So I went to the Verizon Store for my biannual rogering.
You may remember my review of the Droid X2. The X2 didn’t age well. The WiFi would usually need to be restarted before it would communicate with my home network, but because it connected it would turn off my 3G coverage. The GPS likewise would need reinitializing before it would work. The camera app would often lock up the phone, and the phone itself had a bad habit of rebooting right when I picked it up to do something. But worst of all, actual phone calls were being delayed. As in, I could dial the number and press “send”, but nothing would happen for a full minute. I had mitigated these problems temporarily by performing a factory reset, but who wants to have to do that?
Say what you will about iTunes (indeed, I’ve said most of it myself) but the OS on my 2nd gen iPod Touch is still as crisp as it ever was (although at v4.2 it is no longer compatible with any apps now being released).
Anyway, about the rogering.
I compared phones on the website and had pretty much decided on the LG G2, but when I arrived at the store I was disappointed to learn that, like the iPhone, the battery was not removable. Since I have frequently resorted to removing the battery as a last-ditch method of rebooting my previous smartphones, this put me off. The salesman recommended the Samsung Galaxy S2. I had to think about it for a week, since this would be the first time I had actually paid money for my phone since my Motorola Razr in 2006. But with my wife’s blessing (possibly motivated by her own interest in upgrading from the iPhone 4S to the 5c) I bit the $99 bullet.
Except . . . it turns out that every new phone Verizon sells or gives away comes with an unadvertised and previously unheard-of $30 “upgrade fee”. WTW? This is different from the “activation fee” for a new line. Every phone is in fact $30 more expensive than they advertise.
Verizon. Come for the phone. Stay for the rogering.
I lost the unlimited data plan I received with the Palm Pre Plus and kept “grandfathered” with the X2. As a consolation, I received a 6GB limit instead of the usual 2GB. I still have to pay an extra $20 for tethering, and with which I receive an extra 2GB. The good news is that all 8GB becomes available for both tethering and phone usage, whereas before only 2GB were available for tethering. That’s very advantageous; I seldom use more that a couple of hundred MB in a given month, unless I’m traveling, in which case I will also be tethering extensively.
The first thing to say about the S5 is that it is big: 16 square inches of surface area, compared to 12 for the X2 and 9 for the pre. It seems like the revolution in miniaturization is reversing itself. Granted, phones are thinner now, but I wonder if future generations will mock today’s phones as we mock the bricks of the 80s.
The second thing to say is I had grave difficulty connecting the phone to my Dell E6420 laptop via the USB cable, and no amount of tech support from both Verizon and Samsung could fix the problem. The S5 connected to other computers without hesitation, and all my other phones connected to E6420. I was resigned to the necessity of reinstalling the Dell’s operating system, but then I came across this article that mentioned Kaspersky anti-virus. I had used Kaspersky on the Dell the first year I owned it and uninstalled it when the update subscription expired. (Now I use Security Essentials.) Even though the problem it described was different from mine, I gave its registry edit a shot. It worked.
Much of the increased computing power of the S5 seems to go into the user interface, which is a good deal more . . . lively than my previous smartphones. I’m not exactly sure what having the picture of the sun on my weather app spin, but it sure looks cool.
Some improvements: my Outlook.com (a.k.a. live.com) contacts will now accept entries from my phone. It took me a long time to learn that when I tried to create a contact entry on the X2, it wouldn’t actually save to my Outlook.com account. Sometimes it would save to my Google account, but usually . . . pfffft, into the ether, never to be seen again. It was one of the first things I tested on the S5.
Parenthetically, I’m frustrated that “linking” my Google and Live accounts don’t actually keep the contacts on one updated on the other. Really, it only just copies the contacts once. This is not the fault of the S5, however.
The copy and paste functions are now more intuitive. I never did figure out how they worked on the X2, but now when I highlight text, I get a popup menu asking what I want to do.
The phone has a front-facing camera. No surprise there, but what’s new is that the camera detects your eyes looking at it (usually, if your face is well lit and if you aren’t wearing glasses), and keeps the screen on as long as that’s true. Which means that . . . the phone is always watching.
It’s also always listening. Both “Google Now” and Samsung’s “S-Voice” listen for their respective start commands all the time. For instance, I say, “OK Google”, and the phone chirps and waits for a command like “Call Mrs. Phi” or “Navigate to Lily-white Phi-ville” or “Play ‘Ride of the Valkyries’” and the phone will execute it. Similarly with S-Voice, although I haven’t actually got it to work yet. With S-Voice, I can double-press the “home” key and it waits for a command.
More mundane perhaps, but it’s predictive word recommendations, supposedly trained by analyzing past keyboard entry, is already pretty good. Sometimes I can go for a good bit of a sentence by doing nothing but selecting each recommended word in sequence.
I hope it never learns to read lips.
The phone comes with a program called Google Play Music, which is the default player when music is requested with Google Now. If I understand correctly, Google Play Music is a fee-based service, but it only plays music already on the phone. Obviously, I won’t be using it once the trial ends.
One feature too many is a windowing option: keeping two applications on the screen at one time. But this is probably more than I can keep up with. One of the virtual buttons, always available along the bottom of the screen, allows the user to switch between recently-used applications, much like the iPad allows by double-pressing its home key.
One feature to few is tracking mobile hotspot usage by device. I had turned on this feature for a couple of cross-country automobile trips. Typical usage: 2GB in a single day! Fortunately, these trips fell on different days, but what I really want is to be able to identify which of the connected devices (our old phones now in use by our kids) is sucking down the data, and perhaps figure out which applications are offending. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a single app that breaks down hotspot usage at the device level. Any thoughts?
The S5’s pride-and-joy is its video camera, which can now record in Ultra-HD. Of course, this isn’t really much use unless you have an Ultra-HD monitor or TV (I don’t), and I have my suspicions that the F-stop of the optics won’t really support that level of resolution anyway. But I will say that video recorded at 60 fps (an option Samsung calls “smooth motion video”) looks really . . . smooth. The still camera offers high-dynamic range photography, which is basically offering different quantization for differently illuminated segments of the image, but the effect doesn’t seem as dramatic as when I use the feature on my Nikon.
But mostly, I’m just happy to have a phone that doesn’t crash or lock up all the time.