[tech] why I love my Nexus 4

One day, my father emails me, and says that last month our Verizon Wireless family cellular bill was over $140. He then suggested we switch to AT&T and I start using an iPhone 4, which cost $0 for a two-year contract, and tried to cap me at 500MB per month.

Like hell. My Galaxy Nexus was my baby, though it was now slow and fussy after almost a year and half of service. I also tether from time to time, and thus I exceed 500MB very easily. Naturally, wanting a stock Android experience without rooting my phone, I turned to the Nexus 4. I had several misgivings because it did not officially support LTE, its battery was not removable, and 16GB was the maximum storage. Most importantly, and most scarily, the Nexus 4 does work on Verizon Wireless. I would have take the big leap and go with another service. Yet, after a week with the Nexus 4, for many reasons, I cannot believe why I did not take the jump right when the phone was released in 2012.

courtesy of Wired.com.

courtesy of Wired.com.

1. The Nexus 4 is sold unlocked. Unlocked means I can take out my T-Mobile SIM card and use any other compatible SIM card. This means that in 95% of the world that has GSM networks, I can just stroll into any mobile shop and acquire a local number and make cheap calls and texts and even have data. I do not have to worry about incurring ridiculous roaming fees. As an international traveller who is spending 11 weeks in China this summer, this is crucial to me.

2. The Nexus 4 is ridiculously cheap, the unlocked version starting at $299. To compare, buying the cheapest, unlocked Samsung Galaxy S III is around $420. That makes a huge difference to poor students like me and other cash-strapped people. Also, despite the low price, the Nexus 4 is still made of quality materials–most of important of which is the beautiful LCD screen and the generous 2GB of RAM.

and I pledge to keep the minimum number of apps on it to ensure its smooth running.

and I pledge to keep the minimum number of apps on it to ensure its smooth running. This is my home screen. 

3. The Nexus 4 is ridiculously smooth. This is where the 2GB of RAM comes in—the Galaxy Nexus has only 1GB, and even though Jellybean 4.2.2 was supposed to focus on making everything “buttery smooth”, the poor processor in the Galaxy Nexus could not handle it. The Nexus 4 feels like a dream, and is super responsive; I would argue, even more responsive than the iPhone 5.

4. The Nexus 4 can be used on T-Mobile’s prepaid $30 per month plan. 100 minutes of talking, unlimited texts, and unlimited data. The most important thing to me is unlimited data; I talk very little on the phone. Moreover, with a Google Voice number and Groove IP installed, I can make calls over data if I run out of minutes. This plan is amazingly cheap for a power user like me. However, this plan is only for new activations.

5. Despite the non-removable battery, the battery life is a big improvement. Yesterday, I took out my Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 out of their chargers at 10am, and I proceeded to use my Nexus 4 throughout the day, leaving my Galaxy Nexus in my room, just on wifi. Returning at two in the morning, my Nexus 4 still had 46% battery left, and my Galaxy Nexus–which I had not used at all–was already dead.

5. Like the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus 4 has no physical home button and has LED notifications. Over time, a physical home button will degrade and not be as responsive. Though I’ve only had my iPad for less than a year, the home button is already a bit sticky and worn-out at times.

On many phones, you need to wake the screen to see if there have been any new messages or emails. However, with the LED, all you need to watch surreptitiously for a few seconds for the blink–whether magenta, turquoise, turtle green, which you can customize using Light Flow–and you avoid the hassle of having to turn on the screen. I honestly panicked for a few seconds when I had ordered my Nexus 4 and had forgotten to check if it had LED notifications.

Buying a Nexus 4 has been one of the most satisfying gadget purchases I have made. It is definitely a good value, and the profit margins must be negative or crazily thin for Google and LG. Either way, it is a great bargain for even the most casual consumer of smartphones, all the way to a hardcore user. Using an iPhone 5 after using my Nexus 4 feels like putting on shackles– the iPhone’s screen is so uncomfortably small, and everything is just too square, in both looks and functions. iOS 7 must be a revelation indeed, if I can ever be compelled to use it as my main phone.

[tech/rant] Michelle upgrade iPhone. iTunes needs password to access backup even though Michelle no set password. Michelle enters bajillion passwords. No luck. 5.3GB of life, gone?

Being the techie in my family, I insisted my mother, stuck in iOS 4 with her iPhone 4, upgrade to the significantly better iOS 5, which would enable her to use the Chrome app. So one evening, I set about it. iTunes reassuringly told me that before it installed iOS 5, they would make a backup of my mother’s apps and photos and videos and whatnots– for to install iOS 5, a complete wipe of the device was needed. At that point, I briefly wondered if I should make a separate backup. Nah, iTunes has it taken care of. So I clicked the fateful button.

the better notification system in iOS 5; photo courtesy of DigitalTrends

When it came time to restore my mother’s data, a window popped up:

Enter the password to unlock your iPhone backup.

Wait, what? There is a setting in iTunes to encrypt your backup and seal it with a password. However, I did not check that box, encrypt the backup, and set a password. So I then figured that Apple must mean my mother’s iTunes account password. I tried that. Several times, to make sure I had spelled it correctly. iTunes kept insisting this password was incorrect and it could not restore the iPhone’s data. Golly gee.

I backtracked a bit after this. I had never encrypted the files in the first place, thus were they really encrypted? As the computer runs Windows XP, I went to “Run” and I went to the folder “C:\Users\[NAME]\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup” and copied my mother’s backup to a flash drive and plugged it into my laptop. I then downloaded iPhone Backup Extractor to my laptop. In the “Backup Details”, the program informed me, that it was, in fact, encrypted– and because it was encrypted, the iPhone Backup Extractor could not extract the data.

So, basically, I was screwed and I needed the password. What other passwords could it mean?

I scoured the internets and its forums, looking for the answer. Here are some suggestions that apparently worked for other people:

  • lockscreen pins
  • 1234
  • 0000
  • app passwords (e.g., if you installed Skype, the password to the Skype account)
  • computer login passwords
  • Apple ID passwords

I tried everything on the list. None of them worked. I desperately rooted through handwritten sticky notes of my mother’s passwords. None of them worked. I started to give up. I went to bed that night at around two in the morning, but then woke up at seven in the morning; because I was so worried; I could not sleep well. If I did not figure out the password, the iPhone might as well have been trampled by a family of Abominable Snowpeople in Tibet and buried in a cave under bat droppings for centuries. I was never going to get that data back.

However, that morning, after being slightly cheered up by a surprise gifting of an iPad 3, I realized perhaps I could use a password breaker. I downloaded the free trial of Elcomsoft’s Phone Password Breaker. Using this software, I could feed it lists of potential passwords and the password breaker would in turn try these passwords on the encrypted files. The password breaker would also slightly vary the passwords and see if these variations could decrypt the files. After a few fruitless attempts, I entered the passwords that I had already tried in iTunes to unlock the backup.

In about a split second, Elcomsoft told me they had found the password. Of course, they only gave me the first two letters, starred the rest, and told me that I had to buy the ridiculously expensive software to get the rest. No matter, the two letters already told me what I needed to know.

The password turned out to be from my mother’s Skype account. Perhaps iTunes was being temperamental when I tried the password from my mother’s Skype account? I rebooted the slow computer monster still running Windows XP and tried restoring my mother’s iPhone again using this newfound knowledge, but was summarily rejected again. I was about ready to cry at this point.

Then, I turned to Elcomsoft again at this point (though only after furiously Googling; that is all I can say). Provided Elcomsoft had the password to the encrypted files, Elcomsoft could also decrypt the files. It did. Rather successfully. So successfully that it was sort of an anticlimax, and it was almost funny that I was close to tears moments earlier.

The files are all safe and sound on my hard drive, which I intend to copy to another hard drive in the next few days. I have set up my mother’s iPhone to sync to iCloud, so I should not have any of this nonsense happen again. If the photos are lost on the phone, they are lost, but they are still in the ‘cloud’.

Though I felt a huge sense of relief as everything resolved nicely, anger started to brew within me towards Apple. Judging by the forum posts, this glitch has existed since 2010 and still persists, and Apple has still not addressed this. Thousands of people are on these forums panicking over this problem, and yet, nothing has happened. Apple, which prides itself on being simple, still has no answer for these glitches that can ruin someone’s data instantaneously. How to set up an iPad? It’s simple. How to lose your data? It’s hellishly simple, and you have absolutely no idea it is coming. It does not even have a “forgot your password?” sort of deal. Of course, I suppose my mother could be to blame for never connecting her iPhone to the computer and syncing, but come on! Again, Apple prides itself on being in tune with its base, so why are users like my mother losing their data perhaps forever over a simple software update? Despite all those iterations of iTunes and iOS, Apple still has not solved this bug.

That is horrifying.

[review] Tohoshinki’s “ANDROID.” (Toho, never come back to Korea please)

The latest release from Tohoshinki is “ANDROID”, a mini-album with two songs: ANDROID and BlinkANDROID is the lead single, and rightfully so, its hook is so infectiously catchy and singable, along the lines of Superstar. Changmin and Yunho’s vocals are incisive, precise and energizing– as usual. The only squabble is the incognruous dubstep bridge, which is quite late to the jpop scene considering Daichi Miura’s release of Black Hole more than half a year ago. The “modest gothic remix” of ANDROID is not bad either, definitely a treat for those of us who like mainstream metal, like Seether or Linkin Park.

The music video and choreography for ANDROID is nothing spectacular, but due to the eargasms that the song itself induces, I forgive them for all of their funny outfits (and people were complaining that Sexy, Free & Single had weird fashion). I would rather a strong song rather than a flashy video.

so, about dem outfits..

Blink is a weaker version of ANDROID, mostly due to a less catchy hook and its lusterless bridge, but nonetheless, a strong track as well. Its vocal strings of “Nananana” reminds me of f(x)’s tendency to use nonsense syllables, indeed in their latest track Electric Shock, they sing “Nananana” as well. However, the biggest difference between these two songs is that Blink is a strong track all together. Electric Shock is punctuated by many empty-sounding singing breaks that ruin the upbeat pace introduced in the beginning. f(x) gets a lot of heavier electrodance beats, but sometimes I feel like they are lost kids running around a supermarket, and their vocals float around aimlessly; whereas Changmin and Yunho are experts at anchoring and drawing listeners in.

Overall, I am very impressed with the level of consistency two-member Tohoshinki in Japan promotions is able to produce, from Tone to Still to ANDROID. Yunho now raps very little, and I am very grateful for this trend because his nasal voice fits extremely well in these two tracks. I will say it again, that yes, I am very grateful for a Changmin and Yunho duo, for they suit each other perfectly. Beginning with Japanese LP Secret Code, Tohoshinki has developed a signature sound: thick-textured electrodance, with a bit of electro-ballads, usually more up-tempo than down. This contrasts with TVXQ in Korea, which is still electrodance but cleaner, and more R&B influences. A comeback in Korea is probably in the books for later this year, but if that never happens, that is fine with me– as long as we see another Japanese LP. Pretty please.

[tech/review] I finally got a smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus, but I keep having second thoughts..

My Galaxy Nexus, the first smartphone to ship with Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), arrived three days before Christmas. I have had time to tinker with it, to be pleased and highly frustrated with it.

The Galaxy Nexus is my first smartphone, though not my first brush with a smartphone operating system; with my iPod 4th Generation, I used iOS to do everything but physically call (I could text and receive voicemail via Google Voice app).  I figured after a year of using iOS and my obsessive use of Google products, perhaps I should switch to Android.

Nonetheless, I keep thinking maybe I should have gone the safe route and gotten an iPhone 4S, because it is the little things that irk me about Android that I have gotten so used to in iOS 5.

notification system

On iOS, you get a little blurb on your lock screen of what the notification was. On Android, you get a little icon at the top indicating what the notification came from, like Gmail or Facebook or a missed call, but you do not get information on what that email was about, what shenanigans happened on Facebook, who called you. To find out, you actually have to open up the phone, extremely irritating if all that happened was a free coupon from CVS, somebody tagged you in a mass holiday card, your mom called you about cleaning your room.

To be fair, I use Boxcar for push notifications on iOS, but to also be fair, Android has nothing like push notifications for the lock screen, native or third-party.

lack of timer; lack of recorder

In iOS, the alarm clock also includes a timer. In Android, there is no such thing! I used the timer primarily so I can listen to music as I go to sleep, and have it automatically shut off after a certain period of time. I went trawling through the Android market to find a timer, and not one of most downloaded alarm clock apps did this function, and eventually I ended up installing this sketchy Korean app whose app title is, “Music Off, I’m Sleeping~!”

There is also no recorder included with vanilla ICS, and all apps from third parties are downright ugly. How am I supposed to record myself playing piano (badly)? Really now.

music player

Google Music does not sync my most played playlists, and cannot create ‘most played’ playlists right now. Also, it does not sync with my iTunes’ played counts after the initial syncing with iTunes. Call me OCD, but I like knowing which tracks I play the most.

Also, the volume only goes in gradation levels of 15, and my comfortable listening range is somewhere between 3/15 and 4/15, but Android does not allow me to go between 3 and 4, so it is either too soft or too loud.

Moreover, when I switch from the phone’s speaker to listening in my headphones, the volume does not adjust. So if I had the volume all the way up using the phone’s speakers and then switch to headphones, and forget to change the volume, I am rendered deaf for the next few seconds. This does not happen with iOS, which automatically changes to a suitable volume.

screen aesthetics / camera

The Galaxy Nexus’s screen really just does not look as pretty. For example, Tohoshinki’s Tone is this horrible lurid color on my Nexus while it looks amazing on my iPod. The camera too; for some reason, photos taken on my Nexus are vastly subpar to those taken on the iPhone.

apps on the iPhone are not on Android; apps do not all work on Ice Cream Sandwich; apps I have bought for iOS do not transfer to Android

The biggest app I use that is not on Android is Instagram. Phooey. Also, why does having the latest version of Android render some apps unusable? This would never happen on iOS. For newest versions of iOS, apps will always be able to run. Even some apps developed by Google themselves cannot run on my Nexus (defeats the purpose of the Nexus being the “Nexus” phone). Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, apps that I have purchased for iOS cannot transfer and are not compatible with Android. This is a serious problem if you are one of the users who bought a lot of apps; the more serious money you have plunked down, the less you are willing to move from your current phone operating system.

keyboard / languages

Let’s say I want to tweet in Chinese, but my keyboard is in English. I need to go through three steps to actually get to Chinese in Android. However, in iOS, I only need to press a button and slide. One step!

Even more infuriating, to get Chinese / Japanese / Korean input, I actually need to go to the Android store and download another app. It is not already included in Android, like it is already included in iOS. My Galaxy Nexus also does not support Italian (che cazzo!).

To sidestep this problem, you can download other keyboards like GO (which I did) which have shorter pathways and feature Italian autocorrect, but honestly, these keyboards are pretty ugly, which brings me to my next point.

ugly apps

There are so many different types of Android devices out there, and the developer has to consider them all when developing apps, right? Wrong. They consider some devices but then leave other devices to die in ugliness, like my Galaxy Nexus.

menu button is too small

From left to right, the nav. buttons are: back, home, recently opened apps, app menu (the three dots). The app menu button is really small considering the generous size they gave to the preceding three apps, so sometimes I end up tapping the recently opened apps instead. Irritating.

Now, after airing all of those grievances, I suppose I can say some good things about the Galaxy Nexus. Continue reading

[tech/nerd] I am so excited for Google Wallet.

Google Wallet debuted on Thursday, 26 May 2011. A quick lowdown:

  • uses the proprietary NFC technology
  • currently works with Google Prepaid Card & Citi MasterCard and the PayPass systems
  • is an app that you download onto Android
  • will be synced with Google Offers (Google’s answers to Groupon): so if you purchase something with Google Wallet and there is also a deal on Google Offers, you automatically get the deal!
  • the only phone compatible right now is the Nexus S 4G from Sprint

Just one word: convenience. Carrying cash, while useful for those devious (European) vendors who only accept cash, is bulky and jangly. Carrying credit or debit cards, while decidedly less bulk, is still quite annoying, because to be safe, you need at least two different card providers (MasterCard, American Express, Visa, among others), in case a vendor does not accept one of them. Moreover, I hate bringing my huge wallet and fumbling with my cards–so whenever I exclusively go to Starbucks, I use the Starbucks Mobile Card on my iPod Touch, in which I can actually see and update my balance while earning ‘stars’ at Starbucks for free drinks, etc. So, Google Wallet and Google Offers synchronization? Slick.

If you cannot tell from the blog design, I am a minimalist at heart. If I am up for a day of city exploring, these are the things I will bring: credit card and phone. Not even a wallet. Just a credit card. Google has also said that this service could expand to IDs, boarding passes, tickets, and keys. Compacting everything into one device! My minimalist bees’ knees are quaking! I will never have to carry all these useless pieces of tree pulp, metal, and plastic again, and think I have lost them in my bottomless bag and cry for several minutes thinking I will never get into my house again. I lose track of things easily, and just having one thing to keep track of–my smartphone–will make things easier and less stressful for me.

However, before I run away with love for Google Wallet, I admit one of the first things I thought of was: what about security? All that financial and personal information in a gadget that is easy to lose?

There are two layers to the virtual card(s): the phone’s manual unlock, and the app’s PIN number. A spending limit can be set, and purchases over that limit will require text message or e-mail confirmations. The data of the cards will be encrypted by First Data, and the card numbers will never be fully displayed on the phone screen. When removed, physically tampered with or hacked into, the NFC chip will self-destruct.

Yet, I still have some reservations. From Google Wallet:

What To Do If Your Phone is Stolen or Lost

Even though the Google Wallet PIN and Secure Element protect your payment card information, you should still call your issuing banks to cancel your cards.

Cancel all my credit cards?! All of them?! Then that means I cannot put all my eggs in one basket and must still carry at least one physical card virgin from Google Wallet. Also, there is the possibility that the phone will break, I drop it into the ocean or a glass of milk, or just go haywire on its own, leaving me with no other method to pay (because really, with Google Wallet, the only thing I would carry from then on would be a phone). Concentrating all of this information into one device could be disastrous if anything averse to said device happens.

The Rambly Verdict: If Google keeps the app exclusive to Android, and is able to get partnerships with other banks who use MasterCard (cough, HSBC), I might actually be swayed to buy an Android as my next phone. I confess, my lazy self can be suckered in by promises of superlative convenience, even if it means just carrying one piece less of plastic. If Google is able to successfully have vendors adopt Google Wallet and Google Offers, this could be huge. Of course, ordinary people on the young side of the age spectrum will latch on, because paying by phone is such a cool novelty (at least in America, not in South Korea, China, and Japan!) that is worth the extra setup. For phones that do not have NFC capability, Google is working on a sticker that will allow them to make payments (but sadly, the stickers cannot connect with outside features like Google Offers). Right now, Google needs to focus on creating the partnerships, and the people will follow.

Extra: Google also needs to focus on the lawsuit from eBay and PayPal over trade secrets used in Google Wallet, though it is unlikely eBay and PayPal will throttle Google Wallet before it launches officially. Continue reading