Now I remember why I hate smartphones

On Friday, I picked up a brand new Dell Streak from my local O2 store. It’s the first non-Nokia phone I’ve owned in more than a decade, and the first smartphone I’ve had for 5 years.

Since 2005, I’ve been something of an oddity in my profession, in that I’ve eschewed expensive gadgety phones in favour of something simpler. The most advanced feature I ask for in my phone has been ‘sync address book to PC’, right after ‘send text messages’ and ‘make phone calls’. It became a point of honour that I spent so little on them. My last phone cost £29.99 on PAYG in 2008, and in the intervening years I topped it up with £15 of credit exactly twice.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to have smartphones (such as they were at the time) even before I went to university. However, I got sick of them. It only took me a single weekend with my new one to remember why.


First off, let me say that I don’t actually hate my Dell Streak (at least, not yet). Engadget has a full review that does the device more justice than I could, but for my part I’ll say it’s a lovely bit of hardware. The higher screen resolution is what I’ve always missed on every smartphone I’ve played with in the last few years, the device responsiveness is extremely snappy, and I don’t regret my purchase at all. What I do regret is the 2 hours of my life I lost trying to get the wireless to work the way I wanted.

I don’t know what Zen mastery I was channelling when I first set it up, but I managed to get it to connect to my WPA2-RADIUS wireless at home without any problems, despite the problems an awful lot of people trying to do this on Android have had. On Sunday, however, I noticed that it wasn’t always reconnecting properly after coming out of sleep, so I altered the settings on my access point to drop down to WPA instead of WPA2.

At that point, it all went to hell.

Since then, I have not been able to get the Streak to connect via any form of wireless using RADIUS at all. I spent two hours re-entering settings, restoring the original config I used, restarting the phone and AP multiple times, until eventually I gave up. It wouldn’t even associate with the AP any more, let alone authenticate. I set up a separate SSID using WPA2-PSK and configured the Streak to use that. It works fine. And it even reconnects properly after waking from sleep.

Ultimately though, this reminded me why I stopped using smartphones; there’s always something that doesn’t sodding work properly. In the past, there was absolutely no way of fixing these things short of calling into the local Nokia Service Centre and convincing them to do a flash upgrade (which rarely helped, and on one occasion bricked my phone entirely). These days, on Android at least, I could root the phone and tinker around with the wpa_supplicant configuration and probably get it working. Here’s the problem though: I can’t be bothered. I have enough junk to tinker with and cajole into working properly at the office, without my own phone being one of them. It’s the same reason I stopped self-building my own home PCs and started buying Dell with a 4-year warranty (and when those have software problems, the most complicated it gets is a simple driver upgrade).

The bottom line is that I want my phone to just sodding work. The Dell Streak comes tantalisingly close, but I’ve yet to find a phone that isn’t a pain in the backside in some way.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

16 responses to “Now I remember why I hate smartphones”

  1. webman says :

    I’m beginning to notice a trend here. You buy a lot of Dell kit. A lot of your issues seem to be with Dell kit.

  2. 17G33K says :

    Similar issues with my blackberry and the uma. As the signal is crap in my office the phone connects to the cell provider over the internrt and the wifi. Brilliant idea I hear you cry but wait…. If you use a proxy (like the lgfl do) then you need to buy blackbery enterprise server at a cost of £££££ to negotiate the proxy for you. And as for the head teacher and the damn iphone and new ipad don’t even get me started….. First company to build a plug in and go smartphone that works fully and properly will make a fortune off me alone.

  3. ICT_Tech says :

    Should of waited till the new iPhone comes out ;-)

  4. Mr M says :

    GET AN IPHONE.

    (Okay, I know my writing the above in CAPS is really going to annoy you…)

    I’ve owned every single piece of PDA equipment I could get my hands on. I’ve owned 4 Palms (back in the Pilot III days), a plethora of Windows Mobile smartphones (2x HTC Wizards, 1x HTC s710, 1x HTC Blue Angel, 1x HTC Universal), 2 Compaq iPaqs, not to mention an array of Nokia phones with wi-fi that never worked properly. Oh yes, and two different HP smartphones (Win Mobile) which I quite liked.

    I’ve been through generations of mobile operating systems.

    From this list, you might think I am a complete tech-whore-junky who simply loves new stuff.

    Similarly I have a swathe of ex-girlfriends who told me I had problems with commitment.

    They were all wrong. I just hadn’t met the right girl, and that didn’t hang too well for them.

    God, I bought and sold units on Ebay and made profits from mobile phone contract subsidies (this due to spending high on my tariff), I used to have exciting conversations with developers about the latest technology to be included in a phone.

    I was a smartphone slut.

    Then, iPhone happened. And I stopped caring so much about technology, and about the difference between girlfriends, because technology became transparent. Like your trusty old £29.99 Nokias. Like your wife. (No reference to Mrs AngryTechnician.)

    iPhones don’t break. They don’t suffer crashes. They don’t accidentally erase your address book when you sync. They don’t ask any questions when you want to install a certificate you generated from your CA so you can have push notifications from your Exchange installation.

    They don’t suck in every single way that every other smartphone I have ever set eyes on does. (Except possibly the Blackberry. But Blackberry still sucks a little bit.)

    They just work. And fast. And nicely. They do all that enterprise stuff better, quicker, more intuitively, and more seamlessly than anything else on the market.

    Look, I get as sick as you do (okay, mildly less-so) hearing technology evangelists bang on about what they think is good.

    But seriously AngryTechnician, I emplore you to hang up your Apple-flavoured hang-ups, re-align your Apple hatred by refocussing it on how crap MacOS still is, and get an iPhone. Then accept it makes all competition look ridiculous.

    I still laugh when I see headlines on tech sites like “next iPhone killer?” then rush to the shop to try it out.

    Alas, I think these headlines are as ridiculous as car manufacturers saying things like “Ultimate Driving Machine” – try saying that to your sexy BMW sports car with rear wheel drive that can’t even cope with the most basic of hills when it’s icy.

    Sorry for the waffly post there.

    But, anonymously, I must say once again. GET AN IPHONE!

    (Not really anonymously.)

    • AngryTechnician says :

      The screen is too small, and it’s £80-£100 dearer.

      Plus, try telling that ‘iPhones don’t crash’ bit to Overshare, who was forever swearing when his iPhone didn’t work properly. Or the two people on my Facebook feed just yesterday complaining about how their iPhones had locked up.

  5. Kyle says :

    That is, until say you want to do something a bit different with it.. like say connect to an OpenVPN network.. or run Flash Video.. or a whole variety of things that Apple either don’t want you to do or dont consider important enough.

    For the record… I’ve got an iPhone 3GS and i’m very happy with the UI and the functionality – and I love it to bits – but at contract end, it’ll be going for something Android based. I’ve got an Macbook Pro as well, and I love it too. However, the difference is I can do what I like with the Macbook Pro – and I object to paying money to somebody (Apple) so they can control what I do with my own possessions. I’ve no problem with the AppStore idea per say, but if i want to run my own apps on MY phone, and give it out to other people – I don’t see why I need apple’s approval to do so.

    Kyle

  6. Nathan says :

    I’m still annoyed that i can’t enter proxy details for an android phone :s I dislike Apple too, i think it’s just their marketing and how they bang on about “we’ve invented this, we’re the first to do this” when they clearly are not!

  7. ICT_Tech says :

    I’ve just setup the first Dell Streak for email, I was totally shocked to find that it doesn’t seem to have native exchange support!

    Only POP3 and IMAP, what the hell is the deal there??

    I’ve previously setup two HTC Desires, which also run Android and they had native support and connected with no problems ?!?

    Is this something that Dell have decided not to include but are they not selling this as a business phone ???

    On official Dell website they say to use touchdown APP which is $29

    I am not impressed with that one

    The Streak is a nice looking device though :-)

  8. Giles says :

    iPhones do crash.

    I’m not a mac fan at all but my iPod touch really does ‘just work’ – connecting to WPA/TKIP wireless with domain creds fine. Mostly snappy so I’ll happily lay down the extra bucks on the 24th for the same reason as you’re no longer self-building PCs.

  9. Giles says :

    @ Mr M – Re the BMW in snow.

    LOL! I loved it when we had that bit of snow and I couldn’t get my car (a stonking great FWD estate) out so took the gf’s tiny little Hyundai. Hilarious nipping round the icy streets with no problem and watching BMWs and Mercs sliding all over the place…

    Ahhh… good times!

    • TheCrust says :

      I saw a lot of BMWs stranded at the bottom of hills in the snow and ice earlier this year too.

      I didn’t get stuck once in my 20-year-old Sierra and took great delight in drifting around corners sideways just like Stig Blomqvist did in the old days – only slower.

      Good times indeed. Especially when the Beemer drivers were trying to work out how the chuff I was doing it when they were stuck. :-)

  10. Tim says :

    I found my first smartphone experience (Nokia 5800) to be very much like my first PC experience (Windows 95, Pentium 2). Basically, I spent the first month fecking around with settings and installing every bit of freeware I could find until the OS was completely messed-up and I had to reinstall everything from scratch.

    Second time round, with latest firmware, I have no problems at all. Does pretty much everything the iPhone does and some things that have only come in with iPhone OS v4. May not be quite as fast or reliable (though from what I hear it probably is as reliable), but the phone came free on a £15, 24 month contract with unlimited data from Vodafone. Oh, and I don’t have to use iTunes, and can install apps that haven’t been certified.

    iPhones are undoubtedly easier to use than most smartphones, but they are also less flexible and poorer value for money than some of the alternatives.

    p.s. I have a two year old home-build Windows 7 PC which I use most days and it’s as stable as any factory built PC.

  11. _techie_ says :

    iTunes sucks on Windows…same as Quicktime, and Safari on Windows.
    iphone tied to mac os x is great! I only had one crash in the entire 10 months of owning my iphone. And a simple turn off and back on again solved it. I dare say that there are higher specced, higher featured, cheaper phones out there, but they do all suck in comparison (however, the latest HTC Desire looks okay, if you seem to want to run the Android OS).

    Just my two cents.

  12. Duncan says :

    “I can’t be bothered. I have enough junk to tinker with and cajole into working properly at the office, without my own phone being one of them. It’s the same reason I stopped self-building my own home PCs and started buying Dell with a 4-year warranty ”

    Almost the same sentiment earned me a unilateral shunning from variouse tech-friends a few years ago.

    You are absolutally right however, after spending your days tinkering and swearing at things (IBM SurePos 500 Tills in my case and the worst EPOS software known to man…) you dont want to go home and have to do the same before you can relax with the home technology.

  13. ScottishTech says :

    Try adding two toddlers to the mix and you’ll understand why I’m of much the same opinion.

    I like gadgets. Love ’em, in fact, but it’s now only if they just work.