Smashed Nexus One, RIP

After having survived being drowned, my Nexus One has finally succumbed to my (unintentional) abuse. It fell off my night stand this morning and landed face down exactly wrong on the tile floor, shattering the glass touch screen. To be fair, the N1 is still working, it’s just that I’m in serious danger of glass splinters and sliced fingertips using it.

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This happened just a day after getting the latest Gingerbread. Arg! I will miss this phone while I “suffer” with my iPhone 3Gs until I can get a Nexus S shipped to me in Ghana or when I am in the UK. For all its cache and cool hardware, the iPhone doesn’t do the things I love in Android:

  • Background services (used to great effect by Google Listen and Google Voice) not just multitasking
  • Unobtrusive notifications
  • Custom status icons (WeatherBug and BBC do a great job with these)
  • Native SIP client support (gingerbread)
  • Unlocked without jailbreak ultrasn0w shenanigans

Nexus One Came Back to Life After a Soaking

I’ve had my Nexus One in a bag of rice for the last 5 days to draw the water out of it. I put the battery back in this morning and it booted up with a working touch screen and no evident ill effects except that it has decided to erase all my personal data and apps.

All of the data on it is synced onto cloud services and onto my iPhone and desktop so nothing is lost. It is a big hassle to get apps back on the Nexus One though because the Android Market store has some really unfortunate carrier blocking. Some apps such as GMail, Google Listen, Google Voice and Amazon Kindle do not appear in the store unless the carrier identified by your SIM is white-listed with Google. This is one thing that Apple seems to get really right. The iOS App Store seems to work regardless of locality or carrier.

I’ve decided to stick with iPhone for a while. iOS 4 is a significant improvement. It seems to achieve most of the key benefits that Android has while retaining a slicker GUI and avoiding the glitchy touch-screen registration issues and periodic hangs that I experience regularly with Android 2.2 on the Nexus One.

Drowned Nexus One

Last Thursday, I was caught out in a serious deluge of a storm and was thoroughly soaked to the skin. When I got home, I pulled my Nexus One out of my pocket and watched in horror as the screen flickered and died. I have the Nexus One in a bag of rice hoping it will dry out and revive but I can say this is one area where the iPhone design is better. My iPhone 3Gs was more water resistant. I was drenched in a similar way in a rain storm with my iPhone in my pocket and it survived without any water damage. I chalk this up to the don’t-open-me sealed design of the iPhone case vs the pop-open Nexus One with a removable battery. I do seem to manage to destroy phones at about the one-year mark with alarming predictability, though, regardless of manufacturer.

Time to get another phone and quickly. I’m willing to pay for an unlocked device rather than wasting my time futzing around rooting devices. That’s why I got the Nexus One in the first place. On the other hand, I’m really, really irritated that Gingerbread is still not out on the Nexus One. And the price at the Telefonika in the Accra Mall for a new Nexus One is roughly $900! At the current exchange rates, the price for a new unlocked iPhone in Ghana is nearly $1500! RIM BlackBerry phones carry a similar premium and are immensely popular here.

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As I’m unwilling to pay $1500 for a phone if I can avoid it, I find myself having to pull my pre-Nexus One iPhone 3Gs out of a shipping crate so that I can get it working here in Ghana. My wife has an AT&T BlackBerry which AT&T unlocked without comment but AT&T will not unlock an iPhone for any reason. (FWIW, I am still an AT&T customer. My company pays for a full monthly data plan with international roaming but I normally use Airtel in Ghana.)

These are not reasonable prices in my world. I have an iPhone locked to AT&T and running iPhone OS 3.2. What I wanted was iOS 4.2.1 but I wasn’t going to shell out $1500 to get it. So, despite my desire to be a good little consumer and my willingness to pay something of a premium to get an unlocked phone, I found myself researching how to jailbreak my iPhone 3Gs. It took me some time that I’ll never get back but this is what I came up with:

  1. I used Pwnage 4.1 to build a custom 4.2.1 iOS image without the baseband update from iOS 4.2.1. To do this you need the iOS image and you have to add a iPhone 3Gs 4.2.1 bundle to Pwnage. This is important because the baseband I had is unlockable using UltraSn0w but the baseband from iOS 4.2.1 is not and the solution to that problem is flashing a baseband firmware from the iPad which makes it impossible to go back to a stock iOS image.
  2. I kept getting an error from iTunes when I tried to flash the firmware onto my phone. It turns out that I needed to have iTunes 10.1 and I had whatever comes with Snow Leopard because I don’t actually use iTunes. But after doing the update to the latest iTunes 10.1.x, it worked.
  3. Then I used greenpois0n to jailbreak the phone because it seems to be the only jailbreak for iOS 4.2.1 that works without having to tether the phone to a computer for every reboot..This worked on the second try.
  4. Basically, what I had at this point was a stock 4.2.1 image with an older baseband and an extra green icon called “Loader”. What Loader does is install Cydia on the root partition and it failed because the partition was too small. Back to step 1, this time I created an image with a 1024MB root partition.
  5. Once the phone was jailbroken with Cydia on it, I was able to use Cydia to install UltraSn0w which unlocks the baseband for any SIM. Finally my phone was up and running on Airtel.

I’m not very happy about this state of affairs but there it is. I am happy to have a working phone again.

Annoyance: Android Market Regional App Availability

The Android Market Place has regional app availability which means that if you live or travel outside of North America and the EU, you don’t have access to some of the best apps like Google Voice, Google Listen, GMail App updates, Amazon Kindle App and Skype to name a few.

It turns out that the regional restriction is by carrier but Google isn’t looking at where your data is coming from. They are looking at the carrier identifier on the SIM. The restrictions aren’t technically regional, they are by carrier.

If I put my AT&T SIM in my phone in Accra, I see the USA-only apps and can download them over WiFi. Unfortunately, even once they are installed apps that I have to install using my AT&T SIM don’t seem receive updates when I am using my Zain SIM. It seems that I have to periodically switch SIMs and check for updates.

It’s possible to spoof the carrier id and fool the Android Market  if you root your phone but I really don’t want to spend that kind of time and energy beating on my phone. I’d like it to just work, please.

The user experience for this is really bad. It feels like a bug with the phone because Android Market just says that the software was not found when you follow a link or QR code for a restricted app. Couldn’t it at least say something like “We’re sorry. The publisher of this software has not made it available for your carrier. Click here to request it to be made available.” This is the Amazon approach when a book is not available for Kindle. At least that is mildly cathartic that you get to complain to someone.

Is this carrier whitelisting of apps really necessary for the Android Market? Really?

Goodbye iPhone 3Gs, Hello Nexus One

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I have really enjoyed my iPhone and mobile Safari but AT&T and Apple will not unlock an iPhone for any reason. I am moving to Ghana and there is no way that I will be roaming with an AT&T international plan. It seems that iPhones are not yet sold in Ghana so I would have to try to buy an unlocked one in Amsterdam in transit or buy something in Ghana.

I couldn’t resist the new Google Nexus One. It was almost tailor-made for solving my problem. MTN in Ghana has 900MHz UMTS, which is supported by the Nexus One. And, of course, the Nexus One is sold unlocked.

Initial key selling points:

  • Unlocked
  • Can be tethered (via rooting or PDANet)
  • Integration with Google Apps
  • Multitasking
  • Not tied to iTunes or any other desktop software

Android is a Java-like VM called Dalvik which runs on top of a core Linux OS and some C libraries like WebKit and SQLite. I was definitely concerned that the phone would be sluggish or klunky. It is neither. It is fast and it is slick.

My initial impression is that this phone has everything that I loved about the iPhone and either has built-in or add-on fixes for all the things that annoyed me.

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Initial observations:

  • Phone “activation” is dead simple. You sign in with a Google Apps, regular Google or Exchange account (or a combo) and you’re done.
  • This thing seems faster than the iPhone 3Gs.
  • WiFi performance is great and Edge (I’m still on AT&T) seems the same as the “3G” (which often falls back to Edge) performance I have been getting in my little slice of Washington, DC.
  • The Voice app is like Visual Voicemail on steroids. Yeah, sometimes the transcripts are bad but then you fall back to the same behavior as Visual Voicemail. Incidentally, you don’t need a Google number for Voice to work. It sets itself up with your carrier to replace the voicemail system provided by your carrier and you can turn it off if you want to go back.
  • Gadgets are a cool way to embed applications like calendar, weather and news and search right in your home screens.
  • The Google Market store for apps is well done and it’s a nice touch that there is an Amazon music store app.
  • Listen is fantastic at pulling down podcasts over the air and caching them. It also can pull them down in real time and I can still surf the web at the same time. On iPhone this wasn’t possible because the media streaming component of Safari is modal. You can’t do anything else with Safari unless you kill the stream.
  • I love that the alarm clock has a cock crowing ringtone.

I have been seeing more and more Droid phones popping up around town. This feels like the future.

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