Countryman, or Juke!

Today I headed down to MINI of Peabody for their “MINI Rocks The Rivals” day – a chance to drive the new MINI Countryman, and other cars that MINI USA consider to be “rivals”; I had the chance to drive a Nissan Juke! It makes even the Countryman’s headlights look good!

The Nissan Juke interior is very cheap plastic, it doesn’t look very good at all, and it’s awful to drive – steering was so disconnected, and the CVT transmission gave a very strange acceleration experience, though I suppose it’s possible to get used to it. Of course, it’s hard to call this a “rival” when it costs thousands less! Maybe that’s why MINI USA are offering a $1,000 discount to everyone that participates in the test drive.


After the Juke, I skipped the Toyota RAV 4 and VW Tiguan, and got in to a Countryman – an ALL4, but in the not-so-great semi-red color … I still don’t like those headlights, and it struck me today how huge and plain the rear hatch is – definitely needs some more badging, or decals. Inside the finish is way better than the Juke – but I still had trouble with the stereo controls. Better position for the volume knob now, but those two knobs right next to each other, doing very different things, is confusing. Turn one to adjust volume, but turn the other to adjust bass/treble/etc:

Of course the Countryman drove much better than the Juke, and offered great connectivity to the road with good steering and a responsive engine. Unfortunately, I’m not comparing the Countryman to that, but to my Q5! Rear visibility when I reversed in to parking was very poor (no backup camera option from MINI either), and while the stereo sounded good, it didn’t sound great.
On the other hand, the ride is much better on our potholed roads than my GP, pretty close to the Q5 ride; reasonably quiet interior too.

In conclusion I think the Countryman is a great car at it’s price – but I’d have some trouble switching from something that cost half as much again!

Thanks to MINI USA and MINI of Peabody for a fun afternoon!

Android (un)Inspired

It’s a rant, and it’s not MINI related – but I’ve posted about iPhones a few times, and there’s an amount of overlap between the communities; something about wanting form and function, perhaps.
But I’ve been frustrated with my iPhone 3GS for a while; primarily the screen is just too small, expecially since getting an iPad last year. It’s also probably related to poorer close vision as I approach 50(!), though I guess glasses might solve that.

Margaret switched from T-Mobile to AT&T this past weekend, renewing my plan as now a family plan, so I’m staying with AT&T – in any case, Verizon doesn’t work in England! So I figured I’d get myself a new phone too, and the current iPhone 4 might have more dots and a better camera than mine, but it’s still a small display … I got tempted by the much bigger display of an Android phone, the HTC Inspire 4G.

Problem #1 is, of course, that it’s different to an iPhone that I’ve used for the past three years; little and big differences – one is that there’s no screen capture function, so here’s a picture of the HTC Inspire, taken by iPhone!

That screenshot is the best bit of this new Android phone, and what sold it to me – a big clear colorful screen with useful information right on the home page, courtesy of customizable “widgets”; I’ve got time and weather but I could have chosen lots of other things. Customizing is an easy drag-and-drop affair, too.
Notifications are really nice on Android too, all clustered in to the status bar at the top as little symbols, but a quick drag down gives a list of all of them – and tapping any one takes you to the “trigger” (email, or whatever). Very nice!
iPhone notifications are pathetic, with a single message box when you turn on the phone, which I always half see just as I slide to unlock, and it’s gone before I properly read it. Now it’s “hunt the non-zero count” among all Apps, but you may never discover just what that original half-seen message was …

Even with the lovely big screen, and notifications, as the post title hints, I’m less than enthusiastic so far. There’s a long list of issues, and some might yet be sufficient “show stoppers” to get this Android phone returned …

Battery life is poor, or worse. The first day, with some experimenting, it struggled to last 8 hours; today, we’re down to 33%; you’ll see on the screenshot I had to install a battery percentage widget, since the built-in status symbol doesn’t give enough indication of remaining battery.
This phone will need daily charging – never had to do that with my iPhones.

This might be AT&T fault (maybe because my account switched from Apple to Android?); I can’t get voicemail to work. There’s no visual voicemail of course, but calling the AT&T voicemail says “we need more information to direct you to the appropriate voicemail box” – what does that mean? Meanwhile unanswered calls to my phone don’t go to voicemail anyway!

Perhaps because the phone is brand new, there’s minimal documentation anywhere; this led me to follow the screen instructions initially, which gave me HTC-branded mail and FaceBook Apps, that work annoyingly different (The HTC mail keeps creating new IMAP folders in my Gmail for example).
Eventually I had to do a factory restore and set the phone up all over again.

Having set up syncing to my Gmail (mail, contacts), it seems that syncing is not reliable. More than once new messages have not appeared – and sending a message took more than an hour one time (with available WiFi continuously); as an additional annoyance there’s no lovely “whoosh” or any sound, to confirm that a message has been sent.

Talking of WiFi, it seems flaky too – apparently the HTC Inspire WiFi antenna designer used to work at Apple as holding the phone at the bottom seems to drastically reduce WiFi reception.

Getting music, ringtones, and photos on to the phone is challenging, at best. You can connect to a computer as a USB drive; but there’s no default folders to put anything in to.
A Google search suggested to create an “MP3” folder and put ringtones in to it, then access them from the Music player in the phone, from where there is a “set as ringtone” function. Hardly easy – but it did work. Except for the >300K ringtone file I had, which always worked fine on my iPhone, but is rejected by Android.
Even though iTunes is criticized for doing music/photo/App/etc syncing, it’s far better than the Android/Mac solution of “figure it out if you can” …

Much worse is that the Android phone might be incompatible with Mac computers! After writing some music to the phone, it decided that it’s microSD card was now “read only”. Read only means you can’t take photos – oh, and you can’t format it to solve the problem either!
Solution, after Google search – remove microSD card and connect to Windows computer using adaptor (which thankfully a work colleague had); use CHKDSK/F on the Windows computer (which did find issues).
So for now, the phone can again take photos – but will it fail again when I connect to my Mac next time?

This issue of microSD cards seems stupid anyway! There’s “internal” memory (1GB) in the phone, and there’s the card (8GB as delivered) – and apparently some things must go in one or the other place. Why must a phone user deal with such technically detailed stuff? Just have “storage” like an iPhone, not different types of storage!

Other annoyances include the “HTC Hub”; not sure what it is yet – because for more than a day it couldn’t “connect to server”. Oh, it just worked when I checked it, but failed after a few seconds. And now it’s working again. Slow and unreliable access to a few sounds and extra widgets, ok.

And then there’s Bluetooth … my iPhone syncs to my Audi Q5, and from the car I can access all my contacts. Say I choose “Margaret”, then the car lists her details including two phone numbers (home and mobile); I can voice command “Call Margaret Mobile” to call her.
Well, the Android phone also syncs to the Q5, and makes contacts available – but somehow it doesn’t distinguish different phone numbers. So now Margaret has two separate entries, both identical except for the actual number. I can’t say “Call Margaret Mobile” any more, and if I say “Call Margaret” then the car offers two choices – Margaret, or Margaret. I can’t tell which one is her mobile number!
Maybe it’s the cars fault, but how did Apple get it right and Android wrong?

Well, that’ll do!
If I can get voicemail to work, that’ll be a start; maybe I’ll use Google Voice to give me something similar to Visual Voicemail. I can learn to charge the phone more – but I need to be able to trust syncing for my Gmail mail/contacts/calendar, which I don’t, yet. Someone at Android has to figure out the Bluetooth phone directory issue, too.
But it is a nice big display!