Cell phone accessories II

I wrote a while ago about my experiences with cell phone accessories. The saga continues and after a long trip on the road using them, I have some more to say.

This week I took a trip to St. Louis and back for the FIRST Robotics World Championships. I went to support our team, The Warlocks Team 1507 and to volunteer my services as a robot inspector. Yes, I am a certified FIRST Robotics Robot Inspector, but that’s a story for another post.

I used my phone as my GPS navigation device on this trip as well. My Magellan would have done the job fine, but after a couple of years, the data could be out of date. Google Maps usually doesn’t have that problem.

So I stuck the arm and holder to the windshield with the suction cup and after a couple tries got it to stick. It stayed the entire trip once it stayed up. It’s still there…

The cigarette lighter cord supplying power, I ran it non-stop. It actually worked very well. There were times I dropped out of the NAV part to use some other part of the phone (Don’t tell anyone, I tweeted to the team’s Twitter hashtag a couple of times and even checked in on Foursquare at a couple of interesting places. I don’t know if anyone followed my Glympse post, or if it worked, I can’t seem to figure if there is a way to replay it after the fact.)

I had two Bluetooth headsets – earpieces, actually. I found my missing BlueAnt T1 in a jacket pocket. It’s the first one I had and really like it. I’m glad I found it. I also had a Jawbone model. They don’t make it anymore and I can’t find the information on their website, but it was called the Prime. It’s bigger than the Icon, which I also have.

Here’s the deal on the bluetooth earpieces.

I really like the BlueAnt T1. The battery life is great and lasts all day. It charges with the same connector the phone uses, a micro-USB. It is noise-cancelling, something I haven’t tested or have a strong opinion on. The only downside is it just isn’t secure. I am afraid to wear it without the little ear-hook because it spontaneously pops out for my ear and would go flying if not for the hook.

None of the ear cushions that come with bluetooth earpieces are any good. I don’t know why they can’t engineer a simple thing like that, but they all come with multiple sizes and shapes of interchangeable rubbery things that just don’t work.

Well, it’s not easy to come up with something that fits everyone and is secure in a greasy, slippery place like your ear canal, you might say. But someone has done just that. The Umbo Earbud is exactly that. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution that sticks in your ear comfortably and securrely and is cheap. Less than a pack of replacement from the manufacturer of the earpiece, in fact. I love them.

Unfortunately, the Umbo doesn’t fit the T1, so I have to stick with the ear hook and the one size pad I still have left.

The Jawbone models do work with the Umbo Earbud. I can wear the Prime, which is a larger unit with the Umbo and it stays in my ear and I can forget about it. It worked great with the Icon, which is smaller, even better. Unfortunately, the Icon went through the wash and no longer functions…

The Jawbone Prime is a simple earpiece. Stupid, in fact. It was a chore to get to connect up with the phone, requiring several attempts. (The BlueAnt would be about the same procedure, but they have a little smartphone app that does it for you in a jiffy.) Once linked up – paired is the official term – it works fine. In fact, it just works, and works and works. No worries. But where the BlueAnt talked to you and took voice commands (“Call from Joe. Accept or Decline”) the Jawbone has only one button, a smooth surface that you have to feel for a crease in the plastic and press to operate. It is used for everything, from power on/off to answer/hang up, etc. Everything else is done on the phone. The is, technically a second button, similarily hard-to-find that supposedly turns on/off the noise cancelling feature. Why would you want it off?

Battery life is similarly good, lasting longer than I never needed. The Prime has an odd charging connection, though. It uses a little cup-shaped piece of plastic that the end of the earpiece fits snugly into assisted by two little magnets. It works, but if I ever lost the cable, I’d be screwed. The other end is the standard USB A connector and can plug into your laptop, or one of those cigarette lighter-to-USB things. Or the AC adapter that comes with it.

The Icon was similar, but used the standard micro-USB end for charging. It was also noise cancelling and if I recall, was a little smarter in it’s communication with the phone. But it’s dead now, so I can’t remember for sure. I liked it, though. It was right-sized and with the Umbo earbud, a nice package. So nice, I stuck it in the fifth pocket on a pair of jeans and washed them…

Another odd thing I found out. The BlueAnt played the voice from the Navigation through itself. The Prime didn’t. That was kind of odd to me. Why wouldn’t the Prime do the same thing? I know, it’s different parts of the Bluetooth standards, but why on earth would they not incorporate that into the Prime? Sure, it’s a crappy way to listen to music, but for the nav, why not?

Voice navigation in the car annoys the hell out of me, and I always turn it off, but oddly, when it’s private, in my ear only, I don’t find it so. I actually like it.

My phone itself, a Verizon HTC Incredible that’s a few years old now, also gave me it’s share of annoyance. For some time now, it’s been showing an error message that claims it is low on memory. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you how to fix the problem. Or even what type of memory it is low on. I switched to a larger memory stick thinking I could move things out of the phone. It didn’t matter. I cleared caches on programs I wasn’t using. I uninstalled programs. I looked at what programs used the most memory. Nothing helped and nothing online told me a thing other than lots of other people were having the same problem. Eventually, it started crashing and shutting down in the middle of some programs.

It also kept advising me there was a system update. (Great, maybe it will fix the mystery memory problem.) It would pop up a message saying it would install it and I’d have let the phone reboot. I has three choices, Yes, install it, Install it later, or More information. No way to decline it.

I installed it and waited for the reboot. It promised one, but nothing happened. I rebooted manually myself. It came back and told me there was a update available. (Another one, or the same one?) If I declined to install it, (Later option) it nagged every hour or so.

This endless cycle of promising an update that never rebooted to finish it’s installation was also unacceptable. More online inquiries also turned up nothing but lots of other complaints about it.

Since plenty of people were unhappy with the support from Verizon on this matter and the lack of any fix for it, I turned to my Android expert, my son. He advised the way to go was to “root” the phone, get out from under Verizon’s shadow and use the open source Android software. After this trip I handed him the phone and in a couple hours he handed me back a new phone. Well, that’s what it felt like. He got it all fixed up and updated with some magic that I don’t want to spend the time to learn. It involved downgrading the firmware to an older version before rooting it, then installing the latest Android version over that. There is probably much more to it, but he’s the expert and did it like it was nothing.

As I said, it’s like a new phone. It’s a clean slate and I have to go through it and reinstall everything I want on it, re-set-up a lot of those programs with accounts. I have to find the backup of my address book and import that. Right now I have about six people. But it’s working great so far and no nagging messages.

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