A case to keep my shiny new phone safe

My new Google Nexus 5 phone is going very nicely, thanks very much.

But I was pondering getting a case for it. The last thing I’d want is for it to be dropped and damaged.

Fortuitously, the good people at MobileZap asked me if there was a product on their site I’d like to review for them. Why yes! Thank you!

MobileZap stock lots of accessories for phones and other devices such as iPads, with everything sorted by manufacturer and model. Unlike some other sites I’ve looked at, they have quite a wide range, even for older models of phone such as ye olde HTC Desire S that I’ve just upgraded from, which is rather good if you’re wishing to hand it down to someone (it still works fine) but need a new case for it.

In the category of Nexus 5 cases, they list 83 different products.

I also like that MobileZap aren’t afraid to publish customer reviews on their site — even unfavourable ones.

I thought the Spigen SGP Ultra Hybrid for Google Nexus 5 – Black sounded good. Not that the name exactly rolls off the tongue, but it looked like the case I needed.

Nexus 5 phone without caseNexus 5 phone in case

One of the things I like about the Nexus 5 is that it looks good. This case attempts, with some success, not to mess with the look of the phone. It leaves the front alone, providing bumper protection around the edge, so unless it hits a sharp edge on the screen, you’re protected.

In fact it also comes with a screen protector, though I’m a little reluctant to fit it, given the phone itself comes with Gorilla Glass, which should make it pretty tough. (In fact the old HTC Desire S, which also has Gorilla Glass, managed to last two years without a noticeable scratch.) That said, I know these days good screen protectors are pretty good at not unduly affecting the touch of the touch screen, so I’ll give it a try at some stage.

The outside edge of the cover (eg the bumper) is rubbery plasticy stuff, which (like the phone itself, at least the black version) is easy to grip, so the chances of it slipping out of your hand are minimal.

The back of the cover is transparent plastic. This does detract a little from the rather nice natural look of the back of the phone, but it wouldn’t normally be facing that way, so I can live with that.

As you’d expect, there are gaps in the case to allow for the camera to work, as well as the power/USB. The Volume Up/Down and Power buttons are covered by rubbery stuff which changes the feel of them just a little bit, as well as making them more accessible because the case buttons are bigger than the phone buttons – no bad thing.

If there is one niggle, it’s this – the bigger Power button is now directly opposite the bigger Volume Down button, and if you’re used to holding the opposite side of the phone to press the Power, you may find yourself initially pressing the Volume Down instead. I found once I got get used to it, this didn’t cause me issues.

Other than that, this looks like a good, durable case, and I feel less nervous now that my beautiful new phone will succumb to some horrible damage on probably inevitable day that it gets dropped.Thumbs up!

Many thanks to MobileZap for sending me this cover.

Some phones can read #Myki cards. Could you one day check your expiry/balance on a phone?

For anybody with an NFC (Near Field Contact)-compatible phone (such as my new Google Nexus 5), you can use the this little app — Tag Info Lite to read Myki cards.

Not that it’ll tell you very much — see below. All the actual useful information appears to be encrypted.

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Apparently in some parts of the world an unencrypted copy of the card balance/status is also stored, allowing apps that will let you check your balance. For instance Farebot works with cards from Seattle, San Francisco, Singapore, the Netherlands and parts of Japan, and Travel Card Reader looks similar.

Shame Myki doesn’t appear to have this option, not even in PTV’s own apps — though I guess in theory they and/or Keane could do it, given they issue devices to Authorised Officers to do card checks.

With the old Metcards, you could easily see the expiry date(s) as it was printed on the card itself.

This is an opportunity, of course. As more phones include this technology, perhaps a future (hopefully minor) upgrade could allow people to check their card balance or fare expiry in this way.

(Some apps claim to do this with Myki, but what they’re really doing is checking your online account, which is not necessarily up to date — the card is the point of truth.)

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Oh, and here’s what I get from a Brisbane Go Card:

Untitled

New phone: Google Nexus 5, first impressions

Over the years I’ve tried to avoid being sucked into buying the latest and greatest technology just for the sake of it.

But I must admit being keen to check out the new Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) and Google Nexus 5 phone.

What would I need a new phone for? I could put Kit Kat on my old phone!

I've got Kit Kat on my phone

Seriously though, I’d upgraded my old HTC Desire S to Android 4.0, and while it works, it’s noticeably slower. I was thinking I’d downgrade it back to 2.3 (the ROMs for HTC phones, for both 2.3 and 4.0 are available here), but given I’ve had it a couple of years, what about a new phone?

Having seen Tony’s Nexus 4, over the past few weeks I found myself salivating for the about-to-be-released Nexus 5. It was finally officially announced and released on the 1st of November.

I was pondering this when my tax return came back, and would easily cover buying one. The Nexus 5 is cheap for a flagship phone — much cheaper than an iPhone. The 16 Gb model is A$399, the 32 Gb is A$449. You can’t upgrade the storage in it via an SD card, so choose wisely. Obviously a lot of people went for the 32 Gb, as it sold out quickly on the first day.

Fortunately a bloke I know accidentally bought two 32 Gb models in black — my preferred colour — he’d been desperately clicking through trying to make sure he got one before it sold out, and wasn’t sure his order had been accepted, so kept clicking.

On last Wednesday I met him at Southern Cross Station to exchange cash for a box with the phone in it, like an extremely geeky version of a drug deal.

I’m not going to bother doing a comprehensive review of the phone — that’s better handled by the professionals. But here’s a few notes on it, which I’ll keep expanding as I go.

Google Nexus 5 phone

First impressions

It’s a bit bigger than the Desire S. Wonder if it’ll fit in my front jeans pocket, which is where I tend to put my phone if I’m sitting down and have no other pocket.

Lovely bright high-resolution display.

The on/off button is on the right hand side, rather than the top as I’m used to, but I’ll adjust. Oddly it feels just a teensy bit loose. Hopefully that won’t be a problem in the future.

I’m thinking I might get a case, or at least a bumper, for it. It looks sturdy enough, but some protection might be good.

Setup

The old phone had a mini-SIM. The Nexus 5 takes a micro-SIM. I sidled into a Telstra shop to get it sorted out, and they used a cutting tool to chop it down. Low-tech, but effective.

Android to Android is pretty easy, because all the contacts and so on are kept “in the cloud” as part of your Google Account.

Text messages, pictures etc weren’t brought across. I copied all the pictures and voice recordings manually off the old phone for archiving on my PC at home.

Text messages were easily saved off the old phone using the freeware SMS Backup & Restore. It saves all the messages into an XML document, making it human-readable if I don’t want to import them into the new phone… which I don’t, especially.

Once the new phone was running, it was easy to go into the Play Store and re-install wanted apps onto it. So far I haven’t seen anything I had on the old phone that was labelled as incompatible with the new one, though I haven’t re-installed absolutely everything — I’m being a little more discerning.

Likes

Very fast. Good to see.

Display is very nice.

I like the effect when the screen turns off. Looks like an old-style television shutting down.

Camera quality in general looks good, though the old phone was able to adjust the white balance (and focus) to a particular object by touching the screen while lining up the shot. This doesn’t appear to have that feature, making some photos more difficult than in the past.

Micro-USB connection — excellent, compatible with my previous phone, so I have plenty of cables.

As with all Android phones, I love the way you can just copy stuff to and from it — not tied to pushing things through iTunes.

Beefs

Any new phone will take some getting used to. This is good, but it’s not perfect…

The iPad and my old phone both had an easy way to grab a screen capture. Does Kit Kat not have this?
People keep telling me to hold down Power and Volume Down… this doesn’t do anything for me. What am I doing wrong?
– 12/11/2013: Okay, figured it out. Unlike with my old phone, you have to press Power and Volume Down simultaneously, not one then the other.

Despite a front-facing camera, it has no mirror app?

I’ve spent years gradually changing all the phone numbers in my contact list to be +61 4xx xxx xxx (4 for mobile, at least) – so the theory was if I ever wanted to dial one from overseas, it would work. Imagine my surprise when incoming texts and calls don’t match up to the names. Only those that are in there as 04xx xxx xxx match up. Seriously?

Text messages are rolled into an app which also handles Google Hangouts. Neato — I guess they’re taking on iMessage. But why when writing a text message, does it not give me a character count, so I know how much I can write without going over 160 characters and paying extra?

More to come

14/11/2013 — I haven’t yet played with Google Now, but this article goes into a bit of detail about how to use it.

How to turn off @MetroTrains Android app alerts/notifications

The Metro app is quite handy for finding out what’s happening on the train network, and can send notifications/alerts to tell you when something’s affecting the line(s) you use regularly.

As previously noted, it’s not perfect — the SMS alerts that it replaced were customised to your specific station, so you didn’t have to try and work out if the 7:21 stops at your station — and at what time.

MetroTrains Android app

But anyway, I was puzzling over how to make the notifications stop. Unless your phone is silent, they cause a beep (which apparently can’t be turned off) and fill up your status bar thingy if you don’t keep attending to it.

If you try and add the same line again, it ignores the option to turn notifications off. I asked around on Twitter, and other people were having this problem too.

After some experimentation, it appears there are two solutions:

Not so good: Take the IT Crowd’s catchcry of “turning it off and on again” to the next level: Uninstall the app, then add it again. You’ll have a clean slate, and you can add your line(s) again.

Better: go to My Alerts, press and hold on the line you want to change. After a second or two you’ll see an option to delete it. Do so. Then go back and add it again with your preferred options.

MetroTrains Android app: Delete an alert

There’s been some suggestion from one user that a network-wide alert might sneak through with a notification even if you have all individual lines turned off. Not sure about that.

While the app does provide welcome information of problems (I’d rather know than not), they probably need to do some work on it, particularly around options for specific station times and alert tones (or not).

Meanwhile, tram users have Tram Tracker of course, and bus users… well, they’re still waiting.

Long term PTV should probably be taking the lead and being the conduit for all service information, regardless of operator, perhaps organised by area instead. For instance it would be useful to know if that power fault affecting train signals and boom gates has also affected the local buses you might use as an alternative way home.

How much would it cost to re-write the #Myki software to make it fast as other cities’ smartcards?

Refactoring is a legitimate strategy in software development. It’s where you feel the design is (more-or-less) right, but the software implementation has gone wrong, and needs to be completely cleaned-up, by chucking it out and re-writing it.

So here’s a thought: if the single most annoying, unreliable, sluggish part of the Myki system is the Readers, then how much time, money and effort would it take to completely refactor all of the software in the Readers?

Don’t change the hardware and cards, which has cost a bomb to buy and install, but (assuming the protocols the Readers work with is okay, and the hardware/cards are up to scratch – they’re used in other cities, after all) upgrade the software.

Myki is here

First you’d tweak the rules/logic a bit to help fix the worst issues — for instance, you might:

  • ditch the confusing and not-very-good-value 7-day passes and replace them with an automatic weekly cap
  • allow travel on a zero balance (rather than $0.01) to get around issues when people load the exact fare onto their card
  • and you’d want to change the beeps to remove the meaningless double-beep and instead have differentiation between touch-on and touch-off

Then you’d hire a small team of gun programmers and testers, and let them get to work, with a small budget of say $1 million (about a 50th of the annual cost of running the ticket system) and some specific targets, starting with:

  • fixing known bugs
  • maximum 1 hour from online topup to it being available at fixed (railway station) readers
  • and the most important one: consistent maximum 0.5 second response times (but preferably closer to 0.1 or 0.2), as seen with other cities’ smartcards

As my friend Josh often says: How hard could it be?