Pixel & Pie – WTF Google!

Google Pixel (Very Black)

After carrying Nexus phones for years I bought a Google Pixel in December 2016. That was just after the Pixel 2 was released, so the older Pixel was priced well and still offered great performance.

I was very pleased with the Pixel until quite recently. The OTA update to Android 9 (Pie) in August has been a huge step backward. Since that update the phone’s battery life has been dramatically reduced. Where it once lasted all day with my typical usage, it now lasts only about 7 hours with only light usage. Further, the phone is often noticeably warm to the touch.

Being the inquisitive sort, I’ve done some experiments to try and find out why this is happening. There are no rogue apps running. Or at least the OS reports no app using more that 2-3% of battery power.

I put the phone in Safe Mode for a day so only the factory installed apps would run. Battery life remained abysmal. That suggests that the problem is not caused by an app at all.

I’ve come to believe that I’ve identified the source of the problem. It’s related to the Wi-Fi. If I turn off the Wi-Fi the battery life is closer to what was experiencing running Oreo. Turn it back on and it plummets.

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Sennheiser’s New SDW-5000 DECT Cordless Headsets

A Polycom VVX-600 and Sennheiser DW Pro2 headset are my workaday tools of choice. They have been for years. Polycom VVX remains best-in- class. The DW Pro 2 gives me hands-free flexibility and cordless mobility, sufficient to reach the coffee machine, which is clearly a critical issue.

This pair addressed my quest for practical tools leveraging HDVoice. They explain why I’ve not put much effort into reviews of new desk phones in recent years. The matter has been largely settled hereabouts.

However, they not perfect. There’s room for improvement. In particular, the advent of WebRTC brought a tide of Opus-capable services that would benefit from full-bandwidth audio. The 16 KHz sampling required to support G.722 was great in 2010, but nearly a decade down the road it seems more than a little limiting.

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Pixel Receives Pie

Android Pie

Today my Pixel phone received an update that was reported to be Android Pie. This was the general rollout of Pie, which is Android 9.x. Since I participate in the beta program I’ve actually been running an earlier version of Pie for a couple of months.

USB Headsets

One of the new things in Pie is the ability to access the USB port for general purpose functions. Specifically, it now supports both generic UVC and UAC devices.

USB Audio support has been around for quite some time. Given a suitable USB-on-the-Go adapter I have connected a USB headset and it just worked. I’ve done this in the past, using a USB call center headset with my Nexus 5 and Pixel.

I’ve also used a miniDSP UMIK-1 calibrated microphone to make sound measurements using AudioTool. This combination worked especially well connected to the now discontinued nVidia Shield K1 tablet.

USB Cameras

Similarly, you can connect a USB webcam and it will be available to apps on the phone. Most apps will not have access to the USB camera. They simply aren’t aware that it’s possible to have such a device.

I’ve used USB Camera along with a common Logitech webcam. The USB-Type-C-to-A adapter that comes with the phone makes the physical connection possible. Once the app is running it can record and stream the camera output.

Webcam-via-Pixel

It can be added in vMix as a stream source using a simple URL as shown below.

Webcam-via-Pixel-in-vMix

With a little experimentation I suspect that this could be used to record or stream the output of a UVC compliant video capture dongle. That would make the phone effectively an RTMP encoder for live streaming.

USB Ethernet

While at Cluecon last month I had occasion to connect my Pixel to Ethernet. The main stage at Clueon was in the Lucerne Room at the Swissotel, which is in the basement. There’s no T-Mobile coverage down there so I had the Pixel connected to the Cluecon Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi for Cluecon attendees was sensibly configured with client isolation. No-one connected to the Wi-Fi could see anyone else also connected. As it should be.

That also meant that my desktop, connected via ethernet, could not see a live stream from the Pixel while on Cluecon Wi-Fi. This got in the way when I wanted to use RTSP Camera Server to turn the Pixel into a roaming wireless camera.

As a quick experiment, I connected a USB-Ethernet adapter to the Pixel. I’ve carried one of these ever since buying the Lenovo X1 Carbon, which lacks on-board ethernet.

Putting the Pixel into airplane mode it was thus on the same wired network as the desktop. So arranged, the desktop could “see” the RTSP stream from the app.

I later discovered that the Cluecon “Presenter” Wi-Fi, a separate network, had client isolation defeated, making it possible to roamed untethered with a phone acting as a wireless camera.

Greater USB device support in Android will doubtless be handy.

Unexpected Friends: Pixel & Sennheiser DW Pro 2 Headset

Being in the conferencing business, I’m on the phone a lot during the course of my working life. Most of my phone calling happens via a pair of dear friends; my Polycom VVX-600 and a Sennheiser DW Pro 2 DECT headset. This pair has proven itself in literally years of office use. They’re simply tremendous.

vvx-600 & DW Pro headset

In fact, they’re so good together that my mobile phone was something of an afterthought. I only used it after hours, or when someone called me at that number. That someone was most typically my wife. Stella always calls my mobile. She never calls my desk.

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The nVidia Shield K1 Tablet

Let me be clear, I was a big fan of Google’s Nexus series. It started with the Galaxy Nexus, which impressed me so that I later bought a Nexus 4. In 2012 Google also released the first generation of the Nexus 7, which I also purchased.

The Nexus experience continued, so favorable that I didn’t even hesitate when they released a second generation Nexus 7 in 2013. I ordered one immediately.

The Nexus 7 saw heavy use around the house. I loved the Nexus 4 for a device on-the-go. It was the perfect size IMHO. Around the house, where fitting into my pocket was less of an issue, the Nexus 7’s larger screen made it my go-to device.

I’ve actually had three Nexus 7s over the years, replacing one with a shattered display, and later buying a spare when Google stopped offering them. I still have the Asus dock with micro-USB and HDMI ports that lets the tablet run on external power, even as you use it to feed a monitor or HDTV.

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The Pixel Tells Me About HD Calls

Google Pixel In-callThroughout 2016 I carried a Nexus 5 mobile phone. So did my wife. Hers is the red one. She loves it.

My Nexus 5 suffered a crack in the display the very week that I bought it. In fact, that happened the very day that the screen protector was to arrive from Amazon. In frustration, I merely applied the tempered glass screen protector and kept using the phone for a year!

Over that time, although the phone worked perfectly, the crack grew. By the end of the year it was something of an embarrassment, so I broke down and bought a Pixel from Google.

Some have heard me rant that the move from Nexus to Pixel was disappointing. I maintain that the Nexus phones were an outstanding value, whereas the Pixel, while a fine instrument, is just another costly device.

My experience with the Pixel has been great. It’s a big step up in performance. Nougat is nice. I really like the fingerprint unlock feature. Battery life is exemplary, at least in my use case. USB C fast-charging is ok, although I do miss wireless charging.

One of the things I liked about the Nexus 5 on T-Mobile was that I enjoyed HDVoice calling to the few people I call most often. They are also T-Mobile customers, with suitably capable handsets.

This morning, for the very first time, I noticed that the Pixel indicates when it’s connected in HDVoice. I’m not sure if this indication is a new thing, or I simply never noted previously.

There aren’t too many people who get excited about HDVoice. I still do. It’ll be great we can pass HDVoice between carriers. Some say that’s happening now, but I see no evidence of it.