Tag Archives: telecom

Pixel 3 128GB First Impressions

I’ve had the phone for 4 days, cheeky me.

The original plan was to not upgrade this year. My Pixel 2 had a failure in the camera in September (2 days before I left for Taipei and Hokkaido for family vacation). Google sent a replacement while I was away, and basically when the Pixel 3 was announced I had a 3-week old refurb Pixel 2 128GB Black. The phone has a 2-year warranty and that means I will be set even for the next Pixel.

From the keynote and marketing material, it was clear that the Pixel 3 was an incremental improvement over the 2. What’s more, all the cool software features, most of them were slated to be released on the 1 and 2 anyway. I didn’t have much of a reason to upgrade.

Then the sales hit. BOGO on Fi and Verizon? I decided to go in with my sister on Fi and reap that $800 credit. She was going to jump from a Nexus 6P, so it’s a huge jump. We ordered the day it was announced. Reselling the refurb plus the credits would basically pay for 90% of a new Pixel 3.

The downside was switching to Fi. I’m not entirely sure if I have signal inside the river crossing tunnel. I have not personally checked, it is spotty as is on Verizon, and half the time I was still clinging to the work VZW hotspot. At times it feels like I have signal in there, though… The other issue was losing my Google Voice capability. It’s forwarding to my work phone (which is VOIP software anyway). I used that number for work and I definitely can’t lose it, and I also can’t lose my personal number that I use for everything else.

The upside to Fi was it’s a lot cheaper, and it has high speed data overseas included. It’s a major savings, as I pay 4500JPY for 7gb in Japan for 30 days (including voice and text). That’s a big fat zero on my next trip, now that I’ve paid the cost to verify my JP number (which means I still have to activate it once a year).

Swappa gave me about $410 in actual cash after the sale of the Pixel 2 (didn’t even took 24 hours to sell). The fees were 15 from Swappa, 15 for shipping (and insurance), and 13 from Paypal. This is nuts. The Pixel 3 128GB is 955 or so after tax. So I’m still on the hook for 145, or 15% of the cost. Maybe I should have held out for a better deal.

Onto the phone. Oh, just to detail the activation process, I followed first the invite email from my sister to set up the porting info. Then when it’s time to load the phone, I followed the on-screen prompts. It would let stuff run in the background while the rest of the phone is being set.

Basically after I got to the home screen, there was a notification waiting for me telling me there was an issue porting. Going to the notif takes me to th Fi app, and tells me what was wrong. Seems like invalid pin? I was suppose to put in my last 4 digits of social for Verizon porting, but I just set a pin on the Verizon account anyways and used that, and it worked minutes later.

In short, the phone is a refined Pixel 2, or what Pixel 2 really should have been. You can say that the Pixel line is a bit behind the release cadence. OnePlus for example, do 2 phones a year (6T looks good!). The next gen Galaxy phone is due in a few months. iPhone news comes out in September or early October. I would say the overall package of the Pixel 3 matches what is really, a better than-iPhone X.

That is great really, except we live in a world with the iPhone XS/Max. So on paper the Pixel 3 is not leading in any category besides its still class-leading camera powers, and other things that people who live inside Google’s ecosystem would enjoy. Thankfully that describes me to a tee.

I say with no irony that this is the most iPhone-y experience I’ve had yet on Android. It’s not a knock as a copycat, but it provides finally that fit and finish matching post-iPhone 8 hardware, with a visual presentation to match. I didn’t know how much of that edge-to-edge look added to this phone. I had it side by side with the Pixel 2, and despite similar displays, the Pixel 3 knocks things out of the park just because the angle my eyes see the edges of the screen, making it “float” towards the top like an iPhone X does.

As for features, it’s similar to the Pixel 2 on Pie. The only quirk is the tall screen makes pulling down the notification shade harder than the 2, and the wider aspect makes my full screen games look slightly different.

Besides the screen, there are major improvement in the speakers–they have a lot more depth and reverb and makes it sound way more solid than the Pixel 2’s. The buttons feel much better with better flex and feedback, where as the Pixel 2’s feels like they could get stuck. The haptic engine is improved, but I normally don’t use it anyway. These 3 points are in the order of decreasing importance, if you didn’t notice.

Wireless charging is something I can actually live without, but I splurged for a Pixel Stand. I can use one for my desk, and I still haven’t messed around it enough to give a proper review. So far it’s mainly just to fast charge, show the time and notification, and do the sunrise alarm thing. I think I am staying clear of a wireless charging pad on the Tesla Model 3, but I can see the appeal if the wiring situation is squared away (long story). Maybe in the future when they’re cheaper (the cheapest one I would buy is $50).

Not much to say otherwise. There are some integration in the Pixel 3 that makes sense which hasn’t rolled out to the Pixel 2 yet. Putting a photo scan link in the photo app makes sense, but I think this might be in Pixel 2 already. New nav for camera makes more sense than before, and it’s easier to use. I sideloaded the night mode beta and it is definitely as jaw-dropping as they say. Sample photos here and here.

In conclusion? This is the phone the Pixel 2 should have been. I don’t want to mention the XL line here because the 2 XL is a much closer presentation to the 3 XL than 2 was to 3. In a way, the Pixel 3 is actually the non-notched answer to our burning need for a modern, iPhone X-y device. LOL. Too bad the iPhone X is going to be a year old in December.

As for the rest of the competition… if you are looking at this phone and not, say, a 1+ 6T or Galaxy Note 9 or Huawei Mate 20 Pro, then nothing more needs to be said. Software superiority is something real. Integration matters. This is still the heart of the Pixel experience, where you get real-time chat and support over the web, your phone (as in not voice, but app), as well as traditional telephone service. It still has a long ways to go to catch Apple in terms of physical stores supporting users, but it’s slowly getting there. At least it needs to solve my Pixel 2 camera problem with less lead time than 48 hours!

I think I see clearly where Google is trying to catch up, and it’s a lot of stuff difficult to market. It doesn’t show up on a spec sheet. But for Americans it matters… So I think I will continue to use a Pixel phone in the future, and let Google take care of my personal info in exchange for services it provides.

Apple vs FBI Nonsense

I feel the debate about unlocking that San Bernardino attackers’ phone is another one the press don’t get the technical stuff right, at least enough.

First of all it is not a balance between privacy and security or safety. In Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, the heart of the matter is that safety and freedom come hand-in-hand. More privacy and security means more freedom and better and safer society more often than not. Safety and privacy only conflicts at the edge case. We should not frame this debate as a zero-sum game.

This is the central paradigm of liberty. If we don’t have a shitty government, people aren’t going to behave like criminal as often. I’ve seen a few OP-EDs to this extent and it’s worth pointing out, at least in one instance, where the Snowden leaks revealed the massive government betrayal of trust in not so much just the surveillance, but the lack of oversight and the abuse of gag orders and other quieting devices to keep things dark. If the government didn’t screw this up and we had a robust system to check abuses in this regard, the public might not be as pissy about building a governmental-access-only backdoor or whatever ballyhoo they’re trying to say.

And an extension of this argument is whenever anyone brings up China or Russia and slippery slope of precedence that can lead to those countries getting master keys to iPhones. If China and Russia are trustworthy countries for Americans, I don’t think we would be using this argument. In other words, shitty national governments are directly the reason why shitty situations like this even exists. Or TL;DR, we need strong encryption because safety against government is a thing!

But that’s not even what I find troubling about the coverage on why this is bad. What’s bad is what Tim Cook says about the master key. In this case, the master key isn’t some rogue version of iOS so much. It’s two things together: the necessary keys to decrypt or “backdoorize” iOS, and the engineer needed to make the hack. I mean there’s no reason to assume FBI don’t have coders who can likewise build a backdoor if given Apple’s auth keys to sign the code that you can then sideload into that iPhone Of Interest. But of course Apple will not give out those keys, so this means some Apple engineer is required to produce the hack.

If I run a mid-size company selling smartphones do I really want to spend engineers on FBI requests and other law enforcement requests just so they can investigate crime that are not as dire as international terrorism? But I’m busy shipping code. Maybe a big company like Apple, this ain’t a thang, even if they may get hundreds/thousands of requests a year. But if I was, say, Motorola or something, do I even give a damn? Will I get laid off tomorrow because nobody is buying my perfectly okay phones? Or replace Motorola with OnePlus, and replace “buying” with “can buy” from the previous sentence.

This is obviously why MS, Google, and even Verizon signs on. Because it’s not like the FBI can’t hire people who can code, so why bother these companies? It’s disruptive, it’s intrusive, it doesn’t do their respective bottom lines any good. It’s arguably even bad for security, and bad for all their customers. It is not even a zero-sum outcome. It makes sense for all those tech companies to resist.

The alternative is to fight it out in courts. Okay, you don’t need lawyers to ship code, maybe, but that’s expensive and a piece-meal way to deal with the situation. So yeah, of course you want Congress to make the call just so we can be done with it.

As to the master key itself, I don’t quite buy it that it may be leaked by making it existing in the first place, in that the same danger has always existed before and even today. All the needed ingredient to make that key already exists. Nobody except Apple may know how to put the key together, but it’s not significantly more likely that just by writing it down as to how to put it together makes leaking the components of the master key AND the key more likely. It’s quite possible that a big enough of a security leak at Apple will cause this to happen, if hackers wo obtained certain source codes and the key were able to engineer out the ingredients and put it together.

But this is all just fancy talk that we don’t even want to deal with, and I agree. I’m all for companies helping law enforcement, but the key distinction has to be the amount of work. Shipping a new version of iOS is way overreach and it’s unfair to compel any company for doing it.

Now maybe you can shame Apple into doing it. That seems like a fair approach.