Beautiful weather has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve been taking advantage of it as often as I have time. One thing about living where it’s grey and rainy for so much of the year, it really almost forces me to go outside and be active when it’s nice out. I’ve been riding my bike around, and wanted an easy way to keep track of my stats like speed, distance, which trails I was riding and altitude. Turns out there’s a free and easy way that integrates well with Android: Google My Tracks
My Tracks uses your phone’s GPS to record your position and plots it on a map, where you can upload it to Google Maps or export your track as an industry-standard KML file for analysis in another application.
You get a print out of your statistics at the end, and can optionally insert markers with interval statistics on a custom schedule. The app has been around for a few years but has become much easier to use lately. My last ride was 12.9 miles long at an average moving speed of 7.5 miles per hour:
Total distance: 20.78 km (12.9 mi)
Total time: 2:56:35
Moving time: 1:43:56
Average speed: 7.06 km/h (4.4 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 11.99 km/h (7.5 mi/h)
Max speed: 34.62 km/h (21.5 mi/h)
Average pace: 8.50 min/km (13.7 min/mi)
Average moving pace: 5.00 min/km (8.1 min/mi)
Min pace: 1.73 min/km (2.8 min/mi)
Max elevation: 179 m (589 ft)
Min elevation: 93 m (304 ft)
Elevation gain: 984 m (3228 ft)
Max grade: 12 %
Min grade: -17 %
Recorded: 5/26/2012 12:21 PM
The application also integrates with a Polar brand heart rate monitor over Bluetooth to record heart rate statistics along with the other information. I don’t have that option yet, but plan to add it fairly soon. This is a great free app that everyone should know about. It’s not just useful for mapping a trail, either – you could use it to mark where you left your car, see where you’ve been in an amusement park, or record the location of interesting landmarks you see while wandering around the city. Check it out!
I’ve had this idea for quite a few years but haven’t put much time into it, between everything else I’ve been going on. Once or twice a year for the past five or so years, I’ve posted on Craigslist seeking a broken cello to turn into an art project. Finally, the ad hit and I think I can make it happen.
Verve//Remixed 3 has an incredible album cover. You should buy their music for that reason alone.
I’m hoping to make my own version of the Cello Boombox on the cover…and this will be my starting point, a cello with a broken neck the owner wasn’t interested in repairing. The neck snapped off, the bridge is missing, and there are quite a few cracks (although they aren’t visible unless you look closely) and it needs to be re-glued.
I doubt I’ll do anything with this until next year at least, but now it’s a possibility. I’m just glad I was able to find a broken cello, I wasn’t willing to destroy a functional instrument for this. Not to mention, a working cello costs a lot of money.
There are a few things to consider:
Speaker size and placement. How many drivers will I use, and what types?
Cabinet volume and phase cancelling. If I configure this as a stereo boombox, I’d need to isolate the enclosures internally from each other or the out-of-phase parts of the left and right channels of the audio could cancel or introduce distortion.
Audio source. The Verve Remixed album cover is concept art, not a real product, so the knobs and panel meters and a floppy disk drive aren’t things I could realistically include. Do I mount a small music player in the center – maybe an iPod Touch, or a small Android tablet? Or should I just make this into an artistic speaker without its own audio source?
Power. If this is going to have its own amplifier, how am I going to power it? An outboard power pack? Rechargeable batteries inside?
If anyone has suggestions on those design topics, I’d love to hear them, or from anyone else who has attempted a project like this.
We’re living in an age where we’re inundated with communication and information all the time. Smartphones are expected to exceed 50% of all cell phones in circulation this year and with that, millions of people will join the already large ranks of the constantly connected. A smartphone in your pocket brings voice and text, along with personal and corporate e-mail, video chat, instant messaging and social networking to you with always-on push notification in addition to pulled services like navigation and search.
We’re constantly being bombarded with attempts to reach us, but the software we use to manage these attempts hasn’t really caught up. Google Voice takes a stab at organizing voice and text-messaging, providing a number that can deliver messages to your mobile device or to any web browser and offering up the ability to set rules, ring groups, calling times and default behaviors per-caller but there’s no good solution for the other items. For example: I wake up in the morning, and see my phone will have a few notifications. Typically, a few text messages, e-mails on both my personal and work accounts, and frequently several instant messages or a missed call or two. That’s a lot of messages to sort through, and the phone’s default behavior of handling all incoming notifications from any source exactly the same way just doesn’t match the way I want to organize my interactions.
I’d like my phone to be able to decide what to do with a message automatically based on rules I set up. Rules that let my device decide what to alarm about based on the day and time, the sender, the medium and keywords in the message. “Don’t make noise for incoming messages between Midnight and 5AM unless it’s from a priority group, in which case make extra noise”, “automatically send all unknown number calls to voicemail”, “always alarm for boss phone call even if otherwise muted”. Right now, all the settings are either on or off all the time: either notifications make noise, or they don’t. I either miss things I don’t want to miss, or am woken up by alerts for spam e-mails. I think we’re just slightly too early for this kind of granularity, but I expect it’ll catch on soon.
It’s surprisingly difficult to get data out of my Android phone, the T-Mobile G2. Much more difficult than I expected it to be, in fact. I recorded a short (7-minute) video clip using the build-in camera to demonstrate a radio working for my client. I receive an error message warning me that I can’t upload videos “over 1GB in size”, which is news to me because the filesize is only around 150MB. My only option is to attach via USB and copy the files off from the filesystem – not the most intuitive process if you’re not technically inclined.
I like Android because it doesn’t tell me what to do the way some other phone platforms do, but even nearing the 3.0 milestone the entire thing just seems amateurish and hacked together. I can’t say whether these issues stem from the open-source philosophy of the platform, the fragmentation introduced by lack of control over carriers, whether it’s due to Google having grown too fast for their teams to be able to work cohesively together across their organization, or something else – but it doesn’t seem like we’re really making much progress in terms of the user experience even as we add more features.
I’d like to share some frustrations I’ve been having with my Android phone, the T-Mobile G2. I was a completely satisfied customer of the G1, which was released about 2.5 years ago – an eternity in mobile technology, but not really that different from the current iteration of devices in a significant way.
Mobile devices have reached a shocking level of compatibility and functionality. Paired with a suitable data plan, the modern smartphone can legitimately be compared to a computer. You can watch video from sites like Hulu, YouTube and Vimeo; capture, edit and share photos and videos to other mobile devices, computers or web services; create and edit office documents, access web pages, stream music, send e-mail, chat and connect over any of dozens of web services, manage your finances, find near-by points of interest, turn-by-turn navigation…..the list of computer-like things a mobile phone can do goes on and on.
Note I said computer-like things because, despite all the progress that’s been made, cell phones are still sorely lacking in actually being able to do most of the things I’ve listed quickly and easily. Cellular providers share some of the blame, which I’ll get to in a few moments. Cell phones have advanced well enough to where they can be judged on the same standard as a basic desktop computer – and are falling flat on their face as a result. Just being good “for a phone” isn’t enough any more when the end of the PC is approaching and marketing efforts are setting customers up for disappointment if they’re expecting a full-featured experience.
The G2 is about as unmodified of an Android build as you’re likely to find on a mass-production phone – and it’s a mess of usability issues, bad design, poorly thought out features and to top it off some of the limited potential it does have is being choked off by the cell phone companies. Take for instance Android ActiveSync, the application that connects Android phones to Microsoft Exchange servers. It frequently loses the ability to synchronize, forcing me to reboot the phone to restart sync. It doesn’t effectively sync subfolders, meaning that my “Alerts” folder nested inside my Inbox is never synced if Inbox is the active view. And occasionally it spontaneously forgets I ever attached an ActiveSync account, and instead of my e-mail in the morning I wake up to the Add Account wizard. That’s utterly unacceptable for a production device – but this happens not only on my Android device, but on multiple phones on different providers belonging to others.
Flash on the phone has been another area where phones have effectively fallen on their face. There are some technological reasons behind this failure, but the fact of the matter is, Flash that works just well enough to render the applet’s interface but not well enough to let you actually interact is completely useless. Flash is being sold to Android users as being able to unlock the “rest of the web”, but I can’t even manage to load the Pandora desktop SWF functionally.
And speaking of Pandora, we come to the role of cell phone providers in this whole mess. I live in a dense metro area, the 23rd largest city in the country. The area is blanketed with fast “4G” coverage measured in megabits per second. Pandora offers a mobile application for devices – with significantly reduced audio quality from the desktop application, which they blame on the cell phone providers:
Pandora on phones is limited by hardware and bandwidth. Many carriers have trouble streaming even the “normal” quality audio on phones (32kbps). The High quality is 64kbps.
Desktop normal quality is around 128kbps, and high quality is 192kbps. If providers really have trouble streaming audio in the same quality as we had on desktop computers in 1998 – 13 years ago – there is a serious infrastructure issue in our country. Net Neutrality might help with this somewhat, but most likely not.
There’s a long way to go before the “end of the PC” really arrives.
Google offers an interesting extension called Chrome to Phone that works with Android 2.2+ devices to remove some of the barriers between computing. A small screen isn’t the best place for planning a trip or seeing transit data from multiple lines all at once – but a desktop is. With this extension, it’s possible to look up a web page and have it pushed to your phone. I use it frequently for grabbing directions or contact information for where I’m going and send it to my phone as I’m walking out the door, so I can finish the next steps (finding when the bus comes, etc.) while on the stairs.
My complaint about the service is the way the login mechanism is handled. Chrome to Phone requires you to be logged in to your Google account using the plugin to send to your phone. Makes sense, because the extension and corresponding phone app can automatically cause things to happen on your device without any additional user feedback – press the button on your browser, and the phone automatically turns its screen on and loads the requested content.
The sign-in page, though, is an actual web page that loads in the browser. If I designed it, the login username and password box would pop out of the icon in the corner. It loads a full on tab which presents you with the option of permanently signing in by remembering your login.
Now, the real problem: even remembering your password, you still must log in every day or so. You have to click “sign in” and allow it to load the web page. Once at the page, it doesn’t ask for a password – but if it knows enough to not ask for a password, it really should know enough not to need you to click the button in the first place. Especially since I’ve been unable to locate a “sign out” button, so there’s no real point to it.
For the first time in my history of buying cell phones I decided not to pay the early adopter tax and just waited until the phone I wanted, the G2, became free with a contract extension. That happened this month, and I’ve had the phone in my hand since Monday. I’m definitely glad I waited, though, because if I’d paid $150+ for it I’d be quite disappointed.
Firstly, the notification light is hidden behind the touch button at the bottom center of the phone; the only indication you have a message is a barely-visible faint white glow that slowly pulses on and off. There is a multicolor LED up near the top of the phone, but as far as I can tell it only indicates when it’s charging. Supposedly this problem will be fixed with the 2.3 Gingerbread update, but I’m shocked.
Second, the accelerometer is touchy and likes to rotate the phone into horizontal orientation if I hold it at any angle that’s not perpendicular to the ground. Or, the homescreen will be in one orientation but applications I launch will be in rotated orientation. This is frustrating for obvious reasons.
Third, even though the G2 runs pretty much a stock Android build, Google has decided to include many applications I am not interested in having – and you can’t remove them. Finance and PhotoBucket both run as services on my phone, both auto-respawn when killed by a task manager, and both cannot be removed.
Finally, though, the most frustrating thing: the audio quality. Call quality is great, but listening to music is painful. My G1 had higher quality audio, I’m pretty sure. Pandora sounds tinny and distant even with high-quality streaming enabled (Pandora One) and full bars of HSPA+; it sounded much better on my G1 and sounds great on my stereo at home so I am inclined to believe the issue is with the phone itself. I have a nice pair of Sony noise-canceling headphones, but can’t tell the difference between them and the bundled mini-earbuds that came with the phone. That’s a problem.
I do like that the phone is very fast, has a lot of storage space and a standard headphone connector. I do like that I can give it up to a 32GB microSDXC card and load it up with media for when I ride the bus. I rather like the Swype input panel, in fact I use it more than the hard keyboard at this point, and the hard keyboard was a major selling point for me. But, based on these shortcomings I’ve outlined here, I can’t really recommend it to anyone else. I’ll probably keep it for a year, and go back to paying the early adopter tax on the next generation of phones when they come out.