[Opinion] The Galaxy Note 7 has been announced…but should you buy it?

Samsung announced the next edition in their Galaxy Note series, the Note 7, and it has sparked a very interesting response.  Sean P. around these parts was in particular very excited to see (and likely purchase) the next Note device, but has cooled significantly since the announcement.  Not that a phone priced at between $850-$890 depending on carrier should be an easy “pull-the-trigger” buy.  So if you are considering making the plunge, are already a Note user or fan, or just want to know what the big deal about this phone is, let’s take a deeper dive into what’s going on.

First, let’s talk specs:  the Galaxy Note 7 will have a Snapdragon 820 processor, paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.  Its also sporting a 5.7″ QHD display (2560×1440) with 515PPI (pixels per inch) and has an SD card expansion slot, supporting cards up to an additional 256GB.  Its got a 3500mah internal battery and its also IP68 rated, meaning its water and dust resistant out of the box.    It sports a 12MP rear camera with a f/1.7 aperture and OIS (this is the exact same camera that’s in the Galaxy S7 Edge) USB-C charging with wireless charging too.  It will come in 4 colors at launch, gold, black, silver, and blue.

The device is in a lot of ways, very comparable to the previously released Galaxy S7 Edge.  In fact, other than a slightly larger display (5.5″ vs. 5.7″) its very hard to differentiate between the 2 displays. The initial rumors pegged the new Note as much different (check out episode 4 of the Silicon Theory podcast here for a good overview) with a potentially larger battery, more RAM, and a newer generation CPU.  With different specs, this could be a reasonable buy – maybe even justified at its substantially high price point (iPhonesque if you will)  With the more pedestrian and similar to its launched-earlier-in-the-year brethren, is it really worthy of a $350 markup over the S7 Edge?

The Notes were traditionally for power users, and folks who wanted a major productivity tool – now that the Galaxy S series (and the introduction of the Edge series) has mostly caught up, the differences between the Galaxy S models and the Note models aren’t so big any longer.  Specifically the Edge line, with its curved displays that the Note now has as its only screen option.  Its design is striking, and its quite possibly among the best looking devices ever.  The use of glass and metal in Samsung’s design language has marked both the Galaxy S6 and S7, as well as the last 2 Notes also. And it does seem as if Samsung is shrinking the gap between their two device lines on purpose, with the similarities in look and specs now more obvious than ever.

Did Samsung do enough with the Note 7 to get folks to buy into its extravagant price point?  If pre-orders in South Korea are any indication, the answer is a very healthy yes.  Check back with us soon for what will most likely be a in-depth review of this device (if Sean P. ever ends up pulling the trigger, which I think he will)



[Op-Ed] What might the 10 mean for HTC?

The most recent smartphones they’ve produced have not been big successes for HTC.  In the wake of the announcement of their most recent flagship device, the HTC 10, I’m asking myself the question: what could another failure mean for HTC?  But then I thought about it another way – what would a device that is actually a success mean for the Taiwanese company?  I’ve owned an HTC device in the past, and enjoyed it.  But HTC is a long way from the days of the Incredible.  Let’s talk about the 10 and what it might mean for the future of this brand.

First off, let’s visit the specs of the the 10 – all the usual suspects are here:  Snapdragon 820 CPU, Adreno 530 GPU, 4GB RAM, 32GB internal storage with SD card slot (w/adoptable storage support) Quad HD Super LCD 5 display panel, 12MP Ultrapixel 2 camera with OIS, and a 3000mah battery.  On paper, this should perform as well as any other flagship sold this year, like the Galaxy S7 and the LG G5.  Their software skin (Sense v8.0) has been hailed by many as the lightest and perhaps closest to stock Android as one can get these days from any OEM.  The general feeling of most of the reviews I’ve seen are that its a jack of all trades while master of none.  It does many things very well, looks good and feels well built, and seems a nice return to the days of HTC’s last big hit device, the One M7.  You can check some of the reviews yourself linked below.

Many of the unlocked pre-orders will ship starting Monday, May 2nd.  Its available from Verizon starting around May 6th, and everywhere by May 13th.  HTC has needed a win for a while now.  The quality and usability of their phones have been declining since the M7 was released.  While other competitors were moving their tech forward, HTC seemed to continue to make bizarre business decisions with the direction of their phones that were annoying at best and a downright disaster at worst.  
The 10 would at first appear to poise HTC to start to turn things around.  As you might have heard on the Silicon Theory podcast, we’ve wondered for a while now when some other larger company was going to just buy out HTC and break the company up for parts.  Why it hadn’t actually happened is beyond me.  But now, maybe HTC can leverage the 10 to make an improbable comeback as a player in the global smartphone game.  

But do they really want to?  Recently, HTC seems to have thrown all their support behind their new Vive virtual reality product, and are moving away from the mobile smartphone market segment.  We still don’t know yet if virtual reality is more than just a fad, but HTC seems to be going all in with the Vive.  They’ve put more advertising and effort into this clearly niche market device, and their latest flagship smartphone seems almost like an afterthought.   And yet rumors still persist that they may in fact be in charge of not 1 but 2 new Nexus phones, and this prospect has quite a few people excited.  The latest Nexus from Huawei is a great overall performer and an excellent value for the money.  I own it, and am very pleased with it.  Part of its appeal is the premium look and feel of an all metal chassis.  HTC seems to have returned a bit to their old form with the 10 – and perhaps could push their stock even further up if they can do something good with the Nexus line.  The last HTC and Google collaboration, the Nexus One, was a solid performer, and well received by the Android community.  Developer devices (such as the Nexus line has long been known for) typically get raised to cult status, unless they end up being some kind of horrific carrier nightmare (yes, I’m looking at you Verizon Galaxy Nexus)

So maybe the days of HTC aren’t numbered after all.  Turns out the 10 might be a pretty good phone.  If HTC is tapped to make the new Nexus devices, then they might be pretty good as well.  If the Nexus devices do well, and considering how important they are to the overall Android ecosystem, it could mean a lot of new business for HTC.  So, in a way, the HTC 10 could mean very big things ahead for HTC.  But is that what they want?  Maybe it is, if the success of their latest devices means more money for them to throw at the Vive and VR in the long run.

[Op-Ed] Do you need a tablet anymore?

Maybe a better question is: did you ever need one?  Don’t get me wrong, as some readers will know, I have a tablet myself, the LG GPad, and while I don’t use it too often anymore (since my wife has assumed ownership of it) it still does see a lot of use.  So it might seem silly that I would even ask the question of anyone needing a tablet, when I myself still do.  But I think there have been a few changes in the smartphone market (and elsewhere) that have maybe, just maybe, diminished the need for this once thriving tech segment.

The line between smartphone and tablet has been starting to blur for years now.  My original tablet purchase was a Nexus 7, which sported a 7″ display.  And when I had a Galaxy Nexus and its 4.65″ display, the purchase of the Nexus tablet seemed like a great idea.  Then I got the LG G2 – which sported a whopping 5.2″ display and then after that my LG G3 had a 5.5″ display.  Other phones like the Nexus 6 debuted with an an all but 6″ display – the iPhone 6S+ has a 5.5″ display – the new Nexus 6P has a 5.7″ display – and none of these are perhaps the most popular of the large screen phones, the Note series from Samsung, which has sold in the tens of millions of devices, and has had a 5.5″ and above screen size for multiple generations.  Tablets, especially in the value Android space (like my Nexus 7), traditionally started in the 7″ size range, which isn’t that much larger than the Note and Nexus devices.

And as the saying goes “the best camera is the one you have with you” and so the best mobile device is the one you have with you.  While we are out and about, its much more likely that we’ve got our mobile smartphone with us than a tablet – as its primary function is to serve as a communication device to begin with.  The shift towards larger screen phones is a recent phenomenon, and only lately have our devices been large enough to make things other than calling and texting on them an option.  Even when we are home or at a place where WiFi would make a tablet fully functional, we tend to gravitate towards our phones, simply because they DO do so much more than surf the web.  We can send and receive text messages, make and receive phone calls, listen to music, post and review social media accounts, and watch video of any length.

The flip side of this argument is that why not go big or go home – the laptop option.  So if you are home or in public and don’t want to use your phone for any reason, chances are good you’re going the other direction and using an actual computer.  Again are seen the great advantages of mobile phones: you can watch video, listen to music and surf web content, and even text message (using an option like iMessage or Pushbullet) and you’re doing it on generally a larger display, with a more powerful set of computing guidelines.  A large portion of Americans are now replacing their home PCs with portable laptop options, and Apple is doing things like making a new Macbook that is both powerful and portable and all of a sudden you have a device that does pretty much everything you need it to do from both an entertainment and productivity standpoint.  It would seem that most consumers now have a choice between a few devices that can serve as a web appliance as well as a host of other things, and increasingly in our modern society, convenience is king.  The phone you whip out of your pocket or the laptop you already have in your bag for work seems a much better option than the tablet you have that’s not quite as handy as your phone and doesn’t quite have the same keyboard options as your laptop has.  The tablet is the odd man out in a household of tech that all basically do the same things.

Tablets are great, for certain things – and in the past when the average display size on mobile phones was between 3.7″ and 4.3″, we probably felt a need for something bigger that could render web content more readable and heck, probably even more enjoyable.  But now that most major OEMs are offering a mobile device choice starting around 5″ – this need doesn’t seem so great so more.  And with laptops making a move towards being lighter, faster, thinner, and more powerful, they are more convenient to use than ever before.  Whereas in a previous era, portable computers were clunky heavy beasts designed to be used by the ubiquitous business road warrior out in the field, now they are modern sleek machines designed to be beautiful, functional, and most importantly available when needed both at work and at home.

Now need is a pretty strong word – and you may still want to have a tablet handy where you live.  But with mobile phones getting bigger, and mobile computers getting smaller and lighter, it doesn’t seem to me that many people really need a tablet any longer.  And maybe they never really did to begin with.

[Op-Ed] Is virtual reality more than just a fad?

I had a chance recently to experience the Samsung Gear VR (by Oculus) and there were some really cool things about it.  In 15 minutes, I had a chance to view several cities in Jordan and watch the first part of the movie “The Perfect Storm” while in a virtual home theater – while doing all of this, my brain was almost tricked into thinking it was real.  Of course, my first thought went to “is this the first step towards a real life Matrix?”  Probably not…but maybe its time we talk about whether virtual reality (VR) is just a fad of the moment, or if its something that’s here to stay.
Virtual reality isn’t really new.  You could even say that 3-D films have been attempting to augment reality for a while now, and not well until very recently.  The idea of virtual reality has been prominent on the big screen as well as in the theater, from the aforementioned Matrix to Avatar.  Even video games like Ultima Online, Everquest, and World of Warcraft whisk the user away from their normal world and into a virtual one that is far, far different than the one we’re used to.  The concept of a virtual reality isn’t new, in fact its as old as the human imagination (if you think about it) – but the latest incarnation of this concept is much closer to what we’ve seen in the movies.  VR machines like the Samsung Gear VR by Oculus attempts to immerse the wearer in the world of their choosing,  Newer sets include both audio (and in some instances, even tactile) input as well as the visual.  We’re talking way beyond the 3D experience here…we are talking a full blown immersive experience (even if its still in its infancy)

The VR revolution has barely begun, and yet – we have a different kind of “revolution” as well – namely, the New ride at Six Flags in Southern California.  This is taking VR to a new level.  Riders are not only getting a traditional roller coaster of years past, but also being taken along for a visual experience while they fight a battle with aliens, spaceships, and jet fighters.  The ride is very new (and honestly I won’t be on it, as it’s the kind of nausea inducing thing just isn’t my bag, baby) but I can see where loads of folks would be lining up to give this is whirl.  Why just ride a boring old roller coaster?

I know what you’re thinking…as I asked above, are these the first steps towards the human race moving towards a real life Matrix like scenario?  And the answer is a bit more complicated than just a “yes” or “no.”  Are robots going to use this technology to turn us into human batteries?  Probably not.  But a lot of the themes from the Keanu Reeves classic are ringing true here.  Can VR take us to places that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to go?  Can we become the master of our destiny, even if that destiny isn’t in what we consider the “real world?”  And what is real anyway?  The “R” in VR does stand for reality, doesn’t it?  As has happened in the past, there are people who will view this new VR environment as being superior to their current real world circumstances, and spend more and more time in that, instead of being present in the here and now material world.  Stories like this one from last year show the powerful hold that online virtual realities can have on those people who are unhappy with the rest of their worldly circumstances.

Is the new trend of VR devices cool?  Yeah, sure.  I got a chance to tour Petra and other parts of Jordan I’ll never get a chance to see in real life.  But like many other of our favorites pieces of technology, it has the potential to be abused, perhaps even in ways we cannot foresee yet.  Is VR a fad?  My opinion is no, no its not.  I’m guessing its something that will become more and more present in our every day lives as time passes.  From amusement park rides and digital home tours, to whatever is next, the reality is that virtual reality is here to stay.

[Op-Ed] What kind of market will the iPhone SE find?

Apple recently announced a refresh of their design from the iPhone 5/5s line, and are calling it the iPhone SE.  The odd thing about this refresh is that it now gives Apple not 1, not 2, but 3 different size iPhones for consumers to choose from.  After such a long time of offering a single choice in mobile smartphones, Apple has done a 180 and first moved up from a 3.5″ display mode (iPhone 4), to 4.0″ display (iPhone 5/5s), then finally the current generation iPhone 6s (at 4.7″ display size) and the 6s+ (at a whopping 5.5″ display size) – one might view this as a reversal of trend, as most smartphone OEMs these days are abiding by the motto of “bigger is better!” when it comes to display size.  But is this really what consumers want?  Are we stuck with nothing but smartphones that are so large they create an unsightly bulge in our jeans pockets?  Or has Apple found an untapped market, as they seem to so often do with their products?  Let’s explore in more depth.

For a long time, the world seemed to decry “large screen” phones.  From my old Droid Incredible at 3.7″ display size, I’ve moved up in size progressively every new phone, and not always by choice.  It seems like most in the Android space seem to agree that the so-called sweet spot is anywhere from 5.0-5.3″ in display size.  There are those who really like the larger size devices (Sean is one of these) and my daily driver is a Nexus 6P, which I love – but I did have an adjustment period with the size and form factor of the phone.  Even smaller display size phones (like the LG G4) are still very large by the standards of just a few years ago.  Most of the major Android flagships are anywhere from 5.1″ (Samsung’s Galaxy S7, rumored size of the HTC 10) to 5.3″ (LG’s G5) to bigger (5.7″ for the Nexus 6P and the Samsung Note 5) – even Apple’s own offerings are substantial, with the 5.5″ iPhone 6s+ being a very popular option for upgrading iPhone users.

This is the market that the iPhone SE is being introduced into.  In a world of large display flagships, Apple throws a 4″ iPhone out there and says “come get some.”  But is it too late?  Can a small phone make a big splash in this era of devices designed and marketed around mobile media consumption?  The tablet market is shrinking, due largely in part to the fact that people now have phones with displays large enough to be able to use them as almost tablets, removing the need for anything bigger still.  As an iPhone 5s is in my possession for work reasons, I have a basis for comparison of what the SE will bring to the table.  And, I’ll be honest, I don’t think its for me.  I use my Nexus primarily to watch video and stream audio, and for watching TV shows and movies, the large crisp 5.7″ display and front facing speakers are very much what I’m looking for.  The SE would just be too small for what I do with my phone.  And in today’s “YouTube/Vine/Instagram video” society, I think it would be too small for what a lot of people do with their phones.

And yet, reports are that 3.4 million iPhone SEs were pre-ordered in China.  These numbers (while not great by accounts) are still a LOT of folks.  Some might argue that its the “affordability” of the iPhone SE that’s drawing folks towards it, but in China – the pricing isn’t the same as it is in the US.  Even though Foxconn makes some of the parts for the iPhone and they are based in China; it ain’t like Apple be about giving anyone a discount.  And according to that report, its not so much a pre-order as it is a reservation – there’s not even a monetary hold used in their pre-order.  So how many of the 3.4 million orders actually turn into shipped unit remains to be seen.  And that’s only one market…how many orders are shipped to U.S. addresses will be a real good test for if the iPhone SE will be considered a success.  And while international buyers may be very interested in a small, powerful, and more affordable smartphone,  it remains to be seen if buyers in the U.S. will choose to “go small and go home.”

[Op-Ed] Are smart watches worth your time?

Since so much time has passed since the Moto 360 came into my life (including the release of its successor the Moto 360-2 and the Moto 360 Sport) I thought I might skip the straight up review, and instead focus more on the driving question behind this, and other wearables on the market right now: are smart watches a fad, a nice to have, or a must have?  I asked in the title of this article if “smart watches are worth your time” – using a very obvious but still clever pun – and hopefully I can answer this for you, and other folks considering picking up one of a great number of options available today.

First off, let me say that I have the 1st Gen Moto 360, and I love it.  I purchased it as a gift for myself and while at first I thought it would be one of those “why the heck did I buy this” kind of things, it actually grew on me and I found more and more uses for it each day.  Now, low these many months later, I still find uses for it.  Fitness tracker, viewing phone callers without picking up my phone, receiving/reading/replying to text messages – all of these are just a few of the uses of the M360.  And smart watches have come a long way since then…offerings from Samsung, Asus, Huawei, and even high end makers like Tag Heuer have entries into the smart watch business that are as beautiful as they are functional.

And none of this even mentions the Apple Watch, which is probably now the most ubiquitous.  What niche do they fill?  What purpose do they serve?  Are they $400 expressions of our vanity?

I think for the most part we still aren’t 100% sure what do do with this category of wearable technology.  But we sure do like to make it flashy and fun.  We can have almost as much fun with getting different watch bands, choosing the right color and style of the housing, and then even the right size for our wrist, be it thick or dainty.  Then there are the watch faces…they can be changed as often as one wants and into just about anything you can imagine.  I have 3 or 4 I use as daily drivers, depending on the need, the setting, and literally what mood I’m in that day.

Do we need them?  Maybe not….do we love them?  Absolutely.  Battery life and connectivity are always a concern, but a lot of these issues have been addressed as the tech has advanced, if not outright solved.  The idea of being able to get notifications on your wrist isn’t done out of necessity so much as out of seeing whether or not such a thing is even possible.  For what I do, it saves me a bit of time each day, and for now, that’s enough.  I talked to others who’ve had their smart wearables for a little while now, and they feel much the same – if you’re expecting it to revolutionize your life, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  If they wouldn’t have gotten it for free, they probably wouldn’t own one.  But if you have a few hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and you want to, you should check out a smart watch.  It might just be worth the time it saves you; or at the very least, the time it tells you.

[Op-Ed] The benefit to rooting an Android phone

Once upon a time, I was the proud owner of a Blackberry Pearl.  (Don’t laugh)  I had worked my way up at a previous employer to be in a position to recommend the products the company purchased.  Since mobile e-mail was king, we ended up purchasing a fleet of Blackberry devices.  My first smartphone impressed me so much that when I left the company I decided to buy one for myself.  I owned two before the Pearl was released, and I really though I had found the perfect smartphone for me.  The size, form factor, and RIM’s e-mail integration made this a real winner in my book.  Some days, I miss the feeling I had when I first got it…there’s nothing like the thrill of buying your next tech toy.  This was right about the time the iPhone began to gain traction as an all touch screen smartphone that had a host of other features that a Blackberry couldn’t hope to match.

As this inexorable shift in mobile technology began to take place (see my previous article here regarding the growth of the “prosumer” market segment) I heard about a new Android phone supposed to be coming to Verizon Wireless that had specs even better than the iPhone and comparable to those of a home PC from a few years ago – the HTC Incredible.  After seeing some of the commercials and reading the reviews online, I was hooked and gave up my beloved BB Pearl to pre-order the Incredible.  My first Android phone was a whole new experience…an all touch screen phone was something that made me truly realize where mobile phone tech was headed.  At the time, I knew nothing about the Android development community and was much too afraid to “hack” my phone and try some of the things I’d read about other folks doing to their phones.  But I always felt like there was something I was missing out on.
So when the time came for the Incredible to go, and for a new phone choice to be made, I made a decision that would change much of the way I viewed my phone – I decided to hold out for a “developer phone” – the Galaxy Nexus from Samsung, also on Verizon Wireless.  I had read that Nexus phones were among the first to get new releases of the Android OS, as well as having an unlockable boot loader and was able to be rooted (both terms at the time that didn’t hold much meaning for me).  But it would give me the option to learn and experiment and allow my knowledge of what Android could do to grow.  This was my first foray into the land of rooting and the Android developers community.

In its simplest terms, “rooting” an Android device is the ability to grant “Superuser” access to any application you choose.  This would be the equivalent in the PC world of having “admin” rights to the PC.  Install what you want!  And if your phone offers the option of an unlockable boot loader (meaning you have the ability to overwrite even the operating system if you choose), you can do even more.  You’re in complete control!  The downside is of course, you also have the ability to royally screw up your phone beyond recovery (usually called bricking the phone).  But I decided I wanted to learn as much as I could to make this process something that would work for me, and not against me.  I made the decision to get a Galaxy Nexus for my wife and myself, and I dove into learning all I needed to know to unlock and root them both.

The result has been a very rewarding journey that sometimes borders on an unhealthy obsession.  Initially, learning the process of accomplishing both of these was challenging, but the more time I spent on it the easier it became.  And now, there are multiple tools available to allow even the novice Android user the ability to unlock and root their phone.  A few button clicks is all it takes and one has opened the door to a world of wonders.  Unlocking the boot loader combined with rooting the device has given me the flexibility to be able to control virtually every facet of my phone.  I have installed a tool to help back up my phone in the event of anything going wrong.  I have installed custom ROMs (basically a customized version of Android that has been modified by a developer group to do things that the stock Android doesn’t do) over and over again to gain access to new features.  I’ve also installed a custom kernel (the software governing battery usage) to improve battery life and overall performance.  Even small things like changing the icons of the phones applications and modifying the display to rotate the icons as if they were on a 3D cube are all made possible by being able to unlock and root the phone.
What time I spent in learning how to do these things has resulted in my ability to make any changes I want to the software of my phone.  This knowledge has given me the satisfaction of making the phone do what I want it to do.  One of the developer groups making custom ROMs is known as “Team BAMF” and their motto is “Make It Your Phone.”  This can easily be accomplished through the process of rooting.

[Op-Ed] Why people (including me) love to hate Verizon

For a while now Verizon Wireless has been the only game in town where I live.  Back in the day, I tried T-Mobile and AT&T and their networks weren’t mature enough at the time to compete from a voice and 3G data standpoint.  Then of course came the 4G LTE tech and the data usage explosion, which only widened the gap between Verizon and their competition even further.  By the time both other major companies (no one really uses Sprint anymore, do they?) leveraged enough funds to increase their network infrastructure, I was already happy with my grandfathered unlimited 3G to 4G data plan.  I mean, come on…unlimited is unlimited, right?  And then came the real deciding factor – both AT&T and Verizon decided to stop offering unlimited data packages in favor of tiered data, and my choice was made for me: if I wanted to keep my existing unlimited data plan, I was going to be on Verizon for the foreseeable future.

Those like me who revel in their unlimited data plans are something of a dying breed, and many choose to leave Verizon rather than pay full price for new phones and keep their plans.  Others find ways to make it work, using a variety of tricks to beat the system and get their phones at a subsidized price while holding onto their unlimited data with a death grip.  And while Verizon hasn’t closed down all of these loopholes (yet) they surely don’t make it easy for you or allow you to go back once a change has been made.

This is why it came as such as surprise when on the weekend of 09/27/13, a computer glitch with Verizon’s online system was discovered which allowed users to upgrade their phones and KEEP their unlimited 4G LTE data plan – for another 2 years.  This wasn’t supposed to be possible, but here it was.  At first it was one report, then another, and another, and then floods of people were confirming that it was true via most of the major tech blogs and website.  Loads of folks took advantage; most with the expectation that at some point the error would be discovered and subsequently cancelled – sending things back to the way they were before.  Only they didn’t.  And when on 09/30/13 Verizon released a statement saying they would honor the upgrades and allow the users to keep their unlimited plans, the surprise transformed to jaw dropping shock.

But, as always…when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Some users went to stores and got their phones without trouble, some went and had to escalate to a manager, using internet links as proof, still others got flat out denied.  Most of these latter and many of those who ordered online were being forced onto 2GB data plans, which (of course) defeated the purpose of upgrading and keeping unlimited data to begin with.  Some Note 3 pre-orders arrived with the 2GB changes on the invoice, and Sean was one of these – but after talking to a rep, he got back his unlimited and got a $90 credit as well; not too shabby.  The moral of this story; any company as large as Verizon is going to have a hard time communicating any policy exceptions to everyone. Even if those policy exceptions are a result of their own error.
And herein is the source of the so-called “hate” that many of us, and I put myself on that list, feel towards the nations largest wireless carrier.  We want them to be something more than what they actually are: which is a publicly traded company that is always going to put its profits before its customers.  We want them to understand our needs as consumers, empathize with our desire to want the best phones on the best network, and reward us for our loyalty over the years (for me, its been over 10 years) and give us a little something back.  Instead, time and again, they make baffling business decisions and consistently choose the path that leads towards increased profits and away from consumer interests.  I love my G2, and I love having unlimited data with it.  But when (and not if) the time comes for Verizon to finally take away my unlimited data, I’ll be sure to return them the same loyalty they’ve shown to me all these years – none at all.  

[Op-Ed] Why can’t I find the right phone?

So – my wife and I have Verizon Wireless and our contract(s) are coming due right after the 1st of the year.  We both are grandfathered into unlimited 4G plans, so as we look to replace our phones, we are considering buying off contract to preserve this precious data commodity.  I have the Galaxy Nexus LTE on Verizon and as an Android enthusiast, I love it.  So when I’m looking at all the new phone tech that is coming out these days, I take careful stock of it.  And at the end of the day, I am stuck with one question:  why is it I can’t find the phone I want to replace my beloved Galaxy Nexus?

Buying the first generation of anything can pose certain challenges.  And while I love my GNex, it does have some shortcomings.  The screen isn’t terrible, but better screens have come out in the last year or two. Processor power and speed are always going up, and most importantly, battery life has taken a good jump forward since the GNex was released.  So in my next phone, I know I want certain things:  I want long battery life on LTE, a fast processor, good to great camera, big beautiful display, and an unlockable bootloader.  This would normally all add up to a “Nexus” device, but Verizon will not stand for another Google Nexus product.  Apparently unlockable bootloaders will bring down Verizon’s network or start the zombie apocalypse or something.  So this means that I’m left with a list of slightly imperfect options that force me to choose between the lessor of all evils.

The contenders right now are:  Droid Maxx, HTC One, LG G2, Motorola X (Moto X)

Droid Maxx Pros:  super large battery, solid Moto build quality & radios, futuristic appearance
                   Cons:  locked bootloader, physical buttons, only 720p screen, Verizon bloatware

HTC One Pros:  beautiful design, great screen, good speakers, good specs, potentially unlockable
                Cons:  smallish battery, physical buttons, Verizon bloatware (stop me if you heard this before)

Moto X Pros:  great design, decent camera, unique software features, stock Android (mostly)
             Cons:  smaller battery, only 720p screen, mid range specs, excessive price point

LG G2      Pros:  large battery, cutting edge specs, great 5.2″ 1080p screen
                 Cons:  unusual design, locked bootloader, Verizon bloatware, LG skin

After going to the various AT&T and Verizon retail stores and visiting all these phones in person, I’m torn.  The Moto X and HTC One feel great in hand – both with a premium feel.  The HTC One has a nice camera, but the Moto X’s camera has been universally panned by every person to review it. The One is a little bigger, the Moto X a little smaller – but the 2300mah battery on the One gives me pause, as the 2100mah on my GNex doesn’t last a full day (albeit with an older gen, dual core processor running it) and the Moto X is a little too small for my taste (and its “only” a 720p screen to boot).   I’d really like a screen somewhere in the 5″ 1080p range, which would naturally push me in the LG G2’s direction.  But with hardware buttons on the rear of the device and a locked bootloader, I’m not sure if this is really the device for me.  The 3000mah battery and cutting edge specs are otherwise very attractive.

The Droid Maxx is, in a word, frustrating.  What on paper would seem like the clear winner is held back those annoying physical buttons (which should never appear on a smartphone, IMO) and the decision to use a 5″ 720p display panel.  The Motorola X8 computing system does have some neat features (always on listening, Active Notifications) but while I’m fond of its footprint and kevlar backing, the wife informed me (her words, not mine) that “we wouldn’t be getting because it looks like an ice scraper.”  While I’m not 100% sure what that even means, she’s obviously not fond of the devices overall appearance.  Which leaves me back at square one again.

The rumors of the Nexus 5 are intriguing, and its hard to argue against something that looks as good as the below (alleged) pictures of the device:

But with the very real possibility that this next Nexus will NEVER come to Verizon, I’m circling back to the beginning again.  And I didn’t even consider other devices (such as the Galaxy S4 from Samsung, which is locked down tighter than a drum from a developer standpoint) that I knew weren’t going to meet my needs right up front.  Can’t these carriers and phone makers see – put out a great phone with a big, clear 1080p screen, great rear camera (with a quality 10-12MP sensor), and give it a battery that will last all day with LTE, and then let folks unlock it to let it reach its full potential.  I long for that day to arrive…but I fear it will be a long, long while coming.

**UPDATE:  I have in fact chosen my new device, and I couldn’t be happier!  A full review and the thoughts on my decision coming soon…

[Op-Ed] A completely unbiased Android users opinion of iOS 7 – it sucks

Image courtesy of Apple.com

So…yeah.  I’m an Android guy.  Have been for a long time, and its still my current phone.  But as many already know, I DO own Apple products.  Yes, even me.  For all my bashing of their not really being a tech company more than a marketing company and not having had an innovation since the iPad first debuted, I do like and purchase (or ask for as gifts) some of their devices.  This puts me in a unique position: to be on the outside looking in.  No “iSheep” fanboiness here…I’m looking solely at how the device works best for me.  And I have to be honest – I wish Apple would have left my iPod touch the way it was before iOS 7.

I really couldn’t live without my iPod.  For all my posturing, I love this piece of tech.  It makes my daily commute more bearable and allows me to listen to my entire library of music in a small, portable package.  And it has done so since they had little trackwheels and clicky buttons.  And when I got my latest iPod touch (see my review here) I was elated.  And recently, when I heard about the upgrade to iOS 7, I figured “why not?”  I was actually a little interesting in getting a chance to play around with it, and I’d seen the early release photos of what it was supposed to look like as well.  But the reality did not match the idea I had of what the experience was going to be like in my mind.

First off, lets get the obvious out of the way – the colors are hideous.  Flat out annoying.  And standardized icons have been changed (along with some of their names) to boot.  Which (for me) means that after downloading and launching it for the first time, my first thought was “did something go wrong with this install?”  Because things sure look and feel off around here.  Folders no longer look like folders, but more like grey blobs in which other, more colorful blobs reside.  Facetime was moved out of the folder blob where I had placed it, and it was now front and center on my home screen.  Really, Apple?

Image courtesy of Apple.com

Okay, okay – maybe I’m being overly critical you might say.  The colors don’t look that bad.  And haven’t you been saying that iOS is tired and could use an update?  Yes – perhaps all of these things are true.  But there’s tweaking and there is radical redesign; this is the latter.  And not all change for the sake of change is good.  Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t either…but as with most things Apple, you don’t get a choice.  With my Android phone, if I don’t like how the stock look and feel of things is, I can install a custom launcher and then choose from dozens (if not hundreds) of other icon packs, themes, and other such to change it over and over and over again until I find something I like that works for me.  Rather than the “Apple tells me that I will love it” (whether I love it or not) approach.

My annoyance with iOS 7 is more than skin deep however.  There are other relatively minor changes that are puzzling too.  For example, on iOS 6 one of the features I used most was a double button press to wake the screen which, if your last activity was playing music, would wake the iPod to the music player and allow you to play the current or next track with just a single additional tap on the screen.  This is gone in iOS 7, now replaced with the double button press taking me to the lock screen and asking me to swipe to unlock, then pressing again on the music player to start my track playing.  While not important to some, this is one of the main features I used with my iPod, and now it takes longer to get my music to play.  Perhaps this has something to do with more security in this version of iOS, but honestly, its more irritating than anything else about the operating system to me.

Image courtesy of Apple.com

Hey, its not all bad – the Control Center feature (accessing your settings from a single contextual swipe up menu from the bottom of the screen) is useful and actually decently implemented.  Not something radically innovative again, as this “feature” (in various forms) has been in versions of Android for a while now, but at least it was well thought out. The new animations for things opening and closing/launching is neat, but hardly something I would hang my hat on if I was touting the merits of the overall operating system.  The sorting of pictures (excuse me, Photos) into Collections and Moments is long overdue, and a vast improvement over the glut of photos en masse in Camera Roll – but again, this is something that should come as the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.  And all these changes come at a price – even my less than 1 year old iPod touch (5th gen) stutters and lags a bit when performing routine tasks.  I can’t imagine what the new iOS its doing to owners of iPhones from the 3S-4S range.

Most of the changes seem forced, copies of other operating systems innovations (the tabbed multi-tasking or Safari tab switchers come to mind immediately) or fall into the catagory of just plain “why haven’t we had this until now?”  I think that Apple’s leadership realized that they needed to make a big splash with something and they were counting on iOS 7 and the new iPhone 5S/C to do just that.  Well, maybe just the iOS 7 and 5C since the 5S (as usual) is mostly just a spec bump and a new gold color chassis.  For my money, I’ve been thinking more and more often how I wish I had my old drab looking iOS 6 look and feel back.  At least with it, I knew where everything was.