Category Archives: Mobile Devices

Zune 30 Upgraded to 100GB

My Microsoft Zune 30 has been running out of room lately and I have resorted to deleting songs from it in order to keep space open for podcast updates for my long commute.

I investigated a few options… buying a new iPod with new car accessories, or streaming Google Music to my car stereo using a Bluetooth receiver that would shoot the signal to FM (no aux-in jack on my commuter vehicle).

I like the Zune because I’m used to its big buttons for fast-forwarding or rewinding in a podcast without looking at it, which avoids taking  attention away from driving.  Plus at home I have a dock and remote control, and prefer to upgrade rather than buy a new platform and accessories as Zunes are going bye-bye.

I began looking into upgrading the hard drive in the Zune 30 and found a few choices, ranging from 40GB to 120GB.

I bought a used 100GB drive via eBay. The part number I bought was MK1011GAH.

I used the following links to show me how to do it:

Video of taking the unit apart here

More info here

Because the 100GB drive I bought is 8mm thick instead of the stock drive’s 5mm, I left the Zune’s drive cage out and removed the outer shell protection from the drive itself (it is a peel-off thin plate covering, don’t go for the screws to remove anything).

After putting the Zune back together, it booted fine and displayed a message to connect to the PC for firmware loading, which went smoothly.

After the Zune rebooted itself a number of times while installing firmware, I synchronized my Zune library’s 28GB of music and podcasts (took a while, over an hour). I now have 65GB free, more than twice as much as the original capacity and well worth the fun project.

Review of the Motorola Droid Bionic on Verizon 4G LTE

I had an opportunity to review the Droid Bionic, my second LTE phone on Verizon.  The HTC Thunderbolt had its ups and downs that have largely been cleared up by updates, we’ll see how well Motorola’s introduction to LTE fares.  I have used the Bionic as my primary phone for a little over three weeks now.

Device Looks and Design
The Bionic is nice and light, though some of that impression may be due to my carrying the Thunderbolt with Quasimodo extended battery pack.  There are no metal parts in the battery cover, so unlike the Thunderbolt is appears all of the antenna parts are in the body of the phone.  The extended battery cover is very streamlined as well.

The two-tone look is good.  The touch-based home buttons are large, which helped me transition from the reversal of the Home and Menu buttons on the Thunderbolt.  I like them better than the Droid X buttons, which are physical buttons.

I was not looking forward to one aspect of moving from the Thunderbolt, and that was because all of my prior Motorola Android phones (except for the Devour I believe) had magnetic sensors that would trip the car or media dock apps when magents were detected at those spots.  This made carrying those phones in belt pouches a hassle because those have magnets in them.  I was relieved to find there are no magnetic reactions on the Bionic.  No more worrying about manually shutting off the screen once it pops on again passing a magnet into a case, or dealing with various dock modes and having to install apps to ignore those.

I miss the kick stand HTC builds into the Thunderbolt and the Evo.  Too bad more carries don’t include those, they come in handy sometimes.

Packaging and Activation Notes
Initial unboxing was like most of the recent Android devices… small box with power/data cable.  Activation coming from the HTC Thunderbolt was as easy as moving the SIM card over to the new phone.  Reminds me of the nice and convenient GSM days when I could easily change phones based on my mood of the day without logging on to a Web site or going through a long process to change equipment on the line.  It is a welcome feature for Verizon.

Data handoffs and seeming indecision on the part of the Bionic on whether to lock onto 3G or 4G are problematic.  I have run into a few situations where I pulled out the phone to do something and there was no data connection.  Sometimes putting the phone into airplane mode and back will get data to “wake up” but sometimes a reboot is required.  This is one of those frustrating things I hope will be solved by updates to the phone.  It seems all Android phones have a couple of infuriating bugs when released that later updates usually take care of.

My hope with the Bionic was that Moto’s LTE phone would lock and hold onto 4G signal better than the Thunderbolt, but so far mobile data performance is not noticeably better out-of-the-box than the Thunderbolt.  Even though the areas I live and work are well-covered by 4G, I still see the 3G indicator icons frequently.

Battery Life
I tried using the standard battery for a few days but was not impressed, easily getting less than a day’s use out of it.  Luckily I ordered an extended battery and performance is a little better.  Based on my normal usage patterns I can finish out usage with enough left to get me through early-morning the next day with the extended battery.  Plan to buy one unless you don’t mind plugging the phone in mid-day or top it off with a car charger while driving.

The screen looks good, though not as good as the Thunderbolt indoors.  I use my phones for ebook reading and find the screen to be adequate and easy to read.  And unlike the Thunderbolt I don’t have a hard time using the screen outdoors as long as the brightness is turned up.

An improvement over the Droid X I appreciated was discovering the Bionic will output everything through its HDMI port.  The Droid X was limited in what would be sent to the HDMI output and there were apps out there to compensate for that, but with the Bionic everything is there… the desktop, games I load, movies I play.

User Interface
Everything is snappy and fast, even after loading the apps and widgets I use.  I wish it had 7 home screens instead of just 5, I often find myself wishing I had at least one more.

Memory and Storage
One issue that causes fits is how the Bionic maps its “external” storage.  The phone’s handling of storage (onboard storage and external card storage) is nonstandard and many of my apps don’t work well because of it.  The built-in 8GB of storage is mapped to /mnt/sdcard, and the microSD card is mapped to /mnt/sdcard-ext .  This means apps that expect to save to /mnt/sdcard (what other Android devices use) are going to save to the internal storage and not the card unless the app lets you change where it stores stuff.  I’m not happy with that, as now I’ll have app data in two places and not on the one single place I want it (the microSD card).  So if you are looking around the filesystem be aware of that, as I had some initial “I just copied that over, where is it?” moments.

An example of where that affects use is my bookmarks backup app.  It is expecting to import/export my browser bookmarks to /mnt/sdcard, so I had to copy that folder into the correct sdcard spot to get it to work.  Who knows where my browser downloads will show up.

Voice Call Quality
Very good, in fact exceptional as compared to other phones I have recently used.  I can get enough volume out of the earpiece in different environmental situations.  I don’t talk much on the phone, but when I do it is nice to have a quality experience.

The Bionic’s camera is so-so… I sometimes can’t get it to focus correctly and have to re-take shots, and the time between when you tell it to take the pic and when it actually takes it is too long.  But it has served most of my needs so far.

The Bionic is easily the fastest Android phone I have used in terms of interface response.  Physical form is polished.  There will be some more interesting Android releases this Fall going into the holidays, but if you need to buy now and can put up with a few quirks and wait for required fixes via updates then I can recommend the Bionic.

Bill is a member of the Verizon Wireless Customer Council, an invitational customer focus group sponsored by Verizon Wireless.  He periodically receives devices in exchange for review and comment.

The HTC Thunderbolt, 4G/LTE Android Smartphone on Verizon Wireless

After a long wait, Verizon’s 4G/LTE network is up and running in a few metropolitan locations (luckily mine), and a phone has finally been released that utilizes the faster data network.  The Thunderbolt, manufactured by HTC, was released for sale in March 2011 as Verizon’s first 4G phone.  I had an opportunity to use and review the phone and am delighted to pass on my experiences.

Device Design
The Thunderbolt’s rounded edges make it a pleasure to hold.  The screen is large and the overall build quality is good.  The only two deficiencies I found were 1) a tiny amount of light leaking from two points where the lower part of the screen glass meets the frame of the phone, and 2) the battery door was the toughest to open of any phone I have owned.  This is partially due to some of the antenna being built in to the battery door and I’m guessing a firm connection is required, but it is hard to believe the design calls for the battery cover to necessarily be this difficult to open.  The volume key rocker is nice and large, though this lends itself to accidental pressing when pulling the phone out of a case.  The Thunderbolt inherits the built-in kickstand from the HTC Evo, allowing the phone to be placed on a desk in either portrait or landscape mode at an angle for easy viewing.  I hope to use this feature one day for Skype or Google Talk videophone when either of those features become available.

The main selling point of the HTC Thunderbolt is it is the first phone to offer 4G data over Verizon’s LTE network.  I tested 4G on the phone itself and via WiFi hotspot mode, where one can connect a netbook, tablet or laptop wirelessly to the phone and use the 4G data connection.  Where a 4G connection was available, it was very fast.  In almost all cases it tripled my workplace’s wired connection speed and doubled my home cable modem connection.  I ran into occasional issues where the phone shows an available data connection but data is not actually working on the phone, requiring a reboot to correct.  Anticipated phone firmware updates will hopefully resolve that issue.

Battery Life
On the standard battery I get about twelve hours of battery life based on my usage level, which includes mostly WiFi data browsing (as opposed to mobile network data-based usage), up to thirty minutes of phone calls, and frequent checking of email, RSS and Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, and eBook reading.  The battery life I am seeing is not adequate for my use… I like to have a full day of battery life so I can charge overnight.  A disappointing aspect of the charging process is the existence of an old problem harking back to the HTC Incredible, termed the “battery dance” requirement to get a truly full charge.  The issue is the phone’s LED indicator will tell you the battery is fully charged if the phone is on, but if you power down the phone the indicator will turn amber and charge for another twenty or thirty minutes.  In order to get a full charge,  this deficiency forces the user to do without phone service for half an hour, as well as take the time to shut down and later reboot the phone.  The next significant upgrade in battery size (available to date) increases the size of the phone greatly, almost comically.  But if you can get used to the new larger form factor of the phone, the larger battery will get you more than a day’s use.

Pre-loaded Applications
The usual suspects for Android devices are all present on the Thunderbolt… Google Maps, Google Navigation, GMail, the Android Market, and other android-standard utilities and apps.  A few demo applications and games are bundled, as well as HTC-specific widgets and applications.  I wouldn’t mind the “bloatware” if they came with options to fully uninstall them.  An example is a demo of a golf game that only lets you play two rounds.  If you choose not to buy the app, you are forced to see it when scrolling through your phone’s applications.  Some Verizon-specific applications are also included, such as My Verizon Mobile for account access and VCAST Media Manager for downloading video clips and music.

The Thunderbolt offers a large and colorful display. The screen resolution is not as large as the Motorola Droid X, but I find the Thunderbolt’s display more pleasing to look at and read.

User Interface
HTC phones come with an Android interface overlay called HTC Sense.  Sense provides an alternative to the standard Android layout of phone shortcuts, as well as some nice clock and social networking widgets.  Seven home screens are available for your application icons and widgets.  HTC does a good job with its widgets, and I find theirs more useful than Motorola’s.  The interface is snappy and I rarely encounter lag or stuttering while switching between home screens and loading applications.

Verizon includes a 32GB memory card in the phone, which will hold many videos, pictures and music files.  I never managed to fill the Droid X’s 16GB card, so 32GB should be adequate for a while.  For internal memory, after all of my regular apps are installed I have over 300MB available after a clean bootup.  This beats the 200MB typically available to me on the Droid X.

Voice Calling Quality
Voice calls were clear on my end.  Reviews from people on the other end of the calls were mixed, with some saying a slight garbling was present in of the connection.  This can happen with any connection and generally the feedback was good.

The camera app easily allows switching from video to still pictures, for both the front and rear cameras.  The phone does not have a dedicated camera button, which means you will need to burn a home screen icon slot for the camera app if you want quick access to your camera.  The camera app itself supports face recognition and other extras.  The snapshot process is very quick and I am pleased with the quality of the pictures from the 8MP rear camera.  HTC includes some interesting visual effects for picture taking, including depth-of-field options, distortion, and the usual inclusions of grayscale and sepia.

The Thunderbolt compares well to other smartphones available.  Once data connectivity quirks are corrected through software updates, the Thunderbolt will likely be the phone with the fastest wireless data connection money can buy.  Its rounded edges and high data speeds give it an edge over the Motorola Droid X, making up for the lower screen resolution.

The large screen and high speed make it a compelling alternative to tablets, which are very large and not as portable in “real world” settings as advertised.  When getting an Android device I’d recommend getting as powerful a device as possible so more future versions of Android will work on it, so Thunderbolt is a good candidate.  Devices like Thunderbolt and DroidX are more like mini-tablets and offer the best of a combined larger-than-typical interface experience and phone portability.

The Thunderbolt will be my main phone to use until something with even better specs is released for 4G… the speeds I’m seeing will make me hesitant to look back at those crusty old 3G devices.  The 4G/LTE network is new, so be prepared to experience occasional growing pains.

Bill is a member of the Verizon Wireless Customer Council, an invitational customer focus group sponsored by Verizon Wireless.  He is periodically invited to review devices for comment.