Oh the places you’ll go with your magical phone

I smeared awake when the phone shouted at me “Get up, it’s time to go to work!”   I looked at the dock to check the weather and dressed appropriately.

On the way to the subway I fired up Listen and checked to see what podcasts had downloaded during the night.  Nothing especially interesting, and the episode of “This American Life” was too long for my commute.  I filed it all for later and just threw on a playlist of tunes from the F.A.T Lab.

When I got in the subway I grabbed my spot and settled into the ride.  I had just finished reading Voltaire’s Candide on my book reader, Aldiko 1 so I started in on the ebook I made of  Paul Carr’s “Bringing Nothing to the Party.” While I listened, the phone updated my last.fm profile with the music I’m listening to so I get better recommendations when I stream their internet radio. The music player is good.  It’s easy to create playlists on the go – I’ve been dumping fast songs into a “snow” playlist for when I go riding.  To load the player you don’t need iTunes or any special application to manage your music.  You drop songs onto the phone from your computer and the Droid just figures it out and puts them in the library.  Works for video as well if you like to watch a good TED video or one of Robb’s social psychology lectures 2 on the train.

While I’m on the train I’m usually reading a book or listening to a podcast, but sometimes I’m just feeling braindead and I play some games.  They’re crap.  All of them.  Maybe it’s just me, but all of the games seem awful and stupid.  You’ve got your Jewels and your cheap tetris clones, etc.  None of them feel like they are really taking advantage of the platform.  They are all just ways to murder small portions of your life and hide them away in the past.  There is one called “Abduction!” that involves tilting the screen to guide a bouncing cow, and it is kind of cool.  I’ve been torturing myself by playing Go against the computer and being spanked constantly.  There’s also a few Myst style games, but they are mainly just frustrating and boring to me.  Blame the ADD.

What I’m looking for is a game that integrates all the unique things about this shiny black monolith.  Augmented Reality Games, geolocation games, that sort of thing.  I’ve made a small effort at joining in on Noticin.gs, the geolocation and Flickr based game about finding cool stuff.  That seems interesting, but most of my playing time is underground in the subway.  That’s where the cool stuff I find is, and the GPS doesn’t work down there, so I can’t submit those photos for points.  I’m also too old and homebound to really stay on top of a game like Foursquare.  I keep thinking I’ll use some of the Augmented Reality stuff more, especially Layar and Google Goggles, but I haven’t bothered yet.

Too slow, too out of my normal loop just yet.  It would be nice if they ran in the background as a service and just let me know when there was cool stuff to look at.  Then I’d probably give them a workout.   I’d love to be walking over to a client meeting and find out there’s some huge AR virtual sculpture hanging in the air around me something I can whip out my phone and take a look at with.  THAT would be exciting, and Layar does have art installations, but it isn’t part of the flow of my commute yet.  Yet.

One perfect little app that really did make a difference to me was Locale.  You set up some rules: What time is it, where am I, how much charge left on the battery.  Locale will sort through those conditions for you and adjust your brightness, your ringtone, your wallpaper, etc.   So while I’m in Brooklyn hanging out with my friends, my phone might have Courage Wolf as a background and Mindless Self Indulgence as a ringtone, when I’m in midtown everything is much more neutral and businesslike.  When I’m usually sleeping the ringer is automatically off and the brightness dimmed.  This is how it should be and it works PERFECTLY. I don’t have to think about where I am, the phone acts as a butler to figure out how it should behave based on what’s going on in the world.  Also good for telling your phone where the movie theaters are and never having to worry about shutting it off just for the duration of the movie.

While I’m at work, frankly the phone isn’t doing too much for me.  Sure, I’m using Google Voice to make sure I get rung on whatever phones I’m near, but my old phone did that for me as well.  I can use facebook or check gmail (both are blocked where I work) if I’m on a boring conference call, but generally I just try to make the conference call shorter instead.  Every once in a while, something does pop up that’s a great benefit.  A few days ago I was working on a document and realized the current song was perfect for a mixtape I’m making.  I just downloaded AndFTP onto my phone, connected to my server and uploaded the track.  I also noticed that I’d broken a script I had on my server that turned SMS messages into Tracks tasks.  I just ssh’d into my server, fixed the problem, and done.  Pretty sweet.  If you can SSH or get a shell on your phone, you’ve got true Nerd Power.

Mainly I’m too busy at work to use the phone for anything.  But when you are out and about, it seems to make every little thing easier.  Instead of mooning about over what restaurants we remember in a neighborhood, my pals might whip out the Places or OpenTable or Yelp apps and we’ll figure out something quickly.  If I forgot to look up directions to a client I don’t have to call for help, I just fire up the REALLY REALLY REALLY good maps integration and say I want to get from where I am now to there – show me subway or walking directions.  Sam and I also used this when we travelled upstate for New Year’s Eve in Vermont.  Works as well as any standard GPS with spoken turn by turn navigation 3 . If I were going to do it again I’d probably get a car charger though, because the battery died  while we were making the final turns to the Lilly and Drew’s ski house.

The camera is 5mp, the video is good, suitable for futzing around with your friends.

I got the Droid, which has a hardware keyboard.  I don’t think you need it.  The predictive text on the soft keyboard is good enough that I think it’s faster most of the time to just use it.  The one last thing to mention that’s great is the contact management.

Android does this very well.  It snatches up your facebook contacts and any google contacts you’ve got.  Add more contacts to your phone and they automatically get backed up into your google contacts so you can see them in google voice or gmail.  It’s clean, it’s smooth and it all seems to just work.

So why not an iPhone?

iPhones are great.  They work well, they seem flashy and great.  They have tons of applications.  Why not get one?  I made my choice for a few reasons.

ATT.  I have Verizon, and I switched to it because the reception just worked everywhere I was.  My pal Matt Scott 4 has an iPhone and it is sweet and hot, but he has some reception issues.  For me, it’s gotta work as a phone first.

Open vs. Closed.  The Apple app store is a walled garden.  You have to get approved by them to get something in the market.  That means they control it.  The good bit is they are working hard to keep applications safe.  The bad bit is that they routinely deny developers for arbitrary reasons and you can’t appeal.  I think if you can’t distribute your app yourself, then it makes you a chump.  The google market is pretty easy to get into, and if they say no, you can just download and install apps from anywhere.  This is why android gets sweet things like “Torrent-Fu” and “TorrentDroid“, while Apple won’t permit them for the iPhone.

I like things that are distributed and open and opensource.  That’s android.  I’m betting that those properties will eventually propel the Android platform into having more interesting applications.

There, I hope you swine are happy.

  1. Aldiko is the best looking app because it puts your books up on a little wood paneled bookshelf for you to browse.  I also like Wordplayer because it’s been really easy to find great books through it.  Wattpad and fbreader didn’t impress me very much.   (back)
  2. And you can download those lectures if you use my “Better Berkeley Webcasts” greasemonkey script.   (back)
  3. You can enable the secret car dock mode with a coupla magnets by the way.


    Haven’t tried it yet, but let me know if it works for you.   (back)

  4. Esquire   (back)

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2 thoughts on “Oh the places you’ll go with your magical phone

  1. thx for the review, i'm actualy tempted to switch from the iph. btw, if i'm ever lucky enough to be mentioned in one of these, i want my own esquire footnote.

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