Friday, March 29, 2013

Kyocera Rise

Yes it's time to break the silence that this blog has had for a little while with ranting about a device I got.


I've used my share of shitty phones over the years. This is generally because I've always been extremely frugal when it comes to mobile because I'm a poor college student; the nicest phone I think I've had was the iPhone 3GS, and I got that right at the time the iPhone 4 was released, so I was already a release behind. The worse phone I had was the Gravity T. It had a horrible resistive screen and it was generally sluggish. In short, the hardware was poor. I figured that that was the lowest rung of bad phones from major manufacturers: works, but is really kind of a pain.

One of the things that I hate about being Frugal is not necessarily the hardware but the software. I hate the fact that I develop Android applications in my free time, but I have a phone that runs Android 2.3. So one day I happened upon the Kyocera Rise, a phone that runs Android 4.0, for a mere $60. I had some Amazon credit from last semester's textbook tradein, so I thought, "What the hell, why not. I'm not expecting something amazing, maybe something on par with the Gravity T, but at least then I'll be able to use all the new features." It had more internal storage, more RAM, and a new OS. What's not to love?



When I got the Rise, I actually really enjoyed it. I liked the form factor, the stock Android implementation was surprisingly fluid and smooth, the screen had great color and viewing angle. The only thing that I instantly had no taste for was the plastic used for the backing, which felt cheap. But other than that, it was fantastic.

The problem came when I actually tried to use this device. Apps just randomly close. They don't force quit, they don't ask if you'd like to wait, they just close. Even if they are playing music in the background, they will randomly close. The source? This phone does not have enough RAM. Or at least I think that's the problem. In theory, I believe that 512MB should be plenty to boot Android and then run one app. I believe I've booted ICS x86 before and seen that it only uses 100-200MB of RAM. But instead, I saw it climb from having 100MB free to having 30MB free. And even with 30MB free, it will randomly close your apps without permission.

Now I knew the risks of going in with less RAM, I figured that some times it would feel sluggish. Not that it would literally close my apps for me. Part of me thinks that it's not the RAM, it's the implementation of Android that Kyocera uses; theoretically, Android should free up RAM for me closing apps that I am not using. Instead, it decides to close an app that has a MediaPlayer object that is currently playing.

It's really hard to even explain how frustrating this is. It's not even that you can't have multiple apps open at once, you can boot up the phone and start one app, and it will randomly close it. Imagine sitting down at your computer and opening your word processor and trying to write a paper, and then every 2-3 minutes, your OS closes your processor, without prompting you to save or anything. So you end out having to reboot your entire computer every 10-15 minutes. That is using this phone. You don't even get a choice to reboot. Sometimes, even though I haven't touched it all day, it will just randomly reboot.

It makes it even worse as a developer, because apparently launching the same app repeatedly eats RAM. Trying to do some dev work on it, I can only run the app I'm developing about 5 times before it forces a phone reboot. It is literally so frustrating that I switched to using my far-crappier, but more stable, CM71 or a freaking ICS emulator to do testing on later devices.

Even when apps aren't closing while you are using them, the phone is still impossible to use because you can literally only have the foreground app running. The other day I was trying to check a train schedule for a new line they just put in so I was switching back and forth between the schedule on the website and Google Maps to see where the stations are. And every time I would switch, it would completely stop the one it just switched from, so every time I left the web page and came back, it re-loaded (not re-navigate to, just re-load the page), which -as I mentioned before- takes several minutes.


On top of that whole issue, there are other factors working against this phone, like that the 3G antenna is woefully weak. Like I have it sitting next to my LG Optimus Slider, which was comparatively weak to my previous LG Optimus V, and the Slider will have 4 bars while the Rise has 1. That is fucking pathetic. And even when it has full bars the speed is painfully slow. I'm talking 2G, maybe less, speeds here. It quite literally can take 5 minutes to load a website, or 2-3 to load a mobile-formatted website. Or sometimes sites just won't load. The wifi antenna is just about as bad.

But even beyond that, the phone just sucks for other little reasons. Like the badge on my G-mail notification is way off, like having "67" when the notification says "2 new messages". Another dumb thing is that, when plugging it up to do dev work, I see loads of errors and warnings streaming through Logcat, more than I've seen for any device. And I'm not talking about messages about WPA2, I'm talking about messages about "Reading a null string is not supported here" every 3 seconds from what appears to be an internal app.

On top of this (or perhaps because of it), this phone will routinely miss sending (even though it says they were sent) or receiving texts, or receive them way later. I literally cannot trust this phone to even do basic communication because it fails to deliver texts, and I am sincerely scared that the Phone app will randomly close in the middle of a call.
 
This is all even before all the stupid BS that Kyocera has injected into it, like "MobileID", which will prompt you do download and install a piece of crap you never asked to, but you can't dismiss the prompt. It just shows up 5 minutes later. I've accepted that carriers use phones to ship their dumb app crap, but nagware? Seriously?


But like I said, this is without all that stuff, because as far as I can tell, it's a problem inherent to the phone itself or Kyocera's Android implementation. Despite several long days of research and many attempts, I've been unable to root it or install any other ROMs on it. I have given up trying to use it as I did my last phone, because I genuinely cannot even use it to look something up on the web anymore, or use just about any app reliably. I am lucky if I can actually get it to fucking function as a dumb phone did 10 years ago. It is figuratively now a dumb phone that I can very occasionally use to get directions or look up a schedule, but only when the planets align.

In short, don't buy this phone and Kyocera should issue a public apology to all of humanity for releasing this horrible beast upon us.
-Jon