Nexus S review

Owing to its sta­tus as the cur­rent hot Android phone, the rep­u­ta­tion of and con­tin­u­ing sup­port for the Nexus One that came before it, and the Nexus line’s no-crapware, pure Android nature, last month I made a Sam­sung Nexus S my next mobile phone.

My pre­vi­ous phone, for ref­er­ence, was the first Android device, a T‑Mobile G1 (HTC Dream).

I like almost every­thing about Nexus S. The device is, for the most part, blaz­ing fast, smooth and com­plete­ly open.

By “open,” I mean:

  • It’s sold SIM-unlocked, mean­ing I can switch between almost any ser­vice provider. This isn’t very use­ful on a dai­ly basis, but is a great option to have for inter­na­tion­al travel.
  • Gain­ing root access to the phone is sim­ple. Rather than rely­ing on a secu­ri­ty hole to get root, Nexus devices have offi­cial sup­port for unlock­ing the boot­loader, which opens up the phone to what­ev­er you want to do, installing what­ev­er you want, etc.
  • Even if you don’t root, the Nexus S — like all Android devices — is “open” in a very prac­ti­cal way: apps can be added to these devices from any source you as a user deem wor­thy. If Google does­n’t see fit to include a giv­en app in the Android Mar­ket for what­ev­er rea­son, the devel­op­er can pro­vide an .apk file how­ev­er they like, and you as an adult can make up your own mind as to whether you want to use it.

Here are a few things I like:

  • It’s fast. There’s almost nev­er a hic­cup in run­ning apps, switch­ing between them, hav­ing calls and mes­sages come in when you’re doing some­thing else, etc.
  • Front-facing cam­eras may be stan­dard these days, but I love final­ly hav­ing one in my phone. Just need video sup­port in the Skype app…
  • The screen is amaz­ing. It’s bright, high-resolution, and the glass is actu­al­ly curved, which lets it sit face-down on a table with­out scratch­ing, fit the cur­va­ture of your face, and as some have sug­gest­ed, there are ergonom­ic ben­e­fits for your thumb as well.
  • I don’t know the specs, but the bat­tery life with active use seems way bet­ter than my G1.
  • Lots of onboard stor­age. 16 GB may not be enough for some peo­ple, but it is for me, and I pre­fer this over deal­ing with a slow, unre­li­able microSD card.
  • Small touch­es like the afore­men­tioned curved glass, head sen­sor that dis­ables the screen dur­ing a call, ambi­ent light sen­sor for auto­mat­i­cal­ly adjust­ing screen bright­ness make for a nice experience.

Here are a few things I don’t:

  • The brows­er some­times lags a bit while scrolling web­pages with mul­ti­ple large images. I don’t see a lot of this, so it’s not that annoying.
  • No 4G. Of course, T‑Mobile does­n’t have “true” 4G ser­vice, and 3G speeds are enough for web brows­ing… and almost every­thing else I usu­al­ly want to do. Where this has been a prob­lem for me is in stream­ing high-quality music using the Last.fm app; the play­back very often catch­es up to the load­ing. That said, I feel like Last.fm may be part­ly at fault too, as the app seems unre­li­able in oth­er ways that make me doubt it.
  • In-browser Flash per­for­mance sucks, but I’ll take it over none at all so long as Flash ele­ments can be off by default and loaded only on-demand (and they can).
  • I get annoy­ing audio inter­fer­ence in the car when the phone is plugged to the audio while also charg­ing. Not sure if this is the phone’s fault, as it does­n’t hap­pen in the house.
  • Does­n’t shoot HD video, but instead, widescreen VGA… sim­i­lar to my Canon Pow­er­Shot from six years ago. I can’t fig­ure out who thought this was a good idea. I don’t do much video, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but an annoy­ance. I’d love to see them fix this with a soft­ware update, which should be pos­si­ble giv­en the beefy hard­ware in this thing.

The lack of key­board wor­ries me:

  • While the aver­age per­son prob­a­bly has to occa­sion­al­ly enter a sim­ple pass­word and a poor­ly thought-out sta­tus update, I’m a writer and a geek (did you guess?), so accu­ra­cy of text entry is impor­tant to me. Typ­ing on-screen kind of both­ers me.
  • I hate the lack of con­trol when com­pos­ing text, even if auto-correct takes care of most of the inac­cu­ra­cies. It also cor­rects my inten­tion­al mis­spellings, col­lo­qui­alisms, “big words” and many prop­er nouns. The thing to do here is obvi­ous­ly make sure it says what I want before click­ing “Send,” but that’s not always easy.
  • Like I said, I’m also a geek. Who the fuck uses com­mand lines these days? I the fuck do. I man­age a Lin­ux serv­er at work, and very often remote­ly con­nect to the com­put­ers at home to do things through­out the day. Not only is typ­ing awk­ward, but oth­er things don’t work, like double-tabbing key for com­plet­ing com­mands and filenames.
  • On the plus side, on-screen options like Swype and SwiftKey, and Google’s pret­ty good voice input makes this hurt a lit­tle less. Still, I’d total­ly go for an iden­ti­cal phone with a key­board, even if it was a bit thick­er and heavier.

But I’m opti­mistic about the future of my phone:

  • As a Nexus phone, its updates are man­aged by Google, so there isn’t any wait­ing for Sam­sung and T‑Mobile to get their act togeth­er and release updates to future ver­sions of Android.
  • Its open-phone sta­tus should make it appeal­ing to third-party devel­op­ers like Cyanogen, who will hope­ful­ly con­tin­ue sup­port­ing it into the future.
  • While I’m a lit­tle con­cerned about buy­ing a new phone now, giv­en the upcom­ing wave of Android phones with dual-core CPUs (Tegra II and oth­ers), I’m not sure that my phone being left “in the dust” will be a con­cern for the next cou­ple of years. After all, desk­top devel­op­ers haven’t exact­ly made great use of multi-core CPUs, which have been wide­ly avail­able there for at least five years now. They’re still good to have for mul­ti­task­ing, which is a nice fea­ture to have your mobile OS sup­port, but the sort of mul­ti­task­ing we expect out of our phones does­n’t usu­al­ly involve two CPU-intensive tasks, but rather one that chugs along per­form­ing some menial task (play­ing music, rout­ing GPS, etc.) while anoth­er in the fore­ground does what you want it to at the moment.

In all, I think Nexus S makes a pret­ty good G1 replace­ment, and will serve me well into the future. I’ll keep you post­ed, uh, Internet.

No longer, My Book

I’ve long under­stood, but was remind­ed tonight, that there are prod­ucts designed with respect for the user, and those with mis­trust and maybe even con­tempt. Until tonight, I had­n’t expe­ri­enced any prob­lems with my, admit­ted­ly aging, 250 GB West­ern Dig­i­tal My Book Pre­mi­um USB hard drive.

After over four years of ade­quate ser­vice, the My Book final­ly stopped work­ing. It would click instead of audi­bly spin­ning up, and that it would­n’t show in dmesg at all when plugged in sug­gest­ed that the prob­lem was like­ly the enclo­sure, not the disk inside.

I was right, but could­n’t be sure about this until tear­ing the case open and extract­ing the disk, a sim­ple 3.5″ SATA. Tear­ing isn’t exact­ly the right word; I was care­ful and did­n’t break any­thing while half-following these instruc­tions, but I had to put con­sid­er­able amounts of force into a few of the steps. Case in point: screws tight­ened by pro­duc­tion line robots, so much so that only robots can eas­i­ly unscrew them, suck.

I removed the disk and placed it in anoth­er enclo­sure—the kind sold with­out a disk — I had handy. The process (or lack there­of) was lit­er­al­ly a joy com­pared to the fight­ing I had to do with the plas­tic My Book case. Sure, stand­alone hard dri­ve enclo­sures are designed for peo­ple who at least know enough to buy one of those and a 3.5″ SATA disk, not to men­tion that these things exist. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s also not the kind of thing you need to know to be a “com­put­er user” these days.

Of course, being such a user means shrug­ging your shoul­ders and los­ing data when only half of your prod­uct breaks.

The choice is yours, but unless you like headaches, I sug­gest not buy­ing dumb shit.

QR Codes: great, but then what?

I keep a long and ever-growing out­line of blog top­ics I may some­day write about. Most aren’t ful­ly formed, but each at least once struck me as inter­est­ing at some point or anoth­er, so I fig­ured they’re worth keep­ing around.[fn]Yes, they’re basi­cal­ly brain crack.[/fn] (See one real exam­ple to right.)

  • <3 qr-codes
    • bridges the phys­i­cal and the cyber
    • low-tech, lowest-common denominator
    • cam­er­a­phones in every pocket
    • makes a lot more sense than com­pet­ing tech­nolo­gies, like that microsoft one with the dif­fer­ent col­ors that requires col­or print­ing, etc. this one I could, if so inclined, draw with a pencil
    • sad­ly, most of what I use this tech­nol­ogy for is curi­ous­ly decod­ing bar­codes I come across on the web

I add top­ics to my list pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly, but what does­n’t hap­pen very reg­u­lar­ly is some­one read­ing my mind and writ­ing my post for me. Okay, it’s only hap­pened once: about a week ago, and it was geek­ing out on QR Codes.

I’m a bit behind on my RSS read­ing, but when I just came across this boing­bo­ing post, I was quite pleased. In it, guest blog­ger Glenn Fleish­man pret­ty much lays out the case for 2D bar­codes — QR being the most pop­u­lar, good/open-enough for­mat — as a use­ful sort of link between the phys­i­cal world and the dig­i­tal one. It’s an idea I hap­pen to have loved for a few years now, and with Internet-enabled cam­er­a­phones all over the place, one that has the potential[fn]Naturally, the bar­ri­er to adop­tion is con­vinc­ing the aver­age per­son to both­er solv­ing for them­selves a prob­lem — easy URL/text/contact entry on their phone — they did­n’t real­ize they had.[/fn] to cre­ate some ben­e­fit to soci­ety on a large scale.

It should come as lit­tle sur­prise, then, that for as long as I’ve been aware of these codes, I’ve longed to find a use for the tech­nol­o­gy aside from the mun­dane let peo­ple scan your ad to go to your web­site, or send a URL from your com­put­er to your phone. A hand­ful of boing­bo­ing com­menters point­ed out a few real-world exam­ples of ways they have used QR codes: label­ing shared lab equip­ment or get­ting on the VIP list at Tokyo clubs. Inter­est­ing they are; world-changing they’re not.

Of course, there’s also the idea of pro­vid­ing rich­er infor­ma­tion about wine than a sim­ple bot­tle label could dis­play, which I find a step above the oth­ers, and giv­ing extra con­text to muse­um art, which I think gets us even closer.

Yet I still think QR Codes have even greater poten­tial… but poten­tial isn’t even half the battle.

Uncommon Knowledge: Songs about “you”

Every so often I real­ize that some­thing I believe to be com­mon knowl­edge actu­al­ly isn’t, sim­ply because not every­one has the same life expe­ri­ences as I do. I’m try­ing to doc­u­ment such things that I know, for the bet­ter­ment of soci­ety as a whole. This blog seems to be the per­fect place to do this.

Here’s today’s bit of very impor­tant, uncom­mon knowledge:

If you’re not in a com­mit­ted rela­tion­ship, per­haps the great­est thing you can do for your­self is begin one with a per­son whose name — or a rea­son­able nick­name for their name — ends in the let­ter “u” (IPA: u: — MWCD: ü — NOAD: o͞o) or oth­er­wise rhymes with the Eng­lish word you.

Why would you want to do this, you may won­der. What you lose being in a rela­tion­ship for an admit­ted­ly piss-poor rea­son, you gain in being able to fill the indi­vid­u­al’s name into all sorts of pop­u­lar music from at least the last 60 years or so. This will help you bet­ter put your feel­ings for them into words, and not sound entire­ly ridicu­lous in the process.

Seri­ous­ly, have you ever noticed how many songs address some­one in the second-person, where the singer sings words of love, hate or some oth­er emo­tion to an unnamed some­one? It’s true! You prob­a­bly don’t notice just how use­ful this is until you find your­self in a rela­tion­ship where you want to express some emo­tion or anoth­er for an indi­vid­ual who is named in that cer­tain way. But once you do, this sim­ple thing becomes very use­ful, indeed.

So go and find some­body with a com­pat­i­ble name. I sup­pose you could nick­name pret­ty much any­one “Boo,” but that’s sort of lame. Unless that’s their giv­en name, in which case they’re nat­u­ral­ly a keeper.

Here are some exam­ple songs to get you start­ed, and names to help nar­row the field:

  • You’re just too good to be true/Can’t take my eyes off Stu #
  • I don’t believe that anybody/feels the way I do about Lulu now #
  • Hello/I love Drew/Won’t you tell me your name? #
  • I know I’ve got noth­ing on Lou/I know there’s noth­ing to do #
  • It’s Matthew that I adore/You’ll always be my whore #
  • Colour my world/with hope/of lov­ing Jew­el #
  • You prob­a­bly think this song is about Mary­lou. #
  • An Eski­mo showed me a movie/He had recent­ly tak­en of Pikachu #
  • If only I’d thought of the right words/I would­n’t be break­ing apart/All my pic­tures of Sue #
  • If I leave here tomorrow/Would Kooh still remem­ber me? #

Most pet names count, and of course, this works best with names of few­er syl­la­bles. Find the right per­son and the musi­cal world is your pho­net­ic oyster.

Uncommon Knowledge: Twitter @replies

I’ve been think­ing late­ly, and I’m going to start a new series here on the blog, ten­ta­tive­ly titled stuff I know and take for grant­ed, but it’s stuff that a lot of peo­ple don’t know, you guys!

I may need to think of a bet­ter title.

I won’t, how­ev­er, let that stop me.[fn]You could also say that I need to think of bet­ter ideas than this one, but I won’t let that stop me either.[/fn] These are things that the world may or may not need to know, but should cer­tain­ly have the chance to know.

Here’s my first one:

If you have a com­mon name on Twit­ter, you prob­a­bly get lots of errant ‘@replies’ because peo­ple don’t know how to use them.

A lit­tle back­ground: if you use Twit­ter — and I won’t fault you if you don’t[fn]Despite all the hype, Twit­ter is total­ly non-essential, and you’re prob­a­bly not miss­ing that much if you don’t use it.[/fn] — you’re prob­a­bly aware that you can direct your post to anoth­er user by plac­ing their unique Twit­ter user ID after an @ sign some­where in your post. For exam­ple, if you want­ed to tell me I’m great, you’d say some­thing like:

I think that @everett is great!!

(@nobody Hey, thanks!)

…and then my Twit­ter soft­ware client would alert me that some­one direct­ed a post my way. These are usu­al­ly called “replies” or “men­tions” depend­ing on the client you use. Sim­ple stuff, right?

Note that it just so hap­pens that my Twit­ter ID is “everett.” This is so because I reg­is­tered my account in mid-2006, ear­ly enough that first-names were still unreg­is­tered, and thus, avail­able as user IDs. Because I chose a com­mon name for my ID and quite a few peo­ple out there know peo­ple named Everett and some of these peo­ple don’t know what they’re doing, I often get posts direct­ed at me unintentionally.

I’ve got­ten used to it. Here are some exam­ples of places I was ‘men­tioned’ by mistake.

Not the worst advice, but I can’t take the credit.

This nev­er hap­pened. Really.

Not sure where I was on the evening of August 19th, but I’m not sure where Eli­jah’s sense of enti­tle­ment comes from either.

This exam­ple is inter­est­ing. Thanks to Twit­ter, I’ve learned that there’s a chain of bar­be­cue places in the Oak­land area called Everett & Jones, which a lot of peo­ple like to go to. Men­tions of E&J actu­al­ly get mis­tak­en­ly direct­ed at me a lot… and from every­thing I’ve heard, it makes my must-try list if I’m ever in the Bay Area again. Thanks, Twitter!

…I just want some snack cakes

I was play­ing some Scar­face: The World Is Yours ear­li­er this evening on my Wii and while the game is in many ways a series of mis­sions that don’t vary all that much, a part of the game that is pret­ty con­sis­tent­ly inter­est­ing is talk­ing to ran­dom peo­ple on the streets. (What does that leave? A pret­ty stan­dard 3D open world, drive-cars-shoot-people-deal-drugs rush rush affair that hap­pens to take place in a Mia­mi I don’t quite recognize.)

But like I was say­ing, the conversations.

I can’t remem­ber what pur­pose this serves in the game, but you can have back-and-forth con­ver­sa­tions with the seem­ing­ly hun­dreds of unique NPCs that line the streets of the game. Walk up to one, press A and Tony spits out a line, to which they respond with some­thing that more-or-less makes sense. Press A and Tony replies with some­thing most­ly rel­e­vant to what they said. Do this back-and-forth exchange a few times and your “Con­ver­sa­tion” count increas­es by one. (You can only con­verse with any giv­en indi­vid­ual once, at which point talk­ing to them con­sists of seemingly-random one-liners that seem to either pro­pose sex­u­al rela­tions or bod­i­ly harm… or are just strings of Scarface-style expletives.)

So ear­li­er, I (well, Tony) was vis­it­ing our local bank branch when I decid­ed to talk to some of the peo­ple hang­ing around in the stair­well. We walked up to one African-American gen­tle­man in an ugly sweater and the con­ver­sa­tion basi­cal­ly began like this:

Tony: Mia­mi is full of pussy, meng. You just need to be rich to get it.
Gen­tle­man: Man, I don’t care about pussy. I just want some snack cakes.

I’m gonna let that one hang for a moment.

Okay, I fuck­ing love this game.

The word calamity makes me smile (and now I know why)

Words are spe­cial things to me, and when I was a small­er geek and would try to fig­ure out the mean­ing of unknown words, I would often form a men­tal image of a word’s mean­ing based on, often times, anoth­er word it sound­ed like (regard­less of whether the two words actu­al­ly had any­thing to do with each oth­er). Some­times, I’d actu­al­ly use con­text to help deci­pher the mean­ing of the mys­tery word, but that would­n’t always lead me to the right answer.

From time to time, I’d be unable to shed this first impres­sion of a word, which would stick with me even after I would learn the word’s actu­al mean­ing. I’d have these false images some­times pop into my mind when I’d hear the word itself used else­where, even know­ing full well what it real­ly means.

So when I found myself, in more recent years, find­ing the word calami­ty to be, of all things, bizarrely amus­ing, I began to seri­ous­ly ques­tion how this could be. It’s not like I find calami­ties them­selves fun­ny. And the word is not one I hear used much on a day-to-day basis, and it cer­tain­ly isn’t one used to describe things that are sup­posed to be fun­ny. It’s not near­ly as well-used as its syn­onyms cat­a­stro­phe, dis­as­ter, or even tragedy. So why would I find it dif­fi­cult to sup­press a smirk when hear­ing or read­ing about some­thing that some­one described as calamitous?

Here’s what tru­ly brought my strange rela­tion­ship with the word to a head: I used to work for a com­pa­ny with pret­ty strong ties to the Philip­pines, so when the rather dead­ly Typhoon Ondoy (a.k.a. Ket­sana) rolled through the coun­try dur­ing my time employed there, the storm, and its effects, were more than just the head­line or two that they may have been to most Amer­i­cans. Read­ing pret­ty exten­sive­ly about the storm, both through news reports and first­hand accounts from many of our cus­tomers, I noticed, a hand­ful of times, many pinoys using calami­ty to describe what had hap­pened there. To what we owe their word choice is not some­thing I under­stand or am real­ly con­cerned with, actu­al­ly. More impor­tant was the invol­un­tary smirk­ing effect the word had on me.

That I could find myself amused by some­thing so strange, in the face of tales and pho­tos of death and destruc­tion, was some­thing I found unset­tling, so I lat­er thought hard about where this feel­ing like­ly came from. I can’t quite remem­ber how I made the con­nec­tion, but it even­tu­al­ly hit me.

That cute lit­tle guy to the right is Calami­ty Coy­ote, a char­ac­ter from the early-90s ani­mat­ed tele­vi­sion series Tiny Toon Adven­tures, a show that may not have made as last­ing an impres­sion on me as oth­ers from the era did, but is one I def­i­nite­ly remem­ber watch­ing. (I remem­ber the theme song very well, for what that’s worth.) Calami­ty is also a rel­a­tive of Wile E. Coy­ote, or something.

Lack­ing any oth­er con­text to explain to my single-digit-aged self the mean­ing of the word calami­ty, I must have assumed that it meant… well, some­thing fun­ny! Because, you know, the show was made up of fun­ny char­ac­ters doing fun­ny things, so this unknown word must mean some­thing funny.

It makes per­fect sense to me, and feels like the expla­na­tion, the true cre­ation myth I’ve been look­ing for. I can’t imag­ine where else a younger Everett would have come across that word, and it’s not one I’ve seen enough times in the inter­ven­ing years, mak­ing this one of those wrong def­i­n­i­tions I still just can’t forget.

Do you have any words that have a spe­cial mean­ing to you, one that’s com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than what the word real­ly means? Or per­haps that even tick­le your fun­ny bone in an equal­ly irra­tional way? (I real­ly do want to know.)