Saturday, March 13, 2010

The New “Droid” In My Life

This has been an interesting few weeks. Just sit back and relax, because eventually, it will end up as a review of some tech stuff. Trust me. (But if you want to skip down to the tech stuff, click here.)

On Monday, February 22nd, I got an ominous email from the executive manager at my company, TAG, LLC; there will be an all-hands lunch meeting on Wednesday the 24th at noon. So, I asked what the primary topic of the meeting was going to be. I was told “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill myself. I’ve been sworn to secrecy.” OK, thanks, that made me feel much better. I told some of the people I work with who aren’t from my company that it would be one of two things; either we bought another company, or we just got bought.

On Wednesday, one of my coworkers and I showed up at the meeting place at noon. It looked like we were late. There were three empty chairs left, and only two of them were together, so I headed in that direction (primarily because I don’t know many people in my company even though I’ve worked there for three and a half years. I’m well sequestered at my customer location). We sat down, about diagonally across the table from the CEO of our company (not really a big deal, I worked with him before the company got “big”). Beside him was a person I didn’t know, and I deduced did not work in my company.

During the drink and food orders, we started talking about phones. My coworker had his iPhone on the table and was raving about it. The gentleman across from joined the discussion and we talked about our Blackberrys and iPhones. I made the comment “Yeah, when my new-every-two comes up in June, I’m going to get a Droid from Motorola”. The gentleman across the table said “I had a Droid and I didn’t like it. I went back to my Blackberry. Do you want it?” I took that as a rhetorical question, not something serious.

After most of us finished eating, the gentleman across from us was introduced by the CEO of our company as the CEO of the company that just bought us on Monday the 22nd, KEYW. Um, what? We’ve been bought? We are now a wholly owned subsidiary of another company. No real changes, just our CEO now has a boss other than the customers.

All in all it was an interesting lunch, but not too life impacting, tech wise. Or so I thought.

The following Tuesday, I get an email from the President of our company that said:

Were you talking with Len about possibly being interested in a Droid (of the phone variety) over lunch the other day?  If so, I think he has one that he may be interested in selling you...

Followed quickly by an email from Len (the new CEO) that said:

I'll give it away~ ~~I'm not using it.

I was floored. I really didn’t think it was a real offer, but more of a comment that you’d make at the table when you were unhappy with a product. By Friday, I picked up my “new” Motorola Droid phone.

Saturday, I went to the Verizon store and picked up a window mount so I could use the navigation system and give Garmin back to Marie. We also went to Best Buy to find a case for my phone, and to replace the primary router I had in the office for the past eight or nine years that released it’s magic smoke. All electronics work on magic smoke, and when it's released, the electronic device stops working. We picked up a generic phone/camera case from LowePro, the Hipshot 20. It works great as a slip case, although it doesn’t really look super professional. I’ll work on that later.

I got the window mount box and my other purchases back to the house, opened the car mount box and found that the box had been opened before and there was a piece missing. I was not a happy camper in a way, but in another way, I was, because I wanted to get both the window mount and the multimedia charging station. Some Verizon stores were supposed to have a deal on them.

So, on Sunday afternoon, I ran out to the CORPORATE Verizon store, as opposed to the one I went to on Saturday, and picked up everything I was looking for, at a slightly higher price, but not so high as to be a pain. Then I went back to the other store and returned the window mount that had the piece missing.

Now for the good part.

I’ve had a few days to play with my new Droid. And no, I haven’t given it a cute name like R2 or C3PO or anything like that. Although I did download some Star Trek sounds for ring tones and alerts. Let me give you some details about the phone itself, including my likes and dislikes so far, then I’ll talk about some apps I’m using.

I really like the form factor, and the screen. The resolution on the screen is amazing to me. Last night I was playing with podcasts, and I downloaded some issues of GeekBrief.TV (great podcast, by the way). The quality was great. There was some lag between the sound and the image, but that’s forgivable for me, because, well, it’s a phone, right?

I’m still undecided about the slide-out keyboard. It’s nice to have, and some of the characters are more accessible than on the on-screen keyboard, but it’s still a little awkward for me to type on quickly. Maybe I’ll get used to it, but the on-screen keyboard is a little faster for me right now; not to mention I don’t need to do anything to get the on-screen keyboard to show up.

The window mount is cool. It has a magnet built into it that triggers a switch in the back of the phone and puts it into “Car Mode”, which makes navigation (and VOICE navigation) easier.

The other cool accessory for the Droid is the Multimedia charging station. When you put the Droid onto this base, it goes into another mode (not quite sure yet how this one works) that shows a clock, the current weather, and provides buttons for picture slide shows and MP3 playback. One review I read said it was too bright to be an alarm clock, but I disagree. I’m using it as an alarm clock. I’ve set my 6 different daily alarms (I don’t have one on Saturday), and now I just set it in the stand and go to sleep.

The Droid uses a USB port for connectivity and charging, but unlike Motorola phones from a few years ago, it uses a micro-USB port, so I need to get all new cables (but the MiFI I have uses micro-USB, so travelling will be good).

One problem with the version of Android OS on the Droid phones (2.0.1) is that the accelerometer is a little too sensitive. If I put the phone in the window mount, it goes into “Car mode”, and I make sure it’s horizontal. However, if I hit a bump, the phone can change screen orientation (which can stop processing of some apps for a short time). I’m told that will be fixed in Android 2.1 (when the Droid finally gets it).

Let’s take a look at a few apps. The first one you need to get for an Android-based phone is an app killer. Unlike the iPhone, which only does one thing at a time, the Android-based phones are running a flavor of Linux, so they multitask well. The problem is that most apps aren’t designed to self-terminate. I don’t know why. For some apps that makes sense, but not for others. When I’m done playing Sudoku, I want that app to close, not just hide in the background. So, the first app I got was Android Task Killer. ATK gives you a list of running apps. You long-click on the app, then select Kill. Bang; it’s dead. That easy. Highly recommended.

Since I started taking a lot of medications for my back pain, I find myself thinking a lot about the hereafter. I’ll walk up the stairs and think “What am I here after?”. If you have a hard time remembering things, or just want to keep track of stuff in general, head over to EverNote. EverNote is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that” websites. You sign up on the website, then download the app to your phone, and use the same login and password. Now you can create little notebooks, store websites you want to check out later, all sorts of crazy stuff. And it’s free. You can’t beat the price. Highly recommended.

Gesture Search is an app you need just for the cool / geek factor. Gesture search allows you to search through your contacts list by writing on the screen with your finger. You write the first letter of the name and the list is narrowed down to all the names with that letter in them. If you write the next letter, it will search for those two letters together in the name. I usually find who I’m looking for in one to two letters. Cool factor +5. Highly recommended.

Fring is an app that allows you to make Skype connections for free from mobile phones (with data plans) to other Skype users. I’ve tried using Fring to talk to my daughter in Louisiana, and to my daughter and grandson in Okinawa. Unless I’m doing something wrong, I’m not too impressed. Text works great, but voice lags significantly. It could be the network, it could be the processing power of the phone. I don’t know what the problem is, but voice isn’t too good. Text works great, though. Somewhat recommended. (as a side note, Verizon Wireless is supposed to be coming out with a Skype app for all their smart phones. We’ll see how that one works).

You know I have a monster commute. I leave my house by 6:30AM every week-day, and make it in to work between 7:30 and 8:00, usually. Return trip is about the same from 4:00 to 5:00 or 5:30PM. That’s a lot of time to waist just sitting in the car. I don’t like spending money on audio books (but I have), but I do read a lot of RSS feeds in Google Reader. Talking RSS Reader is an app that will read your RSS feeds to you. It’s not perfect, but it does a great job. One complaint from everyone around me at home when I play with it is the voice. I kinda like having Stephen Hawking read my RSS feeds to me. I’ve been in contact with the developer, and hopefully I’ll be able to make the time to help out with making a few changes. Recommended.

Well, I’m sure most of you have stopped reading by now because I’ve rambled on so much. Next week I’m in Redmond Washington at Microsoft headquarters for their Mission Critical Symposium 2010 (also known as the Microsoft, Air Force Symposium). I’ve never been to one, so I don’t know what to expect. Marie and I are going out together this time, so it should be fun. And the real test will be how well my back holds up to flying. I’ll let you know.