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Billophones - How awesome are they really?

If you're like me you like cheap low-end smartphones for less than 100.- CHF. Let's call them billophones.

It's self-explanatory that they can't keep up with flagship devices like the HTC One or the Sony Xperia Z1 on the spec sheet.
Flagships have quad-core processors, 2 GB RAM, 16+ GB storage, 8-42 MP cameras, LTE, NFC, 5" screens with 400+ ppi and whatever.

And it's clear that you can't expect all that stuff you get in 600+ CHF devices in one 60.- CHF device.

But do billophones have qualities flagship devices don't have I asked myself.
I've come up with five things billophones do better than their expensive counterparts:

  1. SIM card
    Expensive devices use micro or even nano SIMs to "save space".
    Billophones mostly offer a normal mini SIM slot. So you can use your elderly SIM cards.
    Smaller providers often only provide mini SIMs. You can put them into a billophone while you would have to cut them into pieces to work in your flagship device (and you maybe destroy the card by cutting it).

  2. "Bang for the buck"-ratio
    While you can't expect all the performance you get from a flagship device from a billophone you get an incredible amount of technology for next to nothing.
    Of course you buy most of these phones on a pay-as-you-go plan which is why they are so cheap, but you can unlock most of them for less than 10.- CHF.

    So overall they're well worth what you pay for them.

  3. Battery
    Most billophones come with a battery around 1500mAh. This is not much compared to 2300mAh or even more you get from today's flagships but if you realize that billophones don't have power-hungry DC-HSPA+ or LTE radios, a smaller screen, a slower processor, less memory, etc. which all consumes power, you can still get a day or more of juice out of these batteries. Which is more than you get out of some much more expensive models.
    Another plus is that if your battery goes empty, you could just open the back, put another battery in and get another full charge.
    Of course you could get a battery-pack for your flagship and recharge your battery on-the-go, but you have to charge your battery-pack to charge your battery with it, which means that you have to wait and it's not very handy to have a cable at your phone all the time. It's also very stupid to charge a battery to charge another battery with it. Which means that you lose (a lot of?) power.

  4. Storage
    Most flagship phones come with a certain amount of built-in storage and that's it. Since Android 4.0 most of them have a huge data partition which means that you have to transfer your data using MTP.
    But with billophones you get maybe 2-4 GB built-in storage and you can extend its storage with microSD cards. And the best part of it is that most of them still have a separate data and sdcard partition. Which results in you having two SD cards but you can mount both of them using the standard USB mass storage mode, which is just AWESOME.

  5. Durability
    Because most billophones are made out of plastic they should be a lot stronger than devices like the Sony Xperia Z which is made almost completely out of glass.
    Smaller displays (and thus handsets) reduce the chance of getting your glass broken, so overall you have a pretty durable phone.
    And if it breaks you just get a new one because they're so cheap.

So there you go! 5 reasons why billophones are better than their counterparts for maybe 10x the price.

Billophones I can recommend are e.g.:

There are many more available. Just check your local phone store.
Of course it depends on your local carriers whether they have something to offer, but if they do, I'd get one ;-)

written by: Takashi Yoshi
Tags: Windows Phone, Android, opinion

My wishes for Android 5.0 (Key Lime Pie)

We're all waiting for the next version of Android and presumably it will contain many new great features as 4.1 and 4.2 only were a small and an even smaller update.

Android is not perfect and will probably never be, but these are the things I would appreciate the most to see in 5.0:

  1. News Hub

    News Hub

    Admit it, you know the problem: You have a weather app, like 1Weather, that constantly displays the actual forecast in the notification pull-down and because of it’s expanded size it pushes all the other notifications off the screen.

    This is not how notifications are supposed to work.

    The Notification pull-down in my opinion should have three panes which the user can swipe through.
    No. 1: News Hub (contains all persistant and informative notifications)
    No. 2: Notifications (like we all know and love them, clean and organized)
    No. 3: Quick Toggles (like in 4.2)

    Oh, and btw: Notifications should be pinnable so that you cannot simply slide them away.

  2. Better File System integration

    Surely there are File Browsers in the Play Store but they're not really integrated into the system. Sure many of them implement themselves into the global Share menu but when using the phone you tend to forget the file system that’s working in the background.

    How would it be if there was a certain folder on the SD card that would be displayed in the Launcher directly?
    You could save all important files there and see them directly.

    Because en empty folder is quite useless, there should be a nicely designed save dialog that can be implemented by every app.
    It's quite stupid when every app saves its files onto it's own folder somewhere on the SD card.

  3. USB Mass Storage emulation

    Newer Nexus devices all have that one partition scheme which is great, no question, but removes the ability to use UMS (USB Mass Storage mode).
    The new protocols are MTP and PTP, but, to be honest, they just suck and I’ve never heard someone saying "Oh awesome! Finally they dropped that awful UMS for that awesome Microsoft-built proprietary MTP!"

    So why doesn't Google just build an UMS emulation? It can't be worse than MTP ;)

  4. Multiple windows

    Samsung introduced the dual window feature some time ago and CyanogenMod also wanted to implement it, but Google didn't want them to.

    I still want dual windows, which could be very useful on tablets (especially on 10" ones).

    Imagine you have been sent a picture of an invoice by a friend and need to type its number into an email.

    Now you have to possibilities:

    1. Open the picture, write the number onto a piece of paper, switch to your email, type it in.
    2. Switch between the picture and email about 1000 times while trying to remember a few more numbers each time.

    Not very convenient, is it?

  5. Revocable permissions

    No question, the permission system of Android is a great idea. You can clearly see what an app is allowed to do, but some apps take permissions you don't want to give them. MIUI has already solved the problem and so should AOSP do.

    Permissions have to be revocable!

  6. Transparent/Colored status bar

    Because black gets boring by time.

  7. SIM-Change Lock

    You lose your phone, someone finds it and wants to put his own SIM card into it.
    There should be an option to set which will then block the phone so it can’t be used anymore until the connected Google account information has been entered.

    This, of course, is still not 100% secure, but maybe it convinces the finder to return the phone, especially if he's not very experienced with computers and stuff.

  8. Quick-Switch Apps

    If I’m switching between apps I normally only do between 2 or 3 of the last used ones.
    Pressing the Multitasking-Button, waiting for the app thumbnails to load and select the app I want just takes too long.

    Wouldn't it be nice to have one unified gesture to switch to the last used app?

  9. WhatsApp & Co. Integration into Messaging App

    Having 5 messaging apps is annoying.

    Having all messages in one unified place would be awesome!

  10. Lag-Free experience

    Please Google, please!!

These are my 10 most wanted features for 5.0 (Key Lime Pie).
Let's some of them turn into reality on I/O13.

written by: Takashi Yoshi
Tags: Key Lime Pie, Android

How To: Exchange Android Lock-Handle

In this blogpost I'm going to explain you how you can exchange Android's lockscreen handle.

First I have to say that you have to

Even though everything should work fine with this method (I've used it multiple times) I won't take any responsibility for bricked, hanging devices or anything else that might happen.
You must be aware that this is an unforeseen modification to Android!
You're doing this at your own risk.

Some ROM's change the handle, but their handles are not always beautiful.
If you just want to get the original handle back, you could try to flash this zip:
It should work on any ROM, but I won't take responsibility for this zip either.

OK. Let's get started.

  1. Get into recovery
  2. Mount the system partition. In CWM it's: mounts and storage -> mount system
  3. Open a Terminal window
  4. Enter "cd ~; mkdir lockhandle; cd lockhandle" (This is not obligatory. You can put your files whereever you want to. Just mind the file paths in the following steps then.)
  5. Enter "sudo adb devices" to check whether your device is being recognized.
  6. If it's been recognized, enter "adb pull /system/framework/framework-res.apk ./"
  7. Make the apk into an extractable zip: "mv framework-res.apk"
  8. "open ." (If this command does not work, just open the actual folder in your prefered file browser)
  9. Open with BetterZip (or any other application that allows you to modify a zip’s contents without extracting it)
    BetterZip window
  10. Navigate to the "res/"-directory inside the zip file.
  11. Replace the desired graphics in the "drawable-*" folders. (They're called "iclockscreenhandle_normal.png")
  12. Save the modified zip file
  13. Back in Terminal, make it an apk again: "mv framework-res.apk"
  14. Copy the apk file back to your device: "adb push ./framework-res.apk /system/framework/framework-res.apk"
  15. Reboot your device: "adb reboot"
  16. If you wish, delete the temporary folder created at the beginning: "cd ..; rm -r lockhandle"

That's it. Have fun with your new lock-handles :)

written by: Takashi Yoshi
Tags: Android, HowTo

Das Nexus S - Die erste Woche

Seit nun einer Woche habe ich das Nexus S in Benutzung. Ich habe in der Zeit schon viel damit herumgespielt und auch einige Praxis-Erfahrungen gesammelt. Auch Vergleiche mit dem grössten Konkurrent, dem iPhone 4, sind nicht zu kurz gekommen.

Manche Dinge gefallen, manche aber auch nicht.

Im Nexus S steckt viel aktuelle Technik, darunter ein ARM Cortex A8, der mit maximal 1 GHz getaktet ist. Gegen Altsheimer schaffen 512MB Arbeitsspeicher und insgesamt 16GB iNAND Speicher, aufgeteilt in 1GB internen Speicher und 15GB USB-Speicher, Abhilfe. Dass man auf dem Nexus S auch was erkennt, sorgt ein 4" Samsung Super Clear LC-Display mit einer Auflösung von 800x480 Pixeln (233ppi).
Die Pixeldichte des Bildschirms des Nexus S ist zwar kleiner als die des iPhone 4, bei normaler Benutzung merkt man diesen Unterschied aber kaum.

Sunspider-Benchmark (Vergleich Nexus S und iPhone 4)

Auch für Benchmark-Freunde hat das Nexus S etwas zu bieten. Ein Quadrant Standard Benchmark meistert das Nexus S mit 1457 Punkten. Mit dem eingebauten Browser kommt man bei SunSpider 0.9.1 auf 6500ms. Das iPhone 4 braucht dafür im Vergleich 10700ms.

Für mich, als mehrjähriger iPhone-User, ist Android eine willkommene Abwechslung.
Dass Android keinesfalls von gestern, sieht man in Gingerbread (Android 2.3) sehr gut. Dieses kann iOS 4 auf alle Fälle das Wasser reichen, hat aber auch Funktionen, an denen man dich in Cupertino mal eine grosse Scheibe abschneiden könnte.
Am meisten überzeugen mich die übersichtlichen Benachrichtigungen, das "Unlock-Muster", der "Programme-Ordner" und der "Home-Screen".
Auch die Widgets möchte ich, was ich nie gedacht hätte, nicht mehr missen.
Nicht mehr mit iTunes syncen zu müssen, ist, zumindest für mich, auch ein Vorteil des Nexus S.

Die erste Woche habe ich auch noch für einen Selbstversuch genutzt: Eine Woche ohne iPhone und iPad.
Nachdem der Versuch nun abgeschlossen ist, kann ich sagen, dass es sich mit Android sehr gut arbeiten und Spass haben lässt. Ich habe mein iPhone eigentlich nie vermisst.
Ich war wirklich sehr positiv von Android überrascht. Dass man sich pausenlos mit dem Task-Manager beschäftigen, im Terminal rumfummeln o.ä. machen muss, stimmt nicht.
Ich habe mich praktisch nie mit dem Task-Manager beschäftigt, da ziemlich alle Apps sich selbst kontrollieren und schliessen.

Die Hardware des Nexus S kann allerdings nicht immer mit der des iPhone 4 mithalten. Das Plastik-Gehäuse wirkt zum Teil ziemlich billig, hat aber eine gute Form. Am meisten stören mich am Gehäuse die Lautstärke-Knöpfe und der Lock-Button, denn diese sitzen an einem ziemlich blöden Ort, so dass man sie, wenn man das Nexus S quer hält, auch gerne mal aus Versehen drückt. Die Lock-Animation im CRT-Stil gefällt mir dafür sehr gut.
Die Kamera kann auch nicht ganz mit der des iPhone 4 mithalten, wenn auch sie einen Makro-Modus hat und ziemlich gut fokussiert. Es dauert einfach zu lange, Bilder zu schiessen, so dass Bilder schnell verwischen. Ausserdem fehlt mir die Tap-to-Focus Funktion sehr stark.

Was das Nexus S allerdings eingebaut hat, ist NFC. Momentan zwar noch ziemlich sinnlos, wird es sich aber in Zukunft sicherlich als nützliches Feature zeigen.

written by: Takashi Yoshi
Tags: Nexus S, Android, Review
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