Friday, April 01, 2016

My Android Experience

Last December, my wife's phone died.  Well, it didn't really die, it just stopped talking to cell towers.  Everything worked but she couldn't get calls or texts (even when the phone showed 5 bars).  Great!  Now we need a new phone.

I wanted to get a new Windows Phone but the new 950s were too expensive.  However, I didn't want to get an older phone because I didn't know how upgradable it would be (Windows 10 Mobile had just come out).  On top of all that, I was have a little frustration with some of the apps missing from Windows Phone along with a study that Kristina was doing that required an Android or iPhone.  It was really looking like Windows Phone was a dead end and, with iPhones being so expensive, I decided to try an Android phone.  After some discussion, I gave my phone to my wife and got myself the Android phone.

I decided to get a Nexus 5x.  Nexus phones are guaranteed two years of updates and are sold unlocked so I would have no carrier dependencies and would get security and other updates (these things are important to me and rare in the Android world).  So, after spending 4 months with Android, here is what I found:

Pros:

- The apps are better on Android; there's more of them and they're usually more mature
- The fingerprint scan is awesome!  I don't want to call it magical but it's pretty magical
- The size is great for me - it's the first time I wasn't wishing for a screen that was a little bigger
- Google Now let's me set timers - it may seem a little thing but I use timers all the time and Cortana doesn't do timers
- Amazon Music - I use Amazon Music on my Sonos and it's cool to have it on my phone as well
- Call notifications on my fitbit - kind of cool when it works but no text notifications
- Thanks to the Chase app, I can deposit checks from my phone

Cons:

- No live tiles - I tried widgets but they're not even close - no homescreen notification of texts, calls, or emails; now I have to manually pull up the notification screen and it's so full of email and other alerts that it's not always obvious if I missed a text or a call
- No reading of text messages in my car (bluetooth enabled car stereo)- Cortana would read me my texts and let me respond all via voice; with android I just get an alert sound (I tried some apps that are supposed to do it but they made my phone hot and didn't work consistently)
- Performance - the phone starts out snappy but some apps (especially chrome) slow it to a crawl; I find that I'm constantly quitting apps so that I can get good performance
- Phone heats up - this phone gets warm and I find myself quitting apps to cool it down

In the end, I switched back to my trusty Windows Phone and upgraded it to Windows 10.  I am happy to have my live tiles back and Cortana reading me my texts while I drive.  I do miss the fingerprint scanner and a couple of the apps but I really didn't use them that much (Amazon Music may have been the exception but I listen to books while I commute now and the Audible app on Windows Phone is great).

So, I tried Android but I'll be sticking with Windows until I can't any more.  I guess I just like it too much.  Meanwhile, my wife is trying out the Android phone.  I may follow up on her experience later.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The Smartphones of Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon and Why I Chose What I Chose

Being a fan of the Windows Phone, I'm sometimes regarded with surprise that somebody as educated and technologically astute as I am would choose this route.   After all, Android and Apple have all of the apps, all the mainstream support, all the market share, etc.  Not only that, there are many tech journalists and others who continually disparage us poor Windows Phone folk.  That got me thinking...

People sometimes become very passionate about the what they use to the point where they demonize anything else.  It's so easy to decide that MY platform is good and all other platforms are bad.  Maybe it's because your choice of smartphone can affect so much of what you do.  People use their smartphones for communication, social networking, news readers, games, reading books, flashlights, cameras, video cameras, remote controls, watching movies, navigation, etc.  Perhaps people worry that their smartphone choice may not have been the best or they get jealous of others' choices.  Whatever the reason, there are many who will tell you that Apple is wonderful or terrible, that Android is wonderful or terrible, that Amazon or Windows Phone is wonderful or terrible.  What I find refreshing are the people who say "My smartphone works for me.  I hope yours works for you."

When looking at the different platforms, you can see that they all offer similar services - specifically, all the uses for a smartphone mentioned above and more.  However, each company has different goals in mind.  These goals relate more to how they make money than on any sort of altruistic aims.  Here's how I see them.

Apple


Apple has amazing hardware and their devices are praised because they "just work."  They have a very tightly controlled ecosystem with the goal of only letting in the best - which usually means Apple stuff.

Apple's business model is to sell you hardware.  That's how they make their money.  At Apple, design is king and you can see it in their products.  That's also why their products tend to cost more and their customers upgrade more often.  Their whole push is to get you to buy more hardware.

Is this bad?  Not necessarily.  If you can afford the hardware, Apple works very hard to give you a consistent, user friendly experience.  After all, they want you to be happy in their ecosystem.

Google


Google knows everything about you (which can be good or bad) and uses that data to cater to you.  They also have an open ecosystem with very few restrictions.

Google's primary business model is advertising.  They strive to have the best advertising accuracy of anybody.  They do this by having more information about people than anybody else.  How do they do this?  Free email, calendaring, social networking, documents, web browser, file storage, video storage, etc.  All of these services gather information in order to make Google advertising better.  That's why all of their services are free.  The consumer is not the customer, they are the product.  Google sell advertising to businesses - businesses are the customer.

Is this bad?  Not necessarily.  I used to worry that Google was selling my information to companies but really they're not (as far as I know).  As I see it, Google's competitive advantage is knowing more about you than anybody else and being able to use that knowledge to more effectively advertise to you.  They want businesses to buy advertising from them, not information.  To gather this information they offer tons of free services that are designed to help Google learn more about you.  They want as many people as possible using their services so they constantly improve them.  Google/Android smartphones tend to cost less that Apple smartphones because Google doesn't make any money from them (in fact, it's other manufacturers - like Samsung - that make money from Android smartphones), they're just another way to get you to use Google services and get to you click on Google Ads.

The one exception seems to be Windows Phone.  Google has refused to write any apps for Windows Phone.  Microsoft has integrated email and calendar but if you're an avid Google fan, you probably already know that Windows Phone will be a painful experience for you.

Microsoft


Microsoft is Office and business type services.  It is also Skype, OneNote, and other services that are useful for both fun and work.

Today's Microsoft is trying to sell services.  They also sell a ton of things to businesses but that's not what I'm talking about here.  Microsoft's focus is to get you to subscribe to their services.  That's where their money comes from.  Things like Office 365 and Skype calling.  To do that, they sell smartphones that run their services.  However, in the last couple of years, they've realized that most people aren't using their smartphones, so now they offer their services on Apple and Android too.  More and more Microsoft is worrying less about what smartphone you use and more about whether you're using Microsoft services on the smartphone you've chosen.

How good is this?  Well, if you like Microsoft services, it's great because no matter which mainstream smartphone you choose, it will have the Microsoft services available.  Does it mean Microsoft is giving up on smartphones?  I don't think so.  If you use a Microsoft smartphone, you're way more likely to use Microsoft services and that's really good for Microsoft.  So, I don't think they're giving up but they're also not putting all of their eggs in one basket.

Amazon


Amazon wants to sell you stuff.  That's it.  All of their services are just the encourage you to buy their products.

Is that bad?  Not if you like shopping at Amazon.  Unfortunately, for Amazon, their smartphone didn't take off and it looks like they may be giving up there.  But they still offer photo storage, music, movies, shopping, etc. for both Apple and Android phones and, to a lesser extent, Windows Phones.  If you're an avid Amazon shopper, these things are great perks to have.

Me

I've been using Windows Phone since 2012.  I actually blogged about it here and here.  It's actually the only type of smartphone I've ever owned.  I've been tempted many times to move to something else but I can't ever bring myself to do it.  Why?

I like it.  I like the interface.  I like how it works.  I like how its services work across desktop, tablet, and phone.  I like that the phones are not expensive.  I like that it works.  And my wife likes it. 

Are there things that I don't like?  Yes.  I don't like that support from 3rd parties is lacking.  I don't have a banking app (it was actually discontinued), I don't have an official app for my Sonos speakers (although the app I paid for is very good), I have no access to my Amazon music (which is OK because I just use Xbox/Groove Music), and Windows Phone is almost always left out when new products come out - smart watches, home automation, digital picture frames, etc.  New items always support Apple, almost always support Google/Android, but rarely support Windows Phone.  That's probably my biggest concern.

So, even with all of the drawbacks, I stick with Windows Phone.  It works for me and, so far, I've been able to find ways around its limitations.  I've seriously looked at the alternatives and just don't want to deal with Apple hardware prices and Android fragmentation (although it is getting better).  In the end, I'm happy with my Windows Phone and hopeful that eventually, it will overcome its limitations.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Government Shutdown - Did The TEA Party Go Too Far?

I know this is a bit after the fact but a few people have asked my opinion on the government shutdown.  My opinion is this, it shouldn't have happened.  Our country was built on compromise and mutual respect and I vehemently disagree with those who think it's OK to hold the whole government hostage because they don't like what others did.  If they had the votes to change it, that would be different, but they didn't and they weren't willing to accept that democracy means you don't always get your way.

Before we go any further and before I get ripped apart for being a liberal or a RINO or something else, let me explain the basis for my feelings:
  • I don't agree with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and I think it will do more harm than good.
  • I don't believe that "the ends justifies the means" - just because you feel you're right doesn't mean any action you take to support that is right/justified.
  • I do believe in the concept of karma - the actions you take will eventually come back to you (good or bad)
  • I don't feel that government itself is bad but I do believe it can be managed better than it is.
So, based on that, here's how I feel the government shutdown drama happened.
  • A minority of the Republican Party Representatives (mostly Tea Party Republicans) decided they wanted to kill Obamacare by defunding it.  This is in spite of the fact that the House has passed numerous repeals of Obamacare - none of which went anywhere.
  • This minority convinced (bullied? strong-armed?) the Speaker of the House to make it part of the budget bill.  All this was done knowing that the Senate would never pass it and/or the President would never sign it. 
  • Sure enough, the Senate rejected it.
  • Further, the Senate and the President called the bluff of the Tea Party and made clear that no budget would pass that tried to change/delay Obamacare.
  • The House tried passing different variations of their limits to Obamacare but it was all rejected.
  • The American people blamed the Republican Party for the issue.
  • The Senate minority leader stripped the Obamacare limitations from the budget and the House leadership caved and sent it to be voted on.
  • The revised budget passed.
Here's what I came away with:
  • The Tea Party wants to control government.
  • Ironically, they like to refer to President Obama as a dictator and yet are trying to strong arm their policies through when they don't have support for them.
  • The Tea Party does not seem to care about the government, the economy or anything else apart from their ideals.
  • What the Tea Party did contradicts my personal morals - they held the government hostage in order to get what they wanted.  Do I agree that Obamacare is bad?  Yes.  Do I agree with how they went about trying to destroy it? No.
If you decide the ends justifies the means, you becoming as bad or even worse than those you fight against.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sound of Music!

So I took my two older children (11 and 10) to see a local high school version of The Sound of Music.  It was enjoyable but also surprising in a few ways.  I think it was well above the level that my old high school could have done (go Ki-Be!).  The singing was well done and the acting was very good.  The only issue was that some of the microphones kept cutting in and out (sure, not quite broadway but did I mention it was a high school musical?) and that it ran quite a bit longer than I expected - it was 3 hours total.  However, it was good enough that after two hours, during intermission, I asked my kids if they wanted to go home (we are one hour past their regular bed time at this point) and both of them said they wanted to see the rest.  So we stayed.

The story followed the movie with a few changes that didn't really change the story line.  It was fun to watch and well done.  In fact, there was one scene that really affected me.  During the music festival scene (right before the family escapes from the Nazis), they dropped a bunch of Nazi banners from the ceiling and had a bunch of Nazis take up positions all around the auditorium.  It was downright creepy!  I think I got a very small inkling of what it might be like to live under an oppressive regime and it was not good!  However, they kind of made up for it by having Rolf do the right thing in the end and let the family get away (I told you it wasn't exactly like the movie).

Overall I had a good time with my kids and enjoyed the musical.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Indecision is Your Enemy

Have you ever had that feeling where you just couldn't decide?  Do I want A or B?  Which is better?  What if I think one is better and it turns out the other one was better?  What if they're both bad?  95% of the time, the decisions I make are obvious (at least to me) but when the decision isn't obvious, it can be extremely difficult to make any decision at all. 

Indecision is your enemy.  It can stop you in your tracks.  It may cause you to put all kinds of effort into comparing your options.  What are the pros and cons?  What do other people say about it?  What if they're wrong?  You can analyze it to the millionth degree.  And you still end up stuck.

I recently went through a bout of indecision and learned some things.  Perhaps they won't help you but they helped me.

So what should you do if you can't decide?

First you have to realize that there is another choice: do nothing.  That is what gets decided when you can't make another decision.  Is that the best decision?  Sure maybe it sounds like you're being indecisive again but let me give an example.  One of your children breaks a rule.  There needs to be an appropriate response - it may not always be a punishment, depending on the circumstances - but it needs to be something.  Out of all your options, however, doing nothing is almost never appropriate.  Realize that by not choosing, you're actually choosing.  It should help motivate you to make a choice and be done with it.  Will it always be the best choice?  No.  Is it possible you'll regret it later? Yes.  However, it is far more probable that you will regret doing nothing than you will regret making the wrong (or less right) choice.

In the end, you must simply give yourself a deadline.  By this deadline, you will either choose one of your options or none of your options, but you will make a choice and go on with life.

That's my advice.  Don't let indecision eat you up.  You will be much happier.