Of mobile telcos and leaving @EE

A quick cost-benefit analysis:

  EE Vodafone+3
cost £37/month £9+£12.90/month
2g coverage fine excellent / NA
3g coverage fine NA / excellent
reliability atrocious excellent
contract length 24mo 12+1mo

Just to be clear, by “atrocious” I mean EE’s signal drops-out every time it rains or blows a gale, which in our particular geography is at least once a fortnight throughout winter, sometimes for half a day, and in both January and February, for periods of even 5 days at a time; there was no evidence of internal network monitoring, just fire-fighting reacting to tweets of complaint. As for customer service, when I wrote an actual letter to complain they tried to fob me off telling me to call 150 from the mobile that was out of action at the time. They also took a week to fix a broken SSL certificate on their customer login website. I really hated the phone – the Samsung Galaxy Note proved an unreliable lump of junk, the only phone I’ve had to return for warranty repairs – twice.

Granted, 3’s signal will suffer the same failings, but at a third of the monthly cost I’m prepared to continue paying for that, especially since my primary number is now on the most reliable service.

It’s funny how a lot of Android websites only seem to consider a handful of “premium” manufacturers – if it’s not Samsung, Sony or HTC, very few people seem to be interested. Yet by stepping outside the social Western norms, I’ve managed to acquire a thl mobile with dual SIM-card slots, octa-core CPU, 2GB RAM and a 13-megapixel camera (hey, that’s more than my old Canon G9 compact camera!) at a very reasonable price, and I can get a fair deal on recycling the old Galaxy Note as well.

Moral of the story? If you tie yourself in to a tariff and phone dictated by a telco, the service will be crap, after 2 years the phone will stink, and you’ll be throwing money down the drain. Liberation is bliss.

Customized Android

A few days ago, my regular mobile came back from being repaired, for the second time. I mentioned that I’d flashed a custom ROM on it – this being the Ultimate GT-N7000 XXLT4 JellyBean 4.1.2 image.

The past couple of evenings have been happily spent tweaking all the settings and installing apps, both new and old. First, I settled on ADW.Launcher as Home replacement of choice. Previously, I had been using Folders to categorize apps, but was not entirely satisfied with the classification (Social and Photo were obvious, but a lot of apps were mundane or administrivia, with varying degrees of usefulness); this time, I’ve settled for 3 screens ordered by purpose: instant-access on the default (middle) screen; Android admin apps on the left; games, audio/video and organization on the right.

Installing Titanium Backup has the side-effect that I could uninstall system apps, most notably some of the Samsung bloatware that slowed me down enormously previously. (S Notes? Why does that even exist?)

Other apps of note:

  • I used to use Lookout as general anti-virus, but have been experimenting with AVG on the Hero while I waited for the Note to come back; it seems to have stuck.
  • I’d never investigated ES File Explorer / Manager before; very pleasantly surprised to discover it has network functions (browsing FTP servers, etc) and libraries for one’s media, so that’s staying.
  • Not playing games very often, I settled for rather conventional chess, reversi and thought maybe I’d try learning Go as well. (That’ll be a challenge and a half.)
  • Geographical apps: Google Maps and My Tracks for GPS logging while I’m out, Foursquare for annoying everyone with checkins
  • Social stuff: Browsing and reading news happens in Flipboard; for posting, I prefer one app to handle both Facebook and Twitter, and these days that app is Seesmic. WordPress allows me to blog here whilst on the move.
  • Photography apps: a lot of my work on this blog is with HDR Camera+, which works nicely but Camera HDR Studio looks promising modulo the clunky-kiddie user interface. Post-processing happens in Aviary.
  • One of the useful features of the Ultimate custom ROM is the ability to switch USB into mass-storage mode, something I’d not seen before. For us Linux users, this is much more useful than PTP or MTP. However, as a hang-over from days of Samsung bloatware, I use Airdroid for offloading files.
  • For a keyboard, I find Swype has smooth sliding and tends to have the various symbols and punctuation in the right places.

The background image is a photo I took of tall birch trees silhouetted against an orange sunset, taken on the patio where we used to live in Argyll.

Back in the land of the living


The proper mobile phone has returned from its second unauthorised leave of repair absence, and has been reformatted and flashed with a custom ROM (Ultimate N7000 XXLT4 JellyBean 4.1.2 v6 for the Samsung Galaxy Note, no less) which seems to be a whole load faster than before. So to celebrate, have a quick photo of the (intentionally, honest) wildflower meadow section of the garden.

Yay, and verily hallelujah!

And now back to reinstalling and reconfiguring all the apps I used previously…

Old is the new… old, really

Time for a bit of a rant, geek-style.

For about 15 months I’ve used a Samsung Galaxy Note as mobile phone of choice. And truth be told, I’ve hated all bar the first 10 minutes of it. The lack of RAM has made me reconsider what apps I use, favouring Seesmic for combined Facebook+Twitter over separate apps; it still makes it horrendously slow for running anything interactive – as an example, by the time I’d got the thing unlocked and fired-up HDR Camera+, a rainbow had entirely gone! Spontaneity, we do not have it.

What they don’t tell you is that the leverage available when coupling these large screens with tiny thin USB connectors is a recipe for disaster. I’ve bent the pins on more cables than I care to think, trying to wiggle the thing for optimum solid connectivity; just before Christmas last year it finally died and the internal USB connector broke, requiring a repair under warranty – the first time I’ve ever had to send back a phone to be fixed.

Anyway, yesterday evening it threw a hissy-fit and spontaneously discharged the battery all the way down to empty, despite being plugged in (and, given that the wiggly-connector issues seemed to be returning, I made doubly sure that the power icon said charging). I recharged the battery overnight with the phone turned off, and yet this morning it still refused to boot up. It did something like this a while ago, and leaving it overnight was sufficient to reset itself; today, it’s had all day and still isn’t powering on any more.

So this morning I dug out my old HTC Hero, the first Android phone I ever used, and flashed it with CyanogenMod and updated the radio package. After a bit lot of faffing around, hunting and installing SSL root CA certificates to allow it to talk to Google and rebooting, I’m now powered by a custom ROM and sufficiently uptodate that Google Talk has been replaced by Hangouts. Yay, geek-cred!

The Samsung problem might be as simple as a dead battery; however, after the Christmas fiasco I really can’t be bothered trying to fix it any more and will look forward to getting something better later in the year.

Unfortunately it means a few changes on this blog; the camera is down from 8 megapixels to 5MPel and I won’t be shooting with HDR Camera+ or processing images on the phone with Aviary any more. Still, it does work for capturing the odd image and I can achieve some suitably strange processing effects on the notebook with darktable if I want.

Meanwhile I’m back getting my communication and maps on the go again. And the Hero is living up to its name.