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Bug Cellphones

How Did My Stratosphere Ever Get Shipped? 238

Bennett Haselton writes "How did a $400-billion company ship millions of units of a phone with a calendar app that displays the wrong date, a texting app that can't reply to group texts, a screen capture function that doesn't work, and a phone app that won't let me use the keypad unless the speakerphone is on? The answer, perhaps, suggests deeper questions about why market forces fix certain problems but not others, and what to do about it." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.

I've been using either a Samsung Stratosphere or a Samsung Stratosphere 2 from September 2012 to the present. Where to begin?

  • If you open the calendar application on the Stratosphere 2, it usually highlights tomorrow's date as "Today," and lists tomorrow's calendar entries as your list of things to do "Today." Here is a picture of my phone's screen taken on June 2, with the calendar app displaying "Today, Mon, Jun 3 2013" — despite the phone knowing the correct time is 9:22 PM on June 2.

    Strangely, in the morning the calendar app would display the correct day as "Today," but would switch to the wrong day some time in the afternoon, and eventually I decided that the calendar app was probably using Coordinated Universal Time to decide what "Today" was, which is 9 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

  • You'll notice that these images are not screen captures, but photos taken with another phone. This is because some time between the Stratosphere 1 and 2, the screen capture function broke — every support site says you're supposed to be able to take a screen cap on a Stratosphere by pressing the Home and Power buttons at the same time, and that works on the 1, but not on the 2.

  • If someone else sends a text to multiple recipients including you, the Stratosphere gives you no indication that it's a group text, and there's no way for you to see the other recipients or reply to the whole group. (I had a lot of awkward "What, you were asking everybody, not just me?" moments before I realized what was going on.) Other users have been complaining about this for months, and it apparently affects more Android phones than just the Stratosphere.

  • The built-in camera refuses to take a picture if the battery is low — it just says "Warning: low battery" and exits. Yes, I know they think they're doing it for my own good since the camera is a battery hog, but a few times I've wanted to take a picture where it was well worth using up a half a percent of my remaining battery life or however much it would have taken, but the phone wouldn't let me. That should be the user's decision, dammit.

  • When I was in Canada last week, if I tried sending a text message longer than 160 characters, the phone would tell me that the message sent, but it would actually fail silently and never get delivered. I'm not sure whether to blame Verizon, Android, or Samsung for this one (or just, you know), but in the end someone has to take responsibility for the product, and the phone telling you that a message was sent when it actually got lost, is a complete fail. If it doesn't work, fine, give me an error message, but never tell the user a message got sent successfully if it didn't.

  • During a phone call, the on-screen keypad doesn't work unless the phone is on speakerphone. If the speakerphone is off, the screen goes dark after about 1 second of inactivity, making it impossible to enter an account number or anything else. I can avoid this bug by turning on a speakerphone (which is how I know it's a software bug, not a problem with the touchscreen), but this is a pain if I'm in a public place and don't want to annoy everyone around me who would have to listen to all the voice prompts. (The phone's software seems to be following a rule like: "If the speakerphone is not on, then when the phone moves away from the user's face, assume the user is not actively using the phone and let the screen go dark" — where the bug is that it doesn't make an exception and keep the screen on if the user is actively pressing keys on the keypad.)

At first, these and many, many other bugs produce a state of mind that transcends annoyance to reach a kind of genuine curiosity, where you're asking "How did this happen?" not rhetorically, but because you actually want to know. But eventually the surprise wears off, and you're just left with bugs that are disproportionately aggravating because they obviously would have been caught during even the most basic UI testing. They're aggravating to me not because of how much they get in the way (you eventually get used to them), but because the existence of those bugs conveys a certain lazy attitude towards finding and fixing bugs at all.

I realize this is not a logical reaction. The aggravation you feel towards a bug should depend on how much the bug actually interferes with the user experience, not on how easily the manufacturer should have found it. Rationally speaking, the biggest problem with the phone right now (and the reason I'm having to mail to back to the manufacturer for a replacement) is that the charging port spontaneously broke, so that unless the micro USB charger is plugged in exactly right, the phone can't charge (even if you get it right and form a connection successfully, the connection breaks if you move the phone half an inch). Needless to say, that's exasperating — but it's hard for me to get mad at Samsung over that, because it's not an easy defect to catch at the manufacturing stage. On the other hand, if the calendar app displays the wrong day, I would say that someone should be fired over that except that probably nobody was assigned to do that testing in the first place.

I also posted questions about each of these problems on and (those links show all questions recently posted from my username on each site), which have so far received hundreds of "views" but no replies. I mention this because some people think that if you do run into problems like these, all you have to do is post a question and The Community will help you out with a workaround. Nope.

Also, lest you think you can do away with these bugs by downloading third-party replacements for all of these apps, I spent part of an afternoon downloading different texting apps to see if any of them would fix even part of the problems I had with the built-in one. None of them worked much better, although several of them displayed pop-up ads over every third incoming text message, and most of them did not play nicely with each other, giving me no way to disable them so that their notifications would double and triple up on top of each other for every received text. So I gave up. Even if I thought I might eventually find a better app for texting, I didn't have time to test multiple replacements for every built-in default app that didn't work.

Farhad Manjoo has a column up at Slate arguing that the reason many Android phones suck is that they're laden down with adware attempting to extract more personal information and money from the user. I'm sure that's part of the problem, but I can't see how the manufacturer is making any money off of the bugs I ran into; they were just being lazy.

The problem, I think, is that phone manufacturers know that phone reviewers (and users, when they're choosing between models in the store) will focus on easily quanitifiable attributes, such as size, weight, battery life, and the number of megapixels in the camera. The number of aggravating bugs in the user interface is not something that is easy to compare across phones (and in any case would not be printed on the box). Thus market forces simply don't favor the development of a hassle-free interface, because in most cases the phone manufacturers wouldn't be rewarded for it.

And — I don't consider this too much of a stretch — this is where it connects with larger issues for me, because I've been arguing for years that the free market will usually fail to fix certain types of problems, often in the context of threats to free speech and civil liberties, especially if the user lacks information they need to compare multiple options. A major argument in favor of Net Neutrality is that the typical user wouldn't realize it if their ISP were throttling access to certain sites; they would just think that the remote site was responding slowly. Since that information would be hidden from the user, "the marketplace" won't solve the problem on its own. Similarly, every time I say that my Circumventor mailing list keeps getting blocked as "spam" by Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, or AOL (despite being 100% verified-opt-in, natch), someone tells me that if the free market is blocking my emails as unwanted, it must be because the users don't want them. That the free market might make a mistake (in this case, because users don't have full information about what is getting blocked as spam), doesn't occur to them. I think the belief in the infallibility of the free market, is one of the most widespread fallacies of our era — people who would never make the mistake of confusing correlation with causation, have no problem thinking that if a product or service gets blocked by a third-party intermediary, it must be because the end user didn't want it.

And so when I'm staring at my Stratosphere's calendar telling me that tomorrow is actually today, it brings out my aggravation not just towards Samsung, Google, and Verizon, but towards all the people I've heard over the years claiming that the marketplace will automatically reward good products and punish bad ones. If there weren't so many people who believed that, maybe we could have collectively put more effort into rating phones according to their usability, knowing that the "invisible hand" of the marketplace was not likely to solve those problems on its own, and maybe these bugs would have gotten fixed. Instead, the "marketplace" focuses disproportionately on attributes like dimensions, weight, and processor speed that are easily quantifiable.

So perhaps the solution — seriously — would be for some third-party review company to rate each new phone on the Stupid S#!% Index. They test the phone under normal usage, and each time they run into an idiotic bug like the calendar application not knowing what day it is, they file it under Stupid S#!%, and after some fixed period of phone usage they count up all the problems and rate the phone under the Stupid S#!% Index. For greater precision, you could compile multiple scores from different users for each phone and take the average. Now you have a quantifiable rating that can be used to compare one phone to another, and could incentivize manufacturers to do more testing on their phones in order to get a better Stupid S#!% Index score.

The message that Apple keeps pushing about the iPhone, after all, is essentially that it would get a good Stupid S#!% Index rating. In his keynote address at the 2011 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs repeated the words "It just works" like a mantra — unlike, presumably, everyone else's stuff. iPhones don't score well on price, openness, or compatibility with other companies' products (I always have to tell people that my car charger is not an iPhone charger, it's a literally-every-other-smartphone-in-the-entire-world charger) — but all of that scarcely matters to some people as long as It Just Works.

Well, I couldn't tell you. I can't test an iPhone under normal usage because I'm too addicted to the Stratosphere's slide-out keyboard, which enables me to type much faster than a touchscreen but which only comes on a few Android and Windows phones, and not on any version of the iPhone. Maybe I'll try one more time to make the switch to a touchscreen while my Stratosphere is in the shop.

Yes, these most First-World of First World Problems — especially the bugs specific to the Stratosphere — only apply to a small fraction of the population. But it should be a lesson for anyone who thinks the "free market" would prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Meanwhile, every time I hear an ad talking about how "thin" some new phone is going to be, I just want to say to the phone the same thing that I want to tell all the anorexic girls in nightclubs: You're already thin enough. So stop worrying about being thin, and just try to work on not being so f@#$ing stupid.

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How Did My Stratosphere Ever Get Shipped?

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  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @11:38AM (#44456869) Homepage Journal

    Next you'll tell me that sometimes budgets get cut while demands increase.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @11:42AM (#44456933)

    this is where it connects with larger issues for me, because I've been arguing for years that the free market will usually fail to fix certain types of problems

    Sorry, but that is WAY too much of a stretch.

    The free market has fixed this problem - there were bad glitchy phone UI's in the past, and eventually the iPhone arrived exactly because all phones had these "lazy" errors all over the place. The iPhone originally was built to be a device where the functions it supported as a smartphone were really thoroughly tested and refined.

    Now of course we have Blackberry 10, and Windows Phone too - each of which offer very carefully tested environments in which to use a phone.

    Market forces are not about fixing one model of a phone, they are about a phone eventually arriving that solves a problem competitors have not addressed. Your problem is that you are looking for stability in a system whose primary purpose is not stability - Android came about in part to address the issue of phones being more locked down than some people like.

  • Free market (Score:5, Insightful)

    by garett_spencley ( 193892 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @11:45AM (#44456969) Journal

    1) No one, not even the most "hard core" fiscal conservatives / libertarians, claim the free market is "infallable." The free market is individual human beings making individual economic decisions without coercive interference from others. Human beings are fallable, thus the free market is "fallable."

    2) 3rd party reviews = free market. What is not free market is when government creates oversight organizations / watchdogs through taxation and uses them to enforce laws and regulations. Examples are the FCC, FDA etc.

    3) As imperfect as it may be, at least when a company releases a major catastrophe of a buggy product they get penalized with support and replacement costs, bad PR and a market that will think long and hard before buying another product from that company.

    4) There is nothing stopping anyone from implementing your suggestion for creating better cellphone reviews. That's the beauty of the free market. The fact that no one has done it (as far as we know) does not hint to the free market's imperfections, it means there is a business opportunity waiting to make someone some money.

  • Re:Free market (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Friday August 02, 2013 @11:51AM (#44457029)

    On #1, most libertarians with economics backgrounds take the position you take, but there is also a sort of pop-economics style of libertarianism with market-Panglossian views that's fairly widespread. That view tends to believe that unfettered markets allocate resources with optimal efficiency, and any observed problems are traceable to a state-created distortion.

    They are perhaps the libertarian analog of certain kinds of spiritual environmentalists, who believe that if we only left "nature" alone, all ecosystems would be optimal and perfectly balanced, and any observed problems are traceable to a human-created distortion.

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @11:54AM (#44457073) Journal

    I've been using either a Samsung Stratosphere (S1) or a Samsung Stratosphere 2 (S2) from September 2012 to the present.

    The v2 wasn't yet available in September 2012...

    So there are several options:

    • Bennet is such a total tosser he doesn't know what version of a product he bought.
    • Bennet buys and hates a phone, then buys and hates its sequel.
    • He bought S1 seconds before the S2 came out, meaning he both ignored market rumors AND customer reviews (S1 did not review well, basically it only got some attention because it had a keyboard, otherwise, look elsewhere). Meaning he is an idiot which he could have known wasn't very good and then bought the sequel seconds later.

    Bennet then complains market forces don't fix some things... indeed they do NOT. They do NOT fix stupid customers buying crap they hate with good money.

    If I piss in your face and you hand me 50 bucks, then next day give me 50 bucks to piss in your face again... market forces tell me to piss in your face.

    Does he even know what market forces are? Does he even grasp the concept of voting with your money?

    Frankly his long list of complaints has to many "user is an idiot" elements so, having googled a few reviews, I am left to conclude the phone isn't perfect but the majority of his issues are imagined or over dramatized.

    Similarly, every time I say that my Circumventor mailing list keeps getting blocked as "spam" by Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, or AOL (despite being 100% verified-opt-in, natch), someone tells me that if the free market is blocking my emails as unwanted, it must be because the users don't want them. That the free market might make a mistake (in this case, because users don't have full information about what is getting blocked as spam), doesn't occur to them. I think the belief in the infallibility of the free market, is one of the most widespread fallacies of our era — people who would never make the mistake of confusing correlation with causation, have no problem thinking that if a product or service gets blocked by a third-party intermediary, it must be because the end user didn't want it.

    AH... it alls becomes so clear now... this guy is a spammer and can't grasp that the market does INDEED work. I do NOT want his spam, I want Google to filter my email and if I didn't want that, I wouldn't use gmail.

    The market works, it just sucks when it doesn't work FOR you but against you. But that doesn't mean the market doesn't work, it just means the market doesn't like you. He doesn't want the market to fix things for everyone, he wants the market to fix things for HIM alone so HE can spam freely.

    Well fuck him AND his crappy phone he bought a year after it had been reviewed as a crappy phone.

    Buyer beware.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @11:54AM (#44457075)

    Are you a troll or just dumb?

    This is not an android issue, I have many android devices that do not have these issues.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 02, 2013 @11:57AM (#44457091)

    I know you're joking but I can't help but see this in another light, and that he is holding it wrong (or at least having expectations/experiences that are down to his doing)

    1. The calander MAY be set to work day, such that once the work day is finished it show's you tomorrow's tasks today.

    2. I got nothing on this.

    3. As for Group Text, I've never known any phone to say I'm not the only recipent. Does SMS even facilitate this? I think it's a case of the user not understanding this isn't a web based technology and wanting features he see's in the G+ and Facebook.

    4. No pictures on low battery - this may well be to prevent the phone dying at a critical point which, were power to cease, would brick the phone. Should bricking the phone be the users descreation is another question.

    5. I don't know enough about this, but, as admitted, could be down to other parties and not the phone. So sounds like adding it just to increase this list.

    6. This actually sounds like a smart feature i.e. you want to still here the call even if you're typing digits in. But given the use case of being in public I agree that it's a pain. A case of being too friendly perhaps.

    Please understand that I'm playing devil's advocate. Not being a fanboy or whatever.

    I'm also not familiar with the particular device but that I can think of credible alternative explanations for 4-5 out of 6 of his claims doesn't help his cause.

    Also, WARNING ANECDOTE, I've broken a number Micro USB connectors on various devices (of various manufactures) leading to the issue of losing connection unless held just so.

    Anyway, just my thoughts.

  • by kramer2718 ( 598033 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @12:09PM (#44457245) Homepage

    I have been pulled aside by a very high level manager, told to put all of my development on hold and implement entirely new functionality for a large enterprise product

    This functionality required three months of team effort to develop properly + another two weeks of due diligence, pre-release testing, and deployment. And then he told me to get it deployed in three weeks.

    That's how this can happen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 02, 2013 @12:16PM (#44457333)
    In all fairness...

    I've had many Android devices too and I know where the OP is coming from. I've seen Android break on a series of devices in the same way that have not broken on others. That's what's he's talking about. It's actually about half of the reason I went to iPhone for my primary phone. The other half I feel is related because it was about a certain movie/TV streaming company not supporting my device because the OS wouldn't be upgraded by my carrier while my device was both less than 18 months old and still being sold by my cell provider.

    For all the fandroids that go around claiming that the nature of fragmentation and forks isn't a problem I can say "yes it is" as a consumer. Meh.... doesn't matter anyway at this point. Keep living in fantasy land. I'll keep working with technology that Just Works(tm) out of the box.
  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @12:16PM (#44457335)
    The "Free Market" not only does not fix things, it ensures that broken things come out continuously

    Int the free market, your phone problems are fixed by you buying a new phone. Maybe the new phone will work, maybe it won't. If not,you are free to continuing to buy phones until you find one that works. Then the bad phone maker are free to go out of business.

    That is the ugly dark side of libertarianism. Your car explodes because of a defective gas tank? Acter enough people know about this, the car sales slow, and the manufacturer might go out of business.

    You'll still be dead.

    We need to strike a balance between over-regulation and the completely impractical wild west approach that might have worked in the early 1800's. I

  • by Mr.Intel ( 165870 ) <> on Friday August 02, 2013 @12:23PM (#44457447) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, the problem with the declaration The free market has fixed this problem is that it only fixed it AFTER I spent my $500 on a really crappy phone...

    No, the free market fixes the problem when no one else buys their phone after you spent your $500 and told the rest of us about it. That's the other part of a free market society that some people forget: risk. You weren't forced to but a new phone without researching it first and if you were the first to buy it you just took a risk and in your scenario, it was a bad one.

  • by Arker ( 91948 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @12:52PM (#44457901) Homepage

    If you want to see the free market fix things, you first have to have a free market.

    The cellphone market in the US is just about the furthest thing from a free market imaginable.

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Friday August 02, 2013 @12:58PM (#44457999) Homepage

    The "free market" just means the corporations are "free" to do whatever the hell they want to. Usually, we expect them to be driven to maximize profit. That happens when the executives are smart enough to achieve it. In reality, they are often smart enough to get fairly close to what their maximum profit could be. But this does not include YOU. If you are going to refuse to buy their next $200 phone, they are not going to give a damn about retro-fixing the current phone, which would cost them millions to code it, test it, and deploy it, just to be sure they get your business the next time. Now if enough of you can make them believe they would lose more than it costs, that can get their attention. Go for that. if you want things to not be this way, then join me in promoting the concept of a "fair market", which places more regulations on big corporations so they realize a loss in the form of fines for doing things wrong.

  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Friday August 02, 2013 @01:00PM (#44458025)

    I think that part of the rant is more talking about the limitations of the 'free market will fix everything' concept, ...

    Except he specifically mentions Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail as the services. Those are "free" email services.

    In those situations, you are not the customer. You are the product. The advertisers and such are the customers.

    The 'free market will fix everything' concept does not really apply the way the cattle at the cattle yard would like it to.

    So in the phone example, he can enforce the 'free market' by spending his money elsewhere. In the email example, the best he can do is to make his emails less spammy and that might cost money. But it is not money that would affect each of those services.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 02, 2013 @01:02PM (#44458043)

    I'd rather it work until I do something they didn't plan for than not work on very obvious things they did plan for.

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb