I love my (recently repaired, not so new) LG Google Nexus 4

Nexus-4A couple of weeks ago I finally replaced my trusty but dated HTC Desire Android phone with a shiny new LG Google Nexus 4 running the latest version of Android Jelly Bean.

The Desire has served me well but it’s crippled by an appalling lack of built-in storage so I’d been waiting for the ideal replacement handset to arrive and after reading lots of reviews the Nexus 4 seemed like the one to go for, both in terms of specification and value for money.

I bought it directly from the Google Play store for £280 as soon as they came back into stock in the UK, and it arrived within a week even though the stated delivery time was 1-2 weeks. After paying £31 a month on a Vodafone pay monthly contract for the last couple of years I also switched to a 12 month SIM-only contract with Orange after getting fed up of having declining network coverage at home with Vodafone, reducing my monthly bill to £10.50 at the same time – bargain!

After using the Desire for so long, the Nexus 4 was like a breath of fresh air. Very, very responsive running the latest Android Jelly Bean, an amazing quality screen, plenty of storage for installing as many apps as I want and a high quality construction. However, during the first few days of owning it I did notice that it was a slippery beast, frequently sliding itself off flat surfaces due to the highly polished glass back. Although I’m not a big fan of cases on mobile phones as I feel they detract from the natural look and feel of them, I resigned myself to the fact that would probably have to get one for the Nexus 4…

Disaster strikes!

…But I left it too late, and after only 2 weeks of owning it, it slipped out of my hand when getting it out of my jacket pocket and fell onto a concrete floor smashing the bottom left corner of the screen and damaging the digitizer such that the bottom row of controls (yes the main Navigation Bar!) didn’t work any more when in portrait orientation. I was gutted.

Carphone Warehouse Geek Squad to the rescue

After looking into what insurance cover I had for the phone, including any excesses and knock-on premium hikes I would incur if I claimed, I decided to get a quote for repair from Carphone Warehouse. To my surprise they quoted only £79 to replace the screen, digitizer and bezel which sounded like a good deal to me (I’d seen prices online for just the parts alone of around £85!) so I had no hesitation in leaving it with them to repair for me. I’m not sure whether this price was an error on their system but they agreed to honour it as it had been quoted to me.

Just under a week later I got a call to say that it was back at my local Carphone Warehouse store ready for collection. The repair appears to be a top quality job and the phone looks and feels as good as new, so top marks to Carphone Warehouse Geek Squad repairs!

Looking for a case

So my next task is to hunt down a good quality but unobtrusive case. I’ve read favourable reviews of the FlexShield Skin case but I can’t find them in stock anywhere. I’ll keep looking, but in the meantime I’m going to treat my Nexus 4 with kid gloves to make sure it doesn’t come a cropper again!

New Android dev tools – visual UI designer

I watched a video of one of the Google I/O 2011 talks last night by Xavier Ducrohet and Tor Norbye about the new Android development tools and was particularly interested in the new visual UI designer in ADT 11. I was very impressed with what I saw but one downside is that I believe it is only currently provided as an Eclipse plugin whereas I am 100% an IntelliJ IDEA man. Hopefully an equivalent IDEA plugin will appear before too long.

It’s nice to tell the user what’s happening sometimes…

As much as I like Android and my HTC Desire, there are still a few niggles that need ironing out. One case in point is a problem I’ve had for the last week or so and only just got round to investigating and finding a solution for.

For some reason, Android Marketplace on my Desire stopped working for me. I could browse, search and choose to download apps, but they just wouldn’t get beyond the “Starting download…” step. I tried cancelling the downloads and restarting, with no success. I also tried switching between WiFi and 3G, toggling the radios on and off, restarting the phone – several times. No success.

A similar problem happened to me a couple of months ago when I switched my Google account from “googlemail.com” to “gmail.com”once it had become available again in the UK. I did a lot of investigation into this problem at the time and found that a lot of people were being affected. If I switched back to googlemail.com everything worked fine again. I tried removing the old googlemail.com Google account from my phone so that I could replace it with a gmail.com account instead, but it wouldn’t have it. In the end I backed up my apps and data to SD card, reset the phone to factory settings and started afresh with a gmail.com Google account. Once I’d restored my apps and data I was back in business – everything worked just fine.

At the time I remembered seeing references to the Google Talk service so this time round I tried starting the Talk app – and it just died immediately. No error message or other information. Nothing. Tried again – same thing. So, I used the very handy aLogcat app to view the system logs just in case the were any clues in there. And lo and behold, there was an exception message stating that the Talk app couldn’t be started due to a lack of device storage space!

Now, I’d not really paid much attention to the low space notification that I’d been seeing for the last few weeks, because I knew that I was close to the limit of the measly built-in storage in the Desire. But I didn’t for a minute think that this could be the cause of my Marketplace problems. After deleting some unused apps and trying Talk again, it worked! I went to the Marketplace and that worked too! Bingo.

So, a few things to note from this experience…

  1. Don’t ignore the low space notifications any more – it could affect more than you think!
  2. Count the days until Android 2.2 is rolled out by HTC to the Desire (when I’ll be able to install apps to the SD card)
  3. Wonder why on earth app developers don’t think it’s important to tell users what’s happening when something they don’t expect happens

On this last point, why does the Talk app not show an error dialog informing the user why it can’t start? And likewise, why does the Android Marketplace app not tell me why it can’t download items. From a UI design perspective this is inexcusable. App developers – take note!

Go HTC/Android, go!

I’ve just read this article on the BBC News web site stating that sales of HTC smartphones powered by Android (like the HTC Desire I own) have massively exceeded analysts expectations. An amazing 41% growth for the first six months of 2010.

I still think Android is going to be huge, much bigger than iOS which powers the iPhone and iPad.

Note to self… must keep going at those Android app projects I keep starting!

Alternative text input methods on Android – Swype and ShapeWriter

I recently heard about the ShapeWriter (http://www.shapewriter.com/) alternate text input method for Android devices and read some glowing reviews of it so thought I’d give it a try.

If you haven’t already seen or heard about ShapeWriter, it’s an alternate virtual keyboard for mobile devices which lets you type words by dragging your finger from one key to another rather than pressing each individual key. Each time you release your finger, that marks the end of the word and a space is inserted. You can still press each individual key if you want, so you don’t lose any functionality, but you obviously don’t benefit from the big speed increases you can get from using the new finger dragging method.

In use I found that it’s definitely quicker (for me at least) than pressing each individual key and my word input rate has gone up.

Since installing ShapeWriter I also heard about another very similar alternate keyboard called Swype which is currently in beta phase (http://beta.swype.com). I’ve installed both of them so will compare the two over the next few weeks.