Going, Going...Back, Back..to Cali, Cali..

Am I Doing It Wrong?

Almost 2 years ago, I decided to leave San Francisco and return to my home state of Texas to pursue a new job with a small indie game developer known as Edge of Reality. Not to sound cliche, because I hate cliches, but since it's late, and I have a shit ton more packing to do, I'll put it bluntly:  I had no idea what to expect when I left SF. I was taking on a position that was slightly outside my comfort zone, and leaving a city where I had established a great group of friends that I knew I would miss. Then again, all things happen for a reason, right?

Here's what I've experienced in the last 620 days or so:

I've experienced the joy of starting a new job. I've gotten to re-familiarize myself with a city (Austin) I've loved my entire life. I've rediscovered a place that has undergone a huge transformation in my 7 year absence while still maintaining its original soul and charm. I've experienced happiness like you wouldn't believe, and heartbreak so agonizing that there wasn't enough scotch on this planet to ease my pain. I learned to wake-surf off the back of a boat. I learned to adapt to Texas' brutal summers. I learned to drive again....for the first time in 4 years. I learned what it takes to be a strong & effective leader. I learned new skills and sharpened existing ones. And learned to put myself first, over my job.....

But most importantly, I progressed as a human being. I learned much more about the industry that I have devoted myself to for the last decade. I helped launch a new PC title. I met wonderful, new friends & colleagues. I established a broader network of contacts, friends, associates, and co-workers that I feel blessed to have made. 

And that is what I've always set out to accomplish: To wake up tomorrow a better man than I was the day before. To excel and move forward. And as strange and contradicting as it sounds, I am moving forward once again.....by moving BACK  to San Francisco. 

I mainly write for myself, so I will spare myself the details, but I was given a unique opportunity to be a part of something that I feel will be very special. A rebirth, if you will, back into games media, where I believe I can help grow and improve on an already established brand and help bring it to the forefront of games entertainment and online pubications.  

It was not an easy decision, by any means. I'm leaving behind my family, my friends, both old & new, and a great group of colleagues that I've come to cherish while working For Edge of Reality for the past 20 months. But I had to make a choice, and go with my gut. I wanted to take on this challenge. I wanted to succeed. I wanted to lead. And this was my opportunity. 

Logo-CBS-Interactive.png

So, now that the sappy stuff is outta the way, time to get real: I start my new job over at CBS Interactive in less than a week. I will first venture off to PAX Prime in Seattle where I will be exhibiting with Edge of Reality and hopefully showing off Loadout to thousands of new fans at the Indie Mega Booth, and then I will start a new adventure back in SF with CBSi by helping them grow and improve.

I'm excited to be a part of CBSi family, and I look forward to making new content with my new colleagues. I am no doubt lucky to have this opportunity, but I know I've earned it. I will continue to work on my personal projects with Chris Ostertag and Videograndpa, among many other endeavors, but I look forward to turning over a new leaf, and starting something new. 

Fuck.....another cliche. 

See you online...

T. 

 

29 Days With Android - Day 29: It's Really Day 32

 

29 (32) days ago, I set out to determine if Google's Android was a better mobile operating than Apple’s iOS.  I did this for me and for me alone. I have no quarrel with Apple, and I have no beef with Google. This decision basically boils down to what mobile OS better suits my needs;  with one small caveat:  cellular freedom.

I do my best not to preach, nor bore my friends & family with the mounds of useless information, but very few things bother more than the lack of cellular freedom customers have in this country (USA). I hate it. If I purchase a smartphone at its full retail price, I should be able to activate that device on any carrier I wish. However, here in the United States I do not have that luxury. Due to a lack of standards, phone contracts, two competing cellular technologies (CDAM & GSM), and greed, it is very difficult for U.S. customers to purchase a truly unlocked and unbranded smartphone that will work on 1 of our 4 major mobile carriers.

Yes, there are options; and hacks, and jailbreaks, etc. But none of these are easy solutions. This is exactly why I returned my HTC One X. I grew tired of the AT&T branding; the 2-year contracts; the outrageous unsubsidized prices; the lack of support; and the unwillingness to release a new version of Android once it becomes available. Nevermind the fact my One X broke twice while I was giving it a test drive. When Google releases Jelly Bean 4.1, move your ass, and push out the update to your loyal customers. (HTC & AT&T – I am talking to you).

 

So a simple question remains: Where do I go next? The answers: The Nexus 4; The iPhone 5; or the Lumia 920?  I still feel the need to experience Android the way it was meant to be; I need a TRUE GOOGLE experience. No bloatware. No contracts. No branding. No bullshit. Stock Android with timely updates and a decent ecosystem. And at $300 U.S. dollars for an unlocked phone, I can forgive Google and LG for omitting LTE. I will miss LTE. It was blazing fast. However, HSPA+ is still better than EDGE, and with a true world phone that I can take anywhere, I felt compelled to give it a shot. There are several pre-paid local GSM carriers here in Austin, and I plan to try them all. I plan to try AT&T. I plan to experiment and have fun.

I absolutely loved the Google integration in Android. I think it’s what ultimately won me over. The apps are plentiful, the OS is sturdy, the phone is a beast. I still may end up on iOS, but I find myself moving further & further away from Apple. It’s nothing personal, I simply find myself gravitating towards an operating system that again, better suits my needs. I love Google, so Android seems like the obvious choice.

 

Windows Phone 8 still has a very limited app marketplace and the lack of a true notification center bothers me. iOS & The iPhone 5 would be the easy choice, but I am sick of renewing my contract with AT&T, and an unlocked iPhone 5 is about the same price as a ‘94 Toyota Camry. (Laugh if you want, but the Camry is a reliable automobile).  I'm still tempted to pick one up once prices fall back to normal, but since the  iPhone 5 is STILL sold out everywhere, even if I wanted one I’d still be up shit creek.

So, this leads me to the Nexus 4. The phone looks amazing. And like my women, I still want to hold one before I try it out, but the initial previews have me drooling over a powerful smartphone with wireless charging, a sleek design and amazing specs. The lack of LTE is disappointing, however I still feel compelled to give the Nexus 4 a chance. I definitely see the drawbacks of not having a device with the latest cellular technology, especially since it’s a common complaint iPhone detractors have been spouting off for years. However, sacrificing LTE for a smartphone that has no carrier bullshit welded to it OS is a worthy trade.

 

Will I stick it out? Who knows? Maybe Apple will wow me once more, and maybe I’ll come back like the prodigal son. But I hear Android calling, and it’s time to see what Jelly Bean 4.2 is all about. November 13th can’t get here soon enough.

Cheers.

T.

 

*As a simple side note, I had 29 days to use the HTC One X before my AT&T return period expired. Hence, the title of the blog series. 

29 Days With Android: Day 15 - Half Way There...

[singlepic id=62 w=520 h=360 float=center] (Twas a rough week for me and Android.....)

 

So perhaps I was setting myself up for disappointment, however I never expected it to happen so soon: HTC Sense is pissing me off. At least that’s where I THINK the issue lies. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and give the HTC One X the boot, but I am finding it incredibly difficult to put my faith behind Android when there are so many skinned versions of the OS on so many different handsets. Regardless, let’s get down to what everyone cares about: how my second week with Android is faring, and will I be able to make it 2 more weeks before pulling out my hair.

THE RUNDOWN:

I reached some important milestones this week as this marked the first time I traveled outside of Austin with the HTC One X. I was interested to see how my phone would perform while traveling, and while walking about the city of San Francisco. Having lived in the Bay Area for over 6 years, I definitely understand the importance of having a phone that can last on a full charge all day long, while supplying me with key functions and features that one would expect from a smartphone: Music, maps, directions, texting, phone calls, and photos. I also wanted to see if there were any limitations to using the One X at the airport and while flying. The results varied.

baybridge

The Good:

Starting my day on a full charge, I hit up Austin Bergstrom International Airport and immediately experienced some great advantages to using an Android smartphone. As a longtime customer of AT&T, my disdain for the company has slowly grown over the last 4 years to the point where I am starting to think the cell carrier couldn’t give two shits about their customers or install base. Whereas I still have my unlimited data plan on AT&T’s fast LTE network, I still can’t enjoy the benefits of tethering my device to my MacBook Air or using my HTC One X as a mobile hotspot.

Since the free WiFi in Austin’s airport is about as fast as fat kid rushing to hit the gym, the ability to use my phone’s LTE antenna to email and browse the web would have been ideal. However, since I refuse to pay AT&T the extra $20 per month to tether my phone, I downloaded the FoxFi App instead, which gives me this feature for free, and throws the proverbial “FUCK YOU” into the face of AT&T. Definitely a plus for Android owners, which DOES NOT require you to root your device. I had a similar app on my jailbroken iPhone 4 that I purchased through Cydia, but that app cost me $20, and of course, required me to jailbreak my phone. Being able to do this on Android for free, without the headache of rooting was a definite plus.

Speeds through the mobile hotspot were much faster than the airport’s free WiFi, and my overall browsing experience was generally a positive one. I had downloaded some podcasts on my HTC One X to help speed me along the 3.5 hour flight to San Francisco, but ironically, I hardly used the One X while flying. I browsed through some cached music on Spotify, and read a few articles I saved via Google Chrome to Phone,  but I spent most my time reading Steve Job’s autobiography on my iPad. Go figure. However, it was nice to know getting music on and off my device was a breeze, and I could definitely see myself dumping a large portion of my music library on the HTC One X + when it releases later this year. I also have to mention the great picture quality of the HTC One X, and the way images look on it's gorgeous 4.7 inch display. Very sharp, and photo-like.

nexus

The Bad:

However, once I landed in SF, and began using my phone in the city, things took a turn for the worse.

The key complaint I keep coming back to when using the HTC One X is the battery. At 1800 milliamp hours, I feel the battery is insufficient for someone who needs to use the One X for an entire day without the ability to recharge. Since there is no replaceable battery in the device, I find myself shit out of luck when my phone starts dying. And trust me, after walking around San Francisco for hours, taking pictures, surfing the web, and navigating my way around numerous protests and farmers markets, the One X is quick to show off its weaknesses. This isn’t really a knock against Android, but rather on the hardware itself.

In fact, my problem isn’t really with Android at all. It’s with HTC Sense, and how it manages applications, power, and performance. My girlfriend has a Galaxy Nexus, and not once did her phone slow down, stall, or lock up over the weekend. The HTC One X, however, decided it would have random moments of network hiccups, and missing SIM card warnings all throughout my stint in the Bay Area. On several occasions I had to restart the device just get make a phone call or send a text message. I found these issues painfully frustrating, especially since I find Android to be a very useful and robust operating system.

nosimcard

I think the One X is a solid device. I just wish it came without HTC Sense, but rather with a true vanilla version of Android. I could conjecture that a new Jelly Bean 4.1 update or the new One X+ would resolve the issues mentioned above, but it’s not certain. Sense simply seems to bog down the phones performance. Even after I installed Nova Launcher to help give me the illusion of a true Android experience, HTC Sense’s presence was never entirely absent. Like a bad case of herpes, you know it’s there.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on Sense. And perhaps I should use these final two weeks to research solutions to my problems, and tweak some settings that may increase battery life. But working this hard to get my phone to behave the way I want it is not my idea of fun. Part of the appeal to Apple’s iPhone is that it’s easy to use and “customize”. (I use that last term loosely). Still, I haven’t been able to root the HTC One X, nor install Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, so my hope is that in the coming weeks, I’ll truly be able to experience what the One X has to offer once an update is available. (Or a ROM, whatever comes first). Regardless, I am beginning to understand the benefits of purchasing a Nexus device. No bullshit artificial skin, no bloatware. I pray Google is able to resolve these issues, and do away with things like TouchWiz and Sense. I know companies like Samsung, and HTC will stubbornly express their disapproval of a stock Android experience on their hardware, but if OEMs truly care about the customer experience, they will do away with front end touch interfaces.

Nevertheless, I am on to week 3. Wish me luck....

29 Days With Android: Day 8 - My First Week With ICS

[singlepic id=57 w=520 h=391 float=center]  

Week 1 in the bag and I won’t lie: even I didn't think I’d make it this far along on the Android platform. I’ve been a Mac guy for so long now, the very thought of switching to anything else terrifies me. But, something interesting happened: I slowed down. I gathered my thoughts. And I dissected them one by one. Why did I initially want the iPhone 5? Why did I initially want the Retina Macbook Pro? Why is Alessandra Ambrosio so fucking hot? All 3 have the same answer: They are sexy devices.

But did I really need them? (Alessandra aside). I wrote a blog post earlier this year about Apple’s brilliant marketing tactics. No company on this planet makes you feel the NEED to buy their products better than Apple. And if you need further proof of just how talented Steve Jobs was at selling “his” gadgets, check out the video below:

Perhaps Apple needs to find new words to describe their products, but you have to admit, Apple has perfected the art of giving keynotes. Whether that’s because they pack the room full of fanboys & Apple employees, or simply make quality shit, no one can deny the buzz that centers around the unveiling of a new Apple product. Many companies have tried to replicate Apple’s success and most, if not all them, have failed.

Fast-forward to today, and I’m starting to feel differently than I did 4 years ago when I purchased my first iPhone. Yes, I  most definitely would have purchased the iPhone 5 had it been readily available for me to buy on launch day. However, I was late to the party when attempting to pre-order the device online, giving me 3-4 weeks to mull over my decision. This was the exact same way I felt before purchasing Apple’s new Retina Display Macbook Pro. Was I really about to drop $3k dollars on a laptop?  After thinking it over for 2 weeks, I finally came to my senses, and spent $1600 on a new, custom built PC with a gorgeous 24 inch monitor, which spec wise, beats the shit out of the three-thousand dollar laptop I was about to purchase from Apple.

Don’t confuse me for a hater. I think the new Retina Display MacBook Pro is gorgeous, and incredibly powerful, but you have to admit, the price is a little ridiculous. So while waiting for my iPhone 5 to ship (3-4 weeks), I had time to examine what the iPhone 5 really was: Just a new iPhone. Yes, it had LTE, a bigger screen, a faster processor,  sexy looks, and a stellar camera.  And YES, this could be the phone I ultimately end up with, but it wasn’t anything we haven’t already seen on older Android devices. It wasn’t revolutionary. Nor did I expect it to be. Perhaps we have hit that point where smartphones will simply evolve through various iterations  instead of revolutionize. Regardless, it was time to give Android a shot. So I cancelled my iPhone 5 pre-order, and got myself the HTC One X.

After a full week with the device, I wanted to break this update  into two sections: Hardware and software, and how I’ve adapted to both.

 

[singlepic id=54 w=520 h=391 float=center]

 

The Hardware:

I really do like the HTC One X. As I’ve previously stated, the extra screen real estate is fantastic. Using applications like Facebook, Twitter, and Flipboard are a breeze on the One X,  and it truly makes for an overall better experience when compared to my old iPhone 4. (Especially using Flipboard) Infact, I find myself using my iPad much less now that I have a cell phone with a 4.7 inch display. Reading web articles through Google Reader and Chrome is much easier, and I’m finally using my cell phone for something I would often reserve specifically for my iPad: watching video. I never watched a ton of video on my iPhone 4 because I felt the screen was too small. Not a problem on the One X.

Though the larger screen size is nice, I find the HTC One X challenging to use with only one hand. This wasn’t a giant turn-off for me simply because my fingers are short and fat, making texting with one hand nearly impossible on ANY device. But, whether I’m surfing the web or exiting out of applications, I almost always have to use two hands to operate the One X because my fingers cannot reach certain areas of the phone, depending on how I am holding it. This wasn't a problem on  my old phone, however I also used two hands to text and run other applications when using my iPhone 4, thus using two hands isn't necessarily a deal breaker for me.

In terms of the phone’s design, and feel, the HTC One X is a solidly built device that easily fits into my pocket and is easy to hold. Though substantially larger than my iPhone 4, I don’t really notice the difference while carrying the One X as I go throughout my daily routine. My only true gripe is that it renders all of my old iPhone 4 accessories useless. Then again, so would the iPhone 5.

Finally, to sum up hardware, I have to talk about LTE and screen size, and how it affects battery life. Since the HTC One X sports a sharp 4.7 inch display with blazing fast LTE, my cell phone usage has dramatically increased. I watch more video, send more tweets, update Facebook more often, surf the web, read articles, listen to Pandora, Spotify, podcasts, etc.  This kills my battery life. I have to constantly be aware of how often I am using my phone, and for what purpose or I could find myself with a dead battery around the middle of the afternoon. This isn’t to say my usage or battery life on other devices would be dramatically better, however at 1800 milliamp hours, the One X’s irreplaceable battery is smaller than many of its competitors.

 

The Software:

[singlepic id=52 w=520 h=340 float=center]

 

Let me get this out of the way first: I do not like HTC Sense. I do not like any GUI layover on Android. Bloatware is bad enough, but HTC Sense seems to negatively affect the One X’s performance. I am starting to think to get the best Android experience, I have but two options: Root my phone, and install a true vanilla-version of Android OS, or purchase a Nexus device. The Galaxy Nexus is not available on AT&T with LTE, and the new Nexus phone has yet to be announced (although rumors suggest several new Nexus devices will be launching later this year). I just don’t understand why OEM’s insist on embedding their own GUI skins on top of Android. It often bogs down the phone, and usually prolongs the time it takes to receive OTA updates when a new version of Android releases. It’s the one thing I loved about the iPhone: No horrendous bloatware, and immediate updates to iOS when a new version is released.

I attempted to root my phone and install Jelly Bean (Android 4.1), however since my phone was manufactured quite recently, there was still no unlock available for me at the time this article was written. Perhaps that will change shortly, but even if I successfully root my device, and install a base version of Android, many HTC One X users have reported that certain features on the phone stop working as a result of stripping Sense from the OS. Mainly the video camera.

This does not mean I hate Android. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Android has evolved into a great mobile platform, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my new operating system. Here is the best way I can describe my switch from iOS to Android: It’s like breaking up with a beautiful girl you’ve been dating for years after things got bland and boring. You immediately run out and  find someone new who is also attractive, but way more exciting. She has new & unique features, is a total mystery, and definitely keeps things interesting.   The only problem is you’re not entirely sure if she’s exciting because she is NEW, or because she truly blows your mind. You constantly battle back & forth in your head if you should return to the woman who, despite the occasional hiccup, always treated you right, or if you should stick it out with this new broad who, although exciting, is a total enigma.

I don’t want this to equate to playing it safe versus living dangerously, because both iOS and Android are great operating systems. However, I feel with iOS, what you see is what you get, and with Android, it’s up to you to make it what you want it to be. Right now, I want to root my phone, and experience Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but I can’t. HTC claims OTA Jelly Bean updates are headed to the One X “soon”, but soon could mean 3 months from now. I only have 21 days.

However, even with HTC Sense holding my phone hostage, I did discover some great features in Android. The app market is not a ghost town like many Android haters would have you believe. In some instances, Google Play, and other app stores can offer you a wider variety of programs. There is no heavy curation centered around Android, which could be good or bad, depending on how you look at things, but so far, most of the apps I used on my iPhone 4 can also be found on Android.

 

[singlepic id=55 w=520 h=318 float=center]

 

And then there is SwiftKey, which has got to be the best keyboard application ever written. Writing emails and texting contacts on my HTC One X is leaps and bounds better than anything iOS has offered. The Google integration is fantastic, and I really enjoy playing around with widgets and other UI customizations.  Voice dictation is easily on par with iOS if not better, the Google Maps & Navigation app is amazing, and Android’s notification center gives me quick and easy access to everything from Airplane Mode to Bluetooth. I have yet to test the new Google Now and voice assistant features in Jelly Bean 4.1 but from what I've seen in various demos, it’s amazing.

 

WEEK 1 Conclusion:

I will continue to follow through with my month-long experiment using Android, and happily so. Do I miss iOS? Of course. Apple has a much better Phone App than Android, and the overall look and feel of iOS is much cleaner. The iPhone camera and app is also better than the One X equivalent  and I miss iMessaging hundreds of free text messages to my countless friends still using the iPhone. Still,  Android is growing on me. I just need to experience the OS the right way. My plan is to either root my phone, and install Android 4.1 ASAP, or possibly experiment with a new device, such as the Galaxy S3 or the Galaxy Nexus. (Although TouchWiz is arguably worse than HTC Sense). Google’s OS fragmentation has really turned me off, yet I know Google  is working hard to resolve these issues, and streamline the updating process. But for now I shall continue to explore what Android has to offer, so if you have any tips or pointers, please feel free to send them my way.

Till another day....

T.