Category Archives: Android

Motorola Razr Maxx: How on earth did I overlook this phone??

razr_maxx

Okay, I admit, I know the answer to this question.

Some background
Recently while using AT&T’s network, I received several important calls. During those calls, the caller sounded fine to me, but my voice was so broken up they had to anticipate my comments.  I swapped my AT&T sim to a different phone. Problem persisted. Callers simply couldn’t make out what I was saying.

I realized my AT&T service had degraded. So, I decided to check out other carriers.

My previous experience with Verizon? Not good
My last experience with Verizon over a year ago had been disappointing. I had to use a network extender to make calls from home. Any calls I received while out walking the dog went directly to voicemail.

However, reconsidering cell phone service now in 2012, I recalled that Verizon prepositions generators at their cell towers prior to storms. In fact, Verizon was one of the few cellular carriers whose calls went through during Connecticut’s prolonged 2011 power outages. During one of those outages (the Snowtober storm aftermath), my home was without power for 5 days. (Snowtober storm was the real deal…. trees/limbs weighed down with wet snow brought down power lines, and many CT residents wound up living in shelters for several days when temperatures inside homes dropped to about 40 degrees.)

During that power outage, network support for most carriers’ cell phone calls was spotty. I used my Verizon iPad to read local news and help retiree neighbors stay informed. However, being able to also make cell phone calls  while one’s  home electricity & broadband internet are out would be priceless! Good reason to give Big Red another try.

Once I decided to retry Verizon, which phone? I briefly considered Galaxy Nexus but felt underwhelmed when I tried it hands on. I like the iPhone but prefer Android, and besides already have a Verizon LTE enabled iPad.

Oh wait, there’s a Razr with extended battery life?!
During my research, I stumbled across several excellent reviews for the Motorola Razr Maxx. I was fascinated by the phone’s amazing battery capacity (3300 mAh) and decided to visit a Verizon store to see it. For more interesting numbers, see Motorola’s Razr Maxx specs page for all the details.

My initial impressions of the Razr Maxx

  • Surprisingly thin at 5.15″ x 2.71″ x 0.35″
  • Nice clear, bright 4.3” screen
  • Despite motoblur interface overlay, very fast UI response… No lag
  • Superb call quality on both ends, even at home.  (Verizon’s local LTE network upgrades clearly help here, as well)
  • Good photo and video quality
  • Blazing fast Verizon LTE speeds:
    • At home, on average: 12,000 mbps down / 1000 mbps up
    • In downtown Hartford: 23640 mbps down / 12379 mbps up

When I use a phone, my main interests:

  • Does it do all I want / need it to do?
  • Is it enjoyable to use?
  • Will it last throughout the day or will I have to launch a 2nd career to keep it charged?

The Razr Maxx is one of few phones I’ve used that handily satisfies all these criteria. Interestingly enough, another phone I loved that met all these criteria: The Motorola StarTac.

I’d previously overlooked the Razr Maxx because Verizon network coverage at my home had been subpar. Recent Verizon network improvements resolved those issues, and I’m thrilled with both the Razr Maxx and Verizon’s LTE network.

Bonus tip for Verizon LTE phone owners
Verizon Wireless is currently offering a 2x LTE data promotion. If you have an LTE phone (whether you’re a new or existing customer), contact Verizon customer service to get this promo:

2x 2GB = 4GB LTE data plan for $30
2x 5GB = 10GB LTE data plan for $50
2x 10GB = 20GB LTE data plan for $80

If you have an employer/organization discount on your account, the 5/10 and 10/20  LTE plans may be discounted even further.

Bonus tip for new Razr Maxx users
By default, Motorola sets its social networking app to sync whether you’re on wifi or cellular data (you’ll see it listed in Settings > Applications >  Running Services containing the word “friendfeed”). For me, that default setting initially caused incredibly disappointing battery life.

For phenomenal LTE network battery life, go to  Settings > Data manager > Social applications and select (put a check mark by) “Set Social Networking applications to only sync when connected to a Wi-Fi network”

Summary
There you have it, my Razr Maxx review. While it’s not the newest phone out (was released a few months ago), if you have or are considering Verizon Wireless service, don’t overlook this phone like I did. It’s a keeper!

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UPDATED! Fitness tech gadgets: My “road test” results

Up

I’ve updated this post based on my experience after it was published. See text in blue bold for updates.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve been seeking ways to reinforce my motivation to meet health goals. This time of year, it’s all too easy not to be active enough due to long hours at work and colder weather outside.

So, after hearing about friends’ experiences using fitness devices, I decided to try a few myself:

All three devices worked as advertised for me, although there are some caveats potential buyers should be aware of…

Jawbone UP (pictured above):

PROS –

  • Easy to wear “bracelet” design
  • Compact and unobtrusive
  • Push button to change modes is easy to use and works well
  • Tracks activity (tracks steps when not in “active” mode)
  • Tracks sleep in a fairly granular manner. Comfortable to wear while sleeping. (It’s helped me understand why I’m so tired during the day… I don’t sleep very soundly at night.)

CONS –

  • First generation product with (an apparently) high failure rate. (More on this below.)
  • Only syncs with iPhone app (no joy for folks with other smartphones or even laptop users)
  • Surprisingly, doesn’t sync via bluetooth: User must connect UP to iPhone via headphone jack
  • iPhone sync process can be fussy: I find it works best if I restart my iPhone, open UP app, insert UP into headset jack, turn up headset volume, then initiate sync right away within UP app. (It really shouldn’t require such a precise process!)
  • Progress and metrics can only be viewed on iPhone app (not able to view metric tracking/dashboard on web site)
  • Food tracking is limited
  • Doesn’t automatically sync activity metrics with my favorite fitness/food journal app, Lose It!
  • Due to bracelet design, your arms must be swinging during exercise to accurately register activity (not happy news for bikers!)

UP

Caveats:
The Jawbone UP’s early failure rate almost dissuaded me from purchasing this product. Even so, I bought at my Apple Store, taking care to keep the package and receipt *just in case*. And the failure rates are not just anonymous metrics — I know someone who is on his third Jawbone UP — the 1st two failed.

With so many reports of early hardware failure, I’m not sure I’d give it as a gift until Jawbone comes out with UP v.2

UPDATED: A big con arose for me… it completely stopped syncing. No matter what I did, it would not sync. I finally wound up returning it to Apple (where I bought it) as defective.

Fitbit

Fitbit Ultra:

 

PROS –

  • Syncs wirelessly (dock connected via USB to your laptop)
  • Comes with seemingly handy plastic clip to connect to your clothing. (More on this below.)
  • Tracks activity and sleep
  • Offers detailed online dashboard at fitbit.com
  • Offers an iPhone app, as well as a mobile web site for other smartphones

UPDATE: I decided to keep the Fitbit after the UP stopped syncing. Based on the variety of tracking devices available on the market, Fitbit is among the best. I wrapped the Fitbit “holster” in electrical tape to make it less slippery (less likely to slide off my belt), and added a layer of electrical tape inside the holster to add friction (make it less likely the device itself would slide out on its own).

CONS –

  • Sleep tracking requires inserting device into cloth wristband (I found this a little uncomfortable)
  • Sleep tracking is not as granular as Jawbone UP
  • Integrates with Lose It! mobile app but in a confusing way. (More on this below.)
  • SUPER easy to lose! It’s flown off my belt several times.
  • Fitbit iPhone app is okay but not as granular as I’d like

Caveats:
The plastic clip is slippery! It’s far too easy to lose the Fitbit Ultra (and at $99, you don’t want to risk losing it!). Integrates with Lose It! app but only populates Lose It’s exercise metrics if you burn a certain number of calories (hey, I want credit for all activity, as a motivator to be even more active!).

If you buy a Fitbit Ultra, be sure to find a way to affix it to your clothing so that it won’t fly off.

Withings

Withings Scale:

PROS –

  • Super easy to use… just weigh yourself and your weight is automatically synced to your my.withings.com dashboard
  • Easy to set up: Insert batteries, then connect scale to your computer via USB to complete set up (including enabling WIFI sync).
  • User can enable integration with Lose It! app and Fitbit dashboard.
  • Offers multiple mobile apps (WiScale app for iPhone and Withings app for Android).

CONS –

  • Expensive at $159 (see Amazon page for product details & reviews).

Caveats:
Aside from cost, no caveats I can think of. Does what it promises.

Loseit

Special mention: Lose It! fitness / food journal app

I first started using Lose It! a few years ago on my iPhone and missed it terribly when I moved to an android phone.

I love its robust food database and how easy it is to update and review my food and activity metrics.

However, since then, a Lose It! Android app has been released. Glad to see this great app available for more phones!

UPDATE to add another special mention: F.lux. It’s software for Windows, Mac, Linux, and jailbroken iOS devices. It automatically adjusts your screen brightness by time of day. If you use your computer before bedtime, it’s a must have… I installed it yesterday and noticed a big difference in how soundly I slept last night.

So what combination works best for me?

I’m still using the Jawbone UP and Withings scale with Lose It! iPhone app and web site dashboard:

  • I manually add activity tracked on the UP into Lose It!
  • Since I have Lose It! linked to my Withings scale, my weight is automatically posted to my LoseIt! account.
  • I monitor my sleep metrics via the UP iPhone app.

Both the UP bracelet and Withings scale have been a good fit for me, offering motivation while not requiring a lot of effort or workarounds.

  • I found the Fitbit Ultra works well but wasn’t practical for me because it kept coming off my belt — I decided it would be too easy to lose. (UPDATED: Fixed this with some electrical tape)
  • I recommend Jawbone UP with some reservation. It does what it does well, but seems prone to early hardware failure based on user reports. (UPDATED: And my UP failed as well. Great device, disappointing quality issues.)
  • I recommend Withings scale without reservation.
  • You can’t go wrong with the Lose It! app for iPhone and android!
  • UPDATED: F.lux is a must have, as well!

Android early adopters, rejoice! Swappa is an easy way to buy / sell android phones. (Article edited: Maybe I’ll stick to selling my cast off phones to friends)

Swappa logo

Edited 10/17/2011: See Update at bottom of article. Despite swappa being an easy way to buy / sell devices, I think I’ll stick to selling my old devices to friends instead.

——————

Like so many other nerds, I love how competition in the mobile marketplace is causing mobile phone features to evolve quickly. It’s a wonderful thing for consumers, especially early adopters.

The downside?

Being an early adopter can get really expensive. One way to mitigate the cost is to sell mobile phones you’re no longer using. But I’d always been hesitant to do so, after hearing so many horror stories about cell phone sales on ebay and craigslist.

Enter swappa.com — a web site where android users can buy or sell their gently used, recent mobile phones. What makes swappa (in my opinion) preferable to craigslist or ebay?

For buyers:

  • Sellers are required to indicate specific condition of the phone.
  • Sellers are required to provide the IMEI up front (not disclosed to the buyer until after purchase).
  • Sellers are required to itemize what comes with the phone.
  • No haggling: The phone cost is clearly noted on sale listing.
  • No “surprise” shipping costs: The seller is responsible for routine shipping cost.
  • All communication with seller is via swappa.com.

For sellers:

  • It’s cheap to add a swappa sale listing: It costs $10 for the listing. Add another $10 to promote it to “featured” which gains your listing greater visibility via a @swappa tweet.
  • Seller pays shipping within U.S. — I usually indicate shipping via UPS ground with the caveat that faster shipping will require a 2nd paypal payment (i.e., expedited shipping at buyer’s cost).
  • No haggling: You set the price and the buyer finalizes the sale by issuing a paypal account, or not. You receive an email when the buyer issues their payment via paypal.
  • Rooted phones are welcome. The sales listing form even offers a field to specific root information!
  • All communication with buyer is via swappa.com

So, you decide to sell your device via swappa.com. How can you prompt it to sell quickly??

  • Add clear, macro photos to your listing so buyer can see the condition of your phone and any accessories
  • Be as specific as possible in your listing. For example: If including an SDcard, indicate both the size and speed.
  • If you’re including gently used accessories, it’s okay to specify how much the phone and accessories cost retail.
  • Include a link to the technical specs for your phone.
  • And, of course… you will sell more quickly if you price your phone competitively.

And to make it a pleasant experience for the person buying your phone:

  • Post-sale, treat the buyer as you’d want to be treated: Be patient and answer their questions promptly. Remember, they’ve just sent you money for a device sight unseen. I also try to offer the buyer multiple carrier options for shipping (e.g., UPS, fedex, or USPS) in case one method is more convenient for them than another.
  • Limit activation issues for the buyer: If it’s a locked phone, contact your carrier to add a note to your account specifying that phone has been sold.
  • Ship promptly! As an early adopter, you like to get your tech stuff quickly… so does your buyer!

I’ve used swappa.com twice so far, and have really been pleased with the experience. One phone sold in 3 days, the other sold in 2 hours!

I recommend swappa.com wholeheartedly. If you’re an android early adopter, give swappa a try… you’ll like it!

Edited 10/17/2011: Well, no longer sure I feel comfortable selling phones I no longer use to strangers. A buyer left a comment post-sale accusing me of shipping a damaged device. (It was in excellent condition with no damage and I’d posted photos showing phone’s condition from various angles.) His accusatory message ended with “thanks for the good deal & fast shipping!”. Very weird experience. I’m not sure why someone would do that (and certainly not swappa founders’ fault), but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Ugh.

AT&T’s Samsung Infuse 4G… A First

AT&T and Samsung recently released the Samsung Infuse 4G. samsung_infuse_4gIt’s a first in several ways:

  • 1st Smartphone with a 4.5” screen
  • 1st AT&T Android phone that allows users to easily install apps from sources other than the Android Market (finally!)
  • 1st AT&T Android phone that I’ve found appealing enough to buy

I had read pre-release articles about the Infuse, and knew it had a large screen and very thin profile. Yet I was still wowed I saw the Infuse on its Sunday release.

Initial impressions:

  • Huge, beautiful screen (4.5” measured diagonally)
  • Unbelievably thin

Now that I’ve had the phone for several days, more observations:

  • Love the big screen. Makes checking news, email, twitter a delight. Like the HTC EVO released a year ago, the Infuse form factor is trendsetting.
  • Still amazed by its thinness
  • Single core yet very responsive
  • Surprisingly good battery life. After a few charge cycles, I’m finding it could last two days without charging
  • Comfortable, easy to use even for folks with small hands (like me)
  • Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface is okay – easy to use. I love that users can easily change phone font!
  • AT&T’s network, while reviled by many, has both excellent and poor coverage areas, with good coverage at my home and at work.
    • I’ve had good voice quality, no dropped calls.
    • Connects to data network quickly
    • Data speeds are fast (although not technically 4G): Fastest I’ve seen has been 6MG down, 1.5MG up. Folks in better network coverage areas would likely see faster speeds.

I haven’t been wowed by other Android phones offered by AT&T and was downright turned off by AT&T locking down phones so that apps could only be installed from Android Market.

That all changed with the Infuse! It offers the functionality I want along with a form factor that feels like the future of smartphones.

Why I <3 the nook color…

NOOKcolor screenA few years back, I bought a Kindle 2. I liked it but found the e-ink page turn effect distracting. I also missed having a color display rather than black & white.

In late 2010, the nook color was released. It sounded like an interesting device but seemed impractical for me since I’ve purchased so many Kindle ebooks over the years. Then, an Android developer found a way to root the nook color.

That was what I’d been waiting for… I went ahead and bought a nook color. And recently, I rooted it.

Why do I love the nook color? Let me count the ways:

  • Bright, vibrant color screen and several formatting options available (font sizing, etc.) within the nook reader.
  • Using the library web site along with Overdrive Media Console and Adobe Digital Editions software,  I can borrow ebooks from my local library.
  • Using the same method as borrowing from my local library, I can also borrow ebooks from other libraries that offer lending to out of area residents (e.g., Philadelphia Free Library, Fairfax County Library, National Library Board of Singapore). (Note that Fairfax County Library and Philadelphia Free Library charge an annual fee to out of area residents, but it’s a great option if your local library has a limited ebook collection)
  • Since I’ve rooted my nook color, I was able to install Kindle for Android. I have access to my full Kindle library, as well as any new Kindle books I decide to buy.
  • I can easily find (legally) free ebooks for download from Barnes & Noble and Amazon by referencing Inkmesh web site.
  • I can also download Barnes & Nobles’ Free Friday ebook offering.
  • I can read an ebook free (for an hour) daily in-store at my local Barnes & Noble store. I can also surf the web on my nook color browser using free access to Barnes & Noble’s wifi network.
  • I can lend selected ebooks to friends. (I haven’t tried this yet, will blog an update once I do.)

I’m enjoying the nook color and learning something new every day. Yesterday, I realized I can do an early return on ebooks from my library by connecting my nook color to my laptop, selecting the book within the Adobe Digital Editions software, and then selecting “Return book”.

I highly recommend the nook color. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know in comments.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR48): A few more observations

I was thrilled to receive a CR48 notebook a few days ago, and have used it intensively for the last day. (See my initial observations post.) It’s an interesting device and I’m finding it enlightening as it’s making me aware of how I extensively I use the web.

As a baseline, I should describe how I’m using the CR48 and the laptop it’s (temporarily) replacing.

  • Usage: Home power user. Because my job requires use of business and technical apps not available on the web, I would not be able to use a web-only notebook for work.
  • My own laptop: I have a Windows7 Sony Vaio Z laptop that I love — it’s small, light, and still feels powerful despite being 1.5 years old. After a hard drive failure last fall, I’ve preferred to use web apps (rather than installed apps) whenever possible. That approach saves me from having to maintain current version of installed apps (since a web app will always serve up the newest version), and frees up hard drive space. I use Google services extensively, especially since I’m an Android mobile user (HTC EVO, which I also love!).

Now, a few more Chrome OS observations:

  • Mouse-less: I use a laptop’s trackpad and keyboard extensively, rather than using a mouse. I find the CR48 supports this use case well — there’s even an interactive onscreen keyboard help to provide guidance about keyboard shortcuts. (I think the CR48 probably supports using a mouse, but haven’t plugged one into the USB port to check.)
  • Web vs installed apps: If you rely on installed apps for computing, you won’t like the CR48. Since I have a preference for web apps over installing additional software onto my laptop, the CR48 feels like a natural fit for me.
  • Singular focus: On my Vaio, I’ll generally have multiple windows open and more than one window displayed at any given time. With the CR48, I can have multiple tabs open but only one is visible at any time. I’m finding I really like this singular focus — it’s less distracting.
  • User experience: Despite the CR48 processor being slower than my Vaio (and thus I wait a bit longer for several pages to open at a time), I’m finding the CR48 to be fun to use. In fact, I used my Vaio for a few minutes last night, and found that I missed using the CR48!

I can definitely see using the CR48 as a lightweight mobile notebook. I also think there’s an interesting (and almost polar opposite) use case for the CR48 as a net device used by less tech savvy folks to check email, reading web pages, etc.

I’ll continue to post observations over the coming weeks. If you have a specific question, please let me know in comments and I’ll do my best to check it out for you.

Logitech Revue (Google TV): Initial impressions

logitech-revue

I picked up a Logitech Revue today out of desire for a better interactive TV experience. I currently have a circa 2004 Comcast DVR (due to older infrastructure in my area) and it provides limited interactive options. I’d had TiVo in the past but didn’t want to go that route because past experience had been that any time my Comcast service went out, Comcast CSRs always blamed the TiVo’s cable cards.

I’ve been curious about Google TV and decided to learn more. Google TV was recently released in the form of the $299 Logitech Revue and $399 Sony Internet TV Blu-Ray Player. Because I already have a PS3 for playing blu-ray discs and had heard that Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Player offered better integration with one of the satellite providers (while I have Comcast Cable Internet), the Logitech Revue seemed a better fit for me.

The Logitech Revue video review by www.booredatwork.com gave me an opportunity to view interactions with the Google TV interface. I found the review extremely informative and recommend it if you’re interested in Google TV. Gizmodo and Engadget have also published interesting reviews.

Buying experience:

I went to a local Best Buy store – sales personnel were generally knowledgeable and helpful. The only negative aspects were:

  • The demo Logitech Revue keyboard didn’t have batteries, so I wasn’t able to interact with the product in-store before buying.
  • The salesman suggested I buy the overpriced Monster brand if I needed an extra HDMI cable. Since there is an HDMI cable already provided in the Logitech Revue box (and I have my existing equipment at home connected to my TV via HDMI), I didn’t need to buy any. (I’ve previously bought HDMI cables for under $20 at the Apple store.)

Set-up:

I had read some horror stories online about initial set-up, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was amazingly simple. I plugged my Comcast box into the Logitech Revue box, attached an Ethernet cable from my router, plugged the power cord into an outlet, and voila… the Revue automatically kicked off the set-up sequence.

The only glitch I experienced was following the firmware update — the box froze and I needed to reboot to continue set-up. After that, all was well (no freezes or other unexpected behavior).

Pros:

  • I love the interface and how I can now view “what’s on” (via my Comcast DVR signal pass-through to the Logitech Revue) sorted by movies, news, etc. That kind of functionality should be inherent in cable TV DVRs (and perhaps it is, in newer boxes). I haven’t noticed any signal deterioration due to the pass-through, and HD picture quality is good.
  • The Twitter app is well-done, making it easy to click through interesting links, as well as initiate and respond to tweets.
  • The Netflix app works well, but provides an older interface that requires users to update queue via netflix.com (similar to the UI that Roku recently replaced in their streaming boxes). I’ve read that a new Netflix app for Google TV is currently in beta testing, so hopefully it will be pushed to users soon. (EDITED 12/19/2010: The rumored Netflix app update was released last week — the Netflix app now has a beautiful user interface that is as nice, if not nicer, than competing devices.)
  • Youtube’s “Lean Back” mode provides a nice full-screen viewing mode. Incidentally, this UI is available via your PC browser as well via http://www.youtube.com/leanback
  • There are some interesting channels / apps available, including USA Today, Crackle, Youtube, CNN, KQED (among others).
  • The Universal Search feature works very well at finding content.
  • Android phone users can install the Logitech Harmony app which acts as a remote control once connected to Google TV via WIFI.

Cons:

  • Spendy at $299
  • Some channels work awkwardly (Amazon Video on Demand app) or are blocked by the content provider (Hulu, NBC, others).
  • I am embarrassed to admit it took me 15 minutes to realize the Universal Search command had to be invoked from the keyboard, and then another 5 minutes to locate the key (lower left corner of keyboard, next to the Control key).
  • If Universal Search finds future showings of TV / movies available via my Comcast subscription, I still have to go into the Comcast DVR interface to set up the recording.
  • UI is intuitive for Android users, but less technical folks may find it challenging.

There you have it, my initial impressions. I’ll post another review after I’ve had a chance to kick the tires a bit.

Bonus: If you haven’t seen the Logitech Revue commercial featuring Kevin Bacon, it’s worth a watch. And don’t miss the Entertainment Weekly interview with Kevin Bacon on playing his own biggest fan (in the Revue ad).