Monthly Archives: October 2012

A $300 Nexus Phone Still Won’t Sell In The US, No Matter How Good It Is

Sometimes, I enjoy playing devil’s advocate to an unpopular position. Scratch, a lot of the time, I enjoy playing devil’s advocate to an unpopular position.

And I’m here, once again, to play devil’s advocate to the wow-it’s-almost-too-good-to-be-true $300 Nexus phone.

Now, a lot of you who read Android Police don’t like this phone, but most of you, frankly, don’t like it for all the wrong reasons. A missing microSD slot and a lack of LTE support are two things the average consumer really doesn’t care about. Or, to be blunt, have a clue even fucking exist as things. These are just nonsense acronyms geeky people throw around on the internet, as far as “regular people” are concerned.

And then some of the more… reasoning-challenged of you choose not to like it because it’s an LG. Which, OK, whatever – you just keep on buying that Toyota every 5 years because American cars are “crap” and you know best because you had Dodge in the early 90’s and made a promise to yourself to never buy Detroit again because they could never possible get better. Bulletproof logic.

Anyway, regular people buy most of the smartphones in this country today. And regular people who buy smartphones generally choose to be on phone contracts here in the US. The reason is simple: to save money up front. For $200, you get an iPhone 5, which really is a $600+ phone – if you were to buy it unlocked. And it’s not until month 12 of the contract and the new iPhone announcement that these people start mewling about the atrocity that is the carrier upgrade cycle. Then, when the next new iPhone comes around after that, they promptly forget and renew their subscriber agreements, because that’s how America kind of works. I’m going to forego a sheep joke here, because I’m not 12.

The sad reality is that in a society that has built a consumer economy on personal credit, monthly payments, and the save-money-now-and-don’t-think-about-it-later mentality, unlocked phones don’t make sense. This behavior is so deeply ingrained into the average American’s brain and daily life that it’d be laughable to think Google could suddenly change the way people think about cell phone service. At least not without starting their own carrier, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is this: when someone starts shopping for a smartphone, they’ll probably see the Nexus 4 at some point thanks to Google’s massive online ad campaign, and they’ll end up at the Play Store. Fact aside they’ll probably be realizing for the first time that Google even has a store, they will look at the price tag of $300, and promptly close the window. They don’t care about the lack of a  contract, or what it does, or how quickly it gets software updates. They see $300, they leave.

Then, they go to the AT&T / Sprint / Verizon website, see an iPhone 5 or a Galaxy S III for $200 (or, as with the GS3 in some places, less), and they buy that. Or, like so many Americans, they buy the shitbox free Android phone that will last them 6 months before falling apart like a French car built in the 80’s, and walk out shackled to a two-year contract that will give them nothing but misery. That, or they get an iPhone 4 / 4S.

And prepaid customers? Good luck convincing the average StraightTalk subscriber that dropping $300 on a smartphone is something they want to do.

It’s pretty frustrating.

But that’s the way the market is right now. Until some disruptive force comes along in wireless in the US, people will keep buying contract phones, and the big carriers will keep selling them. It doesn’t matter that the Nexus 4 won’t work on Verizon or Sprint – because even if it did, people still wouldn’t buy it. The Nexus 4 could be an SD-card and LTE-packing phone endorsed by Honey Boo Boo and most people still wouldn’t give a shit – the carriers really do own this town.

Hell, the Nexus 4’s theme song should be “I Fought The Law.”

Tablets, on the other hand, I’m much more optimistic about. I think Google can make the sale to ordinary people, because so few of them care about a mobile data-connected tablet (meaning no carrier interference), and I think that if the app ecosystem grows quickly enough, they can actually get the ball rolling in a big way. A $200-250 price tag on the Nexus 7 this Christmas may just be a turning point for Android slates [that aren’t Kindle Fires]. And Google knows that if it can get people on the hook with one “Nexus” product, those people will get curious about other Nexus products.

And that really is the strategy here: build a hardware ecosystem that creates brand recognition and, hopefully, customer loyalty. Sort of like… Apple.

Let’s hope it works.

Wow, What a Surprise: Windows 8 Isn’t Horrible and the World Isn’t Going to End

On Friday, I installed Windows 8 Pro on my laptop. It’s late Monday night, and I have somehow managed to avoid succumbing to a don’t-call-it-Metro-induced psychosis. I even did work on my Windows 8 laptop this weekend, and it went just as it always does: fine.

Except, now my laptop is faster, the UI is prettier, and I have some new dedicated apps for stuff like Netflix, Skype, and Hulu. And a pretty news reader. And a native Google search app. It’s just horrible.

Oh, I’m sorry, the word I was actually looking for is better. Yes, Windows 8 is better than Windows 7. Stop the motherfucking presses.

If I sound a little jaded and upset, it’s because I am. It’s because I’ve listened to almost everyone who has chimed in on the topic in the last year absolutely blast Windows 8 as a productivity-destroying aesthetic nightmare that wants to tear to shreds your very soul. And now, after actually upgrading to it, and using it, I’m kind of upset at those people. Because what they said simply isn’t true.

All I’ve heard are the same Windows OS upgrade pitfalls regurgitated over and over: app compatibility will break, you’ll have to learn a bunch of new stuff, you’ll lose settings or files, and you have to (gasp) pay money for this annoying privilege. But you know what? None of those things happened. Except the money part. That happened. Otherwise, Microsoft did it right. Unbelievable.

My upgrade (in which I kept all of my – admittedly few – apps, settings, and files) went off without a hitch over the course of about 90 minutes. That’s from download, to install, to first login on the new OS. For Windows, that is record time. And what was broken? Pretty much nothing. I had to reinstall the ATI Catalyst Control Center, and uninstall some worthless Intel Bluetooth utility. Everything else, shockingly, worked.

And the new start menu center? Yeah, it’s designed for touch. And no, it’s not perfect. Lateral scrolling is totally FUBAR right now, and needs to be addressed for a non-touch interface. But I still like it – it’s extremely easy to visually parse, and the Windows key keyboard shortcuts make navigating between the desktop, start center, and my other running programs a breeze. Not to mention, Windows on the whole just looks hugely better.

You might even say it’s more user friendly. I certainly think it is.

Are the native apps there yet? Not really. You have Hulu, Netflix, Skype, Google Search, Internet Explorer, and a few other noteworthies. But they’ll get there. The Microsoft news reader app is absolutely beautiful, in all its full-screen glory. Oh, and my Google Calendars are integrated into a Windows 8 Calendar app that shows me events in its launch shortcut. That’s neat.

The new toast-style notifications (again, only native W8 apps) look great, and are exactly what Windows needed (I so, so miss Growl notifications on OS X).

And very importantly, I still have my fully functional desktop for when it comes down to actually doing work. It’s a hybrid OS, to be sure – between the new start center and the desktop. But that’s just what Microsoft needed. Windows has been so stale, so unchanged in its basic UX for so many years, and this finally bridges the gap between the second coming of modal computing and a traditional desktop. I think that’s very important to recognize. And Microsoft made it work. The back and fourth isn’t clunky. It isn’t unnatural. They’ve made living in both worlds pretty easy.

Switching between them is a simple keystroke: the Windows key (or Win+B). Even your grandparents can understand that.

Is it without significant flaws? Of course not. The app marketplace is pathetic. But millions of laptops and desktops and all-in-ones will ship with Windows 8 in the next year, and the 3rd party support will follow along dutifully. Navigating the new start center with a trackpad is less than great. And moving away from the start menu hasn’t been painless. But knowing that this is where Microsoft is starting from on release day makes me even more optimistic about Windows 8 – they can only go up from here. They’ll fix, add, and optimize. Only a handful of Windows releases can lay claim to a smooth launch, and I think this will be one of them.

So, say what you want about the “un-serious” look of not-Metro, the wastefulness of full-screen apps for productivity, or whatever. I’m quite happy to see Microsoft changing with the times, instead of clinging to 1995 unflinchingly as the world moves ahead without it. And after experiencing it myself, I don’t think the complaints about Windows 8 stem from the fact Microsoft has changed the platform, but that many of its users are afraid of change of any kind, regardless of the benefits. And that’s a little sad.

Off Topic: Things That Go Vrooooom

As a tech journalist (OK, an Android journalist), it’s not often I have a chance to write something with no feelings of anxiety, no worries of time, or questions of completeness. Blogs live and die by remaining current, correct, and quick. We live in an era where it is not necessarily the quality of information which garners the most internet fame, but the possession of it. Not to say I (and everyone at Android Police) don’t value quality, or forget that quality has gotten us where we are. I like to think attention to detail, passion, and personal candor set us apart from some of our respective, and respected, competitors.

But, when I want to write about something that isn’t related to technology outside the very broadest sense of the word, I don’t exactly have many places to go. And even my opinion pieces on AP (as increasingly rare as they are) require careful wording, a fair bit of research, and topical relevance – which means time is still a factor.

This post isn’t about technology, really. As you might have guessed, it’s about another passion of mine: cars.

If you weren’t aware automobiles were a particular interest of mine, that’s probably understandable. To most people, I’m just a name that occasionally appears next to things when they’re reading about phones on the internet. If they even read the name at all. I do try to connect with readers where I can, but let’s face it: being a blogger doesn’t really allow you to express yourself as a person to other people all that often. And that’s why I have this other blog.

I don’t really remember when I started liking cars. I do remember having a copious amount of Hot Wheels as a kid. I even had the animated series on VHS. And it’s not like I grew up in a gearhead family. Sure, my dad can fix most anything on wheels that doesn’t involve a computer, but that knowledge was never really imparted on me. We didn’t really have exciting cars when I was growing up, either. A ’94 Ford Explorer, a ’95 Town & Country, an ’00 Plymouth Grand Voyager. Kid-hauling stuff.

My mom did have an ’87 Celica, but it was stolen well before my earliest memories.

However, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a kid, and I think my grandfather is responsible for at least some of my love of old, quirky cars. He wasn’t really an automotive connoisseur, per se, but my grandpa had style. I’ll always remember his 1970’s-orange VW Super Beetle (here’s a comparable one). It was horrendously slow, didn’t have A/C, and sounded like a really angry lawnmower – but it was a classic, and I’ll never think he was anything but cool when we went for rides down to the ice cream parlor on the lagoon in Alameda in that thing. The long, mechanical gear throws, the old-school ignition squeal, the buzz of the exhaust, there was just something so endearing about that car. I remember when he had the engine swapped on it. He proudly proclaimed that it did 70MPH all the way back from the shop.

Then it burned down in an electrical fire after he gave it to my dipshit cousin in 1998.

By that point, I wasn’t really into cars, though it was probably an inevitability. One of my favorite Christmas presents as a kid, some time between 1999 and 2003 – I have a terrible memory – was a car encyclopedia. It was about 800 pages of big, heavy stock, glossy paper, filled with beautiful images of all sorts of automotive icons. It was pretty much a coffee table book. I wore the jacket out on that thing until it just started falling apart. It’s still in a closet at my dad’s house, as far as I know.

The most-thumbed-through pages were in the Lamborghini chapter. A company that started with tractors, built a misguided Hummer-like SUV in the 80’s, and was almost single-handedly responsible for the entire car poster industry. Supercars like the Miura, the Countach, and the Diablo were in my childhood dream garage. Which is to say, I had the same automotive aspirations of almost any kid my age.

Today, I find those cars a little too… eccentric. Not that I would ever turn down the chance to drive a Countach (if I could fit in one – doubtful), but they’re sort of like crazy furniture from the 1970’s – how could anyone ever live with something like that? It’s just too outlandish, too impractical.

By high school, I was into stuff like the Impreza STI and the Focus SVT – rally-bred hot hatches and turbocharged compacts. My first car (it wasn’t really mine – the title was in my dad’s name) ended up being a Mk IV VW GTI. I burned out the clutch within a year. But that 180BHP turbocharged 4-cylinder was a gas, even if the Mk IV is widely considered the least GTI-ish GTI ever built.

I crashed it in 2008, outside of my apartment complex in Davis, CA. I was making a[n illegal] u-turn in the middle of the street to get a parking spot, and didn’t even notice an oncoming beige Toyota Corolla (oh, the irony). The Corolla tweaked its bumper, and buckled the hood. My GTI was totaled – that poor girl absolutely t-boned my right-front wheel. I felt like an idiot, and that’s because I was. But I can’t say I miss that car. There was always something a little too… sterile about it, even if it was the fastest one I’ve been able to call “mine” in the practical sense.

I went without a car for two years, occasionally borrowing a 2005 Audi A4 that my mom no longer drove. My sister actually totaled that car last year.

The first car I ever had in my name, thanks to a little help from my dad, was a 1993 Audi S4. It cost less than $4000, and had 217,000 miles on the clock. You’re probably thinking “they made S4’s in 1993?” And the answer to that is “yes” – sort of. The original S4 was actually based on the Audi 100, the predecessor to the Audi A6. So, it was the first S6, in terms of lineage. In fact, they actually renamed it the S6 in 1994.

That car was absolutely amazing. It had a 225BHP turbocharged inline 5-cylinder – iron block. That engine, the “034,” is widely considered to be basically bulletproof up to and beyond 400BHP. Mine wasn’t modified, but it was still a kick in the pants. That 4000lbs beast got to 60MPH in about 6 seconds, which was absolutely nuts by the standards of 1993. The interior was beautiful – classic Audi, before they went all carbon fiber and aluminum with everything. It was like riding in an old Gulfstream jet. The 5-speed transmission shifted beautifully – but demanded finesse with each throw to ensure smoothness.

That car also gave me the scare of my life about 2 months after I bought it, when a control arm bushing basically exploded going down the 405 freeway at 70MPH in traffic. But, it got fixed, and I kept driving it. The blower motor for the A/C warbled incessantly. The rear shock mounts needed to be replaced. The clutch (original – at 217,000 miles) was heavier than Rosie O’Donnell after a night at Hometown Buffet. The paint was peeling off the drivers’ side C-pillar, and the rear bumper valance. But I loved that car. It had undeniable character, and it was tough as nails. Pretty good-looking, too. Evergreen with a beige leather interior and carbon fiber inserts. I still miss it – but I know it found a good home.

Eventually, the clutch started slipping once in a while, and the rear shock mounts got annoying, and the engine developed a slight clattering. I sold it, and bought the car I drive now – a ’92 Mercedes 190E 2.6. It’s not fast, it’s not sporty, and it’s not particularly pretty. But it’s a classy, pre-build quality catastrophe Mercedes, and I love it to death. It rides smooth, the straight six glides gracefully forward, and the interior is pure elegance. It was also a total steal, which in Mercedes speak means I’ve put twice into fixing it what I paid for it. It’s pretty cherry for a ’92, and I plan on keeping it that way as long as possible.

It’s hard to describe the connection I feel with the car I drive. I like that older cars have a temperament. My Merc sometimes takes 3 or 4 seconds to crank. Sometimes it turns over instantly. The A/C doesn’t work, and the door lock mechanism on the driver’s side is near failure. The transmission is an absolute slammer before it’s warmed up, and the engine will probably need a top-end rebuild well before I sell it – after all, it’s approaching 200,000 miles.

But it’s so… organic. I hate that word, but it perfectly describes the feeling I get when I hop in my 190. I can feel the road coming through the wheel in my hands. The engine’s direct fuel injection is slow to respond, but purely mechanical in its relation to my depression of the ridiculously heavy accelerator. The 4-speed slushbox shifts slowly, but is more predictable than a Jeff Foxworthy routine. The brakes overheat (I admit, I put Hawk HPS pads on them – the stock ones are softer than French cheese), the engine needs auxiliary fan cooling most of the time, and it really could do with a new windshield, but I don’t care in the slightest.

When I cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu with the windows down, it just doesn’t matter that a new Ford Fiesta would probably have a lower cost of ownership, or be faster through the canyons. This is better. This is… real. I don’t know how else to say it. If I could spend every night driving down the coast in an old German car, I’d be happy as a clam.

Better start saving for that old 911.

How I Pay $75 A Month For AT&T Service With Unlimited Texting And Minutes

You know, I often hear people complain about their mobile bills here in the US, and for good reason: national carriers are ridiculously god damn expensive. 

I personally need US-wide coverage with reasonable data speeds. I’m out in the suburbs, and I do travel somewhat often. T-Mobile and Sprint will never be legitimate options for me – not unless they change in a big way.

For a while, I was on Verizon. But not being able to BYOD kind of sucks, and CDMA 3G is slow. So I switched to AT&T back in May. On Verizon, I paid about $73 a month for a 200 minute plan (I swung that with a customer retention rep), 2GB data plan, and 1000 text messages. Not bad. When I switched to AT&T, I managed to keep my bill basically the same, but with (practically) unlimited minutes, texting, and 3GB of data.

Here’s how I did it.

AT&T has a standard 400 minute monthly plan, but AT&T is also the only carrier that does rollover. If you use less than 400 minutes a month, your minutes will just accrue until you hit the cap. AT&T also does unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes, which is most of my calling, anyways. So really, this is unlimited for the vast majority of people.

Next, I skipped the texting plan. AT&T offers unlimited texting for $20/month, or pay as you go. There’s nothing in between. So, I just told everyone I had a new number (my Google Voice number), and text from the Google Voice app. Saves me $20 a month, and the odd text or two that comes to my phone’s real number every month doesn’t really cost me much of anything ($0.20 a message).

Data, well, there’s no real way out of that – I pay $30 a month for 3GB DataPro. I use an unlocked phone, so I already have a tethering app, and I don’t feel the least bit bad about using it, considering I’m capped at a fixed amount anyway. I rarely exceed 1.5GB on my plan every month, even when travelling.

After taxes and fees and such, this all comes out to $73-80 a month, depending on unplanned texting through my real number. Not bad. And I don’t have to deal with shitty T-Mobile or Sprint coverage and speeds. I get a healthy 9Mbps down on HSPA+ out here in the suburbs, and can use any GSM phone I want.

Why Yes, This Is A TouchWiz Rant!

Nothing quite stirs me up like people heaping praise on Samsung for “innovating” with TouchWiz’s software features. And every time I try to dismantle this fallacy, I get called a Luddite. I’m not forward-thinking. I don’t appreciate new technology that’s in its infancy. I’m not curious.

Which is interesting, considering how fascinated and generally up to date I like to keep with technology. I make no qualms of the fact that I am a cautious adopter. I don’t look at a new gadget or techno-gimmick and suddenly become enamored with the possibilities it portends gazing 10 years into the future. I am certainly not what you would call a technological optimist, either. Most ideas fail. That’s just how things work.

I’ve been using computers for the better part of 20 years now, and the smartphone is easily the coolest thing to happen to personal computing that I can remember. It’s so amazing that something many times more powerful than the desktop PC I grew up with as a young child now fits in my pocket. That’s serious progress, right? Cellular telephony is amazing, and even moreso, mobile internet connectivity. Every day, more people are experiencing the web through smartphones, all around the world – and they’re doing it in place of a PC. The PC is slowly becoming a specialized, rather than a generalist, tool.

And so, smartphones have become something of an obsession, as has the software they use. Even in the 3 years since Android was first released on a smartphone, we’ve seen massive advances in mobile operating systems.

Android has gone from an ugly, slow, and rather unintuitive state to a form that you might even call user-friendly. It has gotten there, mostly, with the help of some insanely smart people working at Google, as well as the rest of the mobile industry (you can’t get far without inspiration). Android has reached a point of maturity where handset and tablet manufacturers no longer have to focus on making basic, simple things work. They already do. Companies like HTC and Samsung have become intimately familiar with the OS, particularly in adding to and changing things in it.

Samsung has taken this respite as an opportunity to start making Android its own, with various proprietary features. Things like S-Voice, Pop-Up Video, and various gestures.

I used a Galaxy S III for the last month. I lived with TouchWiz. And hey, I don’t hate it like some people do. It’s kind of ugly, sure, but it’s fast, relatively non-glitchy, and did I mention it’s fast? It’s fast. Oh, and those notification bar power controls really are great.

I even used Pop Up Play once on the GS3. I think I might have used S-Voice. I don’t actually remember. I definitely went into its settings to disable it coming on through a long-press of the home button. Anyway, here’s the thing: when I read about all these features (and trust me, I have), none of them actually struck me as “must-haves.” None of them jumped out at me and said “this is going to change the way you use your smartphone.”

And that’s because of one of two reasons, depending on the feature. Option A – it simply isn’t ready yet, or is superseded by a superior, widely-used product. Lump S-Voice in here, not only is it not ready, Google’s own voice search product is just better. Option B – it isn’t actually useful. Here’s where I’d put things like Smart Stay, S-Beam, and Motion Gestures.

Option A items I really don’t have a huge problem with. If Samsung wants to develop a competitor to Google’s own voice assistance platform, have at it. Just don’t take Google’s off the phone (read: they can’t). And don’t make these features interfere with the UX in an annoying way.

Option B items fall more in “gimmick for the sake of the gimmick” category. Analogous examples would be things like pop-up headlights, automatic seatbelts, or electric can openers. They solve problems that, generally, do not really exist in the first place.

Take Smart Stay, for example. Never once in my life have I heard a person complain “I wish my phone’s screen would stay on longer” that also was aware the awake time could be adjusted. To me, Smart Stay is like the old NASA designed-a-million-dollar-space-pen and the Russians just brought a pencil joke. It’s ludicrous overengineering, and even then, the idea doesn’t really work, because it won’t function when it’s dark out. I tried it during the day in my less than fantastically lit room and it was spotty at best. There is no way to fix the night issue knowing the way Smart Stay currently works (using the front camera), not without installing some kind of night vision system. Which, hey, I’m totally all for. Night vision camera on my phone? Fucking. Awesome.

Another one I’ve seen talked about is the text to call motion gesture. If you’re texting someone in the stock texting app, just put the phone to your head and it calls them. Magic! Except, I can’t recall a single point in my life where I’ve actually called someone directly from a text message. Usually it’s like 3 minutes after, when they’re late and I’m getting impatient. Why would I bring the texting app back up when I can just T9 them in the dialer, or voice dial? It’s kind of silly. If calling people from your SMS convo immediately is some serious problem a lot of people have, this is the first I’m hearing of it. I tried it, it works, but the delay is substantial. I ended up taking the phone back off my ear to see if it was working, and I hadn’t waited long enough, so I was just tempted to use the menu option to call. It didn’t feel automatic.

Or how about one of Samsung’s hyper-limited sharing functions, like S-Beam? Cool, you can transfer videos or other large files over WiFi direct using a quick NFC bump-pair. If the other person has a Galaxy S III. And if you can get S-Beam to work right (when Ron reviewed the GS3 for Android Police, he couldn’t, and most reviews I read experienced similar frustration). But again, this brings me back to the “why?” When am I going to need to immediately do a direct share of a large video file stored on my phone to another person’s phone, assuming they have a GS3? It’s such an absurdly limited use case scenario. Does it do something useful? Potentially, but the way Samsung has implemented it is stupidly limited, if you can even get it work.

Pop Up Play has been hyped in Samsung’s ads, and if you’re the sort of person who watches a ton of (locally stored) videos on your phone, might actually see use once in a while. But it only works with the local video player (read: not YouTube, not Netflix, not Hulu), which destroys the usefulness of it for most normal human beings. Even if it worked with these other services, the value itself remains questionable – how hard am I willing to squint looking at that tiny 2″ box with video while I do something else? If your attention span is that short, you may need medication.

The palm-swipe-to-screenshot feature? It’s 50/50 on getting it to work. And when it does, oftentimes the screen has registered a touch action in the process, moving the content I wanted to take a screenshot of. It’s maddening. I’d be all for a 3-finger swipe for screenshots, though. Do that. That’s a good idea.

Listen, the fact is, most of the stuff (note I didn’t say all) Samsung is adding in TouchWiz is there mostly for TV commercials and fancy announcements with orchestras. If you’re a “power user,” good on you, but by definition, you’re in a niche. Most people don’t use their smartphones for much else but browsing, texting, social networking, and playing an occasional round of Angry Birds. And not even all those things are perfect. In fact, they’re quite often far from it. To me, these little value added “perks” of Samsung’s are a delightful way of distracting consumers from the fact that smartphones still have some unresolved, very basic flaws.

  • Browsing the web on a smartphone is still basically frustrating 95% of the time. It’s slow, and it’s difficult. I realize a big part of this is the web itself, but a lot of it is the device, too. I shouldn’t have scroll lag anymore, but I do, and it suuuuuuuucks.
  • Call quality still blows. I have yet to use a smartphone with an earpiece that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve suffered long-term hearing damage. The networks are to blame too, but there’s still massive room for improvement.
  • Android specifically still has a messy UI. Skins like TouchWiz make it even messier. Simplicity, intuitiveness – these are the things you should strive for. Not a menu with a bajillion fucking options in every app. Setting up or adjusting my phone should not be a game of Where’s Waldo.
  • Battery life is still god-awful. The day I can get 48 hours out of a phone that doesn’t then take 5 or 6 hours to charge, I will be a happy man.
  • Even the best displays are little better in sunlight now than they were nearly 3 years ago. Which is to say, not very good.
  • Speaking of displays, they still break and scratch pretty easily. Fix that.
  • Another Android specific: virtual buttons please.
  • Antennas are a crap shoot, especially on Samsung hardware. Oh, and Samsung GPS continues to suck, too.
  • Plastic is terrible. Where are the carbon fiber phones? Moto’s onto something with Kevlar.

There are also endless usability quirks that plague modern smartphones (lag switching between WiFi and mobile data, for example, or less than perfect auto brightness systems) that could simply be made better. Listen, I’m all for advancement, but don’t tell me using a proximity sensor to initiate an action from inside an app is “innovative.” Any developer could come up with it (hell, you could probably make a Tasker for it), and it could be used any countless number of ways. If it’s so innovative, why isn’t everyone else doing it? If you have an idea that’s actually good, you’ll know, because competitors will steal it from you. Especially if it’s something that’s easy to copy.

And I don’t think the next HTC phone, the next iPhone, or the next Windows Phone will have Smart Stay or Pop Up Play.

Samsung’s “throw everything and see what sticks” strategy is exactly the sort of business model I hate in technology. I don’t want to be somebody’s guinea pig. That’s not to say I’m not going to swear off trying anything new and different before it’s “proven,” but I’m also not going to pretend that the reason I buy a smartphone is because it has a feature I’ll use once for the sake of novelty and then never again.

You know what innovative features are? Google voice search and actions. The expanded Android notification bar. 3D imagery in Google Maps. Google Now. The recent apps menu. Samsung’s notification bar power controls (they really are super convenient).

The best innovations are the ones I don’t have to think about – they seamlessly integrate into the experience of using my smartphone or tablet every day, or naturally encourage me to use it in a way I hadn’t thought to before. They just work. Tapping two phones together and navigating through a klutzy interface, if you have the same phone as the other person, and if you can get it to work, to share a file is not “just working.”