Since navigation on my S3 stopped working a while ago, I got the G3 in August to tie me over, as I was going on  a hiking trip in Korea. The Note4 was released the day after I returned to the States, and I did a deferred JUMP for the “upgrade”. It is time I return the G3, and I’ve never been so sad about having to return a mobile device.

My biggest consideration in this round of phone purchase was the device’s suitability for me, stock. I’m not a power user, I’m not picky about lag and stutter. I just didn’t want to go through the trouble of rooting and then manually updating the device every time an update is released.

As I use traditional Hong Kong Chinese (as opposed to traditional Taiwan or simplified) to communicate with my family and friends daily, the availability of the right IME is always the first thing I check on a device. I prefer stock keyboard to third-party keyboards. Out of the box, the G3 offers region-specific Chinese, while the Note4 appears to have all Chinese lumped together.1 Either is good enough for me, but I would be a slower typist on the Note4.2

I’ve been using the Note4 for two weeks, I utilize it more than I did the G3.3 I did not touch QuickMemo on the G3 at all, but I use S Note with the stylus rather frequently (the slightly bigger screen doesn’t hurt); multi-window is helpful when it works.

Nevertheless, I find myself missing the simpler and more customizable UI on the G3. The notification panel on the Note4 alone is enough to drive me nuts.4 The Quick Circle on the G3 can be helpful, whereas S View is just disappointing.

I’ve also run into annoying problems on both devices that may be atypical. On the G3, Chrome would randomly stop responding. The easy solution to this was to reboot the phone, but that means rebooting the device several times on some days, which got old quickly. On the Note4, TouchWiz stops working throughout the day. I haven’t managed to narrow down the apps or widgets that might crash it,5 resetting the device didn’t remedy the problem. It is irritating.

I like the Note4, but it is not worth $150 more to me. I would return it if I could simply unJUMP and keep the G3 in my possession. However, I must send in the G3, and I don’t feel like setting up another device. So, going with the flow of the universe, I’ll be keeping the Note4, though I’m sad to bid farewell to the G3.

 

  1. Samsung has separate traditional Chinese IMEs for Hong Kong and Taiwan respectively; other region-specific IMEs are available to users everywhere Samsung smartphones are sold. Making all region-specific IMEs downloadable seems much more reasonable to me than limiting users to only those preinstalled on the devices.
  2. It turns out neither stock keyboard is good enough for me. I ended up using a third-party keyboard.
  3. It may be unfair to compare the devices. I do not consider G3 a phablet, therefore I do not believe it is made to address the same user needs as the Note4 is.
  4. I feel the Note4 should offer at least the same level of customization as the G3. Everywhere.
  5. It is possible every downloaded app I use crashes it.
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I am a frequent Expedia user. I don’t love it – I think it has much room for improvement – but I often book my travel through it because 1) I get cash back on my credit card for shopping with Expedia, and 2) earning many points at one place is far more useful to me than having a few points each with this airline, that hotel chain, and the other car rental company.

I like the concept of TripAssist, Expedia’s iPhone app. The real-time flight status updates via SMS, easy access to itineraries, and mobile-optimized environment where I can shop and book travel even when I am riding the bus are all very useful features to me. But I don’t have an iPhone, so I don’t have an iPhone.

I have been eagerly awaiting an Android version of TripAssist. When Expedia released its first Android app on May 10, I was among the first to download it. Between then and now, I have booked two trips through Expedia. Regrettably, neither of them was booked using the app.

The app is called Expedia Hotels, so all it does is let users shop for and book hotels. Since I almost always fly to my destinations, I have to book my flights on the Expedia website anyway. I have no reason to turn to the app for hotel reservations. Using the app to shop for a Portland hotel for when my parents visit next month, I noticed it did not allow me to make reservations for more than four adults. Unlike the website, it also did not allow me to narrow down to specific areas in Portland and star ratings. The other thing that really bothers me is that I cannot access TripAdvisor reviews from the app. Lastly, the app does not seem to sync with my Expedia account. I cannot be sure, because I have not followed through with the app, but I’d rather not risk it.

However, just because the app is no good for me doesn’t mean it is no good at all. Other than the petty complaints above, the app actually does quite well what it says it does. It is very straightforward. It finds my location almost immediately and displays hotels nearby. Many road warriors who travel extensively by car don’t arrange for lodging ahead of time, they stop whenever they are tired, and I imagine they could find the app useful.

Expedia Hotels is an excellent start. I’m looking forward to new features. But TripAssist it is not. Uninstalled.

YESSS!!!

While browsing the Amazon Appstore, I came across a limited-time offer for the Super WHY! new Android app for $0.99. Super WHY! is a show on PBS Kids that helps little kids understand phonics. While I think the show does a good job teaching children to be compassionate – for example, in one episode, the characters cheered for Humpty Dumpty so that he could come down from the wall on a slide – I don’t appreciate the way the show dismantles classic stories by converting perceived bads to perceived goods. I believe there is value in exposing children to the darker things in the real world.

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The four mini-games in the app featuring the show’s characters are designed to train players in the areas of alphabet recognition, spelling, rhyming, and reading comprehension. The graphics are adorable and inviting, and the controls are straight-forward and intuitive. Players either tap on the screen to make a selection, or they follow the animation to learn to write. With each successful game, players are rewarded a “sticker” for their virtual sticker book, which they can “stick” on a variety of backgrounds to create amusing scenes, especially when the goat is involved.

In addition to being an educational tool for literacy skills, the app is a fun continuation of and complement to the show. The material is taken directly from the show so the app serves as a refresher. In particular, the reading comprehension mini-game refers to stories told in the show, so children must watch the show in order to win and earn stickers. What a great way to keep a young audience interested and engaged!

The app did not keep my attention for long. But for the short time that I played the games, I enjoyed the mini adrenaline rushes that came with the reassurance that I am smarter than a preschooler!

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Velux

What is the call-to-action of this ad? Doing Kung Fu on your bed!?

I thought the code looked simple. But being the mobile enthusiast that I am, without thinking twice, I pulled out my phone to scan the code.

The reader could not recognize the code. I looked closer, and it said “Use this augmented reality code at dramaheights.com”.Velux2

 

 

 

I fired up the website on my phone and found that it was not at all optimized for mobile. It was written in Flash, and the site took forever to load. When it finally finished loading, I could not tell what was on it because the images were way too big for my phone screen. Worse yet, the site completely ignored my scrolling, so I could not even tell what the deal was with this AR campaign.

Taking the hint and moving on would have saved me the embarrassment. But no, I assumed the marketers at VELUX did not know what they were doing, and went through the exercise again on my laptop.

It turned out this was not a mobile campaign! I was supposed to scan the AR code with a webcam! To VELUX’s credit, it did not say “Use your smartphone to scan the augmented reality code”. But in this day and age, I could hardly be blamed for mistaking the cryptic black and white box for a tag that my phone can understand. (Or could I?)

To participate, you hold the ad in front of the webcam, and tilt it left and right to see a 3D scene at different angles. Like this:

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Huh!?

There was no practical purpose to this ad, and it was a stretch to call it augmented reality. The ad merely served as a joystick of sorts to rotate the 3D scene – and an ineffective one at that. No reality was being augmented here. VELUX would have been better off using the ad to unlock the scene, and then let me move around with the mouse or keyboard.

The anticipation was where the excitement ended. I thought about how much the ad must have cost VELUX as well as how much the company  must mark up its products to afford such a campaign AND turn a profit, and the disappointment was enough for me to dismiss the brand.

It is clear that VELUX has a team of silly marketers. But it appears MCDM has one, too. It serves me right for shooting my tag reader at every ad I see before reading the fine print.

Westlake Center

As a mall, I think the Westlake Center is pretty lame. If my comfort food were not served in the food court, I would have no business there. When I went there on Sunday, I came across an ad for the Westlake Center mobile app. I thought to myself, what does a lame mall like Westlake need with an app? I also thought, instead of building its own app, Westlake should have partnered with Point Inside and saved some money.

I texted ”App” to 50304 and received a response that linked me to a WAP page for more information and the app. As it turns out, the app was developed by General Growth Properties, the management company of Westlake. It covers all the malls in the US that are also managed by this company.

Downloading and installing the app was easy enough. When I fired it up, it did not know my location, so I attempted to look for Westlake using the search function, except it didn’t respond at all.

I then located Westlake by zooming in on the map. Once I had chosen the mall, the app asked me if I want to receive email notifications. It did not disclose what information it would be sending me. So, as a rule, I declined the offer.

The app shows six categories:

  1. In-store sales;
  2. Where to find food;
  3. Events at Westlake;
  4. Mall directory;
  5. About the Westlake Center (address and hours, etc.);
  6. Mall Map.

General Growth Properties did partner with Point Inside for the mall map, which piqued my interest in a side-by-side comparison of the two mall apps. The GGP app shall henceforth be referred to as “The Club”.

Both apps display the same in-store sales and mall events. The information on the mall itself is also comparable. But Point Inside does not carry the mall directory or a directory of the food vendors, either one of which is more important to me than the mall map.

One thing that really annoys me about The Club is that it asks if I want to receive email notifications every time I start the app or switch mall. I have a feeling that it won’t stop until I say yes or indicate that I am already a member. How hard is it to design an app that remembers the user’s one preference? Surely some people may want to know what is happening at the Westlake Center but not the Alderwood Mall. A better way to handle this is to give users a choice to opt in to all email notifications, notifications only about their preferred malls, or no notifications at all.

If you’re absentminded like me, you panic when you’re done shopping because you have no recollection of where you parked. Point Inside has a Car Finder feature, which is a nifty tool that leads you back to your car if and when it works. It disappointed me when I needed its assistance in Portland on March 6.

I don’t actually have any use for a mall app. But if I must choose between The Club and Point Inside, I’d pick the latter simply because I cannot be bothered to hunt down the management company or an app for every mall I visit. Keep in mind The Club is only good for malls that are managed by General Growth Properties, while Point Inside has information on malls and airports across North America as well as over 30 airports internationally.

At the end of the day, this is more of a turtle race than a deathmatch. Both apps are rough around the edges, and neither is exciting enough to make up for its shortcomings.

Over one billion people on the planet have no access to clean water.

This year, Levi’s has partnered with Water.org to raise awareness of global water issues; and on March 22 – World Water Day – it launched an app that promotes its Water<Less jeans, which are manufactured with a new technique that uses less water.Levis

Levi’s plans to donate $250,000, or the equivalent of 200 million liters of water, to Water.org. Levi’s also says that I could “participate by  completing simple tasks that help [me and my friends] save water and earn liters.” All I had to do “to help bring clean drinking water to communities around the water” was scan the QR code! Now I had no idea what “WaterTank” meant. But when it comes to solving global crises, I am as enthusiastic as the next guy. Naturally I scanned the QR code without thinking twice.

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AND…I regretted my enthusiasm as soon as I scanned the QR. “Log in to earn your WaterTank Liters!” Again, what is WaterTank? How would I earn water by logging in? What would I be getting myself into by logging in with my Facebook credentials? Being the cautious person that I am, the lack of any useful information on the landing page was enough to steer me away.

I later located the Water<Less Facebook tab and watched the video that was supposed to explain what WaterTank is. WaterTank is a game. Participants complete simple “water-saving” challenges like pledging to conserve and helping Levi’s and Water.org spread the word. They can also track their impact and compete against their friends to see who can donate the most. It says in the video that “It’s simple! The more you do, the more you help.” It even showed on the tab that water unlocked was in the millions of liters! I desperately wanted to help further the cause. However, it remained unclear to me how I could contribute through playing the WaterTank game.

Upon further digging, I found an article on Ecouterre that clarified the mystery. Participants do not actually accomplish anything by playing WaterTank. The “liters unlocked” is essentially a meaningless number. The creator of WaterTank claimed that the campaign was one-third of the way to its 200 million-gallon goal only six days after its launch. While I appreciate the initiative, I doubt the stickiness of the pledges. The number is probably much lower in reality, and there is no way to track the result (number of gallons of water saved).

With over 50,000 page views and more than 20,000 challenges completed in its first 72 hours, WaterTank is undeniably a successful campaign. To me, however, it feels more like a shameless marketing scam that makes money on an important issue, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Read to Save

12/05/2010

Traveling to Seattle from Pennsylvania after Thanksgiving, I had a layover in Denver. In the Denver International Airport, there was an advertisement by FirstBank with three QR codes on it.

The codes take you to three webpages where you can download three classics: Emma by Jane Austen; Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau; and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

I pondered the relationship between reading and saving. It’s quite deep: If you’re home reading, then you’re not out spending money. Hmm…On second thought, maybe they just want you to save a few bucks at the airport bookstore.

Their links work, and this is FirstBank’s first attempt at mobile marketing, too. Judging by their other advertisements, I conclude that FirstBank has a team of marketers who may actually take their jobs seriously.

What can I say? If you have been reading my blog, you know how many QR codes are put out there – by people from watchmaker to computer manufacturer to the Captains of the QR Code galaxy – that do not work. I am not picky at this point.

Being a Seattlelite without a smartphone, I always feel a bit like a dinosaur. But when some passersby watched me curiously as I scanned the QR codes, I was reminded that the majority of the rest of the country does not care about having internet access at all times, much less smartphones, and QR codes.