ITLT: Headphone and USB port placement

Port Positions

How does one pocket this?

IMHO

  • both USB/charging port and headphone ports should be on the bottom
  • ensures pocketability when charging on the go with a USB battery pack while listening to music

Good

  • iPhone 5S
  • HTC One M8

Bad

  • Nexus 5
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • Lumia 930

Other Notes

If you’re stuck on with a device with non optimal port placement, I suggest getting right angle connectors for your headphones as it at least allows the device to rest on the connector without straining anything too much (you could also get a right angled USB connector, but it is yet another thing to worry about if you care about USB charging speeds)

Right Angled Headphone Connector

Android Still has Low Phone Storage Space Problem

A couple years back I though that Android had a big problem with Low Available Phone Storage Space for apps and after reading Ausdroid’s recent review of the Medion 4, it seems that this is still an on-going issue.

The device in question is the Medion 4 which is advertised with “4GB Memory” on Aldi’s site, but according to AusDroid, there is only 500MB allocated for apps (the rest of the space can still be used to store photos/files but not apps without some rooting and hacking).

Filesystem             Size   Used   Free   Blksize
/data                  503M   151M   351M   4096

My 16GB Nexus 4 has 12.9GB allocated to the /data partition which is a bit less than 13.6GB of a 16GB iPhone 4 (can’t seem to find a definitive answer for the iPhone 5) but is still a majority of its storage unlike the Medion 4. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a separate issue which is not exactly the same but gives the same results to the end user: a false sense of storage space (only 8.8GB free from the 16GB model due to Samsung’s customization of Android with its own skin & apps). While it’s not as bad as the Microsoft’s Surface RT storage debacle (15GB free in a 32GB Surface RT, 28GB free in a 64GB Surface Pro. Source: Microsoft’s Surface Disk Page FAQ), both of these situations don’t give me much confidence when recommending non-Nexus Android devices with X GB of storage.

At least if it is just Android customization (ala Samsung), flashing a custom ROM should be able to solve the problem. I’m not sure if the partitioning (ala the Medion 4) can be solved using a custom ROM, but even if it does, you will need to find a ROM that supports your device: so you hope that your devices isn’t a weird obscure one.

So when you buy an Android device, you can’t say for certain that you have a majority of the advertised storage available for apps. I can only assume that Nexus devices would give you the best experience in terms of not being ‘cheated’ for storage space, but I guess this gives more credence to the fact that Google has lost control of Android and that some manufacturers are still giving Android a bad name.

Why I Won’t Recommend a *insert-manufacturer-here* Android Phone

There is nothing worse that seeing a person get new gadget only to be disappointed in it after a while. While this post only covers a few aspects, I hope it helps inform of some things to look out for. This post is targeting more of the mid-range / high-end Android phones for several manufacturers based on some observations I’ve seen repeated over and over again.

HTC

  • Typically only dual band UMTS support: meaning you may not be able to get 3G when overseas depending on the frequency used. There is nothing worse that having a great phone and not being able to get the maximum potential out of it, just because the manufacturer decided to save a bit of money by not giving you a better radio supporting more frequencies. Acceptable for budget devices, but not for midrange / high-end ones.
  • They seem to make a new flagship phone very quickly after one another or that their flagship phone is not really clear. For other manufacturers the flagship phone is typically the highest-end phone with the most capabilities and it is pretty clear which device it is.
    • Samsung – Galaxy S, Galaxy SII.
    • Sony Ericsson – Xperia X10, Xperia Arc.
    • Motorola – Droid / Milestone, Droid 2, Droid 3

    Based on Wikipedia Announced dates of previous HTC phones which I consider their flagship device:

Sony Ericsson

  • I won’t recommend higher end phones because they have only 320MB for app storage (Arc, Neo, Pro, Ray). For budget phones like the Xperia Mini or Mini Pro this amount will be pretty good but not for mid-range or high-end phones. I think HTC has solved this problem with their higher end phones, but ask any HTC Desire owner now, and I bet they have been utterly annoyed at the meager 140MB+ free after a factor reset (now only 128MB after the Gingerbread update). Other competitors have at least 1GB, which I think is the absolute minimum acceptable.

LG

  • Bad support: i.e. no updates. As an owner of the LG Optimus One there was first talk of it not being able to be upgraded to Android 2.3 a.k.a. Gingerbread, but then in December they said it would get the 2.3 upgrade. While it seemed to be rolled out in Romania at the start of July, it is still not available to me. Note that this is their budget phone and according to the Facebook note the higher end models like the Optimus 2X will receive the update only after the Optimus One update is completed. So would this continue in the future? Higher end LG phones get updated after the budget ones?

Acer

Any Manufacturer that doesn’t use stock Android

  • This is mainly due to the fact official updates will take longer if they do not use stock Android, meaning that they have customized things such as the launcher or interface (e.g. HTC’s Sense UI, Samsung’s TouchWiz). This is due to the fact that they would have to update their customizations before pushing the upgrade. There was a long delay for the HTC Desire to get Android 2.2 which would aid the lower app storage space by allowing moving apps to the SD card.

Samsung, Motorola and Huawei are the other main Android manufacturers that I don’t really have any beef against. There is a mention of Samsung breaking some core functionality but that is for any non-stock Android device and so far there doesn’t seem to me much complaints / responses to the post so may be an non-issue or affects a small minority (or people just think Android is broken), but is is something to note.

All being said and done, while some manufacturers have issues with their devices they can still be recommended based on price and your usage scenarios. Below are some phones I do recommend based on the different price ranges.

B$200 – B$300: LG Optimus One @ B$250 (a bit old, don’t expect updates)
B$300 – B$400: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro @ B$368 (my current budget phone recommendation)
B$400 – B$500: HTC Chacha @ B$418 (no competition in this price range)
B$500 – B$600: HTC Desire S @ B$562, Samsung Galaxy S Plus @ B$578 (no flash)
B$600 – B$700: HTC Incredible S @ B$612, Samsung Galaxy Tab @ B$648 (a tablet and phone and thus bulky)
B$700 – B$800: HTC Sensation @ B$758
B$800 – B$900: Samsung Galaxy SII @ B$858

Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro – a Great Budget Android Phone?

Among my usual habits, I will check availability and prices of phones on Incomm and I was surprised to see the Xperia Mini Pro going for B$378.

This phone seems to be a phone I would buy, if I didn’t buy my LG Optimus One, as a great budget Android phone which seems to have the least compromises. Check out the video that I managed to get at Incomm as I played with the device.

Notable Specifications

  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread: the current major version of Android of phones
  • Connectivity: 3G (HSDPA 7.2Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps), WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1
  • 3" HVGA (320×480) screen: a bit small in size but good resolution that is widely supported by all apps
  • Slide out landscape QWERTY keyboard
  • 1GHz Snapdragon CPU with Adreno 205 GPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 400MB for apps (according to GSM Arena): a bit small but acceptable for a budget phone and sadly (for Arc users) it is the same amount as the Arc based on Sony’s specs which says up to 320MB (Arc vs Mini Pro)
  • 5MP rear camera with autofocus, flash and 720p video recording (auto focus while recording video, recorded in mp4 encoded with h264, aac)
  • VGA front facing camera for video calls
  • Supports Adobe Flash
  • Plays 720p videos (mp4 encoded with h264,aac)
  • Can open PDFs and Microsoft Office documents (doc,docs,xls,xlsx,ppt,pptx)
  • microSD support up to 32GB
  • 1200mAh battery

Full specifications at Sony Ericsson or GSM Arena

I really like that this budget phone seems to have practically no compromises for a budget phone: there doesn’t seem to be any major show stoppers. Most budget phones will have no front facing cameras and won’t have cameras that can record 720p. A budget phone won’t have a keyboard nor a 1GHz CPU. The CPU couple with a GPU and sufficient RAM should ensure this device is smooth and usable for the regular user.

The main issue is the small 3" size of the screen (iPhone: 3.5", Optimus One & Wildfire S: 3.2", Galaxy Mini: 3.14"): a small size coupled with a high resolution may make some text small to read and will make using the onscreen keyboard a bit difficult. Thankfully there is a physical keyboard on the Xperia Mini that should help alleviate this (as long as the keyboard is good and usable). Also the smaller 1200mAh battery (vs 1500mAh of the Optimus One) may give it less battery life, but that also depends on the amount of work being done: with a better CPU, the same amount of work may require less energy from the Xperia Mini. I guess we’ll just have to wait for more in-depth reviews with battery life scores and this is the main unknown factor at the moment. Another compromise would possible be the UMTS frequency band support with it only being dual (900/2100) or triband (800/1900/2100) depending on where it is purchased but I don’t think this will affect many. Most of these issues/compromises are acceptable for a budget device.

With that said, I think I could tentatively highly recommend this phone to users but only after they take a look at it and try to use the keyboard and check to see if the text is too small on the device; and also after some battery life tests are published – all the features are of no use if the battery life is bad. From my use with it, the screen and text size seem fine but my fat thumbs did have a bit of an issue with typing. It could play 720p video, Flash video and even edit office documents. Overall a snappy device and I’m just very impressed at what Sony Ericsson managed to pack on this device hitting all the right check boxes giving the user minimal compromises. Great job Sony Ericsson, now improve your higher end devices!

Sample Photos (note front camera was covered with a thin plastic film):

Sample Video from rear camera:

Mobile Phone UMTS Frequency Bands

So the few weeks/months back I saw that the Samsung Galaxy Tab was going for AU$299 and there were a few things I wanted to know about the device before I got it:

  • Could they ship it overseas?
  • Was it locked? if so what is the unlocking fee
  • Will it work here in Brunei?

Sadly in the process of finding my answers to these 2 simple questions, it sadly went out of stock but I did learn some important information with regards to mobile phone frequency bands and also of the ‘quality’ of phones on the market. This is something I’ve never really took into account when buying a phone because I bought phones and they worked, but since I was buying this from overseas I had to make sure. Stumbled upon this comment stating that there are typically to different UMTS/HSDPA frequency band chips: 850/1900/2100 for the US market and 900/1900/2100 for everyone else.

So turn research mode on to see I found out from the Mobile Network Code Wikipedia page that Brunei uses UMTS 2100 for 3G on both carriers b-mobile and DSTCom (DSTCom also supports GSM 900). Data-wise, UMTS is basically 3G or mobile broadband while GSM is the slower GPRS/EDGE mobile Internet. Now just because a carrier has multiple frequencies that it broadcasts on, it doesn’t mean that it will always work with any device as the tower may communicate at a frequency the device does not support e.g. device supports 900/2100, carrier supports 850/2100 but the tower in range communicates on 850MHz. From Wikipedia “The 850 MHz and 900 MHz bands provide greater coverage compared to equivalent 1700/1900/2100 MHz networks, and are best suited to regional areas where greater distances separate subscriber and base station” so I would think telcos would most likely use 850MHz towers to save costs and it seems that is the case with Telstra’s Next G Network for the exact same reason (Telstra’s Mobile Networks)

I’ve compiled some data on phones and tablets from different companies that are currently on the market. I only noted UMTS support as GSM is generally all the same. The results are as follows (full listing of data used at the end of this post).

Results

  1. Nokia: penta-band supported on their high end devices. cheaper phones support tri-band
  2. Apple / Samsung: quad-band support on their latest/higher end devices, previous generation / other devices : tri-band
  3. Sony Ericsson: all models have quad and dual-band models, but not sure which is more common
  4. Motorola: tri-band supported but Xoom only has single-band (possible error?)
  5. Huawei & LG: tri-band support for higher end, the rest dual-band
  6. HTC: mostly dual band with only the Sensation 4G and Flyer having tri-band

Based on the Mobile Network Code Wikipedia page I did a quick search (using the Find tool in Chrome) to find the number of entries that each UMTS band has

  • UMTS 850: 56 entries
  • UMTS 900: 26 entries
  • UMTS 1700: 10 entries
  • UMTS 1900: 35 entries
  • UMTS 2100: 344 entries

So it seems logical that most quad band phones leave out 1700 as it has the least entries and that most (if not all) phones support 2100. I think it’s rather sad that HTC has the worst band support considering they make a lot of phones and they are the very mainstream. At the end of the day the multiple band support is only important for frequent travelers and if you want faster 3G speeds. If your device doesn’t support the appropriate UMTS band, as long as it supports GSM band of the carrier you will still get reception to text and make calls but you will be hindered by slower mobile Internet via GPRS / EDGE. So for the quest for faster data speeds and usability anywhere and everywhere do take note of this when you choose your next phone.

======================
Data Compiled and Used
======================
Full Listing of devices with information taken from GSM Arena. Link to the compiled data (Google Docs). This only shows UMTS / HSDPA support as GSM support is similar.

Apple

Samsung

HTC

Sony Ericsson

Huawei

LG

Motorola

Nokia

The Biggest Problem with Android: Low Available Phone Storage

LG Optimus One's Available Internal Phone Storage of 172MB After a Factory Reset

So after obtaining an Android phone for an extended period of time and exploring Android and the applications, I found what I feel to be one of the biggest hinderance / annoyance / problem with Android: available phone storage. For many people they may think, just adding a large SD card can solve this issue, but this is not the case. All Android phones have RAM and ROM figures in their specifications that are listed on the manufacturer website or websites like GSMArena but the figure may not be accurate for ROM storage.

RAM (Random Access Memory) is needed to store temporary application data/information and helps a device multi-task smoothly. ROM (Read Only Memory) is where the phone operating system and applications reside and each device comes with a base set of operating system features and applications that cannot be uninstalled. This will take away some of the available ROM from the user leaving them with less than the figure stated on the official ROM amount. A good example is the HTC Desire which has 512MB ROM according to the specifications page but according to PCMag there is “only 117MB of available internal storage“. 117MB isn’t much and this is the main reason that hinders me from recommending a Desire. It is a very good phone but this is a major issue that can’t be solved.

Android 2.2 helps alleviate this problem by allowing applications to be moved to SD cards however this will only work on applications that support this feature and even if they do, they cannot move the entire application to the SD card; there will always be some part of the application on the internal storage. When you get low storage on your phone things get uglier and the phone may not function properly. I had about 20MB of available phone storage and I tried to add a phone number to an existing contact and was greeted with an “Memory Full: Not enough phone storage space”. I was adding a single 10 digit phone number to a contact and there isn’t enough space to process / store it.

I notice slowness below 25mb free, and around 10/15mb free space, it starts rejecting texts. You’ll get a warning message when your space is too low, use that as a sign that you need to dump your old texts/mms messages, and maybe delete a program or two that you don’t ever use.(Source: Samsung Intercept Forums)

“App data including your call history, contacts, etc. contributes to your phone storage space as well” (Source: Droid Forums.net)

This will lead to Android users to ensure that they have sufficient phone storage and this in turn limits them trying new applications and exploring what Android has to offer. Some people may argue that you don’t need so many applications and that you should delete the apps that aren’t frequently used, but that isn’t solving the problem and if you’re testing out applications you can easily hit the over 200MB (I hit the Optimus One’s ~150MB ‘limit’ of 172MB after installing applications that I wanted to test and a handful of games). I found it very frustrating when I could have a huge SD card with 10+GB free that can’t be fully utilized for applications. It honestly feels like such a waste of space.

I think this is where Android could learn from Windows Phone 7 here where the SD card is fused/combined with the internal storage. This fusing would allow users to upgrade their internal storage at any time allowing users to be in charge of their device. This fusing would also solve the problem of applications not supporting moving to the SD card as the fused SD card would be treated as internal phone memory. This would give the opportunity of the user to upgrade their storage if needed, as opposed to putting the responsibility of the the developer to support moving the application to the SD card as it is now.

Perhaps this is an issue that manufacturers have not decided to take action upon or perhaps they feel that it isn’t a real big issue. Just due to the fact that it hinders exploration of new apps really gets to me. Newer phones come out with larger ROM sizes but how much is available to the users? I checked a friend’s new HTC Desire HD with only a handful of applications install and there was 0.9GB of phone memory still available (specifications of ROM state 1.5GB, thus assume ~1GB available for applications). Will this problem only be for budget phones in the upcoming future? The HTC Desire was by no means a budget phone when it was released (and still isn’t a budget phone) but it has a low amount of internal storage. Could current phones suffer this same problem in the future? Only time will have the answer and in the mean time, this is a big point of contention for me and makes choosing an Android device a bit more challenging. Follow up post on “Things to look out for when buying an Android phone/device” should come soon.

BDFone and their Brunei made mobile phones

When I read about BDFone creating their own mobile phones that run Android and that they were at the Halal Expo I had to pay them a visit and check out their devices.

Basically they have 2 phones that should be coming to the market in the coming months (estimated at 4-6 weeks). These phones are the LC203 and the LC303 are have basic features. Both phones are 2G and the LC303 has extra features such as a camera. These 2 phones are not running Android but a custom OS from their partners. They have prototypes that are running Android and Windows Mobile but those phones will only be seen in the future.

Aiming at the B$400-B$600 price point they could make a market for themselves as typical Android handsets are targeting the more premium market at the moment. Looking at QQeStores Android phone listing there is only the Samsung Galaxy Spica I5700 and LG GW620 in this price range. My only concerns would be support for firmware updates to an Android phone. The HTC Hero has yet still get any 2.0+ firmware here in Asia and I wonder if this could be an issue with a new manufacturer. The prototype is running Donut (Android 1.6) but as it is not coming out any time soon, they may be running a newer version of Android so nothing much to comment yet.

Zahid, the managing director of BDFone, informed me that they have partnerships with Alcatel, Motorola and Nokia; and that they are targeting low cost but functional phones. I’m not too sure about lower end feature/dumb phones as I think Nokia has pretty functional phones at the low end but aiming for the lower end of Android may be beneficial. There is a void here as almost all Android phones are trying to be an iPhone killer and fetches top dollar. I’m thinking a non-touch Android phone with a keypad (1-9) would be an interesting form factor like the Nokia E52. Either way I wish them all the best and will try update on any developments on this Brunei phone.