iPhone

HTC Thunderbolt - The Honeymoon? Definitely Over.

First, let me begin by saying that I have been an Apple fan for a long time. In addition to using their computers, I was a first generation adopter of both the iPod and the iPhone.  I've gone through the original iPhone, the 3G and the 4. What I like about the iPhone can be summed up by saying that it represents exemplary engineering on top of a ghastly deployment.

After all those years of being an iPhone user with AT&T, I could no longer justify paying for AT&T's sub-standard cellular services.  The times I could complete a conversation on my iPhone without dropping the call, or losing call quality was an extremely rare event.  (And I live in the Bay area, home to AT&T which is touted as one of their major coverage areas....)

AT&T's cellular service is simply pathetic.  As a matter of fact, I deemed it justifiable to pay the contract cancellation penalty with AT&T to come to Verizon.  I never realized how bad AT&T service was, however, until switched to Verizon.   Within my first week of using my Thunderbolt, I experienced NO dropped calls, NO poor signals, NO service interruptions of any kind.  (Unless I was connected to an AT&T cellular customer...)

And, while Apple is, in my opinion, the best hardware engineer in the business, the other factor in my decision to move phone platforms was that Apple never quite got the whole synchronization thing down. (Pre-iCloud)  I really don't need seven different listings for my veterinarian in my address book.  Syncing services with Google have been working for me perfectly - and I don't have to pay them $99 per year to screw up my address book contents or my calendar.

So I dropped .me and my iPhone for a Google phone living in a Google world.  Since the Android requires a Google account, (Hey! I have one of those!), setting up my phone required that I only provide it with my account information and everything from that point was auto-magically configured for me.  Insta-integration with all my Google-based services.  Plus really cool stuff like Google Voice for messaging.

....

It's now been six months with the Android. Apple has just released their iPhone 4S...and, within a day, I find myself browsing the provider's pages looking/comparing contracts and service offerings.  What the hell am I doing?!?

The shine on this Android HTC Thunderbolt phone is definitely gone.  While I like most of the Verizon services, specifically the quality of the cellular coverage, I am really dissatisfied with some of their processes and, as far as the phone is concerned, the HTC Thunderbolt is a complete a total piece of crap.  I will NEVER, EVER buy another phone from HTC every again.

Problems with Verizon and the HTC Thunderbolt Nobody Talks About:

1. Crapware

I rooted my Android within a week of getting it.  Verizon pre-loaded the Thunderbolt with an amazing amount of crapware that they don't allow you to delete off their phone.  Seriously bad software.  That does nothing except eat tons of space in my memory store.  Once I rooted the phone (similar to the jail-breaking process for the iPhone), I was able to delete that bloatware and regain my lost storage for other applications.

2. Say My Name, Bitch!

Of course there's a problem with rooting your phone -- and that's dealing with Verizon's never-ending attempts to force software updates down your throat and to your phone.  Should you make the tragic mistake of leaving your phone "on" (which I do when sitting at my desk with the phone plugged into the charger) then Verizon assumes control of your phone by forcing your phone to accept updates over the network.

Since you've rooted your phone, said updates (which are image zip files stored to your cache) will not install after the download completes and the phone reboots itself.  All without any confirmation or interaction from your part.  Special, no?

When your phone reboots, you're presented with the broken-android symbol and you have to go into your root-tools menu to delete the cached files from your phone.  This removes the forced-download and allows you to reboot your phone into it's previously rooted state.  Of course, leave your phone on for too long and here it comes again!

There's no "off" switch to disable the forced downloads.  Verizon's attitude, gleaned from the forums, is that: "It's our network.  Suffer, bitch."

3. Random Reboots and Disappearing Apps

My co-workers claim that my phone re-booting itself (without an "upgrade" being pushed down) is because I rooted my phone.  After reading the complaints about the HTC Thunderbolt out on the etherstream - I beg to differ.  I think the HTC/Verizon mash-up operating system is just so crappy it crashes and forces a reboot.  I've noticed that this happens when the network flips around a lot.  I've also noticed it booting for no apparent reason.

What's also special is that apps just disappear off your phone following a reboot.  Once your phone restarts, you have to give it several moments of 4G time to restore whatever apps it randomly deleted.  Totally weird behavior.  It's almost like using a Windows operating system.

4. I've Lost My Network and I Can't Get Up

Several times with this Thunderbolt I've noticed that I'm stuck in 1G mode.  I try toggling the mobile network connection off/on to reset it, but it always comes back to the 1G network.  This occasionally happens when it gets stuckin 3G mode as well.  (Funny, I've never seen 2G...)

The only way I've found to fix this problem is to force a restart.  When the phone regains consciousness, it happily joins the 4G network.

5. Sucks like a Starving Vampire

Granted, the Gingerbread update is supposed to fix a lot of the issues with the HTC Thunderbolt's ability to drain your battery faster than a starving vampire in a blood bank.  I even upgraded, spending about $50, for a uber-battery, doubling the phone's weight and thickness.  It's worth it, though, having a battery that can last me on the train ride between San Jose and San Francisco.

There's entire web pages devoted to tricks and tips to prolonging the battery life on this phone all of which basically involve crippling, or at least diminishing, all of the features that justified the purchase of your phone in the first place.

I'm really hoping Gingerbread offers better battery life as, since I don't live in a winter-zone anymore, it's a shame to waste the hand-warming features of a rapidly depleting battery.

 

So...I un-rooted my phone so that I could get the Gingerbread update, replacing Froyo on this phone.  I have no idea why it takes Verizon so long to roll-out these updates.  Perhaps their visual basic programmers are having a hard time with all the Android unixey stuff.  Who knows?  I mean, you have to make sure that the user can't delete the fucking golf demo, right?

When Gingerbread was finally available for the Thunderbolt, the update lasted all of a day, if that, before Verizon yanked the update from the download stream.  It was as if they were like: QA testing?  We've heard of that...  The update was so bug-ridden that it was disabling or severely-impairing phone functionality.

Now, as of yesterday, they're starting to push the Gingerbread update back out to the users.  At a time when Google is announcing the Ice Cream Sandwich update (the successor to Gingerbread), Verizon, after one false-start, is now only 1 release behind on the operating system.

Tell me -- why am I paying premium rates for a phone Verizon and HTC can't keep current?

So, as soon as I come into a little cash, I think I will call Verizon customer services (snicker) and complain to them about this phone and their inability to provide a stable (or current) operating system platform.  I'd like to negotiate them into a new Motorola Android phone...Verizon seems ti play better with Motorola -- timely updates, better hardware, non thermo-radioactive battery, etc.

I want to stay in the Google universe because everything works there.  The iPhone is looking sexy -- but it's still not 4G...not yet...

Review: AZIO KB333BM Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard for Mac, iPad, iPhone

I have an iMac 27" I7 -- I wanted to try this keyboard because I needed to recover space on my desktop. I run my iMac in Windows via Bootcamp quite a bit when I'm not working/coding to play games so it was important that his kb also work under bootcamp. When I unpacked the keyboard, I was instantly disappointed in the style and construction. It's not quite as small as the mac wireless keyboard, measuring almost 2" wider and about 1" wider. It also has a cheap feel to it -- there's something rattling around in the antenna housing and the keys are a die-cut plastic. On Apple kb's, the keys are smooth giving the kb an almost rubberized texture -- they're also solidly mounted so there's no "play" or travel in the keys. On the Azio, the keys feel tactically different and there's a ton of play in the keys -- it's almost like they're mounted on swivels.

Installing the batteries was fairly easy -- but the battery door is cheap, thin, plastic. It's definitely a failure point over time. Pressing the connect button isn't easy -- the placement is on the bottom of the keyboard, along the back edge, so the button has to be recessed so you don't tap it during normal use. There's no tactile feedback when you do click the button to initiate a connect -- you have to flip the kb over to see if the blue light has lit.

When I went to sync the kb, I was in windows 7, and attempting the sync immediately brought the computer down with the BSOD. Seeing how it was windows, it didn't surprise me much so I re-booted into Leopard. Pairing the device didn't work -- when it asked me to type in the sequence of numbers, there was no feedback to the screen so eventually Apple asked me to identify the key to the right of the right shift key.

Which is an up-arrow. Which wasn't recognized by Apple as a key. Which meant I had to select from a menu of choice of what type of keyboard I had. So I selected the only viable option - US/English 101 key.

I rebooted trying to get into Bootmanager -- as the computer rebooted and I heard the start-up tone, I pressed and held-down the option key. The blue light on the kb flashed furiously for a second or two, then the machine booted me into Mac mode, bypassing completely the bootmanager. I re-paired the device by removing it and re-discovered. This time, without the feedback (which I realize may be an Apple issue and not an Azio issue), I just blindly typed-in the numbers without pause and the computer accepted the keyboard pairing.

Rebooting the machine, however, produced the same results as before - the kb was not recognized, not was my holding down the option key during boot, and again the Bootmanager was bypassed.

The keyboard itself feels cramped and awkward. The keys appear to be both slightly (about 1/8") smaller than Apple's kb, and they're set closer-together. There additional width of the keyboard is allocated to keys along the right side, two columns, F13-F16, home, end, delete, page-up/down, and the 4-arrow keys. Totally unnecessary to add these keys and increase the form-factor imo. Even tho this is advertised as a mac kb, they couldn't break the windows dependencies...there's also the unnecessary function key just to screw up your typing, right under the left shift key.

I'll try this kb out with my iPad -- perhaps it will encourage me to use my iPad more for text-input. Otherwise, this device is simply garage-sale fodder. If you want a smaller keyboard, then get the keyboard here on Amazon (Super Slim USB kb) -- it's wired, but it works well. Or spend the big-bucks and try the Apple keyboard.

tl;dr: Keyboard feels cheap and loose. Could not access bootmanager. Pairing causes BSOD in windows

HTC Thunderbolt (Verizon) vs. iPhone 4 (AT&T)

I'm writing this post while traveling home on CalTain using my iPad which is hotspotted (tethered) to my new HTC Thunderbolt smartphone on Verizon's 4G network. To do so, all I had to do was tap a couple icons in the phone to get the mobile sharing up and running, then have my iPad scan for a wireless network and connect (authenticate). I normally would. Before you know it, my iPad is seamlessly online and communicating with whatever I need to talk with on the Internet. The current power level is at 68% so we'll see how that serves us by the time this article is finished.

The tl;dr for this review is simply this: Thunderbolt > iPhone 4.

Now, let me explain why...

First, let me begin by saying that I have been an Apple fan for a long time. In addition to using their computers, I was a first generation adopter of both the iPod and the iPhone. I've gone through the original iPhone, the 3G and the 4. As a matter of fact, I deemed it justifiable to pay the contract cancellation penalty with AT&T to come to Verizon.

What I like about the iPhone can be summed up by saying that it represents exemplary engineering on top of a ghastly deployment. AT&T's service is, by comparison, pathetic; it is the Dan Quayle of service and performance - at best, AT&T's service can only be described as "mediocre".

Switching to Verizon made me realize just how bad AT&T's service actually is. Within my first week of using my Thunderbolt, I experienced NO dropped calls, NO poor signals, NO service interruptions of any kind. Certainly not what I was accustomed to after years of (ab)use from AT&T.

And, while Apple is, in my opinion, the best hardware engineer in the business, the other factor in my decision to move phone platforms was that Apple never quite got the whole synchronization thing down. I really don't need seven different copies of my veterinarian in my address book. Syncing services with Google have been working for me perfectly - and I don't have to pay them $99 per year to screw up my address book contents or my calendar.

So, at this point, I've dropped .me, and my iPhone, for a Google world. Since the Android requires a Google account, (Hey! I have one of those!), setting up my phone required that I only provide it with my account information and everything from that point was auto-magically configured for me.

What I Love About the iPhone

  • Overall Design -- the iPhone(s) have always spearheaded the industry standard on look-and-feel.  The phone feels solid regardless of it's size and it's simply umatched in terms of it's aesthetic beauty.
    • Add to this the on/off button located at the bottom-front-center of the phone.  Incredibly convenient, easy to locate by-touch.  You won't realize how much you miss it until it's gone.
  • Easily Rooted - rooting the phone takes place in one-click and is easily reversible.  Your phone is automagically backed-up and, when a new version of the OS is released, you're not waiting very long for the geniuses to release the updated rootkit.
    • The additional software available for the phone once you've rooted it makes the phone a delight to use.  Specifically, my favorite programs were Intelliscreen and BiteSMS.

Things I dislike about the iPhone:

  • DRM music.  While this isn't an iPhone-specific feature, I do (did) use my iPhone extensively with iTunes to download music.  The fact that Apple now wants about $200 to remove the DRM from the existing content I already own really pisses me off to the point where I stopped downloading music through the iTunes store altogether on my phone.
  • AT&T -- seriously bad cellular service.  I live in San Jose.  I spend a lot of time in San Francisco.  To have a call start and end without dropping, without having to repeat myself because of the crappy connection, is just like winning the lottery.  It never happens.
    • 3G is so slow that it's speeds are measured in geological terms.  It's slow to the point of worthless.
  • Sync -- sorry Apple, it just doesn't work.  In all the years I was using .me -- which I was willing to pay the $99/year for just to have a clean address book, it never happened.  Having duplicates in my address book, sometimes as many as a half-dozen for every contact, makes it unusable.  Wake-up.  The fact that one of the hottest-selling apps on the app-store is address-book-cleaner should be a clue.
  • Battery -- I can't get through the day without a re-charge.  I don't use my phone all that much for voice (see above) but I should be able to get the battery to last an entire day from just music and texting.  (This was on a new phone, too.)
  • UX -- stale.  Other than creating folders, there's not a lot I can do with the UX unless I root the device.  TBF, I can understand Apple's slow-moving approach to updating/modernizing the UX, but I think it's quickly being passed by other (agile) devices.
  • Having to enter my AppStore password every freakin' time I update and/or download.  Why?

What I like about the Thunderbolt:

  • 4G/Speed -- this sucker is so fast, it'll make your jaw drop.  Downloads are near instantaneous.  Applications load in a flash.  It's painfully noticeable when it drops down to 3G -- so much so, I usually turn it off and look for something else to do.
  • User-Interface -- I like the Android UX.  It's clean, modern, and customizable.   It encourages exploration and discovery.  It's intuitive.  I also love the time widget and it's incorporation of the weather based on my current location.  While not a fan of anthropomorphic devices (and, honestly, who is?), I like this non-intrusive approach to personalization.
  • App Market -- While the UI of the App Market (counter part to the iTunes or App Store) is less-than in every way to Apple's implementation, it is chock-full of neat stuff.  I immediately found all of my paid-for apps (bought on the iPhone) on the Market and installed them.  Overall,  a nice surprise.
  • Default Applications -- The positive thing about all the crapware installed on the Android is that it gives your creative-juices a nudge.  Something along the lines of "Wow, I didn't realize that existed."  I like all the music-based programs, for example, installed by default.  Although I'm pretty much a Pandora devotee, it has been interesting to explore the alternatives.
  • SMS - The first time I got a voice message it kind of freaked me out.  Don't know if the iPhone supports this without being rooted as I never received one until I had the android...
  • Google Apps Integration -- Since I've moved off .me to Google -- all my apps are integrated.  Flawlessly.  Including address book.  Yay!  I can even let Google Voice be my default voice mail for vm transcription.  (Which is a very nice-to-have as I'm hard-of-hearing.)
  • Verizon -- A positive point since it's not AT&T.  Simply put, I never realized how much AT&T's service sucked until I started using Verizon.
  • The connect-the-dots security unlock - because I have too many damn passwords and pins already.

Things I Don't Like About Android:

  • Blech engineering on the look-and-feel.  Truth be told, Apple spoiled me with respect to my expectation for Engineering.  Yesterday, a co-worker said: "HTC - isn't that a Korean company?" with the insinuation that my phone, physically, was inferior.  I looked at the plastic case, creaking and clicking in my hand, and just muttered an agreement.
  • Battery Life -- the phone is a vampire for energy.  The little crappy 1450ma battery that comes with it can be effortlessly drained in under two hours of intensive use.  I replaced the battery with an HTC-made 2750ma unit and a new case.  My phone is now a tank -- with respect to both battery life and look-and-feel.
  • Default Software -- Blockbuster?  Seriously?  The fact that I can't delete this application is probably one of the highest incentives I have to root the device.  There is a lot of bloatware crap installed on the phone that you can't get rid of...and., come on...Blockbuster?
  • Lack of Documentation -- this is a complex instrument.  Due to the nature of it's operating system and it's Google integration, the granularity of options available, it requires more information than some splashing marketing booklet that ships with the device.  I spent several calls with technical support the first few days I had the phone on basic set-up stuff.  I've also gotten intimate with several of the droid sites to learn how to exploit all the features of the phone since.
  • Rooting -- rooting the phone is considerably more-complex of an operation than it is on the iPhone.  And, apparently, there's the possibility that you can screw-up and brick your phone.  Also, never made clear to me, is how to recover (re-root) following a OS-update --- which can be pushed down to your device without your explicit permission?  WTF?  (One of the reasons I loathe Microsoft operating systems is that they take liberties with your environment without your explicit consent.)
  • Engineering -- the back chome-bar that folds out to stand the phone up as a display in desk-top mode is really, really a great idea.  Putting the usb-port on the bottom side (in display mode) shoots the idea right in the head.  Seriously?  Did no one test this?

I'm sure I forgot to list some stuff -- as my experience continues with the phone, I'll add to the article via comments.

In summary, once I swapped out the battery for something more apropos, I've come to really like my Thunderbolt and the Android OS.  I don't miss the iPhone 4 at all.  Everything works and works well.

Apple lost a loyal customer, I believe, because they moved too slowly in a market place where they mistakenly believe they have (had) dominance.  I recently read where they're activating about 400,000 android phones a day!  I believe it.  I didn't even mind paying the early-termination fee to walk-away from AT&T - that's how happy I am with this phone and it's service.