Phone notes

July 31st, 2010 by

Earlier this year, I finally bit the bullet and bought a smartphone. (Thanks to a bit of fiddling, and an up-front purchase, it is costing me less over a two-year period than my old phone contract was. No, I don’t understand that either.)

It is marginally more powerful, computationally speaking, than my old laptop was. Given it seems to be able to tell me where I am as well as what time it is and what meeting I forgot to go to this morning, it may indeed be smarter than I am as well.*

* I actually went back to work a day early this year because I misread the calendar. I did wonder why it seemed so quiet. Er.

Oh, well. I for one welcome our new robot overlords, etc. It has so far usurped the roles of my phone, mp3 player (at which it is showing surprising competence), portable radio, compact camera and calendar; a little hackery with gmail and it absorbed my address book. It’s also surprisingly useful for shopping lists. A couple of quick notes:

The feature which did faintly surprise me – but worked well – was using it as an ebook reader; whilst iterating around Europe I managed to read a novel on it, using WordPlayer, without any particular discomfort or inconvenience. The screen is small for this, but not ludicrously so. For entering text rather than reading it, the internal keyboard (and predictive text) is excellent under normal conditions – I was expecting to hate it – but sometimes a bit tricky to use when in a moving vehicle, because it’s very easy to slip to adjacent keys.

Google Maps is a useful navigational tool, but relies on an internet connection – abroad, this is an expensive habit to have – and so an offline map program is an excellent thing to have. In this case, MapDroyd, which is a simple map display – no navigation – but runs off preloaded caches of OpenStreetMap data, so there’s no connectivity issues and no delays in displaying different areas. The only problem here is the size of that lump of data – as the phone has a decent onboard memory, it doesn’t limit things too much, but actually getting it on there can be tricky. (Thank goodness for wifi.)

Now, the downsides. Three months in, and a couple of problems are becoming apparent:

  • SD storage issues

  • Battery life
  • Phone network connection

…in approximately ascending order of irritation.

The SD card – supplied with the phone, in an internal mount – regularly (every few days, at least once a week) fails to be recognised by the phone. (Usually, this manifests as the MP3 player getting confused and skipping over all its tracks claiming it can’t find them.) I have not yet figured out the cause of this, but so far it’s always been solved by a reboot; it may perhaps have something to do with prolonged uptime? I originally pegged it as a side-effect of having connected the phone to the PC (which mounts the card as a drive), but this doesn’t seem to be the case; it can turn up without it.

So far, it’s not a problem at all – it just means I need to remember to reboot the phone every couple of days to avoid it. We shall see if it turns into something worse. A cursory search suggests it’s a widespread problem, but with no obvious origins – “dodgy SD cards” is a popular theory, but it doesn’t really make sense when it’s reported as occurring with other cards as well.

The battery life is low – charging in the evening, leaving overnight, then moderate usage tends to be running quite dry after 24 hours. I was used to going three days before – but then, the old phone did much less to use up power.

The real problem, though, is that since at least early June (I got the phone at the end of April) it’s been rejecting calls for no apparent reason; the phone remains connected to the network, and will happily receive text messages – usually the ones saying “I tried to call you but your phone was off, will try tomorrow”. This is, to say the least, exceptionally annoying – I’ve usually no record they’ve tried to call, and no obvious reason the call couldn’t be connected. Earlier in the month it briefly developed a different issue with text messages; any outbound text would stall unsent, continually reporting failed transmission; some actually got through, whilst some didn’t.

(The two combined, at one point, just after I arrived in Copenhagen. We had the marvellously convoluted situation where Iona could text me to say she was stuck in Munich airport, and I could call her back, but she couldn’t call me and I couldn’t text her…)

I suspect this might be a network problem rather than phone-specific; I’m tempted to switch the sim card out into the old phone and work with that for a few days to see what happens. Either way, it’s not good; I’ll be talking to them about it, I think.

On the whole, though – connection issues aside – I’m quite pleased with it. For daily internet use (reading mail, etc) it’s excellent; less functional than a laptop, but far more useful than carrying a netbook around and hoping for a wireless connection.

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