Categories
Gadgets

Four Google WearOS Smart Watches

The value and usefulness of a smart watch depends on two things: the device, and the software. A few years ago I moved out of the Apple ecosystem, so my recent smart watches have all been based on Google’s WearOS, an Android-based system. Unlike Apple’s closed world, WearOS is intended to be used by many different device manufacturers, with different ideas about what these devices should look like. This is an interesting challenge.

I presently have four WearOS devices:
(1) Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro
(2) Skagen Falster 2
(3) Diesel Fadelight
(4) Michael Kors Bradshaw

These four devices have three different control configurations and two different screen technologies. Thus although all are WearOS devices, I interact with them in quite different ways.

The Ticwatch Pro was one of the first “second generation” smartwatches for WearOS, and I understand that Google worked closely with Mobvoi on it. It’s the bulkiest of the four, and has a two layer screen (a bright, colored, hi-res display and a low-power monochrome overlay). This gives it a degree of “always on” use without the color display draining the battery. It has two buttons, but no crown (clickable rotatable button). This means that every selection of a new application, or scrolling through messages or notifications, involves swiping on the screen. This didn’t seem like a particularly big deal until I got the Skagen; since then I hardly ever use the Ticwatch. Ease of use matters.

My second WearOS device is the Skagen Falster 2. It’s a lightweight utilitarian watch married to a cheap and cheerful yellow silicone strap, which works just fine. It has a crown and two buttons, and each button can be assigned to launch a specific app. (I tend to use button 1 for Google Fit and button 2 for Weather.) I really like this watch, and only gave it up because something even better came along.

Watch number three is the Diesel Fadelight. I really can’t recommend it. Physically, it looks like a rather chunky watch module snapped into a stiff clear vinyl strap. It’s not very comfortable, and the buckle is awkward. The Fadelight has a crown, but no buttons, so there’s no way to launch an app quickly. (Launching an app takes four actions: click to turn on the screen, click again to show the apps, scroll or swipe to the app, and click or tap to launch. On the Skagen, I simply double-click the assigned button.)

And then I got the Michael Kors Bradshaw, which has become my favorite watch. Firstly, it looks and feels just right: it’s got a navy blue aluminum case and multilink band, with an optional blue silicone strap. It reminds me of my old Citizen SkyHawk, which I wore for many years. It looks and feels like a classic. For controls, we have a crown and two buttons, like the Falster 2, and I was able to set it up to work just the same in a couple of minutes. Compared to the other three, it comes with an amazing range of faces. Some are the kind of “bling” that I would never use, but others demonstrate a tasteful and creative combination of style and function.

One more point: charging. The Ticwatch Pro uses a custom charging dock, with four contact pads. The other three all seem to use the same white magnetic two-pin charger, which mates with the sensor module on the watch which is set inside two contact rings. I’m glad to see some standardization emerging here. (It’s also worth mentioning that the dual display of the Ticwatch Pro didn’t prove to be a big advantage. With “tilt to wake” turned on, all four watches have 24 hour battery life, which is good enough for me.)

Categories
Computing Gadgets Transition

Update on moving in

As we continue unpacking and getting set up, I’ve found one system that didn’t handle the move too well.
About four years ago, my storage system (for music, photos, videos, backup, VM images, and so forth) consisted of two Firewire 800 boxes: a WD Macbook Studio (2TB) and an 8TB RAID enclosure. Since my latest iMac didn’t support Firewire, I used a Thunderbolt-to-Firewire adapter. This mostly worked, although the RAID enclosure usually needed power cycling after I rebooted the iMac. Performance was decent.
When I got around to unpacking everything and setting things up on Saturday afternoon, I was met with a lot of noise from the RAID enclosure. Some of it was a failing fan, but there were other worrying undertones. And about 10 minutes after booting, the RAID system simply went away. Ouch.
Fortunately, all of the really important stuff was on the Studio. The RAID was mostly used for local backups and staging to Backblaze (my cloud backup), and I knew I could retrieve or recreate everything on it. (And I was willing to retire a few hundred gigabytes of VM images from OpenStack and CloudFoundry testing.) But I knew I would need more space than the 2TB on the Studio. After lunch, I headed over to the nearest Best Buy and picked up a new Seagate Backup Plus Hub. 8TB for around $200. Who would have thought it, eh?
So today everything has been consolidated on the Seagate, and both of the older units have been retired. I’ve reconfigured my Backblaze setup, and all of the laptops and other devices are happily backing up to the iMac again. And Firewire is history…

Categories
Gadgets

Oliver Twist on bandwidth…

The obvious quote is “Please, sir, I want some more.” However perhaps more apposite is another from the same book: “Some people are nobody’s enemies but their own.” A year ago, we moved from Santa Clara to our new apartment in downtown San Jose. We’d been using an old DOCSIS 2.0 cable modem together with an Apple Airport Extreme for Internet service, and for various reasons it hadn’t been very satisfactory. When we arrived in San Jose, I decided to replace them with an all-in-one solution: a DOCSIS 3.0 modem with built-in Wi-Fi router from Netgear.
For the last 12 months we’ve put up with the consequences of this misguided attempt at simplification:

  • My company VPN keeps dropping the connection, requiring a tedious security scan while it re-establishes the session.
  • Video and audio through WebEx (our standard collaboration tool) is so unpredictable that I usually arrange for a call-back to my cellphone.
  • While watching a movie on Netflix we can expect at least a dozen shifts between different video quality levels as the streaming codecs try to compensate for bandwidth and jitter.
  • Elder Scrolls Online is… challenging.
  • Speed tests routinely showed less than 15Mb down, which is a lot less than we’re paying for. (I’d love a good long-term jitter measurement tool…)

A couple of days ago I (again!) started poking around the net looking for solutions. This time, I discovered that a number of other Netgear users had experienced similar problems, particularly with VPN access. Moreover the consensus was now pretty overwhelming: all-in-one solutions are just too inflexible. So today I replaced the C3700 with a $99 Arris SB6141 – a simple, no-frills DOCSIS 3.0 modem; no Wi-Fi, no GbE switch. (OK, it does have efficient channel bonding (8 downstream, 4 upstream), but hopefully that will be completely transparent.) After calling Comcast to provision the new modem, I dusted off the old Airport Extreme and plugged it in. And then I ran a speed test.
66Mb down, 12Mb up.
Not South Korean speeds, or Google Fiber, but a lot better than I’d been used to. And this setup should be able to handle the 150Mb upgrade that Comcast is trying to tempt me with. In the meantime, it’s going to take a few days of testing – particularly streaming video during peak hours – to see if this kind of performance is sustainable. Fingers crossed…

Categories
Gadgets

Switching ecosystems (again).

Yesterday I bought myself a Google Nexus 5 phone to replace my iPhone 5C. Although I’m a rock solid Mac user – I couldn’t imagine trying to live with either Windows or Linux on my desktop – I find myself drifting away from the iOS world. In the last year, for example, I’ve used my Kindle Fire tablet far more often than my iPad. But the main thing provoking the switch is that I really want to increase my use of my Google Glass. Restrictions in iOS (especially the inability of user apps to route IP traffic between BlueTooth, WiFi and LTE), coupled with the flakiness of the iOS Mobile Hotspot feature, mean that Glass simply works better with an Android phone. (And before you say, “but of course”, the changes that have affected interoperability have all come from Apple.)
Now I’ve tried this Android switch once before, and it was not a pleasant experience.In August 2011, I acquired an AT&T Samsung Infuse. It was big, fast and gorgeous, as I wrote here. But my infatuation soon wore off. The problems were many: overheating, bloatware, lockups, buggy software, the failure of AT&T and Samsung to keep the software up to date, and a handful of incredibly annoying “features” with no workaround. (Posting a notification when the phone was fully charged – often in the middle of the night – was the most asinine.)
So that experiment lasted less than 6 months, and then I returned to the walled garden. So this time I’m trying to be smarter about it. By choosing Google’s own Nexus, I can be (pretty) sure that I’ll always have up-to-date software. And I know where they live….

Categories
Gadgets

HP TouchPad arrived

My HP TouchPad has finally arrived.
It looks beautiful. (Of course, it looks like every other black rectangular tablet with rounded corners – are Apple’s lawyers listening?)
Unfortunately, I can’t set up email on it. My IMAP configuration for geoffarnold.com, which works on my MacOS, iOS, Android, and various other clients, won’t work in webOS.
I’m working my way through configuring the rest of the settings and downloading a minimal set of apps. For some reason, the settings for each subsystem are handled in an individual “settings” application. This is remarkably tedious.
More anon.
UPDATE: Thanks to Steve, I got email working by installing a new certificate on the TouchPad. Like most of the apps, it’s visually appealing but relatively inefficient in its use of screen real estate. (Users of recent releases of Skype will empathize with this.)
A few more observations:

  • Registering clicks in the browser seems hit-or-miss. Navigating something like Google Reader or the “Manage your Kindle” page at Amazon is frustrating.
  • Speaking of Kindle, the TouchPad Kindle app is visually appealing but remarkably fragile. Whenever I navigate away from that app for more than a few seconds, I get a popup informing me that the Kindle app has crashed. Yes, I know it’s marked as “Beta”, and it’s unlikely that a non-beta version will ever be released, but even so…
  • In order to install the new SSL certificate, I had to connect the TouchPad to my iMac via USB. From the Finder, it looked as if I was simply attaching an external USB storage device. However when I tried to eject the device, Finder reported it was busy. I did a “Force Eject” anyway, and when I next looked at the TouchPad I found that hundreds of JPEGs from my Pictures folder had been copied to the device. my Facebook account had been downloaded to the TouchPad. Strange…
Categories
Gadgets

Imagine if every Android device maker lost their Linux distribution license

Every so often, I come across a blog posting that makes my head spin from thinking of the implications. This evening was one of those occasions. I defy you to ignore this after reading the opening paragraph…

Last week I read about an Android licensing issue that I wasn’t previously aware of. It’s a pretty serious one, and it’s not that hard to understand. The short version is that

  • rampant non-compliance with the source code disclosure requirement of the GPLv2 (the license under which Linux is published) — especially but not only in connection with Honeycomb — has technically resulted in a loss of most vendors’ right to distribute Linux;
  • this loss of the distribution license is irremediable except through a new license from each and every contributor to the Linux kernel, without which Android can’t run; and
  • as a result, there are thousands of people out there who could legally shake down Android device makers, threatening to obtain Apple-style injunctions unless their demands for a new license grant are met.

This is from the FOSS Patents blog. It is not a joke, there is no hyperbole. Even though IANAL, the analysis seems to be persuasively grounded in GPLv2 language and case law.
This could get very interesting indeed….
UPDATE: There’s been widespread reactions to the FOSSpatents piece, most of it critical. The Register picked it up (well, they would, wouldn’t they?), linking it to efforts by Edward Naughton, and the commenters rubbished the analysis. Over at Twitter, Carlo Daffara, Dj Walker-Morgan, and my old buddy Simon Phipps all piled in.
One of the toughest things in reading the legal tea-leaves is that when cases like the various BusyBox suits are settled before they go to trial, it’s impossible to determine whether the settlement was due to the strength of the case or the balance of expenses. Those who have an axe to grind will always insist that the settlement smoke means that the licensing fire was real. Skepticism seems prudent. Nevertheless, the stakes are high, and I’m glad that we’re discussing the topic.

Categories
Gadgets

Evil defaults: Google+ on Android handsets

As I mentioned earlier, I have acquired an Android phone, complete with lots of Google apps. I have also signed up for Google+, and I’ve been getting regular alerts from Google (via the red box at the top right of various pages) of new friend requests and other stuff.
This morning, Kate and I went with some friends to a winery. While there, I snapped a number of photos on my Android phone, as one does.
This afternoon, I visited Google Reader to check out some blogs, and it alerted me to the fact that I had some Google+ updates. To my surprise, the “update” was an uploaded library of the pictures I’d taken this morning. Yes, the library was still unshared, but WTF?!?!

  • Why did it do this?
  • When did it do this?
  • Did the phone wait until I was connected by WiFi, or did it use some of my (capped) 4G bandwidth to upload the pictures? (And was this one source of my unexpected battery drain?)
  • Eventually I discovered a Google + app settings screen that I had never seen before, which confirmed that the app was configured to upload all photographs over any available data connection, cellular or WiFi. I reconfigured it immediately to upload only on demand, and only over WiFi.
    So if you own an Android phone, and you’ve joined Google +, I strongly urge you to check the settings for the Google+ app on your phone. It could be uploading all of your photos, wasting bandwidth and depleting your battery. This strikes me as a very stupid default configuration.

    Categories
    Gadgets

    Changing my religion? Well, not really…

    On September 12, 2007, I bought my first iPhone. At the time, I described the move as “inevitable”. Over the next few years I upgraded, first to the iPhone 3G and then to the iPhone 4. And I loved them all.
    But a couple of weeks ago, I switched. One year to the day after getting my iPhone 4, I visited my local AT&T store and bought a Samsung Infuse 4G. And since I did this, many people have asked me the same two questions: “Why?” and “What’s it like?”
    First, why. In a word, curiosity. I wanted to see what things were like outside Apple’s walled garden; to experience the chaos of competition in handset design, carrier features, and application delivery channels. I had used an Android G1 while traveling in China, and I’d found it intriguing and quite capable. I was fascinated by the attempts by Samsung, HTC, and Motorola to push the technical boundaries in such areas as screen technology, multicore CPUs, 4G wireless, batteries, and cameras.
    I might have been more reluctant to make the move except for the fact that I wasn’t going to be giving up the iOS world entirely. I still have my iPad, so I can still run almost all of the apps that I had become used to. And where it counts I’m as much of an Apple fanboy as ever: I still live my life on a MacBook Air and an iMac, running MacOS X Lion (and testing iCloud). My work machine is a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. So in a sense this represents addition rather than substitution.
    One other point: unlike my heavily-hacked G1, I decided not to unlock the Infuse. I wanted to be able to use it for corporate email without violating company security policies…
    So what’s it like?

    • It’s big. 5.15 x 2.77 x 0.36 inches. It works for me, but several people have said that it’s too big to fit comfortably in the hand.
    • The screen is big and gorgeous, though it washes out badly in sunlight.
    • It’s noticeably less stable than the iPhone. I’ve had to reboot it at least once a week.
    • There are several stupid “features”, mostly due to Samsung. When you put it in the charger cradle, it automatically beeps and starts a fancy cradle app with lots of colourfulwidgets. You can turn off the screen, which reduces the distraction. However when the battery finishes charging, the phone beeps and turns on the display, with a message to remind you to unplug the charger. This is intensely annoying at, say, 2AM. And that’s about the time that recharging finishes, because…
    • … battery life sucks. That is to say, I can just about get through a full day on a charge as long as I don’t do much with the phone. However, since I use it for reading personal and work email, and for managing my calendar, I usually find that the charge icon is orange by the end of the afternoon. I’ve reluctantly bought an extra charging cradle for use at work…
    • It’s chatty. Lots of notifications all the time; lots of background processing going on.
    • Some of the major apps are horribly intrusive. The Facebook app seems to take over various media types, preventing me from playing music or videos. UNINSTALL. Skype wouldn’t just restrict itself to handling explicit requests; instead it tries to take over regular telephone functions, like dialing from my contacts. (This “feature” interacts horribly with my car’s BlueTooth phone feature.) UNINSTALL.
    • Integration with MS Exchange Email and Calendaring at work is better than the iPhone. I’m using the built-in software; I didn’t bother to explore any add-on email clients.
    • When I can get 4G coverage from AT&T, this sucker is fast. Very nice. And it’s a slightly better telephone than the iPhone 4.

    More anon.

    Categories
    Gadgets

    Using my 3G iPad in the UK

    I spent several days at the beginning of the month visiting my family in England. Since I was staying with my mother in Oxford, and she doesn’t [yet] have any kind of broadband, I had to decide how to stay connected. I elected to take my new 3G iPad with me, and to replace the AT&T SIM with one for a UK-based pay-as-you-go service. I thought about using my iPhone 4 instead, but I wanted to keep my US number “live”, and iPads are shipped unlocked, so I wouldn’t have to do any hacking.
    A couple of hours after I arrived at Heathrow, I went into central Oxford to get a SIM. It’s tough: there are mobile phone stores every few yards, and most electronics stores are also carrying the 3G iPad. I eventually picked Vodafone, and was enthusiastically greeted by a young staff member who explained that they’d only just received the iPad data plan kits, and that I would be their first customer. I thought about leaving, but decided not to….
    The basic scheme was very simple: 250MB for £10. No alternatives. I wasn’t sure that 250MB would be enough, and asked if I could get an immediate top-up. The answer was “no”; I would have to wait until I’d used most of that allowance before I could apply a top-up. I was pretty sure that other companies were offering better deals, but I decided to stick with it. (As it turned out, 250MB was plenty: I used less than 200MB during the five days I was there.)
    Since this was the first time they’d handled this particular transaction, the two Vodafone representatives used it as a training opportunity, and worked through a checklist to get everything registered. Once they had done this, I asked them to replace the SIM while I waited. This was a prudent move, because it turns out that the documentation in the SIM package did not include the username and password corresponding to the APN. Fortunately the training checklist did include the necessary data, and 20 minutes after I arrived I was online. And it was completely anonymous: I paid in cash, and never provided my name or address. (Presumably they could trace my iPad, but even so….)
    With my 3G-enabled iPad, I headed off to a nearby pub for beer, food, and email. All three worked perfectly. Unfortunately, when I got back to my mother’s house on the western outskirts of Oxford, I discovered that I was in a Vodafone “dead zone”. Coverage flickered from 3G to EDGE and (most ofter) GPRS. Async email was OK, because the iPad client was quite good at detecting moments of good connectivity and grabbing any pending messages. Twitter was hit-or-miss. Web surfing was horrible, though. (And to rub things in, my iPhone proceeded to roam to Orange, and showed five bars of 3G connectivity the whole time. Obviously I had data roaming turned off….)
    During my visit, I used the iPad up and down the country, from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Heathrow, and apart from west Oxford it worked fine. I didn’t test the bandwidth (I wasn’t sure how much traffic a speed test would generate), nor did I try using Skype. When I returned to the US on Wednesday, I replaced the AT&T SIM and was about to check online to see what APN I should configure. I needn’t have worried: it looks as if the iPad remembers the APN for each SIM that it’s seen.
    Before I return to Oxford, I hope that BT will have installed a Home Hub, so that I can get WiFi broadband access. And then I need to find a voice-dial phone for my mother – not a mobile, but a voice-activated desktop phone, preferably with a speaker.

    Categories
    Gadgets

    Tethering

    When I first got my iPhone 4, I tried tethering via BlueTooth, but was unable to get the BT pairing to go through, so I forgot all about it. My 3G modem gives me all the coverage I want, and with my MacBook Air I can share the connection with my (WiFi-only) iPad. Today, however, I was nudged to try the iPhone 4 tethering, and this time everything worked flawlessly. Right now I’m composing this on my tethered MacBook Air.
    Of course, all of this “tethering” stuff feels antiquated compared with the mobile hotspot features on the latest Android phones, but it’s good enough for now.