Six reasons for the change of…

A final blog post for the end of the past year 2011 which unfortunately saw too many deaths of beloved people and only a few posts on this blog – also due to the Posterous / Facebook / Twitter competition and not many actually willing to read longer blog posts as a result of the information overflow.

It’s not that I am only into tech stuff, but I am passionate about these gadgets and that’s also reason enough to note down the following motivation.

iphone4-Defy
The Apple iPhone 4 vs. The Motorola Defy

There are three four five six reasons why I’m planing to skip the freedom that comes with Android and switch (back) to an iPhone 4 (not 4S) in 2012:

1. There may be great Android phones and my Motorola Defy (“Jordan, MB525”) is a lot of  phone for the money, but it’s a few millimeters too small for my fingers which means that typing on the screen is easier and quicker on the iPhone.

2. Both cameras on both phones have 5mpx sensors, but there’s some magic to the iPhone 4 camera that the Defy camera just does not have. And I’ve tried all cameras on the Android market, am using MIUI on the Defy which also includes the CyanogenMod7 camera app and…well, I just don’t like the results. It always takes several attempts to get a decent, not blurry picture and if the flash is activated, then it’s even worse. It could also be the software processing, less the hardware.

Defy camera test, outside
A somehow blurry snapshot, shot on a cloudy/rainy day in October. Not really what I expected to receive from the camera.

I take a lot of pictures with the phone, I knew that the camera on the Defy wouldn’t be that great and I’ve learned my lesson. If a decent camera on the phone is important to you, then go for an iPhone. Also compared to what Nokia used to produce – it’s imo better to use a 50-60% camera that “just works” than one that only delivers blurry images or blinds people with an aggressive flash (hello, Nokia N95!).

3. The dock connector. I am using a docking station on my desk and next to my bed. When I fall asleep, I just want to drop the phone into the docking station where it’s being recharged etc. – and not manually open a flap on the side of the phone and plug in a mini USB cable. I’m used to this procedure now, but I also know that these things are easier with the iPhone and a bit more complicated with the Defy (which is why I sold/gave away both docking stations I had for the Defy).

4. I got a very generous offer from a friend that I just have to accept and which enables me to make the swap to the other phone. The irony is that the iPhone is currently locked to ze Görmän Terrorkom (T-Mobile) network and will only be unlocked in the middle of 2012, but all of these limitations don’t matter to me for the above mentioned reasons. Another motivation probably also is that iOS 5 finally brought the changes that I requested iOS to have (and which I preferred on Android).

5. Not a real reason, but still: my sister, who always refused iPhones (“I don’t need them…”), suddenly surprised me in mid 2011 with the purchase of an iPhone 4 32GB. Which comes with FaceTime! All these years of introducing Skype within the family were rather unsuccessful, but this (stupid) FaceTime app now suddenly introduced video telephony within the family. Yeah, well…. whatever.

6. Payment options on the market. I really like Android but there’s this one thing where the iTunes store is just more advanced: payment options on the iTunes store include the use of vouchers. Now, this may not be an issue in the US, but in Germany, a) you only get a credit card when you’re 18 (so many consumers do not have one, or use someone else’s card, or use a prepaid one) and b) with many banks (who issue these cards), you have to pay an extra charge of 1,85% of the complete transaction fee for foreign apps. Which means that app purchases cost extra and more than expected. Sure, we’re talking about Euro cents here, but still it’s more – and the purchase / availability of prepaid vouchers, available at local supermarkets like they are for iTunes, would imo be the perfect solution for the Android market. So until this issue is solved, the iTunes store is a bit more sophisticated to me. This is imo also why the “for free”-culture is much more alive on the Android and Nokia ecosystems than it is with the Apple ecosystem (where hardware is already expensive enough). Payment options are key!

Android: What I will certainly miss is the removable battery (haha, just kidding – the only reason to remove it is to reset the phone – seriously) and the microSD card which – and I differ here with experts like Eldar Murtazin – I think is very great because it enables you to keep your user data in one place. Water damage with the iPhone? You’re doomed! But not so with phones where microSD-cards keep most of your data. I think that’s pretty convenient and a valid argument pro microSD-cards. Also because not everyone trusts iCloud, though it’s a step in the right direction. In 2011/12, hard- and software should be independent from each other. If a device (phone/laptop/car, etc.) fails, I’d like to exchange the hardware, type in my credentials and continue on a new device where I left the old one. Another great convenience of course is that you just type in your gmail address and it will automatically setup your phone. Totally awesome. Or alternative app stores like AppBrain – so many more options (except payment) than the iTunes store. The best part about Android certainly is how apps are connected within the OS and how they offer a level of connectivity I am yet to find on iOS (e.g. saving a page to ReadItLater).

As I said, Android is good, attractive and my preferred OS of choice. The Defy is a very nice phone but I’ve realized that for my own daily needs, the iPhone just does a slightly better job.

Half of my geek friends are from the “there’s-no-other-smartphone-than-the-iPhone” group, and the other group is more like “Android-is-better-because-iOS-is-worse”.

So the bottom line probably is that it takes a longer test of all available systems and a small set of important apps that just need to work in order to see which phone suits the user.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the redesign on this blog here: I’ve updated WordPress to 3.3 and that somehow destroyed my blog template – which I had been meaning to change since 2006! Again, it probably takes some interaction from the outside to make the switch. Thx, @alipasha!

Everyone, please have a peaceful and happy New Year 2012!

Five reasons why the Motorola Defy sucks (not really)

Yes, I know – five blog posts about a phone within two weeks may be too much for most readers, but some people have asked me how I like my new mobile phone – the Motorola DEFY – so I went on and compiled a review on it. In German, for Amazon.de.

jke defy

Don’t speak German? Then read on….

The part where you’ll lose your readers is probably where you start talking about how good product xyz is. There are 163 reviews on Amazon.de about this particular phone at the moment, and almost all reviews describe how great this phone is. So I went on and tried to focus on the disadvantages of the Motorola Defy – which I think are important facts when you’re about to invest some money in a new phone.

It’s an incomplete list, things (especially some software issues) are subject to change, we’re talking about a Motorola Defy in mid February 2011. Also, I started as an Android n00b (when I got this phone a week ago).

1. The micro-USB port is at the side of the devices, so you’ll have troubles finding a suitable docking station. I’ve built my own, but the device still acts up when inserted into the docking station, even with the latest (unofficial) software. Plus the port is covered by a piece of plastics which needs to be removed (and is fixed to the body of the phone) – thus: a docking station will always have to provide enough room for this flap. It’s still better than the flaps on the Nokia phones I’ve reviewed in the past and of course helps protect the phone from water and dust.

defy port

2. There’s no specialised accessory available as of yet except for the usual suspects such as car chargers, (passive) car mounts, display and body covers. No docking station, no headphones, no spare parts. And this although the phone has sold quite well over the last few months. Where are all these Chinese manufacturers when you need them? Or could this be related to the nasty docking station issue I’ve experienced on my Defy (phone switches into flight mode, starts media player)? Or is that just a “media dock”-mode? Hmm.

defy car mount
Moto DEFY car mount menu (very nice!)

defy media dock
Moto DEFY media dock menu (before it started acting up…?!).

defy headset
opened Motorola DEFY headset (hint: iPhone headsets do work)
tip = L // 2nd ring = R // 3rd ring = M- // sleeve = M+

3. The ear speaker problem a lot of (not all, but many) Moto Defys came with is due to low quality speakers and should have been avoided by quality management. Especially since the rest of the phone is top-notch Motorola quality. The Sony K770 (mobile phone) is said to be a resource for alternative speakers….

4. The camera. I believe that the camera module inside the phone is capable of doing much more than what we see as end results. The picture quality is far away from the likes of Nokia N95, N82 or even N8 (it’s just a simple 5mpx module after all) and when I installed new firmware on the phone, I realized how much better this camera can be. Really, an upgrade of the camera software should be recommended to Motorola.

2011-02-17 04-18-41 353

2011-02-17 17-12-23 586
How about these two totally unrelated macro sample shots? (taken with the phone on Android 2.2)

5. Motorola currently ships this phone with Android 2.1. I am using a retail version which means any upgrade of the internal firmware isn’t possible over-the-air (OTA), but instead only via a Motorola software on my computer. So I upgraded it from version 2.2.1 to 2.5.1 (both within Android 2.1) and still had some nasty bugs on it like folder names that disappeared after rebooting the phone, or missing lock screens after pressing the main button. Also, I wasn’t using Motorola’s own Android skin “Motoblur”, so I can’t remark on that one. Anyways, after experiencing all these bugs, I decided to flash it with a leaked BLURless ROM from Orange Poland (!) to Android 2.2. What you actually do is a full wipe of all user data on the phone, install the new ROM, do another full wipe and remove some Orange default settings. It’s an automated process that will certainly kill any warranty on the phone, so you should only do it if you know what to do. I didn’t, but I tried it nevertheless and was really surprised:

Motorola Defy + Android 2.2 – Motoblur = AWESOME!

Don’t get me wrong, this preliminary BETA via Orange Poland still has some bugs, but Motorola would be well advised to change their policy on this Motoblur thing and have it removed, or only make it available upon request. Or keep it for business customers who need a closed environment. Not because Motoblur is bad – it isn’t – but because the development and adjustment of Motoblur slows down the entire process for future Android releases on the phone. Seriously, you can not ship a brand new phone (released to the market in Nov. 2010) with Android 2.1 while the competition already has 2.3 and while I can get 2.2 on any cheaper 100€ Android device (ZTE, Huawei, etc.).

Else, I think the Motorola Defy is a great phone and is unique enough to remain on the market (even with Android 2.1!) for a very long time.

Another detail I eventually also realized: you’ll need to register a credit card with Google to buy software on their Android market. On Apple iTunes, there are vouchers available for purchase in our local supermarket. So it’s not only the great UI, simplicity of the iPhone or good apps that made the Apple iPhone dominate the market, but also this ecosystem called iTunes (compared to other like Android market) that contributed to the success of the iPhone. You’ll read about such things and think: “yeah, of course…”, but then when you are charged extra fees on your CC because it was used on Google checkout (US <=> Germany), you’ll quickly understand that some things are smarter with iTunes for a very good reason. This, however, isn’t related to the phone, but to all Android devices.

So…. does the Motorola Defy suck? – NO, of course not.

4 days on Android

old vs. new

There’s something about Apple’s iPhone that just won’t go away. I think it’s this “one button to rule them all” philosophy – the home button – that will make things a bit easier for the user.

When you’re already used to an iPhone, it’s hard to switch to any other mobile OS, especially if this includes letting go of a beloved app and a service that made things a bit easier for me:

  1. the app to control my bank account (currently no Android app available)
  2. no push notifications for Android 2.1 & Twitter app

I may be repeating myself here, but such a basic and important service like Twitter push notifications (forget about Facebook) not being available on my Android device is really sad. The only alternative to this is the use of an automatic sync (~ every 15 min.) via TweetDeck, Hootsuite & Co..

Else, my first 4 days on an Android device were less hectic. I received the phone, installed the latest available update (it’s still on Android 2.1!) and downloaded a plethora of interesting apps. Apps that I can even share with the rest of the world via Appbrain. Wow!

You know it’s a bit irritating when you’re already using Google Chrome, have a Gmail account, sync everything via this account and then you are wondering where your bookmarks are. Not synced! Why? No browser on Android supports this. Yes, there’s an extra app for this + I am a LastPass/Xmarks Pro user, so solutions are available, but still – this chaos at Google reminds me of Nokia’s Ovi.

Unfortunately, the Moto Defy also still has some open software issues and tends to “forget” a few settings after each reboot. I will also need to optimize energy consumption on it – my Symbian approach of closing apps which are not in use does not really work with Android.

As for the iOS vs. Android discussions:

  • Need games? => iOS
  • Need your (Google) tasks & calendar on a home screen? => Android
  • You’re fine with iTunes? => iOS
  • Want to backup your phone to a Dropbox account? => Android

To be honest, I am still at this point where I think that an iPhone is the better phone for most consumers – even though I’ve seen a lot of iPhone users who’d even be ok with a simple Nokia S40 phone (as they only need telephony and SMS).

Motorola DEFY docking station (DIY)

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project
The Motorola DEFY ships with a simple (bulky) charger & a micro-USB cable.

Docking stations for mobile devices may not be on everyone’s agenda, but since I am working from home most of the time and also use a docking station for my HP laptop, I prefer these convenient solutions to have the phone (or any other mobile device) charged when I need it. Besides, I’ve also used such docking stations for my previous phones, so I made sure I’d get mine for this new phone.

The problem: there’s no docking station available for the Motorola DEFY, even though it has been on the market since November 2010 and has since then sold quite well.

There’s an offer on eBay for such a third party docking station from China, set to be available from March 2011 onwards – or later, because the same was also said in Decemeber and January and the release date has been postponed more than once.

Another issue is that the micro USB port is covered by a little flap, so you’ll always have to move it to the side while accessing the USB port. It may be against this background that third party manufacturers haven’t come up with a docking station for the DEFY as of yet.

The solution: build your own by modifying one made for the Motorola Milestone. Such Milestone docking stations like the one below currently sell for 10,90 EUR via eBay.DE (incl shipping), which is ok.

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

Now, the beauty with these phones is that they flip the screen when you insert them into such a docking station – and display a special screen with access to basic functions like alarm, gallery, media, etc..
In fact, it has two screens – one for desktop docking stations and one for car mounts. You can manually activate the car mount display (huge buttons with access to the navigation system, telephone, music, etc. – very nice, see previous post with bikertech.de image) via a link on the home screen, but I am still to find the link on the menu for this desktop docking screen.

With this docking station, the screen automatically rotates and shows the docking screen. How’s that done? SIMPLE! The phone responds to a magnet which I’ve mounted inside the docking station. In fact, this docking station also came with a small magnet for the Moto Milestone, but it never worked, so I used one of those neodyanamic magnets from last week’s MAKE: LED Throwies DIY project during our local Frankfurt Ignite event wich does the job quite well. You insert the phone et voilà, the screen rotates. Perfect!

Here’s what I did:

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

Removed the covers on the screws.

Motorola DEFY docking station DIY « Kikuyumoja

The position of the micro-USB port on the Motorola Milestone obviously differs from the one on the DEFY :-(

Let’s open it up and see what’s inside:

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

The micro-USB plug is screwed to the plastic frame – good! Let’s remove it….

Motorola DEFY docking station DIY « Kikuyumoja2

The old magnet from the Milestone docking unfortunately didn’t work for the DEFY…

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

Ok, now this is what you do when you don’t have a Dremel ;-)

(using your soldering iron – very jua kali, but hey, it worked….)

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

So I “drilled” a new hole for the USB plug…

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

…and fixed everything with hot glue (nasty stuff).

Motorola DEFY docking station DIY « Kikuyumoja3

Can you see the magnet in the middle?

Ok, let’s put the bottom cover back on and turn it around:

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

It may not look that nice…..

JKE Motorola DEFY docking station project

..but the final result it good, works fine & makes me happy! :-)

This DIY project is based on an idea I picked up on a German Android forum, which also has a pic of where the magnetic sensor is located inside the Motorola DEFY. Btw, the 2 screens for the docking station (a) this view (as above) and b) the car mount view) only depend on the polarity of the magnet. Flip it over and the other screen will load. Obviously, this isn’t possible with my construction because I’ve glued the magnet to the plastic frame. But you get the idea and may want to use it on your own DIY car mount….

And yes, this docking station will certainly never be as elegant as the slim one for the iPhone, but it fits the phone and does what its supposed to do. Also, there’s something about Motorola I will never understand. The hardware and build quality they offer is terrific! But anything beyond that like adopting the open Android approach (i.e. open bootloaders) or cooperating with third party accessory dealers – nada. Motorola, to me, is like a headmaster of a conservative school that prefers adults (business customers) only. Very strange…

Hello Moto DEFY! How dey body?

So I did it.

Motorola Defy JKE

I bought this Motorola DEFY mobile phone today. It’s my first Android device and I am still to find out if I can get along with its operating system, the available apps and the user interface. I’ve picked this model (and not the HTC Desire / HTC Desire HD / Samsung S / Nexus S, etc.) for the following reasons:

  1. It is dustproof and water & scratch resistant. There are various videos on YouTube that document how this phone still works after (and while) being submerged in water and other fluids. Try this with an iPhone :-)
  2. It was recommended to me by my mate Adrian who has 10 (!) of these and uses them for a scientific (geologic) project. Of course, if I could afford it, I would probably also long for a Nexus S (like Adrian) because of the availability of a pure and fresh Android 2.3+. The Motorola DEFY currently runs on Android 2.1 with its own (lame) skin MOTOBLUR. Android 2.2 still needs to be rolled out in this region for this phone, and it is uncertain whether it will ever make it to 2.3. Of course there are unofficial releases, but Motorola only allows signed bootloaders. F*** Y**, Motorola. Not good. Android is open. You’re not. Why?
  3. It was also recommended to me by fellow blogger @bobbes who’s a Linux guy and showed me his DEFY earlier last week.
  4. It is affordable and has a very good price-performance ratio. This is an average device with an average camera. My old Nokia N95 (ex 2007) has a better camera. I’ve paid 265 EUR (this is a refurbished/like-new piece of hardware!).
  5. Android! Because I needed a change. As a Win/Linux user, iTunes is a pain in the ass. Else, I still love my iPhone on iOS 3.1.2. The iPhone is very slow on the browser, though, and urgently required an upgrade. I am not really sure if Android will make me as happy as iOS did, but I’ll never know unless I try.
  6. 480×854 pixel screen size. For an operating system, where app compatibility also depends on the pixel resolution of the target device, this is a welcome screen resolution.
  7. I’ve always kept & treated my phones & gadgets in a good way, never had a broken screen so far, but it just feels good to know that any sweat on the display (holding the phone next to your ear) will not result in a water damage. Given how fragile these phones are on the inside, this DEFY hopefully defies all water attacks :-)
  8. It’s smaller than my iPhone, faster and will presumably also run a bit longer. This argument about exchangable batteries….in all honesty, I think no one really needs that in reality. And for those moments you really need it, you won’t have a fully charged spare battery in your pocket. I usually carry a bag with chargers and spare batteries for all my phones in my laptop bag. During all these years, I’ve only used them twice. Once in Kenya, and once in Germany on the train (only to realize that the cheap MadeInChina spare batteries drained too fast).
  9. It has a good GPS chipset. My iPhone Classic doesn’t have GPS. My Nokia N95 has GPS, albeit a very weak one that needs to be hardware hacked one day (extending the antenna, that is).
  10. It has a microSD card. This alone is reason enough to drop the iPhone (where I used Dropbox for non-multimedia files).
  11. It has two microphones that “intelligently amplify your voice and filter out background noise”. This is supposed to be a modern standard (worked fine on my E72), but my iPhone Classic didn’t have this and I sometimes missed it. I don’t like to use my iPhone as a telephone, prefer Nokias when it comes to pure telephone functionality because of the improved acoustics. Estonimoja (with his beloved 6210) and Mentalacrobatic(s) (with his love for the 6230) will certrainly agree on this.
  12. As a hardware guy, I checked Youtube for “disassembly defy” and found this video. Going by the main PCB and the plastic cover, this phone is very similar to good Nokia phones. You’ll notice the difference while opening up iPhones or HTCs – which are much more fragile and consist of many small cables and parts directly printed on these copper cables. This obviously is a business decision and sometimes the cause for failures (that you won’t have with such single-board phones, imo). In other words: good built quality needs to be based on something.
  13. This being an iP67 phone, my assumption is that it will continue to live despite any stupid Motorola bootloader policies. In other words: while this phone has something that makes it unique (the water/dust proof thing), other current Android devices may only be short lived and soon dropped by many users for the prospect of using better hardware. I think this Motorola Defy will stay with us for a long time, similar to the Siemens ME45 or the recent Nokia 3720.

What I miss is a docking station, and/or the USB socket at the bottom of the device. I’ll have to open the flap that covers the USB port (on the left side of the device, see pics), which is a bit annoying. The iPhone (or the HTC Desire) clearly wins here. Obviously, there’s no perfect phone out there.

Oh, and you can buy this mobile phone holder (yeah, simu holdaaaaa!! :-):

DEFY-holder-Bikertech.de

 

…. which will probably attract Enduro-fanatics like Bwana Whiteafrican or Bwana Mzeecedric who need tough gear for their motorbikes.

This mobile phone holder for bicyles and motorbikes is available via bikertech.de – the above image is (C) by them. The guy who runs bikertech.de builds these holders one by one, they are all hand made and can be adjusted to any specific requirements. Love it! In fact, seeing this pic finally nailed it for me. I can’t imagine using an iPhone in an Otterbox case (which are awesome, see their review from my Nokia E72) on such a holder. But the DEFY? Of course!

Anyways. I know the DEFY won’t be the ultimate phone, and probably also not be my last one. If it proves to be as reliable & versatile as the iPhone Classic, I’ll be more than glad.

UPDATE: After receiving this phone, checking out Android, installing a lot of apps and slowly understanding what makes Android so special, I realized that the simplified car menu (see bikertech image above for an example) that gives you access to basic functionality is VERY nice and convenient.