samsung galaxy s4 redux

My second Android handset was the Samsung Galaxy S4 on AT&T, my first being the HTC myTouch 4G on T-Mobile. I picked up the Galaxy when I switched from T-Mobile to AT&T some four years ago. At the time I wanted a more up-to-date Android distribution on my handset. The myTouch was left at Android 2.3, while the S4 was released with Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean) installed. Before I walked away from Samsung the S4 was upgraded to 4.4, then finally to 5.0.1 where it is today.

This weekend I uncovered both my wife’s S4 as well as mine in a drawer, where all our past cellphones have been tossed. I was getting ready to donate the older feature phones to a charitable cause, but held back doing the same with the Galaxies. I had to trade in the HTC for the Samsung, so I didn’t have it lying around. The “uncovering” triggered what finding old tech always does, a desire to see if it still works. Sure enough when I hit the power button it still had a 25% charge and it came on back up.

During the day I managed to charge it back up 100%. While it was on the charger I went out to the Android Play Store and updated about 3o apps. It took a while to get everything taken care of, and I had to delete a few because they kept hanging during the upgrade process. But by the time it was all finished everything was updated and I was off and exploring how well the S4 still operated. Because this phone is no longer on AT&T I removed the SIM card and disabled a few more phone-centric applications. As a historical footnote I disabled every AT&T app on this phone that was a functional duplicate of both Samsung and Android apps, and poor duplicates at that. And for those who still use an S4 and need a new battery they can depend on, I replaced the batteries in both S4’s with the Duracell Ultra CEL11327A which I purchased at a local Batteries Plus. That’s one of the really nice features of older Samsung phones, the ability to replace the battery by peeling off the back cover.

One of the apps that was still on the phone was this quaint little gem that informed me that the S4 was “affected by Certifi-gate vulnerabilities.” I have no idea when I downloaded this app, but I do remember downloading a test app when the Stage Fright exploit was all the rage. The app was supposed to test if you were vulnerable or not, and surprising, the S4 wasn’t. Or at least not my exploit. This current vulnerability smells like a marketing vulnerability to sell mitigation tools and services (the text at the bottom, “Protect your organization from mobile threats,” is a dead giveaway).

Anyway, after cleaning out the few apps that stubbornly refused to update (they hung) and updating everything else, as well as removing the Samsung-phone-centric apps, including the dial links on the main screen, the S4 settled into being Samsung’s version of the Apple iPod. Using a mix of Android-only and some third party apps (Netflix, for example) I found I could stream video as well as make reasonable use of the device. That’s when I could sit back and really use the device, and compare it to the Apple iPhone 7 Plus that’s my main driver phone.

Mini Comparison

  • The Duracell Ultra in the S4 is rated 2600mAh. The iPhone 7 Plus internal battery is rated 2900mAh, which is surprisingly not all that much greater. I say surprisingly because the iPhone 7 Plus is certainly larger than the Galaxy S4. And yet I was able to go the entire day with streaming, web surfing, and working with Instagram and Facebook with about 40% battery left at the end of the day. I’m sure I could have drained the battery completely with a heavier load, but that’s not the point: the point is that, for my usage, there’s little practical difference between battery life in the four year old S4 and the one year old 7 Plus.
  • The S4 screen is still bright and clear. It won’t show the same amount of information that 7 Plus’ screen will show, but it’s still quite pleasant to work with.
  • The S4 is still quite capable of cleanly streaming Netflix and of running the latest Netflix app. I watched segments of several Netflix movies on both devices, and when held a reasonable distance away from my eyes, found watching them equally pleasant. The sound was equally pleasant, but that conclusion should be taken with a grain of salt. I’m a 63 year old heavy metal rock listener who’s hearing is shot to hell due to too loud a volume level in my younger years (Led Zeppelin in particular).
  • I swapped Google Hangouts for the built-in SMS app, partly to shut up the alert that kept popping up about being unable to download a message, partly to move as many Google Android apps onto the phone. When I made that substitution all my older text messages showed up on the local Hangouts, and I’m glad it did. I found old texts from a few folks that were still important, as well as photos they’d sent me.
  • I moved data worth keeping up to my Google account via Google Drive. I now use Drive, rather than iCloud, to tie all my devices together. For my use cases, I find Google Drive much better than iCloud.
  • I used to play EA’s SimCity Buildit on both iOS and Android, until Google updated my 2013 Nexus tablet to Android 6.0.1, at which point it’s so slow as to be nearly useless for anything. The S4, with Android 5.0.1, has much better response, but SimCity is still slow and not nearly as enjoyable as the iOS version. And that’s fine, as for general consumption (streaming, web, social networks) the performance and response is just fine.

The upshot for me is that the S4, while it may be behind the 7 Plus, isn’t that far behind. It goes to underscore what many others have discovered with PCs and now smartphones, and that for general use just about any smartphone made since 2012/2013 is Good Enough. The only real issue with Android phones is the difficulty of keeping the OS up to date with the current release. That was the primary reason I switched to the iPhone 6S Plus in 2015; I got sick and tired of watching security fixes pushed out by Google not being pushed along to my S4 through Samsung and AT&T, while watching just about every iOS device get timely updates directly from Apple. I might break down and root the S4 and flash it with a more current AOSP/Android ROM, but that would ruin my ability to unlock the S4. I’ve got the AT&T code to unlock mine, but it requires I insert a different carrier SIM into the phone while running with the stock AT&T ROM. Choices, choices.

I’ve got an embarrassment of riches when it comes to mobile devices, so I don’t know if I’ll be spending much more time with this device. And I’ve ordered yet another smartphone, a factory unlocked Lenovo Moto G4 Plus with Android 6.0.1 installed for international use in Japan and Korea (it arrives 18 January, and I’ll write about it then, including why I felt the need to purchase it). But before I put it away again and forget about it for another year, I wanted to see how well it worked. It may not be a flagship phone anymore, but as a mid-tier contemporary smartphone, it’s more than adequate. Which helps to explain why the market is flattening the way it has and driving towards the bottom, the way the PC market has done.

wordpress code rendering bug 

I share code on my blog from time to time in order to illustrate key points. In order to display code I use the code tag provided by WordPress. Most of the time I have no problems with displaying code, especially on any of the desktop browsers across the Mac, Linux or Windows operating systems. The only time I have a problem displaying code is on any iOS-hosted browser such as Safari, Chrome, or Opera. But before I show you the problem on iOS let me show you how successfully it renders under Android Chrome (Android 6.0.1 on a 2013 Nexus 7).

This is the prior blog entry with a Makefile and a C++ source file. The Makefile is being displayed properly. Note in particular how the text is of the proper size and alines correctly with the line numbers to the left. Now look at Chrome on iOS 9.3.1, the current release, on an iPad Air 2.

The source code file for the Makefile is grossly oversized. This poor source file display shows like this on any iOS browser, not just Chrome. And that’s because Apple forces all browsers to use the same Apple-provided rendering engine. Thus, it’s not just a problem with Chrome on iOS, but with every browser on iOS, because it’s an Apple problem. I should note that all browsers on Android render source code on my WordPress blog correctly. They each have their own rendering engines, and they all handle this correctly.

another reason why i switched to an iphone

The Verge has published an article with the damning fact that only 7.5% of active Android devices are using Android Marshmallow (6.0.1). This on he cusp of the next Android software release in two weeks, version 7 or ‘N’. Android 6 is the version I have running on my aging 2013 Nexus 7s, and it is those two Nexus 7s that are the only Android devices I actively use. All other devices, specifically the Samsung Galaxy S4s my wife and I replaced with the iPhone 6S+ are sitting in a drawer, totally discharged by now. And stuck on some version of Lollipop (5.x). Which, according to the Verge article, has nearly 36% of those Android capable devices.

It only goes downhill from there. Android Gingerbread (2.3) still has 2% and change of all of those devices. The last time I used a Gingerbread handset was my HTC myTouch on T-Mobile, and I switched to AT&T and the Samsungs because T-Mobile at that time would not update the HTC handsets and did not have the latest and greatest Android handsets for sale at that time. When AT&T came calling with their more comprehensive plans and handsets it was a no brainier to switch.

Unfortunately two-plus years with Samsung on AT&T, with it’s oddball software updates and the would-they-or-wouldn’t-they-update-at-all eternal question finally pushed me into the Apple camp. I have repeatedly commented on how Apple keeps its iOS software up-to-date on a regular basis across all devices. It might not be perfect, and there are those who say that Android, especially Android 6, is far better than iOS 9. But I’m not in the mood to buy one new expensive handset after another just to get the latest Android release. Google itself made an promise that starting with Android 5 (Lollipoop) major new releases would run without impact across all devices if they are least could run Android 5 to start. I’ve seen that promise delivered on my 2013 Nexus 7s that uypgraded OTA from Android 4.4 to Android 6.0.1. Unfortunately Samsung with AT&T stopped at Android 5 on the Galaxy S4. I was certainly no fan of the S5, and didn’t care all that much for the S6’s features either. When the S6 came out looking like a clone of the iPhone 6, I figured I might as well go buy the real thing. Especially when it was revealed that the Apple iPhone 6 was less expensive than the Samsung Galaxh S6.

I don’t care how good Android is compared to iOS. You can’t get the latest releases with fixes and new features unless you commit to a purchasing a new Android flagship phone (or one close to it) every 6 to 12 months. With  Apple I have the knowledge that my iDevices will all be automatically updated to the most current release.For example my iPad Air 2, purchased November 2014, has upgraded automatically from iOS 8 to iOS 9.x, all when it was supposed to. It runs as well now, if not better, than it first did with iOS 8. In the short time I’ve had my iPhone 6S+ it’s also upgraded, on the same day as my iPad, to the same version. Timely upgrades and having the latest to run on my iDevices is a key feature I won’t trade away it purchasing another Android device. I don’t ever see Google fixing this problem.

the samsung galaxy s7 – it may be pretty, but i’ll stick with apple

s7angle-980x654

Just like all their competitors, including Apple, Samsung released the next iteration in their Galaxy series, the S7 and S7 Edge. There’s so much hype surrounding this release I’ll let you use Google to read all about it, if you haven’t been overwhelmed at whatever news source you frequent already. Although I switched to an Apple iPhone 6S Plus back in November, the Galaxy is still interesting enough to pay attention to. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far.

  • The S7/S7 Edge have micro SDHC card capability again. My Galaxy S4 had it and I used it as well as Android 4.4 and Android 5 would allow, which wasn’t much. Google really screwed over users when they restricted external SDHC card usage as much as they did. That negative change was the first big push away from Android and Samsung and towards Apple. Fortunately for those who’ve stuck it out, Android 6 is supposed to make external storage devices like micro SDHC cards look like part of the overall storage pool. I have no details how that works as the only Android 6 devices I still own and use are a pair of 2013 Nexus 7 tablets. Of course, with the 128GB of device storage on my iPhone 6S Plus, the need for a piddly external micro SDHC device is pretty much eliminated. I’ve yet to read of an S7 being offered with 128GB.
  • The S7/S7 Edge are dust and water proof – again. The S5 (or at least the S5 Active) was dust and water proof, but the S6 wasn’t. No explanation about why that critical feature was dropped when the S6/S6 Edge were released, except perhaps Samsung spent so much time on making the S6 pretty they must have run out of time making it physically robust. The iPhone 6s Plus is reasonably water resistant (as reported here by Wired), so that was a big fat positive feature for me. Another reason to move to Apple.
  • The S7/S7 Edge are coming out of the chute with the latest version of Android, 6.0.1. That’s nice, considering that past Galaxies have been first released with older Android releases, and it took Samsung a very long time to release more up-to-date versions of their cooked version of Android. I have no idea how quickly Samsung will now follow Google when Google releases newer versions of Android going forward. Ideally Samsung’s release would be the same day as an Android update is announced, much as what Apple does when it announces a new release of iOS. I got tired of waiting not for major feature releases of Android on my Galaxy S4, but critical bug fixes that Google would announce. Part of the problem of timely updates is Samsung itself, part of the problem is AT&T. When I finally bought my iPhone, I did so knowing full well that even though AT&T is my provider, they don’t get in the way of Apple pushing out iOS updates.

The S7/S7 Edge look very pretty to be sure. And with the latest processor and support for even faster graphics, the S7 appears poised to make some spectacular mobile gaming possible. They even have a tie-in with virtual reality via Oculus; that’s one reason why pre-orders will get free VR headgear.

All exciting to be sure. But there’s one feature that nobody is mentioning that has my attention at the moment, and that’s on-device encryption. Apple is in a brutal battle with the DoJ, where the D0J wants Apple to create a backdoor into iOS in order to get the contents of a specific iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. I believe in what Apple has done so far with iOS encryption on all its mobile devices, especially fighting incredible government overreach, enough to put my hard-earned money into buying Apple hardware. And it will stay that way, regardless of how pretty the latest Samsung phones are (or any other Android phone for that matter). Hopefully I won’t have to eat these words later, but I trust Apple to do the right thing on this important issue. That same level of trust is totally lacking with all Android handset providers, especially where AT&T is directly involved.

I made my switch to Apple back in November. I have no intentions of switching away.

all in with apple – part 1

Taken with an iPhone 6s Plus

For the past year (since November 2014) I’ve been surreptitiously moving from a reliance on Windows, Linux and Android based devices to devices using Mac OS X and iOS. It started with the purchase of an iPad Air 2 in November 2014, the one to the left with the picture of Lucy on the lock screen, and continued until this November and the purchase of the 15″ Retina Macbook Pro on the right. My Olympus E-M10 is in the mix for a sense of scale. And because I like that little camera.

My shift started with my growing dissatisfaction with Android, especially how Samsung was handling Android on my Galaxy S4. Especially with regards to security updates. I have two other Android devices, a pair of 2013 Nexus 7 tablets. I’ve watched those tablets upgrade over the air from version 4.4.2 to 5 and recently to Android 6. It took a long time from Google’s announcement to OTA upgrade, far longer than Apple takes with iOS after an Apple announcement. And Samsung? It did eventually upgrade to 5, then 5.0.1, and finally 5.0.2. Complete with Samsung’s skin and apps. A mess which I was willing to put up with when I first purchased the S4, but after two years of constant exposure, it finally wore me down.

I didn’t realize at first just how dissatisfied I was becoming with Android. And yet, in hindsight, it was inevitable. That dissatisfaction was first expressed with the purchase of the iPad Air 2. At the time I was trying to decide between the iPad and a Samsung Galaxy S2 10″ tablet. The Samsung was about $150 cheaper, but was only available in 64GB maximum internal storage. After two days of vacillating I purchased the iPad with the idea of learning how to do sophisticated image post-processing while on travel. I’d purchased the Olympus E-M10 in September of that year because of a key feature, WiFi interconnectivity with any mobile device running Olympus’ OI.Share app. You could get that app for both Android and iOS. When I got the E-M10 I naturally installed the Android version on my Galaxy S4. And I was very impressed.

The problem was I only had 16GB on the S4, even though I had a 64GB micro SD card installed in the phone. OI.Share couldn’t be coerced into storing the E-M10’s images in the micro SD card, and as a consequence the limited internal 16GB began to fill. After a time I moved some of the images up to Google Drive, and some of them to Flickr, and the majority of them off to my Windows PC. It was awkward but doable, but it added additional steps to my workflow of using camera and phone together for photographic work. And I am not a fan of automatic upload to Google Drive or any other location in the “cloud.”

So in November I purchased the iPad with 128 GB of storage, a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard and cover, installed a few apps, and took the whole combination to Japan for Yama Sakura 67 in December 2014. I’d also taken my Samsung 17″ running Windows 8.1, but I’d left my primary photo storage drive, a 1.5 TB WD My Passport Ultra. I didn’t want it lost or broken. With the external drive at home I didn’t want to use Lightroom. I decided to work everything on the iPad.

The iPad worked pretty well for the most part. I discovered a lot about using the iPad for creative work, and learned to “trust” JPEGs again. That’s because there are no RAW converters for Olympus RAW files on iOS (nor on Android for that matter). In spite of some quirks, the combination was good enough that I depended on it again in April of this year on another Japan business trip, and I’m going to use it once more this December in Japan. The iPad Air 2 and the E-M10 make a portable, potent combination. With WiFi connectivity I can push my finished work up to Flickr, Instagram, and WordPress (especially blogging). And with the purchase of an iPhone 6s Plus, I can use either iDevice to pull images off the E-M10 and use pretty much the same post processing workflow. I still need the iPad with its keyboard for writing.

I was happy enough that by March I purchased a refurbished late 2012 Mac Mini Server model. That allowed me to begin to tie backups from my iPad and my wife’s mid-2012 MBP together. And it was from the Mac Mini that I grew comfortable with OS X. And that helped to ease the decision to purchase an iPhone 6s Plus to replace my Galaxy S4 in early November. That, and Apple’s Upgrade Program. With the Upgrade Program, combined with Apple’s software upgrade policy across their iOS devices, I can now maintain an up-to-date iDevice, the phone. Every year now I’ll get a new ‘S’ device. Right now my opinion of the iPhone with Apple’s custom ARM chips is that anything else is a waste of money. The iPhone is that good.

All of which led me to the purchase of the MBP. I purchased that for the express purpose of replacing, over time, my Samsung 17″ Chronos 7 notebook running Windows 10 as well as my much older Samsung running Ubuntu 15.04. The MBP is combining what I consider the best attributes of both.

The desktop should remind Ubuntu users of Ubuntu’s Unity desktop, with the dock to the left. I chose this combination because I learned, on my Mac Mini Server, that I could have the equivalent of Windows and Linux under one environment. The key Windows feature I want and need is Office. The pieces of Office I need are Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And they work pretty much across either Windows or OS X. There is no office for Linux and there may never be. Trying to work with complex Office documents with LibreOffice, the best of the free office suites on Linux, is a recipe for slow madness. I know, I tried.

And if I need a “pure” Linux? I’ve discovered I can get that by running one or more Linux distributions on OS X via VirtualBox.

Languages such as Oracle’s latest Java, Google’s Go, Python, and Rust are dead simple to drop into the OS X environment. The biggest and the best, Swift, is available through Xcode. And I can share, via a common folder on the OS X file system, files between the Linux VM and native tools on OS X.

Time permitting I’ll do a more detailed comparison between the individual Apple devices and everybody else. But for now I have to say I’m pretty well satisfied. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s better than most else I’ve been dealing with over the past two-plus years. In spite of what the current critics may say, Apple’s hardware and software is more than good enough, and in many cases, better than the current state of the competition for my use. Your milage, as they always say, will vary.

For me, however, I’m all in with Apple.