Portégé Z830 review. Fan noise fix

Notice: I’m not a professional reviewer. This article is merely a collection of notes based on my experience with the Z830; a real user’s point of view. I just own this laptop several months ago and disinterestedly give you the information that I’d have liked to know prior to purchasing it. Therefore, I’m trying to talk only about what professionals won’t tell you. (Ny sub-model is the Z830-10F, aka PT224E; your mileage may vary.)
Let’s start with its noisy fan, which is the most serious and unacceptable design flaw I find in an ultrabook this price and overall quality. When the fan kicks in (which happens with the slightest CPU/GPU work), it makes a high pitched, unescapable, annoying and eardrum-piercing noise that will get into your nerves right away (unless you’re one of the blessed ones who don’t care about noise). For example: while editing this blog, and having no other CPU-demanding application or task running, the fan spins for a while every three or four minutes. It’s a shame on Toshiba. How such a corporation damages so much its own reputation with this bug in their “flagship” ultrabook is something that escapes my understanding. Toshiba released a BIOS update that made the fan to kick in less often, which didn’t make it any less noisy but provided some relief to the ears. But, warning!!: I’m under the impression that the latest BIOS update (V1.70) reverts things again, and that the fan kicks in more often. I can’t confirm it 100%, but if you don’t need it, maybe better don’t install it.
Anyhow, let’s go to practical talking. I’ve disassembled the laptop and I believe that the noise has a dual cause: the fan itself and its ssembling design. When holding the spinning fan between your fingers, you can feel the vibration, though the noise is still acceptable; but when you fix it back to its support, the noise becomes louder and high pitched. Here are some pictures:

The inside of Toshiba Portégé Z830, after removing the bottom lid, the battery and the fan (mark the empty space up to the left).

“Upper” side of the fan, once removed its aluminum lid.

“Lower” side of the fan.

The processor, the copper heat transfer and radiators.

So, well, after several trial-and-error attempts, I’ve devised a fix for this noise. It’s a very simple “do it yourself” solution that only requires some handyman skills, and the will to undertake it. For me, it’s working like a charm. The fix consists of two measures:
1.- Lessening the fan vibration. For this purpose, I’ve disassembled the fan, placed two tiny rubber washers (hand made, but perhaps you can buy them in a well assorted hardware store), working as “flexible gaskets”, between both case and fan supports (you can see these supports in the pictures above), and assembled the fan again. Only by doing this, the fan noise gets drastically reduced.
2.- Improving the CPU “natural” heat dissipation, in order to prevent the fan from kicking in so often. For achieving this, I’ve placed a solid metallic sheet (of as good a heat conductive material as possible: mine is simple iron, but optimum would be copper), of approximately the same dimensions of the CPU’s laminated heat sink (the black thing on the left top corner in the last photo above) and around 3 mm thick, between the heat sink and the laptop’s magnesium bottom lid, so as to phisically “connect” both metals, sink and lid. This sheet stays in place when you assemble the bottom lid, but maybe it would be a good idea to glue it to the sink with some thermal CPU paste. With this, a good part of the CPU heat gets naturally dissipated, via the metallic supplement, to the magnesium carcass (certainly you’ll feel the laptop warmer on your knees) and the CPU will constantly work colder. I haven’t accurately benchmarked the improvement, but I’d say that, average, the CPU reported temperature is around four to five degrees Celsius lower.
As I say, this works awesomely for me. For my normal desktop use (web browsing, flash, video, music), the fan very seldom kicks in, and when it does, sometimes I don’t even notice it. Total success, I’d say. Sorry if I haven’t been able to explain it very well. I’m not a native English speaker. But if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post and I’ll try to make it clearer for you.
A note on fan replacement: The Portégé Z930’s fan is identical to the Z830’s, but a bit more silent. I’ve bought one and replaced mine with it, experiencing a little improvement. The “whir” is still there, but not so loud. However, my “MacGyver” fix (inserting rubber gaskets between chassis and fan) is more effective. So, if you’ve got the skills for doing it, then buying the Z930’s fan might not be worth the money.
Enough about the fan. About the screen: bright and colourful enough for a pfrofessional oriented computer, I love the fact that it’s matte. However, the 16:9 factor makes the bezel above and below the display appear absurdly wide; or the other way around: for the lid’s dimensions, the display is absurdly narrow. This laptop should definitely ship a 1440×900 screen, which would perfectly fit its dimensions while offering a higher resolution. I totally agree with whom said that “1366×768 resolution should be illegal”. Anyhow, the most serious problem regarding the screen-lid structure is this: as the lid is so flexible, when it’s closed the slightest pressure on it (e.g. when carrying the laptop around in a bag among other objects) pushes the screen against the keyboard and palmrest, irreversibly scratching it. After only two months of careful use, my Z830’s screen has the indellible marks of the palmrest edge and four rows of keys. Another unacceptable design defect. If you read this review in time, be careful to always place some soft tissue between lid and chassis when closing the laptop, or your screen will end up like mine in less than a blink.
To finish with the screen, there is yet one little but important detail: the down/up brightness keypresses (Fn+F6 / Fn+F7) are software driven instead of BIOS driven, which means that you can’t control the brightness until the operating system is fully loaded. And it is, by the way, a too “heavy” Toshiba software which controls the brightness, taking lots of room in your small 128 Gb SSD. For the same reason, brightness control is not very Linux friendly, requiring some patches to make it work.
The keyboard takes a bit to get used to, but, after some hours, I found myself quite comfortably typing on it. If it weren’t because of the very short vertical travel of the keys, they’d have the perfect touch for me. They’re well dimensioned and comfortably distanced. Also, I love the dedicated Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, Insert and Delete keys, without which I can’t live. So, for the first weeks I was very happy with the keyboard. However: after half a year of normal use (average, half an hour of daily typing), the space bar started failing and, when pressed on the right or left end, doesn’t register a keystroke, which is a pain in the ass. So, after all, it’s not a durable keyboard. If you mean to use the laptop for typing, better look for something else.
I also like the keyboard’s backlight, but be warned: it’s not half as useful as it should be: First, because its brightness level can’t be adjusted; it’s only an on/off feature. Second–and this is important–because when viewing the keyboard at an angle between 15º and 50º (i.e., most of the time you use it), the backlight dazzles you from under the keys, which is very annoying. Third, because the it only illuminates the letters, but not the other functions opaquely drawn onto the keys (volume, sleep, brightness, etc), which would be even more useful, as most of us know by heart the letters’ layout, but not the other functions’ position. So, I’ve ended up not using the backlight, that is only good for consuming the battery. Besides, when in Linux, the light can’t be switched on/off.
The “hard” buttons: there are four of them: power, eco, screen and trackpad; but only the first one is useful; the other three are redundant, as they control functions that can also be controlled via Fn+Fx key combos, or an applet in the system tray: for “eco” mode (to switch on/off some power-saving measures) there’s an icon on the tray; for shifting screens you have Fn+F5; for disabling the trackpad there is Fn+F9. So, those keys are good only for increasing the costs and the price of the laptop.
The trackpad, far from the huge, sensually soft multitouch that some Z830 rivals ship, is of a good quality and very reliable. The only down side I can point about it is the left and right buttons stiffness: they’re hard to click.
As to the ports, this ultrabook comes very well equipped, though I personally find the ethernet a bit superfluos: I can’t remember the last time I plugged a laptop to a wired network. On the other hand, I miss an xD card reader (I have a digital camera with xD storage), though I understand that it is not a very popular format.
But there’s a very nice surprise for some of you: the headphones’ jack is a combined input-output one. This makes the neighbouring input-only jack a bit superfluos, but does a great service, as there’s no more need for those double-plug, green-and-pink headsets. You can use that of your mobile phone.
As to the loudspeakers, considering how small they are and taking into account that this is a professional oriented machine, the sound quality is amazingly good, while at the same time clear and loud. (Tip: if, when listening to music, you close the lid and place the laptop bottom up, you’ll experience a sensible increase in sound quality and strength.)
Only a couple more points to end this article. The battery is lasting me around seven hours from 100% to 0% on the following average use: text processing, wireless internet always on, light web browsing (eight to ten tabs, no flash), a mail client, bluetooth off, seldom photo editing, a remote shell, Skype and some occasional movie downloading. In any case, it’s not recommended by manufacturers to demand extremes from Li-ion batteries, so I usually plug/unplug the power cord between 30% and 70% charge. For increasing battery life, it’s also very advisable to keep it cool, below 30 ºC; but that’s not easy.
However, the worst battery enemies for the Z830 are its leds; its unnecessary and counterproductive leds, having an impact on power consumption. In this respect, the famous apple brand has done a great job with their ultrabook: NO leds at all. Sure, leds use very little power, but they DO use power and, considering how short on battery ultrabooks are, power is gold: it should not in the least be wasted. And the Z830 has up to seven leds! Crazy.
led 1. Adapter plugged in. Totally superfluous (you always know when your power cord is plugged) and, worst of all, quite distracting.
led 2. Power-on/sleep. Same as before, redundant and distracting, plus energy-wasting, as it takes precious miliwatts from your battery and sensibly shortens the standby duration.
led 3. Battery charging. Again, redundant and almost absurd, as you already have an icon in your tray providing that information and more
led 4. Hard disk activity. This is so yesterday! What’s the use of such a led in an SSD-powered laptop? Who cares about the precise deciseconds when the disk is being read or written?
led 5. Wireless antenna on. Once more, a wasteful and practically useless led. I doesn’t tell us if we’re actually connected to a wlan: it only informs about the antenna being switched on.
led 6. Direct wifi. I haven’t used it a single time in eight months. In any case, it’s redundant, because there are icons in the tray for that.
led 7. “Eco mode” (an aggressive power-saving profile). This is where the absurd tops the bill: what is the point in having a power-wasting led to tell you that the laptop is doing its best for saving power?
In my opinion, all of them could have been spared: they waste power and increase costs (besides–at least to my taste–looking tacky, kind of an old Sci-Fi spacecraft dashboard). The Z830’s battery life would score better among its rivals had Toshiba opted for a power-efficient machine instead of giving us redundant information.
By the way, let’s talk about the power adapter. Even though it’s a bit smaller and lighter than other Toshiba models’, yet it’s a bit too heavy and bulky for an ultrabook this light, most of all considering that the cable weight is not negligible. The Portégé Z830, weighing a bare 1.1 kg, deserves a smaller and lighter charger (the type of the Zenbook’s or the MBA’s), compact and directly pluggable to the socket without an “intermediate” cable. (Digression: most manufacturers, reviewers, sellers and specifications’ websites only advertise and/or inform about a laptop’s weight without any accesories; but, as laptops are supposed to be designed for portability, the adapter’s weight should be an essential piece of information.)
One short paragraph dedicated to the SSD. I don’t need to benchmark its performance for knowing that it’s very slow for an SSD. But, of course, Toshiba is shipping their own stuff, which isn’t the best among solid state drives. The good news is that it ships a mSATA III bus, so that the SSD can be upgraded for getting much better transfer rates.
There’s another thing quite important that I miss on this laptop: a wi-fi client manager software. It’s well documented the fact that Windows 7 can’t connect to a certain kind of routers: Win 7 wlan manager is crap; and if you happen to have such type of router, you’ll get very frustrated. This wouldn’t be a problem if Toshiba had a dedicated wlan manager, as many other computer manufacturers have.
Final words:  I like the keyboard feel and touch (pity that it’s programmed obsolescence is too fast: in less than one year you’ll have to replace it), the matte screen, the extremely light weight, the magnesium alloy look and feel, the battery life despite the leds and the sound quality. I also like the fact that part of the RAM comes in a DIMM slot, which allows for memory upgrade. But, had Toshiba distributed the costs more efficiently, they could have made an almost perfect ultrabook for its price. I would gladly pay 10% more for a quiet fan, a 1440×900 display, a lighter power adapter and a sata III disk.
Note on removing the bottom lid, or how to open your Toshiba Portègè Z830: Besides the 13 philips screws you see on the bottom lid, easily removable, there is, under the central rubber piece, one “security” screw (a.k.a. “don’t do it yourself”) for which you need a special Torx driver that you can only buy, expensive, online or in a very very well assorted hardware store. As I despise these manufacturers’ tricks to force users to take the machines to the technical service, I worked around this problem like this: with a narrow and hard iron tip, I snapped the central lug in the middle of the screw, and then easily unscrew it with a normal Torx. As easy as can be. No big harm done to the laptop, and now I can open it whenever I want without needing any special expensive tools. This is how it looks now:
The central hexalobed screw after “rehabilitation” for usability.


Asus Zenbook (UX series) keyboard and other issues.

It is an awfully bad keyboard. This is the bare, unobjectionable truth; and you can really stop reading here, because what follows is only a digression about it.
As a professional, I’ve used many computers in my life, last generation ultrabooks included; and–in terms of typing experience–I’ve never come across any worse than the Zenbook’s keyboard. Honestly.
Its physical layout feels a bit odd, keys are too “spread out”, and often your fingers don’t “find” them (particularly the left shift). Also, the arrow keys are excessively small, uncomfortable to handle (I guess you can get used to this,; but it adds to the odd feeling). Then, about the keys themselves, I don’t know the stuff they’re made of, but they don’t  have a nice touch, and feel crappy quality. Also, they’re not “steady”: they react differently depending on which part of the key your fingers are pressing; and, particularly the rectangular ones (enter or right shift), don’t generate a key event when pressed on the corners, despite giving you the keypress feedback. But the main issue is that, in general, you need to hit them hard to get a keypress: they remind of those little buttons in the first electronic calculctors in the 70’s. It’s almost impossible to not miss many keystrokes. Definitely you have to be more focused in the keyboard itself, than in the text you’re trying to write, which is very inefficient.
So, because all the aforementioned details, the typing experience is disgusting: the antithesis of “smooth”.
On the other hand, the touchpad is a bit too wide and misplaced, and levelled with the palmrests, which makes it extremely easy to inadvertently touch it, with all its negative consequences: more often than not, you’ll delete the last two paragraphs you had been writing.
But mark!: we’re not talking here about a “learning curve”, as some reviewers say. Of course you can always get used to the Zenbook’s keyboard, same as you can get used to sleeping onto a barbed-wire mattress or to riding Russian trains. But when you pay 1,000 for a top-notch ultrabook, you want a keyboard that feels comfortable from the beginning. At the very least, not worse than the cheapest laptops in the market. In any case, you expect something much better than the Zenbook’s keyboard.
Before purchasing this computer, I read endless professional reviews (who, I’m afraid, are paid to be as nice and ambiguous as possible) and user opinions: some of them saying the keyboard is excellent, some of them saying it’s “not so good”. Well… for the professional, I honestly don’t understand how on earth a good reviewer can state such a falsehood unless he’s paid for it: the UX series keyboard (to be precise, I tried the UX31) can be anything except “excellent”. And, for the user opinions, even a “not so good” would be an overestimation for its quality. If you normally do more than one hundred keystrokes a day, you get very frustrated with this keyboard.
For the rest, I don’t mind so much that the keyboard is not backlighted nor spill-proof. For sure those are nice extras, but if you buy –for instance– a car, what would be the importance of an extra-modern infra-red view-mirror if then the car engine doesn’t start? So, when a keyboard doesn’t work, the rest of its features are totally irrelevant.
[EDIT] There’s a comment by “MacGuiver” on this article explaining a good “macguiverish” fix for the keyboard. If you’re a handyman, give it a try!
So far the keyboard. Now, there are some other issues in the UX31, that I’m writing here in order of relevance.
First, many models ship the low-performant Sandisk U100 SSD (in both 128 and 256 Gb versions), which, according to most reviews and opinions, is between 10 and 30 times slower than the Adata! Mine had the 128 Gb Sandisk, and it certinly felt as slow as my old laptop’s 5,400 rpm HDD (though I can’t confirm numbers because I didn’t perform any benchmark test).
Second, the trackpad is not very responsive, even after updating the driver. My unit shipped the (presumably better) Elan trackpad, but, even after updating the driver, still it wasn’t very usable. Tap-to-click randomly didn’t work: sometimes a slight tap would generate a click, sometimes a heavy tap wouldn’t. Two finger scrolling has an annoying kind of delay and, when the text actually starts scrolling, your fingers have already run out of trackpad; it’s not responsive. And three finger gestures are definitely the worst of all: most of the times, I had to swipe twice or thrice for getting the desired effect (to show the desktop or to swap pages). And it has no edge scrolling!, without which I can’t live.
Third: the fan kicks in unnecessarily often. Even under very light use (only IE with one tab opened to a non-flash content website), having the processor run at its lowest speed, being on battery saving mode and CPU temperature perfectly cool (38ºC), still the fan obstinately kicks in for around 20 secs every two minutes or so, which, in silent environments, is extremely distracting; even more distracting than if the sound was constant, because when the fan knocks on your ear’s doors every two minutes to remind you it’s there, it finally gets into your nerves. I updated to the latest BIOS version, but nothing changed.
Fourth: it happened to me only once, but when booting Linux off a well tested live pendrive, the Zenbook suddenly switched off, and the system log registered “hardware failure” error types.
Fifth: there is an issue with the wifi (which can be solved with a driver update) that makes the data transfer very slow, and I’ve read some users reporting that the wireless connection switches off randomly. After the driver update, I didn’t experience this slowness any more.
Sixth, a design flaw: the Zenbook’s weight is so unwisely balanced that, when opened, it “wants to fall back”. So, if you put it on top of your lap, it tends to tilt backwards, lifting its sharp, cutting front end that bruises your wrists; which (added to the bad quality of the keyboard) makes for a very uncomfortable and unnatural position of the hands.
Seventh: the european power adapter doesn’t have the collapsible pins that you can see in the photos of the USAn reviews, making it more bulky than you were expecting.
And all this is a pity, because the Asus Zenbook could have been a competitors’ killer. Its 1600×900 screen is, to my taste, the best one in the ultrabook “one thousand” market: so bright and sharp, and giving the user so much “screen real state” that, despite the rest of the flaws, it was painful to resign the laptop. But the keyboard killed me. No matter how terrific a screen is, any user that needs to type several paragraphs a day can’t cope up with such an unusable keyboard. So, with tears in my eyes, I had no option but to pack the thing again and take it back to the shop for a money refund.
Notice: I’ve written this review on your behalf and for Asus’ shame. You’re welcome to contribute to this thread, but please no community manager comments here saying that your unit works flawlessly, that some issue has been presumedly solved in the newest model, etc. If Asus cares for his customers, they not only have to solve the issues in future models: they also should offer free fix, or full refund, to the “guinea pig” buyers.

gstatic.com makes websites slow


For the past week or so, I’m experiencing a sensible slowness in my browsing experience: recently I often don’t manage to open Google maps, and at the same time some other websites, having -theoretically- nothing whatsoever to do with Google, slow down to a crawl. What the hell’s going on?, said I to myself.

Then, I noticed that, when browsing these “suddenly slow” websites, the status bar got stuck with a message saying something like “waiting for maps.gstatic.com”; and this is the hint that put me on the right track. Hmm…, thought I, that “g” in “gstatic” is very suspicious. Hang me if it doesn’t belong to Google. So I checked it down and, in effect, it does: gstatic.com is Google. Now, connecting both facts (maps.google.com being very slow, and maps.gstatic.com slowing down some websites) was easy: whenever Google servers, for whatever reason, become slow, any other website running scripts that involve these servers becomes also slow.

But what on earth is gstatic.com, and what has it (therefore Google) to do with certain websites? After doing some research, I concluded that this annoying gstatic.com thing is, among other uses, just one more controlling tool by Google. (For other example, check this post: Google Getting Greedier.) I’m very much afraid that Google is the greediest “creature” on the planet. They want to control about every single click you do, website you visit, email you send/receive, phonecall you make, contact you have, document you write, or anything you do in your life involving internet, computing or telecommunications.

And the truth is, if it didn’t slow down my browser, I wouldn’t care that much. I wouldn’t even have noticed. But Google has gone so far that now they’re directly bothering me, and I can’t stand it. I don’t want to be waiting for ten minutes (no exaggeration) to load a webpage which used to load in five seconds.

So, if you’re like me, I’ll tell you a workaround for this. I’m sure there must be some better ones, but this is the one I’m using, and it works. It’s quite simple: in your browser script settings, blacklist the whole gstatic.com domain or the offending subdomain (maps.gstatic.com, t1.gstatic.com, csi.gstatic.com, ssl.gstatic.com, whatever). I believe that IE, Opera and Chrome have built-in scripting preferences. As to Firefox or Seamonkey, you have to install some script blocking extension, for example “NoScript”. This particular one has no blacklist feature (which is a pity), but only whitelist. By default, it blocks all scripts. So, you can set it to allow scripts globally and then “forbid” the gstatic bunch.

Mark, though, that after blocking gstatic.com scripts, some websites might stop working, or have a limited functionality. So, you might need to temporarily unblock it.

Hope this has been of some help for you. If you have any questions, please post here or send me a personal mail.


Fix for Macbook white screen of death. Shame on Apple!

If one day, on booting your Macbook (likely, after doing some serious modification to your hdd or filesystems), you hear the startup chime but you get an empty white screen showing no activity at all, which stays there forever, then you’ve come across the dreaded white screen of death.

In order to fix it, first you can try the (sufficiently explained somewhere else) recommendations of the sort: insert the System Install medium, reset the SMC, reset the PRAM, hold down the Option, C or N keys, boot off the network, etc. But if nothing of that works, don’t panic! Don’t pay much attention to posts out there saying that your hard drive/motherboard is “fried”, nor take yet your machine to the Apple service for getting stolen once again. There are many chances that nothhing is wrong with your hardware. Follow the steps I explain here and, instead of a very expensive repair bill, you’ll probably only spend (depending on your model) $12 on a Phillips #00 screwdriver, plus maybe $14 on a Torx T5.

Now, before you proceed to the fix, I think it’s good you read this brief explanation about how a Macbook boots, so you know what’s going on.

The sequence is more or less like this: the EFI firmware tries to boot either off the hard drive or off another bootable medium (a CD/DVD unit, an install USB stick, the network, etc), if previously so set via OS-X’s Startup Manager. Now, let’s consider the two cases, starting from the second: when the firmware is NOT set to boot off the hard drive, it looks, as instructed, for the alternative boot medium that it was told; but if it doesn’t find it (or the medium isn’t bootable), then it will automatically revert to booting off the hard drive. However, when the firmware is set to boot off the hdd (which is the default) and this drive isn’t bootable (for whatever reason) then it WILL NOT automatically try to find any other alternative boot media, so it doesn’t boot at all, thus presenting to you the white screen of death. This is the stupid logic for which you’ve paid a fortune, instead of buying a cheaper and bullet-proof PC.

Now, how can you work around this problem? Here comes my “copyrighted” fix. It’s quite simple:

Step #1. With the help of the screwdrivers that I mentioned above, remove your Macbook’s back cover and unattach the hard drive from the motherboard (in iFixit you have a great tutorial on how to do it. Don’t be afraid. It’s extemely easy, and even fun. I’m sure you can do it). Having NO hard drive at all is the only way to force the system firmware to automatically look for alternative boot media. So, now

Step #2. simply make available such medium (USB, DVD, network…) and, voilá!, after one minute or so, you’ll take a deep sigh because when you see the little spinning icon, and the laptop will boot. Congratulations: you’ve done the most difficult part; the rest is easy:

Step #3. Once your laptop booted, it’s essential that you go to the Utilities menu, open the Startup Manager and set the computer to, next time, boot off anything except the hard drive, or you’ll be in the same SHITuation upon next boot! Next,

Step #4. attach again the hard drive to the motherboard and reboot. It should boot as instructed, presenting no white screen. Now go again to Utilities menu and, using the Disk Utility, repair or (in the worst case) format your hard drive, as needed.

That’s all! SHAME on Apple for neither fixing their firmware nor offering this solution it in their support webpage, but, instead, joyfully getting your money twice: first when selling their crap, second when fixing it.

Notice: I am the “discoverer” of this fix, and I’ve published it here for Apple’s shame and for your benefit. If I’ve spared you one week anguish and/or a $500 bill at the nearest Apple workshop, you might like to show your gratefulness by inviting me a beer. Simply donate here what you’d pay for a beer in your favourite bar. Cheap and nice, huh? 😉

(One last word: due to the excessive amount of comments to this thread, no newer can be posted. I believe that most doubts or questions have already being posted and replied. Please read carefully throughout the comments, because your answer is probably there.)

Gingerbread: Google Getting Greedier

(Or why Google starts sucking.)

At the beginning of times, when Earth was created, Google was Good. They had the “do no harm” philosophy; you were totally free to use their services or not, and when using them, you weren’t forced to anything else, nor you had to pay with your data or your privacy. But with popularity came The Temptation, the evil snake whispering into the Google Guys’ ears: “hey folks, you’re now popular: you can have a lot of power and money. Wouldn’t you like it?” And the Google Guys thought: “yeah, we DO like it!”
And Google created Android.
A lot of people complain about Facebook (Facebook F, Google G, two contiguous letters in the alphabet; just a funny coincidende). People complain about the evil use that Facebook makes of our data. “They sell it!”, people say. And indeed they sell it, of course. Where else would the money to keep Facebook working come from? Our data. But still, it’s a well known fact; therefore there’s no fooling ourselves.
But what about Google? Why nobody seems to complain about Google? Or, better said: why nobody talks about, or thinks that Google is selling our data same as Facebook does? (And, as far as I can think, Google has probably more of our data than Facebook has.) Why do we still think that Google is Good? I’m asking this because, I’m afraid, the “do no harm” philosophy has been left Far (with F like in Facebook), Far behind.
Google -as I was saying- created Android; but they didn’t create it for the fun of it, nor because they’re Good like God. They created it out of greediness. With Android Froyo (with F, like in Facebook), haven’t you ever noticed how hard it is to do anything if you don’t “sync”with your Gmail account? In effect, a non-synced Android phone is pretty useless. But, once you “sync”, what makes you think you’re not sending, in the background, every piece of information you have in your handset?: your phonebook, your address book, your other accounts passwords… Yes: Google created Android for you to “sync” it, and pass to them your data, so they can sell it!
Sync! What an innocent, harmless-looking word they use! “Oh, you’re just syncing your data to your Gmail account, so you don’t lose it and you can always recover it”. Hah! What a trap! Maybe you don’t lose it, but certainly Google won’t lose it! They’ll make sure they keep it well, to build the largest phonebook database in the world. Do you think they’re not going to sell it? Do you think they’re not already selling it? Of course they are. So, be aware that, whenever you press “Sync”, you’re pressing “Sell”.
And, yet, Android Froyo had a “bug”: you still could use your SIM card for storing your phonebook, keeping your “freedom”, disregarding the “sync to Gmail” option and depriving Google of your precious data. Yes, perhaps you were one of those aware people who thought: “I’d rather keep my numbers private, and not ‘sync’ them to Google”. Now, that was a problem. So, what did the Good Google Guys do? Easy: they released Gingerbread, Getting Greedier and Greedier.
And, now, Gingerbread is the end of all Good: now you can’t use your SIM card for storing contacts at all, except (of course) for importing your contacts from it to your phone, so that you have to “sync” it to Google. With Gingerbread, if you want to store a new contact, you can’t do it to your SIM: you have to store it in the phone and sync it to Google servers if you don’t want to lose it. It’s a perfect trap: once you get into Gingerbread, you’re bound to Google forever: your contacts are in Google servers, you can only retrieve them with another Android (i.e., Google) phone, but you can’t store them in your SIM; so, the next phone you buy will be another Android. No escape! Since Gingerbread on, you’re doomed to keep collecting phone numbers for feeding Greedy Google’s databases, so they can sell more and more while you have less and less privacy.
Of course, there are applications in the market for transfering your contacts to your SIM; but it’s not quite the same; not at all: it’s time consuming, it’s annoying, it’s not efficient, and many (most) people won’t think of it, won’t do it.
Sure: Android is a “free” mobile phone operating system and, same as with Facebook, we have to pay for it somehow. We pay with our data and our privacy. Which perhaps is fair enough, but hey!: at least, let’s stop thinking that Google is Good.
Quite the other way around: Google starts sucking.
(Not to talk about the message: “you may not able to log in to your Gmail account again if you don’t provide us with your mobile phone number” that we get every now and then when checking our mail. What the hell is this supposed to be? Big Brother?)