Man vs. Technology – Part 1

Imagine driving an entire Windows desktop from your smartphone. That wasn’t my original intent when I was in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago looking to pick up the latest and greatest spec’d out smartphone on the market. But that is kind of where I had been trending towards as I’ve been looking to make much needed upgrades across all my aging hardware. Wanting everything to be small, powerful, interchangeable, and with customer replaceable parts.

I am pushing some antiquated technology these days that is sorely in need of a refresh. My quad-core Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit workstation with 5TB of storage is now in its 6th year. Same for my phone, and laptop.

I had been looking for another 10-12” laptop but everything out there with the specs I wanted were all in the $1500 range. Too damn much money for machines that you can’t do upgrades to. When I say that I mean the RAM, battery, and SDD/HDD.

My workstation is still doing a great job but it consumes a buttload of energy and I expect one of the three HDDs to fail at anytime. They are after all going on 6 years old.

I have really been shopping hard especially for a new phone because my phone has definitely reached EOL. So I’ve been doing my homework to find the best value proposition out there because I intend to squeeze several years of life out of the new phone just like I did its predecessor which has been a damn good phone – the original Google Nexus One – introduced in January 2010. I should note that I am only now replacing it because the internal memory (196MB) has been steadily being eaten up by the recently introduced ‘Google Play Services’; the service delivery piece of the latest generation(s) of the Android OS.

And I’ve come to loathe both Google and Android for reasons that really aren’t germane except to say that I bought a Windows 10 phone hoping/believing in the promises that Microsoft is going to do an operating system level set across all platforms from phones to tablets to desktops using this new version 10 flavor of their OS.

So the hardware on this new phone is nothing short of awesome. For one thing it has a giant, long lasting battery (3340 mAh) supported by the latest fast charge circuitry (including wireless) which supposedly will drive the device all day long (12 hours?) under heavy use.

And even best of all – the battery is replaceable (just like in my old Nexus One). Isn’t it about time phone manufacturers (and tablets and laptops makers) returned to a replace the component/module mindset rather than replace the whole bloody thing? A little consideration back towards the consumer would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway, the phone is the new Microsoft Lumia 950 XL – the flagship of the Windows 10 phones – and it’s got dual SIMs (no real big deal these days) but more importantly has expandable (and replaceable) storage. Yup. Tucked away along with the SIMs – hidden behind the battery – is also a slot for a microSD card. Yes. Replaceable battery and upgradeable storage. Just what I’ve been looking for.

You wonder why Google/Android and Apple haven’t released phones or tablets with upgradeable storage? Simply because they have a vested interest in selling you their cloud storage options. Yes, it’s true that Microsoft offers cloud storage too but it seems maybe they are desperate enough at this point – with only 3% market share in smartphones – to actually give consumers this desirable option in order to try and buy their way back into the game.

So my phone has got 3GB RAM, 32GB of internal storage, plus an additional 128GB ($50) carried on the microSD. If I had wanted to blow more dough I could have easily put a 256GB microSD ($150) or a 512GB ($400) microSD in it. Supposedly the phone will support up to 2TB, which is like, wow.

So why would anyone want that crazy amount of storage in a phone? Maybe it’s better to think of the 950 XL as a tiny computer that makes phone calls. After all it’s got a freaking 64-bit 2GHz octo-core processor (that’s 8 cores my friend).

How did Qualcomm get 8 cores into a 5.7” device you might ask without risking a Chernobyl style meltdown? How, is because the whole SoC is liquid cooled; which is also a very nice integrated design feature.

SoC – System on Chip – contains all the electronics in the device including the CPUs, the radios (WiFi, GSM, WCDMA, LTE) and the GPU. And I should mention that the GPU is so powerful it can drive – via an HDMI port on the 2” X 2” docking station – my 32” monitor at 1440 X 2560 pixels. And the docking station has 3 USB 3.0 ports where one can attach a keyboard and a mouse plus an additional memory device like a huge HDD. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? You are essentially driving an entire Windows desktop from your phone.

And so it sounds like I am pretty hot on technology? Well I am not, really. At least not right now. In the past couple of weeks I’ve suffered a couple of bitter disappointments that has made me back off of my pro-technology stance and re-evaluate the world of electronica and its relationship to me.

To begin with, Microsoft has a long way to go to fulfill its promises about making the Win 10 UI ubiquitous across all platforms. For instance, the Windows 10 running on my old laptop is a much (much) different OS than the Windows 10 that is running on my new phone. And that makes me very cranky.

Learning Windows 10 Mobile is almost like learning a new operating system. And I feel that detracts from the device’s value and instead adds to the total cost of ownership. The device almost works like a Windows 10 desktop but not quite. And with those idiosyncratic differences I feel like I purchased the bastard child of some drunken Android/Windows shackup.

Part of that discontinuity is a misunderstanding which is my fault. For example, take the applications. Why should I have expected that all Windows based programs would be available to run on my phone? I assumed Windows 10 was Windows 10 was Windows 10 and therefore the availability of applications would be the same. After all Microsoft baked Excel, Word, and the other Office apps into the phone’s ROM.

But I failed to think through the fact that the ARM architecture of the phone precluded a direct 1:1 with the Wintel desktop based X86 architecture. Okay that was my fault. But the feel of the Windows 10 OS – the UI – should be exactly the same on both my phone and on my laptop. And it isn’t. In fact, far from it. And Microsoft (through its updates) needs to address that problem because the gap at present is that huge.

Which brings me to another reason why I’ve got such a huge technology grouch on these days. Is it just me, or are most technology systems becoming not just less human friendly but also harder to use?

For example, the UI to the Windows 7 OS became pretty damn intuitive. The Control Panel feature was brilliant, easy to navigate, and made problem solving a breeze.
For some inexplicable reason, Microsoft with the release of Windows 10 (or maybe even version 8), did away with Control Panel and left us users a much more dumbed down Settings feature of management options. In Windows 7 the user knew where things like drivers were stored. And there were coherent device management options. But that’s all gone.

Windows 10 management features do not feel anywhere close to being as useful. And why is that? What’s with the retrograde? It makes ownership feel as friendless and the management feel as useless as well, Android. Which is why I am wanting to totally drop it. I don’t want to own something that I can’t troubleshoot and fix myself.

But I can’t drop Android because Windows 10 Mobile doesn’t present any credible user friendly alternative to apps like Groove IP which make internet phone calling so damned easy. So on trips I’ll be forced to carry my 7” Android tablet just in case I have to make a call to the US to straighten out something like a banking or credit card billing/access issue.

Which brings me to my next technology gripe, internet banking. Why oh why haven’t US banks developed their websites to the extent where we the customers no longer have to get customer assistance via their 800 numbers and shite awful CTI systems? ‘Please enter your 16 digit card number. Press 1 if you want your options in Spanish, press 2 if you want the main menu, press 3 if at any time during this session you feel like killing yourself.’

And then to heap misery on top of misery, the banks make it as difficult as possible to talk to an actual customer service rep. And for their information, no, you didn’t dial their 800 number, then go to through the agonizingly slow and painful process of plugging in your entire 16 digit card number just to swing in the wind while they monotonously play back your account summary. That’s one of the easy things that your online banking system actually gets right.

This is another reason why I love living in Mexico. Locally I pay cash for everything like transportation, food, and even my utilities, including gas, water, internet and mobile phone minutes. I don’t have any plans, service or otherwise. It’s pretty damn simple which is probably why it really gripes me when I have to deal with some indifferent banking or online retail entity based in the US.

Example. Four days ago I was attempting to make travel reservations online with Mexican airline companies for a trip down to the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas for me and my daughter. I went through the excruciatingly lengthy process of filling out forms on as a many as 10 different web pages only to have the system crap out on me on the last page as I was completing my reservation. (And why don’t airline companies try a little harder themselves to make the reservation process more streamlined and customer friendly?)

So after something like the third airline company and as many attempts over 3 hours to book three different flights I gradually came to the conclusion that the credit card I was using was being blocked for security reasons. I would have known this if my new phone would have passed on (direct forwarded or whatever) my internet voicemails to my Mexican Telcel based mobile phone.

No. I had to check my email to find the transcribed record of the voicemail so that I could use my Android tablet (via the Groove IP app) to call the bank’s 800 number, go through their CTI system, finally get a customer rep on the line who then liaised with their security team who then finally got my card out of jail.

I believe it was Dwight D. Eisenhower who said way back in the ‘50s something to the effect that if the first person who picked up the phone wasn’t the person that you wished to speak with then you were dealing with a bureaucracy. No shit, Dwight.

Soviet style bureaucracy seems to be on the comeback as American customer service is at best an infuriatingly indifferent mess. I reckon if Ike’s stinkeye disdain for 1950’s style bureaucracy was called forth into the present with there being no red menace to fight then I could see him calling in B-52 airstrikes on some of America’s largest corporations.

BTW – Did you know that Amazon actually reserves certain products for their Prime members? I kid thee not. I tried to order a basic USB keyboard and mouse combo for a measly $15 only to learn that those Logitech items could only be purchased by Prime members. Not only does that piss me off but I’ll bet Logitech isn’t too happy about that either.

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