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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

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…

My Friend Ben’s Experience With Fido’s Call Center & Unlocked Phones In Canada

February 7, 2011 3 comments

My friend Ben switched from his Fido branded Sony Ericsson w300 to an unlocked T-Mobile USA branded BlackBerry Curve 8320 in mid-2009. At the time he was on the Old CityFido plan and he never really had a reason to switch any part of his plan except to add on BlackBerry services – so his core data plan stayed the same.

The Fido Sony Ericsson w300

Recently, he was on the phone with Fido and he was able to get them to give him a – seemingly – unbelievable deal. Unlimited Canadian minutes, unlimited USA calling from inside Canada, unlimited text messages, BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry Email, Call ID and Voicemail all for $47/month! He said after being on the phone with Fido’s customer service and retention departments it was their way of competing with the new entrants to the Canadian mobile market. He was overjoyed at the savings being offered to him and took the deal. It wasn’t until a few days later that he began to notice something horribly wrong with his phone: call waiting no longer worked.

T-Mobile USA BlackBerry Curve 8320

Frantic, Ben called Fido trying to figure out what was wrong with his phone’s service. When Fido asked him what kind of phone he was using, Ben of course told them it was an 8320 and was unlocked and at that moment all help from Fido ended each and every time. Ben spoke with 3 different Fido customer service representatives over the course of 4 and a half hours. One named Dean (who was “a really nice guy”) and 2 others (one of whom was a complete jerk, Ben reports) and all of them told him it was his unlocked phone causing the issue and it had nothing to do with anything on Fido’s end. Each and every time they told him to try typing *#43# & Send to check the status of his Call Waiting (not active) then *43# & Send to activate Call Waiting. Each time he tried the latter he got an ‘action failed’ message. Fido’s reps tried re-sending the BlackBerry service books thinking that might be the problem and that didn’t help either. Each and every time Ben requested that Fido check the status of his account on their end they swore up and down it was because he had an unlocked gray market phone and there was nothing they could do to help him. They maintained he would simply need to switch to a Fido phone be it a BlackBerry (Fido only offers the Curve 8520) or any other Fido device or he would have to live without Call Waiting because there couldn’t possible be anything wrong on Fido’s end.

So, Ben called me and asked me if I could help him. I tried doing a lot of the same things that Fido had tried with Ben as they were obvious steps in an attempt to fix the issue. When I was unable to resolve the problem that way I told Ben it was not a problem and we would try with an old Fido branded phone I had lying around. I went home and found an old Fido branded Nokia 3100b (the phone was released in 2003 but it still keeps chugging along when needed!). If Call Waiting didn’t work once we popped Ben’s SIM card into the Nokia 3100b Fido would have to admit the problem could not possibly be on Ben’s end because this was a Fido branded phone.

A Fido Branded Nokia 3100b from 2003

We popped the SIM card into the Nokia, turned it on, and tried going through the Nokia’s menus to check the status of Call Waiting…not active. We tried to select the option to turn on Call Waiting….it failed. We then tried the two codes mentioned above which manually do what Nokia set up in their menu structure to do…that failed too. So Ben called Fido and told them that even though he now had his SIM card in a phone which was Fido branded, albeit an old one, he still wasn’t getting Call Waiting.

When Ben called this time, he luckily got through to a shining example of customer service – a lady named Sharon. Sharon helped him out as soon as she heard the issue (although it may have been because Ben was now able to report he had his SIM in a Fido branded phone). She took a look at Ben’s account and said that in the past 12 days since he had supposedly been put onto his new plan and taken off of his old one he had racked up a gargantuan bill of…

$252.47!

She said he had managed to rack up such an astronomical bill because the customer service representative at Fido who had originally changed his plan and taken him off of CityFido had neglected to add on the new plan immediately. Instead, Ben’s new awesome plan was not going to officially come into effect until the beginning of his next billing cycle – tomorrow. As such, he was paying for every minute and kilobyte and text message he used by the minute and by the kilobyte and by the message (sent and received). Of course, this discrepancy was present on account and readily available to any Customer Service Representative in Fido’s call center at the outset of all of Ben’s calls to them. However, once the call center people had heard it was a non-branded phone they figured it was easier to blame it on Ben not using a Fido branded phone rather than actually look into the problem their customer in good standing was having.

For shame. Epic Fail by Fido.

Of course, once all of this came to light Sharon was able to credit Ben for the entire previous month’s bill of service and gave him a month of free service for next month – personally I do not think that was enough for the stress and issues they caused him for such a simple issue that was quite obviously Fido’s fault from the outset but he is happy with it.

But why should people with unlocked phones (or as they’re sometimes known “gray market phones”) be victimized by our cell phone carriers like this? Why do customer service representatives just immediately turn off their brains when they hear the customer is using an unlocked phone on their network? In a 2007 CBC News story a spokesperson for Rogers (the company which owns Fido) said Canadian carriers lock phones because they “heavily subsidize the cost of the handsets“. If that is truly the reasoning behind locking handsets shouldn’t customers using unlocked phones they bought from a source other than their carrier be awarded extra respect and maybe even bill credits? After all, they aren’t costing their carrier the money the carrier would otherwise be paying to “heavily subsidize” their phone. Customers using unlocked phones on carriers that claim they “heavily subsidize the cost of the handsets” are, in fact, doing the carrier a massive favor by bringing their own phones to the table.

To say that the phone isn’t certified to run on the network is absolutely insane because there is a reason that GSM is a standard. Not to mention the fact that this particular phone, the BlackBerry Curve 8320, WAS offered by Rogers at one point (it’s an older phone and has been since discontinued) and there are probably tens of thousands of them still running on Rogers’ network (the same network Fido uses) so to say there are issues with the phone because it was sold by a different carrier in the USA is ridiculous. Further, how can any cellular carrier have roaming agreements with any other country’s carriers if their networks and phones are so different? Answer: they aren’t. Customer service representatives are either being [a] lazy in helping a customer or [b] greedy, trying to find any excuse to sell a new phone to a customer and have them resign their contracts (and don’t kid yourself, they DO make money when they sell you a phone or different plan, just like any sales person in a Rogers store or kiosk would).

The cellular landscape in Canada needs to change.

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