This wasn’t the droid I was looking for

Motorola Razr HD smartphone rear cover
Good finish… bad start!

I was so happy recently to unpack my brand new Motorola RAZR HD.  It’s a lovely device. Wonderfully built, with a 4.7 inch 720p screen, replete with Gorilla Glass, and backed by a rubberized kevlar weave.  The aluminium strip separating the two, running around the edge of the phone, provides a premium feel.

Or, at least, this is what I was led to believe from various reviews.

In reality, what you have is a beautiful brick – with good battery life. Android 4.1.2, the operating system shipped with the phone and modified by Google/Motorola Mobility, to ensure the phone is quite unusable, provides an amazing experience – if you connect up your Google account.

The Empire Strikes Back

What happens if you don’t have a Google account, or if you’re unprepared to create one?

What happens is that the software on the phone may refuse to play nicely with other software you choose to install. Here are some examples of this obnoxiusness:

  • Phone set-up
    • Before even seeing the home-screen, you are prompted to log into your Google account – or create a new one. You decline.
    • You are reassured that it’s a really good idea to create a Google account, otherwise you’ll “miss out”.
    • Resolutely, you continue. You get to the home screen. Then you want to install something from the Android Market (sorry, “Google Play”). You now cannot avoid creating or using a Google account.
  • Contacts
    • The phone is still behaving as though you are not fully connected to Google. Therefore, your data storage is predominatly on the phone only.
    • However, you might want to check this in ‘Accounts and Sync’ (which we’ll get on to in a sec)
    • You have the option of synchronising your data off elsewhere, away from Google’s servers. The CardDAV Sync software on Google Play provides the vehicle for doing this*. You download and install it, set up the sync with your CardDAV server, and sync away.
    • You might find that some of the software from Google updates on your phone during this time, now that it has access to the market.
    • All good… but, you soon come to realise that you cannot add new contacts to your chosen sync location. Take the scenario where you receive an SMS from an unknown number. You try to add the contact from the SMS, and can only do so to local storage.
    • Worse still, your only option to alleviate this – the only sync location you can add contacts to is – that’s right, a/your Google account.
    • If you delete your Google account on the phone, you then find that you cannot sync your contacts anywhere, because you cannot specify a default Contacts Store in the Contacts app.
  • Calendar
    • The same is broadly true of the Calendar. If you are not sync’ed with a Google account, the only calendar you can use on the phone is the built-in phone calendar. You cannot use another, third-party calendar as the default store or synchronisation copy.
    • If you create calendar events on your phone without a Google account, even though you have other accounts which provide full calendar syncing capability, you will still be creating an event on the local calendar that has no synchronisation counterpart
    • During the course of writing this article, strangely the option appeared in my calendar to utilise alternative calendars when creating an event. We shall see if this persists..
  • Accounts & Sync
      • This section has become a total mess in Jelly Bean – especially in Motorola’s implementation.
      • You start at the home screen: swipe down (or across from left-to-right) to get to Settings (the cog symbol)
      • In Settings, you scroll down the list to the Accounts section. Hit CalDAV or CardDAV.
      • You are then taken to the respective app’s account information with a link to Edit account settings. Let’s hit that.
      • The screen scrolls again to another black screen showing the same account, the settings of which you want to change. Yet another tap on this…
      • .. and hey presto, you’re finally in! Here you make changes and then hit the back key.
      • … and then hit the back key…
      • … and then hit the back key…
      • and then you’re at Settings again, so..
      • … you then hit the back key…
      • …and you’re out!  (seriously, was this actually DESIGNED?!)
    • Going the other way into the apps settings (sorry if this is too painful for you) you first hit the Apps shortcut:
    • Hit the CalDAV or CardDAV icon
    • You then have the option: “Add account”, or “Go to accounts & sync”. Let’s say I want to edit an account, I’d choose “go to accounts and sync”..right? I tap it.
    • Oh, then there’s a pop-up style interface with ALL of your sync accounts. So I have to find my CalDAV app in the sync accounts list and tap on it…
    • Then I can see the calendar account I want to sync.  But how do I edit it? When i tap on it, it synchronises! Ahh, wait, there’s a menu/settings button (the one with three squares). I tap on that…
    • … and get the options “Sync now” or “Remove account”.
    • So, let’s get this right: to EDIT my app’s data, I go to Settings > Accounts & Sync (not to the app). And when I want to SYNC the account or DELETE it, I go to the app! That’s logical!

    In summary…

    Android is an open source ecosystem that encourages vendors to produce lock-in experiences which are frustrating, dysfunctional and unintuitive.

    And to think I was pro-android this time last week.  I suppose I still have the t-shirt.  The retailer will soon have the phone back, though.

    bootnote

    *CalDAV sync and CardDAV sync are both great pieces of software that fully get my support (and have done, in the financial sense).  I use them here as examples of good apps which are potentially made almost impossible to use by the restrictions imposed by Android OEMs.

    2 thoughts on “Android: oh the mighty…

    1. I should be so lucky, sigh.

      Clearly you’re not a Gmail user so you’re loosing out on Google’s email, calender and contacts sync which MOST Android smartphones do, smoothly and beautifully.

      Except the brand new one i just bought off eBay. The vendor says to “….download the app” off Play Store but clearly does not understand how the Google ecosystem is designed to work; being a China made (anti-Google) device – go figure! – they’ve disabled these crucial Google internal tools!

      I have 4 other branded and no-name-brand Android smartphones which all sync with Google mail, contacts and calendar out of the box. No more worrying about backing anything up as the source for all this is already your Google account online (not your phone). And when I add modify a contact or calendar entry on my phone, it’s shown automatically on my desktop PC and iPad within seconds.

      As for your problem wanting to NOT use a Google account, it should be possible if your email is on a MS Exchange service – it’ll sync exactly the same way as a Google account with your emails, contacts and calender both ways; just select Exchange when you setup your phone.

      You’ll still need a Google account to use Play Store; it’s no different on the Apple platform if you want an app off the iTunes store.

      Cheers,

      • Well, actually… I am and have been almost an over-user of everything Google for too long. Google is now capturing so much data from so many aspects of our lives, it’s more than a little concerning that people give away all this insight into their own lives to an advertising company.

        Another difficulty I struggle with is that free software and open source generally means choice, so when I get a new handset based on Android, I’d expect to have some choice in the way things can be set up. The way the Motorola Razr HD was set up made it very difficult to avoid using a Google account for some parts of my data. I don’t equate using open source software with living by Google’s code, but on the Moto this was impossible to avoid.

        Based on this and a very badly performing camera, I sent the Moto back to Amazon and got a full refund. It’s a shame; in terms of handset build I think it’s the nicest smartphone I’ve ever owned. Regardless, with a Samsung Galaxy S4 now on contract, I’m getting on much better and am currently planning/writing a data liberation series of blog posts which will show how you can live as free as possible from malicious software & activity tracking.

        Stay tuned! 🙂