Sunday, December 28, 2008

Google Reader Finally Working Right With G1?

I received a pleasant surprise today with my T-Mobile G1. It was acting flaky and I shut the phone off. I turned it back on and my old browser windows were gone. This is a pretty common problem with the G1. Applications like the web browser and e-mail program tend to forget information that they really should remember; like open web pages or worse yet, e-mail server settings. So when I typed into the browser, it defaulted to Google's iPhone RSS reader. I'd stopped using the iPhone version of Google Reader because it didn't update properly on the G1's browser—instead of marking items read and loading new ones, it would just keep reloading the same items—but this time it was updating properly. While I still like the classic mobile GReader a lot, fixing the iPhone style GReader only makes the G1 more comfortable to use.


Oops, spoke too soon. The next day, the iPhone Google Reader was back to its old flaky self. Back to the classic mobile GReader. Maybe Google should just make the old GReader the default for the Android browser.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

On Corruption

Living in Chicago, I've been hearing and reading about political corruption all my life. These days it has become somewhat fashionable to talk about Chicago corruption. I don't think that anyone in Chicago, myself included, was hugely surprised by the recent scandal with Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat. Shocked by the shamelessness and brazenness of the attempt sure; but not surprised. There was a reason why the guy's approval rating was down to 13% before the scandal broke.

And this is the part that fascinates me about the whole scandal. It seems to me that while corruption has long been tolerated in Chicago, incompetence is not. Chicago mayor Richard Daley isn't exactly known for honest and open government. In fact the Daley name is widely regarded as synonymous with big city corruption. But Daley still enjoys relatively high approval ratings despite having been repeatedly battered by scandal. The difference is that Daley actually gets things done. When I think about Daley, I think about Millenium Park and the renovation of Navy Pier, huge projects which Daley used to beautify Chicago. When I thought about Blagojevich, if I thought about him at all prior to his current scandal, I usually thought about his last big scandal involving his father in law Richard Mell or of his mishandling of the Chicago Transit Authority's budget crisis. I literally can't think of a single positive thing to say about Blagojevich right now.

And in the end, that's the difference in the fate of these two pols. One is barely hanging on to his career and will likely be gone in a few months, the other is merely "vulnerable" despite repeated scandals. My brother is a suburbanite who loves right wing talk radio and a few years ago local talk show hosts were frothing at the mouth about the Daley Machine and why he kept getting re-elected. Any Chicagoan could have told them why—for all of his flaws, Daley has actually done a pretty good job as mayor—at least from the perspective of a city resident. While it may not seem like the best way to pick a local leader, it beats picking a guy who gets beaten by a snow storm.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dr. Who Meets Star Trek

It's been a while since I posted a video clip because let's face it, posting other people's clips is lazy. But The Bad Astronomer links to one of the most elaborate sci-fi mash ups I've ever seen so it's monkey see, monkey do time. Forget about Star Trek vs Star Wars. Dr. Who has come to the Enterprise!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Treo Versus T-Mobile G1—On The Inside

One of the greatest strengths of Palm's Treo smartphones has been their large, removable batteries. The large batteries are also one of the reasons why Treos tend to be so thick. The T-Mobile G1 also has a fairly large removable battery but the device itself is so capable that battery life takes a major hit. Moreover, while the G1's battery is removable, it's not nearly as easy to remove as the Treo's battery.

The Treo's battery compartment is very well thought out. As you can see from the comparison photo, the Treo has a nice little button near the bottom of the battery cover which allows you to easily pop it off and get at the battery. While it's not exactly a unique cell phone feature, it works so well that beginning with the 680, Palm decided to abandon the use of a reset button and now sets its devices to automatically reset when you remove the battery.

The G1's battery compartment is somewhat less elegantly designed. The G1 has a release tab which allows you to remove the back panel and get at the battery. In order to do this you must, "Slide open the display to reveal the keyboard." and "Pull the release tab out while at the same time peel the back cover off." (These are direct quotes from the T-Mobile Getting Started booklet.) In practice however once the release tab has been pulled out, the back cover is still firmly attached to the phone and must be removed using an uncomfortable amount of effort. While it's not exactly hard to remove the back panel, the amount of force you need to use tends to slightly deform the back panel causing it to creak slightly—a disappointing thing to see in a hot new phone.

Another problem with the difficult to remove back panel is that the SIM card resides underneath the battery. And the slot where the SIM card resides is just long enough to make removal difficult—not hugely difficult mind you but just enough to annoy. The Treo 680 by contrast, has a handy little tray for the SIM card which makes it easy to remove. The end result is that it is harder to switch back and forth between phones with the G1 than it is with the Treo.

One area where the G1 outshines the Treo is in terms of removable storage. The T-Mobile G1 has a tiny (fingernail sized) microSD card (a 1GB card ships with the G1) which fits into a tiny side door which is built into the device's "chin" which is revealed when you slide out the display to reveal the keyboard. It has all the same problems as the SIM card slot—tiny and hard to remove (I know it's sexist but I sometimes think that the G1 was built specifically for women with small hands and long fingernails). But the nice thing about the G1's microSD card is that once it's in, there is no reason to take it out because the G1 alerts you and offers to mount the card as a removable drive when you attach it to a computer. As a result, it is easy to get things on and off of the card. About the only problem with G1's storage scheme is that there appears to be no way to use the card to store applications which can run on the phone. As a result, you have to rely on the phone's own built-in storage which is somewhat limited. With the growing diversity of third-party Android applications for the G1, expect to see a lot of "low space" warnings.

Palm has always had problems handling removable memory on its devices and the Treo 680 is no exception. The Treo has a large battery door on its side which accommodates SD and SDHC cards. While it's never actually snapped off, the delicate plastic certainly feels like it could snap off easily. And this is a bad thing because there is no way to mount the Treo's SD card as a removable drive on your computer without resorting to expensive third-party software. This has been a problem with Palm devices for years going all the way back to m500 which debuted way back in 2001. It's simply mind-boggling that Palm never got around to fixing this problem in seven years. (Perhaps they figured that it wasn't important and best left to third-party developers but this ignores the fact that this feature has been available on Palm's Windows Mobile smartphones for years while devices based Palm's own, more flexible OS languish.) On the bright side, it is fairly easy to run applications directly from the Treo's SD card although some applications do need to reside on the phone if they handle alarms or are older and can't see the SD card.

Overall, the story of the Treo's internal hardware is one of thoughtful touches marred by one stunning omission. The G1 on the other hand is quite consistent in all areas, rough around the edges but consistently powerful. The G1 is bristling with radios: the obligatory cellular radio which also transmits 3G data, wifi, Bluetooth, and a GPS unit. It downloads email automatically and switches between 3G and wifi on the fly. While you can save on battery life by shutting down its various radios, the G1 uses them so well that there is a tendency to leave them on. If the back panel were easy to remove, carrying a spare battery with the G1 would be a no-brainer. While its battery life is generally poor in comparison with the Treo its hard to see how it could possibly be better given current battery technology, the device simply does too many things. I was going to write that the G1 struggles to get through a day of light usage the fact is that there is no light usage with G1 unless you start turning everything off and just use it as a phone (if this was all I wanted to do, I'd get a dumb phone), it will always be active in the background. The Treo on the other hand gets much better battery life but does less and does a lot of what it does do less well than the G1 does.

Treo Versus T-Mobile G1—Keyboards, Is Bigger Better?

One of the reasons why I've been blogging about the T-Mobile G1 is because of the transition that I'm making from my Treo 680. It's a big leap and it has forced me to think about the way I do things when I'm on the move. One of the biggest and most direct comparisons is between the keyboards of the two devices.

When making a side by side comparison of the keyboards of the Treo and of the G1, the most striking differences are the size of the keyboards themselves and the brightness of the keys when they are lit up. The Treo's key are much brighter than the G1's and this makes a huge difference when operating in low light conditions. When lit up, the keys G1's keyboard take on a dull grayish tint which greatly reduces the contrast between the keyboard characters and the silvery background of the keyboard this not only hurts the readability of the G1's keyboard in low light conditions; even under normal indoor lighting conditions the G1's keyboard can become a little harder to read when it is lit up.

The Treo's keyboard by contrast has always been its strength and is very well thought out. It has two different sets of keys, a white on black set of hybrid number/letter keys which also double as a tiny telephone keypad occupies the center left position of the phone. The rest of the keys have black characters on a pearly white backgound. When the Treo keyboard's bright backlight is turned on, the result is a very bright high contrast keyboard which is easily visible in almost any lighting condition.

The size of the G1's keyboard is deceptive. Or perhaps it's more appropriate to say that the lack of size of the Treo's keyboard is deceptive. While the G1's keyboard is much wider and taller than the Treo keyboard, its keys surprisingly enough are roughly the same size as the Treo's keys. This is mainly because the Treo's keys are packed tightly together and curve subtly upward allowing them to occupy about the same amount of space as the G1's more squarish keys. The Treo's keys are also domed and quite bulbous which makes them even easier to type with. While the size of the G1 keyboard is great, its flat keys tend to cause fatigue when you do a lot of typing on it.

Finally, the biggest change between the Treo and the G1 is the end of one-handed typing. It's easy to whip out a Treo and type away on it with only one hand which makes it perfect for use as a phone which after all is the device's primary function. The width of the G1's keyboard makes this impossible. While the G1 does have an excellent onscreen keypad with nice big keys which can be used to dial a phone number with only one hand, the Treo allows you to use its entire keyboard with one hand. More importantly for people who live in northern lattitudes, the G1's onscreen keypad forces people who wear gloves in the winter to take them off in order to use it. The Treo's physical keyboard (like the G1's) by contrast can still be used even while wearing a light set of wool gloves. Now this might not seem like a big deal at first blush but when the mercury dips below freezing, it becomes a huge advantage.

In the end, I'm forced to conclude that while the G1 does have a good keyboard, the Treo's keyboard beats it almost every way.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Google Reader Versus The G1

Of all the different Google Apps, my favorite is Google Reader. I haven't found a better application for reading RSS newsfeeds and I can access it from any web browser. I've been using the mobile version of Google Reader for over a year to read blogs on the go on my Palm TX and Treo 680. Now that I have a T-Mobile G1, the phone's web browser defaults to the iPhone version of Google Reader and it behaves rather strangely on my G1. Now when I mark items read in Google Reader, it often just reloads the same items. This annoying and really defeats the purpose of an RSS newsreader. I don't exactly know why this happens, maybe I'm doing something wrong or maybe the Android browser is doing something wrong.

The bottom line is that I've bookmarked the older mobile version of Google Reader and am now using it on the G1. It works better for me anyway since it doesn't launch a new window every time I use it to open a web page. It also allows me to quickly go through each item one at a time instead of repeatedly tapping on items and then refreshing the news feed when they run out. Basically, the iPhone version looks cool but the older mobile reader works faster. One disappointment is that the Android browser can't use the mobile Google Reader's keyboard shortcuts because it assumes that anything you type is part of a web search or that you are entering a URL but I can live with that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Been Out Of Town

I've been out of town visiting relatives for about a week and while I didn't have much time (or inclination) to do much online, I did spend a lot of quality time with my T-Mobile G1 as my only consistent source of Internet access. It also gave me a chance to try out the G1's camera. The good news is that the G1 produces nice, hi-resolution images. The ones in this post were taken on a bright, sunny day at Union Station in Dallas, Texas. (I went from Chicago at 29 degrees Fahrenheit to Dallas at about 70 degrees in less than 24 hours.) The bad news is that the G1 absolutely sucks in low light conditions.

In between good and bad is the G1's shutter response. While pictures of my sister's nervous little dogs look pretty blurry on the phone itself, viewed on my laptop's big screen looked pretty good.

T-Mobile's coverage was excellent in urban areas but in rural areas it was bad to non-existent.

Monday, December 1, 2008

T-Mobile G1 Has a Great Sense of Direction

Ah, December in Chicago. No sooner does it arrive when we get the first significant snow and painful commute times. Still, good 'net access does help matters somewhat especially for CTA users. The CTA has been putting its buses online through its bus tracker which scales nicely on cell phones. Even on my older Treo 680, the web site loads well and is easy to use.

But the G1 has another weapon in its arsenal, GPS. Like most GPSes, the G1's functions poorly indoors but works perfectly outdoors. It was made for guiding people through the cold city at night. Thoughtful touches on the G1 allow me to use it even while wearing a pair of light wool gloves. While I haven't been particularly impressed with the G1's keyboard so far, I can really appreciate that its large size allows my to type even while wearing gloves. The trackball is also useful in this regard as the G1's touchscreen, like all touchscreens becomes virtually useless when you are wearing gloves. Finally, pressing the G1's home key allows me to navigate between my six most recently used applications, making it easy for me to switch between my browser and Google Maps. Awesome.

Of course this being the G1, things didn't go perfectly. At one point during my day, the screen just went blank and couldn't be turned back on again. I opened it up and popped out the battery and SIM card and the G1 roared back to life when I put them back. Why? Doesn't the G1 like the cold? Well it better get used to it, because winter has come to Chicago.

First (mobile) Post!

I've been playing around with the T-Mobile G1 as my primary phone and this is my first attempt to blog from a phone. I have two initial observations, really three observations but the first would seem to be rather mundane, I am using the full desktop sized Blogger page to write this post, not a cut down mobile page. Also, it leaves a bit to be desired. First of all the Compose form doesn't seem to work, the G1's browser seems to think that I am trying to type a URL. I am typing this in the Edit HTML form which seems to work just fine.

Second, I used to think that the forms on this page were small. But now, typing away on my phone they feel too big because they are too wide for my phone's screen. It's all a matter of perspective but flexible software helps too. I used the screen controls to make the page smaller so the forms would fit my screen. This made the text small and hard (but not impossible) to read. Then I made the fonts bigger. Now everything is just right....

Except that the Preview option doesn't work either....