thats a very good thing. No more waiting for apps to open, or laggy homescreen flicks, this thing fast and smooth.

So why then would I retrun a phone that I tout as a success for both T-Mobile and HTC? 3 reasons.

1. The gaming that can be done with this phone right now, is impressive enough, but with 3d rich games like first-person shooters, there is a noticeable lag, that will only get worse as time goes on, and tech goes on. Even though I don't see myself ever really getting into a handheld version of battlefeild BC2 on my MyTouch Slide, the day will come when its possible, and lets be real...I'd love to show that off even if i never played the damn thing. Part of being a tech addict is the idea that you could indulge in the latest and greatest if you wanted to.

2. The video camera recording is pretty friggin' sweet for a cell phone recording, but it is in the end, a cell phone recording. Relativley smooth but not without the occasional hiccup in the picture. I'm thinking that this is where the 600mhz is really being pushed to its limits. The next phone that I carry around for 2 years needs to be the swiss army knife of gadgets that takes all the others away. No more separate cameras, camcorders, gps navigators and mp3 players. My next phone needs to perform, and from what I see coming down the pipes very soon, it will that perfect gadget.

3. The genius button needs to be smarter. One of the only design gripes that I have with this handset is the fact that the genius button is just a re branded version of voice-command. I do give it credit... it can allow you to dictate an action, a person to receive that action and the content of that action all in one string - ie: 'text Tony: remember to get eggs on the way back from the store.' And 80% of the time it works flawlessly. But 80% is still a B, and definitely not worthy of the title 'genius.' Some may argue that I expect too much, but when you dedicate an entire button to an action that is kinda cool, but not accurate enough to depend on, well youkinda blew it. If they at least let me reprogram that button as a launcher for anything I wanted, I might not look so harshly at it as a gimmick.

I took it down to the local UPS store and felt my hand grip the box a little too long as I handed it off to the guy behind the counter. As hard as it is to part with, I now have my sights on the Samsung Galaxy S. And I know deep down inside, it that phone fails me, there will always be another better phone just around the corner to obsess over.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Welcome to Tech-Jones

When I started my first blog, The Virtual Throne, I knew I was going to have problems organizing my rants. It wasn't until my review of the MyTouch Slide (cellular phone) that finally got off my butt and gave my tech related posts their very own home, here at The Virtual Throne. I have since imported all the tech posts from the old blog to this one, and post dated them accordingly. For the record, the actual 1st blog starts with Why I'm Returning my MyTouch Slide. Previous entries are the aforementioned archives. Cheers nerd-friends. I thank any of you who are willing to put up with these unhealthy doses of bad writing and dull wit, just to see what I have to say about gadgetry and geek-dom.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Google says: 'don't be evil,' World responds: 'don't be naive'

A week after Google released it's social networking feature, the public has gone from hype, to hysteria, to full-blown panic attack.

Google's social networking feature 'buzz' made a heck of a debut by merging social networking features into it's G-mail application. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, where users can choose who they follow or have following their 'updates,' Googlers found (some to a shocking dismay) upon clicking the shiny new 'buzz' tab, that they were already following the people they contacted most frequently, and these lists were PUBLIC for all the G-world to see. This list of new contacts could have included prospective job recruiters for competing companies, a cheating spouse's lover, or perhaps a mailto address for erectile dysfunction.

With the outcry from the public, (and now a formal investigation into certain privacy laws) Google has been scrambling to fix the default settings that buzz imposed upon its G-mail users, by allowing clear opportunities for Google users to update, edit, or if you wish delete with a kill-switch any public profile attached to you and your account. Google it seems, has lost the faith, and some respect from everyone: the average user and the tech nerd now asks themselves: what will they do with my data next??

It is no surprise to me, that a product like this was conceived from the company who's mantra is 'don't be evil.' To Google, a company invested in ideals such as openness, and transparency, a product like buzz could have been nothing but positive and productive. It embraces the notion that people can and will find a way to slide in Facebook time, and can still be productive at work. It attempts to bring the world of social networking into our daily work-flow, allowing us to pop in and out of conversations without missing a beat, or an email. Googlers (I among them) would simply defend, that online or not, you shouldn't have or do things you expect to hide from others, period. Perhaps maybe one shouldn't be courting other jobs in secrecy, or other spouses for that matter...

But, the question still remains: what will they do with us? Google has been a leader in innovating the way we interact, communicate and retrieve data. Even now, with all the criticism Google has taken for buzz, Microsoft is positioning itself to counteract the big G by integrating Facebook and Myspace into Microsoft Outlook, its own email client. Jessica Mintz from the Associated press reported wed. that "Microsoft is releasing a "beta" test version of the Outlook Social Connector. The add-onsoftware, which was first discussed last November, adds a new pane to the main e-mail reading screen on Outlook." Sound familiar? Google continues to lead the industry into uncharted territory, and the bigger issues become those of privacy, and the disconnect that no longer exists between our real and online selves. The disconnect that some of us want there.

In speaking with my friends (those that were worried, weirded out, or pissed) the conversation became less about what Google was doing with buzz specifically, and more about what we are becoming, and if we should trust a company like Google to take us there.

A concept like buzz, is the culmination of baby steps we have taken to align the online world with the real one. When we started this Internet thing, Avatars had a purpose, not just to represent us, but to misrepresent us as well. To allow us to participate in an anonymous community. Online social networking destroys the latter part of the avatar's purpose and replaces it with the profile pic: and forces us to show the net what kind of douche-bag we really are. By allowing others to 'tag' us in pictures, post about us in blogs, and read about our trivial musings can show anyone right off the bat what kind of person is behind that pic. Like in the real world, posturing and posing can be seen spotted outright, and yet the genuine traits of a person can be extracted as well. Buzz, and a host of other next-gen networking apps take us to the next level, where we now share where we are, what we are doing, who we are talking to, and when this all goes down. So how do we behave now that we have all this, and who do we trust with this information? The world? our peers? just our families? The good folks over at make a great point and have put together a convenient list of people who have just left home so they can be promptly burgled.

Does a company who's mantra is 'don't be evil' ever think that maybe the magical products and services that they create could easily be transformed into digital weapons? I'm not saying I agree with my friends, I still have my profile up and running. I want to believe that Google can fix this. That they will deal with this fiasco in a way that makes me forget just how vulnerable I've become. To reinstate my core beliefs in transparency and offer insights to us on how we might manage this new frontier. For now, I guess, I'll be OK blogging about it... with my mouse cursor over the buzz kill-switch.

Mini Meh.

Well now that the Mobile World Congress is in full swing (only like the largest cell phone expo on the planet duh dudes), It looks like we have a pretty good idea of the trends to come, no matter how small (ahem) they might be. Looks like largely followed sony x-10 android phone will be gettin' bite-sized iterations of itself: one just like the daddy but smaller, and one with a sass-a -frass snap out qwerty keyboard. Both builds look slightly cheap and toy-like, but seem surprisingly responsive given-that both phones seem to be running sony's proprietary home-screen 'rachel' interface. (image courtesy of
sony ericsson robyn xperia x10 mini 1 e1262797676897
Kinda kewl, but mostly kinda been -there-done-done-that with my ipods evolution from big to tiny then really BIG again with the I-Pad.
But it micro-trend doesn't stop there: HTC is getting mini with the HD mini, and hey, LG announced the smallest touchscreen phone EVER with their GD880. Apparently elves and babies are target market of 2010, because I don't see how anyone of normal proportions could actually use these devices productively, right? Seriously, didn't we just do the whole 'mini' revolution a few years back? Is the 'retro orbit' really getting that small?