Companies I Won’t Be Buying My Next Android Phone From

Motorola

After owning a Motorola Milestone for a while, despite impressive hardware, Motorola themselves have been very lackadaisical about providing updates – I’m pretty certain we won’t be seeing Official Gingerbread on it, even if Froyo comes sometime this year.

This wouldn’t bother me too much if it had not been for the locked bootloader. Unlike most other manufacturers, Motorola decided Open Source meant Locked Down and essential farted in the general direction of both owners and developers.

There are workarounds, but they are much more complicated for the layman to carry out than other Android phone manufacturers.

Samsung

Samsung have recently fell out of favour with me in the netbook department, but now they pull a stunt like this? Sorry Samsung, you’ve lost me, and to think people have bought your netbooks because of personal recommendations from me!

3rd Times a Charm… Linux, Wifi and Samsung N210

If you follow this blog you will know that I’ve mentioned wireless and the Samsung N210 in the past.

Kickstart Samsung N210 Wireless
Update: UNR 10.04 Wireless on Samsung N210

The first one post was the most successful blog post I’ve ever written, and judging by the number of posts in the Ubuntu forums it’s something many people struggle with constantly with this netbook.

I’ve found that the solutions I posed previously worked, but had to be redone each time after a kernel update. What’s worse is that with each new ‘Buntu distro upgrade, an entirely new wireless problem appeared.

To be quite frank, I’m getting sick of this and I won’t be touching another Samsung netbook. In fact when it comes time to refresh I’ll probably opt for a System 76 box.

The latest upgrade appears to be finding the card and connecting seamlessly on live distro and install… but after a while of being online, it starts to drop off, becoming more frequent until it either doesn’t work at all, or it pretends to connect to the network without actually establishing any connection to the router.

I did a bit more digging in the forums and online and after much reading I’ve come to the conclusion that it has something to do with Canonical disabling Wireless N by default in 10.10 (Maverick), and whatever is going on inside Samsung netbooks… because to my dismay I discovered it’s not just the N210 that has this problem seems to be the majority of their netbook range using Realtek cards.

It was then that I stumbled across a German blog post from a link through a forum for sorting out wireless on the Samsung N510.

Dirk Hoeschen has put together both a driver and script to easily run from the command line which I can confirm worked on my N210. The only issue I’ve found is Wireless still drops but it’s much more stable and lasts longer. Furthermore, by running the script again it performs a ‘reset’ and causes the wireless to reboot without having to reboot.

sudo apt-get install build-essential
tar -xpf rtl819Xe.tar.gz
cd rtl819Xe
sudo ./install.sh

It’s not perfect but it works and so it is my 3rd solution from Ubuntu 10.10 onwards. There may be more elegant and more permanent solutions but I really don’t have the time or skill level to look for them. One thing I will state is that Ubuntu was the only distro I tested that recognised the Realtek hardware out-of-the-box despite these issues.

I honestly don’t know what the Narwhal will bring and if I’ll have to hunt for a new solution or if it will finally be fixed. Funnily enough, I did have duel boot with Win 7 Starter on the netbook and one evening when I was getting particularly fed up I booted in and found that Windows didn’t recognise the wireless network either – leading me to believe that the wireless cards in these things are very poor quality. Either that or Samsungs quality control efforts are seriously questionable. But that’s another story.

This Year I Have Mostly Been Setting Up Forwarders…

Yeah, I can’t believe I haven’t done this before, either but now I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve elected to start off the new year by cleaning up my inbox – that means unsubscribing from services that I don’t use or read and also switching current services to a temporary email address through this domain.

The beauty is by using custom email addresses e.g. custom(at)wafitz.net I can later check and see who is selling my data to spammers. I also have an effective way of removing myself from mailing lists where unsubcribing is discouraged by stealth.

The very worst offender I have found appears to be http://www.advfn.com/.  I signed up to this website a long time ago to some financial info and it automatically added me to a dozen or so email subscriptions. Subsequent attempts to unsubscribe led to a weird non-functioning webpage that wouldn’t let me remove myself. Emails to their support go unanswered.

So I do the next best thing with ADVFN – I tell Google that their emails are spam. I mark all their emails as spam. Hopefully, if enough people find themselves in the same position as me do this, all of their email service will automatically be considered by Google as spam and they may then have incentive to change.

I do this with any services where they make it a difficult hurdle to unsubscribe. Just mark their email address as a spammer with as many email services as possible – if enough people do this – it will have an effect.

How I Came to Hate the BlackBerry Pearl

In case you weren’t aware my order for a Motorolla Milestone finally came through – bought with my own cash to replace my BlackBerry Pearl 8120 business phone.

But how did I arrive at this level of contempt for BlackBerry, and why Android? It’s partly down to progress in smartphone tech and partly down to discovery of limitations with the Pearl – which led to inevitable smartphone envy.

When I first got my Pearl last summer, it was through our business account. At the time the Android didn’t exist and the only other cutting edge smartphone on the market was the iPhone. I turned down having an iPhone for £50. I’m still glad I made that decision.

I had just returned a HTC Diamond back to O2 because it was a 5 year old Windows Mobile interface with a skin applied to make it look new – but ran and responded 5 times slower than my old SPV C500 – incidentally running the same OS.

I was really pleased with the Pearl at first – the UI was very responsive, the wifi connected seamlessly and didn’t hang up or have trouble reconnecting like some Nokia phones I’d used. I immediately noticed the lack of file system manager, the lack of themes and the dated 2mp camera – but these things didn’t bother me – the GUI was responsive and worked, the wifi connected automatically.

Then there was the email – it took me a while to figure out that email is not configured on the phone but has to go through the BIS server. I had to call O2 get them to push a bunch of services and apps down then log into their website and setup my email accounts. After this it was no trouble – the email service is second to none.

However, the honeymoon was short. The limitations, particularly with the Pearl model, soon started to make themselves apparent…

Lack of GPSr (Pearl models)

I had just started Geocaching after discovering it in Canada and discovered a problem with the Pearl model in particular that wasn’t really a problem before – that is lack of GPSr. Every BlackBerry model seems to have a GPSr but the Pearl is the black sheep of RIM that doesn’t get one. Why is this? I get they were attempting to court the general mobile user crowd with the retooled keyboard but it’s still a smartphone, and not as cheap as a Nokia either.

Consequently a lot of GC apps I couldn’t use because they explicitly require a GPSr enabled in order to seek caches. I managed to discover CacheBerry – which does take PQs and doesn’t need a GPSr, but still.

2.0mp Camera

At the time I got this Pearl, smartphones were already being made with 3+ megapixels. My other mobile, a Nokia N96 was 5mp. So it was a little disheartening to move down to a lower mp camera – particularly one a phone that is more socially network inclined than the Nokia was. I mean being able to load photos up on Facebook is great, but what’s the point when anybody looking at them is going to have trouble working out what the blobs are?

What else, the media library and camera are painfully slow. Sometimes I wanted to get a quick once-in-a-moment snap of, oh say, the nephew doing something cute and funny – too late it’s gone! A full 2 minutes later the camera app loads and is ready to take a picture. Of course better hope in your haste you didn’t accidentally click twice because actions are queued! Yes it will suddenly run everything you clicked all at once, then you have to start it all over again and wait… again.

Email

Everyone applauds BlackBerry BIS email service. It’s fast, efficient and gives companies the option to manage it. But for a small consultancy that uses POP3- unnecessary. Furthermore I found it frustrating when we changed network providers – being without email access for a couple of days until I could get login details to the BIS portal and add email accounts. This is not really useful for consultants who work on client sites where access to their company email is blocked by the customers network.

During times when my BlackBerry was down I switched sim cards to the Nokia as a backup phone – email could be setup easily and I could get on with the job. Now that I’ve moved to Android, the BlackBerry will not be used as a backup phone – it’s useless without having to login to the BIS portal and reconfigure accounts – I’m not prepared to do that every time so the Nokia will stay as my backup.

Facebook

BlackBerry have a Facebook app so I thought I might as well add my account. Sounds like a good idea right? I configure FB to only get alerts when someone sends me a message, but when I did get a message and go to the FB app – it takes forever to load and finally get to the message. Then there’s the pictures, on such a small screen what’s the point? It uses more bandwidth and I can’t see them anyway.

It’s junk, that’s all I’m going to say. I actually tried other apps that gave me FB access but then I encountered the other problem the Pearl has with apps…

Memory

My biggest bugbear about the Pearl. Out of the box the Pearl is quick yes, but install one too many additional apps (that means more than 2 or 3) and the Pearl will start to feel sluggish. Why? Because you just reached the 64mb memory limit, delete some emails and sms or you’re screwed! But don’t worry there’s an app that will help you manage that by flushing all your cache etc… Only trouble is that app will take up 1 slot that another app could have had instead!

Of course, you can expand the memory card up to 8gb, but you can’t install apps or even emails or cache on it. But at least I can store images… taken with… a 2.0mp camera, which means I’ll never fill up the wasted space on that card.

PC Connectivity

OK maybe this is going to be unfair because most phones have some kind of problems like this. As soon as you plug the BB in, you may only want to charge but the SSD card is no longer accessible. What’s worse is my data port has become really loose recently and I have to place the Pearl in an undisturbable position in order to keep the connection active. Why can’t the Pearl be told to behave like charging, not media card access?

Furthermore why no support for the Linux desktop? Sure other phone makers may be guilty of this too, but it does seem easier to find workarounds or partial support for the others, BlackBerry seems to totally ignore Linux.

Small Screen (Pearl Models)

Just one word – email. Ok maybe 2 words: html emails. 3? long html emails. I should have known. This should have been the giveaway I wouldn’t be satisfied long-term. After a 2.8′ N96 screen I should have made the vow never to go back. I’ve learned my lesson. I have a Motorola Milestone now.

Themes

The default themes are trying to be too… Windows XP. The carrier themes are not much better. Furthermore installing new, better themes takes up valuable memory space and you can’t delete the defaults without hacking it. Lame all round.

Security Policy

Sure BlackBerries are secure and they are corporate friendly. So corporate friendly in fact, to the detriment of the user and owner. I would sometimes need to plug my BB into a clients network machine to charge the battery. Trouble is these are XP machines and as customary they will pop up detecting new hardware.* It just so happened that BB Desktop Manager was installed by stealth on the machine I was using when I accidentally clicked for Windows to install the new hardware rather than ignore.

Installing the hardware and drivers allowed my clients corporate BB Security policy to be automatically installed on my Pearl without any warning or permissions given whatsoever. My BB previously didn’t have a security policy in place because our consultancy doesn’t have a centralised system. However my phone was suddenly locked out from allowing me to make all kinds of changes.

I had to find a crack on the tubes, download this and run it to reflash my BB. I lost my data despite backing up with my own Desktop Manager for some reason. Never again.

*Yes, I am now aware you can disable new hardware detection through the device manager on Windows. This shouldn’t have happened without consent though.

Browser

It’s just crap. Oh sure I installed Opera (until I ran out of memory), but BlackBerry refuses OTA installs through Opera which renders it only half as useful.

…And finally

OK, so maybe you would say to someone like me that my experience of BlackBerry got burned by the Pearl – I didn’t get to fully appreciate the large screen, the GPSr, the full qwerty keyboard or the memory(?). But the fact remains is that if RIM want to introduce people to BlackBerry, this is not the phone to try it on. Instead it would be better sticking with the larger models – this way when someone does make the leap they won’t make some half-assed leap like I did and taint the brand.

For all I know the full size models are better, but I’m already put off by the BIS email, the lack of control and the OS itself, I’m no longer intrigued at what RIM have to offer. Besides I’m really loving Android right now – I can’t imagine RIM ever coming near to competing with the open platform.

3gp Video Format on Linux

I don’t know about you, but it irritates me how many mobile phones I’ve used that only save their video in one propriety format – 3gp. From what I gather 3gp is a format backed by 3GPP – a collaboration of telecoms providers – probably for it’s compact size limit (for sending MMS) but why then can’t they offer another encoding version for video you don’t intend to send?

3gp doesn’t work out of the box on Linux – but I’ve found even with restricted media packages in place that the audio won’t play. Google “3gp audio” and a myriad of results will return with links to free converters. Support for linux seems to range from either some fairly complex command line fu, to manually installing and compiling codecs for working in your media player of choice.

Which is why I was happy to discover Miksoft a little while ago. Miksoft offer a free ‘Mobile Media Converter’ which is not only cross-platform, but it offers a simple GUI interface. The GUI makes it a trivial matter to copy a 3gp (or any media file) you want into the input box, then just specify the output file and the format you wish (e.g. AVI).

I’ve found Mobile Media Converter converts sound perfectly and it also includes a YouTube downloader which I’ve found handy recently.

Get Mobile Media Converter now (and be sure to donate if you have any spare cash).

Goodbye Orange…

On Friday my wife was due a new Android mobile phone delivered from Orange via DPD. It never arrived. After a couple of phone calls to Orange customer services it turns out that our flat number was missing from the top of the address and DPD never saw fit to correct this on one of my wife numerous calls throughout the day.

Furthermore, the delivery driver didn’t feel it was worth his time calling my wife’s mobile upon arriving at the block of flats to assert which flat number it might be.

This kind of wilful incompetence seems ever more pervasive in the customer service departments of industry, and the main problem is that we were not DPD customers, we were Orange customers, and Orange is DPD’s client. Try explaining this to the performing monkey in Orange customer service on Saturday morning seemed to be a waste of time.

I informed Orange that we were not going to take a day off next week and we would not be in for delivery Saturday afternoon, so they should get someone to hop in a van and deliver it that morning. This, the monkey informed me, was something that could not be done.

I then informed him that if they didn’t want to do that then they could keep their phone and we’d be leaving Orange instead. Incredibly, he seemed non-plus about this and didn’t feel the need to save a new 18 month contract and “relationship” that has lasted for more than 10 years.

You see my pet theory is that when a company lets you down the only place you can hit them is in profits. They really don’t care how you feel, or how much of your time they have wasted.

Orange used to be a good service, the best network coverage and free insurance. They were worth the money and their customer service was second to none. Somewhere in the last 10 years, they seem to have lost their way in that respect. They felt the need to compete with the rest of the garbage for the bottom line.

Well, I guess we have to accept there is no such thing as customer loyalty anymore and get with the times. So sorry, Orange, we’re leaving you.

Over the last 10 years, I estimate I’ve spent approximately £6400 with Orange. I got my wife on a contract too which would add another £2000 over the last 3 years. Who knows how much more we would have continued to spend in the future had we no problems?

Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that depriving a mobile company of £600~ a year is going to make a huge difference. What I gamble on is that if our case is not unique, and there are enough other people like me with Orange contracts, then the mass effect of customers leaving them would make the sentiment felt.

In a sense you could argue that it’s everyone’s duty to deprive a failing company of profits – in order for them to sit up and take notice of a problem. I’m just doing my duty in adding to the growing discontent.

Goodbye Orange, it was fun whilst it lasted but you let your reputation slide and replaced it with gimmicks. You allowed your customer services to be infiltrated by mindless drones. I’m adding you to my list of companies I won’t do business with again in a hurry.