Posts tagged ‘apps’


Cellphone apps: InShot’s Music Player may finally be the one; Über remains a total waste of time

14.05.2021

Forgetful Muzio Player has been replaced by a program (or app) called Music Player, which isn’t the best brand name considering the many other apps out there with the same name. This one’s version 2.5.6.74 and its maker is InShot Inc., so if all goes well, this is the one Meizu users should go for.
   First, a good bit: it picks up the directories on the SD card, which, till Meizu upgraded its Music app, I thought I could take for granted.
   The not-so-good bits. It doesn’t pick up the album artwork, so you have to link each cover yourself. The disadvantage is that you have to search for the cover by image, and there’s no option to search by name. Mind you, it was the same story with Meizu Music, and provided you have a rough idea of when you downloaded the album (as it displays the covers in reverse chronological order), it isn’t impossible.
   It did, however, pick up the graphics from the songs where the cover image was embedded and used them for the album covers … at least it did till today, when it forgot all about those and I spent more time relinking the dozen or so that the app forgot.
   What is it about forgetful software, or at least software that operates differently every day? Do I need to invent the dot-ini file (since it doesn’t seem to exist in this universe) or radically suggest that software follows a set of instructions, line by line, that do not vary each time?


Above: InShot’s Music Player displayed an album cover for Gone with the Wave yesterday, but today it appears to have forgotten what it was.

   Nevertheless, Music Player does “share” the chosen album cover with the individual tracks, so when they’re played, the image appears on the player screen, something that Muzio was loathe to do.
   In other words, Music Player does what Meizu Music used to do before it became a lemon and, providing it doesn’t forget all the linked album covers (all 280 of them), it’ll stay on my phone for the foreseeable future. Since it didn’t come from an app store, it won’t be “upgraded” to something inferior, either, which appears to be the path of a lot of cellphone software.
   It doesn’t look too bad, though admittedly Muzio Player’s interface remains superior.
   Linking 280 covers with each album over the course of a day and a bit sure beats linking over 1,000 of them with each song on Muzio Player, and to have three weeks’ worth of labour vanish despite the program saying, ‘Changes saved’.
   If InShot’s Music Player keeps things as they are, then it’s the replacement I’ve sought for some time. Since I didn’t hear back from Muzio Player, I’ve deleted the app.

One program I can say is a genuine waste of time is Über, if you happen to use a Meizu M6 Note like me. I’ve always resisted it, on principle. If they didn’t play silly buggers on tax, I might be more inclined to have supported them, but I’ve remained very faithful to public transport and taxis all these years.
   Because of timing and circumstances that I won’t go into here, and having had a virus all of last week that I haven’t fully shaken off (one symptom being short of breath), Über was suggested again today. My first choice was driving to the station, catching the train (being careful not to spread any of my germs about), then either a bus or cab, to pick up a press car from town. That would mean after returning home, I would have to walk to the station while not feeling 100 per cent to get my own car. I know first-hand that a cab from here in the northern suburbs can be pricey—and that’s when one even shows up, as my partner’s faced ridiculously long waits for them during the daytime. So Über was a realistic choice and I’d be suckered into helping to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few milliardaires high up at these tech firms at the expense of working people.
   Never fear, for Über is a half-baked app that cost me two missed trains and I could have been typing this an hour earlier than I am now.
   Thanks to the full factory reset that PB did last year on my phone, and my installation of Meizu’s far more advanced Chinese OS afterwards, I was able to create an account this time and log in. It didn’t keep returning the message that I had attempted too many log-ins, even after a single attempt.
   After that, it takes about half an hour to read the terms and conditions and the privacy policy on a cellphone. You can opt out of promo messages, or so they claim (to be on the safe side, I’ve done it thrice: once when reading the T&Cs before I accepted them, once after I read them, and once more from the desktop when an email with an unsubscribe link arrived).
   And that’s really about all it does. You can’t type in any destination; I later checked their instructions on a proper computer and I was doing exactly what was asked. I could feed in my home address (it came up after I began feeding in the basics), and I could feed in some favourites, but I can’t actually go to them.
   Naturally, it will take your credit card details: Über made sure that that part worked.
   Having saved the Railway Station as a destination, and attempted to order a ride to there, I got to a screen to tell me that Über isn’t available in my area. Whether that means Tawa, or Wellington, or New Zealand, I don’t know.




Above: It’s impossible to feed in a destination in Über, but it’s probably because it’s not available in Tawa.

   I have map software on my phone—both Here Maps and Baidu Maps. And my partner does successfully use Über from time to time, on a Huawei phone which, like my Meizu, is Google-free. She has no Google Maps, so I know that isn’t a prerequisite for Über. I also know Google Services aren’t, either. At least these are points in their favour. I can’t be bothered troubleshooting beyond that, since they’ll just deny everything and pass the buck.
   Eventually, when I realized Über is a monumental waste of time, I carried out plan A, and took a train an hour after the one I could have taken had I not attempted to get an Übercab. And walked in the wintry air to collect my car.
   It was an easy decision to delete my account and the app soon after. Just as well, really. Big Tech loses once again. To think, the little music player made by a small company is more reliable than the milliards behind Über.


Above: Relieved to be on a desktop computer—and hopefully I won’t need to have any connection with Über ever again.

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Posted in design, technology | 1 Comment »


After 18 months, some progress on the Meizu M6 Note

23.06.2020

That was an interesting day in cellphone land. I collected the Meizu M6 Note from PB last Friday and switched it on for the first time in the small hours of Tuesday.
   I originally wasn’t pleased. I had paid NZ$80 for a warranty repair (there is provision under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 in some circumstances) and was told at the service counter that all that was performed was a factory reset, followed by a week’s testing. In other words, what I had originally done, twice, before bringing the phone in. I replied that that was not going to work, and was told by the PB rep that maybe I shouldn’t have so many apps open. Conclusion: a newer phone is far less capable than an older one.
   But he wasn’t the technician, and as I discovered, Joe had done more than a mere factory reset. When I switched the phone on, it was back to square one, like the day I bought it, complete with Google spyware. I wasn’t thrilled about this, but it suggested to me that the ROM had been flashed back to the beginning.
   Meizu’s factory resets don’t take you right back to factory settings, not if you had rooted the phone and removed all the Google junk.
   To his credit, this was a logical thing to do. However, within 10 minutes it developed a fault again. The settings’ menu would not stay open, and crap out immediately, a bit like what the camera, browser, and gallery had done at different times. All I had done up to this point was allow some of the apps to update, and God knows what Google was doing in the background as messages for Play and other programs flashed up in the header. The OS wanted to update as well, so I let it, hoping it would get past the bug. It didn’t.
   So far, everything was playing out exactly as I had predicted, and I thought I would have to head to PB and point out that I was taking them up on the three months they guarantee their service. And the phone was warranted till December 2020 anyway. Give me my money back, and you can deal with Meizu for selling a lemon.
   However, I decided I would at least try for the umpteenth time to download the Chinese OS, and install it. Why not? Joe had given me a perfect opportunity to give this another shot, and the phone appeared unrooted. The download was painfully slow (I did the same operation on my older Meizu M2 Note out of curiosity, and it downloaded its OS update at three to four times the speed—can we blame Google for slowing the newer phone down?) but eventually it got there. The first attempt failed, as it had done countless times before. This was something that had never worked in the multiple times I had tried it over the last 18 months, and I had drawn the conclusion that Meizu had somehow locked this foreign-market phone from accepting Chinese OSs.
   I tried again.
   And it worked. A fluke? A one-off? Who knows? I always thought that in theory, it could be done, but the practice was entirely different.
   It took a while, but I was astonished as the phone went through its motions and installed Flyme 8.0.0.0A, killing all the Google spyware, and giving me the modern equivalent of the Meizu M2 Note from 2016 that I had sourced on Ebay from a Chinese vendor.
   I may be speaking too soon, but the settings’ bug disappeared, the apps run more smoothly, and as far as I can tell, there is no record of the phone having been rooted. I had a bunch of the APKs from the last reset on the SD card, so on they went.
   Meizu synced all contacts and SMSs once I had logged in, but there was one really annoying thing here: nothing from the period I was running the western version of the phone appeared. The messages prior to December 2018 synced, plus those from the M2 Note during June while the M6 was being serviced.
   It appears that the western versions of these apps are half-baked, and offer nothing like the Chinese versions.
   With any luck, the bugs will not resurface—if they don’t, then it means that the read–write issues are also unique to the western version of the M6 Note.
   I’ve spent parts of today familiarizing myself with the new software. There are some improvements in presentation and functionality, while a few things appear to have retrograded; but overall, this is what I expect with a phone that’s two years newer. There should be some kind of advance (even little things like animated wallpapers), and with the western version, other than processor speed and battery life, there had not been. It was 2016 tech. Even the OS that the phone came back with was mid-decade. This is what the western editions are: out of date.
   The only oddity with the new Chinese Flyme was the inability to find the Chinese version of Weibo through Meizu’s own Chinese app store—only the foreign ones showed up on my search, even though the descriptions were all in simplified Chinese.
   These mightn’t have been the developments that Joe at PB expected but if things remain trouble-free, that NZ$80 was well worth spending to get a phone which, for the first time in its life, feels new. The other lesson here is to avoid western-market phones if you don’t find the Chinese language odd. I had already made enquiries to two Aliexpress sellers to make sure that they could sell me a non-western phone, ready to upgrade. Hopefully that won’t need to happen.
   Next week: let’s see if I can shoot some video and have that save without killing the gallery, the bug that kicked all of this off.

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Posted in business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 3 Comments »


The end of the cellphone?

22.05.2020


Motorola

This is a take that will probably never come true, but hear me out: this is the end of the cellphone era.
   We’ve had a pandemic where people were forced to be at home. Whilst there, they’ve discovered that they can be productive on their home desktop machines, doing Zoom and Skype meetings, and a proper keyboard with which to type and respond to people properly.
   They’ve realized that everything they do on a cell is compromised. It’s hard to reply to an email. It’s hard to compose something properly. It’s hard to see the participants in a virtual meeting. It’s hard to edit a photo. Voice recognition is still nowhere near what David Hasselhoff and KITT suggested 38 years ago.
   Camera aside, which I find is the cellphone’s best feature, it doesn’t offer that great a utility.
   More organizations say you can work from home today, and many have discovered what I’ve known for 33 years: it’s nice to have a commute measured in seconds and not be at the beck and call of whomever is on the other end of your cellphone. You are the master of your schedule and you see to the important things as you see fit.
   This is, of course, a massive generalization as there are professions for whom cellphones are a must, but I’m betting that there’s a chunk of the working population that has discovered that they’re not “all that”. In 1985 it might have looked cool to have one, just as in 1973 the car phone was a sign of affluence, but, frankly, between then and now we’ve gone through a period of cellphones making you look like a wanker to one of making you look like a slave. In 2001 I was the only person at an airport lounge working on a device. In 2019 (because who’s travelling in 2020?) I could be the only person not looking at one.
   But they have apps, you say. Apps? We offered a Lucire news app for PDAs in the early 2000s and hardly anyone bothered downloading them. So we gave up on them. Might take others a bit longer.
   By all means, have one to keep in touch with family, or take one on your travels. Emergency professionals: naturally. A lot of travelling salespeople, of course. But as someone who regularly does not know where his is, and who didn’t find it much of a handicap when the ringer stopped working (actually, I think that bug has recurred), I’m just not among those working groups who need one.

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Posted in business, culture, technology | No Comments »


I prefer the 99 per cent who don’t rely on Google

10.03.2020


Almost three screens of apps, none of which require Google.

I had a good discussion on Twitter today with Peter Lambrechtsen, and if you want to have a peek, it’s here. He’s a really decent guy who makes some good points. But it does annoy me that my partner, whose phone is a stock standard one, with all the Google and Vodafone spyware, cannot run Über, either, and that it wasted half an hour of her life yesterday. Between us we’ve lost 90 minutes because of programs in two days that don’t do what they say on the tin.
   I have several theories about this, and one of Peter’s suggestions was to get a new phone—which is actually quite reasonable given what he knows about it, though not realistic for everyone.
   Theory 1: the people who make these apps just have the latest gear, and to hell with anyone who owns a phone from 2017. (Silicon Valley is woke? Not with this attitude.)
   Theory 2: the apps just aren’t tested.
   Theory 3: the apps are developed by people who have little idea about how non-tech people use things.
   We got on to rooting phones and how some apps detect this, and won’t function as a result.
   I’d never have rooted mine if there wasn’t an easy manufacturer’s method of doing so, and if I could easily remove Google from it (services, search, Gmail, YouTube, Play, etc.). Nor would I have touched it had Meizu allowed us to install the Chinese operating system on to a western phone.
   I wager that over 99 per cent of Android apps do not need Google services—I run plenty without any problems—but there’s less than 1 per cent that do, including Zoomy and Snapchat. I live without both, and, in fact, as the 2020s begin, I find less and less utility from a cellphone. So much for these devices somehow taking over our lives. You get to a point where they just aren’t interesting.
   So why does the 1 per cent become so wedded to Google?
   You’d think that app developers would believe in consumer choice and could see the writing on the wall. A generation ago, Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer got them into hot water. More recently, the EU fined Google for violating their monopoly laws. People are waking up to the fact that Google is wielding monopoly power and it’s bad for society. Why contribute to it, when the other 99 per cent don’t?
   If I build a website, I don’t say that you need to have used something else to browse it: there’s an agreed set of standards.
   And I bet it’s the same for Android development, which is why there are now superior Chinese app stores, filled with stuff that doesn’t need Google.
   We prefer open standards, thank you.
   While these tech players are at it, let us choose whether we want Google’s spyware on our phones—and if we don’t, let us banish it to hell without rooting them. (Next time, I’m just going to have to ask friends visiting China—whenever that will be—to get me my next phone, if I haven’t moved back to land lines by then. Just makes life easier.)

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Posted in China, internet, technology | No Comments »


The newer the Instagram, the buggier; and why no one should use Google Drive

24.11.2019

I’ve discovered that the newer the Instagram, the buggier it is. We’ve already seen that it can’t cope with video if you use Android 7 (a great way to reduce video bandwidth), and, earlier this year, filters do not work.
   I downgraded to version 59 till, last week, Instagram began deleting direct messages as its way to force me to upgrade. Neither versions 119 or 120 are stable, and are about as reliable as one of Boris Johnson’s marriages, although they have fixed the filter problem.


   Neither version has an alignment grid to aid you to adjust an image so it’s square, even though Instagram’s own documentation says it remains present. Presently, only Tyler Henry and other psychics can see the grid:


   Holly Jahangiri tells me that she has a stable Instagram on Android 9, and another good friend informs me that Instagram still gives him an editing grid on IOS, which reminds me of the débâcle of Boo.com many years ago: it only worked with the latest gear, at HQ, but never worked with older browsers, and certainly never transmitted in a timely fashion on the broadband of the early 2000s (and to heck with anyone unfortunate enough to still be on dial-up).
   I will keep downgrading till the grid is back for us non-clairvoyants, as it’s a feature I use, though I imagine I could run the risk of getting to one with a grid but inoperable filters. I doubt, however, that the video frame rate on Android 7 has been fixed, and since my earlier phone no longer charges (well, it does, but I have to drive to Johnsonville to the repair shop to do it), I’ve saved up oodles of video content.
   I also can’t tag locations in the new Instagrams. I can try, but the window showing me the locations doesn’t like keyboards. If you can’t enter the first word quickly enough, then you’re stuck in a situation where you have to keep tapping to get your keyboard back.
   It’s pretty unacceptable that a year-old phone is already incompatible with an app, but I guess you have to remember that no self-respecting geek working for Big Tech would have old gear.
   Speaking of Big Tech, I can’t work out why people still use Google Drive. I wasted 80 minutes last night trying to download around two gigabytes of images for work. All Google Drive does is say it’s ‘Zipping 1 file’, and after it’s ZIPped, that is all it does. There’s no prompt to download, no prompt to sign in, no automatic download, nada. You can click (if you catch it in time) the message that it’s ready (which I did on the third attempt), but that does nothing.

   I imagine this is Google’s way of saving on bandwidth and it is utterly successful for them as nothing is ever transmitted.
   The ZIPping process took probably 15–20 minutes a go.
   A comparable service like Wetransfer or Smash just, well, transfers, in less than the time Google Drive takes to archive a bunch of files.
   I also notice that Google Drive frequently only sends me a single image when the sender intends to send a whole bunch. There’s no age discrimination here: both an older friend and colleague and a young interviewee both had this happen in October when trying to send to me. It is, I suspect, all to do with an interface that hasn’t been tested, or is buggy.
   Basically: Google Drive does not work for either the sender or the recipient.
   This morning a friend and colleague tried to send me more files using this godawful service, and this time, Google Drive at least gave me a sign-on prompt. Even though I was already signed on. Not that that does anything: you never, ever log in. However, for once, the files he tried to send me actually did come down in the background.

   I should note that for these Google Drive exercises, I use a fresh browser (Opera) with no plug-ins or blocked cookies: this is the browser I use where I allow tracking and all the invasiveness Google likes to do to people. Now that it has begun grabbing Americans’ medical records in 21 states without patient consent in something called ‘Project Nightingale’ (thank you, Murdoch Press, for consistently having the guts to report on Google), we’re in a new era of intrusiveness. (I’m waiting for the time when most Americans won’t care that Google, a monopoly, has their medical records, after the initial outcry. No one seems to care about the surveillance US Big Tech does on us, which puts the KGB and Stasi to shame.)
   Looking at Google’s own help forums, it doesn’t matter what browser you use: even Chrome doesn’t work with Drive downloads in some cases.

   The lesson is: stop using Google Drive for file transfers, as Smash does a better job.
   Or, better yet, stop using Google. Get a Google-free phone, maybe even one from Huawei.

Meanwhile, I see WordPress’s Jetpack plug-in did this to my blog today without any intervention from me. I imagine it did an automatic update, which it was not set to do.

   There’s untested software all over the place, ignoring your settings because it thinks it knows better. News flash, folks, your programs don’t know better.
   A great way for one tech company to get rid of criticisms of another tech company for a few hours, I guess, harming its ranking in the process. Google itself has done it before.
   Farewell, Jetpack. Other than the stats and the phone-friendly skin, I never needed you. I’m sure there are alternatives that don’t wipe out my entire blog.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


Bye to the US news app that ranks the Steven Joyce dildo incident above Martin Crowe’s passing

04.03.2016

I’ve just switched from Inside, the much vaunted news app from entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to Wildcard as my principal news app on my phone. I never got to use Circa (which I understand Jason was also behind), which sounded excellent: by the time I downloaded it, they had given up.
   But we all need news, and I don’t like the idea of apps that are from a single media organization.
   Inside seemed like a good idea, and I even got round to submitting news items myself. The idea is that the items there are curated by users, shared via the app. There was a bit of spam, but the legit stuff outnumbered it.
   However, I can’t understand the choices these days. A few items I put in from Radio New Zealand, Māori Television and The New Zealand Herald were fine—stories about the flag and the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker, for instance—but none of the ones about the passing of Martin Crowe, possibly of more international interest, remained.
   There were other curious things: anything from Autocar is summarily rejected (they don’t even appear) while I notice Jalopnik is fine. When it comes to cars, this is the only place where the publication with the longest history in the sector is outranked by a web-only start-up, whose pieces are enjoyable but not always accurate. The only car piece it accepted from me was about Tesla selling in Indiana, but Renault, Volkswagen, Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin and other manufacturers’ news didn’t make it. This I don’t get. And I like to think I know a little bit about cars, in the week when Autocade hit 8,000,000 page views.
   Now, if this is meant to be an international app, downloadable by everyone, then it should permit those of us in our own countries to have greater say in what is relevant to our compatriots.
   Visit the New Zealand category, and you see a few items from yours truly, but then after that, they are few and far between: the Steven Joyce dildo incident, for example, and you don’t have to scroll much to see the Otago car chase being stopped by sheep last January. A bit more has happened than these events, thank you. No wonder Americans think nothing happens here.



According to Inside, these news items—separated only by one about Apple issuing a recall in our part of the world—are far more important to users following the New Zealand category than Martin Crowe’s death.

   The UK is only slightly better off, but not by much. I notice my submission about Facebook not getting away with avoiding taxes in the UK vanished overnight, too.
   News of the royal baby in Sweden wasn’t welcome just now. Nor was the news about the return of one of the Hong Kong booksellers, but news from Bloomberg of a luxury home on the Peak, which I submitted last month, was OK. Lula’s questioning by police has also disappeared (admittedly my one was breaking news, and very short), though Inside does have a later one about his brief arrest.
   Yet to locals, the rejected ones are important, more important than Gladys Knight singing to a cop or a knife on O. J. Simpson’s estate (which have made it).
   This is a very American app, and that’s fine: it’s made by a US company, and I’m willing to bet most of its users are American. However, the “all” feed, in my view, should be global; those who want news tailored to them already have the choice of selecting their own topics. (It’s the first thing the app gets you to do after signing in.) And if some fellow in New Zealand wants to submit, then he should have the same capacity as someone in the US. After all, there are more of them than there are of us, and I hardly think my contributions (which now keep vanishing!) will upset the status quo.
   Or does it?
   I mean, I have posted the odd thing from The Intercept about their country’s elections.
   Whatever the case, I think it’s very odd for an app in the second decade of the century to be so wedded to being geocentric. I can understand getting stuff weeded out for quality concerns—I admit I’ve posted the odd item that is an op-ed rather than hard news—but this obsession to be local, not global, reinforces some false and outdated stereotypes about the US.
   It’s like Facebook not knowing that time zones outside US Pacific Time exist and believing its 750 million (as it then was) users all lived there.
   My advice to app developers is: if you don’t intend your work to be global, then don’t offer it to the global market. Don’t let me find your app on a Chinese app centre. Say that it’s for your country only and let it be.
   Or, at least be transparent about how your apps work, because I can’t find anything from Inside about its curation processes other than the utopian, idealistic PR that says we’re all welcome, and we all have a chance to share. (We do. Just our articles don’t stay on the feed for very long.)


Wildcard has an attractive user interface, and its mixture of news is more appealing, especially if you want more depth.

   Admittedly, I’ve only been on Wildcard for less than a day but I’ve already found it more international in scope. It also has more interesting editorial items. It is still US-developed—east coast this time, instead of west coast—but it supplements its own news with what’s in your Twitter feed. It’s not as Twitter-heavy as Nuzzel, which I found too limited, but seems to give me a mixture of its own curation with those of my contacts. The user interface is nice, too.
   I’m not writing off Inside altogether—if you’re after a US-based, US-centric news app, then it’s probably excellent, although I will leave that decision to its target market. I can hardly judge when dildos matter more to its users than the greatest cricket batsman in our country.
   For me, Wildcard seems to be better balanced, it doesn’t make promises about public curation that it can’t keep, and I’ve already found myself spending far more time browsing its pieces than the relatively small amount that seem to remain on Inside. It is still a bit US-biased in these first 24 hours, probably because it hasn’t taken that much from my Twitter contacts yet. There seems to be more news on it and I’m getting a far better read, even of the US-relevant items. I’m looking forward to using it more: it just seems that much more 21st-century.

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Posted in business, China, culture, globalization, Hong Kong, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, technology, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


Meizu M2 Note: welcome to a Google-free mid-2010s

16.01.2016

Other than for the landline, I’ve never bought a phone before. Each cellphone has come as a result of a company plan or a loyalty gift from the telco, but when my Huawei Ascend Y200 began needing resets several times a day—I’ve had computer experts tell me this is the phone, or the SD card (like any endeavour, it’s hard to find agreement; this is like saying that the problem with an axe lies with the handle or the blade)—I decided to replace it. Plus, having built websites for clients it seemed only fair to have a device on which I could test them on an OS newer than Android 2.3, and after a few days I have to say the Meizu M2 Note has been worth every penny. (The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 was on the shortlist but the Meizu performed better in online tests, e.g. this one.)
   You can find the specs on this device elsewhere, in reviews written by people far more au fait with cellular technology than me, but a few things about arriving in the mid-2010s with such a gadget struck me as worth mentioning.
   First, I opted for a blue one. They’re usually cheaper. Since I have a case for it, I don’t have to put up with the colour on the back anyway, so why not save a few bucks if the guts are the same?
   Secondly, it’s astonishing to think in five inches I have the same number of pixels as I do in 23 inches on my monitor.
   Thirdly, cellular battery technology has come a heck of a long way. (Down side: you can’t replace it in this device.)
   But here’s an absolutely wonderful bonus I never expected: it’s Google-free. Yes, the Flyme OS is built on Google’s Android 5.1.1, but the beauty of buying a phone from a country where Google is persona non grata is that I’m not stuck with all the crap I had on the Telstra Clear-supplied Huawei. No Google Plus, Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps and all the other stuff I had to switch off constantly. I could have had the phone rooted but it never was a big enough priority, even with my dislike of the big G.
   I don’t know how much ultimately gets back to Google through simply using its OS, but I’ve managed to keep away from signing in to any of their services. In this post-Snowden era, I regard that as a good thing.
   The phone booted up for the first time and gave me English as an option (as the seller indicated), so the device’s OS is all in the language I’m most fluent in. However, it’s not that weird for me to have Chinese lettering around, so the apps that stayed in the Chinese language are comprehensible enough to me. There is an app store that isn’t run by Google, at which all the apps are available—Instagram, Dolphin Browser, Opera Mini, plus some of the other admin tools I use. Nothing has shown up in my Google Dashboard. The store is in Chinese, but if you recognize the icon you should be all right, and the apps work in the language you’ve set your OS to.
   The China-only apps aren’t hard to dispose of, and the first ones to go were Netease, Dianping (I don’t even use an Anglo dining review app, so why would I need a China-only one?), Amap (again, it only works in China, and it can be easily reinstalled through Autonavi and its folded paper icon), and 116114, an app from a Chinese telco. Weibo I don’t mind keeping, since I already have an account, and I can see some utility to retaining Alipay, the painting app, and a few others.
   And having a Google-free existence means I now have Here Maps, the email is set up with my Zoho ’boxes, and 1Weather replaces the default which only gives Chinese cities.
   What is remarkable is that the Chinese-designed default apps are better looking than the western counterparts, which is not something you hear very often. The opposite was regularly the case. A UI tipping-point could have happened.
   I also checked the 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies against Vodafone New Zealand’s to ensure compatibility—there are at least two different M2 Notes on the market, so caveat emptor. Vodafone also recommends installing only one SIM, which suits me fine, as the other slot is occupied by a 64 Gbyte micro-SD card.
   The new Flyme-based-on-Android keyboard isn’t particularly good though, and I lose having a full set of smart quotes, a proper apostrophe, and en and em dashes, but far more obscure Latin-2 glyphs are accessible. I’m not sure what the logic is behind this.
   I had an issue getting the Swift keyboard to install, but I’ve opted for Swype, which, curiously, like the stock keyboard, is missing common characters. Want to type a g with a breve for Erdoğan? Or a d with a caron? Easy. An en dash? Impossible.
   This retrograde step doesn’t serve me and there are a few options in Swype. First, I had to add the Russian keyboard, which does give an em dash, alongside the English one, though I haven’t located a source of en dashes yet. Secondly, after copying and pasting in a proper apostrophe from a document, I proceeded to type in words to commit them to my personal Swype dictionary: it’s, he’d, she’ll, won’t, etc. This technique has worked, and while it’s not 100 per cent perfect as there’ll be words I missed, it’s better than nowt.
   I see users have been complaining about the omissions online for three years, and if nothing has been done by now, I doubt Swype’s developers are in a rush to sort it.
   Swype’s multilingual keyboards are easy to switch between, work well, but I haven’t tried my Kiwi accent on the Dragon-powered speech recognition software within.
   Going from a 3·2 Mpixel camera to a 13 Mpixel one has been what I expected, and finally I get a phone with a forward-facing camera for the first time since the mid-2000s (before selfies became de rigueur). It’s worth reminding oneself that a 13 Mpixel camera means files over 5 Mbyte are commonplace, and that’s too big for Twitter. I’m also going to have to expect to need more storage space offline, as I always back up my files.
   I haven’t found a way to get SMSs off yet (suggestions are welcome), unlike the Huawei, but transferring other files (e.g. photos and music) is easier. Whereas the Huawei needed to have USB sharing switched on, the Meizu doesn’t care, and you can treat it as a hard drive when connected to your PC without doing anything. That, too, has made life far easier.
   I’ve been able to upgrade the OS without issue, and Microsoft (and sometimes Apple) would do well to learn from this.
   It leaves the name, Meizu (魅族), which in Cantonese at least isn’t the most pleasant when translated—let’s say it’s all a bit Goblin King. Which may be appropriate this week.
   I’m not one who ever gets a device for image’s sake, and I demand that they are practical. So far, the Meizu hasn’t let me down with its eight cores, 16 Gbyte ROM and 4G capability, all for considerably less than a similarly equipped cellphone that wears an Apple logo. And it’s nice to know that this side of Apple, one can have a Google-free device.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology | 9 Comments »