Saturday, December 05, 2009

Valca Mobile Phone Upgrade

…posted while waiting for my 500 Gig HDD to be zero’ed out before setting up the partitions.

One of the things I’ve been working hard at doing is staying more in touch with my little brother.  Well, he’s not physically little, but he is a few years younger than me so I guess that fits for something.

He and I are both quite busy during the work-week, and due to the distance, it’s not always easy to just pick up the phone for a telephone-based conversation.

However I’m finding great joy and shared accountability in feeding our relationship with more time and conversations.

To that end, we have of late become great texting buddies, sending multiple messages during the day to each other.  This seems to work well as they are more unobtrusive and allow us both to keep focused on work tasks but do present a nice quick keep-alive “ping”. 

Little Bro has a nice shiny and l33t iPhone.  He can do some power-texting with it.

Me?  Up until recently I’ve been having to keep up with my Samsung SGH-A727 multimedia phone.  It’s a fantastic phone, slim, looks incredible, and sports some long battery life.  No moving parts means nothing will break without effort.  However, texting on the numeric keyboard is a pain in the *ss.  Seriously.  It’s embarrassing.

So I needed to find one with a QWERTY type keyboard.  I didn’t want an iPhone and since I didn’t want to ding the budget with a data-plan upgrade (unlimited family texting is fine for now), my choices with AT&T were a bit limited.

So I hit the Net and began researching.  I had narrowed it down to the following models.

The Solstice seemed nice enough but it just didn’t inspire me much for some reason.

I really liked the Impression with the physical slide-out keyboard.  However reading the user’s guide I learned that it didn’t have voice-dialing, a feature I used heavily on my old Nokia flip-phone, my current Blackberry, and is painfully missing on my A727 phone.  However, the Impression’s QWERTY “real” keyboard might still win out.  They Mythic was a fresh model release, looked really beautiful, but didn’t have a “real” keyboard, only the virtual touchimage-screen one.  It did have the voice-dialing feature that the A877 did not.

So more research was in order.  Luckily Google is my dearest friend (next to Lavie…).

The “print” reviews seemed quite positive about the phone, while the video reviews were a bit harsher, particularly regarding feedback and touch-screen in general.  I weighted those with some thought they were using the iPhone touch screen as a gold-standard of sorts.

I also pre-downloaded and read (yes, read) the Mythic User’s Guide booklet to make sure I understood and could benefit from the features.

In the end it would come down to a visit and some Valca “hands-on” time at one of the local AT&T storefronts.

I quickly learned just how small and awkward the Impression’s physical keyboard felt while texting in my hands. On the other hand I could compose a novel with very few mis-registers on the Mythic’s touch-screen.  It does provide “haptic feedback", which means it vibrates to confirm each key press. Nice touch. So the keyboard feel sold me, coupled with the voice dialing feature.  When the store manager learned that I planned to just order it from the AT&T on-line store due the great discount offered, they said they wouldn’t just match, but would beat it (something they wouldn't do when I picked up my A727.  And they did. Quite nicely.  I’m not sure that was a late night “Black Friday” thing or maybe sales were slow.  Regardless I walked out with a new phone, the Samsung Mythic.


If you want a real, technical review of the device, go back up and hit the links provided above. After a week’s usage I’d say they are all generally fair and accurate.

One other thing I heard mentioned in some of the video reviews of the device was that it was described as a “chick” phone (chick as in “girl”).  Moving from the tech-cool A727 style, I was a bit concerned.  As we all know, a guy can’t be seen with a “chick” cell phone right?

ad as spotted in post Should a Phone be Masculine or Feminine? – at Sociological Images blog

Well, I’ve had it in heavy use for a week now and have more than a few thoughts.  I still don’t regret the decision.  For a text-only needing, non-data-plan using dude, it works very well.

Size, heft, and physical styling are all high marks.  I wish it were just a bit less rounded on the edges as I feel it might tend to slide out of my hands.  The design also lends it to perform like a curling-stone on ice when placed on the passenger’s seat and I stop or corner too fast.  It is more secure left in the cup-holder station.  The front has the big screen with some black framing and chrome edging.  The back side actually has a deep rich burgundy/dark-cherry color with some tech-abstract Spirograph-like black striping.  It looks very professional and the color surprised (in a good way) from what I had expected from the web-images.

The camera/photo package is nice.  Photo resolutions are great, it has a “real” flash built in, lots of photo-editing and filter effects, and will auto-resize pictures before text-message sending them. Handy.

The video playback is very smooth in my testing.  I’ve no interest to use the AT&T streaming TV feature, but copying video files over and watching them on it is not too bad.  Though for my use it is more of a novelty and show-off thing.  I’m not the demographic that feature was designed for.

Call quality is nice.  No complaints from my voice parties.  I do prefer to use my Jawbone with it however.

The main screen has three different “desktops” which you can then put and rearrange “widgets” onto.  Each can be wallpapered separately.  This is where things break down a bit for me.  I’ve got a different desktop image for each one I resized/cropped for my personal pleasure.  However the widgets don’t always stay put where placed when they “activate”  That ends up covering up much the nice wallpapers and kinda defeats the purpose.  As a Windows guy I’m used to putting desktop icons in place and them staying locked there.  This doesn’t happen on the Mythic.


(my personally crafted Mythic “beautiful things” wallpapers currently in service on my phone; P-51 Mustang, a retro Amy Adams, a retro Moon RadioI’m sure a psychoanalysis of me based on these images would be fascinating…)

Now imagine having the widgets jump from their unobtrusively placed locations (bottom 1/3 area of pics above) to the center or top areas when “activated” and not return to the original place.  Who wants to cover all that beauty up? But “hiding” the widgets on the otherwise handy sidebar feature also doesn’t always work as they will re-pop on the desktop in some cases, or require even worse digging in the menu system to launch.  Bother.

Also the Menu screen has three pages (expandable to 4-5 total) with a wealth of additional application icons, settings buttons, etc.  Many, many of them deal with applications for streaming media services, social media (Twitter’ish) apps, Yahoo stuff, things like that.  Some can be removed. Most cannot and are locked in place.  What results is a bunch of locked in iPhone like icons that I have to wade through to find the six or seven I really care to use.

As mentioned, while you can change the wallpapers, the “lock” screen provides a screensaver slideshow of locked images full of flowers, butterflies and other pretty things.  While I don’t need “girlie” (as in Playboy) wallpapers, I also don’t find it too appealing to be locked into “girly” (as in Alvis and Lavie loving) images either.  You can’t change the images shown.  You can’t change the screensaver.  Yep.  It is a really pretty phone.

Luckily, I can set the “fade to black” timeout period to 8 sec or so.  That takes care of that a bit.  Though I wish they had at least offered this one as a default along with an “alternative” guy or neutral-image (abstracts only) screensaver.  That might expand the appeal to more guys.  Fortunately for Samsung I’m flexible and am one of those more emotionally sensitive tolerant types.

Another thing moving from the A727 to a “feature” phone like the Mythic is I am getting used to is the battery time.  Like I said, going 3-4 days of call/texting use between recharges on the A727 was common.  Now I can usually make it two days (tops) on the Mythic.  I don’t think it’s a bad battery or unit, it’s that the screen is so much larger, and brighter and on more as I compose text messages.  Typically it shows all battery bars for one day. Then drops one or two bars…looking like a 1/2 charge remains.  Then I do a text or have a voice call and BAM the battery indicator is showing emptied.  So for this month I’m letting it fully discharge a few times and then will be hooking it to the charger nightly.

I got a clear-plastic case for it while in use on my desk or weekend running in my jeans.  For the daily work-week I found a nice Blackberry mag-latch vertical holster fit it perfectly (sans the clear-plastic weekender shell). I did allow myself to be sold on the clear-plastic screen protectors as well.  They work well and don’t impact feel of the touch-screen whatsoever.

One last quibble.   As a Windows guy, I’m used to the double-click the icon rhythm to launch an application.  On the Mythic I’m still getting trained by the device if it is long-hold push to execute the application/widget, or if it is a double-tap, or a single-tap.  Different things seem to require different actions.  Please Samsung. Sick with a double-tap activation.   This is driving me a bit batty.  I need some consistency!

Voice-dialing is quite useful.  Although I still have to find and push the widget button to get it activated first.  Awkward while driving but an improvement over hunting through the contacts as I did before on the A727.

Overall texting is great now, and the device really does look smashing in both form and function.  I just wish it was a bit more refined and, well, customizable.

Management with a Windows 7 x64 bit System

Silly me.  I thought I could just download the PC/phone management link software and go.

I mean, the driver/software package was just released in late November.

Wrong…at least for x64 bit Windows 7.  Tons of driver installation issues.

Fortunately, after a wasted-night’s worth of banging the drivers into the system, I gave up, and just plugged the sucker into the Win 7 system via the USB cable and amazingly Windows 7 picked it up as a mass-storage device (because of the SSD micro card in it).

This finding means that while I can’t manage any contact info or stuff like that, I can copy images, files, music, and videos back and forth easily with no fuss.

So instead of using the Samsung software I’ve been using the following freeware Windows tools to create wallpaper and convert video files for playback on it.  Your results may vary.

Free FLV Converter – A Simple Freeware To Convert FLV Videos To AVI and Format Factory - Free media file format converter have been my cherished friends in this endeavor.  Using Firefox and the DownloadHelper add-in, it’s a piece of cake to capture and save most all web-based video files.  Then Format Factory can be used to covert them into a Samsung-device supported video file format.  It’s really that easy.

As for picture files and wallpaper making, the “desktop” screen takes a 800x480 ration sizing.  So in most cases I just use FastStone Image Viewer or Photoscape or even Hornil StylePix to resize and crop my preferred images for application as wallpapers.

Then I just transfer it all over USB onto the memory card on the phone. Done.

Of course, you could always just find some pre-made wallpapers (and other media items) already done for your Samsung Mythic:

Still to do: make a few United States Military Academy at West Point wallpapers with that stunning coat of arms. (more regarding the USMA’s coat of arms and motto here.)  (And to clarify for the curious Google led visitor to this page, I did not attend and am not a graduate in any form or fashion of West Point.  I did make a run at selection to the US Air Force Academy my senior year in high school, but bowed out during the process (story for another day.)  Dad was an decorated US Army officer who served in the Vietnam “conflict”. And I still deeply hold to the many core values held by the various proud US military branches of service; and try to apply specific USMA-West Point leadership examples in my daily work and home-life: The West Point Way of Leadership by Larry Donnithorne.

Hmm. I’m digressing.

I’ve also got to clip a sound-sample of this awesome “Let A Stranger Drive You Home” Heineken Commercial .  As much as I like the Biz Markie’s - Just A Friend “original” remake of the original Just a Friend by Freddie Scott, I have to say, I’d buy a single from iTunes just to hear the cabbie’s (Timm Cooney) entire rendition of Just a Friend. Timm not only sings the song, but owns it with soul!

.Still digressing I see…

Additional Resources for the Mythic Hacking Geeks

Here are some more links for tips, tricks and hacks of your Samsung Mythic.

Most of the info is both helpful and great reference.  But some is hard-core programming-code feature hacking so “here be dragons” and proceed at risk of bricking your phone.

Hope someone considering or owning a Samsung Mythic finds this useful.

Oh..and what of my cherished cool-tech Samsung A727 phone?

Funnily enough, Alvis has ditched her AT&T Quickfire phone (with both a “real” and virtual QWERTY keyboard, swapped out SIM cards, and is now using it as her cool-chick phone. 


And to make matters more embarrassing, she said she can text message her friends faster on the cursed numeric keypad than the QWERTY keyboards of the Quickfire.


--Claus V.

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