Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Detour into Smartphone Land


I like tablets, so why is a smartphone leading off this post?  Well, this is what I’ve been up to recently.  Enjoy the ride…


I had a Dell Streak for some time that I had been using both as a tool in my studio and as a toy in my life.  The Dell Streak is a phone with a 5” screen.  When it came out, it was the biggest thing out by far, and behind on the version of Android it was running.  It was not well received by the reviewers.  I got it much later in its retail cycle when Froyo became available, and the price had come down to just $50 on contract.  The main reasoning behind the Streak was that I don’t really use my phone as a phone that often.  I had been through a few cheapy Android tablets and a nook, and the Streak replaced all of that and my phone.  It was also a great tool in the studio.

On the Android tablet side, apps look great on the 5” screen.  I have lots of books in the nook format, in addition to many epubs from other sources like freedbooks and smashwords.  Reading on the 5” screen was a huge step up from the smaller phone screen.  It was enough of a step up that it was all I needed for an Android tablet and book reader.

In the studio, the big screen was great when using the metronome or tuner on the stand for students to see.  The larger screen also made interacting with my studio management website much more comfortable. 

But then…


Then, I got the HTC Flyer.  I was generally carrying my Archos 9 Windows tablet to events where I would want to take handwritten notes.  The Flyer is a much faster, lighter, smaller, and more accurate (thanks to the n-trig pen) note taking device, even though it’s meant a shift in workflow to working more in Evernote.  It also comes with the benefit of all day battery life and I find the 7” size to be even more perfect for reading than the Streak.

But having the Flyer started making the Streak feel redundant.  With such a nice Android tablet, perhaps the super big Android phone wasn’t necessary anymore.  In fact, with the pending Office 365 announcement, I was increasingly curious about the viability of the Windows Phone platform.  I have a lot of stuff in OneNote, and the ability to read those notes on the phone, in addition to the Evernote notes was very compelling. 

I figured I would still have the Flyer to run the Android apps I have, so why not give Windows on the Phone a try?


My Streak went quickly and for a good price on craigslist.  In fact, it went a little more quickly than I had anticipated, leaving me with just a SIM card before I knew it.  The SIM card went into the back up phone (an old Sony Ericson candybar phone), and my husband’s iPhone did stand in duty running google voice from the browser (the sale went down via text, which I do through google voice) after the Streak was wiped for sale. 

Interestingly enough, AT&T recognized that my SIM was back in the Ericson phone when I logged in to check the status of my account.  The plan was to use google voice on the Flyer to keep up with voicemails and texts, since I have wifi access most places and just use the Ericson as a back up should I actually have to make a call.  My goal was to delete the data plan, leaving that line with just voice service.  The website wouldn’t let me delete the data plan however, so I poked around to check my upgrade eligibility.  I figured I would not be eligible for an upgrade since I had just gotten the Streak 7 months ago.  But the website was offering me upgrade pricing! 

So, after the sale, we headed to Best Buy to check out my options.

Samsung Focus


Like I mentioned earlier, I was considering a Windows Phone.  Best Buy had a few options, but the one that caught my eye was the Samsung Focus for free with my surprise upgrade eligibility.  So I got it.

The Samsung Focus is a great phone.  It is super lightweight and easy to hold.  The camera gets great reviews, and performed admirably at a birthday party for the world’s cutest one-year-old.  And the Window Phone interface is just beautiful. 

But I ran into problems when I actually wanted to do things.  There is no Tweetdeck, so I settled for Seesmic, since the People hub only does Facebook and I wanted Facebook and Twitter in one place.  Apparently, the Mango update (promised for fall 2011) adds Twitter support.

There is no unified inbox.  Each of my email accounts had to be set up as its own separate tile on the home screen.  Apparently, the Mango update adds linked inboxes.

Only my OneNote notebooks were available via SkyDrive.  The Office Hub was one of the main draws of the Windows Phone, but you can’t work with Word or Excel files on your SkyDrive, only OneNote notebooks.  Oh, and you still can’t see ink.  Apparently, Mango adds support for Word and Excel files stored in your SkyDrive to the Office Hub. 

Calendar support is limited.  It will only sync the primary calendar of gmail accounts (or even Windows Live accounts for that matter).  I have several sub-calendars and several shared calendars in my primary gmail account that I rely on to keep my home life, teaching schedule, performing schedule, and activities with various other groups separate.  My options were to collapse the calendars into one, or separate them into different gmail accounts.  But the teaching schedule comes into gmail via a shared calendar with the studio management website.  Oh, and the studio website would not render in the mobile browser.  That left me with no way to view scheduled lessons on my phone.  That is not fixed in Mango, and that became the deal breaker.  The Focus went back.



I’ve been intrigued by the Atrix ever since seeing it demonstrated at CES in January.  But the full, contract free price of the phone and laptop dock was way too high when it came out, in addition to being required to pony up for data plan with the tethering fee. 

Good news, now the Atrix is $.01 at Amazon (which I managed to get Best Buy to price match for me, my local Best Buy rocks).  Since I was exchanging a phone bought with upgrade pricing, I got upgrade pricing again, and got the Atrix basically for free.  I had been watching craigslist for the laptopdock, but no dice.  Best Buy was out of stock, which was for the best since it’s still not worth its retail price.  It is however worth the refurb price of $175 on AT&T’s website.  That means I got the whole package for under $200, which is better than most netbooks on the market, as it should be.  Also, getting a refurbed dock without a contract means I didn’t have to step up to the tethering plan. 


Without the tethering plan, the phone pass through can go online over 4G (or 3G or EDGE).  You can even run the phone view full screen on the laptop dock.  However, the Firefox browser will only go online via wifi.  It will not work over 4G unless you have the tethering plan (an extra $20 per month).  But the full screen phone view will go online over 4G just fine.  It seems to be a stupidly arbitrary line in the sand that AT&T is drawing to force you into the higher data plan.  Good thing there is wifi at home and at the studio.  Also, rooting the phone may or may not provide a solution which I may or may not have already run.  Stupid AT&T. 


I’ve also had some quality time with a Chromebook, so I know how much I can accomplish with just a web browser.  I have my familiar Android interface that can handle my calendars back.  I also have the laptop dock, which is mostly just a browser portal, but also gives me a view of my phone screen at the same time.  I no longer have to keep track of my phone separately.  They’re attached. 

Will it replace my current laptop?  Of course not.  While I can do a lot of studio management work and writing on it, it won’t run SmartMusic and it won’t lay flat on a music stand – two of the biggest roles my x61t does in the studio. 

What it will give me is a great traveling device.  After the 8 hours of battery life in the laptop dock runs out, you end up with a fully charged phone.  The dock charges the phone in addition to running itself for 8 hours.  We’ll be travelling back to Ohio next weekend, and I intend to take just the phone and dock.  Oh, and the Flyer, since my dad also just got one of those, and we’ll want to play.  But the laptop will stay home. 

There are also mods to bring a more full Debian or Ubuntu experience to the webtop interface, which is the environment that runs when the phone is docked.  It could mean access to things like Open Office for working with documents offline.  Good thing this is a long weekend.

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