The Problem With Google’s Nexus Devices: No Accessories

I love the Google Nexus line of devices. They have proven to be solid performers, well designed, and always the first to receive updates to the OS when Google rolls out the latest “dessert”. I have owned each and every Nexus device, and look forward to the next but the strategy by Google has one fatal flaw that will keep the Nexus line from really competing with Apple: Accessories.

When Apple and Microsoft release their latest iOS or Surface device, they include some amazing accessories that make your purchase even more useful like keyboards, docks, cases, covers, and the like. Most people complain that they do it to mop up a bunch more money from the consumer, and while that is partly true, it delivers a pile of perceived value to them as well. A well designed and integrated keyboard for my new tablet? Wow, that makes it feel like I don’t need a laptop. That is value.

The latest round of Nexus devices, the 4, 7 and 10, are all amazing devices. So I should head on over to the Google Play store and pick me up some accessories, right? Wrong. 6 months after the 7’s release and a month following the release of the 4 and 10 there is exactly 1 accessory available in the Play store for these devices: a bumper case for the Nexus 4. And it has been out of stock for all but a few minutes of that month.

Google is missing the boat here. They need to create an ecosystem for their devices by adding a bevy of accessories that make their awesome Nexus devices even more amazing. They seem to think that competing on price and feature will win the war, but without accessories to back the device up, they will continue to attract the tech savvy, but not the masses. The Nexus 4 has the capability to charge wirelessly!!! Ummm, but not included in the box and a month after release, not even a leaked rumor about a date you might be able to pick one up. How about a keyboard for the Nexus 10? Nope. A official cover for the Nexus 7 that uses the “close to turn off” magnet? Not happening, unless you count the ebay Chinese junk. Come on Google, make more than just a Nuxus next time. Make a collection of Nexus branded and designed tech that changes the game.

Nexus 4 Review

OK, it’s been a few weeks since the new Google phone arrived, the Nexus 7 so it’s time for a bit of a review. I have had all of the Nexus devices over the years and my initial thought when i started using the 4 was that this phone is the Ferrari compared to the American muscle cars of past devices. Here is the Good and the Bad:

GOOD

  • Fit and finish – this phone just feels great in your hand, smooth and buttery (see BAD though) and the glass makes it feel solid and sexy.
  • GPS – this has to have the best GPS of any device out there. When choosing Navigate there is no delay ever – it always has your location ready, unlike past Nexus devices.
  • Google Now – I love this feature. Integration of my Google searches, Gmail and mapping plus all that is around me in the form of notification “cards” – what is there not to love? I’m all in.
  • Wireless charging and nice little bumper – these are in theory as they are back ordered, but I know both will be great.
  • Quad Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro – this processor screams. Project Butter (Google’s effort to make Android “smoother”) shines on this device
  • Decent battery life – although I have had a few issues with run away Google serice processes, I am happy with this device’s battery consumption – it’s taken me through the day and I am a pretty heavy user.
  • The screen is beautiful – next to my other Nexus devices, this phone looks amazing – bright and crisp.
  • Google will update this phone over the next few years with Key Lime Pie and any other OS upgrade that it will handle – usually on the day it is released. No other line of phones is treated to the Google OS love like the Nuxus ones.

BAD:

  • No user replaceable battery – this is just about a deal breaker for me. I love to carry an extra battery or two when I am out exploring a city, but this device has no way to replace the battery. I will try a external charging device and decide where I will land on this one in the future.
  • Slickest Phone EVER – Wow. I never knew a phone could be this slick. I will break it for sure. I think the Gorilla Glass 2 enhancement was to create glass that you could ice skate on or something. Be prepared to put a case or bumper on this thing, not because you are afraid to scratch it, but because you are afraid you will throw it.
  • Camera – Not the best, not the worst. I wish a nexus phone had the best on the market, but it’s not the 4.
  • Wifi issue in 4.2.x – There seems to be a wifi connection issue in 4.2 and 4.2.1. When roaming around wifi connection points the Nexus 4 will drop it’s connection (the icons all turn grey) and you have to shut down the radios or go airplane mode and back to get them to re-connect. There are open issues in the Google forums for this, and some people seem to have better luck than others with their router hardware. This did not exist in 4.1.3, and is present in my other Nexii after the upgrade too, lets hope Google pushes another update soon to fix it.

All in all, this phone is a winner. If you can stand the few negatives, you will love this device – it is the best Nexus to date. I say pull the trigger, especially if you can pair it up with some cheap carrier plans (like the T-Mobile Value plans) that don’t feature carrier subsidy for phones. Currently at $299 and $349 for the 8/16GB versions.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus 4.0.4 to 4.1.1 Status 7 “Assert Maguro” Error Fix

I was excited to see that the Android 4.1.1 Update for my Samsung Galaxy Nexus GSM/HSPD+ device (Standard GSM device from the Google Play Store) was out and downloaded the files from Google for the upgrade. I hadn’t unlocked the bootloader on the phone yet, so I did that and went ahead and rooted it as well using the Galaxy Nexus Toolkit. That process went well (I was pretty happy even with the push-button ease as it rebooted and applied the appropriate unlock, patch, and Clockwork Mod Recovery).

I copied the appropriate “takju” update file to the device root (mine was the JRO03C to IMM76I Linky-Link Here) and rebooted into recovery. When I went to apply the update file though I received the following error:

assert failed: getprop(“ro.product.device”) == “maguro” I I get prop
(“ro.build.product”) == “maguro” >  “Status 7” error

What???? No Jelly Bean for me??? After I stopped crying and started an hour of Googling the issue I found some possible culprits:

1. You have a non-stock ROM applied

2. The ClockworkMod Version you have flashed to your device is incorrect

Well, the first one does not apply – Mine is stock all the way. But the second one is interesting. Turns out, when you use (at least the version that was out there today) the Nexus Toolkit to apply the Clockwork Mod Recovery, when you choose GSM, is the wrong version.  The Toolkit installs the 5.5.04 version, which is for CDMA, but should have installed 5.5.02 which is correct for the GSM version. To fix this, I simply installed ROM Manager on the phone from the Google Play Store and flashed the correct Clockwork Mod Recovery version to the phone (if you choose Nexus GSM it chooses the correct one for you.) Then a quick reboot into recovery, apply update from SD, and reboot. Then you have your wonderful Jelly Bean!

Here is the link to the Toolkit – It’s pretty awesome, even though it steered me wrong on the Clockwork Mod version.

Hope this helps others with the same problem!

Android Emulator 4.x API 16 Keyboard Issue

I was working on an android issue today where I wanted to use an emulator with no keyboard present. I tried creating a few different versions using API Level 16 4.0.3, and could get no keyboard present by editing the AVD in the Android Virtual Device Manager. After several attempts (and hey, this thing starts so darn fast each time you edit it) I was ready to quit trying. In other versions the on screen keyboard is launched when you tap the EditText, but for some reason all I would get in the latest emulator is the “Select Input Method” notification in the shade… not a keyboard even if I messed with the input settings.

Turns out the key is to add the Keyboard support = No to your AVD and then when you launch it, choose wipe user data. Ah, secret incantation that now exists that didn’t before! Thanks!

LG Tone HBS-700 Wireless Stereo Headset

OK, I have piles of headphones, Bluetooth, wired, earbuds, over the ear cans, and the junk ones from Apple. This week I felt it was time to explore the bluetooth realm again and started looking around for a new set. I have had a couple of Motorola units in the past – the S305 which are just OK – sort of bulky and awkward to wear, but with decent sound. The other Moto set I tried was the S10-HD “Rokr”, and this was complete junk. Don’t sweat while you work out or POW! You now own a $70 hunk of plastic. Many people have had the same issue – don’t go here.

So I found the HBS-700 on Amazon, from LG – a company I have been impressed with lately with other products. The review was pretty good, so I pulled the trigger and ordered a set. When the package came, I read through the packaging and was happy to see it even said “water resistant” – guess they did some research and it turns out, people work out with headphones on.

Setup was a breeze, it connected to my Samsung Nexus S Android phone in seconds without a pass, and I was ready to go. The sound is great, no hiss, and really nicely isolated with the ear-buds – which is a odd thing about this headset. The HBS-700 main device hangs around your neck, and wired, normal ear-buds are strung from it to your ears. At first I was leery that this setup would be good, but surprisingly it is the best I’ve had in a headphone solution. The best part of the head set is that there are no wires from your neck to your waist, where wired sets always get in the way. You hardly notice the unit around your neck, and you can easily run without them really being noticed.

The battery charges quickly, and I wore the unit for about 8 hours before I charged it, and the package says 10 hours listen/talk time. Call quality is great, the neck unit vibrates when a call comes in – which is nice if you don’t have the earbuds in. You can store the ear-buds in the end of the neck unit with their built-in magnets, which seems nice but the 6 inches of wire in the area for each bud still seems like it might catch on things, but has been pretty good so far in my week trial.

The controls are great with volume, FF, RW, Pause/Play and a phone button that brings up the voice recognition system for actions like “call Lisa Smith”. The power button is small and in a strange spot on the side, and after a week I still have to take it off and search for it. The device supports Bluetooth version 2.1+EDR (A2DP/AVRCP) and comes with a one year warranty.

I really like this headset, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good Bluetooth solution for their mobile device. The Android market even has a app called “BT Reader” that works with LG devices and reads your text messages to you when they arrive – still testing this out to see if it is as decent solution, but not expecting much – it doesn’t turn down the music as it reads them, and crashes now and then. Also, you have to manually press a button on the screen for it to read it – so not terribly impressed with it.

 

Android Shared Preferences Backed Up

I have been looking around for some way to back up the preferences in my Android app – just a simple serialization of the SharedPreferences object. Here are some code snips from my backup object that allowed me to get the job done:

private void importSharedPreferences()
{
  SharedPreferences prefs = getSharedPreferences(PREFS_NAME, 0);
  File myPath = new File(EXPORT_FILE_PATH);
  File myFile = new File(myPath, PREFS_FILE_NAME);
  if(myFile.exists())
	{
		BufferedReader i = new BufferedReader(new InputStreamReader(new FileInputStream(EXPORT_FILE_PATH + PREFS_FILE_NAME), "UTF8"));
		String line;

		while ((line = i.readLine()) != null)
		{
				String[] pair = line.split(":");

				SharedPreferences.Editor prefEdit = prefs.edit();

				if(pair[2].indexOf("Boolean")>-1)
				{
					prefEdit.putBoolean(pair[0], Boolean.parseBoolean(pair[1]));
				}
				else if(pair[2].indexOf("Integer")>-1)
				{
					prefEdit.putInt(pair[0], Integer.parseInt(pair[1]));
				}
				else if(pair[2].indexOf("Float")>-1)
				{
					prefEdit.putFloat(pair[0], Float.parseFloat(pair[1]));
				}
				else if(pair[2].indexOf("Long")>-1)
				{
					prefEdit.putLong(pair[0], Long.parseLong(pair[1]));
				}
				else if(pair[2].indexOf("String")>-1)
				{
					prefEdit.putString(pair[0], pair[1]);
				}

				prefEdit.commit();
			}
	}
}
public void exportSharedPreferences()
{
    SharedPreferences prefs = getSharedPreferences(PREFS_NAME, 0);

    File myPath = new File(EXPORT_FILE_PATH);
    File myFile = new File(myPath, PREFS_FILE_NAME);

    FileWriter fw = new FileWriter(myFile);
    PrintWriter pw = new PrintWriter(fw);

    Map<String,?> prefsMap = prefs.getAll();

    for(Map.Entry<String,?> entry : prefsMap.entrySet())
    {
    		pw.println(entry.getKey() + ":" + entry.getValue().toString() + ":" + entry.getValue().getClass());
    }

    pw.close();
    fw.close();
}

I removed all of the error handling and might have messed up the formatting a bit, but you get the idea. Also, I plan on moving the serialization to a XML format in the next few days instead of the janky colon-separated bit. Hope this is helpful to you!

Google Android Market VS. Amazon Appstore

There are plenty of 2nd party App-Store wanna-be’s out there like SlideMe.org, AndroLib, AndAppStore and others that have tried hard to crack the Google Android Market gold mine, but have had only mild success. While Google rested on their “we own it” laurels, and did little to bring the Android Market to the public in bigger ways, monsters like Amazon now loom in the background – threatening t o bring real web development and internet sales skills to the table.

Google may have the lions share of the app sales game at the moment in the Android space, but are they moving too slow to lead?  Recently the search giant introduced a new web presence for the Android Store that allowed online browsing, and push to phone – something sorely missing from the Android experience, but possibly too little too late.Google needs to step up their game here I think, or the doors might be open exposing the castle keep here.

The thing with smart-phones and app stores is that they need to be sexy! You have 10 minutes to kill, so you turn on your phone, hoping to be amused, informed, amazed. Google’s less is more search interface, while perfect for the desktop experience, doesn’t fly here.  The current Android Market web experience is like it came from the same department – sans sex. Google needs to bring in some designers and marketers that know how to make me A) open their app store when I have 10 minutes, and B) be excited to be there and get new stuff.

Amazon has recently moved into Google’s space with their Appstore.  Having looked at it from the beginning, months prior to the release, I can say that they have really come a long way.  In fact, I think maybe they have even one-upped the big G’s gold standard. They have editors (that are used to selling stuff!!) writing content for app descriptions, and have an app submission process that is getting pretty sweet. Their one click purchase system makes it a breeze to get that new app, and their Appstore is fresh and feels right.

Look for more competition in this space, as there is plenty of money to be made here.  For now, these two behemoths have the dance floor and while it may not yet be even money, look for Amazon to do everything in it’s power to be in mobile as a formidable leader.

Motorola Xoom Standard Dock Review

Along with the Motorola Xoom Wifi, I picked up the standard dock for it as well.  The dock itself is a heavy little thing, which gives it plenty of stability when you are touching your tablet while docked.  The Motorola Standard Dock comes with an adapter for gel case users, and a power supply. The power supply is the same proprietary adapter that the Xoom uses (no surprises there I guess) but still made me disappointed once again that the device is not powered by mini-usb.   The tablet light sensor lines up nicely with a dot on the dock so you can easily get it into position. Also included is a standard jack to route your audio into a better sound system without fuss when docked.

 

I like the dock overall, but here is the list:

Good:

  • Sturdy, heavy duty feel
  • Sound routed to external system works great
  • Charges unit
  • Stays “dim-lit” so you can see your desktop/apps when not in use
  • Makes for a great living room end table slide show dock

Bad:

  • If you are a developer and think this thing will have a mini-usb pass through so you can develop and debug while docked, think again.
  • The viewing angle while docked, to me, seems a bit steep
  • MSRP is $50 – are you kidding me?  You can find it cheaper, but still…

So there you go, aside from a few complaints this thing is a solid addition to the Xoom.  I’m guessing a nice Bluetooth keyboard would make this thing a pretty handy travelling PC. You can pic the dock up at Amazon over here: Motorola Standard Dock and Power for MOTOROLA XOOM (Motorola Retail Packaging)

 

Motorola Xoom Wi-Fi Review

The day finally came where the price point and no need for a data plan device stars aligned and I found myself down at the local Costco picking up the Motorola Xoom – Wifi version.

The device was on the shelves 3/27/2011 (and not 3/26 – I stopped in and checked, just in case.)   As a bonus for using Costco, they throw in a free gel case, and dropped the MSRP from $599 to $589.  I got there pretty early, but from what I could tell only one other had been sold at that point.

 

The Good:

  • The build quality is amazing – super sturdy
  • The battery life is great (and it was even charged out of the box)
  • Honeycomb (Android 3.0) is polished and ready to contend with any tablet OS
  • The speed is great, makes my Nexus S seem slow (and it’s not…)
  • WiFi is great, even picked up my shoddy WiFi at work all day
  • Micro-SD slot!!  Stereo Speakers!! Decent Camera!  Flash!! Camera Flash!!
  • The Honeycomb built apps (like Gmail etc. are all so much better than the phone versions, with preview and all kinds of extras.
  • Mini-HDMI and USB
  • Tethering to my Nexus S was seamless

The Bad:

  • This thing is heavy – I thought the same of the original iPad – build quality/battery showing their head?
  • Apps – tablet specific apps are in the 50’s as I write this, not thousands like the iPad.  Also, a few apps simply don’t like the layout and hung.
  • Probably a setting, but new apps stick icons on your desktop
  • I find the power button on the back side to be in a weird spot
  • It has a proprietary charger, not the mini USB, so car charging is out for now

With the 90 day return policy I felt confident to pull the trigger on this Moto-offering, and I can tell you I haven’t been anything but pleased in the outcome.  I even ponied up and ordered the dock which comes tomorrow. All I can say is you have to get one of these.  If you have been waiting for the right moment to get in on the tablet bandwagon, now is the time, get yourself a Xoom.

 

Google Changes Android Market Payout to Monthly

Didn’t see this one coming, and I usually have my ear to the rail on the Android front… So late last year Google changed the TOS on the Android Market and changed the payout schedule from 2 days to monthly. I didn’t notice a thing, until I read someone on twitter complaining. Sure enough, I looked and today was the first day my Android account received nothing.

So it’s not like I’m living off the cash flow, I do it on the side and don’t depend on my app sales for day to day expenses or anything. But the thing that bugs me is that it just adds another question mark to the “Do no evil” Google checklist. I mean really, it’s not exactly evil, I can even understand why – it has to cost a fortune to wire all that cash around every day not to mention the hassle of keeping it all going.

But the thing is, that trickle of cash was just another way of saying “We are Google, we don’t hold on to your money” which just feels like the opposite of evil. Now they join the other app stores and pile up our money, gaining interest while they make us wait. Maybe that is evil.

The other day I saw that mobile ads would hit a billion dollars for Google this year. The projections I’ve seen for Rim, iOS, and Symbian look pretty dismal compared to the 2+ year Android skyrocket. I call on Google to do less evil. Maybe they should lower their 70/30 cut and go 90/10 or something to show that they know that developers drive those numbers in the end.