Linux, politics, and other interesting things
I’ve now had a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 for almost two months (here is a link for my first review) . This is a phone that people seem to really dislike because the battery life is poor and Sony doesn’t allow replacing the kernel. I’m happy with mine, happy enough that after buying one for my wife and trying it out I bought one for myself. I knew about it’s problems in advance and wanted a relatively cheap phone with a large high resolution screen, and the Xperia X10 was the best match for my criteria.
There has been a recent trend towards using USB for charging devices. Sony provides a tiny wall-wart PSU which has a USB socket and a short (1m) USB cable that can be used to charge the phone from it’s PSU or from a PC. The size is really convenient, as the phone has a short battery life I’ll probably want to take the PSU to more places than I would for other phones I’ve owned.
The short USB cable saves weight and tangle when travelling, but can be inconvenient. I’m currently working on the phone while it’s plugged into my laptop, that works well and I can make calls while it’s connected. If the phone was connected to a USB port on a tower computer that was on the ground then the cable could be too short to make a call, if it was charging on a power point near the floor then I wouldn’t even be able to use the computer functionality let alone make calls without kneeling. My Viewty has a 175cm charging cable which alleviates these problems. I’ve got a 50cm USB extension cable that I use for charging my phone while I’m in bed – that is just long enough to allow me to check my email without getting out of bed!
The socket for connecting the USB cable is protected by a plastic lid that is connected by a strip of rubber. For a socket that will be used at least twice a day this isn’t a good mechanical design. The plastic slide on the LG U990 Viewty seems like a much better design.
As an aside it’s a pity that they aren’t designing cars with USB charging sockets built in. Some new cars have a socket for one USB flash drive to be attached to the radio, but really they need at least one USB charging port per seat. It would also be nice if they made power points with USB charging sockets built in, I’d buy a few of those if they made them.
I’ve been running “Juice Defender” to reduce the battery use, at the moment it is claiming to have extended battery life by 69%. That combined with turning off things that aren’t needed (such as WiFi) has made the phone reasonably usable. I can survive more than 12 hours during which I use the phone a lot without charging it.
XperiaX10.net has an interesting review of replacement batteries . I’m not going to buy them because the largest battery requires a replacement back case which prevents using an external case to prevent damage and the smaller one doesn’t provide enough of a benefit – and the design of the phone makes it difficult to change batteries so carrying a spare battery isn’t a good option.
The HP/Compaq iPaQs that I own from ~10 years ago have a single button that can be moved up/down/left/right to act as a cursor, it can also be pressed inwards to act as an ENTER key (or whatever the application might want for a fifth function). Having some sort of hardware cursor control is really handy, I often end up deleting several characters when I want to replace one because getting the cursor onto the desired character is too difficult.
Adding more hardware keys would require making the phone bigger, but that would be fine by me. As described in my previous post about phone cameras I’d like to have a phone that’s thicker to have a better camera with a greater focal distance for a larger lens .
I really miss having separate green and red buttons for making/answering calls and for rejecting/ending calls.
A really common operation is to call back the last person who called. To do this on my LG U990 Viewty I press the green button twice on my home screen which took less than a second. On the Xperia this involves selecting the phone icon from the home screen, then the “call log” icon, then the call that is desired, then the “Call user” line. That is four presses in different parts of the screen compared to pressing the same hardware button twice. I’m investigating dialer applets right now, the “Dialler One” applet has a good interface for calling people who have called or been called recently – but it still requires two presses on different parts of the screen. With my old Viewty I could call back the last person by feel without even looking at the phone!
In the last 6 years the standard functionality of phones has been to include multiple profiles for noises. My Viewty has profiles named “Normal”, “Silent”, “Vibrate only”, “Outdoor”, “Headset” (automatically selected when a headset is connected), and three “customised” ones. The Xperia has only one setting, and that is three icon presses away from the home screen. It does allow changing the volume by hardware switches on the side which includes going to vibrate-only and silent mode. While this is useful, it’s not the best way that two precious hardware keys could be used. It also doesn’t allow control over all the different notifications, I’d like to be able to activate a noise profile and have every application respond to it in an appropriate manner. This is a deficiency in Android 2.1 not in the phone itself.
In many ways this phone has the worst phone functionality of any mobile phone I’ve ever owned, I think that this is more the fault of the Android designers than Sony Ericsson.
Sony had previously claimed that they wouldn’t support Android later than 2.1. Now Sony has announced that they will support “Gingerbread” – Android 2.3 . So one of the major complaints about the Xperia will soon be addressed.
The build of Android that the Xperia runs at the moment doesn’t support Wifi tethering. I’m currently using with Easy Tether for USB tethering . It’s not free software and requires it’s own code to run as root on your Linux system that is being tethered (which is easily locked down with SE Linux), but it basically works. The down-side with Easy Tether is that it proxies all the connections so you can’t run traceroute etc and in the free version you can’t use UDP.
K9 Mail fixes some of the problems in the default Android email program that I described in my previous post. It allows selection of SSL with a default port of 993 for IMAPs. It uses mail.example.com as the mail server address for an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org (so I’ll add a “mail” CNAME to the domains I run). When I connected initially it told me that the SSL key was not signed by a CA and asked if I wanted to save it or reject it – this is the correct and desired functionality. It also correctly parses URLs from the email (or at least has fixed the bug that I discovered in the default email app).
One problem I’ve found with K9 is that it seems to timeout on large folders. This is probably partly the fault of Virgin Mobile being slow for IP access, but I wonder whether K9 doesn’t pipeline IMAP commands as Virgin can do bulk transfer at reasonable speeds (80KB/s) and it mainly fails on latency (900ms being typical). The result is that a folder with more than 500 messages that need to be copied to the phone will never get synchronised. When I started reading mail on my phone I had to move mail from some of the bigger folders into other folders to avoid timeouts. As an aside the amount of time I’ve saved by reading email on the go has already paid for the phone.
The Sony Mediascape software is used for categorising photos. One function of this is to assign names to photos, the names come from the contact list so if you photograph someone who you can’t phone then you need to add a contact list entry for them. This also means that you couldn’t conveniently add names to non-humans, I guess I could have added a contact list entry “Mr Crash Dump” for photos of system crash logs. But a bigger problem is that it decides what is a picture of a person, a picture of someone who is not centered in the photo or a profile picture can be regarded as not a photo of a person and therefore not subject to being associated with a contact list. Finally when selecting a name for a picture it displays the entire contacts list in a small font instead of displaying favorites, I have the phone numbers of many clients in my contacts list who I will never photograph…
Mediascape just isn’t much good. If I feel the need to do something serious in this regard I’ll search the app store for something free that’s better.
For $15 each I bought one grey and one clear “Gel Case” from J2K. This case covers the sides and back of the phone with a firm rubber layer that will hopefully allow it to bounce rather than break. It also extends slightly higher than the screen which should stop the screen being scratched if the phone is left face-down on a hard surface on the vibrate setting.
One problem with the Gel Case is that by it’s design it has to cover the buttons on the sides, due to a design or manufacturing problem the clear case that my wife uses can press slightly on the shutter button which disables the three main buttons on the front. So when the menu or back button stops working she has to slightly move the Gel Case out from the side. I’m thinking of just cutting out a section of the Gel Case there, that will make it difficult to press the shutter button, but you can use the touch screen to take photos and there doesn’t seem to be any other use for the shutter button so this shouldn’t be a problem. The clear and grey cases have different designs, the grey one has a hole over the raised Sony logo which makes it fit a little better as well as not having the shutter problem, so it seems to be a later design – I don’t know whether all clear cases have the same problem but I recommend that someone who only has one Xperia X10 get the grey case just in case.
I’m experimenting with using my own web proxy to compress the data sent to the phone. Unfortunately the Android settings for a web proxy only apply to the main web browser, not to all the other applications that use web services. Also the built-in web browser requires pressing the “settings” hardware button followed by at least two touch-screen presses to change between windows or close a window and it doesn’t seem to support making the short-press action be to open a link in a new window. So I will have to find another web browser to use.
The “3G Watchdog” applet is really good for tracking the data transfer and optionally cutting off 3G access before the quota is exceeded. Unfortunately Virgin has already sent me a bill with $234 in extra charges for bandwidth use because I used 1.6G instead of my 1.5G quota. A Virgin representative had told me over the phone that the billing period would be based on the end of the month, so while every calendar month has had less than 1.5G used because I used more than average in the end of March and the start of April that counts as excess data in the 14th March to 13th April period.
I’m going to appeal this to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, I don’t think that it’s reasonable that I should be billed almost 7* the normal bill for exceeding the quota by 7.4% based on following the instructions of a Virgin employee. While I could have read the previous bill that they sent me to discover the end of billing period dates, I don’t think that I should be expected to distrust everything that a Virgin employee says. If they billed me an extra $20 then I’d just pay it, but $234 is unreasonable.
Since using the phone I’ve found significant benefits in web browsing and reading email with the major limitation being the small screen (relative to a Netbook or Laptop). So if I was to buy another phone I would probably consider a Dell Streak which seems to be the largest Android phone on the market at the moment.
Given the amount of use that I’ve got I would be happy to spend more money and therefore consider a more expensive phone. But I don’t regret the decision to save money by getting an Xperia X10.
Finally when a telco tries to stick me with a $234 excess charge it really detracts from the value of having a phone contract. If I end up having to pay that then it’s half the value of a smart-phone lost in one telco scam. This is enough to make a contract with Virgin a bad option, after this contract expires I may use VOIP and a pre-paid SIM from Telstra NextG if their network is still the best. Another possibility is to just use a small tablet and skip having a mobile phone, email and Jabber plus SMS from the people who lack net access will probably do.