A recent random assortment of ideas:
It’s easy to get media content from a computer to a television, but it’s difficult to get any kind of external media back into a computer. I have a fairly involved computer setup at home. My workstation is connected to two 20″ monitors and a 46″ LCD. A friend was in town for the weekend, and we were looking for an easy way to make a YouTube video play from his laptop onto my monitor, without actually taking away my control of it. I have two sets of input devices, one at my desk and one near the couch, to control the computer when it’s being used for media. We ended up just switching off who had control of the single mouse cursor between the two input devices. The ideal solution? Either multiple mouser pointers, assigned to the unique input combinations – or a VGA capture interface to make another computer’s input appear in a window. VGA capture devices exist but are absurdly expensive, and there’s no multi-pointer support in the operating system. Most laptops these days have dropped an analog TV output in favor of HDMI or DisplayPort outputs meaning they can’t be connected to an inexpensive TV-capture card.
At about the six month mark, as expected, my phone has started acting up. This has been the case with most every smartphone I’ve owned – a Nokia running S60, an HTC 8525 running Windows Mobile 6.5, a G1, and now my G2 running Android. Reliably at about the six month mark they’ve all started acting up in ways that make me suspect the hardware is failing: lockups and reboots, screen glitches, data disappearing off the memory card randomly and visible dust between the LCD and the glass so deep in the phone the only way I can see it getting in is via osmosis. Hard reset doesn’t fix the problem. Have even high-end smartphones become disposable commodities?
Hallicrafters 8R40 Upgrade: On the back of my bench I have a Hallicrafters 8R40 radio receiver from 1953. It will be a good performing radio when I’m through fixing it up, and I’ll be using it to try and pick up long distance contacts. One thing about far away faint signals is that they can be tough to hear even with the audio turned all the way up, the 8R40 only has a single-ended 6V6 output that maxes out around 4.5W of audio power into a not-that-efficient speaker. From Parts-Express, I bought a few Dayton Audio DTA-2 Class T amplifier modules, based on a Tripath TA-2024 chip. They’ll pump out about 20W of power. I’m planning to use one of these modules inside the back of the Hallicrafters to allow it to drive an external speaker at 20W in a reversible modification. I expect I’ll split the detector’s output and use the module amplifier for the external speaker only; leaving the build-in speaker powered by the tube.
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.
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.