Long Live Essential Phone

2 years, 4 months, 4 days. This is the time that I have carried the Essential Phone PH-1 as my “daily driver”. I believe that is my record of any phone.

Words cannot express how frustrated I am to be forced to move on from Essential. It has been the most favorite phone I have ever carried. The physical size of the phone is perfect. The updates have been solid on-point and I even got Android 10 before the Pixel series did (look it up). The state of mobile phone selection in America right now is terrible.

It should be noted that I never factory reset the Essential. The phone received all the following updates without any issue whatsoever. Operational speed has always been excellent, smooth and responsive.

  • Android 7.1.1 “Nougat”
  • Android 8.1 “Oreo”
  • Android 9.0 “Pie”
  • Android 10 (current)

You may wonder why I decided to get a new phone. The answer is simple: security. While Essential regularly released Android security patches, this has not happened since Febuary 2020 when the company announced full shutdown. Therefore, as time progresses, the phone becomes more and more vulnerable to zero-day flaws and exploits.

Choosing a replacement was very difficult. My priority was centered around security. Apple, Google, OnePlus, and Motorola were all viable contenders. While I seriously considered an iPhone for longer than 30 seconds, I couldn’t really choose this as I am married for life to Android. However, Apple’s code is completely closed and written in the United States. Therefore it (usually) is secure, as long as the humans writing it that work for Apple don’t accidentally leave open a huge vulnerability as they have in the past.

OnePlus tempted me greatly, especially with the OnePlus 7T for $500. Hardware specs are awesome but the OS is written in Shenzhen, China. This is not secure. Same with Motorola.

Better the enemy I know than the enemy I don’t

Therefore, the only choice is the Google Pixel. While I have no trust in Google remaining to “do no evil”, better the enemy I know than the enemy I don’t. Also, if Google is caught violating our privacy in a way that is unforgivable, I have a bit of faith in the FCC to lay down the law to protect the American citizens.

Amazon has the Google Pixel 3a XL on sale for $319 plus taxes. This is in preparation for the launch of the upcoming Google Pixel 4a. My plan is to carry the 3a XL as my daily driver until the 4a is released, or the Pixel 5 is announced and that might change my mind. I only want the 3a XL for a few months.

Initial review of Pixel 3a XL versus Essential Phone

  • Bigger
  • Lighter
  • Much better battery
  • Camera is epic
  • Bezels are huge
  • Software is nearly identical in every way

So Complicated!

Why has the world of technology become so complicated? All in the name of “we can do it”, right? But this is almost unfathomable. It really makes my head hurt.

  • In VMware, you have a choice of UEFI or BIOS mode. Good luck figuring out which one is the better choice, because there isn’t.
  • Ubiquiti has twenty UniFi products to choose from, not counting the new UniFi Dream Machine. This has become almost impossible for even a VAR to make the best decision of which product to recommend.
  • Ad blocking has become a huge nightmare battle as the content providers have become even smarter in their detection of ad blockers. Yet what is a privacy-conscious consumer to do? The choices are not clear at all.
  • Everything has a microphone and camera built-in and even the super-liberal Engadget and I agree that consumers have no privacy left.
  • The efforts to keep hackers at bay seem trivial compared to the massive horde of bad people growing every day. It’s like endless wave of zombies attacking your stronghold. Why does convenience come at the price of security?
  • Google Assistant is broken badly on my Android phone. I asked it “remind me when I get home to wash my car” but even using my most clear voice it just wouldn’t understand me. This is supposed to make my life easier but all it did for about 2 minutes was make my blood pressure spike into unhealthy levels.
  • My Dell PowerConnect broke a few months ago, so I “upgraded” to an HP ProCurve. It has frequent issues that require me to restart devices. So I am waiting for a Juniper EX2200 to arrive from eBay.
  • I need a new Android phone but there is definitely no clear decision. Instead I’m just going one day at a time wondering if something new will be released that will be the right decision.

I wish life was simpler.

BlackBerry KEY2 and Verizon Wireless

Carrier and Model

This is a very unique accomplishment. I’ve hoped for this moment for a very long time and now that it has happened I am very happy and pleased. The BlackBerry KEY2 (BBF100-2) is fully compatible with Verizon Wireless. I am referring to voice, text, and LTE data. Also HD voice (in fact, only HD voice because the phone has no CDMA capability).

Please note, I am NOT referring to the BlackBerry KEY2 LE. See screenshot to the left. I am referring to the original BlackBerry KEY2, retail cost $650 USD.

BlackBerry BBF100-2 specifications:

When this phone was launched in Q2 2018, it was advertised as specifically not compatible with Verizon Wireless. I tried this myself and indeed placing a VZW SIM card in the phone said “Invalid SIM” and nothing worked. Then in Q1 2019 due to other events I tried a VZW SIM card in the phone again and this time it identified as “Verizon Wireless LTE”. The correct phone number populated and incoming/outgoing phone calls worked flawlessly on HD voice. I was able to brows the Internet and conduct a speed test. I assume that VZW has allowed more LTE bands to communicate on their network, which falls in the compatibility of this device. GSM Arena lists the capability of the BBF100-2 as LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 20, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66. I don’t know what VZW utilizes, but it must include some of these bands.

Unfortunately SMS (text messages) did not successfully test. I was able to send outgoing SMS messages but I could not receive incoming SMS messages. After many hours of troubleshooting, I finally received the definitive answer:

This device is not supported and will not be supported by the Verizon Wireless network. It is not compatible with our network.

VZW Tier 2 Support

I knew the solution was to add the SFO code 83856. This code provisions the network to accept a “CDMA-less device” and allow SMS messages to be received. VZW support could not add this SFO code to my account. I tried multiple times with multiple calls. Every one failed. I stumbled upon the solution randomly thinking about my issue. I borrowed a friends BlackBerry KEY2 LE (BBE100-5), put in my VZW SIM card, called VZW support, added SFO code 83856, then put my VZW SIM card back in my BlackBerry KEY2 (BBF100-2). As of that moment, all incoming SMS messages were successfully received from all tests on all networks.

Now that I posses the knowledge of how to get this phone to operate 100% on Verizon Wireless, it does not seem very difficult, yet it took me almost 3 weeks to become successful. You do have to find a donor BBE100-5 though. Best Buy will not allow you to use an in-store demo (I tried this). I am very frustrated that VZW told me the device is “not compatible” yet it obviously is compatible. I feel like I was lied to. I want to complain to Verizon Wireless management about this discrepancy.

Update: August 25, 2020
I wanted to report that if you decide to change from the KEY2 to another phone and remain on Verizon Wireless, you will need to specifically call Customer Support and request the specific SFO code be removed from your line, otherwise you will not be able to send/receive SMS messages. Speaking from experience!

My Phone

My phone has a Snapdragon 835, has 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of non-expandable storage. My phone has two 13 MP cameras on the rear (one is black and white only for those art shots) and one 8 MP camera on the front. My phone has a 5.7 inch screen, edge to edge and not curved at 508 PPI. My phone comes in 4 colors and is made out of ceramic and titanium for ultimate durability. My phone has a 3040 mAh non-removable battery that quick charges extremely fast. My phone is unlocked and works on all carriers in the United States. My phone was designed and assembled in the United States. My phone carries no branding because it is my phone, not the manufacturers.

My phone cost $500 for me and you.

I am very happy with my phone. You would be too.

Big Phone to Small Phone to Bigger Phone (Part 3)

This post is about the final chapter of my quest for the right smartphone in August of this year.  The purchase has been made and the honeymoon is in full swing.  I have purchased the Google Nexus 6P.

droid_turbo2_iphone5_nexus6pDroid Turbo 2 > iPhone 5 > Nexus 6P

Originally I was going to purchase the new Moto Z Droid Force and start “modding” it with accessories.  However, the pricing for the Moto Z was not attractive.  Gone are the days of the “affordable” (and customizable) Moto X.  The Moto Z Droid Force (64 GB) I wanted was $770 not including accessories.  Unfortunately Best Buy wanted to sell me the 32 GB version for $800.  Yes I wanted to retire my Droid Turbo 2, but this was getting seriously expensive.

I think it was through an advertisement in an e-mail that I was alerted to the special promotional price of $400 for a Google Nexus 6P (64 GB).  I literally stayed up for two hours past my bedtime reading all about the reviews and life with the Nexus 6P.  Originally when the device launched it cost $650 making it not affordable, as well as being manufacturered by Huawei.  I was not excited about giving my money to a foreign company.  However, now that Motorola was owned by Lenovo, I officially decided to “pick my poison”.

After using the device for a few days now, I am very happy with its speed, simplicity, and fingerprint reader.  The camera is very impressive so far as well.  I don’t expect to be impressed after a year of apps and updates slow it all down, but for now I can finally stop worrying about my smartphone.  I am still searching for the right case to protect the (breakable) screen but in the meantime a nice matte Skinomi protects it from fingerprints and body oil.

Thanks for reading my thoughts.

Big Phone to Small Phone to Bigger Phone (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post regarding my smartphone experiences of July and August of this year.

Yes, I said it.  For 1 and a half weeks, I used a fully-functioning Apple iPhone 5.  Sure, I wish it could have been a new iPhone 6S, but for being free I cannot complain.  I have used iPhone’s before and supported the devices for many years in my personal and professional life.  This was the first time I had an extended usage duration with the whole Apple ecosystem.

I am going to confirm what I have been saying for literally years: I respect Apple and what the company has done to the smartphone world, however it is simply not the device for me.

The iPhone is simple, easy to use, (for the most part) reliable and safe, and very close-minded.  Yes I can accomplish most of the same goals I could on Android, but I had to do these tasks a certain way.  It was satisfying to know that my unofficial review of the iPhone device that I have been reporting for years has been confirmed with actual use.  I almost thought to myself it was a poorly-executed and copied BlackBerry ecosystem, but highly successful.  Most people harshly criticize BlackBerry for forcing tasks a certain way, but iPhone is just as guilty.  Meanwhile, simply saying, Android allows for so much more unique configurations and commands.

There is one thing I definitely enjoyed about the iPhone 5 and that was its size.  I could easily operate it with one hand and it was very comfortable to hold, even if it was only glass and metal and had sharp lines all over it.  Sometimes I miss the simplicity and effectiveness of a flip-phone and the iPhone 5 had similar qualities of dimensions that could help ease the transition from a simple device to a smartphone.

Every now and then when I become so frustrated with Android and the fragmentation of the ecosystem, I romanced the idea of abandoning ship and purchasing a new Apple iPhone.  This quick fling with the opposing team has solidified me in Android.  Sure, it may be much more complex and difficult to setup and backup and maintain, but Android simply does more.

Big Phone to Small Phone to Bigger Phone (Part 1)

The past month has definitely been a difficult month for smartphones.  It all started out when I purchased my Motorola Droid Turbo 2 shortly after launch day last year.  The phone was marketed as having a “shatterproof display” and even carried a dedicated 4-year warranty exclusively for the display if you found a way to damage it.  I quickly found out that even though most people have said it’s a marketing gimmick, the screen indeed does not break.  It has been the first phone I have carried without a case and while the phone itself suffered bumps and bruises, the screen was flawless.

Unfortunately while the screen was flawless, the internal parts were not.  After a long honeymoon period, the phone began shutting off randomly, then always when it fell on the ground.  Then more frustratingly it sometimes did not power back on immediately.  This left me in a panic a few times as I was left without communication.  Fortunately I had my ever-reliable BlackBerry to help me through a few sticky situations.

Contacting Motorola (not Verizon), I obtained a replacement new device (Moto-Maker) and vowed to treat this phone with utmost respect and would not let accidental falls happen, no matter how durable the screen is.  Much to my dismay, the phone still shut down and rebooted on its own, and had difficulty starting back up.  The longest it was down was four days (with the battery charged, if you were curious).  Same again, I contacted Motorola and I was sent a new phone.  But here’s the interesting part: For the 1 and a half weeks that my Turbo 2 was inoperable, I used an Apple iPhone 5.

If you want to comment on my Turbo 2 woes and experiences, comment on this post.  For my thoughts about the Apple iPhone, see the next post.

Motorola Droid Turbo 2 Reloaded

About 4 hours later of off-and-on supervision, my phone is successfully backed up, reset, and all apps reinstalled and the most important ones restored from backup. Android still has issues folks, make no mistake. This particular reload was long overdue as I has purchased this phone with Lollipop and had upgraded to Marshmallow. The battery didn’t last a day and this morning, I literally could see the percentage drop every few seconds after restarting it. Since the reload, it seems to be acting normally. Hopefully it will stay that way.