18 January 2010

Six hours with the Droid

My Motorola Maxx Ve stopped working roughly two weeks after I hit the Verizon New Every Two threshhold (cleverly positioned four months before my contract renewal). I went to the local Verizon store to decide between limping along with a dumb phone (which has been fine for me for the past six years) or upgrading to one of those newfangled smartphones.

After learning that the full retail price (what I would pay if I didn't want to renew my contract) of the dumbest dumb phone was about $150, I decided to buy the Motorola Droid, which came out to $212 (supposedly $99, after a mail-in rebate which I hope will not be the scam that mail-in rebates have often been for me, and actually $112, because Verizon won't send you credit for the tax that you paid at the purchase on the $99 that they will supposedly send as a rebate.)

I'm paying an extra $30/mo. for data, but I can hopefully drop the $10/mo. that I'm paying for 500 texts (99% of which are sysadmin-related) and switch to email, so I can stop worrying about text overages (last month, the systems I administer sent me >800 text messages).

Some first impressions:
  • The phone is really cool. L. really liked it.
  • The Verizon people kindly uploaded my contacts from my old phone, but they promptly vanished when I entered my Google Account information. Strangely, the phone still knew about them -- L.'s name came up when she called -- but they weren't on the list. This thread contains the fix: press the hardware "home" button, "phone", "contacts", the hardware "context menu" button, "import/export", "import from SD card". That saved me a trip back to the store. But now Google has all of my phone numbers. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED!
  • The Google Directions/GPS navigation feature lacks the "avoid tolls" feature of the PC version. Google suggests that users vote for that feature. I asked the device to route me from South Station to my home in Cambridge; it suggested taking the turnpike. I took I-93 to Storrow Drive instead. I sort-of expected it to dynamically update my route with the new information, but it didn't.
  • The keyboard is fiddly but I'm getting used to it. Lack of meta/ctrl/esc may be a big problem.
  • ConnectBot looks really cool. I was able to open Mutt and read mail. ConnectBot even implemented "control" as a DPAD click and escape as a DPAD double-click. That just leaves meta...although one can use Control in a pinch.
  • It's not obvious how to get your newly-generated public key out of ConnectBot. The trick is to long-press the key, from which you can copy it, then use "menu" in an SSH session to paste it.
  • Why is there no normal-sounding ringtone? Come on.
  • I started adding things to my calendar. One problem: the old phone, in addition to not holding a charge, had only two working buttons: off/on, and volume up/down. I used this post to pull the data out, but I never did decode the date format. I just ran strings on the calendar data file and figured out what events I have scheduled, but I'll have to use an out-of-band method to figure out when.
  • Update, after 24 hours: There is no analogue to Gmail's "Show quoted text". If Gmail elides a piece of your message because, there is no way to see it on the Droid, short of also adding the Gmail account as an IMAP account and looking for it.

Things I would like. Maybe I'll even write them:
  • A simple "monitor" application that periodically fetches a URL and emits a really loud alarm if the page fails to match certain conditions.
  • A "pedometer/diary" app that notes my GPS position every 5-10 minutes or so; more frequently if the last fix indicated that I was moving. Maybe it would even support voice annotation.
  • An app that recognizes arbitrary barcodes. The ones I've tried didn't recognize the codes on the various manuals in the Droid package.
  • A push-to-talk application with message queuing and an adjustable upper bound defaulting to :15 seconds. (Here's one.)

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