Q Will Be Assimilated

April 25, 2008

Some devices are a joy to use. Consider the average toaster; no fuss, no complication, just slip bread in, pull toast out a minute later. No unnecessary hinges or latches or doors on a toaster, no mysterious buttons, just pure, unadulterated simplicity right there on your kitchen counter. Or your bathroom counter, depending on your long-term outlook on things.

The refrigerator is another beautifully efficient appliance. What could be more elegant than a giant cold box with food inside? Usually only the best food, too, like cheese, meat, and other cheese; you’re not likely to encounter any rice cakes or wheat squares or oatmeal when you poke around in there, and thanks once again for tiny blessings. Simply open the door, withdraw frigid delectables. Wonderful.

If you had to perform a convoluted ritual of head bobbing, pygmy tossing, and interpretive dance set to Rocky Mountain High every time you wanted a bowl of Rainforest Crunch, who’d bother? If the fridge door wouldn’t open unless I recited The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while dressed like Little Orphan Annie and holding over my head a duck hatched on St. Swithun’s Day, it would certainly make me consider heavily investing in nonperishables, I tell you.

Inefficiency bugs me. Taking three steps when one will do just fine makes me want to choke a kitten, especially if it’s because some other lazy idiot didn’t feel like doing his job, either. The unnecessary sorting and filing of utterly useless forms at Large Specialty Retail Chain thrilled me about as much as standing in line at the DMV, so I routinely tossed them, and instructed the Minions to do the same. I discovered early on that maintaining even the slimmest soupçon of sanity depended on identifying anything which was truly unimportant and promptly ignoring it, all the while feigning a level of diligence that would shame Patek Phillippe. It worked well.

Which brings me to the Motorola Q9h. If painfully cumbersome inefficiency were money, this thing would be gleefully firing people from its own reality show.

The Q hated me. Both it and its no-nonsense, shut-up-and-swim operating system, Windows Mobile 6, tried to drive me out of my mind with unnecessary button presses and needlessly complicated program management, so I took that sucker for a ride from which it hasn’t returned. Replaced its recalcitrant ass with a BlackBerry Curve, and things have been much more agreeable since.

On its own as a device, the Q was…large. Its keys were large, its screen was large, and the extended battery possessed the bicuspid-threatening thickness of a four-square Chunky bar. Talking on it was like holding a trade paperback to the side of my head, and the last thing I need assistance with is looking like a goober. (No-no, N-Gage. Not again. You go sit in your corner and think about what you’ve done!)

The Q’s sound quality was fine, but if I have to choose between slightly compromised audio quality and Windows Mobile, I’ll pick the former any day. Although the Q has a dedicated messaging key, WM defaults to the last folder viewed; this means that if you receive a text message or an email, it’s necessary to manually navigate to the inbox in order to read the message, a process which can require up to seven button presses if you left the messaging application on a folder other than the inbox. Beautiful, eh? Yes. Beautiful like cholera.

It’s also necessary to use the task manager application just to close other applications; if you simply navigate back to the home screen using the end key or the dedicated home key, whatever you were doing previously remains open in the background, which shortens battery life and slows system speed. There’s no way to close an application from within the application–again, only the task manager can be used for this, and unless you map it to the program bar, you’ll have to go digging through four levels of menus just to find the stupid thing.

Inefficiency.

The BlackBerry OS is far from perfect, but it performs well enough that my brain has stopped swelling from the inelegant frustration of the Q/Windows Mobile experience. The Curve is small enough to text on with one hand, yet not so small that two hands can’t be used. The call quality and reception are solid, and it’s got a good camera and impressive media capabilities. The Q’s keyboard requires two hands for texting and almost anything else, as it’s wider than my thumb is long.

Although the Q supports MicroSD cards of up to 32Gb, it’s not possible to create a music playlist on the device itself, which is like having to eat all the cake in the world every time you want a Twinkie. Why bother to include a media player only to cripple it with such mystifying semi-usefulness?

Research in Motion, the maker of the Blackberry, is constantly upgrading and redesigning their equipment so that their lineup of handsets is as versatile as the phones themselves. Motorola seems content to cede the smartphone market to RIM while focusing on imitating its own past success with the Razr 2 and the Rizr Z9. The death of innovation; a groundbreaking strategy.

If the staid, stodgy Q is even a moderately accurate barometer of Motorola’s forecast, they’d better start handing out raincoats.

And perhaps parachutes.

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You Spin Me

April 21, 2008

I like things a certain way. Those close to me might tell you that I like them my way, but they’re all on crack anyway, so pay no attention to them. Especially if they ask to borrow money.

I’m not hard to please, specifically, as much as I prefer that things function as advertised. That’s all. Nothing drives me so thoroughly shitting-in-the-water-fountain insane as an item that’s supposed to perform a particular task or work in a particular fashion, but doesn’t. Picture if you will:

A bathroom door that doesn’t completely latch. A toilet tank arm-float-thing that doesn’t shut off the water. An ice maker that won’t. A cat that doesn’t chase and gleefully eviscerate crawling things. A phone that creaks and rattles and in general makes more noise than a busload of crickets.

Since I now possess all five pieces to the Amulet of Eye-Gouging Annoyance +6 as outlined above, I’ve earned the right to gripe, and I suppose that I’ll finally have to admit that I am, as someone dear once told me, a giant fussy prick. (Right again, mom.)

Okay, but only about the things that matter. I can live with the door, and the ice maker, for now. And the toilet tank float. So we flibber the arm a few times, and the water shuts off, big deal. And I can even live with the cat, who is easily as squeamish about Southern insects as I am; where I grew up an earwig was a big deal, here they’ve got bugs bigger than a chicken leg. Seriously. Where I draw the line, though, deeply and emphatically with the toe of my generic, unused running shoe, is at a phone that exhibits more neurotic personality tics than I do.

That’s right. This town ain’t big enough, yadda yadda yadda, and I was here first. So the Sony-Ericsson Z750 is gonna have to skedaddle. Probably. Maybe.

Crap.

It gets better reception than any AT&T handset that I’ve used save the Krzr, and signal strength is at a premium around here. The earpiece quality is second to none. The keypad is large and slick and lends itself well to text messaging, and the screen is vivid and clear. Most of the time. More on that later.

The plastic used in the housing feels flimsy and cheap, and pressing the function buttons above the keypad causes it to creak and moan. Admittedly, this probably would bother only a handful of obsessively neurotic wackjobs around the world, but recall an earlier reference to “giant fussy prick” and comprehend, would you kindly. The external OLED display is useless even in late twilight, as it simply can’t be seen under anything stronger than moderate indoor lighting, and the internal screen, though pretty, automatically grows dimmer under low-light conditions. There’s no way to change this.

Regardless of whether it’s a phone or a meddling politician, I don’t want shit thinking for me. This is the reason I’ve sworn off (okay, mostly sworn off) Samsung and LG; I want a phone and its function to change to serve my needs, not the other way around. If I want to assign the right soft key to opening the Happytime Kool-Aid Bunnyfart folder on my phone, instead of the AT&T MediaNet MoneySink garbage that I’ll never use, so what? What’s the big deal? When the Z750 abandoned some of the more endearing versatility of its older sibling, the W580, in exchange for the less flexible UI design of its peninsular cousins, I balked. Loudly. Like the balkers of yore. Old school.

It’s impossible to turn off the data connection on the Z750. Prolly got somethin’ to do with their high-falutin’ 3G fancypants HSDPAWCDMAUMTS bunk. The center button on the 4-way toggle is assigned to open MediaNet instead of the menu. Again, no way to change it; the button is defiantly emblazoned with the AT&T MediaNet logo, as if daring you to even try to reassign it. It scoffs at your silly, willful individualism. Now go away.

With only one exchange permitted per transaction, I find myself waffling like Mrs. Butterworth over here. A different Z750 could conceivably lack the construction flaws that plagued (mildly infected) the one I bought, but that won’t address the design deficiencies in the UI.

For a mid-range phone, the Z750 is a solid performer with an oddly rigid yet flaky personality and questionable build. Frankly, the damn thing makes me want to speak harshly to an old lady without immediate pause or apology but perhaps with tinges of regret later on which might initially be mistaken for indigestion.


Bad Bad Donkeys

April 16, 2008

It’s inevitable; crack open a hundred oysters, you’ll probably find a couple of pearls. Poke around a little, though, and you’re bound to also find some crap.

I’ve owned a lot of phones. It is, dare I say, a mild obsession, and I’ve stopped trying to understand it or overcome it. Like running water, I attempt to gracefully flow around my strongest urges and regroup, unscathed, on the other side once the divisive influence passes. Most of the time I do okay. Most of the time.

Every once in a while, though, I get scathed. Hard. Last week’s sojourn into the Land of Sony-Ericssonia was harrowing, what with the rebellion and all, but my misguided apprehension was put decisively to rest by the realization that the W580 is one of the best phones I’ve used in the last two years. Yesterday, however, I embarked on the Tax Refund Phone Acquisition Tour, Phase II, and got waylaid like a passing Krispy Kreme deliveryman outside fat camp.

As noted a few posts ago, Samsung and LG have their CDMA web-footed waterfowl in a proper column. Their GSM handsets, however, gobble moldy poo.

What do these companies have against me customizing my phone to fit the things that I want to do? Exactly why, on the Samsung A737 and A707 (more popularly known as the Sync), can’t I save my text messages directly to the phone instead of the SIM? Why can’t I assign a message tone outside the predetermined selection of message tones, like, say, oh, from the memory card? (Possible with Samsung, though not LG.) Why can’t I customize the 4-way toggle to function in ways that I see fit? Why can’t I turn off the data connection when I know that I’m not going to use it, in order to prolong battery life? Why can’t I get a decent signal outside a metropolitan area, and why-oh-freakin’-why can’t LG produce a GSM phone with an earpiece that doesn’t make the person on the other end sound as though they’re gargling ferrets?

So yeah, I bought the stupid Sync, running through my self-determined allotment of phone expenditures from my tax refund. The first one’s screen was DOA out of the box, so I swapped it for another one. That was my first mistake. My second, and probably larger, was replacing the second Samsung with an LG CU575.

As I learned over the past twenty-four hours, the CU in LG’s nomenclature should be followed by “but not hear you.” In a service area in which most Nokias, virtually all Motorolas, and now the W580 perform just swell, the CU575’s radio has the attention span of Nipper on a Mountain Dew-Mochalatta cocktail; once it loses its signal you might as well pack up the sandwiches, fold up the blanket, and put an ad in the classifieds, because that puppy ain’t coming back on his own.

As bad as the CU575 was in terms of reception, its sound quality was worse; I feasted on an appetizer of braised static followed by roast distortion medallions with hollandaise dropouts. Afterward, apple-glazed noise rounded out an experience that can only be described as robustly inadequate. The CU575 did easily outperform the Samsung, though, as the Sync was unable to hold a signal long enough to even test its call quality.

The Sync also took longer than average to receive text messages, even after altering the message center from the default national number to an East Coast center. Didn’t make a difference; text messages took nearly two minutes to arrive, another area in which the CU575 outperformed the Sync, as its incoming texts arrived without delay. The Sync had a better screen than the LG, but came saddled with Samsung’s monkey shit interface, so you’d better be a huge fan of orange and black. It’s worth noting that the Hue from Alltel offers three different color schemes, so perhaps the blame for the Halloween UI should rest squarely with AT&T. The much newer A737 slider shares most of the same faults with the Sync, including the color scheme, though it seems to have marginally better reception in low-signal areas. For what it’s worth.

Samsung and LG make some of the best CDMA handsets out there (the Hue and the Scoop come immediately to mind), but once they step into the GSM arena they get pummeled like critical analysis at an Obama rally.

It’ll be a long time before I take a chance on those two unproven GSM entities again. For the moment, at least, I’m sticking with the familiar.


Thank You Ether Bunny!

April 9, 2008

It’s that time again. In a sweeping act of magnanimity, Uncle Sam has deigned to return some of the money that you paid into his compulsory interest-free loan program last year, and now, if you’re lucky, you get to spend a little of your own dough. Congratulations.

Nuncle, for all his high-minded altruism, has been a little slow on the payment this year, but that’s okay; he’s still got a few days before I send a couple associates over to start waling on those procrastinating patellas of his. I can afford to offer that extorting, sticky-fingered shitheel a little grace, because ol’ Cousin Cletus came through right quick with his payment.

State refunds don’t generally add up to as much as Federal refunds, but screw it; money’s money, and the good ol’ boys from Upyonder owed me enough to pay for this slick lil’ number right here. I was a bit wary of trusting the Sony-Ericsson amalgamation again, as I’m not a huge fan of their stuff, but I read some favorable impressions of the W580 and took a chance.

First off, I’m a sucker for anything that comes with extra stuff. The Nokia 6085 wooed me with irresistible phone swag the likes of which I haven’t seen in years, and the W580 nearly shadows it step-for-step; it included a data cable, a pretty decent pair of headphones, and a 256Mb Memory Stick Micro. Sony’s M2 stick-thing provides half as much storage as the 512Mb MicroSD card that came with the Nokia, but I’m not about to scoff at anything included in a retail phone box these days. Although it would be nice if Sony stopped trying to jam its proprietary (or semi-proprietary, as the M2 is a joint venture with SanDisk) storage formats down our resistant, TransFlash-using gullets, I’m not gonna complain.

My favorite feature of the W580 isn’t the intuitive music interface, or the competent 2.0 Megapixel camera, or even the deviously lickable screen, (and it’s certainly not the reception, which is adequately meh), but rather the color. I am, all things being equal, a pretty greasy bastard, so any phone that’s covered in slick, glossy black surfaces and little rubberized fingerprint-catching doohickeys basically makes me want to kick a dog. The W580’s silvery-white matte finish is perfect for those of us whose ears produce more oil than Satan, and who can’t stand to have their stuff continuously slathered in a fine layer of goo.

The earpiece on the W580 has a sweet spot with a narrow margin for error, so if you don’t position the thing just right against your ear, you lose about half the available volume. Had I not found the fix for this in relatively short order (and had I not, like the Supreme Dillhole of All I Survey®, immediately lost the receipt), I would have packed it up and returned it forthwith to its place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension. Luckily, sense prevailed and I moved the frikken’ thing around a bit while talking. Whoo. Ready diploma now me is.

Another of the W580’s nifty features is the ability to use any downloaded media file in any way you wish, whether as wallpaper or as a ring tone or message tone. Sounds simple, sure, but not all phones support this. In another rare bit of customization that’s rapidly going the way of common sense and good taste, it also allows changing the shortcuts mapped to the 4-way selector. Samsung? LG? Take notes. There’ll be a quiz.

Don’t bother with this bad boy if orange isn’t your thing. It’s everywhere; on the keys, the logos, the menus, you name it. That’s a stylistic preference, though, and doesn’t affect the quality of the end product in any practical way. In general, the W580 pulls in a good enough signal and offers a generous multimedia experience, and if you prefer the bar or slider form over clamshells, it’s hard to pinpoint a reasonable gripe here.


Where Do We Go?

April 3, 2008

buffymus.jpgCorporations are good at getting you to spend money. They employ entire firms of people whose sole function is to discover myriadly multipluous methods of removing you from your hard-earned scratch, even if it’s against your better judgment and intent. No foul here, it’s just what they do–no point in decrying the egg for being egg-shaped, after all.

One of the methods by which these nefarious shitbags accomplish their pecuniary sleight of hand is to increase the perception of a product or service’s value without actually delivering anything of significant utility. At Large Specialty Retail Chain, or Greedy Assholes Making Employees Sixty-Third Overall Priority, they trained us to increase the profit perceived value of a sale by aggressively pitching an assload of things that the customer usually didn’t want or need, most often in the form of reservations, subscriptions, and accessories. You’ve seen that tactic before, no doubt. (And would you like a nice hot apple pie with that? Sure! Does it come with a first aid kit so I can repair the damage to my tongue from the scrumptious molten aluminum apple-cinnamon filling?) Mmmm, skin grafts.

Corporations that offer ubiquitous subscription-based services, such as cable and cell phones, find themselves in a particularly tough spot when it comes to increasing revenue, profit, stock prices and, ultimately, the value of executives’ options. Once they’ve saturated a market with subscribers (consider how many people you know who don’t have a cell phone), what comes next? Aside from raising their rates, a decidedly unpopular tactic if one ever pulled on mukluks and ran naked around the boardroom, the only alternative they’ve got is to offer more crap you don’t want.

Every day we hear about 3G. New 3G this, HSPDA/UMTS/W-CDMA that, and up until recently my most pressing question was “what in the sweet holy concrete Christmas fruitcake hell do all those letters mean?!” Now that I know what they mean, I’ll share them with you and spread joy and peppermint bunny poop o’er the land.

Ready? Brace yourself.

To the average cell phone user, they mean exactly dick. To the CEO of Very Large Mobility, Inc., they mean a few things. An obscenely large yacht. A chateau in southern Switzerland. Early retirement. An embarrassingly younger girlfriend with enormous hooters.

Hmm.

Oh yes. Anyway. 3G, which is a term that indicates the third generation of cell phone technology, translates to faster and broader data rates, along with increased network capacity and lower battery life. If you plan on using your phone to watch TV or surf the web while you drive Cody and Tyler to their no-score everybody-wins tee ball game, that’s a Good Thing. If, like most of us, you use your phone only for calls and texts, 3G sounds about as appealing as a catshit soufflé, and even less useful.

I don’t care about 3G data services, or HSDPA speeds of between 300k to 3Mbps. Each of the 3G GSM phones that I’ve used have drained the life from a battery faster than Jay Leno could harsh the collective buzz at a Pride Parade. I’m not going to videoconference or download songs to my phone through any provider’s expensive-as-civet-poo proprietary music service, and apparently neither are most people, which explains the slow buy-in from the majority of phone users to a system that they simply do not need.

But again, this is what they do, these duplicitous asswipes. They spend billions licensing the spectrum and developing the infrastructure for these networks, and then they spend even more inventing the demand. They roll the cost into overpriced data plans so that Mr. iPhone Q. Dingleberry can surf the web and tap-tap tappity-tap his greasy, fingerprint-smudged screen until the aftershocks of Steve Jobs’ sanctimonious orgasm can be felt by every angora herder in Ankara. Hey, send me a picture message, would you, Mr. iPhone? What? No? Just as I thought.

3G and its various acronymed appellations can only be as useful as the content and functionality allow, delivered at a price that the average Jim Average is comfortable with. So while we lag behind countries like Japan and South Korea in terms of interface deployment, we do pretty well at not slobbering the corporate knob to toe the line at the adoption of gratuitous and questionably useful technology.

I’ll take it.