Sunday, November 22, 2015

The player's phone: Nexus 5X and Project Fi review

Update: World exclusive. It looks like Google Store refunded buyers the Black Friday discount, if you brought it earlier. I did in Nov, when they sent out a lot of invites.

Updated with multi user mode in Marshmallow and some Lollipop phones.
Updated: bugs in user mode and not.

Google (Alphabets) 's Project Fi opened grandly as a global carrier with Android's showcase phones Nexus 5X and 6P. Apple can't beat that with unlimited cheap call and text, pay per MB 4G, works in 120+ countries with 3G data, and works 100% anywhere with WiFi.

I got the 5X because it's smaller. That's the size that men fingers starts to be useful in typing. With voice commands and intelligent browser aids, the screen size isn't that important. For some people, that's always a difficult decision to get a real phone, a tablet, a portable with standup screen or a desktop.

The spec of the 5X is respectable in all fronts while the processor is at the higher end of it's class. There's no 4K video. For extra protection, Google also offers two 2nd chances if you break the phone, similar to Apple's.

First of all, every player needs a really really "private" number. I recommend to setup a 2nd private Google account, get a Google Voice number and use Hangout for your private line.

Of course there are paid service such as VOIP over the phone with voice and text. There's also free, the technology behind Google Voice. But Hangout is integrated with the rest of the phone so some convenient features of Marshmallow are not lost. On the other hand, a totally separate private space in the phone aren't bad at all, if they work in the new Marshmallow API.

Basically Project Fi is Google Voice with carriers, so you are not allowed to have two GV numbers in a single Google account. I don't think it's only because of dinginess. If you have been using GV, you know the requirement of mental complexity to deal with it so private remains private. If you are allowed multiple GV numbers in Fi, there might be unimaginable complexities openning up.

So you always need a social number, the main number that friends find you and in which all the apps are registered. You need to port this number to Fi. There's no different before Fi when you port a number to GV. If you already have a carrier number and GV number, you have to pick one and give up the other. You don't lost any data, just the number.

To deal with you existing GV number as the 2nd private number, the best is to open a new Google account with your Alias profile. Google now even provide caller ID base on this. Then port your GV number to the new account for free. (But if you port out the number, say, to, that's $3 to Google.) All GV number need to have another mobile or landline number as verification. It's of course trivial to get a number temporary or permanently. But I think you might just be able to use the Fi number too, now that Fi is a carrier now. (But are you allowed to add a Fi number to the phone list, even tought forwarding won't work?)

You need to install Hangout dialer to be able to receive incoming and out going calls. You have the option to replace the phone dialer and messenger with hangout, but i think it is optional and only relevant to your Fi number. I wouldn't replace the stock phone (dialer) and messenger app with Hangout, because Hangout uses data only. Another combination that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Your 2nd line should use Hangout, because otherwise you have to use Hangout to dial out anyway, and Google Voice to send messages. And remember Hangout uses only data. In the past you can receive call and messages to your GV number via carrier minutes, and dial out as your GV number and reply to messages with your carrier minutes. Now they are all gone because you can't redirect to your Fi number and your Fi number is your carrier number. You must use all data for your GV number so there's simplicity.

Of course you need to login with both of your Google accounts. You have the option to not sync data such as emails, calender, and if you are sure, contacts on the 2nd account.

On Hangout, you can easily switch the default account to use. Each account also have different settings. To be honest, I don't use Hangout with anybody so my default account is always the private account. HO made it very clear what the current account is, and which account is receiving notifications and which is dialing and sending text.

Now that your private account is on the 5X, you want it to be private at all times. The fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone is pretty good, but it's on the back where you index finger normally is. It's perfect when you pickup the phone and it's unlock instantly. But when the phone is on the desk, you need something like WTN to lock, wake up and unlock the phone. The complexity is that, WTN don't work with fingerprints for now; it's at the back anyway. If you use WTN to unlock the phone, you have the normal choice of unlock methods other than fingerprint sensor. There's no knock sensor unlock on the 5X but pattern works good enough for me. But if you lock the phone using WTN, the fingerprint sensor will not unlock.

When the phone is in the locked state, you must set the notifications to hide sensitive data on phone settings. You know you have messages, missed calls or voicemails but not who's the originator.

But when a called is received, either a phone call or a hangout phone call, the caller ID and contact picture goes straight to the screen and anybody can answer the call (I think). There are apps to hide that and lock that, but the locking doesn't work with Marshmallow yet.

There are apps that allows you to have a secret contact list, and will sent you a dummy notification when you get a call or message. First, the one I tried doesn't work with Marshmallow yet. Second, they will not possibility work with Hangout for your 2nd line.

My solution for the calling screen is to block it. You can just block the phone app in notification settings. The phone still rings but at the screen there will be nothing. You have to unlock the phone, open the phone app, and tap return to call in progress. That's a very discreet solution but the 2nd line is your problem. Also, unlike using an obvious app to do that, people won't think that you have something to hide, just dump for setting the phone wrong. Also, you still have other notifications such as missed calls and voicemail.

You can do the same to Hangout, blocking it. The phone still rings but there's no way to answer it even when you open Hangout. Though you can find out who's call you missed. That's not bad as you can turn it on and then off when you don't need it. You just have to remember to block it when you don't want your contact to appear on the calling screen. Also, all my companions now use text, and only text.

The solution is to App Block Hangout. Super App Block works. You don't see anything from HO unless you unlock the phone. But app block doesn't work on the phone dialer. It only locks the dialer but not when you are receiving calls.

Your 2nd GV number has no relation to your Fi number so everything goes through 4G. Google uses multiple carriers so you may even have better coverage. However, not so long ago I went to an fast growing area that don't even have 3G. GV don't even work and I have to phone Google to dial out with my GV number.

The voice command on the 5X is pretty good and useful. The hot word is "OK Google" and it's always detecting. If you find it awkward you can just tap the mic icon or change it to "Hey Honey" using open mic+ for example. Mic+ is a mess but you can just focus on changing the hot word. It works even when Google doesn't want it to use it's speech recognition server. As for the Google recognition, it put up with the many accents and mood that I am capable of. Though, there are some mic ownership conflicting issues when you use it repeatedly.

"Hey Honey, how to say I love you in Spanish?" My honey didn't miss a beat and works flawlessly. Remember the good old days when I was using a Spanish little travel phrase pbook to lookup "one hour" in Barcelona. It took so much effort to take it out and flip the pages. And when I used a pocket electronic Spanish translator in Buenos Aires, it was so slow to type with one finger that my companion snatched it and type on it herself. When the going is tough my Honey will translate it for me at least. I only need to tap the speak icon on google translate to get it said. It even worked for Chinese!

The voice command is perfect when you are driving around, in 120+ countries. Maps and navigation doesn't use much data and 3G is adequate, or the phone will store enough information even when you browsed it on Wifi. You can actually save some areas for a long period. You can "find" the hotel without worrying about the location beforehand. You can also find starbucks or mcdonald for free wifi just in case.

Now that my new generations of companions all use text and only text, I can say "Hey Honey, text Big N Easy I will be late for 10 mins." And say yes to confirm all without my hands off my steering wheel. That will work flawlessly if she is on the phone Contact list. So if you have a secret phone book voice will not work. And since there's no secure way to hide your contacts on the phone, with voice command you never need to scroll through your contacts in front of other people. You phone is always locked and others cannot look at your contacts without your fingerprint or pattern.

The size of the screen is important when you need to browse and type something on a mobile unfriendly site. This is still needed sometimes to send a private mail to some new acquaintances to verify your handle. And when you are stood up at the last minute. The keyboard is OK for the size. And when you tap on some ambiguous areas on the website, chrome will blow up the area for you to tap on the right place.

Update: When I was looking into how to let others borrow my phone without showing the contacts and history when dialing, I rediscovered multi-user mode. It made many apps obselete that offers a secret phone book and secret storage. It's already on Lollipop but a lot of phones don't support it.

The mode is like login on a computer for sharing tablets. Everything is separate and private! (with important exceptions.) There is a default user 'guest', which fits my original purpose. One wipe and two taps allow you to switch user, plus a little memory swapping delays. You can setup other named users and you are the superuser.

Let's all the normal default user Normal who setup up a user called Secret. First, you need to enable phone calls and sms because they come to the phone. Normal will have my personal Google account, any shared Google account for work, family and play. And any normal accounts such as outlook. Secret will also have my personal Google account to get my contact lists, and any accounts whose information I don't want to miss. You can setup the two to be identical too. Secret will have in addition my Player Google account where all the secret contacts are there.

User separation includes settings. That is, fingerprint lock as well as any other lock works separately. You may use a different finger too!

Then you need Hangout on the Secret user. HO goes with Google account so nobody else will be able to peep into it. So Normal can use HO too without mixing up.

When Secret is active, you can have all the normal notifications provided you are expecting calls and sms from your secret contacts. And that you will switch to Normal as soon as there are any chance of privacy issues. But all the above privacy measures works. Calls and SMSs will always follow the phone. HO will follow the Google account on the phone.

When Normal is active, you will not receive anything from the 2nd GV number. To get it, you set the GV number to forward voicemail, missed calls, text to email. Then you forward email to your normal Google account. The important thing is that there's no secret contact list in Normal, but it's one wipe and two taps away.

To even get secret calls in Normal, you need 3 Google accounts, your personal account, the player account, and a secret contact list account. So when user Normal is active, you have your personal data, Player's HO for in and out, but no secret contact list.

User Secret have all the 3 Google accounts and the full secret contact list. In the Player account, you can merge all the secret list into a single one with a name you pick. So as user Normal, you know a secret contact is calling you and decide to answer. You can have individual 'safe' name too.

What if for legacy someone secret have your personal Fi number? The 3 account method will solve it. For the safe name, you should pick a name or company that nobody will want to answer the phone in a million years, or dial it even if he/she got hold of the contact list. This is just the function those now obsolete apps provide. But you cannot hide users, just give it safe names.

The dialer is the problem because it will suggest contacts when your lent your phone to someone to dial. You should really switch to guest.

The whole account duplication thing cost little storage, unless you duplicate a lot of apps in both users.  You can have secret apps but cannot hide updating. Phone history is shared among users, even guest.

iPhone 6S has the new multi-user feature. You can also have Hangout on it. But I'm not so sure about seamless combination of multiple contact lists.

Update: so far so good. When you have the same phone number with two different names on two logged in Google accounts, both of them will be displayed for incoming calls. For searching contacts including voice search, all the words are searched, not just the names.  So you can add a field that is not normally displayed to hold the full name. This is for the contact list with fake names or companies.

The only bug I have is that my personal account is on both users on the phone. When I switch to the secret user, the default messenger keep notifying me that I have new messages. This not true. All the messages are taken care of when I was in the Normal user mode. It's not just one or two, but one every few minutes. It continues even when I deleted all sms.

BTW, I read a Backpage ad about not allowing VOIP numbers. How to tell?  My home uses VOIP. My mobile is Project Fi, which is a Google Voice number. Update: so it's easy and free to see if it's a GV number if it is supplied by Bandwidth. But if the number is ported to GV you will most likely get the old/original carrier, unless you have some paid searches. The fact is, I doubt if Backpage providers will have the time to check, unless it's a very organized big operation, or very high class low volume operation, both are not likely or not good for you at BP.

Bugs: In multi user mode, phone and sms is still somewhat shared, if the same google account is included in both users. If you want to ban twitter sms 40404, you have to do it in each user. But the number appear only once, in only one list. So you have random but frequent sms notifications but no sms on the user that cannot ban it. I don't know how I was subscribed to the feed and no notification ever how to disble it. Any class action lawyers? The stupid thing is, after I did a search to unscribe from it, it don't understand "off, fuck off, or I will sue". It have to be just "off" and nothing else. Stupid.

Bugs: Only somewhat multi user related. Hangout incoming call works on Google Voice number normally. But it may not work in certain circumstances. During tethering it may not work. If one of the Google account have a unverified Google Voice number, it may disable incoming call for the verified GV number. I'm not sure which one failed me.

So far so good. Do you remember some older documentary about prostition and the internet? Showing someone sitting before the computer monitor, browse and then call? Now is totally different. I'm a full road warrior now. Of course you can do it many years ago. But it was not that convenient as I don't need to do anything on the road except from travelling to work and back home. And there was no absolute to.

Browsing in the car is probably more private than work or home. Then I have to make private message to ID myself and make contact. And receive a junk of alphabets to decode. In the past I maintain a list of backups, second choices, when I setoff. Either I took it with me or I can recall from my phone via the internet.

Now the local boards had evolved. There's no double booking. No upselling. No fake pictures if you know who to pick. So there's little need to have backups. But in case I need it, I can do everything it with my laptop with tethering from the phone. I can also do it on the phone too - sites with mobile versions are pretty good. As this is my only need for 4G, it's silly to pay for other than per MB used. I was happy with limited 3G but the carriers killed it all, one way or the other.

Also, girls were at, and still is stuck at, Craiglist's mode, where you answer the call when having no clients. Reply to voice messages if you are not overwhelmed. And do some screening if you have the means and time. If they have bookers to answer the phone, they are agencies or well paid.

Now non-BP girls have bookers to take private messages and text. (Or they can handle it themselves provided they are low volume not overwhelmed.)  So there is no rush to the phone and whether to keep the notifications on during sex! Everything runs smoothly for evefybody.


Liras said...

Thank you for your detailed review and instructions. I have been dragging my feet on if I should switch to Google Fi.

The Player said...

Really? Geeky girl! Or you have some dark secrets to hide?

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