Monthly Archives: June 2011

The mythical, wonderful Samsung Galaxy S II (SGS2)

This spring, I decided to move over to AT&T from Verizon after learning my Verizon phone was hopelessly buggy 6 weeks into my contract, with no remedy offered by my Verizon store. Combine that issue with pockets of poor Verizon network coverage areas in my neighborhood, and I decided it was time to move my wireless service.

When I opened my AT&T account, I picked up an Infuse 4G. I’d never been fond of Samsung phones until the Infuse, and it was love at first sight: The gorgeous screen, the minimalist controls, its thin/light form factor. I was sufficiently impressed to write an Infuse 4G review.

But I kept reading about a mythical phone, the Samsung Galaxy S II. The more I read, the more curious I became… what was this wonderful phone? Could it be there was an unlocked Samsung phone similar to the Infuse but even faster and more responsive?! And thus my unicorn hunt began…

I’d had an AT&T account lucy_n73for several years, and for much of that time used unlocked Nokia phones. I realize it’s fashionable to bash Nokia lately, but I loved Nokia camera hardware and the fantastic shots Nokia phones enabled.

But I digress…
Since my Infuse was still new, I tried to distract myself but the Samsung Galaxy S II (SGS2) continued to beckon. I read reviews, I visited phone import stores online, I pondered. I liked the Infuse. The problem? I thought I’d like the SGS2 even more. Finally, I decided to pick one up despite the high ticket price that goes with buying an unlocked phone.

I’ve had my SGS2 for about a month. And you know what? The SGS2 is the best cell phone I’ve ever used. Based on user reviews on CNET, I’m not alone:

  • Very responsive. No lag, no waiting.
  • Great camera and photo quality
  • Excellent voice and audio quality
  • Gorgeous, vivid screen
  • Re-sizable (!) stock widgets that are both informative and attractively minimalist
  • Thin, light, and beautiful

sgs2With most phones, there’s a certain amount of waiting… waiting for an app to open, waiting for the phone to connect to the network, waiting, waiting, waiting…

That changed with the SGS2. I never realized how speedy a phone could be. View SGS2 specs here.

There are other advantages to the SGS2:

  • I stumbled across this thread on, where you can find updated SGS2 firmware along with instructions for flashing – the post originator is very sharp and generous in helping other users with questions. NOTE: Flashing these firmware doesn’t require rooting, and at the rate Samsung has been releasing regional updates to the SGS firmware, SGS2 users can always be running the latest, greatest firmware. I’m currently running the XXKF2 firmware on my SGS2 (Android 2.3.3); this firmware’s build date is 6/10/2011 (fabulous battery life with KF2 firmware, by the way!).vent-case
  • A very cool official Samsung “vent” case – a lightweight but very functional case for your SGS2. I love that its rubberized finish makes the phone grippier while its design preserves the phone’s thin, light form factor. I picked up this case on from ebayer bluejamgem – they put the case in the mail very quickly – I received it in about 5 business days (from the UK).
  • If you want a more substantial case, Case-Mate offers 2 SGS2 cases. I picked up a Barely There case and it offers a bit more protection than the vent case.
  • Looking for a Samsung desk dock for the SGS2? I found that the SGS2(with the vent case on) will fit into the official Samsung Infuse 4G desk dock.
  • I went with a Zagg SGS2 Invisishield screen protector bought via since none were available locally. Because I don’t have much luck applying screen protectors, I took my shiny new phone and Zagg Invisishield to Best Buy and the nice folks there applied it for me for a small fee (well worth it, btw!!).

I only have one concern about the SGS2: I wonder what will happen when U.S. wireless carriers decide to “customize” the Galaxy S II experience. Will it become a laggy beast, like so many other smartphones? We’ll see, and I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen. I’d love for folks buying a carrier-branded SGS2 to have the same fast, responsive SGS2 experience I’m enjoying.

Bottom line: I love the SGS2 and highly recommend it unlocked. If you have questions about the SGS2, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to respond.

My 3rd Gen Prius tips

Last year, I decided to take the plunge and buy a 2010 Toyota Prius. I’d been 2010-priuswanting a hybrid for several years, it just seemed unattainable whenever I was car-buying. Last year, the time finally seemed right. Gas prices will ultimately continue to rise, and I had friends with the Hybrid Camry who raved about their hybrid.

I love my Prius, as well. It’s a safe, comfortable car that sips gas. What’s not to love?

Perhaps more than most cars, there was a bit of a learning curve with the Prius. I now had a car that showed me, in real-time, how my driving habits were impacting my gas mileage. I started to compile my observations and recently emailed them to a new Prius owner. Like any geek, I figured I should blog these tips too.

Fine print:
This is truly a scenario where your mileage may vary. Mileage is impacted by several variables, including driver’s style (aggressive / conservative), terrain, length of trip, etc. Put simply, what works well for me may not work for you. As
Stuart Smalley would say, “And that’s okay.”

Prius’s 4 modes (it’s worth experimenting to see which model gives you best mpg for your driving style):

– Electric only, but only works under a certain speed (25 mph, I think)
– Once you reach the threshold speed, it turns on the gas engine. I haven’t used this mode very much

– Reduces gas pedal sensitivity so driver has to press pedal down harder to go faster
– Air conditioner (a/c) runs at a lower rate (consuming less power); still gets cold enough!
– When running a/c, gas engine turns off when car is stopped (e.g., stoplights)
– I used Eco mode during snowy weather last winter, and have used it when running a/c this summer

– Adjusts gas pedal to be more sensitive
– Enables quicker starts from stop, or faster lane changes on freeway
– When driving conservatively, Power mode won’t necessarily result in poorer mpg

Normal (no mode buttons pressed) –
– I’ve generally used Normal mode except in snow or when running a/c
– I’ve found I get best mpg in normal mode

For more about Prius driving modes:

– Energy captured during braking is used to charge Prius battery

Hill Assist:
– If stopped at a stoplight on a steep hill, pressing down *hard* on brake pedal for several seconds engages hill assist, essentially locking brakes
– Pressing on gas pedal releases hill assist/brakes

Coasting, Pulse & Glide:
– Coasting: Because the Prius is relatively heavy and uses low friction tires, you can sometimes take your foot off the gas pedal and just let the weight of the car propel you (especially on very flat streets, or gentle down hills).
– Pulse & Glide: Once you get up to speed (e.g., on freeway), taking your foot off gas pedal and  then easing gas pedal back down will use less gas than getting up to speed and maintaining consistent pressure on gas pedal.

More about Coasting and Pulse/Glide here:

Locking / unlocking car without using key fobs:
– Standing outside car with key fobs in pocket, touch inside driver-side door handle to unlock. You’ll hear 2 beeps confirming unlock.2
– To lock (with key fobs in pocket), touch top/front section of driver-side door handle to lock — you’ll hear 1 beep confirming that car is locked.

– Don’t let them get under-inflated; check them with each fill-up.

If you’re considering buying a 3rd generation (2010+) Toyota Prius and have questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

More user perspectives on the Best Buy Blue Label Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S

I posted my recent article about the Best Buy Sony Vaio because there weren’t many user reviews available on the web. Despite some initial hiccups, I found it to be an excellent laptop and wanted to share my experience.

Happily, my post attracted the attention of some very smart, technically savvy folks who either shared their user review in the post’s Comments section, or provided a link to their own review (It aint easy to choose a Laptop: Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S). I urge folks interested in this laptop to read these very intelligent, thorough user reviews for additional information.

On a side note: This experience reminded me that when I read tech articles, I absolutely shouldn’t pass up reading the comments. The information provided by reader comments increased the value of my article exponentially for those trying to decide whether to buy this laptop!

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook has arrived!

Last year, I applied to participate in Google‘s Chrome OS beta project. About a week later, I was amazed and delighted to find a free CR-48 on my front porch. I used the CR-48 as my main computer for 6 months, and enjoyed it. It was fun seeing Chrome OS evolve over time and I enjoyed the experience. (For more on the CR-48, see my previous posts here, here, here, and here.)

Fast forward to last week, when a Google email arrived offering the Arctic White Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook for $499 via While I thought $499 was a bit pricey for what’s essentially a netbook, I went for it. It arrived today!

My initial reaction to Samsung Series 5 Chromebook:

  • Gorgeous, solid hardware
  • Lovely white lid, adorned by Chrome logo
  • Responsive, easy to use “island” type keyboard
  • Love the matte screen
  • As with the CR-48, the cap-lock key is replaced by a search key
  • Long battery life (10+ hours)
  • 100MB Verizon 3G data per month free for 2 years (with opportunity to buy add-on data on a month-by-month basis)


I can see taking the Chromebook with me when traveling or when I want to work at a café – no worries about losing precious personal data if it’s lost or stolen. It’s small, light, and very portable. I enjoy the full screen view and find it fun to use.

Would I recommend Chromebook to friends? Sure, it’s easy to use, low maintenance, and super portable. Because Google is aggressively improving Chrome OS, using it becomes even more enjoyable over time. I expect the price will drop after it’s been on the market for a few months, and come Christmas may be priced to make the perfect holiday gift.