Morning walk with iPhone 6

I’ve been planning to upgrade my iPhone 4S for a while, and yesterday I got lucky and was able to reserve a new iPhone 6 for in-store pickup. The main reason for upgrade is for a better camera – more and more, my phone is the only camera I carry, and the 4S struggles especially in low light. I’ve also noticed a significant drop in battery life on my 2-1/2 year old 4S; and iOS 8 slowed it down horribly!
I wondered for a while whether to get the iPhone 6, or 6 Plus, but the Plus seemed too big to use sensibly when out walking, and anyway it’s even less available so I couldn’t get one with in-store pickup.

So this morning’s walk was my first with the iPhone 6; as often I set off around 6:30am when it’s still quite dark so a good test for the new phone’s low light abilities. So the first picture is around 7am with the first hints of light in the distant clouds; quite happy with that, lower noise than the 4S … a few minutes later I took a picture in “armadillo trail” which is a walkway through some tree filled wetland so quite dark. There’s a spot along that walkway that I tried to photograph yesterday with the 4S, it simply gave a black image – but today the iPhone 6 does quite a reasonable job considering how dark it still is:

As the sun continues to rise, taking pictures gets much easier for the phone (it wasn’t anything like this bright, but all these pictures are unedited straight from the iPhone 6 camera):


As I approach home again, I can see the sun beginning to appear behind the trees, and finally by 7:20am, the sun is up (the finalpicture is at full iPhone 6 resolution if you click it, showing quite good detail in the leaves, but noise in the darker walkway and grass):


Overall, these pictures are a big improvement from the 4S; the new phone is also lighter even though it’s bigger, and many times faster! Touch ID is great too and of course battery life is improved (this one hour walk with GPS logging the route, used only 5% of the battery). And talking of logging my walk, I used a new App called runtime, which worked well and recorded a distance that matches Google Maps to within 5%:

T-Mobile test drive good / bad

In Massachusetts we always suffered from poor phone service, and as bad as service was at our home there, it was worse at work. Now that we’ve moved, I’ve wondered if there’s a better choice than AT&T which we’ve had for a long time now.
AT&T actually works quite well at our new home, and their pricing has improved dramatically in the last year, but they are still a bit of a devil company … I was interested in T-Mobile since their pricing is even more competitive and they offer great international service. And then recently T-Mobile launched Test Drive which seemed like a perfect way to find out just how good their service is.

Today, the package arrived – an iPhone 5 already configured and ready to try; the T-Mobile website claims “good” coverage, so I was hopeful:

So, open the box (which curiously implies that I’m agreeing to T-Mobile cancellation terms), turn on the phone, and skip all the sign up / configuration stuff. At least I tried to: the phone refused to work unless I either gave it a WiFi connection, or linked it to my computer! I wanted to do neither, since this was a short term test, but I was forced to connect it to my guest WiFi.
As soon as the phone was working and showing T-Mobile service, I disabled the WiFi connection; then a text arrived from T-Mobile with a “how to set up” link, so I clicked it … and this happened:

As you see, it’s showing EDGE data, and it’s been like this for maybe five minutes now with no progress. It did at one point show 4G, but didn’t get data to the display, till I walked to a front window of the house – closer to the antenna towers presumably. But seeing as my office is in the back, that’s no good.

I then tried phoning the office; Letizia answered and was pausing a lot when I explained I was just testing the phone service – she explained that she could hardly hear me, I was breaking up a lot.

So that was the end of T-Mobile Test Drive. Did the factory reset on the phone, put it back in the box, and will return it.

I very much like the idea of the Test Drive and I wish that all the companies did something similar – but sadly, T-Mobile remains useless outside of densely populated areas.

Android Again

I guess it’s time for an Android update (see original rant); short answer – I still have an Android phone, my iPhone is sold and gone to a (hopefully) happy new owner! Long answer follows, if you’re interested …

On the downside, my Android phone continues to have poor battery life, worse than my iPhone 3GS and much worse than Josh’ iPhone 4 – but it is now useable for a full day, so I’ll just learn to charge it every day. Other than that, this phone sucks at taking pictures in dim light – it “green balances” when using it’s built-in flash! And finally, the choice of useful Apps for Android remains poor in comparison to iPhone …

On the upside, it’s VERY nice to customize the Android lock screen, and to have useable and useful access to notifications. This is my lock screen, customized with WidgetLocker:

I chose the iPhone-like unlock slider, giving lots of space to add stuff – at the top I have live counters for home and work unread email, as well as any Google Voice notifications (of course, AT&T non-visual voicemail is rubbish, so it’s necessary to use Google Voice!).
At the bottom above the unlock slider is the SiMi Clock widget, showing date and time, current weather, and battery charge.
In between are four “slide-to-action” devices that give quick access to phone features without needing to go to the main home screen and open an App – my four do “Camera”, “Camcorder”, “Phone”, and “Call Margaret”.
Really nice, and iPhone has nothing so good (maybe if you jailbreak? But not built in).
Note also all those notification icons across the top of the screen – new mail, USB active, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. Once the phone is unlocked, you can touch/slide down that bar, to access descriptive linkable information for every notification, like this:

So there’s a new email notification – touch it to go to the message; there’s also USB notifications (touch to change how the phone is connected to the computer). The strange “USB debugging” is because stupidly that is currently the only way to capture screenshots on Android – yes, iPhone still wins for some things!
At the top is a left/right slideable list of recently accessed Apps. Easier to get to than double-tapping the home screen!

If you do go to the home screen, you’ll find it (on HTC at least) with nice animated time/weather, as well as icons for Apps and/or folders (like an iPhone):

I had to purchase Folder Organizer to really make folders work well on Android – but now I can (better than iPhone) have folders within folders! So for example all my Apps are organized in one Apps folder, with sub-folders for different categories – and taking only a single icon position on the home screen …


There’s lots of “geeky” things about Android too – pattern-based unlock, System Panel to track phone activity, 3G tracking to monitor data usage, and of course Juice Defender configurable to extend battery life (yes, not needed on iPhone!) …

Sadly I’ve not found anything like Photogene to edit photos, and the built-in photo handling cannot for example resize a photo when emailing it! Similarly there’s nothing to edit videos. But to great benefit, Google influence means that Gmail, Google Voice, Google Reader, all work very well on Android – you can even configure Google Voice to automatically take over any international calls that you dial!

I’d wish for a longer battery life, and for Photogene, but other than that, this phone with huge display, useful lock screen, and can’t-lose-them notifications, is an improvement over todays iPhone. But if Apple could finally do something smart with notifications (and a dashboard-like lock screen configurator) on iOS 5, they would be easily ahead of Android again. Competition is good!

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!

iPhone OS 4

iPhone users have been waiting a long time, and now – with a bit of effort – I have iOS 4 on my iPhone 3GS (though honestly I’d much prefer to have it on my iPad!)
Initially, everything is rather too busy – because the install ported my lock screen picture to my “home” background, too; I went in and changed the background to something less busy; a quieter background makes the App icons a bit easier to spot, but there should be a way to reduce brightness/contrast as well as scale/position the photo:


I set up a couple of folders – doing it in iTunes 9.2 beta is a serious pain as the interface is much too ready to create a folder when you drag an App, rather than inserting it between other Apps – on the iPhone itself though, this works quite well. Hopefully they will fix iTunes before it is fully released.
To be honest, folders are a bit of a let-down; they should have existed so long ago and now that they are finally available, there’s no “wow” moment, at least not for me anyway:

And of course, background Apps don’t work – presumably because they have to be rewritten / updated; if I “background” Pandora, it stops playing just like it always did:

Hopefully Pandora and a few other “critical” backgrounding Apps will be available when iOS 4 is officially launched, otherwise there will be lots of disappointed iPhone 4 users …

(if you’re interested, I started from this site and then did quite a bit of Googling!)