Went and got an iPhone

For a while there back in 2010 I kept waiting on the promises (by which I mean rumors) that the iPhone would soon-anyday-now-for-real be coming to Verizon. (whose signal is quite a bit better than the alternatives in my mountain town, and I get a company discount, too) But the time came I was tired of waiting, so I eventually pulled the trigger and went for a Droid X. And I liked it, and it worked very well for a while, and I spent quit a bit of time tuning applications and integrating it into my Mac desktop and workflow.

But along the way it started to get unstable. It wasn’t uncommon for it to hard-freeze while in the car dock, or if I locked it while using the camera app. It seemed to slow down, too, taking increasing (and increasingly frustrating) long times to do things that a phone should just do, like make calls.

Also, I dropped it three months ago and the rightmost fifth of the screen went dark. Do you know how much stuff, important stuff, is over there? The clock, scroll bars, send and submit buttons in a whole lot of apps, for example. Oh, the comedy of my rotating the phone to reveal a button, or blindly tapping in hopes of finding “send.”

So it was a good run, little, er big honkin’ Droid, but when my clock came up and I could upgrade, I was at the VZW store when it opened (this part was actually by accident, but I was the second guy in the door that morning) and came home with a black 32gb 4S.

Oh. My. There’s just. Why didn’t anybody tell me? It’s so good, and all the slavering over specifications at the gadget blogs about multi-core and 4.6-inch droid screens is just utter nonsense all of a sudden, because Apple just nails this thing.

I turn on the camera app, and there’s the camera. Not only does the app simply start up with a barely perceptible delay, but the quality absolutely smokes that of the droid. The camera lag matters more as my toddler gets faster; waiting for the camera to boot was okay when he was immobile, but the guy is on the move now, people, and shutter lag and slow startup were getting in my way.

The screen is gorgeous. Crisp, clear, colorful. Apps that I got used to working with on the droid — like 1password, tweetdeck, instapaper — are instead shockingly usable.

Tapping a phone number makes a call. I don’t wait, wondering if the tap registered. FaceTime is a revelation, one which my toddler is just agog over.

I mentioned my switch on the twittermatic, and a contact of mine expressed surprise to see me make the move, indicating that he expects many more to move in the opposite direction. Now that I’ve switched, I cannot imagine it. To be fair, android is — probably — forcing Apple to be competitive and pay attention to the apps and features landscape, but the past two years I’ve spent with my own droid is all I need to be very confident that nobody has the full packages together nearly as well. If there’s movement toward android right now, I expect it’s from first-time smartphone shoppers corralled by in-store salespeople. (I think smarter observers than I have made this point.) And as we come up on two years since the Verizon iPhone, I predict a surge of movement from VZW droids to iPhone.

Me, I’m happy.

November updates and &c.

First things first, our little boy is a bundle of joy. At fifteen weeks, he’s grinning up a storm, making lots of not-quite-talking sounds, and getting closer to rolling over every day. And now we have his very first refrigerator art:

Art on the fridge

What else to mention, note and otherwise jot?

  • Gruber sneers at the suggestion that Android phones will soon find a place on the flickr popular cameras list, and he’s right. Data point: Some photos I upload from my Droid X are identified by the application that took the photo, not by the device itself; for example, the photo linked above says it was taken with “a Vignette for Android.” I bet that iOS devices/apps don’t do that, do they? It’s hard to demonstrate any kind of presence with that sort of fractured reporting.
  • That said, I’m finding that my Droid X is a fully capable device, enabling easy photography and video, and casual easy-to-maintain connections with friends and family. This internet over-the-air thing could go places, folks. However, Motorola, I’m looking at you: The glitch where you incorrectly remove spaces after alpha characters when I use puncutation like $ or " has got to get fixed. It makes sense for commas, periods, colons and semicolons, but not most other marks.
  • Also, Steambirds is great on Android and iOS, too.
  • I got myself one of those jobbers. I don’t really know what to do with it.
  • Relatedly, What do do with an old blog? That’s what I’ve been wondering, lately. This little domain has served as a web log now for nine years, and though I’ve tinkered with the flash and easy posting of tumblr and posterous (and twitter and github and so forth) I’ve never quite decided if and how to shift gears to one of them, you know, officially. Something to consider as this little corner of the twinglywebs has another birthday.
  • We ditched DirecTV back in July to go all-online for our TV needs and have been pretty happy with the switch. We miss the easy-on of live TV sometimes (news, some sports) but Netflix and Amazon on Demand have treated us pretty well. The video quality of Netflix isn’t as good on the Wii as on the Blu-Ray player, but the little white box makes up for it by beating the pants off the Sony when it comes to interface. Catch up, Sony; little image tiles and no discoverability are losers, man.
  • An evening of tinkering with AirPlay in iOS 4.2 (via the iPad and my now five-year old and perfectly working Airport Express hooked up to the Model One) really does make me want AppleTV and -enabled speakers all over the place. It’s cool, and it so lightens the comparable overhead of MacBook + Remote app. P.S., Tivoli, I would pay real money for an Airplay-enabled model.
  • The TSA urges us all not to make things inconvenient this holiday season? “TSA: You can be sure the SA doesn’t stand for self-aware.”

Happy Thanksgiving from all of me to both of you.

Great Android apps: Vignette

I’ve been using the Vignette app for photography on Android ever since Dawn recommended it to me. It allows me to tap to shoot (avoiding the balky Droid X camera button) and offers a bunch of shooting options.

It also offers dozens of filters for creative photo-making, any of which can be applied either at the time of taking a shot, or later, to any photo in the Droid’s gallery. In fact, there are so many filters that I have trouble keeping track of all of them, and developers neilandtheresa (who, by the way, have an utterly charming blog and web site – and also see their official site for Vignette) continue to add more with each update to the app.

So I cheated and made myself a handy reference for the current set of built-in effects. It’s a little unwieldy to use on the droid itself, but not too bad — and it’s a big help for thinking about post-processing of photos that I’ve already shot. It includes examples of the vignette, coloring, camera and film effects styles and more. I hope it’s helpful to you. Click through for the full-size sheet at flickr.

Vignette App for Android | Effects examples

Keep in mind that the effects can be layered on top of one another via the customizations menu, allowing the stacking of any number of treatments. This sheet doesn’t show any of those combinations.

One hint for working with Vignette: Set a favorite preset with all effects, frames and customizations to Normal/None; then you can quickly toggle from fancy-pants artistic to straight normal settings.

For the sake of completeness, here’s a list of all the effects currently in the application (note that not all simple color variations are included in the example sheet).

1. Normal - Generic film effect
2. Vignette
3. Portra
4. Velvia
5. Ilford
6. Toy Camera
7. Toy Camera BW
8. Leaky
9. Cross-Process
10. Faded
11. SX-70
12. Summer - hazy grns and browns
13. Colourised - flat pastels
14. Oversaturated - bright washed out reds & yellows
15. Yearbook - faded B&W
16. Sepia
17. Platinotype - bright smooth tones & deep shadows
18. Retro Red - faded color variation
19. Retro Yellow
20. Retro Green
21. Retry Cyan
22. Retro Blue
23. Retro Magenta
24. London - contrasty b&w and red
25. Paris - contrasty B&W and blue-green
26. New York - contrasty black & white and yellow
27. Red/blue
28. Red/green
29. Blue/green
30. Rotate Hue
31. Sepia - same
32. Platinotype - same
33. Bleach bypass
34. Night vision- grainy and green
35. Duotone red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta
36. Dreamy - soft-focus
37. Tilt-shift - portrait and landscape modes
38. Tobacco filter - deep orange tint for dramatic skies
39. Grad tobacco - portrait and landscape
40. Grad ND - portrait and landscape
41. Red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta simple filters
42. Action movie - vivid reds w/blue-green tint
43. Technicolor - red and cyan 1930s look
44. Scary movie - tri-tone blue and magenta
45. Posterise
46. Blackboard
47. Infrared
48. Rainbow
49. Negative
50. Invert
51. Bordered
52. Rounded
53. Oval
54. Instant classic
	variants: Wide, mini & square
55. Instant transfer 1
	variants: 2 (smaller border) and 3 (yellow/magenta border)
56. Filed carrier
57. 35mm
58. 35mm full bleed
59. 6x6
60. 6x6 full bleed

Android / Droid X impressions

This little draft has been sitting unfinished becuase, well, life happened, so I thought I’d just throw it on up to get it out of the bin. These are somewhat organized thoughts about getting a Not-iPhone

So I posted this bit of a rant a couple of weeks ago about how Android just didn’t float my boat and etc. Well, not long after that I finally decided to stop waiting on a Verizon iPhone, and I ordered myself a Droid X.

Yes, the one described by David Pogue as like talking into a frozen waffle.

So how is it? Well, it is large, but it doesn’t feel like talking into a toaster pastry. I actually like the finish and feel a lot. The volume rocker is a little small, and the hard camera button is sloppy feeling. But the rubberized feel to the back of the phone is nice to hold, the ridge for the camera is a good contour, and the device overall feels quite thin.

Now that I’ve had some time to get used to the four hard buttons (menu, home, back and search), I’m pretty efficient at using the Droid X. I quite like the way the back button in some contexts returns to the prior application — for example, after visiting a link clicked in the twitter client, the back button returns you from the browser back to twitter. Search is application context-sensitive, and at the home screens it searches applications, contacts, and google. It also remembers prior searches, so it’s a handy way to launch applications or make calls, too.

However, the menu button can cause some complication, because applications don’t always use it consistently — worse, some create a soft button of their own that might or might not invoke a context menu. Here the iOS model definitely wins.

Keyboard: Text edit views often obscure UI elements, and small text boxes often are rendered as multiline text areas, taking up space rather unnecessarily. Fortunately, I have learned how to hide the keyboard after typing: since the Droid X keyboard doesn’t have a “hide” button like that on the iOS (and as I understand Android offers standard), swipe down from the top of the keyboard. That will re-hide it and give you back the rest of your UI. (That’s an undocumented Pro Tip, right there.)

Horizontal coverflow like display of bookmarks and images in gallery is awful. Really, it’s bad. Hold the phone vertically for a standard thumbnail-style view. (The same holds for the bookmarks view in the browser. In the faux coverflow style, bookmarks are entirely, entirely unusable.)

Lack of bookmarklets is regrettable. I hear there are workarounds that involve chanting and offerings to Shiva, so I’ve delayed exploring them.

Battery life: I have heard bad things about smart/app phones in general, including the Androids. It’s easy to imagine that Android’s true multitasking could be a big battery liability. This is where the fanboys go ZOMG APPLE SUXORS, but the presence or lack of multitasking hasn’t been an issue for me yet, in terms of functionality. I have observed that Android runs a lot of applications that i have not once, ever, run on my own — Amazon mp3 store and the car dock, for example — and this strikes me as a pretty inefficient thing to do.

So does it matter for battery? Who knows? After a handful of days I stopped using Advanced Task Killer every twenty minutes and just relaxed. While I reserve the right to revise and amend my statement, for now I’m very happy with my Droid X’s battery life: I routinely finish the day with 50 percent of battery life left on the meter after a day of pretty heavy use.

Apps I like (The range of Android applications seems … adequate if not impressive. The Android market badly needs some kind of curation.):

  • My Tracks: nice tracker app for biking in the hills. Integrates well with google maps.
  • Twitter app: Clean, works well, nothing extraneous.
  • Vignette: Much better than the built-in camera app, with a bunch of creative filters. I’m taking more pictures with the Droid X than in the past several weeks with my DSLR. Really good photo application a la the Hipstamatic app for iOS.
  • K-9 Email: This is a powerful email client with IMAP support. On the Droid X, there are lots of problem reports about the stock client not correctly refreshing, and while I am loath to solve a defect with an app, K-9 syncs properly and offers a bundle more features than the stock client.

It’s a good device with very nice hardware and some software feature that I really like — and some hitches.

More later?

Are these the droids you're looking for?

Marco Arment sums up my bemusement with the Android platform, and, by extension, why my frustration that that AT&T’s network is so awful where I live:

The current must-have Android phone changes every few months, and they’re often radically different from each other, making it difficult for consumers, developers, the press, and the carriers to build loyalty toward any of them or entrench them in the market. The OS needs to be updated over the air with three involved parties, only one of whom is motivated to update it. Features are added when they can be, not when (or if) they should be, or if they can be done well. Nearly every usability detail appears to be an afterthought, as if “design” is relegated to a coat of paint at the end of the development cycle rather than a deep-rooted philosophy throughout it.

The driving theme of the iPhone, as evident in every “There’s an app for that” ad, is “use this to do stuff.” Meanwhile, as near as I can tell, the driving motif of the Droids — with all the menacing Terminator-style chrome and unblinking red eyes — is that they’ll kill you if you aren’t careful. The tech-heavy “Droid Does” slogan reminds me of the days when Sega, hoping that more advanced specs would win the video game wars, tried out “Sega does what Nintendon’t.” And that turns out to have worked great for them, right?

The Verizon signal where I live is great, and I get a work discount, too. I simply can’t justify ditching that right now for AT&T’s extraordinarily mediocre signal, no matter how much I prefer the user experience of the iPhone. While there is precious little that actually draws me to Android, it’s a less dead end option than any other option that’s not an iPhone.

About, the short version

I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, Pair Networks and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

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