Categories
Linux

MyTouch 3G, Round Two

Second impressions
I’ve had a few more days to use this phone, and I’ve found out a few more things:

  1. Initially, it seemed the volume for the rings was too soft. Then I realized there was a plastic (dust-repellent?) cover over the camera and speaker that needed to be removed. I removed it, and it’s much louder now. A bit confused as to why the speaker is on the back of the phone, though.
  2. If you hold down the Home key, a list of recently opened applications will appear.
  3. There doesn’t appear to be a way in the browser to force links to open in the same window. I don’t really like having to wait for a new window to open for externally launched links or for links coded by websites to open in a new window. The default browser doesn’t have tabs—only windows.
  4. There is a little light next to the hearing part of the phone that indicates if the battery is low, if the battery is charging, or if the battery is full. Also, if you are charging the phone and it locks, when you press the menu key, it’ll tell you what percentage the battery is charged. The battery charges very quickly. I didn’t do an actual timing on it, but it seemed to take only about ten minutes to charge from about 50%.
  5. The Android Market reviews are totally useless. Basically if you want to know if an app is worth your time or not, you have to install it yourself and try it out. (I’ll probably do a separate post on Android apps I think are actually worth installing.)
  6. Even though you can make shortcuts on the desktop to your favorite applications, the applications tab itself is not customizable. It’d be neat to be able to rearrange the apps so that the most frequently used are at the top (less scrolling needed).

Thanks to the folks who commented on my MyTouch first impressions post. I’ve have some responses for a lot of the comments:

Mounting/unmounting the SD card

You don’t actually need to manually mount the SD card on the phone once you unmount it. They way you’re saying it gives the impression it’s really complicated (and it’s not). Click once on the phone to mount. Once you’re done, do it again to unmount. The phone should mount the SD automatically.

This is what happens with your T-Mobile MyTouch? That’s not what happens with mine. After I plug it into my computer, it will not automatically mount until I manually unmount it through the phone. And once I eject it from my computer, I have to again manually remount it through the phone in order for the phone to acknowledge the SD card data as accessible.

Modding

i have a G1 and there are modded releases of firmware you can install on your phone, at least for the g1. It gives you root access, tethering so you can hook up your wireless devices to use your 3g internet off your phone, and allows for multitouch zoom in the browser (no map though due to a locked down api). just be careful you don’t brick your phone. Do a search for jesusfreke.

I’m probably the only Linux user who isn’t into modding, and I have absolutely no interest in doing anything that may brick my phone. Thanks, though.

Flash

Most if not all blackberry’s have flash in the browser. They are not alone in this ability.

I didn’t know that. Since I don’t see any Blackberries with Android, I don’t really regret my purchase.

Default applications

I would add to the gripe-list that you cannot remove some of the apps that came with the phone (ie. Amazon MP3). These things are minor to me, however.

That’s a minor gripe I have now, too, after a few more days of using it. I can understand apps that are essential to the functioning of the phone (the Android operating system, the settings manager), but Amazon MP3? Really?

Flash again

The main reason that flash is largely unsupported is that nobody seems to have an ARM based version of flash on any OS platform right at the moment, save Nokia with their N770/N8×0 web tablets- and it’s pretty old in what it supports (Flash 7…)

Thanks for the explanation. It’s not a really big deal. I don’t even like Flash. It’s just that a lot of websites these days do use Flash heavily.

Turning off keyboard

To get rid of the onscreen keyboard you need merely press the ‘back’ key once.

That’s a great tip. I’m now using that instead of holding down the Menu key. Thanks.

iPhone v. other phones

In my opinion the iPod touch/iPhone unlock is superior to the method on MyTouch simply because the screen for iPod or iPhones are only sensitive to human touch (along with a few other things, but, its a very limited field).

In theory, yes, but in practice I haven’t really experienced any accidentally double-pressings of the Menu key in the past few days. Only time will tell if it’s a real issue or not.

Any touch screen phones are usually bad knock offs of the iPhone.

Fully agree.

This is simply because of cheapness of the cell phone business. The touch screens are never multi touch screens. Most of the touch screens need recalibration after a week or two of use, which is awful because I have a DS which never requires calibration.

I don’t know what recalibration is, but doesn’t the Palm Pre have multi-touch? I don’t have it on my MyTouch phone, but I don’t really miss it. Pinching photos and webpages is definitely one of those “Isn’t this cool?” but not very useful features of the iPhone. I’ve actually found the Android default web browser to be pretty good at fitting webpages to the width of the screen so that zooming in and out isn’t that necessary. And if you double-click the rolly ball, you get a little zoom box you can quickly move up and down the page to a particular section. Not elegant. Very practical, though.

The software on the MyTouch sounds like it definitely needs improvement. USB mount by phone software? Yuck.

In some ways, that’s a good thing. If my main gripes with the phone were hardware-related, there wouldn’t be much I could do besides get a new phone. With Donut and Eclair (the newer versions of Android) around the corner, maybe some of the usability problems in Android will be addressed in future updates.

One more thing: If you wanted an iPhone, why not virtualize Windows XP, install iTunes, and make a USB filter for your iPhone? It’s the way I do it with my iPod Touch. I put my iTunes music library in a shared folder between host and client so Banshee can play anything I purchased and so the VM hdd size does not balloon. Genius? :)

Maybe you didn’t read carefully, but I don’t want Windows. That means no virtualized XP for functionality. No dual-booted XP. No XP. No Vista. No Windows 7. Until iTunes is native in Linux, I’m not going to use a product that relies on iTunes to work.

Unlocking

Not many people seem to care on how easy to unlock an iPhone is. Easy as in “insecure”. To me, swipping a finger left to right and having access to the data stored in a device like this is simply unacceptable (although I think there’s an option to use a numeric pad, too).

Actually, the swiping for the iPhone is not for security. It’s just to prevent you from accidentally dialing a number while it’s in your pocket. You can set up an unlocking pin if you would like. Really, though, I think if your iPhone is stolen, it’s stolen, and a clever thief can get to your data anyway (and is probably mainly after the hardware and not your personal info). I’m a fan of the “Don’t let your phone get stolen” philosophy and not the “Leave my phone around and hope no one takes it since I have a password to guard it” approach.

Smart phones v. dumb phones

So from someone who doesn’t own a smart phone, and isn’t likely to get one for his birthday, what is it about one of any make that makes ownership so great? Is it the fascination of a new toy, being able to impress your friends, or is there something that they do which makes your life significantly better? I would find the answers to those questions really helpful in any future reviews.

Well, first of all, I’ve had a dumb phone for many years. A dumb cell phone can certainly suit all your needs. In fact, some people might even argue you don’t need a cell phone at all… or a phone. With technology it’s usually more about convenience and fun than it is about need. Do I need a car? Actually, I’m fine without it. I take public transportation, and every now and then I rent a car through ZipCar. Do I need a TV? There were about four years I didn’t watch any TV, and I got along in life just fine for those years. Now I watch TV a lot and enjoy many quality (and not-so-quality) shows.

It’s really the same with a smart phone. You don’t need anything the phone has to offer, but sometimes it’s nice. Here are a few things that my wife and I have found handy with her iPhone (and which I will probably find handy with my new MyTouch):

  • Sometimes when you’re out (away from your computer), something will come up in conversation that you’re just curious to look up. It’s not life or death, but if you wait until you get home to look it up, you probably will have forgotten about it completely by then. “Oh, yeah. What movie was that guy in?” “What’s an aprium? Is that like a pluot?”
  • If you’re in a rental car (which those of us who are not car owners sometimes are in), the GPS and turn-by-turn directions you can get on your phone come in handy, especially if you’re driving to some place you’ve never been before.
  • Likewise, if you’re in an unfamiliar area and really want to find a gas station or a place to eat (and read reviews of the restaurant), a smart phone comes in handy.
  • If you’re out at a bus stop, you can check online to see how long you have to wait for the next bus to come.
  • When you’re on vacation, you often bring a camera with you. But when you’re just out on your own or with your friends at some non-event, you don’t always have a camera on you. A smart phone is handy for taken impromptu low-res photos to capture a moment.
  • Visual voicemail is way better than calling up a voicemail service and going through menus to skip, repeat, delete, or save messages.
  • If you’re traveling and don’t want to lug your laptop around or have to find an internet cafe, a smart phone can be handy for checking your email.

There are probably other neat things. Again, nothing pressing or necessary. Just convenience and fun—like most gadgets.

Categories
Linux

T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions

Introduction
Before upgrading from a “dumb phone” to a “smart phone,” I did a lot of online research. I read reviews. I watched YouTube videos. Unfortunately, most online reviews are kind of useless. They’ll say things like “There’s a nifty little switch over here. And you can press this button. That does this. This also does that.” I’m hoping my first-impressions review will be a lot more useful, and I will follow up with a more extensive review after I’ve had a few weeks to really get to know this phone.

Background (narcissistic babble—feel free to skip)
For the past few years, I’ve always had a “dumb” cell phone. It makes calls. It receives calls. It allows me to check voicemail. That’s about it. I’d never understood the need for Blackberries or other “smart” phones. I saw people in expensive business suits using those phones and figured I’d never have use for such a thing.

Then the iPhone happened.

Both my wife and I were very impressed with Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the iPhone. I saw it as revolutionary, even though it had its faults. My wife, a big Apple fan, still waited until at least the the second-generation iPhone came out to get one. Once she got it, though, both of us were impressed.

The whole time she’s been using the iPhone, I’ve been enviously looking on, wanting a smartphone of my own. Unfortunately, since I am a Linux user, and hell will freeze over before Apple makes a Linux port of iTunes, an iPhone is out of the question. And, no, I am not going to dual-boot with Windows to run iTunes. No, I am not going to try to jailbreak the iPhone and then have some update break everything so I can no longer sync with Ubuntu. I want something that just works.

Windows Mobile was out of the question. No more Windows for me, thanks. I got a little bit excited about the Palm Pre, but two things held me back from it. 1) all the reviews said the battery life is terrible and 2) it uses the WebOS, which doesn’t look as if it’s going anywhere, unlike Google’s Android, which is far more likely to be installed on more and more phones as the years go by (making its Android Market—the equivalent of the iTunes App Store—increasingly robust).

Like my wife, I don’t like to buy first-generation products. So the T-Mobile G1 was out. But then the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G arrived. Google Android. Second-generation. Linux-friendly (Linux-based, actually). And with my wife complaining about dropped calls with AT&T (American iPhone users have to sign up with AT&T to use a non-jailbroken iPhone), I was ready to give T-Mobile a chance. So I took the plunge. After one day of use, here are my first impressions.

What I don’t like

  • If you’re filling out something, instead of automatically focusing on the text box to fill in, the interface waits for you to manually click on the text box in order to bring up the on-screen keyboard.
  • A few dialogues will give you the option to click Done when you’re done with the on-screen keyboard, but most will have only a Return key to go to the next line. So in order to get the keyboard to go away, you have to hold down the Menu key (a plastic key, not a touchscreen key).
  • Even though there is an onscreen touch keyboard, there are eight hard plastic keys as well. Once you get used to them, they’re fine, but at first they’re a bit confusing, especially what the difference between Menu and Home is. I’ve found the Menu key to be invaluable, no matter what application I’m in. If I’m ever lost, I can press the Menu key and something useful will come up. The search key is completely useless. I have done quite a bit of fiddling in the last day, and I have never used the search key.
  • There is an option to turn off “background data” to save battery life, which is great. Unfortunately, you have to enable it in order to browse the Android Market for new applications. Not awful, but a little annoying. So to browse the Market, I have to turn on Background Data, browse, and then turn Background Data off again.
  • I don’t know why T-Mobile or Google didn’t just include this app as part of the default OS, but there is an app to give you visual voicemail (so you can click to listen to or delete messages instead of going through the menus of a call-in system). Unfortunately, in order to use it, you cannot be connected to a wireless network (unencrypted, WEP, WPA, WPA2). You have to be connected to the regular T-Mobile network only.
  • You have to have a Google email account or sign up for one before you can use the phone. I had one already (which I don’t really use). Still, that’s a ridiculous requirement.
  • There are a lot of times when you’re confronted with a screen and no immediately obvious way to proceed (no submit or enter button, no next or finish button). At first I just got kind of confused and hit the Back plastic key. Eventually, I learned to press Menu to get a contextual menu up, which usually had a useful option. A bit counterintuitive.
  • There’s an automatic playlist (what Apple calls a “smart playlist”) in the music section called “Recently Added.” There does not appear to be a way to add other smart playlists, though (recently played, most frequently played, etc.). You can create new playlists manually, but that’s also not obvious (you have to do a long click on the first song you want in the playlist and then select to add it to a playlist and then select to create a new playlist).
  • There is no official Facebook app, so if you want to do mobile uploads, you have to use third-party upload-to-Facebook apps (which are kind of annoying and don’t always work) or email the photos or videos to the secret upload-to-Facebook email associated with your account.
  • It isn’t obvious how to connect the MyTouch to your computer in order to drag and drop files. I plugged in the USB cord, and it didn’t show up as a removable drive. I checked the output of dmesg | tail in the terminal, and it definitely showed up as being plugged in, but it didn’t show up in sudo fdisk -l even. Eventually, I figured out that you have to go to notifications in the MyTouch and manually dismount (from the MyTouch) the SD card so that it will automatically mount (to your computer). Then after you unmount it from your computer, you also have to manually remount it to the MyTouch.
  • Like the iPhone, the MyTouch will switch from portrait to landscape mode if you rotate the phone, but the animation is not smooth at all. First the screen gets a little blurry, and then it jerkily rotates over. It happens quickly… just not smoothly.

Mixed bag

  • The touchscreen isn’t as sensitive as the iPhone touchscreen. In some ways, this is a good thing. For example, no matter how slim your hands are, the tip of your finger will always be bigger than the onscreen keyboard keys. So when I try to type on the iPhone, I often end up pressing the wrong key (and the autocorrection never works). With the MyTouch, I pretty much never make a typing mistake. On the other hand, I’m not always typing. Sometimes a simple swipe to scroll up or down in a list or on a page will just not register, and I’ll have to swipe again a little harder to get the scroll to actually work.
  • Some reviews I read complained that you can’t just plug a standard headphone into the MyTouch. I can see how that might be annoying, but the MyTouch does come with a USB adapter with a little microphone and play/pause button built into it (and headphones that are half-way decent).
  • There’s no Flash in the web browser. This is makes certain websites non-functional, but the iPhone doesn’t have this either. In fact, I don’t think any smartphone has it. Isn’t this an Adobe issue?

What I like

  • The voice recognition for voice searches is really good. Sure, you can’t mumble. You do have to enunciate. But you don’t have to train it to recognize your voice, and if you do enunciate, usually Android guesses right on what you want to search for. If I’m in a public place, I may feel a bit self-conscious doing voice searches. If I have to do one, though, it’s nice to know that it works, and it’s much quicker than typing using an onscreen keyboard.
  • You can easily delete or move desktop shortcuts by holding them down and dragging them around or to the trash. You can also easily add desktop shortcuts by holding down an empty space and creating a link to an application or even to a browser bookmark.
  • Any song on your phone can easily be made into a ringtone. Just do a long hold on the song, and a context menu will pop up with that option.
  • Apps can be easily installed and removed from your phone.
  • Once you do figure out the whole mounting/unmounting thing, the MyTouch Micro SD card just shows up as removable storage, even in Linux, and you can just drag and drop pictures or music to various folders, and the MyTouch will immediately recognize those once the card is remounted.
  • I like the way the phone unlocks (press the menu key twice) better than the way the iPhone unlocks (press the hard button and then draw a horizontal line with your finger).
  • Web searches seem pretty fast. And Opera Mini is available for free in the Android Market. I’m going to keep both the default browser and Opera around. With Opera, I have it configured not to load images, so when I do text-only searches, it’ll load even faster. With the default browser, I can see websites that do require images.
  • The back button (as a plastic key) is very handy, and it really will bring you back to whatever screen you were last on, regardless of whether you are going from one webpage to the last webpage or from one screen to another screen.
  • I knew ahead of time that Android 1.5 did not support multi-touch (the “pinch” that the iPhone has for photos and webpages to zoom in and zoom out). I thought that missing feature would annoy me, but I haven’t found a lot of situations in which zooming seems necessary. I won’t complain if the 2.0 update includes multi-touch, though.

Conclusion
Overall, I’m quite pleased with it (granted, after only one day). Most of the reviews made it sound as if it’s nothing special (not an iPhone killer, not that much better than the G1). With all the pros and cons I’ve laid out, though, it is still fun and easy to use. It has some counterintuitive or annoying elements, sure. Nevertheless, even after only one day, I’m getting used to those or finding workarounds for them. If American Linux users are looking for a good smartphone that works with Linux, definitely consider the MyTouch 3G.