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February 10, 2016

The note I never wrote.

As I realize how long it's been since I made an entry in my "Blah-G", I can't help but wonder why. I have a very clear recollection of starting to write numerous entries since the last one.

I wrote about The lead-up to the Nexus 6 and why I finally didn't buy it.

I wrote about my experience with an iPhone 5s.

I wrote about why I was going to get a Nexus 5x and instead ended up getting the Nexus 6p.

And just yesterday I wrote about the web page makeover that no one would know about if I didn't tell them.

I started and stopped a few others as well. The four above were different because I did actually write a full entry, and just never entered them into the Blah-G. Three of the four of them I actually still have and so I will include them here.

The one I don't have (Nexus 5x vs Nexus 6p) I will summarize for you.

Just saying NO to the Nexus 6

If you've browsed my blah-g, you've probably noticed that I purchased both the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 5 around the time they were released. And this year I was watching the buzz around the Nexus 6.

I didn't follow it as closely as I had the Nexus 5, but I had been keeping a relatively close eye on the rumour mill for quite some time. There were rumours about 2 possible sizes. And as always, a great number of ridiculous speculations. Most of what seemed real was interesting. As I was watching the various rumours, I began to think about what features I might find sufficiently beneficial to actually buy the product.

There were (as I mentioned above) rumours of 2 sizes. I quickly determined that the 5.2 inch version (if it were real) might serve my desires, but that a 6 inch version would be too large. Now for some people it may seem a rather arbitrary thing to decide a phone is too big without even seeing it. But for me it was easy (and made sense).

The Nexus 5 has a 5 inch screen (give or take) and .2 (5 vs. 5.2) inch difference diagonally is easily absorbed by making the bezel smaller. This is important to me because of where I carry my phone. My phone sits in the breast pocket of my work shirt. The size is important because, currently I am just able to close that pocket and button it with my Nexus 5 in it. I logic that a well designed phone with a slightly larger screen could also fit in much the same way. A phone with a 6 inch screen (5.96 inches technically) would certainly not fit in that pocket and close. That was probably the killer, but a couple of other considerations came to mind.

There were rumours of a fingerprint scanner (much like the iPhone 5s/6 and the Galaxy S5). I would have liked a fingerprint scanner and the log in security it would have afforded. But alas, that feature was part of the incorrect speculation.

So I decided early on that the "must have" features for me were the fingerprint scanner and wireless charging. Most of the rest of the specs were kind of a "given" since this was to be a Nexus phone. It's a kind of foregone conclusion that a Nexus phone will include the most up to date realistic specs, so most of the other things rumoured were either a given or unimportant (to me). 3 Gigs of RAM for instance was unimportant since I don't run any tasks that require anywhere near that. Likewise the QHD display (2560x1440) is overkill on a screen that small (nice to have, I'm sure, but overkill nonetheless).

This, coupled with the realization that I had most of what I needed in the Nexus 4 when I got the Nexus 5. Don't get me wrong, the Nexus 5 is a fine device (I use it daily), but I probably could have gotten along fine for another year or two with my Nexus 4.

But then, even if I had managed to convince myself to get on board with the Nexus 6, the most important thing of all is gone. The Nexus 6 no longer has the "Killer Price Tag" that I was expecting. At 750 dollars, it's right up there with the iPhone 6 and that is quite simply too much to spend on a phone (especially when it doesn't have anything that I consider a "must have").

Now, that's not to say that the Nexus 6 isn't a fine device with impressive specs. It's just more than I need at a price I'm not willing to pay.

So what phone would I get? Given that my current phone serves my needs, the only real reason to get another phone is as a backup device. And how much do I want to spend on a backup device?

Nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zero. And under some circumstances, that might seem silly. But, this year, my Wind Tab was cleared and I am therefore eligible for a "device upgrade". That's a convoluted way of saying that I can get a subsidized phone from Wind Mobile.

Since I'm on an old "Holiday Miracle" plan the amount they will subsidize is the same as their current $40 plan. That's $250. And keeping in mind that I'm perfectly happy with my Nexus 5 and don't actually need a new phone, the question becomes, which phone could I survive with if something horrible were to happen to my current phone.

When I looked over Wind's selection of sub $250 telephones, the choice is fairly clear. The Moto G is very similar in specs to my old Nexus 4 (recall I was very happy with the Nexus 4). The reviews for the Moto G (2014) best describe it as the most affordable "good" phone. Essentially, it's the best phone I'm likely to find in the sub $250 category.

And as long as I'm willing to stay with Wind Mobile for 2 more years, it'll cost me nothing. And honestly, there's not much that could convince me to leave my current arrangement with Wind. I'm essentially getting their $50 plan for $40. That's unlimited calling to Canada and the U.S.A., unlimited global texting and unlimited data, as well as voicemail. But I only get a $250 Wind Tab instead of the $400 available on the $50 plan.

Now, Wind may end up carrying the Nexus 6 and I may then have been able to buy it for $500 (with the rest on Wind Tab) but since the phone doesn't have the features I want, and the screen is too big for my current taste, the Moto G will do just nicely. It's virtually the same size as the Nexus 5 (although not as high end) so it should do nicely as a backup device. And hey. I could still buy another Nexus 5 for $350 ( a far cry from the $750 Google wants for the Nexus 6).

The Nexus 6 has it's place , just like the iPhone 6 Plus. That place just isn't in my pocket.

So, again I just say NO to the Nexus 6 and instead, use my subsidy at Wind to get a "decent" backup device (Moto G 2nd Gen) for free.



There is NOT an APP for that!!

As I sit to write this, it occurs to me that I probably don't have "much" to complain about. The things I am going to complain about are just things I find useful and are important because they are a concern so consistently, it only seems like there's a lot missing when in fact it's just a little missing all of the time.

So, I finally got an iPhone. I'm not what you would call an Apple fan. I always thought of myself as an Android person mostly because I got an Android device first and whenever it couldn't do something I wanted it to, there was an APP for that. iTunes is the bane of my computer. My computer runs like a champ. Everything ticking along as it should, and then I install iTunes. Suddenly things begin to crawl. My browser slows down, apps take forever to load. I hate iTunes. I wonder loudly how a company capable of making the iPhone, iPod, iPad etc. can possibly make such a dreadful program, and make it run so poorly. I'd say they did it on purpose because I use a PC instead of a MAC, but my granddaughter simply can't install iTunes on her MAC at all (a joke of Herculean proportion in my house).

Having said all of that I have respect for the iPhone (or as I call it, the iPod with a phone APP). I mean if you talk to the multitude of people who use iPhones, there's an APP for that. No matter what "that" is. But I can't agree with them.

Yes the App Store has a bazillion APPs. And yes, a number of them are free. And yes iPhone people download those APPs in droves. And iPhone people are happy with those APPs. And without question, the App Store has more and newer "Brand Name" APPs than Google's Play Store. No comparison.

The problem is what those APPs are for. Now just because something runs on an iPhone doesn't make it an iPhone APP (it's iPhone compatible). What would make something an iPhone APP would be something that is of no value running on an iPod or iPad. There are virtually no iPhone APPs. Of course, all the Apple fans out there are screaming that I'm nuts. Of course there are iPhone APPS. But if you define an iPhone APP as an APPlication which has Value on an iPhone but no value on an iPad or iPod then you'll see what I mean. Virtually all of the APPs in the AppStore are designed to work with as many iDevices as possible (that's how money is made) and there's much to be said for many of those APPs value (entertainment value as well as productivity value).

The reason there are so few iPhone APPs is simple. When it comes to the "phone" part of iPhone, it is controlled almost completely by Apple. That means it just works. The problem with that is "What if you don't like the way it works?". And it's not even that I don't like the way it works. It works fine. It could just do a little more.

My specific complaints start with "widgets". Apple seems to define a widget as something that will give you some information without having to open a full blown APP (yay!). Android defines it as something that will give you some information without doing anything (YAY!). That's right Apple "widgets" are little bits of information visible through a pull down tray. Android widgets are little bits of information virtually anywhere you want them. To me that means the "tray" is the APP and you're not really looking at widgets, you're looking at a strategically placed APP. Apple fans, of course, don't see the value of "real" widgets because they've never had them. They think that opening an APP to see your battery drain is normal and anyone too lazy to open an APP needs help. And perhaps they're right. Clearly I'm spoiled. I think I ought to be able to just look at my phone and see that I have 87% battery life, and if I was 25 again I probably could. But my eyesight isn't what it used to be and that small icon and percentage in the status bar is just a grey and green blur to me. On Android, I have a big (icon sized) display that shows me real time battery info on my home screen (now, that's a widget). Windows Phone has Live Tiles that show you all manner if information without opening an APP (tap the widget / Live Tile to open the app for more info). iPhone has an information tray (boo!).

Okay, but I can eventually hold the phone just right and see the battery percent (and I need to with my iPhone). I suppose I could just buy a bigger iPhone, but given the cost, I'll keep my car and skip the newer bigger iPhone. Don't like the ringtones on your Android phone? Drag and drop almost any sound file and you have a new ringtone. Want a new alarm sound or notification tone? Same thing. Want a new "anything" on your iPhone? Start up iTunes and (unless you've done it before) start a web search for instructions. And these aren't going to be simple instructions. You're going to want to bookmark that page, cause you're gonna be back. Or maybe you'll be like 95% of iPhone users and just use whatever they gave you when you bought your phone (my son -- a long time iPhone user -- was shocked that I had the same ring and message tones as I had on my Android devices). But I digress. I could live without the "other" tones if I had to. But I don't understand why iTunes can't just have an option to "import this sound as Ringtone" (or alarm or notification). Given what most iPhone users know about their devices, that would seem the logical thing to do. I mean, I know someone who has owned (and used) an iPhone for 5 years, that just recently saw my daughter with an iPod playing music and said to her . . . "I need to get one of those, so I'm not always using my data to listen to streaming music". It gave me mounds and mounds of pleasure to inform him that his phone was in fact an iPod (with a phone app) and could do everything that her iPod could do and more.

Right, so back to me and my iPhone. I got a used iPhone 5s at a good price (a little beat up and the fingerprint thing doesn't work). I was pleased to see that it could sync my Google account with no effort. I spent a good amount of time going through all of the settings. You know the drill, find the right wallpapers, and sounds for the various things. Set the data and wireless options. Set up "Find My iPhone" and a lockscreen passcode and all the things you do when you get a new phone. I turned Siri on, got bored with Siri, turned Siri off. Then I started to look at the things I could do with my Android Phone that I would have liked to do with my iPhone. Battery indicator being number 1, I looked for a widget. That's when I discovered what Apple thinks a widget is. Okay so I'm never going to see the battery percentage without some kind of effort, like putting on my glasses or opening an APP. I can get used to that. I turned on the magnification thing and scroll to the top corner just because it's more fun than opening an APP (but I'm sure I'll get tired of that soon enough). Flashlight? WooHoo, slide up from the bottom and "Thar She Blows". Just as easy as my Android phone. I find a nice wallpaper online and try to drag and drop it to my iPhone. No go - you can look at the contents, but you can't touch. Okay, so I open iTunes and watch my computer slow to a crawl. I take this (and a few similar opportunities) to import some things I like. Sadly, I don't see me doing this often. What was drag and drop in Android is a convert, sync, locate mess with the iPhone, so I'll live with my limited "personalizations" for a while. Its just too much work to experiment with. Then (surprise, surprise) my phone rings. I look at the screen . . . Nada. Okay, to be fair there is a name and a phone number. That's enough for me to know it is a customer I have done before. It's at this point I want my Android phone. You see, on my Android phone, when a customer calls, I get a little pop up with their name, address and various other useful bits of information. The type of information that will save me putting them on hold to check on their contact page. Try as I might, I can't find any way to get an iPhone to show me that kind of information. Of course I can manually fetch the information, but generally speaking it's just MUCH more practical to be presented with that information prior to hitting the answer button, instead of hoping to get it right or trying to play with the phone while the call is happening in order to find it. From a productivity standpoint, that sets me back considerably.

The lack of a usable file system is a nightmare for a geek like me. I'm not a full fledged geek, I'm just a guy who's been actively using computers since the days when you had to KNOW how a computer worked in order to use it. So I'm a little uncomfortable with technology that doesn't let me peek under the hood. That same lack of a usable file system makes the available free file managers "almost" pointless in as much as what little they can actually "do" oft times simply isn't worth doing.

Hurray for Google Maps. Fortunately this app is available for the iPhone (and works well). And some of you may say this isn't what I described above as an iPhone APP and in a sense you would be right. But since Google Maps requires mobile data (live traffic and map updates) it really does require a phone with the mobile data available to it. Those of you who don't understand the value of Google Maps either don't drive, or don't get there as hassle free as I probably do. Hurray for Swiftkey! I've been using a "SWYPE" style keyboard since I started using a smartphone. For those who've never used it you just wouldn't understand, but hurray for Swiftkey. Jeers to Apple for being unable to keep the chosen keyboard as the chosen keyboard. Seriously, why can't I decide what keyboard I want to use? Even if I delete every other keyboard, you still bring back the system keyboard. I know iPhone users need some help deciding what APPs to use for what purpose, but even Apple should realize that when someone "wants" to use an app other than the default, they really should be allowed to. There's CIA. On Android this app activates during an incoming call and displays information about the caller (name and address). On the iPhone it doesn't. In fact it doesn't "do" anything. You can manually enter the phone number and it will locate the information. But it can't retrieve it based on the incoming call (when you want it most). It can't even see your call log to check based on those incoming numbers (it can on Android). So it seems that that is the real problem with APPs on the iPhone. They don't do anything of their own accord. You can use them to do things, but you can't load an app and expect it to do anything without your input. With Android most of the APPs I use are either Widgets (which show me live information all the time) or Content Sensitive APPs (APPs which automatically respond to content or actions taken on the phone without manually opening the APP) and it seems as though Apple has built iOS in such a way as to prevent these 2 types of APPS from being used.

Since I primarily use my phone as a phone, I realize that I'm in a very small minority. But, in my defense, I also use it for contact information (as a PIM). I just don't really use it as a toy. And as a toy is where the iPhone really shines. It has APPs out the wazoo for gaming and for social networking. And even for pseudo-productivity, but when it some to actually controlling the device . . .

There is NOT an APP for that!

The iPhone is the "Model-T Ford" of the 21st century. That is to say, it's the vehicle built for everyone and customized to no one. It is THE modern example of where the company tells you what you want and you either accept it or you don't. Henry Ford once said "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black". Oddly enough, at the time, black was not among the available colors.

I'll keep using the iPhone for a while. And I'll keep looking for an APP that will automatically show me contact information when someone calls. If I don't find one eventually, I'll probably go back to Android. But by then I'll probably also be busy playing Tree World and whatever other games my granddaughter installs when I'm not looking. Then I'll learn the value of an iPhone, which I believe is simply that it's an iPod with a phone APP.

... Eventually, due primarily to the screen being too small and not having my contact information available to me on an incoming call, I reverted to my Android phone. I do, however, still play TreeWorld.



Nexus 5X or Nexus 6p?

This year, Google released 2 Nexus phones and in case it's not yet obvious, I'm a fan of the Nexus phones. Essentially, I like getting a "Stock Android" phone with regular upgrades and scheduled security updates. There are, of course, some bells and whistles I like to have on my phone which used to cause me to look for a custom ROM (software) but the last couple of years I have found everything I need either on the Stock ROM or added easily enough using Apps and Widgets from the Play Store.

Prior to the release of these two handsets, I had (as before) been following the chatter. Up until the release I followed the chatter regarding the 5x almost exclusively, as I had decided last year that a 6 inch phone was simply too big for me to use on a daily basis. Since I had not upgraded my phone last year (instead I got a cheap Moto G 2nd generation as a backup) I thought I might like to upgrade this year. In past I have purchased my Nexus devices directly from Google due to their lower price (as opposed to buying through my carrier). This year I found the prices a little steep (although still a little cheaper than from my carrier).

I had pretty much decided that I was going to get a Nexus 5x. It wasn't what I really wanted, but it was better than what I had and was affordable (barely). And so I looked for cases and accessories for it prior to my purchase. And, to be honest, I delayed purchasing it because I wasn't really enthusiastic about it. I kept glancing toward the Nexus 6p. Noticing that it had a nicer look, a bigger screen, more base memory, more premium materials and an adapter cable. I kept seeing the little difference in price and the big difference in specs, but I just couldn't justify spending the extra, and I wasn't sure that I wanted a 6 inch phone (okay 5.7 inches to be precise).

As it turns out... Wind had a Boxing Day Sale, during which they decreased the cost of the Nexus 6P by $100. When I did the math regarding buying the Nexus 6p vs the Nexus 5x, the difference (including some things other than the phone itself) came to about $70.00. By now, I had pretty much determined that I would get the 5x. I actually walked into the store still half expecting to get the 5x in spite of having done the math. I picked up the 5x and it was about as "blah" as I had imagined. I picked up the Nexus 6p and it was a little more interesting. It clearly looked nicer, but it was big. It looked to me to be almost as big as last years Nexus 6 (which has a bigger screen).I doubted that it would fit in my pocket. When I say "fit", I mean to go into the pocket with enough room to close the flap and button it. Because as past experience has made clear... if I don't button it, the sinking feeling I get while watching it slip out of the pocket, slide to the roof's edge and fall ever so gracefully to that sudden stop 25 feet below is not a pleasant feeling and not one I care to relive with an expensive phone. I tried to slip the demo into my pocket, but the (back connected) security wire made it impossible. I did glean from the attempt that it was unlikely that it would fit.

I did eventually leave the store with the Nexus 6p. So, now I'll give my review. It's okay. In spite of the many reviews touting it as the best Android phone of the year (or ever), there's nothing particularly right about the phone. Likewise, there's nothing particularly wrong with the phone. It is, literally what you should expect from a phone. It is also too big to be buttoned into my pocket. I have used it during the winter and enjoy the large screen and particularly like the fingerprint scanner, except when it's in the car holder and I have to remove it to unlock it. Because sadly, it's still easier to remove it and unlock with the fingerprint scanner than it is to enter the pass code on the lock screen. I'm still unsure if I'll be willing to keep it with me when working at heights (from which I don't wish to see it tumble), but I will definitely keep using it until I'm back working in high places on a regular basis.

There is one thing I both like and hate about the Nexus 6p is that it has fast charging. When you're in need of a quick top up, it's nice that it can add 10% during a ten minute drive from one place to another, but when you don't need a quick top up (like overnight) I prefer to charge slowly. It is generally better for a battery to be charged slowly and since , when I go to bed, I have all night to charge it, I see no point in using a fast charge. However, there is no slow charge option and no wireless charging (as on the 3 prior years' Nexus phones). There is one good thing about it. The Nexus 6p is the first phone EVER, that I have had to turn down the volume on... EVER! (did I say EVER!?). In other words, it's the only phone I have ever owned that is, in fact, loud enough. All in all, it's a nice (albeit not spectacular) phone.

Truth be told, I would rather they had just built my old Nexus 5 with a fingerprint scanner. If they had done that, I probably wouldn't even consider upgrading until I lost or destroyed the phone.



The invisible mobile makeover

Last year, Google made changes which meant that sites that were not (what it deemed) mobile friendly would get lower rankings on their search engine. My site (which looked perfectly good on a mobile device) was deemed not to be mobile friendly by whatever automated criteria Google used. This meant that I would start to drop in the search results if I did not correct the situation.

And so (as probably none of you noticed) I made some quick modifications to the desktop site, to make Google accept it as mobile friendly. That change actually made my site look MUCH worse on mobile devices, but, at the time, I did not have the time or energy to rewrite the web pages. Instead, I hoped that people with mobile devices would follow the VERY PROMINENT link to the Mobile site. Google's algorithm simply doesn't care if you maintain and direct people to a dedicated mobile site (unless you send them there automatically, which I refuse to do). Anyway... The result was that my desktop site became VERY mobile unfriendly in an effort to make Google believe that it was mobile friendly.

To really understand the logic, you have to be as strange as I am. I had a dedicated mobile site, and I assumed it would take days to recode my desktop site (and at the time I wasn't even sure how) to make it "actually" mobile friendly. However, it would take about 30 minutes, to make a few tweaks to make Google believe it was mobile friendly. I had 30 minutes. I didn't have a few days (or the inclination to redesign the page). And so I made a few tweaks and had Google check the page, and made a few more tweaks as needed to correct whatever Google found inadequate. This resulted in a page that was difficult to read on a mobile device (and essentially unchanged on a desktop device), but it kept Google happy.

And, armed with the knowledge that people on mobile devices were probably smart enough to click on the (ever present) link to the Mobile site, I left it until I had time to redesign the entire layout. And ,of course, promptly forgot all about it. I remembered occasionally but couldn't bring myself to sit through a complete redesign. Not to mention the obvious. Which was simply that I liked the way the desktop site looked and operated and had no desire to actually change it (I had, in fact, redesigned the entire site earlier that same year). But then it came to me. I had designed the mobile site to virtually mirror the desktop site with some minor differences, so all I really had to do was to figure out how to meld the two.

And so, in a day I was able to meld the two sites into one. Essentially, if you shrink your viewing area, the display reconfigures itself to match the mobile site (except that graphics are still shown on the desktop site). I had to then tweak things to get them looking "just right" and will probably continue to tweak things (and no one except me will notice). But now I have a desktop site that looks like I wanted it to, that is mobile friendly and that Google sees as mobile friendly. I also still have the mobile site which is essentially the same as the desktop site (if you shrunk it down) except, without the graphics.

So it's a makeover with almost no difference. The site looks basically the same as it did before I made the changes to satisfy Google and if not for this blog entry may have gone unnoticed by virtually everyone.

If you're at all curious as to what changes were actually made (since they're probably not apparent to you), it's fairly straight forward. Basically, if you shrink the web page (width-wise) the top logo will eventually be removed (as the name box gets smaller). If you continue to shrink it, the side menu will relocate itself to a button inside the name box. The changes originally made to satisfy Google left the menu intact and on small devices the menu could take up more room than the content of the page (which made it very unfriendly).