I recently dug out my old Samsung Galaxy S4 for some Android testing. I replaced it with a Nexus 5x last fall, and for the most part I love the newer phone, but there are a few things that I really miss about the S4.

  • The size is perfect. It’s literally as big as it can get and still be comfortable to use one-handed and fit in my pants pocket. The Nexus 5X is barely 1/8″ wider and 3/8″ taller, but it’s just enough that I can’t quite reach the whole screen with my thumb. I have to loosen my grip until it feels like I’m going to drop it, which means I’m extra motivated to keep it in the case, which makes it even bigger…
  • The Galaxy S4 display is polarized diagonally, so I can use it in landscape mode while wearing sunglasses. This is helpful for things like daytime GPS navigation. The Nexus 5X is not.
  • The volume buttons are positioned out of the way of the middle, making it easy to clip on a dashboard mount.

Those are three things that the Galaxy S4 does better (for me, anyway) than the Nexus 5X. They’re all form factor. Of course since giant smartphones are all the rage these days, good luck finding another one that’s just the right size for my hand.

Otherwise, I love the Nexus 5X’s display, the up-to-date Android OS without Samsung’s modifications (and knowing I’ll actually get security updates), the camera, the convenience of the fingerprint sensor, the speed, and just about everything else about it.

I wouldn’t go back. I considered setting up the S4 as a dedicated GPS until I realized that it wouldn’t be able to get traffic data without a SIM card. (Maps can store the actual maps offline now, and GPS works independently of cell service.)

But if Google releases their next Nexus device in a form factor just 3/8″ shorter, I’ll be tempted to upgrade early.

For short posts, I’m actually more comfortable sitting on the couch and writing on my tablet than firing up my computer and sitting at my desk. This is something I discovered during NaBloPoMo. My workflow typically went like this:

  1. Write the post in the WordPress App.
  2. Set categories/tags and upload as a draft.
  3. Switch over to the admin interface to finalize and post: customize the URL, description, share options, etc.

What would send me to the computer are the things that are difficult to do on a tablet:

  • Layout and formatting.
  • Linking to other posts & sources.
  • Major editing.
  • Image size and filenames. Even if I use a file manager on my phone to rename the image, the WordPress app is going to change it on upload to something like wpid-123456789

I’m not sure how much of that is the couch and how much of that is the fact that I’ve been putting off upgrading my home computer in favor of the devices I use more often. I finally replaced the ancient Nexus 7 with a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 a few months ago. (It’s awesome!) It’s FAR more responsive (the Nexus 7 was basically a proof of concept, and doesn’t deal with modern software very well), so I can actually use it for stuff.

Plus it turns out even at 8″, a 4:3 screen has a much better balance of onscreen keyboard and text area than the 8:5 screen did. Being able to see more of your document, even a little, has a surprising impact on how comfortable it is to write it.

Friday afternoon my phone finally got the OTA update for Android 5.1. After several hours stuck on the swirling boot animation, I decided it was time to admit that the phone wasn’t going to finish booting on its own.

I tried everything: Pulling the battery. Clearing the cache from recovery mode. Removing the SD card. Even a factory reset. I’d tried to avoid that, but eventually decided all the important stuff was backed up, and dammit, I needed a phone for the weekend!

If it had been a carrier phone or an actual Nexus device, I could have flashed a fresh system image, but it’s a Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition. Nobody wants the responsibility of supporting it.

In the end I bit the bullet and installed CyanogenMod. Even if I messed it up, the phone was already unusable and long past any warranty it might have had two and a half years ago. I didn’t really have anything to lose.

I had to read through the instructions a couple of times, but the process was actually pretty simple since I already had the ADB tools and could install Heimdall on my Linux desktop through Fedora.

  1. Flash a more capable recovery partition.
  2. Upload the right CyanogenMod .zip and the corresponding Google Apps .zip.
  3. Install the images from the recovery partition.
  4. Sign in to Cyanogen and Google.
  5. Reinstall apps.

It’s a bit weird because the UI feels like I’ve gone back in time a couple of years.

But the phone works again, and I was able to do it overnight. I didn’t have to spend three days emailing tech support back and forth. I didn’t have to go into a store on Saturday and be told I can either buy a new phone or wait a week while they send it in for repairs.

I may still end up replacing it in the near future — it is 2 1/2 years old, after all — but I don’t have to, which makes a big difference!


The phone worked great for camera, navigation, texting, and everything else I wanted to use it for at an event Saturday and at Long Beach Comic Con on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the dial pad doesn’t always respond during calls, which makes phone menus unusable. It’s not just the problem with the proximity sensor thinking my face is next to the phone and blanking the screen — I’ve had that on the official firmware for ages. I can get the keypad to display, but it won’t react to touch.

My carrier has an app for voicemail, but I’ll have to do something to be able to deal with other phone menus.

Comic strips and art:

Sci-fi and fantasy:

  • Keeping Up With the Cardassians. For months, this is what I heard every time someone mentioned the Kardashians. (What can I say? My brain is more attuned to Star Trek than to reality TV.)
  • Author Robert J. Sawyer answers pointed questions about Flashforward and the TV adaptation, including what went wrong. I have to agree that it was really hurt by focusing too heavily on the conspiracy arc.


Tech stuff:

  • Gmail accidentally reset thousands of accounts last month. (They got it back — this is Google after all.) I’ve come to rely heavily on Gmail, but I still keep a local copy of all my email in case something like this happens. (Engadget, via @pobox)
  • Mobile Content Is Twice as Difficult (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)
  • Map of smartphone marketshare by OS & manufacturer [dead link]. It’s a 3-way split between iPhone, Android and Blackberry. iPhone & Blackberry are of course each one manufacturer, while Android is divided mainly among HTC, Samsung and Motorola. (via @androidandme)

Comic-Con International is rapidly approaching, and you know what that means: it means I’m thinking about mobile computing again!

Right now, I’ve got a G1 Android-based phone, and Katie and I share a MacBook. The G1 is showing its age, and it would be nice to have a second computer to do things like manage photos with while traveling.

So. Options.

1. Upgrade the phone. I’d like to stick with T-Mobile, but unfortunately after being the first network to take a chance on Android, they kind of dropped the ball on high-end Android phones. It looks like they’ll be getting the Samsung Galaxy S as the Vibrant, which might solve that problem. (Downside: no camera flash, no physical keyboard, both of which are in the Galaxy S Pro — but I don’t know when or even whether it’ll show up on T-Mobile’s network!)

Also, this doesn’t solve the photo management problem…and if I get a touchscreen-only phone, it’ll really slow down typing until I get used to it.

That and the rumored launch date for the Vibrant is July 21: the day before Comic-Con! That’s not the best time to try to get used to a new device.

2. Get a tablet. As much as I love Apple’s laptops and think that tablet PCs are a great idea, I can’t get behind the iPad. I don’t like the walled-garden approach where Apple gets to choose what you’re allowed to install on your computer. As for other platforms, Windows and Android tablets don’t seem to be comparable just yet.

In short: not gonna happen this year.

3. Get a netbook. I keep coming back to this, don’t I? Last weekend I checked out the selection at Fry’s and Micro Center, and decided on several things:

  • Never, ever buy a netbook without trying out the keyboard first! I found one that was so bad that I’d rather type on my phone for an hour than this netbook.
  • Smaller is better (up to a point). There’s no point in getting a large netbook when I could get a more fully-functional small notebook.
  • A lot of netbooks have truly awful trackpads.
  • While I’d rather get one with Windows 7 than Windows XP, it’s not critical. (Vista, however, is right out. Not that I saw any Vista-based netbooks…)
  • I like the Splashtop instant-on mini-network OS. It’ll be sufficient for 90% of what I’d be doing with a netbook.
  • A big chunk of that other 10% would be photo management! Or at least pulling photos off the camera and uploading them. Managing stuff within Flickr should work.
  • Most netbooks are still above my personal “Oh, just buy it and get it over with” price point, which is $200. MicroCenter had two, one of which was the one with the horrible keyboard, and one of which had Windows XP, didn’t have SplashTop, and had a mediocre trackpad. I really had to think about whether it was worth it or not.

Even so, It’s going to be hard to justify a netbook and a newer phone, and if I have to pick one, it’s going to be the phone. At this rate, by the time I decide to go for it, a tablet may actually be more practical!