The droid I’m looking for: The $129 Moto E

On Tuesday, Motorola announced the Moto E, a new low-end, $129 phone. Sporting a dual-core 1.2 GHz CPU, a single-core GPU, 1 GB of RAM, and a micro SD slot for expandability, it’s a modest phone for modest needs. It won’t be much good for gaming, but it’ll be a nice upgrade over my aging Samsung Galaxy S 4G, and I can take it to T-Mobile, where I have an unsubsidized, bring-your-own-phone plan. Not having a subsidized phone plan saves me about $100 per year, which pays for the phone. When the phone dies, I’ll buy whatever’s available at a comparable price then, which will be better than the most expensive phone on the market right now. There wasn’t anything out there like the Moto E in 2011 when I bought the SGS4G.

I’m probably the kind of person Motorola had in mind for this phone. I use my smartphone but I don’t live on it. I use it to check e-mail, occasionally look something up on the web, use it to download and listen to podcasts, and I have a few apps loaded on it to take advantage of having a dual-core computer in my pocket, but I don’t game or use social media on it. I also don’t use my phone as a status symbol. Give me two cores and a gig of RAM, and I can do everything I need or want to do.

I’ve been tempted by several of Blu’s supercheap phones, but their 512 MB of RAM was a dealbreaker. This costs $40 more than the Blu Advance I’d been eyeing, but to my mind it’s worth it. It ships with 1 GB of RAM, which is more usable, and Android 4.4, which is better suited to the Blu Advance’s skimpy memory than the OS Blu ships with it. Plus it’s guaranteed to get at least one update from Motorola. On top of that, Motorola ships its phones with a better screen and more durable build quality than Blu does. And, given Motorola’s storied past, the Motorola name is worth at least something to me.

I’m also sure the phone will sell well enough to get an aftermarket following, to extend its life even further by delivering future Android releases to it. The Moto G has good aftermarket ROM support, so I would expect the Moto E to follow.

The U.S. release date is June 3. I have better things to do than wait outside for a store to open to get one on that day, but I may very well get one sometime in June.

Android Kit Kat lands on the Nook Color

I didn’t know if it would ever happen, but experimental nightly builds for Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) have arrived for the venerable Nook Color. I installed it tonight.

Since I’ve previously run other versions of Cyanogenmod on the Nook Color, the upgrade was pretty straightforward. I had to reboot to recovery, update my recovery because my existing recovery was old and incompatible, reboot again (to recovery of course), which put me in Clockworkmod 6.0.4.5, and from there I installed the Cyanogenmod 11 zip followed by the Google Apps zip.

Newly flashed Android devices sometimes take some time to settle in before they’re really usable. On this 1 GHz, 512MB device, Kit Kat does seem faster than any of the Jelly Bean builds (Android 4.1-4.3) I’ve tried to run on it, but it’s not as quick as my Samsung Galaxy S 4G running Android 4.0.4. I’ll give it a little time.

Android ROMs explained

To the uninitiated, the world of Android ROMs can be more than a little confusing. Since Android is based on Linux and therefore large portions of it are licensed under the GPL, enthusiasts are free to create and release their own builds.

That’s where some of the confusion comes from. When you buy an Android device, it comes with Android pre-loaded of course. Then, when Google releases a new version of Android, it releases it to the vendors and to the phone companies. If your device is really popular and you’re really lucky, you’ll get an update from either the carrier or the vendor. Usually the update comes with some ridealong software, which you may or may not find useful.

Enthusiast-built Android ROMs tend to come out much sooner than official ROMs sanctioned by the manufacturer, and they don’t come with the bloatware either, so they tend to run a lot better. My venerable Samsung Galaxy S4G phone, which is nearly three years old, runs better on an enthusiast-built ROM than it ever ran with the vendor-provided one, and the enthusiast-built ROMs are much more up to date. Read more

Saving money on a smartphone

I bit the bullet last week, and added a second smartphone to what’s now our family plan. I didn’t buy a new phone though. Instead, I bought a used Samsung Galaxy S 4G off Amazon (the Canadian version, which was an accident) for $100. Since we now own both phones outright, that lets us run the phones month to month, with no contracts and no penalties. They bill us every month and we use it, but I can walk into any T-Mobile store and cancel one or both phones at any time.

Chances are there’s a reactivation fee if I do that and decide to reactivate later on, but that’s cheaper than getting out of a contract.

Now, as for the Galaxy S 4G… It’s a well-built phone from about 2010. It’s on the old side, but works pretty well. I loaded a custom ROM on it and I’m very happy with it now.

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My phone’s micro SD card made Windows Disk Manager hang, but I fixed it

The micro SD card in my Android phone (a Samsung Galaxy S 4G, if that helps) quit working suddenly, and I finally got around to investigating it on Friday. I ended up having to solve two problems to do it, though.

Let’s start with Windows 7’s Disk Manager hanging at the message that says “Connecting to Virtual Disk Service.”

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Mobile malware is coming. Get prepared.

One thing I’m seeing in the predictions-for-2013 columns is that mobile malware is going to increase this year. While I can’t be certain it’s going to happen, all of the ingredients are there. The only thing stopping it is motive.

I’m familiar with Avast antivirus on Android. It’s nice. Whenever I download an app from the Google Play store, it scans it, and if it finds something it doesn’t like, it intervenes. Read more

Here’s why I won’t be buying a first-generation Nook Tablet

Barnes & Noble just cut its tablet prices to make them more competitive. Now, $199 gets you the 16 GB version, and $179 gets you the 8 GB version. Twice the memory of a Kindle or Nexus, plus the ability to expand with cheap $25 SHDC cards? Why am I sitting at home writing this instead of standing in line?

Simple. Read more

Android-ified.

After agonizing for a few weeks, I bought an Android phone. Specifically, a Samsung Galaxy S 4G. Being a T-Mobile phone, it’s a potential dead end, but I opted to do it for a few reasons.

Why? I’m sick of not being able to play Angry Birds. Not really, but I like seeing people’s reaction when I say that.

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