Monday, December 15, 2014

With Ara you can build your own phone

An Ara phone user
   OK, I just bought a Moto G that will have to serve me for some time, but that does not keep me from looking at what is coming down the pipe.  Since smartphones came out we have been able to select our own apps, but we have always had to pick and choose phones with predetermined hardware, including hardware we may not even use.  We have had to compromise on phone hardware because the phones we choose does not come with what we really want.  Also as a phone needs repair or becomes outdated, why should a person throw away an expensively unrepairable phone?  Why not just replace the broken or outdated part itself?  We live in such a throw away society, the future can hold better than this for us.  I look forward to it.

    To prove that standard and lasting items can be really be made is a very interesting phone coming up in 2015 called Ara. You can not only customize it with your own apps but your own hardware. Hardware that you personally will use.  That's just the beauty of Ara.  Whether you're designing a dream phone or on a budget, you can build yours the way you want it with standardized parts.  Parts that are replacable as needed. Ara ready to build your own phone?  I would love to.

  There is a basic starter phone that Google plans to sell at stores with pre selected hardware modules. The user can then upgrade their modules as they wish.
Two Mid sized 3x6's with a small 2x5 Ara phones
   The Ara 'Grey Phone' model small size 2x5 (2 module wide by 5 modules high)
  • A basic pre-built starter phone to be available at a store near you.
  • Small Endo 2x5 'Grey Phone' $50 US 
  • Screen *(720p)
  • Processor *(1 or 2 core)
  • Battery 
  • Memory *(4GB or 8GB)
  • WiFi (WiFi calls only) - (Cell radio optional)
  • Operating System: Android 5.x Lollipop - Google Ara build
   * While we have been told what modules will be included on the grey phone we can only speculate as to what specifications they will really be.

   Or one may want to start from scratch with just an endo(basic phone skeleton) and pick your own screen, battery, processor, radio/s and whatever else you choose.

  I thought I would put together a few ideas of what kind of phone I would build for my usage.  My needs and budget are pretty basic so i won't be going wild.  After some thought and research I came up with these builds. (all subject to change as more information on available modules and pricing comes available)

   My Basic small 2x5 sized phone which could start from the pre-built Ara 2x5 'Grey Phone' model above.
  • My starter price goal: $50 US. To be upgraded over time.
  • My end price goal: To keep it less than $100 US
  • Endo size: Small  2x5 (2 modules wide by 5 modules high)
  • Display: (Screen): 4.0 inch approx. *(720p all that's needed on such a small phone)
  • Battery: 2000 mAh *(Guess size)
  • Performance: Quad core; 1-2GB of Ram
  • Memory: 16GB internal
  • WiFi (WiFi calls only)
  • Operating System: Android 5.2 Lollipop - Custom Ara build
  • Speakers: Front-facing stereo
  • Camera: 8 MP - Front 1 MP
  • GPS, Bluetooth 3 radios and antennas
  • Cell radio - I currently have US CDMA radio
  • Accelerometer, Gyro location and orientation
Back of an Ara phone showing its modules 3x6
   My Mid sized dream phone:
  • My starter price goal: $100 US. To be upgraded over time.
  • My end price goal: to keep it less than $200 US
  • Endo size: Medium size 3x6 (3 modules wide by 6 modules high)
  • Display: (Screen): 5 inch (720p)
  • Battery: 2200 mAh +
  • Performance: Quad core; 1-2GB of Ram
  • Memory: 16GB internal
  • WiFi - (WiFi calls only)
  • Operating System: Android 5.2 Lollipop - Custom Ara build
  • Speakers: Front-facing stereo
  • Camera: 8 MP - Front 1 MP
  • GPS, Bluetooth 3 radios and antennas
  • Cell radio - I currently have US CDMA radio
  • Accelerometer, Gyro location and orientation
The Mini, Medium and Large Ara Endo's
My Large Endo plan:

   It is a hard choice for me, To pick up the Mini because it is perhaps first and the least expensive or wait until the Medium Endo come out as to me it is a more usable size. To be honest, I really want the Large Endo as I already have a 4.5" Moto G. I am very curious as to how much the large size will be and how long I will have to wait for it. It is a very tough question for me. But IF it were to all come out at the same or close period of time and for a price I can afford, I would go for the Large Endo as my first choice.
  • I would set up my "phablet" as a Wifi mini tablet.
  • I would pick a nice enough screen for reading publications with.
  • A decent battery size of course.
  • A Wifi module.
  • GPS for travel although it may come with the Wifi module??
  • An audio port and speaker module.
  • I would not need a gaming direction/tilt/acceleration sensor module.
   I wonder if a down the road of time there will be a full Tablet size?

   Will I ever build one?  We will see, but it sure it a cool idea to explore. 

   The whole world will be a better place when everything is designed with standards that all worked together and to not to be wasted as throw away items when their life is truly over.  A world where things are built to last in the first place.  I look forward to such a time. Ara 'nt you?

~ Sources: ~
   Our community has been around for many months and pride ourselves on offering unbiased, critical discussion among people of all different backgrounds.  We are working everyday to make sure our community is one of the best.   
    What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story? Introducing Project Ara. The smartphone is one of the most empowering and intimate objects in our lives. Yet most of us have little say in how the device is made, what it does, and how it looks. And 5 billion of us don't have one. What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story? Introducing Project Ara. Designed exclusively for 6 billion people.


   Project Ara is real, and Google has its fingers on the pulse of the technologies required to make modular smartphones a reality. After attending the first Project Ara developers conference, here's what I consider the important takeaways from what Google has revealed so far
By Dieter Bohn on April 15, 2014 11:45 am
  Paul Eremenko, says he is planning "the most custom mass-market product ever created by mankind" without a trace of irony in his voice.

  The two-year quest to create the ultimate customizable phone, inside and out. 

   Everything you need to know about Google's modular smartphone, project Ara - including modules, price and release date rumours

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Next try at Tracfone Moto G BYOD

 First attempt recap

   This will be my second attempt to bring a 2013 Moto G to Tracfone through their BYOD program.  In my last blog entry I went through my first attempt to BYOD a Moto G to Tracfone.  The seller did not realize it was a locked phone that he sent me so I arranged to return it with him.  I still believe the Moto G is the best phone choice to BOYD to Tracfone so I believe it is worth a second try to find a Tracfone compatible phone. As they say "if you at first do not succeed try try again".  I am not one to give up when I believe there is still the hope of success still in the air, so here it is take two.

    Before I returned the Moto G I backed it up with both Motorola's backup system and Helium by ClockworkMod.  I hope this will help me restore all the settings and apps I had already had set up to lesson my set up some on my replacement phone.  I then wiped it back to factory condition and returned it. (EDIT: It helped with getting me a start, but it is no complete backup. There was plenty of re-setup work to do)

My Moto G replacement 

   The Motorola MOTO G - 8GB - Black Tracfone, Verizon, Page Plus Android smartphone from ebay costs $105 mfg refurbished with shipping as of this post.  I will be giving it a try as a BYOD device. The seller Paradise Aquatics specifically states that it is ready to be used for the Tracfone BYOD program. Here is an excerpt from his add:

 Used Moto G from paradiseaquatics from ebay
Mfg. Rfrb. Moto G from Paradise Aquatics on Ebay
   "Not all MOTO G phones for Verizon and PagePlus will work on Tracfone. I have taken the time to go through these manufactures refurbished phones and verify each phone I sell with Tracfone. The phone must have previously been used on a postpaid account for at least 6 months. 
   These phones have been verified to work with Tracfone . The phones in the photo are the actual phones listed , it has been reconditioned and all of them show minor signs of use and charging port tested. If you have any questions please contact me. I have activated several of these phones on Tracfone service online and if you currently have a Tracfone account the Minutes, Text and Data will be transferred as well as Triple Minutes for life. 
   If you have any questions about this phone please allow at least 3 hours in some cases for me to respond. These are the best smart phones available for Tracfone right now. The phone you will receive is verified to work with the Tracfone BYOD program."
    I am pleased to see that this seller specifically states that his phones are verified to work with Tracfone.

   Easy hookup

   I ordered it on November 26.   I received it on the 1st and went to the BYOD MEID number setup page at tracfone and easily connected it with just a few prompted steps.

The Triple Minute Question

   When I went to subscribe to the Monthly '50 Minute Value Plan' I saw no hint that the minutes would be tripled as I expected. So I did a chat with Tracfone and had the following conversation. 11-3-2014
Junior has entered the session.
Paul : How do I ensure I get my triple minutes when I enroll into a value plan? It is not mentioned when i got to buy it. Scary buying blind. Can I enter a redemption code so it shows up before I purchase? I have 3 other family members who like your tripple minute plan and I also want to assure them it does work smoothly when they BYOD their Moto G's they are also purchasing over.
Junior : Hello Paul. Thank you for visiting TracFone Wireless.
Junior : Please allow me a moment while I check on this.
Junior : Thank you for waiting Paul. Actually, the value plan will not provide you with triple minutes. This kind of benefit is exclusive of TracFone Android phones. You can only get double minutes if you purchase a double minutes card to your phone first and the purchase the value plan.
Junior : If you have any further questions or comments, please contact one of our customer care representatives at 1-800-867-7183. For your convenience, our representatives are available Monday – Sunday from 8:00 AM to 11:45 PM EST. Thank you for chatting with TracFone Wireless. You are the only user left in the session.
  And there I was feeling rather just dropped and hung up on, never got another word in past my original question. I found the conversion rather confusing as all else indicates triple minutes. I did not think the above to be accurate so I took the plunge and tested it out. True to expectations, the minutes were rippled when I subscribed to the '50 Minute Value Plan'. I got 150 Minutes, 150 Texts and150MB of Data added to my previous starter card amounts.

Loose charge plug

   The charge plug on my Moto G phone is rather loose and I have only one charge cable that for some reason fits tighter and gives a charge out of 3 other cables. It looks and measures the same physically as far as the eye can see with the other chords that fit our Nexus 7 and our phone. I contacted to sell to see if he has any experience with this or if a special / proprietary Motorola USB plug is needed. These refurbed Moto G's do not come with a power chord. Dec. 4 2014 9:49 AM
My micro usb plug is VERY loose. I got a couple charges with a standard micro USB. (only one seemed to make any fit at all) I chalked this up to it being a used/refurb phone but it is so loose as to be unusable. Did motorola use a proprietary plug? I will find and purchase one if they did. Please tell tell me all I have to do is buy a proprietary plug. If they went this route I would be disappointed at Motorola, but I do not like the idea of having to return the phone and find another. I am perfectly dialed in and set up too.
  I really like the moto G, it is a nice phone and the rest of our family members are drooling over getting one as well. My Brother Earl already pressed the buy button from the same ebay seller as I got mine from.  I am in real hope to be lead to a cable that works well for this phone by my seller.   Then I can direct the rest of my 3 family members that want this phone to it to make the transition easier on them. If this is an issue with Motorola phones I hope the seller has experience with this. (He is a Moto G user himself)
    Hi, You may need a different USB charger. I used a 2100mA plug/ USB Micro charger to test each phone. The phones USB ports are inspected with a magnified glass for any damage and to make sure the USB cord fits snug. The cord your using and the one I have my be different. It depends on the quality of the USB cord also, I do have some USB cable that fit loose that I got off ebay and they don't work well. If you get another cable and still having problems with the phone I will give you a refund once the phone is returned. Thank you, Tim
   So no specific charger recommended So I am thinking a buying a good brand high quality charger. I will do some research.

UPDATE Dec 18, 2014: I found a newer tighter plug among my cords that works well. From research I found that it is the cords that get looser with age as designed. They will need replacing over time as they get loose. That said wear on the USB port mostly happens through connection torquing. Inserting straight in and out when Un/Connecting and using caution if you use your phone while connected so as not to stress connection.

My Moto G and Tracfone service is working great for me. Mt Brother decided also to get a Moto G and move to Tracfone. My wife and another Brother are merely waiting on purchasing a Moto G. I should have gotten a commision. LOL

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My new Moto Phone and Tracfone provider

   I have been researching the best phone and plan choice for me for quite some time.  Here is my research using a spreadsheet I made to compare my options that I made.

   For some time I was in favour of Republic Wireless for its unlimited voice and text.  I liked its unlimited $10 voice plan however I increasingly desired to be able to have some data as well and did not want to have to pay Republic Wireless's $25 charge to get it.

   In the end I chose Tracfone for its plans that hover around my monthly budget goal of $10 and get plenty of monthly rollover minutes of Voice, Text and Data for my usage.  Higher usage plans are available for up to $29.99. There Extra Data $10 bucket of 300MB w/ rollover at 3¢ a MB also tops all others in value.  Tracfone seems to have the best value plans among all of the MVNO choices I compared.  They have several customer service options, Chat, Forum, Help ticket, and Phone.  There phone help service comes from native spanish speakers in guatemala that try, but have a hard time communicating with native English speakers. A lot of misunderstandings with them are reported.  Tracfone also has an App to help track your minute usage. And of course plan minutes can be purchased online at you local store. Plans can also be set up to automatically charge to help assure you conveniently have Minutes/ texts and data available.

   I found the smart data phones at the Tracfone store to be limited lower spec Android phones at entry level prices. Most of the phones are at least 4.1 and up to 4.4. and Single and Dual core 4.1 - 4.4 phones. One exception is a Quad core 5" phone that looks nice if you want a larger phone, it is usually out of stock at Tracfone but more often available at re-sellers.  Tracfone seems to have a hard time keep phones in stock, One would hope this is because of  newer updated phones coming but I doubt it, as it seems a pattern to frequently go out of stock and to stick with older phones.  A large selection of less techie non data phones are also available.

   I also chose the BYOD option as the smartphones that Tracfone carries at their store are less than optimal specification models.  I learned a lot about how to BYOD at the Tracfone Reviewer blog website.  The caveat with BYOD is that the phone you choose must have been used on Verizon for at least 6 months and have a 'clean ESN'(ie. not stolen or have a bill owed on the account the device was last used on).

   EDIT: My this first attempt failed see next blog entry for a hopeful success. (Just wanted to save you some reading in case you hate disappointing stories.)

    I chose to purchase a used 2013 (1st gen) Moto G' from amazon for $59.  I received it for $46 because of a credit card 'bonus bucks' balance that was available to me.  Motorola does very good about updating the Operating System on their phones.  Verizon and Tracfone are however not good about passing on these updates their phones via over the air updates.  I will have to update it manually with Motorola's update files if I have any hope it getting their Lolipop 5.0 update for it.  The Moto G is a very well liked phone with a good bang for the buck.  Its general specs include a quality high DPI 4.5 screen, 8Gb mem, Quad core processor and gets regular Motorola updates.

    I am going to forward calls through my Google Voice Hangouts number that I already use just in case Verizon does not work out and I need to move on.  Besides I like Google Voice's online answering system as it makes it easy to go through messages and customize answering messages to different groups.  I can also redirect calls to whatever, and however many, phones I choose.  I can also make and receive my calls via WiFi with it when available to save my monthly minutes, texts and data allocation.  No one will know whether i am answering or initiating my call with them using google hangouts or my phone.

  I expect my Moto Phone along with the 'Hard case/Screen protector/Car charger' set I ordered to arrive this week. I will get it updated and hooked up to Tracfone.  When I am up and running I will update this blog entry with how my plan and phone are going.

UPDATE: 11-26-2014
1. Tried BYOD setup page but it did not work.

2. I called the help number from "Network Access Code" package they were not able to help.

3. I used chat and they were not able to help but they recommended I call 1-800-687-7183 but they were unable to help but gave me the 1-866-667-6470 direct access hotline to call and give the 67427 case reference number to use when I called.

4. I called the 1-866-667-6470 direct access they gave me to number their system crashed so was told to call back in 15 minutes.

5. I called back they finally figured out the phone is still locked. And says to call Verizon to get it unlocked.

6. I called verizon at  (800)922-0204 and they said to get it unlocked I would have to take it into a local store to get it done.

7. I also contacted the seller of the phone and he is working with me. I was accidentally sent a locked phone.  I am being sent a prepaid label for a return.

8. I will try to take it into the local Verizon store to try to get it unlocked as well.

9. Verizon said they no longer unlock devices. they suggested I look it up on youtube for instructions to do it myself. I followed instructions and my Moto G comes up as not unlockable. Reasons for this can be it has not been on verizon for 6 months, has an outstanding bill on it or it was reported stolen. Whatever the reason, I contacted the seller to arrange an exchange.
NEXT TRY: Motorola MOTO G - 8GB - Black Tracfone, Verizon , Page Plus Android smartphone from ebay.  This phone costs $105 as of this post. I will be giving it a try as a BYOD device.  This seller paradiseaquatics specifically states it is ready to be used for Tracfone BYOD service.  I am going to start a new blog entry to chronicle how this phone purchase and hookup went.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Republic Wireless phone


    I am seriously considering Republic Wireless (RW) for phone service and being a future owner of a new Moto E phone.  As smartphones go, $99(+$10 shipping and $10 first month) for the Moto E is an excellent price, but nevertheless we are on a fixed income and I to have to save and consider the purchase carefully.

   If you're fortunate enough to be referred by someone before Oct. 31 you can get $20 off towards your first bill/s.  I will not be able to purchase by that time and do not have a friend to refer me, so I will have to prepare to pay the extra $20 for my first months to get started. Perhaps RW will have another referral offer soon that I will be more able to take advantage of. EDIT: I have been active on the forum and was pointed to a current referral link but alas it is only useful on for the monthly service it will not help me to get the initial cost down, so I must keep saving and I will miss out on the current referral program.  Who knows how the next program will work, perhaps it will let me use the referral credit towards the initial purchase.  I should be able to get a new referral from a forum member.

   Republic Wireless is a Wi-Fi phone with unlimited non-roaming minutes and up to 5GB free non-roaming data monthly (fine print) on the sprint network when no Wi-Fi is available. When I am home or any other open Wi-Fi location the phone will default to use that rather than the Sprint network thus keeping costs down for RW and then they are able to offer service at a much lower rate than most all other cell service providers.  As a benefit to Wi-Fi users, Wi-Fi can be audibly clearer than using cell towers.  There are a couple other new smaller Wi-Fi phone companies, but from my research Republic Wireless seems the best established with the best price plans.

   The Sprint network that RW uses looks to be adequate (map) for most cities and along I-5.  However Sprint service is lacking along Hwy 101 along our coastline.  There service along the west coast is essentially limited to actual city limit areas and open wifi locations.  This is a good reason to keep our clamshell phone for verizons widespread reliable service.

   Kathy and I currently use a clamshell on a verizon $15 monthly pay-as-go plan with rollover minutes for our mobile needs.  Kathy will keep this phone for its Verizon reliability and for important communications as its minutes are expensive and limited.  We only get 90 minutes a month on it, but any unused do rollover and they do add up.  We use the phone some but make sure we keep some in reserve for emergency use.

   We would also keep our home landline for reliable local calls and our message machine so not all calls are coming to us while we are busy out and about.  We do not have it connected to make long distance calls as they are expensive on a landline.  We have even talked between ourselves about giving up the landline but are not quite ready to give up the security of having it yet.

    We currently use Google Voice and Hangouts with our Nexus 7 and PC for Wi-Fi calls particularly for our long distance calls.  I will forward my Google calls to my Moto E so I do not have to change numbers,  1. In case RW does not work out for me,  2. To keep my existing number that my friends already know,  3. To keep Google Voice and Hangouts features that I currently enjoy,  4. And to keep access to my messages and calling abilities on my multiple devices.  We currently use our Google numbers for unlimited free long distance. It would be highly convenient for me to have access to my Google number on a real phone that we can more easily carry with us.
Moto E by Motorola
   RW uses the Moto X, G and E for their service.  The Moto E would be my phone.  It is an entry level phone by Motorola with good bang for the buck features.  It is not a phone for gamers or multi-tasking but it will make calls, give access to Google Play apps, let me check gmail, use Hangouts messaging, and be useful for meetings.  I like that it has a front facing speaker*, a slot for a 32Gig Micro SD card that I already have to add to its base 4 Gig space.  It is has a dual core CPU which I feel should be fine for a phone.  It does not have flash for its rear camera but I own a real camera to take pictures with.  It also does not have a front facing webcam for selfies and video chats that I personally would never use enough to warrant anyway.

  * (As a side note about speakers: It really does seem silly to me to have the speakers on the back of phones and tablets. Since necessity states that you have to have small speakers on portable devices why not face it forward to the listener rather than share what little sound their is with everyone else. Stereo speakers on such a small device seems a bit pointless. Good for Motorola on this one.)

   The Moto E comes with Android 4.4.4 (Kit Kat) and Motorola has stated that their phones will be upgraded to Android 5 (Lollipop).  At that point it is hoped that RW will update their custom Wi-Fi phone software quickly and pass on the upgrade to its customers.  Android 5.0 is a major upgrade that I would really like to have access to.  Motorola is excellent at being quick to keep their phones upgraded, however from what I read from the forums, RW takes quite some time to pass on their upgrades on to their customers.  This has worried me and caused me some reservations about how long I would have to wait for Lollipop if I got the phone.  Even while the phone is still using Android 4.4.4 (Kit Kat), it is still an excellent OS and I am still considering it, but I will really be watching the forums and the Republic wireless blog hoping to see the 5.0 (Lollipop) update announced.  I am sure RW is aware that having their phones upgraded to the current OS would better attract customers and will be working on passing it on as fast as they can.  It is being discussed by users in the RW forum here: Android 5.0 L on Moto X, G and E confirmed, although this is not an official statement that RW is getting it yet. 

  Republic Wireless has $5, $10, $25 and $40 plans available. I would choose the $10 Monthly plan for free wifi calling when I am around it and unlimited access to CDMA cell phone service for the times I am not.  Of course it also includes unlimited data over Wi-Fi.  I could also opt to temporarily upgrade to the $25 plan for months I need constant CDMA web data access (up to 5 GB) and drop back to the $10 plan when I do not, with no penalty from RW (up to twice a month).  I feel RW would be  a good fit for me because I am usually home or where there is Wi-Fi.

   So why am I considering RW?  Well lets take a look at some sample unlimited talk with data prices of the competition:

    Admittedly network coverage is another factor to consider, for that, Verizon would be the clear winner.  But alas with such little data so as to be useless, except for the smallest of data sippers.  The trade off to get a usable amount of data, and cost down to my needed levels, will be a loss of coverage.