Rants (1)

Phones with Radio Issues

I’m afraid this is going to be somewhat of a rant.

Can someone explain to me why so many phones seem to suffer from radio communication issues of one sort or another? I’m not talking about a lack of signal, or poor cell coverage or interference; just plain ordinary bad software on the device to control the radio, or poorly designed or built hardware.

Lookit Ma! WiFi signals!

Lookit Ma! WiFi signals!

Previously, I have written about the trouble I had with my HTC One X – a phone, which while incredibly good in every other respect was completely destroyed by it’s last update which caused a complete failure of the radio module(s) to work in any predictable or useful way.

In the One X, HTC had decided for some crazy reason that having a pair of snap-connectors to connect one antenna to the motherboard was a good idea. This caused huge problems for people who simply by using their phone would press slightly too hard and disconnect the antenna.

I’m sorry – did someone at HTC forget that people hold phones? Not everyone has uniform grip strength, and putting something under tension inside a device that can flex is probably going to result in it becoming damaged or disconnected some how over time?

Thankfully, as I explain in my previous post, my connectivity issues turned out not to be this particular issue, but an entirely different, but no less insane problem.

HTC (again, in their infinite wisdom, I guess…) decided to attach another part of the antenna together by surface-spring connections… without using a spring.

I ended up connecting both contacts to fix the problem, after some experimentation.

I ended up connecting both contacts to fix the problem, after some experimentation.

Instead of making the connection with any kind of force, the connections lightly touched the contacts with small bent pieces of copper, which – as copper is want to do – deformed flat over time. Even the slightest of pressure would do this given enough time, resulting, once again, in a useless radio.

After a while, it turned out that in addition to these issues with the hardware, the software was also conspiring to mess up my day.

After the last software update the hardware issues become much more pronounced. I could sit the phone on top of our WiFi access point, at a range where even without the antenna, some connectivity should have been possible, and it would still disconnect randomly.

Thankfully, the software issue was limited to the WiFi components, and with my unlimited data plan, I could at least still keep connected and get on with what I wanted to do, albeit at a slower pace.

Our hero, the Nexus 5

Our hero, the Nexus 5

Eventually, I gave up and bought a Nexus 5, thinking that surely a Google main-line phone would have better support than the average. I was right, or so it would seem. The added visibility of a phone in the Google spotlight seemed to keep it fast, stable and most importantly – connected.

However, as an Android app developer, I thought it would be advisable to keep within the main-line range, and follow Google through the phones they place on the Nexus line, so that I would be kept up-to-date with the software and be able to keep my apps up-to-date.

Thus, filled with a confidence borne on the success of the Nexus 5, I decided, having left the Nexus 6 alone for it’s launch, to ‘invest’ in one. Apparently, this was a bad idea.

The phone is too big for my hands, but that’s an entirely different rant that I might cover at some point, but beyond that all initially seemed well. The phone performed to it’s spec, and having found a half-decent case, I began to get used to the size.

Then came the update. Since it’s install, the spectre of flaky wireless connectivity has been rearing it’s ugly, indecipherable head.

Now when I turn on the phone, it’s easily a 50/50 chance that WiFi will be ‘connected’ but inoperable, irrespective of which network I happen to be in range for (I work at a university, there’s WiFi everywhere). So, falling back on old habits, I flick the WiFi off, and watch with predictable irritation as the mobile data connection also ‘connects’, but remains inoperable.


What I can’t understand about all this is how it manages to get through any kind of testing. The symptoms appear immediately, and while they can be difficult to reproduce on command they do happen often enough that it would be possible to see what was going on.

Also, these are phones… their only, real purpose is to phone people. How can these companies mess up the only key function these devices need to perform? I realise that the modern smartphone’s software landscape is a vast and complex thing – but if you perform changes, and the phone stops acting as a phone and you decide to push the updates anyway, there is a special place in whatever hall or theological equivalent you believe in for you.

Anyway. </rant>