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Review: ZTE Axon (A1R) on Fido – 5 Months Later

April 4, 2016 Leave a comment

ZTE Axon A1R Fido in box IMG_20151215_125436

For 5 months I’ve been using the ZTE Axon as my primary phone and though this device has a bunch of positives going for it, the overall experience has been anything but. I almost didn’t want to write this post because of how frustrated and disappointed I am with this device currently but decided that it needs to be written/said so with apologies in advance to ZTE here we go.

When I went to the launch event for the ZTE Axon I remember distinctly how big of a deal they made about the time they put into the development of this device. They made clear that they had looked into what the consumer in the North American markets wanted out of a mobile device and that ZTE had done everything possible to meet the demands of the consumer. After using the phone for 5 months, I find it somewhat hard to believe they spent as much time as they claimed they did because often the user experience on the ZTE Axon is downright horrendous.

Bundled Keyboard TouchPal: Full of Spam

First I’m going to start with one of the biggest offenders in the terrible user experience category; ZTE’s choice of bundled keyboard, TouchPal. I don’t care what the ratings are for it in the Google Play because those are probably from people who downloaded it of their own accord. To me, the keyboard is downright spammy and an insult to consumers who don’t want core apps to be freemium versions with ads and attempts at taking over elements of your device without permission.

ZTE Axon TouchPal Keyboard Ad

The pre-release version of the ZTE Axon which I received included a version of TouchPal which would pop up ADVERTISEMENTS on top of the keyboard. Literal scrolling ads taking up my precious screen real estate from a keyboard which was forced on me in the first place is not OK. When I called ZTE and TouchPal out about it on Twitter, ZTE apologized profusely and said it must have been a mistaken inclusion in the pre-release version of the software on the pre-release device and they replaced it for a new, post-release ZTE Axon. TouchPal, on the other hand, tried to justify their inclusion of ads by saying that they had to make money somehow. (No, seriously, check out the screenshot below.)

Toucpal Twitter justifying built in ads freemium model IMG_20151120_160019

While I wholeheartedly agree that app developers deserve to make money for their hard work, if a manufacturer is forcing an app on me – especially a core app like a default keyboard! – it is not OK to force users to have a freemium version on their devices. I wouldn’t even be mentioning this because it was only supposed to have happened on the pre-release version. Unfortunately, TouchPal was not quite finished with me.

At random intervals, TouchPal would decide to inform me that I totally needed to be aware of this brand new font that they had launched or of some special new theme they now had. I mostly ignored these minor annoyances until one morning I couldn’t figure out how to shut off my alarm because…

ZTE Axon TouchPal Keyboard lock screen hijack with ads Screenshot_2016-03-12-13-50-26

…TouchPal had auto-updated and had decided it’d be fun if it took over my lock screen with ads and some measurement of how many words I had typed that day versus other users of their keyboard globally. This happened even though I had switched my phone over to Google Keyboard and hadn’t used TouchPal in months. I groggily could not figure out how to properly hit the snooze button because I had never seen this screen before in my life and got really, really annoyed. I have since totally disabled TouchPal on my phone since apparently not using it isn’t enough.

Lesson here for manufacturers: If you are going to be bundling third party apps which are core to the user experience on your devices you had better make very sure it is software which provides a stupendous user experience.

Camera Problems

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The next disappointment on the ZTE Axon was the camera. Despite being told at the launch event that they recognized how important it was for the phone to be able to capture loud audio clearly, be able to capture great images in low light, and that the camera should capture images quickly, they did not deliver on any of these promises. If you’re using the camera in the right situation, then yes, it will take some really glorious photos. But if you’re not using it in an ideal situation (which is probably 60% of the time) your pictures aren’t going to look that great. I decided to test the ZTE Axon one night against an HTC One M8 and an LG G4 when I was in CityPlace Toronto looking east towards the CN Tower, below are the results:

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Super specialized camera settings also mean other apps (specifically I have noticed this in Snapchat) have trouble using the camera. This is because the ZTE Axon’s camera app allows you to easily up the light the camera allows you to brighten up the photo before you take it. The problem is an app like Snapchat just uses the default settings for the camera so the auto-focus always ends up super, duper dark in a low light environment without any way of turning the brightness up.

Further, if you’re trying to record video in a loud environment, the phone does not deliver on its promise to capture it clearly unless there is next to no bass in that music. Recording video at a concert or in a club and the audio will sound terrible…so terrible that it won’t even be recognizable as music and just sound like static. (I know this because I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on my Snapchats!)

Design Decisions Make ZTE Axon A Right Handed Phone

ZTE Axon speaker on right hand side

If you look at the above picture you will probably notice that most of the holes in the top of the phone are just there for show and only a few of the ones on the right hand side of it have a speaker behind them. The microphone on the bottom of the Axon is on the far left side. This means that if you hold the phone in your left hand the speaker will not line up with your ear unless you hold the phone so it is basically hanging off the side of your head. This in turn makes it so the microphone won’t properly line up with your mouth because it is basically at the side of your neck so you have to hold the Axon extremely awkwardly in order to use it when you put it in your left hand. You basically have to hold the phone completely horizontally with your arm and elbow raised above what’s comfortable and normal.

ZTE Axon left hand awkward position IMG_20160404_143601_3

This may seem irrelevant to all you righties out there but remember that when we righties are on the phone and need to write down some information or use our mouse to click on something on our computers we need to use our right hands. Unless you put the phone on speaker, you’re going to switch it into your left hand and then no one will be able to hear you and you won’t be able to hear anyone until you adjust to the awkward pose the ZTE Axon requires for left-handed use.

Headset Problems While On Calls

This may just be a problem with the review unit I was given by ZTE but I have noticed that very often when I have the JBL headphone accessory that came with the ZTE Axon plugged in during a call at one point or another it’s microphone will simply cease working. I will then have to unplug the headset and switch to speakerphone or regular handset mode in order to continue my conversation. This can be annoying, to say the least.

Conclusion

Although ZTE claimed they spent a lot of time researching what users in this market want out of their devices they dropped the ball so many times that I find that hard to believe. Yes, I am a power user and yes, I am aware the ZTE Axon is supposed to be a mid-range device but that does not excuse things like the horribleness of TouchPal and the ridiculous contortions one has to go into in order to use the phone in their left hand. As cellphone and mobile technology has advanced over the years and the population has become more and more versed with technology we have come to expect more from our devices. If this is what ZTE is selling as a mid-range device, I would be scared to see what they consider low end. ZTE, you’re going to have to significantly step up your game on the next outing if you hope to make a dent in the North American market.

The ZTE Axon is available from Fido for $0 with 2-year Tab24 agreement on a Smart plan here

Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 & My #RogersSI Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

November 4, 2013 3 comments

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 in Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2

Since I got the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 as part of the Rogers Social Ambassadors group, aka #RogersSI, I’ve been wondering what is the best way for me to get some actual work done on this tablet. After I read Rannie’s review of the Microsoft keyboard I decided to dig out the Kensington Bluetooth keyboard, tablet case, and tablet stand to do just that.

Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 Keyboard on Lap

This post is actually this first thing I am writing on the keyboard while I lie on a bed and type up a storm with my keyboard detached from the case (it connects with magnets) and lying on my lap as the screen sits in front of me. The only downside I can see thus far is that the built-in virtual Samsung on-screen keyboard doesn’t know to automatically close when the external Bluetooth keyboard is connected. Luckily, I figured out that if I tell the Note 8.0 that I am going to use the Google Voice input it will give me the full screen with no keyboard.

Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 Magnets With Keyboard Removed

Using this external Bluetooth keyboard for the tablet increases my productivity a whole bunch. I still have to get used to the size of the keyboard as it is way smaller of a physical keyboard than I am used to. The portability of it is awesome though. If you have a tablet and plan on actually doing any writing on your tablet I highly recommend you grab a physical keyboard because it is an absolute game changer.

Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 Clips With Samsung Note 8.0 Plugged in

The only mild complaint I have with this keyboard is something which can also be seen as a huge plus: the tablet “clips” are 4 pieces of rubber which velcro onto the top of the stand. They do a great job holding the device – any device of a variety of sizes – but it is somewhat of a pain taking your tablet in and out of the clips. As I said, this isn’t a real complaint because this is one of the only ways they could have made this case into a universal case and keep the accessory useful for multiple devices as you continue to switch and upgrade from tablet to tablet over the long haul. One great thing about the clips, though, is that they leave plenty of room for the Galaxy Note 8.0’s S Pen to come in and out of the device, it mostly frees up the space for the speakers on the device, and every other port and button is fully and easily accessible.

 

How Google Can Improve Google Now To Actually Give Us The Right Information

August 26, 2013 6 comments

Google Now Cards Motorola RAZR HD LTE

I have been using Google’s relatively new service called Google Now on my Android devices and absolutely love it. It learns about you as a user as you continue to use your phone and makes suggestions for you accordingly. However, for me one of the best features that it offers is the integration with your Google Calendar. Not only does it pop up upcoming events from your calendar in its own list of cards and on its widget but it will give you “Time to leave” notifications. Depending on what you have told it previously is your “Default Transportation Mode” it will alert you when to leave for upcoming calendar entries based on your current GPS location, the distance to the next entry, and the traffic along the way. It will pop up a “Time To Leave” notification on your phone without any alarm set or anything giving you a few minutes lead time to actually get out of wherever you are. It also gives you the option of instantly opening up directions to your next appointment with one simple click of an on-screen button. Read more…

Official imgur for Android App Beta Released in Canada!!! W00t! W00t!

April 24, 2013 2 comments
Official Imgur Android BETA Google Play Canada

In the Google Play Store on Fido Network in Canada

Canadian imgurians rejoice! As you can see in the above picture I have installed the newly released beta version of the OFFICIAL imgur app for Android from Google Play and I’ve done it on my Motorola RAZR HD LTE (official model number XT925) which is on the Fido network.

The app is being released in beta slowly but surely with Australia getting the first taste. After Australia had it, it was released in “Europe” (not sure which countries in Europe, I am just going by what the @imgur Twitter account said) and then, today, Canada got it. We’re told that the USA is up next for the beta after Canada and that the full version is slated to be released in around 3 weeks. Read more…

Review: Rogers One Number

March 27, 2012 7 comments

rogers one number dialer & reach me rules

First off, thanks to the folks at Rogers who hooked me up with a Rogers line and phone so I could test out the new service now available to all of their customers for free: Rogers One Number (RON).

Rogers One Number is, in Rogers’ own words, ‘is a new service exclusively from Rogers [which] lets you talk, text and send picture messages, and video chat with other Rogers One Number users, all from your computer using your existing phone number.’ The RON dialog on your computer also allows you to add email inboxes so you can manage as many different methods of communication from one spot as possible.

Before I get into my experiences I want to let you know my quick and dirty opinion on RON and if it is right for you. If you’re a Rogers customer sign up immediately. There is absolutely no reason not to, it’s free and it is a great tool to have at your disposal.

The whole thing was extremely easy to set up from the RON website but note that the setup has to be done from your desktop/laptop and cannot be done from your phone. Once my laptop* had it installed Read more…

IT #Protip: Restart computers/devices that act up. It fixes problems so often you’d be amazed.

January 9, 2012 4 comments

it-office-computers-row

A friend called me today to ask me for help with his BlackBerry. He said his Text Messages icon had disappeared from his phone and the text messages themselves were nowhere to be found anywhere on his phone. At first I thought he must have hid the icon so I told him to “Show All” and he said it didn’t help so the next thing I told him was to restart (aka reboot) his phone. Minutes later my friend sent me a BBM message:

Him: Yooo

Me: Yo

Him: Restart fixed it thanks

Me: Hah no prob

Always first step when any computer acts wonky

Reboot

Him: lol

Me: I’m serious

–End Conversation—

He didn’t respond to my last message aside from laughing about something I was being completely serious when relating even when I said that I was being serious. No “OK,” no “I totally will next time.” And there’s the thing – I know that he will call me again when he has a tech support issue and one of the first questions I will ask will be “Did you reboot?” and he will, of course, say no and I will, naturally, get frustrated with him wasting my time (which I am giving him for free). Then, he will wonder why I am getting so annoyed with him…we’re friends after all aren’t we? Shouldn’t I want to help him? Except he won’t remember this conversation when I did help him and did give him this magic bullet solution to a lot of his technology/gadget issues.

Seriously folks, even if you work in an office that has an IT Department paid to cater to your every whim before you call them about your computer/device/phone issue, restart it.

Computer Help Key

This is not something that anyone who even has a passing understanding on how to use their electronic device should have any trouble doing. There is no secret code to do it and no hidden menus to accomplish this feat. It is simple, it is easy, and it fixes an astounding number of issues for computing devices. Even if you aren’t having any computer issues I always recommend giving your computer a restart every day if you can. Doing this clears the RAM and is just overall a good thing to do for your computer and it is amazing how many people don’t bother to do this. This also goes for iPhones, BlackBerrys. Android devices, iPads, PlayBooks, Android tablets, Macs, PCs and even the PalmPilot your dad still insists on using even though Palm stopped supporting it in 2001 because it still does everything he needs it to do and he has no reason to upgrade.

tech support cheat sheet xkcd

In 2009 LifeHacker.com published this awesome flowchart in the article Tech Support Cheat Sheet Reveals The Secrets Of Troubleshooting which they pulled from popular webcomic XKCD and which can be found in its original here. To quote LifeHacker when they posted the article:

‘The only thing missing is the “If you haven’t already, restart your computer and try again” entry.’

See! Even they commented on it!

I promise you if you restart your computer/device before calling IT or your friend who consider “a computer person” or “a technology person” you will immediately earn tons of respect from them when they ask “Did you reboot?” and you say “Yes, I did, but it didn’t help.” They will also be 1,000,000,000 times less likely to respond to your queries in a passive aggressive manner, get annoyed with you, or be slow to respond when you call for help the next time you need it.

Images Row of Computers & Computer Help Key via Microsoft Office.

Tech Support Cheat Sheet via XKCD .

Sony Ericsson & Telus Launching Xperia Ray Tomorrow In Toronto

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Looks I will be heading to another event tomorrow this time, a tech event. The newest addition to the Sony Ericsson Xperia line, the Android powered “Sony Ericsson Xperia ray” will be officially launched tomorrow evening in Toronto by Sony Ericsson Canada and Telus. Telus will be having the exclusive rights to sell this new device in Canada.

You can follow all the goings on of the party tomorrow with the hashtag #XperiaRayLaunch on Twitter.

Now, on to the actual device. (Can we even call them “phones” anymore?) It comes in at a slim 9.4 mm according to the tech specs from Sony Ericsson and its frame is made of aluminum. Its screen, like all of Sony Ericsson’s Xperia devices, uses the enhanced contrast and richer colors via the ‘Reality Display’ of the Mobile BRAVIA Engine. (Yes, essentially the same BRAVIA technology as you have in your Sony TVs). It has a 8.1 MP back camera with Exmor R for mobile technology which is what is used in Sony’s camera division and a front facing 1.3 MP camera for video calling services such as Skype. It also runs Android Gingerbread right out the box which is a welcome change as the newer versions of Android have so many more features available.

I am looking forward to playing with this device tomorrow night as it looks like a very interesting beast of a phone in a small package. While I haven’t had a chance to play with the device itself as of yet, my friend Daniel Bader of MobileSyrup has already written a full review of the device available here http://mobilesyrup.com/2011/10/31/telus-sony-ericsson-xperia-ray-review/. However, after reading Daniel’s review I will say this about the phone – it look like it’ll be a really hot phone to be carrying in your pocket once Telus releases it. I say this because of two things which stood out for me reading Daniel’s review:

  • The battery life has me salivating. From Daniel’s MobileSyrup review “The Xperia ray comes with a relatively large 1500mAh battery for the device’s size, and we got excellent, multi-day battery life as a result.” And I can be fairly certain that Daniel used the phone as I would so those words have me impressed quite impressed.
  • Daniel gave it an 8/10 overall. Like I said above, I know Daniel put this phone through its paces because I know Daniel and if he is giving a phone an 8/10 that means this thing is well worth looking at more than once.

I swear I am not biased because I share the same first name as Daniel does…OK, maybe a little bit of bias but read his review and you’ll see how thorough he is!

Looking forward to being introduced to this little device tomorrow in real life. I’ll let all y’all know what I think of it and the event via Twitter. If there are any questions about the phone you want me to ask Sony Ericsson or specific aspects of the phone you’d like me to inspect IRL let me know in the comments below.

Until then, for more information on this phone and for the price when it is announced:

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