There's been rather a lot of talk about vulnerability in recent HTC Android phones, and rather less about the lock screen flaw on the Samsung Galaxy S II for AT&T.

The summary version of the former, for those who don't want to read that whole article or who don't understand it: recent HTC phones include an always-on logger which has access to pretty much everything on the phone. This logger can be accessed by any application on the phone which has the basic "internet" privilege, which is pretty much everything.

So it's a giant gaping hole just waiting for someone to exploit. As best I can tell from the discussion online it's not remotely-exploitable, if you have one of these phones it isn't immediate-panic-stations time, but it does mean that any application you install could be siphoning data off and sending it elsewhere, without needing to ask you first.

The latter requires physical access to the device and may only be relevant to the AT&T variant. It's a simple trick which lets anyone who can get their hands on the phone get in to it even if you've set a security lock.

Both of these demonstrate a risk that comes with Android: there are many fingers in the pie, and you can't be sure where all of them have been. Code on an Android phone will have come from a mix of Google, the device manufacturer, and your mobile operator. You have to trust that all of them get it right, and it is demonstrably true that this is not always the case.

It's an argument in favour of the Apple/Microsoft model wherein only the OS supplier mucks about with the internals, neither the OEM or telco can modify the system beyond installing simple apps with no elevated rights. It may be that Google wind up trying harder to dissuade OEMs from altering the system, we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.

In the meantime it's a pity that Windows Phone 7 isn't getting more carrier love. Obviously they don't like the "can't make mandatory customisations" thing Microsoft is insisting on, just how Microsoft are going to bootstrap to the point Apple is at where the carriers need them more than they need the carriers is another interesting question.

Such a shame the Nokia N9 -- which is even getting television advertising, rather odd for an end-of-line device like this -- is dead on arrival.
I have my stupider ideas late at night/early in the morning, so will admit right up front that this may well be one of them.

There's this video going around of the Nokia N8 running the leaked Symblan Belle release. And it looks pretty good. At a superficial level I'd have to say that the UI/UX looks better than stock Android 2.3, even though it's running on hardware that'd be considered very low-end on a 'droid.

And the battery life of the N8, while not as awesome as Symbian phones used to be, is still far better than typical Android phones. In the GSMArena review they're claiming about two days of moderate/heavy use on a single charge -- a typical droid will get a day. And this is on the original Symbian^3 release, one may perhaps hope for some improvement in Anna and Belle.

It's not lost on me that this is the second Nokia OS release this year that's really knocked my socks off. If WP7 doesn't work out for them, or there's another coup at the top, they've clearly got more than one direction they can go.

So, yeah, I'm looking at this and can't help wondering if an N8 running Belle might not be just the ticket for the next year or so while the dust settles on just where Android and WP7 are going.
I've had my HTC Desire for about eighteen months now. Probably a little longer. It's not strictly necessary to upgrade or replace it, but there are some rather shinier toys out there now, and I'm the kind of guy who winds up thinking about it a lot.

My new gig -- which I start in a couple of weeks -- includes a phone as part of the package. Not sure exactly what models are available, just that they have "some pretty nice" smartphones on the list, including some Android models. It's a telco, and I can make a reasonable guess that the options will match up with what they sell to consumers, so either the HTC Sensation or the Samsung Galaxy S II is probably on that list.

And there's a fair chance the iPhone 4 is, too.

Anyway. I've been increasingly disenchanted with Google. It started out with their rather boneheaded "real names" policy with Google+, but the way they've handled the fallout from that, the complete lack of transparency, the apparent gagging of dissident employees, and their general failure to be able to deal with "product service" -- remember, we're not the customers, we're the product -- makes me leery of relying on them too much for anything I couldn't do without.

There are other options in search. There are other options in mail. Calendar and contact management is a little hairier, but there are alternatives and there will eventually be more.

There are also other options in mobiles.

An Android handset needs (or at the least very much wants) a Google account. If something goes wrong with that Google account, your phone is basically screwed in a bunch of ways. I'm not sure I'm happy with my phone being tied to an online service such that if I were to have my access withdrawn I'd be facing considerable inconvenience, particularly in a situation where I'm a product rather than a paying customer and the company running that service has a bit of a track record for not knowing how to do the people stuff.

(Hell, if what I hear around the place is true, they have an active disdain for "people stuff" as part of the corporate culture.)

So, I don't know. I might well try for an iPhone 4S/5 or whatever when it comes out. But the Nokia N9 is looking increasingly appealing, even with that whole "DOA" thing going on. It may have a rather limited app ecosystem, but on the other hand Nokia isn't trying to sell me and my data to anyone at all. They're a phone company, not a data-mining advertising firm.
Amaysim have been getting a bit of press over their latest "unlimited" offer. You pay them $39.90, they give you "unlimited" cell phone service.

There are some catches, though, and while it's a vaguely attractive offer you need to be aware of them.

First off, Amaysim is a VMNO using the Optus network. So if your Optus coverage is lousy, your Amaysim coverage will be too. Most of the mobile services available in Australia which aren't the Big Three (Telstra, Optus, Vodafone/3) are actually VMNOs operating on the Optus network, with maybe one or two exceptions who're VMNOs on Vodafone.

Second, there's a huge list of exclusions. You may or may not care about them. They're all outlined in the terms and conditions document, but basically anything that isn't a voice call within Australia to a regular mobile or landline, or a text message within Australia, or picking up voicemail, is excluded. That includes but is not limited to calls to satellite phones (most service charge extra for these), calls to special numbers (including those that are supposed to be free), video calls (not that I've ever seen anyone make one), and a bunch of other stuff.

Third, while the data allowance looks generous at 4GB/month, as best I can make out they're billing that in 1MB chunks per session. They're not really very clear about this, but anecdotal wossname online says a "session" times out after 15 minutes, so if you have your phone collecting email you could easily be eating 4MB/hour when the actual traffic is a couple of kilobytes. At that rate you'd eat 2.8GB of that 4GB in 30 days with very little actually going on. Mind you, a session that really does use a full megabyte is still charged for using a megabyte, so it's not all bad, but it's something to be aware of.

(Incidentally, Boost Mobile is another Optus VMNO with a similar offer, and they do the same with the data blocks. I guess it's just another way to have an impressive marketing spray without too much risk.)

Finally, it's "personal use only". I have no idea if my four-times-a-week calls in to work for a conference call constitute "personal" or "business" use by their lights, and suspect it may simply come down to whether or not they notice what they consider an unusual call pattern that's costing them money. I would guess they're looking into anyone who routinely costs them more than $40/month to service, as that's what I'd be doing in their shoes.
GSM Arena links to a nice video demonstrating Windows Phone 7.1 (Mango) in this article. The descriptions are in Russian, but it's pretty easy to follow along anyway. The card interface for multitasking is an obvious WebOS knock-off, but if it works why not "pay homage"?

Every time I see one of these I feel tempted to pick up a WinPhone. Mobicity has a couple of models for under $400 outright now, which for a smartphone is a pretty good deal. But WP7 has a bunch of stuff that doesn't work quite right here, and while I'd like to hope that Microsoft will fix that in the next release, I wouldn't count on it.

(The Samsung Omnia 7 is probably the most tempting of them, very similar to the i9000 Galaxy S, but with WP7. AU$399.)

Plus Nokia will have their first batch out later this year, and I'm really curious to see what they do with it. Their speciality is making nice reliable phones with excellent cameras, keyboards, and radios, so while I'd have loved to see what they might've been able to do with Android, I'm still very interested to see what happens with their WinPhones.
It's been a while since I last did the math on mobile phone plans, so I just spent way too much of my time going over it all again.

I ignored VHA in this, as their network is currently pretty useless. They have some offers which look attractive on the surface, but there's not much point having an "unlimited" plan if you can't use it.

Went with two (approximate) price-points: $60/month and $100/month, looking at Telstra caps, Telstra pre-paid, Optus caps, and Virgin caps. Virgin runs on the Optus network. There are a bunch of smaller VMNOs running on Optus, but life is too short to dig them all up.

For each I went with the Samsung Galaxy S, as that's a very popular Android phone right now and the sort of device I'd be looking at if I were buying at the moment. The S II will probably attract a bit of a premium when it comes out, but that isn't expected until June at the earliest.

For the Telstra pre-paid, I assumed buying the phone outright from Mobicity. This is the i9000M (the NextG version of the i9000) for $649, amortised over 24 months.

So, the headline numbers, monthly:

Telstra 59 $65611$0.11
Telstra Pre 40$67573$0.12
Virgin 59$59454$0.13
Optus 59$59786$0.08
Telstra 99 $991333$0.07
Telstra Pre 60$871056$0.08
Virgin Topless$890$0
Optus Timeless 99$990$0

It is of course not quite so simple. Some important notes:

  • None of these take flagfalls into account
  • Not taking account of any bonus "limited-time offers"
  • Voicemail access on all but the last two also costs money
  • The Telstra post-paid plans and the last two include unlimited domestic text messages
  • The Telstra pre-paid plans allow you to use the "real" balance (as opposed to the "cap" balance) for international calls
  • The Optus and Virgin plans do not allow you to make international calls with the call credit, you pay extra for those
  • All these plans except the Telstra pre-paids include over a gigabyte of data. The Telstra pre-paids include less data, but it's easy to top that up using your "real" pre-paid balance (rather than the "call credit" balance).
  • The pre-paids do have the advantage of owning the phone outright and not having any contract. Also no network locks, so you can swap the SIM out any time
  • The post-paid plans are all 24-month contracts

My conclusions, assuming you don't have a network preference:

  1. For anything up to ~700 minutes a month, if you don't make (m)any international calls the Optus $59 plan is the best value
  2. Between ~700 and ~1300 minutes per month, the Telstra $99 post-paid is the best bet, unless you're using the cheesy free-bonus-calls deals Optus and Virgin offer. My experience has been that I never use them, and my best guess is that this is true for a lot of people -- otherwise they wouldn't be offered!
  3. Over 1300 minutes per month the Virgin "Topless" is the way to go. It looks to be identical to the Optus "Timeless", but they have a $10/month discount for online orders.

All that said, my money will keep going to Telstra. Even where it's not the best-value option it's still pretty close, and the network coverage is much better even in the city. If you're going into regional areas much then Telstra is the no-brain choice. (Edit: corrected the point re: Telstra plans and international calls.)

The two leaders in the smartphone platform race right now are Android and iOS. With Android, each hardware vendor can do whatever they like with the OS. Overlays, custom apps, skinning, completely replacing parts of the system, even things like Market. Each device can be completely different, even when made by the same company, and carriers can do further customisation. The temptation to force end-users to use the carrier-specific app market has got to be pretty huge for them. They (and OEMs) can also block software updates.

The up-side is that you'll find devices with all sorts of hardware characteristics. Want a keyboard? Not a problem. Want a larger screen? You're covered. Want a smaller phone? Easy. The hardware specs are pretty broad, and from a UX perspective all you have to provide are the four buttons on the front and some sort of navigation doover -- trackball, optical sensor, d-pad, whatever.

With iOS, there are a small number of devices available, all from a single supplier. Every iPhone will behave just like every other iPhone. The UX is nailed down tight. You get consistency and only the tiniest possibility for carrier customisation -- carrier-specifics apps are all they can do. Updates completely bypass carriers, and while Apple will choose to drop support for older models as time goes by, it's a pretty reasonable deal for the end-user. Apple really pushed the mobile market along wonderfully.

But what if you want a bigger screen? A hardware keyboard? Hell, a physical camera shutter button? Bad luck. If Apple doesn't see a need for a hardware feature, you aren't going to get it, and they have a fair bit invested in keeping their product lines relatively simple.

What Microsoft is up to, it seems, is trying to grab the middle ground. The software UX is nailed down. Like Apple, Microsoft claim that the end-user is their real customer, not the networks, and not the OEMs. One Windows Phone will behave more or less like any other. But because they're leaving the hardware to others there's scope for some differentiation, even if the minimum specs are pretty aggressive. We've already seen smaller and larger screens, QWERTY keyboards, different-spec cameras, even Xenon flashes.

How well they'll do is uncertain. It's early days, the platform is immature, and it's not exactly getting a lot of push from carriers. Take a look at pretty much any mobile phone carrier website and you'll see them pushing Android and iPhones most heavily. How much of that is because they can't customise the hell out of the devices and load them up with crapware, and how much is because there simply isn't the same level of customer demand, that's hard to say.

But one thing you can say for Microsoft is that they've got deep pockets and are generally willing to play a long game.
I am, as has been noted previously, not entirely satisfied with my HTC Desire.

Some of it is hardware. The device is over-sensitive, to the point where it frequently registers a screen tap when the sides of the unit are being handled (e.g., putting it down, pressing the power button).

And some of it is software. I can get past the amateur-hour looks, but the extreme unreliability of the Exchange mail support is unforgivable. I've tried several versions of the vendor-shipped software, and Cyanogenmod, and it routinely loses the ability to sync mail. As in once every few days. I had no such problem with my iPhone 3G, and continue to see no such problem on my iPad.

I'm not entirely satisfied with iOS either, though. This, after all, is why I replaced my old iPhone 3G with the Desire in the first place.

So I'm looking speculatively at the Windows Phone handsets that are out there. The OS is getting pretty good reviews, and the "glance-able" interface is pretty much exactly what the lack of drives me nuts with iOS. It's immature feature-wise, but then the lack of multitasking wasn't a huge deal for me with iOS either, and I almost didn't notice the absence of cut-and-paste.

On the hardware side I'm liking the look of both the Samsung Omnia 7 and the Dell Venue Pro, but neither comes in a UMTS 850 version (yet). The Samsung Focus does do 850, but it's nasty plastic crap and only available as an import -- Mobicity are selling it for the same price as the Omnia 7, and they're very similar phones (both are basically Galaxy S variants), but the plastic and the support issues put me off.

Inclined to wait and see what happens when Optus' exclusive on the Omnia 7 expires. Presumably Samsung would like to sell to Telstra.

The big thing the iPhone has going for it is network support. Quad-band UMTS is pretty rare.


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October 2011

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