Speak & Spell Not Included

If I had to pick an unexpected benefit of visiting China rather than Japan, I’d have to say that it was a fairly inexpensive trip.  When I visit Japan, I tend to do a LOT of shopping.  I mostly stick to second-hand shops and used game stores, so I’m not spending a lot on any one thing, but it adds up pretty quickly.

I passed through a bunch of different shopping districts in China, but I never felt too inclined to do much shopping.  Most of the brands on offer were western fashion brands, there were very few game stores and I only ever ran across one store that offered Japanese character goods, so I simply didn’t have the opportunity to go nuts.  I’d converted $900 into Chinese yuan and, with only a few days left in the trip, still had the majority of it.

Of course I bought a gadget.

With the recent Fatal Frame V and Rodea announcements, I actually considered buying an American WiiU from an import shop and flying it back to the states, but I dismissed that as fundamentally silly.

Instead, I decided on a phone.

Specifically, I bought a Xiaomi Mi4, a phone that will never be sold anywhere near the US, because Apple no doubt has an army of lawyers just waiting for them to come within reach.  The Xiaomi engineers took a good look at the iPhone 4 – still Apple’s best-looking phone, in my ever-so-humble opinion – and decided to hit Control-C/Control-V and take off early for the weekend.


OK, so they also hit the “resize to 120%” button halfway through the process.

I won’t go into the details – there’s an Ars Technica review for that, if you’re curious – but it is a big jump in hardware from the Nokia Lumia 920 that I’ve been packing for the last couple of years.  The screen is bigger and pushes a lot more pixels, it’s got a quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM which makes it snappy as all get out, and it’s just generally a brute under the hood.

The drawback of importing a phone, of course, is that while this IS an LTE phone, it doesn’t support the LTE frequencies as we use in the US.  I’m stuck with GSM frequencies and 2G data when I’m not near wi-fi, which is great for battery life but which means that I’m not going to be doing any mobile video streaming.  It’s plenty fast enough for email, twitter, and wikipedia, and those represent the majority of my on-the-go data use, but heavy duty stuff is going to make me find an access point to get things done.

Ignoring the aesthetics, the reason that I went looking for this specific model of phone is that Microsoft has promised to release Windows Phone 10 for the thing, and I really want to get a Windows Phone that is not beholden to a specific carrier for updates.  That should be coming in July or so, if we’re lucky.

In the meantime, I am experimenting with Android.  This phone is designed for tinkerers, so it was very easy to replace the scary Chinese ROM with a global ROM that has Google services and presumably phones home to China far less often.  There IS a vanilla AOSP port for the thing, but I elected to stick with Xiaomi’s MIUI V6, based on Android 4.4.4 “Kit-Kat”.

It’s been interesting coming from Windows Phone to Android.  There’s obviously a ton more application support on Android, and even applications available for both platforms are better maintained on the more popular platform.  I SHOULD be falling in love with Android, but I’m really not, and I think it’s a case of me butting heads with a basic design philosophy.  Both Windows Phone and iOS feel like extensions of your PC (or Mac), and Android feels more like a conduit to servers and services on the web – it has an ephemeral nature about it that I’m not quite comfortable with.

To be fair, Google is at a disadvantage when it comes to desktops.  The AppleID and Microsoft ID systems give a huge advantage when integrating into their respective ecosystems, and an Android-based phone is never going to log in to my iTunes account or let me add points to my Xbox Live Gamerscore.  Google owns the web, so it makes sense to sell an OS that is tightly integrated with Google-provided web services.

I’ll give it a couple of months to grow on me, though, and see what I think once I’ve had some time to get used to the quirks.

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