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Why My LG Optimus Cellphone Is Worse Than It's Supposed To Be 291

Bennett Haselton writes My LG Optimus F3Q was the lowest-end phone in the T-Mobile store, but a cheap phone is supposed to suck in specific ways that make you want to upgrade to a better model. This one is plagued with software bugs that have nothing to do with the cheap hardware, and thus lower one's confidence in the whole product line. Similar to the suckiness of the Stratosphere and Stratosphere 2 that I was subjected to before this one, the phone's shortcomings actually raise more interesting questions — about why the free-market system rewards companies for pulling off miracles at the hardware level, but not for fixing software bugs that should be easy to catch. Read below to see what Bennett has to say.

How long would it have taken you to find these bugs, as a beta tester?

  • The phone's auto-correct changes single-quotes to double-quotes in contractions -- for example, when you type you're, the phone auto-corrects it to you"re .

  • When you backspace over part of a word that you've typed and then type the rest of the word, auto-correct corrects based on the letters that you type after you've finished backspacing, rather than the letters in the entire word that you've just completed. For example, if you type couchsurfing and the phone auto-corrects it to concurring, then backspace over all of the letters except the initial co, and then type "uch" followed by a space to form the word "couch", the Optimus changes "uch" to "such" to form "cosuch", because it thinks it's auto-correcting just the "uch" fragment and doesn't see the entire word "couch".

  • Taking a screen capture still doesn't work, just like it didn't work on the Stratosphere 2. There are official directions on how to do it, but you can follow the steps and nothing happens.

  • The first time I launched the voice mail application, the app prompted me to freely choose a new PIN code, and then sternly warned me, Mao-like, that my supposedly freely chosen PIN code was "incorrect". (I never got it working, and just called in to the voice mail number manually whenever I wanted to check my messages.)

  • When I bought a movie on Google Play and wanted to "pin" it to the phone -- i.e. download a static, non-streamed copy so that I could watch it offline, e.g. on a plane ride -- the phone didn't have enough internal storage left to save a copy of the movie (1.27 GB, most of it taken up in 1-2 MB increments by crapware already loaded on to the phone, so that only about 200 MB was left). So I tried saving the movie to a 32 GB SD card that I had plugged into the phone, but ran into the problem that Google Play wouldn't let me save the movie to the SD card, a problem described in Joe Levi's 2013 article "Why does Google hate your SD card?" and still not fixed almost a year later. (The comments posted on his article indicate that lots of people are pissed.)

    Unlike the other bugs, this may be an example of stupidity not at the testing level but at the design specification level -- perhaps this was done in a misguided effort to prevent illegal copying. But, as Levi says of this theory, "If the DRM being used on Android is sufficient enough for content providers to accept it when media is saved internally, they should also accept it when media is saved to an SD card. Otherwise, the DRM isn't really that trustworthy, is it?" It's pointless from a copy-protection point of view, since anyone who wants to pirate a movie can just download it from various BitTorrent sites anyway; all this "feature" does is alienate people who are trying to pay for a movie legally.

  • In the Messaging (i.e. texting) app, you cannot search for messages by the name of the sender. Your conversations are listed in reverse chronological order by the date of the most recent message in each conversation, but to find a conversation with a particular person, you have to scroll down the entire list of conversations and keep your eyes peeled for the person's name.

  • On certain mobile website forms (the Fandango site, for instance, and some others that I don't remember -- it's not clear why this happens on some website forms but not others), the phone won't let me type "special characters", the ones that appear in the upper-right corner of the keyboard keys (so that you can type the "@" symbol by first hitting the "Fn" key to access special characters, and then pressing the "2" key). This means that since I can't type the "@" symbol, I can't log in to any form that requires an email address as a username. (The workaround is to open the Gmail app, find an email address in an email message, copy the "@" symbol from the email address to the clipboard, and then paste it back in the browser form -- yes, I have to do every time I log in to a mobile site that has this problem.)

In my previous phone-suck article about the Samsung Stratosphere, I listed as many problems as I could think of at the time, and I completely forgot the fact that the phone recorded videos without any sound. (I know it wasn't a hardware problem with the microphone, since the phone app picked up my voice fine.) As part of my research into how to ruin Burning Man forever by telling "tourists" how to get there easily, I wanted to post a video of the quintessential Burning Man spectacle that makes all the dust and thirst and heat worthwhile -- and I had to post it with no sound recording, because Samsung's product testing is done by the same drunken bonobos that worked on the LG Optimus.

And both products raise the same question, not rhetorically, but seriously: How did this happen? More specifically, in a theoretical free market, any product improvement that costs only a small amount compared to the benefit it brings to consumers, should be implemented (and consumers will reward the company by paying additional dollars for the improvement, in proportion to the benefit it brings them). While it doesn't always work out that way in practice, it's hard to believe LG couldn't spring for a few English-language testers to point out that the phone shouldn't be correcting you're to you"re.

I think the answer in both cases is that the free market optimizes mainly for things that are easily quantifiable, like camera resolution and network speed, because those can be listed on the packaging and compared against other products. But the amount of stupid s*#t you run into while actually using the phone, is hard to define on an objective scale, so that's the first thing that companies will cut corners on, even if it's something that consumers would be willing to pay money for.

So my solution is still essentially the same as what I proposed after trashing the Stratosphere: Some Consumer-Reports-type outlet should rate phones on a Stupid S*#t Index (along with speed, reception, etc.), based on how much stupid s*#t they run into in a week of typical usage. Ideally the Stupid S*#t Index should be reduced to a number so that you can do a quick comparison between different models. If a cheap phone has a lot of stupid s*#t problems, but you don't mind because you want to save money, that's a valid choice, and if you want to pay more for a phone with less stupid s*#t, that's fine too. But people should know what they're buying.

More generally, I think people vastly overestimate the ability of the free market to meet consumer demand, in cases where the demand is for something that can't be easily quantified. I've spent a fair amount of time in "entrepreneurial" circles (while bouncing back and forth myself between entrepreneurship and regular jobs) and have heard the faithful reciting a lot of platitudes like "The market rewards the best product," or "Focus on building the best product you can make, and the customers will come." But most of them evidently didn't even believe it themselves -- they spent most of their efforts on search engine optimization, running content farms, networking with important business contacts, and other activities that didn't directly relate to the quality of their products. And who could blame them? Since their products weren't competing on qualities that were precisely quantifiable, there was no reason for any of them to try to create the "best" product, or even a particularly good one. And that strategy worked quite well for several of them.

On the other hand, when you're competing on a quantifiable metric like price, the best product or service can shoot straight to the top without wasting any time on zero-sum games like SEO or networking ass-kissery. If you're selling external hard drives on Amazon for $0.01, you'll make a lot of sales. You'll go broke, but in the meantime, the free market will connect you quite effectively with your customers.

So, make the mobile phone Stupid S*@t Index into something quantifiable, and maybe we'll have less stupid s#*t. One review body could publish the average rating from several different reviewers, or several different review bodies could publish their ratings and consumers could weight the averages themselves.

Not that it's a panacea -- I bought the LG Optimus not because it was the cheapest or because I didn't expect it to have bugs, but because it was the only offering with a slide-out keyboard, and I've become addicted to the precision of physical keys. (It is so much easier to let your fingertip feel its way to the right key first, and then actually press the key in a separate motion, rather than having to hope your fingertip lands on the right spot in the first place.) So I never returned the phone, they kept my money, and I suppose that makes me part of the problem.

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Why My LG Optimus Cellphone Is Worse Than It's Supposed To Be

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday July 21, 2014 @11:42AM (#47500947) Journal
    This is (largely) true; but the question is why?. It is expected that cheap phones will suffer from somewhat inferior hardware; but it is less clear why they should suffer from inferior software, doubly so if the very same vendor or the AOSP has software without whatever flavor of broken is causing the issue. It's also particularly weird with something like autocorrect making dumb mistakes: that's far too high level to be a 'well, we went with the cheapest SoC vendor, and you wouldn't believe what total shit their BSP is...' problem, it's not something that the guy buying the expensive phone is going to be spared because he has a faster CPU and more RAM, and it's not something where there's any good reason for the vendor to be trying to roll their own.

    I suspect that the thesis about 'hard to quantify' stuff getting squeezed first is true, and one would be foolish to expect market mechanisms to work in the absence of good information, which 'hard to quantify' largely assures; but it still surprises me that cheap hardware (and even some expensive hardware) is routinely shipped with software that actually cost somebody money to make worse than 'stock'. Carrier shitware on cheap phones, I understand, because carriers exert most of the control over what phones will be made available 'free' with contract, and so OEMs will suck it up and preinstall whatever they demand; but any other area where the experience is worse than stock android of the equivalent version just seems weird.
  • Re:...The hell? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Monday July 21, 2014 @04:57PM (#47503513)

    I think his point is that e theoretical free-market that serves the consumer's every need is a myth,

    Of course such a free market is a myth, and nobody who understands what "free market" means would think so. "Every need"? Of course not. "Every need that can be financially supported".

    "Free market" first requires a market. Mass markets/low cost cannot be supported in infinite variety. "Every need" is a niche market served by smaller companies who focus on that, and charge significantly more. That's why there are buses and cabs; doormen and concierges; delivery boys and butlers; waiters and maitre'd.

    If you want to buy the lowest level phone and expect the "free market" to cater your every whim, well, that's not going to happen. Most people understand that higher levels of product cost more and updates may actually cost money.

    But what I was replying to was, specifically, his claim that "and consumers will reward the company by paying additional dollars for the improvement", which is patently absurd in this context. He is the proof of that absurdity -- he deliberately bought the cheapest phone he could and is complaining because it doesn't meet his "every need". As a consumer, he chose NOT to reward a competitor who met his needs, because his immediate and pressing need was "doesn't cost more than I want to pay".

  • by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @12:19PM (#47508451) Homepage

    Two words: "Market Differentiation". I once worked for a company which made printers. One printer line had a low-end model and a high-end model. The hardware was identical except for two things: (1) The print head, which produced higher-quality output and was more durable in the high-end model; and (2) the color of the case. That's it. Otherwise they were identical. The marketing guys decided that the print quality alone wouldn't tempt people towards the high-end model, so they required us to hobble the software. The same software build was loaded into each model, but if it detected the cheap print head it inserted wait-states into memory access to force about a 30% decrease in formatting speed. Voila! Now the high-end product had enough benefit to justify the price difference!

    tl;dr: Sometimes yes, companies will expend extra effort to intentionally make a crappier product, if it means that they'll sell more of an expensive higher-profit-margin product. And yes, it drives the engineers completely bananas.

Kill Ugly Processor Architectures - Karl Lehenbauer