New phone: Motorola G5 Plus

A reminder that despite how it may sometimes seem, not all my blog posts are about transport. If you want to view only the transport posts, try here. For convenience, this link is also on the menu at the top, under Transport.

Over the years I’ve had many mobile phones.

Here’s an update to that old list:

November 2013: Google Nexus 5 — I did that Apple-like thing of preordering this before I’d actually seen it in the flesh. This was a terrific phone. Fast, good camera, great features, no bloatware, and being a Google device, got updates really quickly.

I loved some of the features I only discovered well after I got it, like the pedometer which is now tracking my steps, and NFC, which has all sorts of uses such as checking public transport smartcards (in smart cities like Sydney and Singapore where this is enabled) — see below.

Then the phone died in late-2016. The power button got stuck, and it continually switched itself on and off.

I replaced it and then stuck it in a drawer until a couple of weeks ago when my son Jeremy needed a phone to use while his was being repaired. He found a way to repair the power button, and it’s still going strong!

Opal NFC phone app

October 2016: Google Nexus 5X (which cost me $489 at the time) — the spiritual successor to the 5. I really wanted to like this as much as the 5, but I didn’t. It was a good phone, but not a great phone. It feels a little laggy at times.

Perhaps that’s one of the perils of buying a phone that was released 12 months earlier.

There’s also probably a point at which (for all phones, tablets, and other devices) you should stop installing major upgrades to the operating system, which often bring major new features requiring perhaps more horsepower than the device can provide. Instead, it might be better to just install the security patches… at least until they run out.

Daniel buys a new phone

Having a good, fast reliable phone is more important these days than it has been in the past. I’m not sure that back in the day, any of us Gen Xers really appreciated that by the 2010s we’d literally have such a useful computer that we could carry around in our pockets all day.

I decided last week to get a new phone, and after some research settled on the Motorola G5 Plus (currently retailing for about $380), for three main reasons:

Get something faster. The 5X was released in 2015. Interestingly, you can still buy it new through some dealers (though Google themselves no longer sell it, having moved to the Pixel — at about double the price). I think there are now better value phones in the $400-500ish range.

Fear of the boot loop. I don’t know if it’s common or not, but a known hardware problem with the 5X phone is that occasionally they will get into a state where they continually boot, and (barring hacks to fix it) have to be sent back for repair or replacement. This is something I could deal with at home, but there’s no way I’d want it to happen while on our overseas holiday later this year.

Dual SIMs. I’d like to have mobile data for maps and so on while travelling, but I’d also like to be reachable on my usual phone number. Telstra international roaming isn’t cheap: $85 for 300 Mb or $160 for 600 Mb.

In contrast, a Three UK prepaid SIM, including 1 Gb data and texts and calls for a month, costs 10 pounds (A$17), or 12 Gb for double that cost, and it includes roaming in Europe. (I’m still looking at the options, but this appears to be one of the best.)

The solution to cheap local rates + keep your usual number? A dual-SIM phone. Use data and outbound calls on the cheap local SIM, and still be able to receive calls/texts on my Australian number. And the money savings will help subsidise the new phone.

(I wonder if the phone companies dislike this?)

In fact I suppose I could even choose to use a second SIM at home to get cheap data and/or try and get around the Telstra capacity problems on peak hour trains between Malvern to South Yarra — though from what I’m told, the other carriers are no better.

Motorola G5 Plus phone

So I bought a new Moto G5 Plus, and sold the Nexus 5X on Gumtree over the weekend. (eBay won’t let me sell a mobile phone, due to Paypal having a grudge against me, for reasons they’ve never been able to explain.)

I listed it for $220, and got all sorts of cheeky offers from as low as $130. I refrained from telling them they were dreaming. Eventually accepted an offer of $180 from a bloke who had a Sony phone he quite liked, but dropped it and smashed the glass. Whoops.

And the new phone? So far so good, apart from the wallpaper, which I’ve changed to my own design, and the “Hello Moto!” audible greeting, which was the first thing I switched off!

I need a new phone

On Thursday night my phone, a Nexus 5 that I got about three years ago, finally started playing up.

Android phone booting

It would continually boot, with a buzz, and a proclamation on the screen of “Google”! Then repeat. Bzzt… Google! Over and over.

Scouring online, I discovered this is a reasonably rare, but not unique, situation. The power button was jammed down.

The next morning, before work, I went looking for solution. No problem, said people on the forums… there’s a quick and simple fix. And they pointed to a Youtube clip someone had uploaded showing how to do it.

Quick and simple. Get your jewellers screwdrivers (okay, I have a set), take off the cover, then remove the battery, unplug all these ribbon cables, then…

At the point where they said to take out the motherboard, I thought yeah, this isn’t going to be the kind of quick and simple fix done just before going to work.

Then I found another suggestion in the forums:

Give the phone a good whack against the side of a desk. A couple of hits and the power button may go back into place.

I tried it. Bang. Nope. BANG. BANG. There it is! Wow, it worked! All without pulling the phone apart.

Except… no. It couldn’t be that easy, right? It wasn’t. 36 hours later it was playing up again. Bzzzzttt… “Google”!

So I need to buy a new phone.

The Nexus 5 had been excellent. Three years is a long innings for a smartphone, and over that time it hadn’t slowed down markedly, and Google had kept feeding it updates, without them having to be filtered through the phone manufacturer and phone company first. (In fact, they’ve only just announced updates for this model will cease in a few months.)

So I wouldn’t hesitate to get another Nexus.

For now I’m getting by on a borrowed HTC Desire 510. It’s functional, but I’m reminded of how much bloatware HTC and the other manufacturers and the carriers put on Android phones.

The Nexus 5’s replacement, the Nexus 5X (RRP $579), has been getting good reviews, and might be a good option.

And apparently in the next few months a new set of Nexus phones are expected.

No, I wouldn’t go an iPhone (SE from $679 RRP; 6 from $929). I love Apple’s hardware, but I love that I can plug an Android phone into any computer and move files around — I couldn’t stand being locked into iTunes and Apple’s ecosystem.

Master of my domain… or not

A couple of experiences with online hosting services that I wanted to relate.

Don’t worry, I’ll try not to let this get too geeky.

NetRegistry domains

For years I had a domain name custard.net.au associated with the company I owned that I used for contracting — this is a common thing in the IT and contracting worlds. I stopped contracting some years ago and wound-up the company (I couldn’t justify the ongoing expense, let alone the damn paperwork), but the domain name stayed active for a few things including email.

The domain had originally been registered through a company called ClickNGo, which was acquired by NetRegistry in 2011. In turn, NetRegistry was bought by Melbourne IT in 2014.

About a year ago, out of the blue, it became apparent that another party had somehow got control of the domain, the web address, the associated emails.

Initially I thought it was some kind of hack attempt, but it turned out that the registrar, NetRegistry, had handed it over to them, on the basis that the old company ABN I’d used was no longer current.

NetRegistry claimed they had emailed me beforehand. They hadn’t. Or at least, nothing was received. It wasn’t in my spam folder; it hadn’t arrived. They’d had my email and snail mail details, but neither had received anything.

Email isn’t 100% reliable. If they had tried, they certainly didn’t seek any kind of confirmation that I’d seen the message.

I was in no position to dispute the eligibility to continue to hold the domain; that was fair enough. But it seems ridiculous that in such a situation, the registrar doesn’t try a bit harder to make contact. In a lot of cases the assumption over eligibility might be wrong, and/or the domain could be used for something really important.

I had used the domain for a few things, but nothing critical other than emails for a lot of different online services. I made contact with the new owner, who was kind enough to agree to forward emails and a few specific URLs across so I could gracefully withdraw from the custard.net.au domain.

No thanks to NetRegistry.

AussieHQ web hosting

For years I used AussieHQ for web hosting.

The company used to be called “Aussie Hosts”, a small web ISP run by a family company. When I first dealt with them, they were really good — very responsive and reliable. Apart from my own hosting, the PTUA web site got moved there too.

Over the years they have acquired (Aussie and McGoo HQ merged to become AussieHQ), and been acquired, and are now part of UberGlobal — nothing to do with the well-known car “ride sharing” company; they are an online services company.

Alas, as they have got bigger, their service has got steadily worse. Web outages, email problems, hacking… and they’ve usually been unable to provide any useful response to any of these issues. They’ve also failed to update their status page or Twitter feed during problems, and have done things like renewing annual plans without any notice.

Due to these problems, in the past 12 months I’ve moved all my own hosting and the PTUA hosting off their servers. There plenty of more competent competitors.

By the way, in 2015 UberGlobal was bought by Melbourne IT.

So in both these cases, the problems were courtesy of subsidiaries of Melbourne IT, which was spun out of Melbourne Uni in the 1990s.

I don’t know if their other services are better or worse, but based on this, I’d be wary of dealing with them or their subsidiaries again.

Blog template

After the mess of the last attempt, and noting the large number of people reading on mobile devices (phones 39%, tablet 10%), I’ve switched to a plain but hopefully more mobile-friendly blog template.

Here is a photo of some people doing geeky things to test the pictures.

Computers at Pax

I’ll probably do some tweaking, but any feedback on how it looks (particularly on phones and tablets) is very welcome!

Update: Testing a photo from Flickr:

Melbourne city, viewed from Regional Rail Link near Tarneit

11/2/2016: The ads aren’t really in good spots on mobile — this requires some customisation. But most of the other mobile layout looks pretty good.

14/2/2016: Via a child theme and a plugin, I’ve enabled numbering on the comments. This was nowhere near as straightforward as I thought it would be. The instructions for creating the child theme in particular to keep the modifications separate from the parent theme were particularly geeky, but it seems to have worked.

The need for speed part 2: Portable hard drives

For the video editors in our family who need to move big files around, apart from internet upload speeds, I was also researching the fastest connection types for portable hard drives.

Theoretical speeds:

  • USB 2: 60 MB/s
  • Firewire 800: 133 MB/s
  • USB 3: 625 MB/s
  • Thunderbolt 2: 1250 MB/s

(USB 3.1 will apparently be up to 1250 MB/s when it’s eventually out there.)

USB hard drive manufacturers even quote the full USB 3 speed on their specs. But these don’t reflect real-life usage when moving data to/from drives.

The bottleneck is the drive itself, and PC Pro found in tests that USB3 and Thunderbolt 2 basically achieved the same speed. Below I’ve put these results together with some MacWorld tests using a 7200 RPM drive.

So the practical speeds are:

  • USB2: 41 to 42 MB/s
  • FireWire 800: 55 to 74 MB/s (depending on read or write)
  • USB3 or Thunderbolt 2: 112 to 116 MB/s

MacWorld also found that with SSDs, there was some additional benefit for USB3 and Thunderbolt, with Thunderbolt being between 6% and 35% faster than USB3. Presumably a similar boost would be available on USB3 flash drives.

Why is Thunderbolt so much lower than advertised? Probably because it’s not just designed for storage devices. It can also be used for displays, which need a much faster data transfer rate.

Interface speeds using portable hard drives

The Thunderbolt tax

Thunderbolt in drives is much much more expensive than other interfaces: for example for LaCie Rugged 2 TB drives at this place in South Melbourne, you’re looking at A$239 for USB 2/3, A$279 for USB 2/3 and Firewire, or A$389 for USB 2/3 and Thunderbolt. So it’s basically a $150 or 60% premium.

Thunderbolt also severely limits the range of drives you can buy. Most brands aren’t touching it.

My budding video editors have access to machines at uni that do USB 3 and Thunderbolt.

But at home we had neither; our old-but-still-good 2008 vintage “3,1” Mac Pros have USB2 or Firewire 800. They can’t be upgraded to Thunderbolt, but they can be upgraded to USB3 (for about US$60 each plus postage; cheaper than the “Thunderbolt tax” for single a high-capacity drive). So I’ve gone with USB3.

Yeah eventually I’ll have to replace the Mac Pros — they were secondhand when we got them 3 years ago — but they do have a bit of life in them yet… though one seems to be playing up a bit, grrr.

Back to some transport stuff in the next post