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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

A Month Of Mornings With Bomb Energy Drink Instead of Coffee

January 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Coffee. It is the way the majority of adults I know get their days started and how they can function when they drag themselves out of bed in the early morning. I absolutely love coffee but I also know that, at the end of the day, it is the caffeine my body really craves (and is addicted to!). I generally start my day with a 20 oz cup of coffee (591 ml) and if I don’t have it I can expect a headache by noon.

Bomb Energy Drink Dan Levy Drinking Can IMG_1920 resize

 

 

When my friends over at Bomb Energy Drink asked me to come up with a fun way to try Bomb out for my blog I knew I had to come up with something special. After thinking about it, I decided that it’d be fun to get my morning caffeine jolt from a can of Bomb Energy Drink instead of a large coffee for a month and see the results – for science! Before I get into the results, I feel I should mention two things:

First of all, this was not the first time I have replaced my coffee with a different caffeine source. Often, when I know I have to wake up super early or will be in a rush to get somewhere I will pick up a bottle of soda or a can of energy drink to get my morning caffeine fix. But a whole month without coffee in the morning? I had never done that before!

Second, the question I got asked most by my friends was if I was still drinking coffee in that month and my answer was an emphatic, yes. My condition for the test was merely to replace my morning coffee with Bomb Energy Drink, it wasn’t a ban on coffee for a month outright! (Did I mention how I love coffee?)

Bomb-Energy-Drink-Can-Cupholder-5

Now, on to what I learned: Read more…

TELUS BlackBerry Q10 Review – #10BestOfBBQ10

June 25, 2013 8 comments

BlackBerry Q10 from TELUS in box

For the past month I have been lucky to be a part of the TELUS program dubbed “10 Best of BlackBerry Q10” with the Twitter hashtag #10BestOfBBQ10. The folks at TELUS were kind enough to send me a brand new TELUS BlackBerry Q10 along with an activated TELUS line and let me play with it so I could review it and let you, my loyal readers, and the internet at large know what I think of it. Before I go on, I want to be clear about a few things:
1. I really was excited to play with this device and wanted to love it and make it my primary phone from the moment I got the email from TELUS.

2. I don’t really care about apps beyond my core of email, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and a web browser. Having Foursquare and some other apps is nice and all but it isn’t an absolute necessity and I would gladly give them up for a physical keyboard on a device which functioned superbly.

3. I love Swype for Android because of the ease of typing but I choose it over all other keyboard options available for Android because of its editing capabilities. The easy way I can use keyboard shortcuts to cut, copy, and paste reminds me of my PC and my BlackBerry keyboard which both have shortcuts for those functions. On any BlackBerry before the Z10 and the Q10 (referred to as a “Legacy BlackBerry”) this was accomplished by a few different shortcuts which BlackBerry helpfully lists here. On a PC it’s the old reliable CTRL-X, CTRL-C, & CTRL-V. That, coupled with the trackpad-replacing “Edit Keyboard Layer (PIC)” which Swype has means it is my go to and you’ll be hard pressed to convince me to switch to another keyboard.

The final straws for me with my 9900 was when I got the black clock of waiting when the phone had freshly booted and I was writing an email. The device slowing down during such a mundane task was too much coupled with the camera being so horrible I couldn’t take a picture of an article in the newspaper because it’s fixed focus lens couldn’t handle close up shots. When those 2 things happened I gave up, threw in the towel, called it quits, and broke up with BlackBerry.

For all those who are too lazy to read a long review here it is in three sentences: The TELUS HSPA/LTE network in Toronto is great providing very good coverage and speeds. All in all, the BlackBerry Q10  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…

BlackBerry Bold 9900 At A Glance

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

I just got the brand new BlackBerry Bold 9900 delivered to me from RIM (Research In Motion) and I wanted to give all y’all a quick few thoughts about the device and my experience in switching from my trusty BlackBerry Torch 9800 to this new hawtness. As you can see by the date of the previous post, I won that BlackBerry Torch 9800 in late September of 2010 and received it in October 2010. Let’s be clear, this is not going to be an extensive review it is merely going to be a little glance into the differences I have noticed thus far and what delights me and disappoints me about it thus far.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 (open) next to Bold 9900.

First things first, already I am sort of in love with this new device. The keyboard is amazing and it is surprising how the couple extra cm? mm? in the device’s/keyboard’s width makes such a huge difference for typing. (Clearly it doesn’t matter what anyone tells you, when it comes to cell phones size does matter!) Read more…

REVIEW: ClarityOne Earbuds By PureSound Technology – The Non-Audiophile’s Experience

July 29, 2011 7 comments

Note: This review was actually written in mid-March 2011. I can’t tell you exactly why it wasn’t published but needless to say it wasn’t until now. I have made some edits to it but it largely remains the same as when it was written in March of 2011. I wasn’t sent these earbuds directly by the company themselves but was expected to write a review on them. I do not consider this a sponsored blog post but in the interests of full disclosure I wanted to let you all know everything I could about my interaction with the company that makes this product.

When I got these earphones from a new Toronto company, PureSound Technology, my first thought was, “They look pretty much like almost every other pair of earbuds I’ve seen,” this would all change upon closer examination and through daily usage of the earbuds. To be clear, I am not an audiophile. My thoughts, therefore, are taken from the vantage point of a guy who usually just uses headphones because they work.

Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to music and am actually quite eclectic in my tastes and I consume an inordinate amount of audio-visual media on a daily basis but I have always been the kind of guy who will just buy a set of headphones and use them until I broke them or I lost them. I never invested in the premier types of headphones that more hardcore audio freaks might choose. I can appreciate, of course, better or worse sound quality that are produced by different headphones and, as a gadget geek, loved the vibrating Shockwave headphones when they were brought out by Panasonic back in the day just because they were so freaking cool. I also was very excited when I got my first set of A2DP Bluetooth stereo headphones which I could use with my phone, again, because of the cool factor.

All this changed when I got to try these earbuds. The folks over at PureSound Technology weren’t lying when they told me these were one awesome set of headphones they brought to the market. You could tell just by looking at the headphones that they put a lot of time and effort into the presentation which is often indicative of a top of the line product. In fact, the technology and the earbuds themselves are TWELVE YEARS in the making. Read more…

REVIEW: AXE Hair Products – Natural Understated Cream & Downpour Refreshing Mint Shampoo

April 28, 2011 26 comments

In mid-March I received the care package you see above from AXE Canada online community manager Guneet Singh (@AXECanada on Twitter) who clearly works with Harbinger Ideas, judging by the card in the picture above. The reason this has taken me so long to post is because I was uber-busy since then and didn’t have a chance to get a haircut. Therefore, my hair was too long to use with the styling cream I was sent and because that will be the main portion of this review, I decided to wait.

First things first, the shampoos. Both AXE Downpour Refreshing Mint Shampoo (green) & AXE Zen Soothing Tea Tree Shampoo (purple) smell really good in my opinion but, then again, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled a shampoo with a rank, unpleasant smell. Both shampoos definitely score well above average when smelled from the bottle in my books. I’ve only really used the AXE Downpour Refreshing Mint Shampoo and I enjoy the smell of it in the shower, for sure. It lathers up nicely and leaves my hair clean so no complaints there either.

One amusing thing did happen to me when I had just recently used the Downpour shampoo: I was sitting in the car with two friends, my friend Sara was in the back seat. We were talking about randomness and then she looked at me and Noah and asked which of us smelled really good. She soon concluded it was me and started smelling my hair continually, which was vaguely amusing to me because it was just like in all those AXE commercials! For once TV didn’t lie! I should mention, however, that I was also that day wearing Michel Germain: séxual sugar daddy so the two smells may have been complimenting each other, I don’t know. She did say that the smell was in my hair though and I don’t spray cologne in my hair so I don’t think it was the cologne. She then went on to rave about how women would kill for my hair because it’s so soft but I have been honestly hearing that from women for YEARS so I’m just lucky there I guess.

My hair has always been very fine and straight and therefore whenever I tried to use a gel like many of my friends I ended looking bald as all my fine hair would bunch together and it just wasn’t pretty. For me, the first product I ever found that just worked well was via my buddy Jon. He had this stuff called Dove Defined Texture Molding Cream and I tried it once when we were on a trip and I didn’t have anything with me to make myself look sexy. I absolutely loved the stuff once I tried it and began buying it for my own regular use. Unfortunately for me, they decided to discontinue it a bunch of years later and leave me in the lurch. I wasn’t exactly pleased with the situation but in order to rectify it I went out and bought 6 containers of my ideal hair styling product (the Dove cream) at a store that still had some and used it for quite a while afterwards – it literally would take me 4-6 months to finish one of those containers. I was, however, always on the lookout for more of this product even stopping in pharmacies in New York City and Miami when I was in those cities and I saw a random pharmacy just to check if they had it there. (They never did).

When I finally ran out of my 6 containers – my older brother helped when he saw the Dove hair product in my bathroom and took a big dollop assuming it was skin cream – I needed to find something different but hopefully the same. I called Unilever and they recommended I try AXE Charged Spiked-Up Look Putty (in the picture to the right it is the one with red letters) and they were even awesome enough to send me a coupon for it to try it out free! I bought some and it was pretty damn good however, it simply did not replace in my heart my dearly departed Dove Defined Texture Molding Cream.

And then, as if he somehow sensed my need, Guneet contacted me randomly through the magic of the Twiter – this may have been because I raved about the awesomeness of Unilever’s customer care hooking me up as they did and recommending which product would replace the old product. People have laughed that I called but the way I figured it, who better would know what product in their lineup would replace the Dove Molding Cream better than Unilever the company that made it? In any case, Guneet sent me, in a package, 3 new hair products which I believe AXE Canada just released: AXE Natural Understated CreamAXE Downpour Refreshing Mint Shampoo, & AXE Zen Soothing Tea Tree Shampoo and asked me to try them out, no strings. Who wouldn’t say yes to that?

So once I finally got my hair cut I knew it was time to see if this new product from AXE would be the heir to the Dove Defined Texture Molding Cream throne. To put it bluntly, it absolutely is. I can’t tell you they’re the same exactly but it definitely is leaps and bounds better than AXE Charged Spiked-Up Look Putty and every other company’s hair styling product I have tried since the Dove product was taken off the market. Oh, and if you want some of the AXE Charged Spiked-Up Look Putty I have one and a half containers of it which I’ll probably never ever use. Long story why I have extra one and unimportant for the purposes of this post.

All I know, is if you have fine, soft, and straight hair like me or if you were a fan of the aformentioned now discontinued Dove product, GIVE THIS STUFF A TRY!!!

A VERY good substitute. If you loved the Dove product like I did I HIGHLY recommend trying AXE Natural Understated Look Cream.

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