Tag Archives: cell phone

I’m okay with no more headphone jacks

On smartphones, at least.

There is this nonsense driven by fear of change. Yeah, there are billions of 3.5mm jacks headphones, but who cares about the quality because all billions of those are the $0.02 variety pooped out in China that might as well go straight to a landfill? Wouldn’t an equally lame $0.02 variety adapter work just fine?

I speak out of personal experience, and I know I am just one person with one set of experiences, but a wireless headphone/earbud experience significantly trumps a wired one, when the smartphone is the basis of your sound. Let’s skip the at-home use cases for now (in which you probably want to stream to a receiver or a google cast client of some sort anyway), and focus on the on-the-go and traveling-stationary cases.

In the former I’ve spent enough money replacing wired headphones to know that if this is my use case for a lot of the time, wireless will be the cost-sensitive solution because you will be spending $$ replacing cables all the time. I think my rate was like $20 a year at least. Now I suck it up with an average bluetooth headphone that has no cables, over the ear, because cables always will break if used on a mobile use cases, for prolong (12+ months) periods. To be specific, all I use my headphones for are my ~2hr commutes daily, and sometimes trips and excursions.

There are some times when I’m using my phone for audio and I plug it into an external DAC. I have to use a USB to Go cable, then plug the DAC into that. No headphone jack is involved. And why any self-respecting audiophile doesn’t use a portable DAC for phone audio is beyond me. In this case you have no use for a 3.5mm jack anyway. OK, maybe your favorite amp doesn’t have a DAC, and it’s annoying to have a DAC and an amp, as portable devices, I hear you. But I think in this case you can excuse a wimpy adapter, right? Or even buy a better one than the one out of the box? No bigs.

All this whining and focusing on the losing of the jack is standard, textbook, resistance to change without looking at what you gain out of it. For most people, nobody uses the headphone jack. My folks don’t use it, and my mom uses a headphone all the time on her iPad to watch dramas anyway. So yeah, keep that on a tablet, where size is not a problem. On phones where device component size is a lot more important, the jack takes up a good 5% on the total footprint of the device. Does anyone uses the jack 5% of their phone’s overall lifetime?

Yeah, the only ones that would use it are the people selling stuff using a card reader (Square, etc), and I think those guys will be okay to live with an adaptor so the rest of the society can enjoy the benefit of that extra real estate on their smartphones.

There are other “hardware” ecosystems attached to the smartphone headphone jack, but none of them has to do with your audio experience, nor should it. Get some bluetooth cans and move on to a better future.

Moto X Pure Edition (Style) 2015 First Week Look

Received it last Friday, so I’ve had about 9 days with the phone as of this writing.

My last phone was the 2014 Moto X, so this is an incremental change. My biases are well-stated on this blog, but to sum it up: I don’t like phablets, I hate TouchWiz, and I am used to the vanilla variety of Android.

I haven’t really paid attention to CPU specs on phones. I still remember having a discussion with a friend about how he and his coworker dissed on people who wanted phones with good hand-feel, and would rather compare specs. I guess I’m biased against that kind of thought, because 99% of the use cases don’t even require that much processing power. My mom’s Moto G first generation still runs like a champ even browsing the web. Instead, increasingly it’s about the UX, starting from the build quality, hand feel, and the user interface and the stuff you put in there to satisfy use cases.

Let me just quote this:

Smartphones have become boring to me these days. They all can do the same thing; resolutions are high enough that they don’t really matter anymore; processors can handle everything you throw at them; batteries last nearly all day; and some of the latest cameras on Android handsets have essentially caught up with the iPhone

The funny thing is I jumped on the Moto X 2015 version because of CPU specs and better display. Enter IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage (DereSute for short, or SS). The spiritual successor of IDOLM@STER Shiny Festa married with Love Live School Idol Festival, this game does real-time rendering of 3D models dancing, and will take a chunk of not just your battery life but CPU. Plus since DereSute is a rhythm game, the interface is extremely unforgiving to any performance hiccups. Comparing the performance of this game on the 2014 Moto X and 2015 Moto X, the improvements are well worth it:

  • Moto X 2014 can run at full visuals (there are 4 levels you can choose from) for maybe 10 songs before running out of power, the 2015 version can do so about twice as long (I haven’t tried).
  • Moto X 2014 lags a good deal at highest level, Moto X 2015 not really at the second highest, and barely so at the highest.

Both Moto X features Qualcomm’s fast charging technology, so stick that 3.0A charger in there for 50% @ 15 minutes. It comes really handy for DereSute. But to put things into perspective; if I played Project Diva on the Vita and it uses up all the power after 20 songs, I’d think something is wrong with my Vita. So something is odd about this phone? For normal every day use I get through a day no problem, but I think I played DereSute everyday so it’s not a good measure.

Back to you regular programming. The new TFT screen takes getting used to; the contrast difference is the first thing that strikes me. I think it takes getting used to because I have to invert a lot of the app’s skins so it’s black-on-white rather than white-on-black as you’d with an OLED display. OTOH if people tell you 1080 is enough on a flagship phone display they are drunk or have never seen a good QHD screen on a handheld device. Maybe if your screen is 1/2 of the size of this one? The pixel density is highly appreciated. I think when those 4K screens comes out in a few months (Sony, LG, the Huawei Nexus) we’ll have some actual opinions to press against.

The size and heft of the 2015 Moto X is squarely in phablet territory. I have hands that are not very big–big for an Asian but not big for average White guy, so this thing is a challenge to use one-handed. The 2014 Moto X was already not quite an one-handed phone with the bumper, and the 2015 Moto X is just something I’ll have to get used to.

I opted for the leather back. it’s nice, and even more so if you take some time and put some oil on it… My dad put some special seed oil on it that he reserves for his hair and it actually changed the color tone of the thing, which makes it much closer to pigskin brown than the lighter brown you associate with autumn fashion…

I think the leather back makes the phone more slippery than if you opted for some grippy plastic, and with a big phone that’s recipe for drops. This year’s Moto X Pure Edition package comes with a bumper which is something you should put on immediately for this reason. BTW that bumper is not the greatest, but right now you don’t have a choice (I plan to swap it out soon I guess).

The camera is indeed much better than the 2014 X, but that doesn’t say a lot. I think we finally can call this camera “flagship” quality, but it doesn’t compare to what the latest iPhones can do. I’m going to ignore the “Siri” type functions, but Moto X has always been pretty good about this, including the latest iteration.

Dual speakers make playing DereSute nice and handy. If the phone is not plugged in my hand can get in the way of the ambient sensor and change the backlight, something to think about in general for all these phones. But this is where LCD screens kind of suck versus OLED screens, at lower brightness…

So, to sum it up:

Pro: It’s fast. Clean Android UX, Moto maker. With key accessories included it’s even more affordable than you think.
Con: Phablet and weighty, still can be faster and have more battery life for DereSute.

A busy end to 2014

I haven’t put up a blog post here in half a year because I got promoted at my job. Promoted in terms of work load but not so much pay? I don’t know. It got really busy.

I took the blogging down a notch both here and at the anime blog because I just don’t have the time and motivation after work. A lot of context switching suck my energies. I guess it’s also to say the work I’m doing at work is definitely more challenging and taxing intellectually, perhaps not in a technical sense but in an organizational sense.

At any rate, I purchased a Verizon Moto X 2nd gen on Black Friday using their $140 off coupon deal. I logged into the deal page maybe a couple minutes after clock hit 1pm Eastern and didn’t even lag a bit as I put in my entry code. GJ Moto. The Moto Maker experience is not 100% but overall the customization options are a great thing and a major distinguisher between this phone and the others on the market. Of course in exchange your phone is a little bit harder to buy, you have to wait for your gear to get Fedex’d from China, all that.

I probably should have purchased the developer phone instead of the carrier version of the phone. It’s a minor detail because the carrier experience on the Moto X is pretty clean, but the major difference here is that I have to wait for a Verizon patch instead of just being able to hack my way with xda forum’s support. Locked bootloader and all. At the same time, I opted for the football leather version of the Moto X, which is working out pretty well besides how it forces me to change my current car mount due to the limitation of the kind of case you can use with it sensibly. All because with a leather (or bamboo etc) back, it’s not really a good match with a traditional, full-body case. Using a bumper is perfectly okay, but it makes this big phone even harder to hold and nullifies the advantages of the tapered edges. Not to mention my magnet-driven car mount has nothing to stick the backing piece to. I’ll have to go back to the clamp style mount.

The other sort-of mistake I made was upgrading from 4.4.4 to 5.0. Android Lollipop is not ready from prime time. The new UI experience is pretty good actually, but not a drastic improvement from before. More just a drastic overhaul in notification that has some improvements. The issues so far are a penchant for background apps to close for no reason, and there’s a wifi bug that prevents me from connecting to my work wifi. I don’t know if it’s because of the switch they’re using or how it’s configured, but it just doesn’t connect.

Bugs and mistakes aside, this phone is very nice. The display is tops and the battery is adequate. It’s speedy and what not. The customized Moto app experience blows the Samsung one far and away. Should last me another couple years while I figure out how to refurbish my old phone, the cracked GS4.

Verizon Samsung Galaxy S4 48-hour Impression

Cause: My Gnex suffered that one unfortunate fall to the concrete floor while I was juggling it (with an extended battery hatch, which proved finally too untenable on a bigass Samsung thing to one hand) at Otakon’s exhibit hall. The cracked screen is not usable for the long run, and my upgrade date was up within the week, coincidentally. I even had an assist with a cool doctor bro that I know from the internets who tried to save it last minute. It’s okay TBN, I’ve dropped this Gnex dozens of times and it was just a matter of time that it meets its doom with the cataclysmic failure, at least in terms of the glass.

I would’ve probably picked this phone over the HTC One because of hardware requirements, but since Verizon’s version of the One isn’t shipping until end of August [update: actually it’s available 8/22 (today) at select outlets], this is not really a choice I could make. I suppose I can still handle the Gnex for a couple weeks but it was about time to flash it clean to de-gunk it as performance on the thing has generally slowed a great deal, but feh. Why wait?

TL;DR: Great hardware and execution, ruined by terrible TouchWiz UI.

I’m definitely biased because I’ve been on Nexus phones for the past 3.5 years. Changing over to TW was like having to drive a Ford Focus rental after totaling your BMW 5 series. Okay, maybe not just a Ford Focus–more like a Ford Focus with Sync. And this unfair analogy probably should go further and say that your crashed 5 series was running on a V6 Accord engine and the Ford Focus rental had more horses than the 2013 Mustang Boss 302.

But the human interface element of things were so drastically worse that I really begin to hate the user experience. Part of it has a lot to do with getting used to how things are simply different, admittedly, but it’s like I’m using some mutated version of Android that only things that are shared between the two handsets were the apps. It’s just an entirely different user experience. And it happens to be a significantly worse experience. I mean, philosophically I’m all for “easy” mode or whatever, but if you want an example that “if you even need an easy mode, the UX sucks,” here you go. This UX is terrible. 

Why is it terrible? Look at this notification dropdown flip over page. It’s like they put an install of windows 8 in this notification system. Not only this a text book example of shitty feature creep resulting in a hard-to-use interface, it looks like someone just took a Blackberry menu and Holo’d it.

Of course I wouldn’t mind it at all if I can root and install my own rom, except that the bootloader is locked. It was initially exploited but they’ve OTA patched it. You can root with the latest round of VZW GS4s but that’s it. I think this might be only for Verizon though.

I think I might be able to put up with this nonSense if I can wholesale redo the notification system on this thing. Which I hope is something I can do by installing a new rom. Which is something I hope I can do at all. If not then to the Amazon return center you go. I kind of omitted the rest of the TW UI in this impressionistic review because I ran with the default launcher for maybe 10 seconds.

For the rest of you, my fellow Verizon slaves, get this instead.

So within two weeks I’ll have to either see if a bootloader unlock happens, or back to Amazon it goes! I paid $149.99+tax which was the cheapest deal I know for upgraders. VZW also charges you $30 for an activation fee so we’ll see. Most likely I think I’m just going to swap to the One if I have to do this.

Unified Messaging

Just stating a few conclusions that I’ve drawn based on my own experience (…a lot of it is professional, lol) and this article. And please note there are some inaccuracies and somewhat important omissions in that Verge article. You have to take it with a grain of salt. At the same time because I am professionally tied, you can take this post with a grain of salt too, but you really have to know your messaging to get where my bias is.

If ecosystem (and maybe a better way to phrase it is “console-ification”) of personal electronics is evolving into competing walled gardens, we will need uniform/shared protocols in order for them to communicate with each other. Today, here are some of the leading standards:

Addressing: URI, email addresses, phone numbers

Transport protocols: HTTP, SMS (ie., SMPP), XMPP, email (SMTP etc)

The unfortunate thing about this is that when XMPP/IM was implemented, the federated model kind of, well, doesn’t work. It is more thinking like a local network.

So.

WhatsApp and other mobile messaging services are successful today because they address based on phone numbers, not email or URI. Price is second to convenience and ubiquity, because XMPP clients on mobile phones has been around since a long time ago and those were free too. But that enabled people to send messages only to other people using the same service–think BBM. BBM is actually a good example as to what else WhasApp (and others) are doing right, but fundamentally by allowing phone numbers as addresses, it makes everyone a part of your system.

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is a real thing that carriers have been working on since 2007 (if not earlier), but obviously doing it top-to-bottom is a lot slower than a small company trying to disrupt. But as you know with carrier-branded mobile phones that sells for nothing with a 2-yr contracts, it can be a pretty powerful competitor in this space. This is where pricing matters.

Ultimately, what people pay for their cellular service is more or less entirely up to the carrier to determine. If you think paying $5 or $10 or $20 for however many text messages you send a month is too much, well they could just bump you into a new pricing paradigm and give you unlimited texts or a bucket of texts a month, rolling up the built-in cost to the core price of the new package. AT&T has done this already. But because of the way text messaging pricing has been set by US carriers, it’s becoming a sore point that further allows platforms like WhatsApp to expand in this way. Because, it’s free OTT messaging to people not using the app, and since it confederates based by phone number, it’s just data for the rest.

Since nobody is going to give up their user DBs, phone numbers will be the reliably #1 way to identify people, and become a key property for unified messaging. And invariably that means you need a carriers’ blessing to get this to work. That might mean, at the very least, have people sell phones to run your software (iMessage is a pretty solid first step).

RCS is really just a more carrier-friendly version of this. Which only means in order to compete with WhatsApp and the like, it require the same business and marketing approach–not expecting much there. More likely that someone buys them out first.