Tag Archives: Android

Mobile Firefox Frustrations

I’ve been using Firefox for Android as my main mobile browser for a few weeks now. There are a lot of things I like about it. It works well overall. Unlike Chrome, it supports extensions, so I can install (for instance) Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere. The share menu option includes the two most recent apps instead of just one. Things like that.

But there are a few things that I find incredibly frustrating:

  • PWAs aren’t as stable as Chrome.
  • Auto-fill is inconsistent and interacts badly with scrolling.
  • It’s slower than Chrome, though I’ve found that turning off web fonts helps a lot.
  • Private mode UI differs only by the color of the search bar, so whenever I use it, I have to double-check whether I’m actually in private mode or not.

Plus I miss a few Chrome UI features that just streamline common actions:

  • When clicking on the search bar, if you have a URL in the clipboard, Chrome offers to load that URL. (This is particularly helpful for opening email links in private mode.)
  • Auto-fill an entire address form at once
  • Clear the last X minutes of history

On the PWA front: These are packaged web applications that can be “installed” locally and used offline, powered by whichever web browser you used to install them. When I switched browsers, I also reinstalled the PWAs I was using on my phone and tablet, switching them from Chrome-powered to Firefox-powered. These amount to a couple of Mastodon instances and Twitter. (I don’t want to install the full Twitter app on my phone so I’ll be less tempted to get caught in infinite scroll.)

On Firefox, Mastodon’s PWA frequently logs me out. Every other day at least. Sometimes it stops being able to load any new statuses, and I have to close the app entirely and re-open it to get back to normal. (Fortunately that’s fast.) Twitter…well, it worked for a couple of days, then it got into a redirect loop where it kept switching between the regular UI and the login screen. I considered reinstalling it through Chrome, but finally decided I was better off without Twitter on my phone anyway.

Despite these issues, I’m going to stick with mobile Firefox for now. We’re entering another period of near-monopoly in web browser engines, and it’s important to keep a viable alternative going to ensure that the future of the web isn’t built on a single stakeholder’s goals.

Trying to get at the features left out of the mobile app

I use extensive filters on Gmail to categorize mail the way I want. I pre-filter some things to look at later, prioritize some lists (like allergy or uptime alerts), and pre-categorize things that I may want to file away after looking at them.

The problem is, I can only change filters on the desktop site. When I’m reading on my phone, I need to remind myself not to archive or delete messages that I want to start filtering.

It occurred to me: I can label those messages “Change Filter.” I could even do it right away – there’s a “Manage labels” option on the Android app!

Nope!

I can’t add labels in the app, just change the download and notification settings for each.

So, website then…

Except I can’t get at the full Gmail website on my phone. Or my tablet. Google insists on showing a stripped-down mobile site, which has even fewer capabilities than the app.

I can’t fault them for starting with the mobile site. It is helpful to focus on the features that work best on small touchscreens, under-powered processors, and high-latency, low-bandwidth networks, and can be done by someone on the go, rather than someone sitting at a keyboard with a big screen and a mouse.

But if someone wants to use the functionality you’ve left out, and is willing to slog through the desktop site on their phone or tablet, you should at least let them get at it!

In this case I waited until I could log in on a desktop, then added the label. But not everyone with a phone has a desktop or a laptop. And as the balance keeps shifting towards phones as people’s primary internet access device, that’s going to be more and more common.

High-Rise Night: Trying out “Night Sight” on the Pixel 2 Camera

Google has a new camera mode on its Pixel phones called Night Sight, for handling low-light conditions. The short version is that instead of taking a long exposure, it takes a series of short exposures and stacks them to avoid motion blur from hand movements (plus a lot of additional processing). The long version is fascinating.

My Pixel 2 already takes better low-light photos than I would have expected, but I couldn’t wait to try out the new feature when I learned about it. When the updated Camera app finally hit the Play Store, I had to give it a try.

Two high-rise office buildings at night.

This is adjusted slightly to keep the colors from being too light. And it actually isn’t the best example, as it turns out the nighttime city scene already has enough light for the existing HDR+ mode. I’m going to have to try it on some darker scenes somewhere, but it’s still pretty cool. After the cut I’m posting a version with the phone’s regular mode, and the unaltered Night Sight photo. You can see they’re pretty close, but the Night Sight version picks up a bit more of the color, and it’s a little brighter.

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Airplane Mode: Battery Saver!

I keep one of my old phones as a spare and for tinkering (to the extent that you can do that). I upgraded it to LineageOS and used it for a few days when my most recent phone died last month.

13 days ago I charged it, put it in airplane mode and put it in my laptop bag. Today it’s still at 34% charge. On a 5 year old battery.

Obviously it didn’t last that long with actual usage, and wouldn’t even just sitting in the bag with wi-fi and data sync. But I’m still impressed!

Android Oreo Won’t Stop Vibrating

I finally discovered why my phone has been vibrating on most incoming messages since upgrading to Android Oreo, even when sound is on: It’s now a per-conversation setting, so even though I have Messenger set to sound only, that only applies to new senders. I had to go through my saved text messages and turn vibrate off in every. single. saved. conversation.

Deleting a conversation also makes it use the default setting the next time that person sends a message, so if you don’t want to save the existing texts, deleting them is faster.

Not terribly convenient, Google.

Of course, that only fixes it for Messenger.

Notification settings are per-app now, and it seems Oreo assumes you want it to vibrate along with the ringtone unless the app turns it off. And of course not all of them let you turn off vibration independently from sound. They haven’t needed to until now, after all.

Ironically, this includes Chrome. I’m trying out Mastodon (find me at @kelsonv@mastodon.social for general conversation and @kelsonv@photog.social for photos), and for now I’m using the embedded Chrome app. And I can’t fine-tune the notifications because Google’s own flagship browser doesn’t include the options it needs on the new version of their OS! 🤦