2014: My Year In Review


I know it’s a few days late but I like to wait until the year is over because hey, you never know what can happen, right?

Anyhow I bid you a very Happy New Year. And in keeping with what seems to be a new tradition since I’m always taking pictures of even the most minor event in my life with my phone, I’m going to share with you my photographic year in review* as I did last year. I enjoy doing these posts because I throw in a lot of crazy little things that I saw along with the big things, plus add often sarcastic commentary to go along with all of it.

Will 2014 compare to 2013? Will it be better or worse? You be the judge. So grab your choice of beverage, sit back, and enjoy the (possibly bittersweet) ride.

January 2014

We were invited to go to Disneyland and took the first of what would be, quite honestly, too many trips to Walt’s Magic Kingdom.

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I found a wallet and tried to return it, which turned into one clusterfuck of an ordeal. (Note that the term “clusterfuck” may appear many, many more times in this post – you’ve been warned!) The coins were found in the parking lot next to the wallet but I kept them. Half-dollars are cool.

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We made another trip to Disneyland a few weeks after the last one. It’s already too much.

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I had two of my photos posted in the local newspaper which recently shut down after only 20 months.

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February 2014

I discovered that the local church has parking dedicated to corpulent parishioners.

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In an effort to cut costs due to unemployment, we cut the cable cord and bought Roku boxes and digital antennae.

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Speaking of unemployment, I got a job the day after my birthday at a local grocery store where I tend to take selfies in the freezer.

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And speaking of birthdays, I turned 45 without much fanfare as don’t have my birthdate visible on Facebook. (Those who know, know.) I’m not a big birthday person and only posted this cryptic image on Instagram for people to figure out. I think only one person did.

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I celebrated Chinese New Year the way I did last year, by riding in the Chinatown Firecracker 30-Mile Bike Ride. It’s one of my favorite events but sadly, due to my part-time status, all of my events for 2015 have been put on the back burner. I may not do any if I can’t get the money together for them.

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March 2014

I participated in my second Coaster Run but only the 5k. It rained for most of it and was probably the most fun I’ve had doing an event.

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I witnessed one of the most amazing sunrises in recent memory.

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We switched from MetroPCS to AT&T using my new Corporate Discount through work. That, of course, required getting new phones.

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I decorated (read: wrote on) my first cake while working in the Bakery.

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After around a week of building, I completed constructing The Simpsons LEGO house.

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We celebrated Anthony’s 10th birthday at a local pizza place where his grandfather showed him how to score a bunch of tickets playing the Blackjack game.

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April 2014

While out for a run, I saw the Amityville Horror house being built in a local park.

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You know. Korean Doritos.

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We took one of two trips to the tide pools, one of our most favorite local spots.

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Sadly, on my Mom’s birthday, my Aunt Mary (seated) passed away. This was taken a year earlier at Mom’s surprise 75th birthday.

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May 2014

We were invited to go to Disneyland’s 24 Hour event and I was the only person in our group to make it to sunrise on Saturday (after arriving around 4pm Friday). I didn’t blog about it; I only posted my pictures on Instagram.

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June 2014

We discovered that there’s a Hello Kitty wine, but we don’t like Chardonnay. I’m more of a Merlot person now that I occasionally drink wine.

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We took our final trip to Disneyland.

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July 2014

I got this really creepy lenticular Jesus picture sent to me from a church that was begging for money. I was on their mailing list for a while and got all kinds of weird stuff sent to me, including a communion wafer.

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The door of the baler at work came down and smashed my fingertips. They were numb for about a month or so but are fine now.

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In an effort to earn a few bucks since I was (and still am) only working part-time, we sold our extra refrigerator. And you know what? That turned out to be a big clusterfuck as well!

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Only 17 months into our lease, we had to say goodbye to the Kia Optima. Working a minimum-wage, part-time job just wasn’t enough to make the payments anymore. It felt like a kick in the gut but it has turned out to be fine in the end. It also gives me yet another opportunity to say that Kia financing is the worst on the planet. Read this post for more information.

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The day we got rid of the Optima also ushered in a new day of motoring for me: I bought my Yamaha Zuma scooter which I still love. Payments are 1/4 that of the Optima and it is ridiculous on gas (between 65-80 MPG), meaning I’ve never put more than $3 in it since I’ve owned it.

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I applied for a job at Disneyland. I had the interview and was shortlisted then later offered a position. I turned it down for many a good reason.

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I got a second job someplace near and dear to my heart, which I quit after only one day of training. I’ve never seen the paycheck. I quit for many reasons, the main one being their ultra-strict policy on personal items and phones. It pretty much granted them the right to search my locker, backpack, and phone any time they wanted with no reason or cause. I’m an honest guy but their policy was way overboard for me, so I left.

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After a month of studying, I took the written exam for my motorcycle license and got my permit.

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August 2014

Anthony got his parakeets.

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I hit 100 miles on the scooter.

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We took a trip to Mattel, across the street from where I used to work.

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We paid a visit to the Queen

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…and her neighbor, a Russian submarine.

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My friend commissioned us to refurbish the sign for his restaurant. Here is the Before shot.

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September 2014

My “promotion” at work became official. But I still take selfies in the freezer.

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I was reunited with some friends from my old Catholic school whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years.

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Remember the sign we were working on? Here’s the finished project.

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How YOU doin’?

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October 2014

The job allowed us to root for our favorite local team in the MLB playoffs, so naturally I did.

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My mad art skillz came in handy at work once again when I was asked to conjure up a sign for a our seasonal caramel apples.

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Catastrophe. Just a few days before participating in another event, I dropped my phone and rendered it useless.

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That same day, my scooter was vandalized by local school kids who don’t understand what it’s like to have their property willingly broken.

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Anthony ran in his second Aquarium of the Pacific Kids Run

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..and I did my second duathlon the following day. I did it last year and rode the bike tour the previous four years.

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I replaced my broken phone with this, the Samsung Galaxy Skyrocket II. It was such a horrible phone that I returned it the next day.

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It was replaced with the HTC one M7, an absolutely amazing phone.

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November 2014

I got a new camera and started shooting quality photos again. My first trip was a Dia de los Muertos event.

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A few days later, we made another trip to the tide pools where I messed with the different settings on the camera.

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Anthony and I took the train to the L.A. Auto Show where the camera performed well in every lighting condition.

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December 2014

Well, outside of Christmas, there wasn’t much to speak of in December so I don’t have many pictures for that month. It looks like 2014 had its share of highs and lows but naturally, I took the good with the bad and moved on.

By the way, I’m still on Facebook Vacation and enjoying it. It’s amazing how much you can do with your time when you don’t give it so much attention.

Anyhow, there’s my second annual Year In Review post and I hoped you enjoyed it. Here’s hoping my 2015 is less phone-breaky, scooter-pushy, and wallet-findy and that yours is everything you wish it make it to be.

*Selected events, of course. You don’t need to know about my doctor’s visits.
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Review: Pebble Smartwatch


As I do on occasion, today’s post is a review about a recently acquired item. But first, let me tell you of the story behind it.

My lovely wife Ann thought it would be nice to buy me a nifty gadget – she knows I love technology – for Christmas in the form of a Metawatch Strata. While I did like it, there were a few things that I couldn’t really get used to, namely the difficult-to-read silver (?) display and its failure to control music on my phone. This would have been a great feature when I was out running. But no matter how I tried, it just wouldn’t read the music on my phone which was pretty disappointing.

After two days, I reluctantly returned it to Best Buy for an exchange. I say “reluctantly” because I am the guy who never, ever returns gifts no matter what. I just don’t do that. But in this case, with a smartwatch that wasn’t all that smart, I didn’t have much choice.

I had been researching the Pebble Smartwatch before I went to the store and ended up getting it for the same price as the Metawatch Strata (on sale for $79.99). Ann still seemed disappointed in my choice but she’s since learned that it was the right one, and here’s where the review begins. Note that I am currently using an HTC one M7, probably the best phone I’ve had, to connect to the Pebble.

unnamedWhat Is Pebble?
For starters, I should go over what exactly Pebble is. It’s a simple, functional smartwatch with a black-and-white backlit LCD display that does only what it needs to do. It’s not fancy like Samsung’s Gear smartwatches and doesn’t promise to do all the ridiculous things that Apple is saying its Apple Watch will eventually do when it’s finally released – whenever that will be. Pebble is indeed the Bauhaus of smartwatches in a market currently ruled by Warhols, and that’s a good thing.

Pebble is designed to be an extension of your smartphone by displaying notifications for incoming phone calls, emails, and texts. (Additionally, you can set the Pebble to vibrate for any and all alerts.) It also lets you control smartphone apps and functions such as music and fitness apps such as Endomondo, my preferred fitness app. You can also load apps like Yelp and onto the watch although some of them may need the full-size accompanying app (like Endomondo) on your phone in order for them to run.

Design
The Pebble is what it is: simple. You won’t be overwhelmed by its looks but if you feel that making a fashion statement is part of owning a smartwatch, then you definitely have other more expensive choices out there. It’s available in white, black, or red and if your feeling really GQ, you can go for the Pebble Steel, twice the cost of the standard model and with a few more features. As for me, I opted for black as I know it will be getting banged up and dirty between running, cycling, and the daily rigors of work.

(Speaking of getting banged up, I bought a Zagg InvisibleShield protector to cover the screen. The only image on this post without it is the one showing how to control music.)

There are a total of four buttons on the Pebble: the three right-side buttons are for navigation and the left-side button is for the backlight, although there are settings in the app to activate the light when you shake your wrist. Your choice.

Connectivity
Pebble connects to your phone via Bluetooth, which means that you should expect a shorter battery life from your phone as it is talking to the Pebble constantly. Through the use of the Pebble app, you can designate which smartphone apps you would like to receive notifications from, in my case I only have it set up for text alerts, emails, calls, and a few select apps. That’s about all I really need. When you get a notification, it will show up on the Pebble’s screen. Note that in order to receive email notifications, you must be connected to your data network. I only state this because I always have my data off. Text messages, however, will always show up but MMS messages will not send an alert to Pebble as it cannot display images.

One of the downsides I immediately noticed was that when I got a text, I still had to use my phone in order to reply. This was remedied when I discovered the Awear app which lets you reply with, not compose, short messages. You can select from a predetermined list of replies (Positive, Negative, etc.) or make your own list of personal Shortcut messages within the app to reply with (e.g. “Stupid cats!”) Despite a few bugs, Awear is exactly what I needed.

Speaking of Bluetooth, Pebble had a few problems while I was running with Bluetooth earbuds, namely freezing, resets, and songs playback being really choppy. I’ve since learned to stick with wired earbuds which isn’t a big deal since they sound better and playback is not hindered. I’ve never run more than one thing on Bluetooth before so I’m not sure if it was my phone or Pebble acting funny and not being able to handle everything.

Battery Life
The Pebble comes with one of the strangest proprietary USB charging cables I’ve ever seen: magnetized. The charger has a few small prongs extruding from it along with some small magnets. Line them up and the watch charges, but the trick is getting the charger to stick. The magnets don’t stay in place very well and the watch has to sit just right or the charger will not connect – and the watch won’t charge. The good thing is that a single charge will last you a few days if you are just using it for basic functions. Here’s a shot of the Pebble with the weird charger attached.

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However, if you plan to run other apps on top of that, then expect considerably less life from the battery. After a nearly 9-mile run the other day, it was down to 40% but being it charges quickly, it wasn’t an issue once I was home. That said, you can’t just plug any USB cable into it to charge. You’ll need to buy another proprietary one from Pebble.

Functions
I’m trying to figure out the last time I was out for a run and had this much fun. As stated earlier, Pebble can control a variety of apps including Endomondo. Before I had Pebble, it was a real pain to stop said app on my phone while standing at a crosswalk or taking a quick hydration break. Now it’s as easy as pressing a button.

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These are my stats after my run a few days ago. As you can see, the middle-right button is the start/pause button and that’s a freaking godsend when compared to reaching for my armband, waking up my phone, then hoping that it can register my tap over the armband’s thick, plastic window. With Pebble, hit that middle button and the app stops. Amazing. (While Endomondo does feature an automatic start/stop function based on your movement, I prefer doing it manually.) The three stats you see here can be changed within the Endomondo app, and Pebble requires installing their Endmondo app in order for this to work.

Then there’s the music.

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Pebble has a built-in Music app that lets you control whichever music app you choose via the Pebble app on your phone. Again, this beats the hassle of reaching for my phone all the time while running. All it takes is a few presses of a button and the music is paused. Once I’m ready to go, I start it up again. It works flawlessly.

Along with those two functions, you can install apps to give you updates on weather, sports, stocks, etc. The downside here is that Pebble limits you to a combined eight apps and watchfaces so you’d better choose wisely.

Watchfaces
Pebble comes with a few watchfaces preinstalled and you can download more via the Pebble app. More are designed by other users and some are really amazing (Mario Bros. and retro Casio faces) while others are equally crappy. Once you download them, you use the app to send them to the watch. The problem with almost all of these watchfaces is that they are more aesthetically pleasing and less functional, meaning they don’t give you stats on missed calls, texts, battery and phone life, etc. And while the Awear app has its own watchface that displays all of those things, it cannot be customized.

Enter Pebble Canvas, a third-party smartphone app that allows users to create their own custom watchfaces. Not only that, you can also customize watchfaces created by others once you download them to the app. The possibilities are practically endless. Here are the watchfaces I’ve created so far, with Basic being the most popular of the three with over 20 downloads.

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Since creating Basic, I’ve added the Bluetooth icon, unread Gmail and Weather features to it (see image under Battery Life above). While watchfaces created in Pebble Canvas won’t be nearly as clean or fancy as those available in the Pebble app’s store, they serve a better purpose and give the freedom of complete customization.

Summary
I’ve had my Pebble a few weeks and I admit that I really enjoy it. The Pebble watch is uncomplicated. Its e-reader display won’t win over a lot of people and neither will its limited functionality. However, there were plenty of people who believed that Pebble’s limited functionality was worth the $10.3 million it raised via Kickstarter. While I didn’t contribute, I’m a believer in this little smartwatch and all it has to offer despite the few hiccups I’ve encountered along the way. It’s a great running mate, a functional smartphone notification system, a fine music controller and oh yeah, it tells the time as well. I couldn’t expect it to do more and while not for everybody, I’ve been very happy with it so far.

Happy Halloween!


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We just got in from a fun night of trick-or-treating. We saw some cool decorations like this, Anthony and his friend got quite a haul, and a guy a few blocks over was having his annual neighborhood party where he feeds whoever shows up.

And to top it off, it started to rain just as we walked in the door.

Not a bad night at all!

Posted from my HTC one M7 with the WordPress app

Adventures in Smartphones


Okay, so it’s been way too long between posts and I sort of have an idea about today’s topic.

As you may recall, I dropped my Samsung Galaxy S4 Active the day before I was to participate in the Long Beach Marathon Bike Tour and 5k. In case you don’t remember what it looked like after the fall, here’s a refresher.

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Since the day I dropped it, I had been tolerating the ugly display and felt every little crack as I slid my finger across the screen and because of that, I had to buy a cheap screen protector in order to save the tip on my index finger from getting any glass stuck inside of it. And I worked with it as long as I could.

I think it was about a week after The Dropping when I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and gave AT&T a call to get an idea on what I could do until I’m eligible for an upgrade. The simplest solution, as they told me, was to buy a cheap AT&T GoPhone and slide the SIM card in it and everything would be back to normal.

Thinking it was a good idea, I did just that by purchasing the ZTE Compel at Radio Shack since the nearest AT&T store didn’t have them in stock. In fact, they had very little in stock and shouldn’t even be in business. More on that later.

Thinking I had the problem temporarily solved, I took it home, put my SIM card in the phone, connected to WiFI, and started getting my favorite apps. By the time I hit App #7, the internal memory was already full. I didn’t even think to start moving apps to the memory card; I immediately figured that this phone was lacking and decided to take it back after two solid hours of ownership. It just wasn’t going to work for me.

So now I’m back to using Ol’ Crackly. I started to browse the Best Buy site for some reason, knowing I didn’t have the money to fork over for a new phone but after searching, I did find a Samsung Galaxy that was in my price range—sort of. I still didn’t have enough money to buy the thing. I then made the decision to apply for a Best Buy credit card and, within seconds (which really is some kind of record for me), I was approved and could start shopping immediately. Hey, man. Desperate times, desperate measures.

10697408_10152586326394118_4861105702589338811_oAnd when I buy a phone, I take a lot into consideration (except maybe for that ZTE piece of garbage, which was bought out of sheer desperation). Things like replaceable battery, expandable memory, internal memory, and camera megapixels are all important when I’m comparing. I had narrowed the phones down to a couple of Moto G models (16GB internal memory and no SD card expansion) and the Samsung Galaxy S II (16GB internal memory with SD card expansion) even though the Motorola phones had no removable battery. I don’t know how you iPhone people do it. In the end, I took a chance with the Galaxy S II knowing that it was indeed a few years behind in terms of style, OS, everything. Then the waiting game began as I checked the UPS Tracking Number daily to see when the phone would arrive.

I was very happy when the phone arrived. It was so shiny and…white. But the problem was that, being it was well over three years behind the times, it had a standard SIM card and not the mirco SIM cards that today’s smartphones use. This meant I had to make a trip to my local AT&T store to get a larger SIM card.

They didn’t have any of those, either. Remember when I said this place shouldn’t even be in business? Well, there you go. I had to end up scooting down the local Corporate store where I took a number and waited but not very long. I told them what I needed, they scanned my info to it, I was done and on my way home.

Now it was time. I had a somewhat new phone and my SIM card which I inserted and started the setup process. It all went well and I was ready to once again start installing apps.

Here’s the funny thing about the Samsung Galaxy S II: it has 16GB partitioned memory with a paltry 2GB dedicated to the Android OS and apps. Two. Freaking. Gigabytes. Had I known this from the get-go there would have been no way I would have bought it as I’m a heavy app user.

Anyway, I started installing apps and was relatively satisfied having my most frequently used apps on it. Then came time to give it a test run—and it failed.

The dual-core processor couldn’t handle things very well and it froze up on me frequently. The 11GB of remaining memory are for storage and pictures and I soon realized why that is: the phone was so bad that it couldn’t save images to the SD card. I would take a few pictures and then review them, losing the last couple I had taken. Once I switched to saving them internally, the problem went away but that didn’t solve the freezing-up issue. This was enough for me to decide that it had to go back to Best Buy, where I was asked why I was returning it.

“It’s a horrible phone,” I said. “It really is. It just didn’t work for me.”

That’s two phones within a week and at this point, I was off the grid. Remember, that phone had a standard SIM card and my Galaxy S4 had the micro SIM card, meaning it was useless until I could get my info put back onto a micro SIM card. Ugh.

So I walked around Best Buy looking at unlocked phones and man, I didn’t want to spend a lot which was the main reason I bought the Galaxy S II. The thing was just over $200 which I thought wasn’t too bad for what it was on paper, but I soon learned the truth. But after looking over several models and asking the associates how much internal memory they had (mostly 8 or 16GB), I was starting to feel as if I would be back to using Ol’ Crackly once again.

That was until I saw the HTC one M7.

It was blue, my favorite color. It had 32GB of internal memory. It had a quad-core processor.

And although it has a non-replaceable battery and no memory expansion, in the end (and $299 later) it went home with me.

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Well, I didn’t go straight home just yet. I had to make yet another trip to the AT&T Corporate store to get my info put back on a micro SD card which they happily did in no time flat. And once I got home, I finally cranked this baby up and let it fly.

I was impressed. I’m still impressed. This phone is everything that my previous AT&T phones were not: quick, responsive, a flat-out joy to use. And I hesitate to say that despite it not being waterproof like Ol’ Crackly, I enjoy using the M7 much more.

Then it came time to start chipping away at the 32GB on internal storage, or about 24GB remaining after bloatware and OS are factored in.

Apps installed and ran perfectly. There is absolutely no lag when running anything on this phone. I then transferred the music I had on the micro SD card over to it and as of now, with all of my most frequently used apps installed and enough music to keep me happy, I still have 12.4GB remaining. Ol’ Crackly was just under 8GB remaining but a lot of the stuff was running off the micro SD card which could explain the lag I sometimes experienced. And if the music on the phone isn’t enough, I have over 10,000 songs stored online with Google Music.

Another plus is that I upgraded to Android KitKat, and that this model is on the list of phones that will be getting Android Lollipop next year. I won’t be obsolete for a long time!

Now if there’s one thing I could say I don’t like about this phone, it’s the HTC Sense launcher. While it looks beautiful, it seems to lack a lot of things that the stock Touchwiz launcher does. But I didn’t mess with it for very long as I installed Nova Launcher, a completely customizable Android launcher that looks and functions better than Touchwiz.

Also, the camera is a measly 4MP but with everything else the HTC one M7 brings to the table (quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, Beats audio, FM radio, awesome design, slow-motion HD video, etc.) I’m willing to compromise. In the right hands, even a 4MP camera can look pretty good. Here’s a full-size sample of a picture taken with the M7.

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Definitely not as sharp as the Galaxy S4 Active but still acceptable for me, and I now understand how iPhone users deal with non-expandable memory.

I also bought a case for it, a rather rugged one that will have to do until I can find an Otterbox case. I’m willing to spend…uh, charge the extra money to my credit card for an Otterbox case so that this phone doesn’t suffer the same fate as the Galaxy Active. I’m just not ready to deal with that again.

And oh, it’s good to sit and blog again. I just wish my laptop was still working so that I can retire to privacy of my Creative Corner where I enjoy writing so much more.