Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I have a smartphone now

Since TracFone uses the major networks instead of having its own, this means it has less control over certain things.  The major networks are phasing out 2G, which my LG 420G phone used.  Good riddance, I say, since 2G was pretty unreliable at best.  Anyway, it also meant that I needed to switch phones.  Being somewhat of a decent company, TracFone has a replacement program.  Enter some details about your phone and you get your options: a free replacement, or $20 off of select smartphones.

Well, if you read the title of this post, you know which one I opted for.  The "free replacement" just seemed so shady to me.  There was no indication of what the free replacement was actually going to be.  Clicking it just took me to a page where I could enter my shipping information.  Looking at the "$20 off a smartphone" option, I noticed that they were already inexpensive, and were 4G LTE phones.

I bit on that discount, which didn't include shipping or tax, so it ended up being about a $12 discount instead.  But still, an Android smartphone that's mine to own with a much better camera and other amenities by virtue of being a smartphone, for $53?  I'll take it, good sir.  Three days later I had my LG L33L. (also referred to as an LG Sunset LTE, and TracFone calls it the LG L33G.  Why all the different names?)

Getting used to Android has been interesting.  I have issues with finding certain settings on occasion, and some interface things aren't terribly intuitive.  For instance, when you swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up notifications and whatnot, there's all these quick toggles and whatnot.  Well, the quick toggles can scroll left and right, and there's more of them than the phone can display on the screen at once.  However, just by looking at it, you wouldn't even think it could scroll.  Once I figured this out, I found that you could edit the buttons that appeared and the order in which they appeared, which was actually what I was trying to do when I stumbled upon the fact that it could scroll.  Also, it's tough as shit to adjust a slider to a precise percentage value using only your finger.  I tried using a 3DS stylus for a more precise touchscreen experience, but it doesn't work.

One thing I enabled immediately was the Android developer mode.  It's simple enough, though depending on certain things the place you need to go might be slightly different.  You have to find the Android build number.  For me it was under Settings -> About Phone -> Software info.  Anyway, once you've located the build number, start tapping it.  After a couple of taps, a notice will come on screen which basically suggests that you keep tapping to "become a developer".  Keep tapping and you get the developer options enabled in Settings.  It's a lot of stuff that's mostly of use to, well, developers; but I did enable one thing: showing the location of my touches.  Given that I'm quite regularly not touching the thing I think I'm touching, I find it super handy to know how the phone is interpreting my actions.

Sadly, like most carrier-branded phones, it comes with bloatware.  Some memo application, an office application, and McAfee.  Of course, they don't let you uninstall that shit.  You have to root your phone to do that.  Which I plan on doing, after I do my research and figure out which rooting method is the most trustworthy (so basically, not the Chinese KingRoot, which has already been found to steal phone IMEIs, and aggressively prevents you from uninstalling it and moving to other privilege escalation tools).

Also sadly, I don't think Cyanogenmod is compatible with it.  Then again, I can't find the LG L33L (or LG Sunset LTE (or LG L33G)) on any compatibility list for anything.  It's like I have a phone that nobody knows about.  I know LG does a lot of versions of their phones for prepaid carriers, is there a "parent phone" that this one is based on or something?

Anyway, I've had a go at exploring the options, configuring everything, installing applications, and setting up my home screen.  It's all gone fairly smoothly so far.  My only complaint is about applications on the Google Play store requiring 5 million permissions in addition to the one or two they actually need to perform their stated task.  QR code/barcode readers are among the worst offenders.  All it should need is the camera, but no, you find them wanting location, identity, network access, and so much more.  In fact, why isn't the ability to read QR codes built into the stock Android camera application?

Moving onto the internet, I noticed right away that the LG keyboard kinda sucks.  I always get the wrong letter with it, and the layout for symbols is strange, which makes typing my passwords annoying since I have to search through pages of symbols and whatnot to find what I need.  I ended up installing Google keyboard, which actually makes the symbol situation worse, but offers me the ability to type by dragging my finger around the keyboard and just pausing on the letter I want.  Certain punctuation like apostrophes it does automatically, which is nice.

I also explored options for and installed a web browser with built-in ad blocking.  It's already kind of confusing, there's the stock Android browser and Chrome installed by default.  The one I installed is basically functionally similar to the stock Android browser, but with Adblock Plus integrated.

One really neat feature that I'm actually making use of as I type this: if you plug headphones into the headphone jack, it can use them as an antenna and let you listen to FM radio.  I plugged in my computer speakers that got obsoleted by my headset.  You get the option to route the sound either out the headphone jack or the phone's internal speaker, which is neat.  I'm routing it out the speakers so I get both stereo channels, because mono sound is so 1970s.

At some point I realized "hey, how do I view my remaining TracFone minutes, text messages, and data?"  After all, TracFone is still prepaid, even with a smartphone.  Well, they have an application for that.  It kinda sucks, you have to manually tap a button to make it update, but hey, it works.  I haven't really ever used any data since I haven't gone much of anywhere since getting it, so Wi-Fi has sufficed for me so far.  Even when I went out to Cook-Out last night, there happened to be an xfinitywifi close by that had enough signal that I was able to watch a YouTube video and actually download the Google keyboard from the Play store.

Being that I'm a gamer, naturally you might wonder if I installed any games.  Well, most mobile games are total shit and only exist to suck the money out of your wallet, but I did download 2048, which was free and doesn't have any ads.  I'll have to inspect my options for other games, but generally I don't see myself using it for much gaming-wise.  After all, I've got a computer, five home consoles, and a variety of portables to play games on.  I tend to value something being purpose-built, and the primary purpose of a phone, smart or dumb, is not gaming.  It's to be a damn phone.  Not that I don't care about amenities, but they're just that: amenities.  If the device doesn't perform its primary function well, any ancillary function it might have doesn't matter.

Speaking of phones, I had a bunch of contacts to transfer, and fortunately for me it was way easier than when I went from the Motorola w260g to the LG 420G.  This time, both phones have bluetooth, so I was able to just send all the contacts from the 420G to the L33L.  One at a time, annoyingly, but still, far easier than manually entering everything all over again.  Heck, I even sent over my notification noises and whatnot, so I still hear the item fanfare from Chrono Trigger whenever I get a tweet.  I still need to sort out the wallpaper situation, so we'll see how that goes.  I also need to go buy a microSD card to put in it, so perhaps I'll take care of the wallpaper after doing that.

I'm still not fully done setting things up, but I feel like I've at least partially adjusted to it.  Still got a way to go, I think, but it's a start.

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