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January 12, 2017

AT&T, Verizon going after legacy Unlimited Data Plan, very annoying!

I woke up this morning, browsing through my news feeds and saw two headlines that annoyed me back to back.

1. Verizon takes aim at its unlimited data plan customers once more (engadget)
2. AT&T raises unlimited data pricing as carriers push users away from grandfathered plans (macworld)

It instantly pissed me.  I had given up my unlimited data plan from AT&T a while back in favor of the superior Project Fi network, so this no longer applies to me.  But it just seems like these carriers are still bilking the customers for their pipeline instead of give customers more innovation or launching new products/services.  How is it that we have unlimited data plan almost 10 years ago and in modern day, we have to have caps and throttles on the data usage.  This is why I have zero regret going to Google Project Fi network which was so convenient on my recent trip to India where I have all of my services for the same cost as if I were in the USA (SMS, international data, etc.)

While I appreciate these carriers for maintaining and upgrading their system to yield faster internet speeds over the year, the fact that they are capping the usage and nickle and diming their customers just feels like we are going backwards.

August 20, 2016

Google Project Fi Amazing International Traveling Companion

Let me cut to the chase, Google Fi kicked ass in terms of international traveling goes.  The plan lived up to all the hype and promises!

When I decided to switch over to Google Project Fi from a few months ago, there were two major factors:  1). Low Cost Plan and 2). Promising International Coverage.  I knew I would be traveling throughout Asia this summer, so I was anxious to see how it would go.  Google promised unlimited Text regardless where you are (in or out of the U.S.) and in terms of the data plan, it doesn't matter, within the 135+ countries, you are on the same data plan:  $10/GB.

As soon as I landed in Taipei, I turned the phone on, and was greeted with a nice message telling me Google Fi has me covered there.  From then on I proceeded to use the phone as if I were in the states throughout the rest of the trip which is uncensored.  I got the same confidence and messaging when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.  The feeling is amazing, to be able to confidently walk around foreign countries with your phone's data plan turned on and sending as many SMS messages as you please.  From the moment you landed, you can inform friends or family members in that country without worrying about exceeding some international data or SMS plan from one of the carriers.  (I used to pay $10 for 50 int. SMS and $30 for 200MB; back then, each time I go out of the country, I am constantly worried about going over these anemic overpriced plans and would freak out if I forgot to turn off data and apps started to download data in the background.  With Google Fi, the feeling is so liberating.  In the ten years I have been really into smartphones and mobile devices, this is the first time I felt like we have finally arrived and truly feel like a global citizen empowered by technology.  For that, a big thank you to the Google Fi team is well deserved.

I ran across another excellent review of the International Project Fi review (Project Fi in Paris: My International Connectivity Dreams come True), this person really nailed the same feeling.  Head on over to have a good read if you want to know all the details.

March 15, 2016

Project Fi Update

After a couple of days of usage, I have some updates.

1. As seen from the image here, the LTE speed from my apartment is pretty AWESOME.  76mb down and 30mb up is faster than my FIOS network at home.  I am loving it so far.

2. I use a 3rd party text app called TEXTRA, for now it seems to have trouble with MMS setting (my guess is that it has to do with the fact that the app doesn't know how to behave amongst two potential networks).  For now, I switched back to the default messenger app.

3. Google's WiFi Assistant is great at finding reliable and secure network connections to save you on the data network, I found a handy reference here to show you what each icon means, including the little "key" icon which stands for trusted wifi net

March 13, 2016

Project Fi, Here I come.

"Wow, you've been with AT&T since atleast 2006, possibly longer since my system only goes back that far..." said an AT&T Contract Specialist during an intro conversation when I told them I am going to cancel my plan with them.

I've been with AT&T for a long time, since the Cingular/BlackBerry 8500 series days... by my estimation, I've been with them for approx. 12-14 years.  Since the iPhone 3G era, I've primarily kept an unlimited data plan of $25 + $5 SMS plan for as long as I can remember.  AT&T grandfathered me in the unlimited data through its EDGE, 3G, UMTS, 4G, HSPA, HSDPA and the eventual LTE bandwidth evolution.  I managed to leverage free tethering via Google Nexus Devices and was okay paying approx. $75/month after all the bullshit fees and taxes thrown at us consumers.  All was "well" until my Nexus 6 arrived and suddenly AT&T's provisioning for tethering kicked in; I had to let go of my unlimited data plan for "choose your data" plan.  In the interest of saving some money, I opted for a 2GB plan w/ rollover and was paying about $65/mo. after fees.

I had heard about Google's Project Fi from my company's ex-CTO when he was invited to join early on.  I received an invite shortly after but sat on my ass because I was too lazy to be bothered with.  Recently, I have been thinking a lot of all of the recurring monthly expenses (cable, cell phone, parking, etc. etc.) and when I read about Project Fi is now open to public, I started to look into the benfits and decided that I'd give it shot.

By now there are tons and tons of reviews on Project Fi, so this post is not intended as a review for Project Fi, I will only go over the rational that I went through which help me decide it could work for me:

  • In the past, I preferred AT&T being that it is the best GSM network within the US, and works aboard; Google knowing T-Mobile or Sprint's network along cannot compete in terms of coverage so they combined the ability to switch between the two... I figured it's worth a shot in terms of coverage... we'll see.
  • I travel abroad once a year and have lots of friends and family aboard; Project Fi works well with 120 countries.  From the US, you can text internationally for free.  While abroad, data is charged the same as domestic at $10/GB and calls are around $0.20 per minute.  Compared to the AT&T international Data plan  of 200MB at $30 and the 50 SMS for $10 I was paying, this is a huge benefit.  I like knowing that I have this flexibility.
  • Monthly fee is determined by me; and I aim to do so at $30 ($20 basic + $10 @1GB Data); I have Wifi at my residence and work; and I live in one of the most WiFi abundance city in the world.

Now I know going with Project Fi changes the way I fundamentally operate, I no longer have the bragging rights of "unlimited data" to stream and do crazy mobile things independently.  I also happened to be paying for a couple of ISP plans on my own dime plus where I work, I have access to WiFi.  As a consumer, I have to wise up or pay the ultimate price since every company out there seems to think its okay for a consumer to repeatedly paying for ISP services (ie. don't get me started on car commercials that boast about cars have 4G LTE wireless network built me).

Its worth while noting that this is one of Google's recent (and noble) attempt at disrupting the telecom ecosystem; this reminds me of the early 2000's Google where they just come in and say lets reinvent the way we do things (ie. Google Maps, Google Talk, Google Reader, Google Voice, NEXUS phones for $300, etc, etc.).  I miss this Google, please give me more of this Google.

Before I go, I want to mention a couple of things worth noting; Project Fi seems to be an evolution to the Google Voice system; if you decide to sign up, you can choose to use your existing Google Voice number (if you have one) or you can port in your own phone number.  If you choose the latter, Project Fi will tell you that you will forfeit your existing Google Voice number.  Have no fear, because the wisdom of Internet told me that you can forward that number to a different Google Account (which I did).  That said the porting process was pretty easy as well.  1. You enter all of your existing telecom information on Project Fi while you wait for your Project Fi SIM card to arrive, 2. Call your telecom to tell them you want cancel your plan, plan to spend some time here as they will try to plead with you by offering $5 offer or some other insulting amount, 3. Once your SIM card arrives, plug it into your NEXUS device (oh, by the way, it only works with Nexus devices for now) and for me, within 1 hour, the number was ported and I was ready to rock!

Last tip!  One of the best reviews I came across thus far was from Venture Beat.  They tipped their readers off on some poor indoor call quality as it relates to the default Wifi-Calling feature which can be turned off.  So please do that and enjoy the calls!

So far, everything is going to plan.  I will report back if I have more things to say (or to gripe).

December 19, 2015

USB Type C - What a magnificent pain in the ass!

USB consortium's latest Type C cable is the future of USB.  It transfers data much faster, draws up to 3A of power for super fast charging and is perfectly symmetrical in every way (plug designs and both ends).  But what happens when you get a new phone that is USB Type C.

As it turns out, it is a huge pain in the ass.  If you are like me, then you have outfitted your house, car, office and backpack with an abundance of USB type-A adapters, car chargers, and cables.  Well, you might as well trash all of these cables since USB type-C doesn't work with them.

While Amazon does offer a ton of accessories like Type-A to Type C adapter dongle or adapter cables and car chargers, you are never sure if these generic manufactures are giving you something up to spec, according to Google's very own engineers, we should steer clear of generic brands.

Assuming you are okay with buying new Type-C cables at $19 to $29 a pop, you still have to invest in adapter dongles so it can be plugged into your computer and existing USB Type-A plugs. 

Oh, and thanks to the genius at Google that omitted the Qi charging technology in their latest Nexus 5x and 6p offerings, it also rendered my collection of wireless charging pads useless.

I guess I will hang on to my Nexus 6 for a while longer until the USB Type-C cables step up in quality and step down in price... 

September 23, 2015

Qi Wireless Charging is Going Strong?

When wireless charging was introduced back when Google released NEXUS 4, I wasn't really sure if it would stick around. Very few manufacture support it (Nokia had it, Samsung supported it but required customers to upgrade their battery cover on their own dime).  I invested in a couple of chargers but they were generally expensive ($30-50 range).  Personally, I find it to be extremely convenient and having a charger at home and work makes sure my phone is always charged because I simply set it down on the charge pad when not in

I have recently taken notice on the increased awareness and availability in Qi Wireless Charging.  Could it be that this format of charging is going strong?  Take a look for your self:

1. Regular Qi-Charging device can be had for less than $15 these days, take a look on Amazon or other stores


2. Toyota announced their 2016 redesigned Tacoma features Qi charging, I then discovered a host of other Toyota vehicles support it as well including the 2016 Avalon and Camary.


3. IKEA announced a series of their furnitures and lamps supporting the Qi Wireless Charging standards.  Thats huge support in the Qi Wireless standard as they are now integrated to their affordable furniture for the masses.


4. More new or random appliances are now integrating Qi Charging.  I stumbled across two in the past 48 hours which is what prompted me to write this entry.  Take a look at this pretty cool looking OLED desk lamp called AERELIGHT with Qi Charger as well as a JBL speaker system with built in NFC and Qi charging.

August 13, 2015

Smartphones in Cuba

I just watched a news segment on CNBC titled "Smartphone for Offline Use" which talks about the current state of affairs for Cubans and smartphone usage.  Report states that they are buying slightly older smartphones like the Galaxy S4 for $360; due to the lack of wireless internet coverage and it comes with:

  • Pre-loaded World Wide Map
  • Pre-loded Wikipedia Content
  • (I am guessing its off contract) 

My conclusion:  Cubans are actually ahead of us in terms of practical smartphone experience!

While I understand having reliable 3G/4G connection is a privilege, I can't tell you how much I resent the movement from Google or Apple to force us to be depend on said internet connection.  If you have ever caught yourself in a position where your phone is rendered useless because there is no connection (ie. rural, woods, camp sites, airplane), you'll know what I mean!

Smartphones should be able to operate without internet connection; otherwise its just a dumb phone.

July 1, 2015

Solar Impulse Flight is Halfway around the world

As I type up the draft to this entry, the Solar Impulse (Airplane that is 100% clean energy using the Sun to charge it’s battery) has made more than half way around the globe.  It is currently traveling on its eighth leg from Japan to Hawaii.  What makes it really cool is the amazing website it has setup for the world to follow along the journey with the pilots who have already been traveling for more than 114 days at time of writing.

The website provides live video stream and full on cockpit information so folks (nerds) like myself can be part of the action.  You can see the flight at night which relies 100% on the battery which at the time of writing is just a tad over 50% charge and it predicts the power to drop down to 41% in 1 hour… that’s craziness; few hours later the charge is up to 99% with the Sun fully out.  Think about all the science and calculation behind this project to ensure it has enough battery capacity to flight throughout the darkness or cloudy day. 

This project is really cool, it really is the pinnacle of human technology (energy, mobility, communications, technology).

May 11, 2015

Is there a need for Apple Watch?

The question extends beyond Apple Watch; I've raised this question against all smart watches for the past couple of years.  The novelty of having a watch that can provide relevant information with a flick of a wrist is interesting.  In an information driven age, those who can get the latest information fastest will often get the advantage.  But is the smart watch providing the information fast enough (or convenient enough?)

While I still can't answer that just yet, I am most certain that at its infancy, its certainly is not easy enough.

1. Smart Watches are Phone Dependent (at least to make it useful):  Until I can walk out of my house with a smart watch only and still make/receive calls, send/receive emails and texts and take a picture without tethering to a smartphone, this is just another device for me to carry along.

2. Smart Watches require charging daily (or maybe even twice daily);  Under light usage, you might be able to get away with charging it over night and use it until the evening; if you play with it more often, you will likely need to take it off to recharge during the day and there lies the irony as you would be without your smart watch during some part of your day removing any incentive you've attributed to having this watch.

I can't live without a smartphone; I use it to call, email, text, work, fetch data/files and entertain.  Oh, and I also use it as a watch as well as an alarm.  Since I have to carry this with me at all times, I can't seem to justify the need of an Apple Watch.

January 23, 2015

Nexus 6 Battery Life (Last almost 3 Days under light usage)

Ever since I optimized my battery settings for the NEXUS 6, it can last long enough where I only charge it every other night (skipping a day).  I realized even then, most of the time, the phone would still have almost 50% of battery left by the second night.  So I've decided to see if I can make it last one more day.  The result is: YES!  By the 3rd evening at around 10PM, it had 7% juice.  That same night, I was actually out with friends.  I chose not to put the phone in battery saving mode, at around midnight, the phone finally ran out of juice.

Needless to say, I am quite impressed with the result.  It seems like either Lollipop is really optimized for Nexus 6, or my coverage with AT&T has improved where the phone is not wasting battery trying to connect to the network all the time.

I do remember when I first received my NEXUS 5, I was impressed with the battery optimization (62% of power left after a full day of use); but few months later, things got weird and battery behavior became erratic (perhaps after an android update).  I am hoping the NEXUS 6's performance will hod up longer.

(Screen capture of NEXUS 6 after approx. 60 hours or 2.5 days of use... still 7% left!!!)

January 17, 2015

Nexus 6 Battery Life (and Optimization)

So, each time I upgrade to the new Nexus devices, I always offer some tips to optimize battery life.  Historically, Google always choose to run lean on the battery size; but for Nexus 6, they beefed it up to 3,220mAh which is big but IMHO should have been even larger.  That said, the tips I am about to give might not be necessary, but in my usage test, I was surprised a single charge lasted two days of use for me (well, almost two days).  At the time of writing, my phone has been off a charger since Friday morning around 7AM.  It is Saturaday evening at 9PM (approx. 38 hrs later) and I still have 27% of battery life left... pretty cool!

So for what its worth, here is how I am optimizing for battery life:

1. Brightness Level:  Approximately 10% of the brightness
2. Adaptive Brightness: OFF
3. Ambient Display:  OFF
4. Sleep after 30 Seconds of Inactivity
5. Bluetooth Off
6. NFC Off
7. Preferred Network:  3G  (HSPA+)
8. Turn WiFi on at home and at work

Note that, if I need these features, I will turn them on or turn them up as needed.  I have noticed that battery life is impacted big time depending on the way the OS is setup, so I hope future updates doesn't mess things up for the NEXUS 6.

(screenshot of my phone after almost 2 days of usage on a single charge!!!)

(Log of Battery Life from 2 day usage, figure slowly improved to about 50%!!!)

Nexus 6 is a Gigantic, Powerful but Unpolished Beast

I am a bit surprised at myself, for deciding to get the NEXUS 6.  When this phone was announced at first, I was against the idea of a super-sized phone; I thought Google's approach was rather progressive since they didn't produce two sizes like the Apple iPhone 6, 6 plus approach.  (Although many have considered NEXUS 6 is a larger twin of the MOTO X, which would have been interesting had Google/Motorola considered a NEXUS X... but I digress).

Why did I change my mind towards the this "Phablet"?
In short, my own laziness.  Over the holidays, I was visiting family and I realized I had a checklist just to pack all the chargers, cables for the entire family's iPods, iPads, smartphones, etc.  When I was away, I was spending most of my time with my phone, the act of pulling out the old iPad or walk to the next room to grab another tablet was even too much.  I was spending so much time reading on my old NEXUS 5 that made me realize that the potential of a Phablet (bigger screen for reading, bigger battery to last longer) can be the solution to be the one device that rules them all!

Why did I choose this Phablet - NEXUS 6?
Over the years, I made a rule for myself.  I would only be interested in phones that come with un-adulterated OS which pretty much leaves me with two options:  Apple iPhones or Google NEXUS "Play Edition" phones.   (Side note:  Play Edition is the only way to go and truly unlocked, because even if you bought a NEXUS 5 or 6 from Carrier... they still manage to load some small provisioning software on their version).  Since I still held on to a legacy unlimited data plan, I always enjoyed Google Play Edition phones ability to let you run HOTSPOT without limitation.  The latter rational is weakening as I am typing this entry with the latest announcements from Tmobile and ATT which allows for some forms of Data rollover.  Oh, and having the Qi Wireless support + "Turbo Charging" helped me with the decision making.

So, Whats my Impression after 1 week?
The phone is heavy, sturdy and well... BIG.  The irony is by looking at NEXUS 6 laying flat across a table top, it looks manageable, "barely" larger than a NEXUS 5; however, grabbing it in your hand feels like you are picking up a small tablet, adding a case just makes the phone feel just big enough to be uncomfortable.  The phone for the most part, matched somewhat on my expectation:  BIG, POWERFUL, and FAST.  But then I start to notice some areas that could use some polishing.  So without further a due, here are my complaints:

1. Software could use a bit polishing: With Lollipop 5.0.1  I lost the ability to turn on/off auto-sync data; as a result, the Power Control Widget that I have gotten used to in Nexus Galaxy, S, Nexus 4, 5 and 7 became non-existent.  I find it so frustrating whenever Google engineers decide to remove features... Also, what happened to my LED pulse notification light?  According to this article, a hidden LED does exist but is currently disabled in favor of the Ambient Display notification feature (which I dislike). Another feature removed was older Android OS gives you some option when you power down (ie. power off, air plane mode, mute, vibrate, etc...), those shortcuts were handy... again removed without reason... or substitute.

2. Missing Key Hardware features... and this time, don't tell me its the cost cutting as the phone cost $649 and up out of pocket:  Google and Motorla, where is the MicroSDHC slot?  Where is infrared port? 

3. It's a big phone already, why skimp on the battery size... 3,220 mAh is IMHO barely big enough.  Why not go up to 3,500 or 3,900 and make the beast last two full days of med-heavy usage?  (Note, my personal usage has allowed the phone to last me 2 days so I can't really complaint, but under sub-optimal conditions like poorer receptions or lack of WiFi, I can't be confident that it can last 2 days.

I have had the phone for 3 days now and it is starting to grow on me despite the short list of complaints above.  The phone is fast, powerful, sharp and BIG!  I know the software portion may be addressed some day, so there is hope, but its too bad the hardware side is stuck as is.  When I reviewed the NEXUS 5, I tolerated missing features since Google subsidized some of the costs; with this one being full price; however for the price of this phone, it should have just come packing and give Samsung a run for the money.