A Blast From the Past: The HTC Hero

A Blast From the Past: The HTC Hero

Dec 1, 2016

It was a long time ago.

2008? 09, maybe?

Aeons in tech years, but less than 10 in “real” years. We were on a road trip. I was on my trusty BlackBerry Curve 8320, my two-handed, physical keyboarded work machine that had managed to pry me away From Palm OS — no small feat I might add.

In any case, my wife had decided to check out this new-ish device sporting a new-ish OS: Android OS. Moving to Sprint, she was willing to give a touchscreen device a chance.

Not I.

I scoffed at such madness. Everyone knew that touchscreen devices could not be used for serious work. I was not going to compromise my productivity to test drive what was CLEARLY a fad. Thumb typing for life! Plus, why on earth would I use a mobile OS backed by a search company? Come on now… Did you see that prototype of the first Android device. Have mercy. Eew.

My wife had just gotten her new device the prior day. The screen was nice, the phone was surprisingly easy to figure out and the camera, compared to those on my device and her prior device — the reliable BlackBerry Pearl — was fantastic.

That road trip though…

What really blew my mind was the Hero’s mapping utility. I had already been well-versed in mobile navigation; I used an external GPS puck to power TeleNav on my BlackBerry (which didn’t have an onboard GPS chip). A bit clunky, yes, but it got the job done.

But then my wife stomped on my ego with Google Navigation. Even then, it was pretty darn good. Running side by side with my BBOS device, it wasn’t even close. Android provided a more fluid navigation experience.

When we got back, I actually took some time to learn about Android. The burgeoning app market. The search functionality. The limitations… and there were a few. But then, I came upon the concept of rooting devices, and I was well hooked.

Soon thereafter, I was on Sprint with a shiny new HTC EVO.

That Hero, represented a lot of firsts, even though it wasn’t really my device. First Android device really used. First mobile device I watched the World Cup on. First device I rooted.

This past weekend, while cleaning out some old gadget boxes, I found the beloved device. After juicing, it powered right up in its AOSP glory, ready to work. Now, it’s definitely showing its age, with the less than optimal battery life and dreadful boot-up time. Back then, Sprint TV was the best multi-media app available; now, besides today’s multi-media smartdevices, it looks puny. Having gone un-updated so long, it uses funny terms?

“What is the the ‘Android Market’ again?” asked my son.

In today’s world, it is clearly overwhelmed with regards to being a daily driver.

Nostalgia is a great sentiment though. It reminds us of where we’ve been, and how far we have come. The Hero definitely does that. It’s sexy with its retro hat on.

And all hats off to the ultimate mobile gateway drug.

Increased functionality: why I still love the M8 Dot View Case

Increased functionality: why I still love the M8 Dot View Case

Dec 23, 2014

As 2014 comes to an end, I have to say that it has been a great year for smartphone enthusiasts. For those of us lovingly stuck on Android, it has been especially enthralling; device manufacturers have shamelessly tried to outdo each other, and with that competitive atmosphere, regular consumers cannot help but win.

HTC made waves with the refreshed One (M8). The timeless design, metal exterior and softer Sense overlay makes it a surprisingly relevant option even today. HTC has done an admirable job of creating a veritable hardware ecosystem around its devices. Items like the MediaLink and newer camera accessory definitely help one fall in love with HTC devices.

One peripheral piece I have always found intriguing is the Dot View case. HTC is not the first Android device maker to go above and beyond with regards to cases, but the Dot View brings the extras in an interesting, loose manner. The case itself is light, surprisingly so; it is mostly plastic, and on its own, looks like a book cover of sorts with the back and fused, dot-spaced front cover.

dotview2

Setting it up is a matter of snapping it on; it fits perfectly with no gaps. On the M8, the companion Dot View app is the companion utility, and allows one to select apps that can be used with the case. In practice, the case is activated by a double tap, and then the cases utility is shown in all its glory. The display gets a retro feel and (depending on one’s setting) shows a simple data set of information through the device case. As a concept, I like it a lot: no need to open the case to see basic info and notifications, and even calls can be manipulated through the case. Yes, I admit I enjoyed reading the caller ID and answering the phone “through” the case way more than I probably should have.

My biggest gripe is the way the front works. The front naturally swings to shut, but doesn’t close all the way, as the cover doesn’t really stay plush on the phone. This little issue jumps on my singular OCD nerve.

In the spirit of nitpicking, I wish it was a bit more customizable. My biggest whine, however, is that the slim profile comes with a price: not a lot of physical protection. Frankly, I would avoid dropping it. Duh.

All in all, for a piece that is not that new, it is definitely a keeper. It’s gotten to the point that accessories are beginning to help tip the balance when it comes to picking upgrades.

The Dot View case underscores why.

Mobile Fun was kind enough to provide us with the opportunity to check out the Dot View case, and it is available to purchase (starting at $31.99) via the the Mobile Fun website

Google Announces Nexus 6 — and More

Google Announces Nexus 6 — and More

Oct 15, 2014

It’s official: The Nexus 6 is here.

It will be one of the first devices to rock Android 5.0 (yes, it is Lollipop), and will be the biggest Nexus smartphone to date, with a 5.96″ screen that nestles a Quad HD resolution. It looks like the device will continue the Nexus tradition of forgoing external storage, but will have 32GB and 64GB options, and will also come in two colors: white and blue. It’s built by Motorola, so physical similarities to the Moto X (as described by Androidcentral) shouldn’t be too surprising. It’ll reportedly have 3GB RAM, and a quad-core Snapdragon chip. It also packs a massive 3220 mAh battery.

We also hear it will be on all of the major cellular networks, allowing for pre-order towards the end of this month and availability in November. It will be $649 off contract.

The long-rumored HTC-derived Nexus 9 tablet is also set to be released; it has an 8.9″ screen and comes in 16GB and 32GB flavors. Also on deck is the cast-ready Nexus Player Entertainment console.

[Google Press Release and Android Central]

Android? Why?

Android? Why?

Sep 15, 2014

Talk about first world problems…

I was faced with a problem recently. I had an upgrade to burn, and I didn’t feel like burning it. Now, to give some context here, I love mobile technology. If I could afford it, I would buy EVERY mobile device on EVERY platform. Literally. Just to play with ’em. I love my technology that much.

I’m a bit more circumspect when it comes to my daily driver. For a device to earn that honor, it has to do a lot, as I am a picky boss. I could go on and on about my specific mobile needs, but that is a post for another day. Suffice to say, my HTC EVO LTE 4G was getting a bit long in the tooth, I had been due for an upgrade for about 12 months and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to upgrade devices, much less what I wanted to upgrade to.

I faced the same issue when I was looking to replace my original HTC EVO 4G.  No horrible need to get new hardware… and eventually I did the easy thing and stayed with the new EVO. Like the original, this one was unlocked and rooted within minutes of getting home, and I went ahead and immersed myself in the glories of refreshed hardware and newer custom software.android puzzle

When its all said and done, I like holding on to devices. I skipped the HTC One M7, not because it was not a fantastic device, but because it wasn’t enough of an increased value proposition for me at that time. Free and clear? It might have tempted me, but I didn’t see myself spending the cash for what wasn’t enough of an upgrade for my needs at that specific time.

Part of the problem is that since I review hardware, formally and informally, I’ve developed a “what’s next” syndrome. Can it be that I have unconsciously insulated myself from the lure of the never-ending new Android devices? Maybe. I’d be insolvent otherwise.  At this point in the game, when all the features are measured, it just feels like there is a serious degree of parity. And I believe that in the end, this is Android’s hidden strength: the OEMs are forced to shoot for the stars while simultaneously dragging each other on an upward trajectory. this is why, for me at least, picking a new device is delightfully difficult. Look at all the choices, and the competitive prices. We can choose to be very, very picky.

So, in the end, it boiled down to a very simplistic reason. Most current-ish devices can do what I want the way I want them; most are sleek, and several have a lot of third-party accessories.

So what ended up being the choice maker for me?  Wait for it… I liked the aluminum uni-body of the HTC One M8. So there.

Don’t judge me. Android allows folks to be frivolous.

[Image courtesy of Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr Creative Commons]

Stitcher Radio Adds Media Link HD Compatibility

Stitcher Radio Adds Media Link HD Compatibility

Apr 26, 2013

Stitcher Radio is now compatible with Media Link HD. The latest update allows HTC smartphone owners to stream Stitcher to HDTVs and surround sound systems through a wireless connection. The app has also been visually redesigned and shows album art from more than 15,000 shows and stations.

stitcher

Facebook Home Announced – Available April 12th For Just A Few Android Phones

Facebook Home Announced – Available April 12th For Just A Few Android Phones

Apr 4, 2013

Facebook today announced Facebook Home, the first step in making the most personal computer in your life more personal.

During a special event today, Facebook announced a new initiative to make mobile phones more personal. The first step is to release Facebook Home, a launcher replacement for Android that puts Facebook content front and center on the device. From the lock screen, to the launcher, to even what Facebook is calling Chat Heads floating persistently above other apps.

The goal with Facebook Home is to change the way we use our most personal computer, the smartphone. The typical interface on a smartphone is not that much different from what it was 32 years ago when Windows 1.0 was released. A series of windows with icons. Home is the first step to try to flip how we think about our relationships and data and put the interactions first. It’s a good first step, but like most things will need a few revisions to be widely popular.

For one thing, at launch on April 12, only the latest of the latest phones will be able to access the app. The Galaxy S III is the oldest phone on the list, three of the devices on the compatible list aren’t even out yet. Here’s the list of compatible devices for launch: HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung GALAXY S III and Samsung GALAXY Note II. The upcoming devices that Home will work with include the GALAXY S IV, HTC One, and HTC First. The HTC First will be the first phone to come with Facebook Home as the default launcher, pre-installed.

There are three main parts to Facebook Home. The home/lock screen, the chat heads, and the launcher. The home/lock screen allows viewing of the latest of Facebook News Feed stories, at least the ones with large enough images to look good. Swiping left and right to view more stories, double touch to like, or hit the comment bubble to add thoughts to the post.

When in home screen mode your avatar will be shown at the bottom of the screen. This allows opening apps, going to Facebook Messenger, or quickly accessing the last app used.


Above, Facebook Home, Home Screen / Cover Feed In Action.

The Chat Heads feature is a system-wide persistent floating bubbles showing avatars of friends that have send Facebook Messages. The chat heads allow interaction with their message, replying, ignoring, etc.


Above, Chat Heads in Action

And finally, the launcher. This replaces the standard launcher in Android and allows both a full, alphabetized list of apps along with the default view, a grid of bookmarked apps. The launcher also has buttons to quickly post a status update, photo, or check-in.

In the short time I had with it, Facebook Home actually works surprisingly well. It has been specifically optimized to deliver the quick response that is expected of a system level app. Apparently a new physics engine was created to support the animations and keep everything smooth.

Facebook looks to open up Home to other applications in the future. This would allow access to notifications from other apps, viewing updates from other apps in the cover feed, and even interacting with other apps while the phone is locked. This is all coming and no specific details were announced.

Facebook also took a bit of time to announce the HTC First. The first device that will ship with Facebook Home as the default launcher. While this does give Home a few extra features, the phone itself is a wholly uninteresting mid-level device.

Facebook Home will be available for download on April 12 to users of the phones listed above. Others will be rolled out, hopefully quickly, in the coming months.

HTC One X and EVO 4G LTE Releases Potentially Delayed by US Customs Due to Patent Issues

HTC One X and EVO 4G LTE Releases Potentially Delayed by US Customs Due to Patent Issues

May 16, 2012

While the patent wars continue to rage on, we’ve largely left them uncovered – it’s just a bunch of lawyers filing briefs and arguing against each other in court, and nothing really comes out of it because the situation also changes on a day-to-day basis, and while mutually assured destruction is possible, it’s more likely that money will exchange hands, designs will slightly change, and the world will keep on turning.

However, when the patent war starts to directly affect consumers, then it must be reported, and US customers are getting their first taste of the drawbacks of the war: the HTC One X and Evo 4G LTE are currently being held in US Customs while they investigate whether the devices violate US patents.

See, Apple won an exclusion order that blocked importation of HTC Android devices due to a Sense UI feature that popped up a menu when a phone number is tapped for texting or calling that number. Apple owns the patent on it, and right now US Customs is investigating to see if these new devices violate patents. Because the process is confidential – and not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests – we won’t know the results unless or until HTC can sell the phone.

Of course, for the end user, this could wind up a mess if phones are blocked from import, with features removed when they do reach our shores. As well, depending on how HTC reacts to this (because Apple is violating patents themselves), if they try to block iPhones as a revenge move, or if other manufacturers try to pull the same thing, then the potential for mutually assured destruction – severely delayed and/or crippled phone releases – does exist, and that would be a poor outcome for all involved.

Of course, patents on technology have been problematic before – Apple paid a lot of money to resolve a case over a Creative patent on MP3 players’ interfaces in the past decade. So money could exchange hands, and ultimately consumers won’t see the brunt of it, and everything is harmony until someone else comes up with a new innovation that someone else claims violates their patent, and the world will keep on turning. We can only hope that’s the case.

Theme Thursday: Four Key for GO Locker

Theme Thursday: Four Key for GO Locker

Apr 12, 2012

Rarely on Android is the lock screen customized. Most people are not even aware that this is an option, even those who have custom launchers. I, for one, am not entirely sold on non-stock launchers simply because I have not found one that consistently works faster then HTC’s Sense locker. Sometimes there is a slight lag between unlocking and when the custom locker actually appears, giving a glimpse of the home screen before slyly taking it away. Nobody wants their software to be laggy, which is exactly why I have been regularly off and on with custom launchers.

Just a while ago I decided to give GO Locker a chance because I am already using GO Launcher and I had grown tired, yet again, of stock Sense UI. A big reason I chose to go back to this mistress again is because I have found that GO Locker, at least for me, is the most consistent and quickest locker that I have used. So this week we are switching it up and busting out a theme for GO Locker called Four Key. With the new version of HTC’s Sense UI they introduced a locker that allows opening of selected actions or apps directly from the lock screen. Seeing as my phone is deemed too old to receive this update I am stuck looking for alternatives.

This brought me to Four Key with its center button that is simply dragged to either the unlock position or to the other three corners to open any application of my choosing. Most likely these applications will be the dialer, a text messaging app of choice, and either a camera or media player, but the options are entirely up to the user aside from the unlock panel which is always on the bottom of the circle. These custom apps open up with a snap and there is nary a hint of lag. As a theme, Four Key looks great and there are certainly no complaints there. It would be nice to change the clock font, but everything else from the transparency to the cool blue tones are excellent. There are not many options to fiddle with but all the core ones are present, which is really all that is necessary.

I was impressed by this theme’s swiftness and its ability to get out of the way if all I wanted to do was simply and quickly unlock my phone. The biggest test of a good launcher is not so much the bells and whistles but if it can get out of the way the moment the user wants it to. Fortunately, Four Key and GO Locker deliver where so many locker apps fall short.

HTC Introduces Official Bootloader Unlocking Tool for Phones Released After September 2011

HTC Introduces Official Bootloader Unlocking Tool for Phones Released After September 2011

Dec 30, 2011

HTC has made a great move toward ensuring user freedom on all their devices, by announcing that they will release tools to unlock the bootloaders on all of their devices going forward. Officially, their tools will work with devices released after September 2011; devices released prior to this may get tools in the future.

What does this mean, exactly? Simply put, it means that users can install their own custom ROMs without any restrictions from HTC, though carriers can still hold the rights to not allow the bootloaders to be unlocked. However, for HTC users, this means that they will be able to install the core software of their choice on their phones. It’s a great move for user freedom, and should benefit HTC as power users may be more motivated to use their phones because of this. As well, it’s not like enterprising hackers wouldn’t be able to find a way to unlock them anyway.

The Hills Are Greener: What’s In a Name?

The Hills Are Greener: What’s In a Name?

Nov 14, 2011

So, on Friday, Verizon unveiled the Droid Razr, the 547th Droid phone released this year. This is likely hyperbole, but it doesn’t strike too far from the truth. The fact is, major Android manufacturers are diluting their product line. This argument was made by Engadget recently; many of the products are just confusing just based on the name alone. What does make a Droid Razr better than a Droid Thunderbolt, or an HTC Rezound better than an Evo, other than the name? If I’m having trouble figuring out the differences between two phones from a manufacturer besides “that one phone is newer” then how will the average user?

This is something where Apple has succeeded. Their products are very clearly identified, and their naming scheme has worked out to where it’s clear which device is better than which. Samsung has done a good job with this in the Galaxy S line; while the original line had confusing names on the various carriers, they still pushed the Galaxy S branding. As well, the Galaxy S II is being pushed as that name, which helps explain why it has sold so well internationally. Samsung still makes other phones, often targeted for budget lines, though. The fact is, Samsung and Apple are doing it right – they’re pushing their phones as individual devices, not continuing the same obfuscation that other manufacturers use.

This Apple and Samsung model is what other manufacturers need to adopt. Google is practicing it as well with the Nexus phones that they commission, trying to pitch them as their prime iPhone-esque brand leaders. In fact, making fewer phones and identifying them more clearly will work better for the Android platform as a whole. Right now, I fear that the muddled branding is part of Android’s problem with recognition. No one knows what any Android phone actually is. All they know is that there’s the iPhone, the Galaxy S 2, and those “Droid” phones. Apple is an intellectual market leader; the other manufacturers take design clues from them, why not follow their lead in other ways too?

HTC & Samsung’s Security Issues Putting Android Users in Hot Water

HTC & Samsung’s Security Issues Putting Android Users in Hot Water

Oct 5, 2011

Security is becoming an unfortunate hot-button issue in the Android world as of late, with one major phone manufacturer in hot water over a data leakage, and a new phone that features a silly glitch that compromises a phone’s lock settings.

HTC Android phones feature a security issue where any app that requests Internet access can get access to an extreme amount of data that could be used to clone the phone and access sensitive user information. Malicious apps could get access to the user’s accounts, phone numbers, text messages, GPS data, and system log dumps that contain vast swaths of information that could be recovered from them. Again, this can be done just simply through an app that requests internet access. Android Police, who originally reported this story, created a proof of concept app that shows just what data can be acquired through this security chasm. As well, there’s a suspicious VNC server app that HTC has added, and there exists the possibility that a hacker could find a way to activate this and take complete control over a user’s phone.

Luckily, not all HTC phones are affected, though the Evo 4G, Evo 3D, Thunderbolt, and possibly other phones could be affected. Users who root can delete one APK, /system/app/HtcLoggers.apk to help fix this vulnerability. Some custom roms, such as CyanogenMod, do not feature this vulnerability at all. Similar to the PDF exploits that led to JailbreakMe on iOS, the way to make one’s phone safer is to hack it in order to remove vulnerabilties. Oh, the irony. HTC was notified of the vulnerability a week before the post went up, but didn’t promise a fix until October 4th (3 days after the story was initially reported), and an over-the-air update patching the vulnerability is in the works.

However, other Android manufacturers can’t just sit back and laugh at their competitor’s misfortune; Samsung’s Galaxy S2 has issues in the US. Specifically, the AT&T version of the Galaxy S2 can have lock screen security bypassed by waking a device by tapping the lock key, letting the screen time out, and then pressing the lock key once again. This will bypass any security on the AT&T Galaxy S2; reports indicate that the Sprint Galaxy S2 does not suffer from this issue.

Apparently Android manufacturers need to keep a tighter lock on their devices’ security, as users could potentially find their devices and sensitive data compromised by shoddy programming.

Google purchases Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion

Google purchases Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion

Aug 17, 2011

In a bold move that took the tech world by surprise, Google announced on Monday, August 15 that it would be buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion.

In the press release, Google CEO, Larry Page, said that, “Motorola Mobility’s total commitment to Android has created a natural fit for our two companies. Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers.”

It seems clear that this attempt to “supercharge” the Android ecosystem is in response to several of Android’s woes, including the steady stream of threats from Apple Inc. over the Android operating system and the devices that run it.

In a game of corporate saber-rattling, Apple has been threatening patent infringement lawsuits over certain devices such as the Motorola Xoom tablet. Now, Google has the leverage it needs to counteract those threats and even the playing field. Google puts itself in a better position to continue making Android competitive.

Of course, this purchase goes beyond defanging Apple. Google, through Motorola, now has the ability to manufacture the very devices that will be running Android. Like Apple, having control over the hardware means the ability to choose components and design features that have a much tighter integration with the operating system, ensuring a much smoother blend of technologies, better performance and support, overall.

However, this doesn’t mean the end of “open” platforms, as Andy Rubin, Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google, said, “… our vision for Android is unchanged and Google remains firmly committed to Android as an open platform and a vibrant open source community. We will continue to work with all of our valued Android partners to develop and distribute innovative Android-powered devices.”

That’s good news for other manufacturers, such as HTC and Samsung, which have been experiencing a significant amount of success with their own Android devices.

As can be expected, the transaction is subject certain conditions, including regulatory approvals in the US, the European Union and other jurisdictions, and the approval of Motorola Mobility’s stockholders. If all goes smoothly, Google expects the transaction to close by the end of 2011 or early 2012.

[Source: PocketGamer.co.uk]