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

April 4, 2016 4 comments

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

ProTip: Carry A Lens Cleaning Cloth For Your Mobile Device’s Camera & Screen

September 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Glasses cleaning cloth

Glasses cloths also known as lens cloths, we all have them especially those of us who wear glasses. These microfiber wonders clean smudges and fingerprints easier than any tissue, toilet paper, or your shirt. If you have a high-end pair of sunglasses they probably came with one of these. Heck, some sunglasses brands even give you a pouch for your glasses made of this material. But I keep a cloth on me pretty much always for a very different reason, my mobile device’s camera and screen.

I hate how my phone’s screen gets smudged up after a day or two of use. Read more…

Visiting A Border City? Watch Out! Your Phone Might “Cross The Border” Even If You Don’t!

March 20, 2012 5 comments

Queenston Lewiston Bridge from Canadian Side 14000-14004 Niagara Pkwy in GoogleMaps Street View

A problem that people have been having with over the air transmissions since they first started using them is that they refuse to respect international boundaries. Be they radio waves, satellite signals, TV broadcasts, or cell phone signals/networks they just don’t seem to like the idea of abiding by the imaginary lines that humanity has drawn up on maps to indicate where one territory ends and another begins. This worked out quite well for many Canadians in the 1990s when they would be able to pick up American satellite TV signals using gray market boxes beyond American legal jurisdiction and the Canadian government would do next to nothing to stop it from happening because as far as they were concerned they Americans shouldn’t have been broadcasting their signal into Canada. Of course, the Americans had no control over how far that signal bled into Canada because if they could control it they definitely would have!

Today though, I’m referring to a different kind of situation, one that works out way less advantageously for Canadians and Americans alike as well as anyone else in any other country who is visiting a border city/area. The situation is cellular network signals bleeding from one country into another and causing one to roam even when you’re in your home country. I have seen it happen numerous times when in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada which I often end up visiting during the summer months. You’re walking along on vacation without a care in your mind and suddenly your phone notifies you of an incoming text message that look something like these:

Fido US Roaming Notification Text

“Roaming? I’m roaming?!?!” is probably your reaction when you unsuspectingly see this message appear on your phone’s screen. As your brain tries to process this new, strange, and unexpected information your mind races at what kind of Twilight Zone you just unwittingly dropped into. You’re sure you haven’t been drinking and heck, you don’t even have your passport on you! How can you possibly have crossed an international border without noticing? Not to worry, you haven’t done anything of the sort! You have just become victim of those darn radio waves not respecting human lines on a map. The first time it happened to me was when I was walking in the pedestrian skywalk between Niagara Fallsview Casino and the Hilton Hotel and Suites Niagara Falls/Fallsview. Read more…

Cell Phone Etiquette IV: The Text & Run

October 17, 2011 2 comments

I have written a number of Cell Phone Etiquette posts in the past – you can find them herehere, and here – and just realized my last one was written in May 2010. Therefore, for today’s post I have decided to once again tackle Cell Phone Etiquette.

To be fair, this post is somewhat of a PLEASE STOP DOING THIS as opposed to a discussion on etiquette but I will let you, my readers, make the final judgement on the suitability of the title.

Scenario:

You receive a text message asking you a question (or a series of them). You realize that it would be way easier to answer the person’s question(s) if you just called them instead of typing a veritable novel as a response so you hit the ‘Call’ button on your phone and they don’t pick up. You wait a minute or two and – politely – text them that you just called them to reply to their question(s) and they didn’t pick up – no response. You are confused.

I call this kind of thing The Text & Run. This kind of behavior is definitely very high on my list of pet peeves of modern communication. Beyond that it is just plain rude, what do people think the person on the other side of the phone is going to believe? That after you texted them you threw your phone across the room and ran in the other direction? Is that why you aren’t replying to calls and follow up texts?

Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand that there are times when although one can freely text they can’t pick up the phone. But if that’s the case then send a text to us explaining the situation. To paraphrase Warden Samuel Norton in “The Shawshank Redemption”: Don’t just vanish like a fart in the wind!

Does this happen to you ever or am I alone on this? Do you find it as annoying as I do? Let’s work together to let recurring Text & Run offenders know that this behavior is bad etiquette, downright rude, and all in all not ok!

7 Reasons To Use Your Cell Phone To Avoid Malware/Viruses To Which Your PC May Be Susceptible

August 15, 2011 3 comments

Yup, it is true. Your smartphone is often a more secure and lower risk place than your PC is when you are worried about the malicious software that is out there. As well, your tablet – most of which use a mobile/smartphone OS (OS = Operating System) – is in the same boat as your smartphone for this discussion.

Got an email that looks spammy and have a smartphone? Check that email on your smartphone before opening it on your PC.

Going to do online banking? Your better off doing it on your phone – especially if it is a BlackBerry which has an extra layer of security in its very connection.

Why do I say this? Well there’s a number of reasons: Read more…

Canada’s Worst Cellphone Bill Is Coming Back On CBC’s Marketplace – With Really Crappy Entries This Time!

March 9, 2011 6 comments

In 2010, the Canadian cellphone industry was looked into by CBC-TV’s Friday night show “Marketplace”. The show, which bills itself as a consumer watchdog, took entries from people across Canada looking for “Canada’s Worst Cellphone Bill”. The three finalists each had used their phones the way they did because they were each told one thing by a cell phone company and really another was true. As such, they each racked up huge bills and were trying to rectify the issue and each of the companies were not being very helpful about the situations. In my opinion, each of these people had a valid reason why they were victims of the cellular providers and shouldn’t have to pay their bills. To see the video of the episode (it may be Canada only) click here.

Well, this Friday, March 11 at 8pm in every locale across Canada (except Newfoundland where it will be on at 8:30pm) CBC’s Marketplace is doing a “sequel” to Canada’s Worst Cellphone Bill and they are once again looking for the worst cellphone bill. You can see a preview to the episode here. On the same page I have linked for the preview (and in the video itself) of the show they mention a couple of details of two of the people who will be featured. I have copy/pasted it below:

Co-host Tom Harrington looks into some incredible cases, including a woman being asked to pay a cancellation fee even though she’s being deported, and an octogenarian war veteran who’s out of pocket because his minutes expired.

 

Co-Host Tom Harrington of Marketplace CBC Canada's Worst Cell Phone Bill

They call these two “incredible cases”? Really? I honestly hope there is more to the story for each of them because – and I may come off as cold-hearted for saying this – from my perspective it is completely the fault of the two people described as to their respective predicaments.

Let’s look at the first person mentioned. A lady who is being deported from the country and being asked to pay a cancellation fee: The only thing that the woman can use to argue against the cellular provider would be if she managed to sign the contract without any credit check in the first place and as such shouldn’t have been able to sign up. Other than that, I am going to assume that she wants to stop paying the contract because she will no longer be in Canada after she is deported from the country. I think it is also fair to assume that the cellular provider is not forcing her to cancel the contract she is in and would be more than happy to allow her to continue to pay her monthly fees. Heck, they’d probably be even happier if she used the phone wherever she is being deported to and still continued to pay her monthly fees complete with astronomical roaming charges. Aside from that, I have no sympathy for her at this point. It is not the carriers fault that she did something illegal or was in this country illegally. Why should she be allowed out of her cell contract because she is being deported?

I assume this man is Al Nelman featured in the preview for Canada's Worst Cellphone Bill The Sequel

 

Then there’s the second person mentioned – and here I am going to give all y’all a spoiler warning because his story already appeared in the Windsor Star, his name is Al Nelman and he’s with Virgin Mobile. Al’s plight is he is an “octogenarian war veteran who’s out of pocket because his minutes expired.” First off CBC Marketplace, that sentence contains a fallacy if I ever heard one. You are trying to appeal to our emotion by saying he is an octogenarian and saying he is a war hero. I completely agree we should all be thanking him every day and senior citizens in general are to be treated with respect, HOWEVER, it has no bearing on the situation here. Mr. Nelman keeps his cell phone with him for emergencies and has it on a pay-as-you-go plan which requires him to put money on it once a month or he loses all the money he has in the account built up from previous months. The issue he faces is that he missed his payment date and as such his money is gone from his account.

I understand he is living on a fixed income and I felt terrible for him about his predicament until I read his thoughts as described in the Windsor Star article. Virgin’s side of the story is that he can opt to have prepayments debited directly from his bank account and that when his account is about to expire they send him a text message reminder. Al Nelman’s response to that is that “no corporation is ever going to access his bank account, and he still doesn’t know what a text message is.

I am sorry he doesn’t know what a text message is, I really am. But if he wants the independence he clearly desires then he is going to have to pay the price for it – both literally and figuratively. He can mark the date on his calendar if this is a monthly thing. If he is getting monthly checks from the government or monthly direct deposits from the government then he can remember whenever the check comes in he should go out and put money into his pay-as-you-go account. Or, he could ask his family – assuming he has any around – to add him to their family plan. But to say “I forgot to pay and it isn’t my fault because I am over 80 and I refuse to learn one of the most basic features of my cell phone as well as don’t trust you evil corporations to be paid out of my bank account once a month”. I am sorry sir, but with all due respect, if that’s the stance you take then there is no reason (other than public relations because they are now in the paper and about to be on national television) for Virgin Mobile to give in to your demands and give you the money back. It stinks and its heartless but its true. The cost of independence is that we have to own up to our own mistakes. This is no one’s fault but your own.

Saying that this is Virgin Mobile’s problem/fault and not Mr Nelman’s means that essentially no senior citizen – or any citizen really – should ever be responsible to make a payment on time.

I really, really hope there is more to both stories than what we already know about them and that these two people were not considered for Canada’s Worst Cellphone Bill. I honestly don’t even think, with the information I currently have about them and their bills, that they deserve to even have been mentioned on the show.

How To Clap When You’re Addicted To Your Phone & Social Media

January 22, 2011 2 comments

Pepsi Refresh Project Tweetup by @PhotoJunkie (http://www.rannieturingan.com/)

For most of us with smartphones it is very difficult to sometimes put our phones down. As you can see in the above picture from the Pepsi Refresh Project Tweetup by @PhotoJunkie we addicts to social media spend a lot of time on our phones tweeting even when we are out in public with groups of people. Most of us who are used to hanging out with fellow social media addicts do not think anything of it when people violate normal etiquette rules and are looking down at their phones while we are talking to them. We are well aware that (1) we do  it too and (2) no offense is meant by it and (3) most of us are quite adept multitaskers who can listen to a conversation while tweeting about it too.

When I’m tweeting I usually only have one hand free. Like in this picture of me with @Got2ridemyhorse from #XLBday88 by @The_JMoney (http://www.justinbaisden.com).

However, one of the problems I often find myself having when I am out and about listening to a speaker or watching a performance and all the while tweeting/BBMing/texting/browsing the Internet is that I only have one hand which remains free for other uses. Often, it is true, this free hand is used for holding a beer as in the picture above but what do you do when the on stage act which you are tweeting about finishes and you are still busy with one hand on your phone? How do you show your appreciation with the rest of the crowd – who aren’t an addict like you and have 2 hands free – who are all clapping? We already know there is no way I’m going to stop tweeting to clap so there must be another way to continue tweeting AND clap at the same time without knocking my phone out my hands. (Hey, I already admitted I’m an addict, don’t judge me!) And so, I have come up with a brilliant solution which I would like to share with you – and please feel free to use it whenever you are out and about. What I do is I ensure I am not holding a beer in my otherwise free hand and I simply slap the side of my leg – below the  pocket so as not to crush stuff in there – and it provides a very similar sound to the clapping of two hands together.

In case you are wondering, I have experimented with slapping other parts of my body – no not my crotch, I wasn’t even trying that one – and they don’t work in terms of the awkwardness of hitting them repeatedly, and their very biological makeup. Your chest will not supply quite the same sound because it is largely hollow inside your lungs, also it is quite awkward smacking your chest while you are trying to tweet…that repeatedly moving hand is an annoying distraction! Slapping your opposite upper arm WOULD work except you’d probably run into the problem of dropping your phone and all the shaking will probably prevent you from tweeting. No, the leg/thigh region is the best place for you to slap as an ersatz clap for all of us social media/iPhone/CrackBerry addicts out there.

Try it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

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