Downs and Ups

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to connect a device to the local Wi-Fi, only to find yourself staring at a list of available networks long enough that you have to scroll halfway around the world.

Yeah, that’s what I thought. You can put your hands down.

I started thinking about this when I was setting up the work iPhone. Even at home in my office, I can see ten networks and only three of them are mine. At work, it’s even worse: several different internal networks, networks from businesses nearby, and a whole bunch of those not-really-a-network networks associated with random bits of hardware*.

* If you don’t connect your Wi-Fi-capable printer, TV, or streaming media player to a real network, it’ll announce itself to the world as a network of its own. It’s part of the setup process, so it’s almost necessary. But if that gadget is connected with a USB or Ethernet cable, or you’re just not networking it at all, and you don’t explicitly turn off the Wi-Fi, it’ll be screaming at the world “I’m here, I’m here!” eternally. And, let’s be brutally honest here: nobody I know turns off the Wi-Fi.

Or in a coffee shop. Say you’re in Peet’s and you want to put your laptop on their Wi-Fi. It’s there. But so is the network used by their cash registers. And the networks from the Starbucks across the street. And the three customers using their phones as hot spots, the ubiquitous Comcast and Xfinity networks, the possibly-a-trap network called “FreeWIFI”, and a dozen or so individual machines cut off from their respective corporate networks and desperately trying to reconnect.

It makes for one heck of a lot of scrolling.

As I said, I noticed the issue with the iPhone, but Android, Windows, ChromeOS, and MacOS are just as troublesome. Nor, by the way, is the problem confined to Wi-Fi. Despite the limited range, Bluetooth is nearly as bad.

Sure, the list is sorted by signal strength. Theoretically, that means the local network will be at the top of the list. It’s a nice theory, but one that’s not entirely supported by the evidence. And that’s without even considering that the list reorders itself every couple of seconds as signals come and go.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could focus the list to make it easier to find the network want? I can think of several ways to do it: a menu option to sort the list alphabetically, a quick filter (type “sta” and the list now only shows “Starbucks-Registers,” “Starbucks-Guest,” and “FeedingStation-Guest”), or–since Google, Apple, and Microsoft all have databases of Wi-Fi networks anyway–use geographic and other data to put the most likely candidates at the top of the list*.

* If GPS data shows you’re in Peet’s, you’re probably more interested in their Wi-Fi than Starbucks’, and you almost certainly don’t care about “HPPrinter9000”.

Similar logic could be used for the Bluetooth list: a menu to limit the list to one type of device (headphones/speakers, printers, keyboards, etc.) or the quick filter.

Come on guys, make it happen.

And, now that I’ve griped about the big names, how about a quick shout out to a tech company that got one big thing right?

Remember a little while back when I sang the praises of my Kobo ebook reader?

Two months later, I stand by everything I said then. What I missed was the lack of expandable storage. Eight gigs should be enough for anybody, right?

Not so much. First of all, not all of that space is available for books. Then, put a few picture and art books, a handful of “complete works of…” titles (with cover illustrations for each story in the set), and a bunch of copiously illustrated biographies on the reader, and suddenly eight gigabytes seems cramped.

Sure, I could leave some things off the reader. On a daily basis, I don’t need more than two or three books, after all. But why should I have to decide which ones to take with me? I want the whole darn collection.

I just bought the reader a few months ago. I wasn’t about to junk it and buy a new one with more storage space. So I did my research.

Turns out, Kobo got two things very right in the design of their readers: they are–at least compared to most tablets and similar devices–very easy to take apart and reassemble, and the storage is actually a standard micro SD card in a standard reader. Yes, just like the card from your camera.

The Clara HD–my reader–is particularly easy to open up. It snaps together, with no adhesive, screws, or tricky clips. But most of Kobo’s readers are almost as easy to work with, and most of them have SD cards inside, not soldered-in flash chips.

I won’t go into the details of the upgrade process; the instructions are easy enough to find online. Suffice to say that you don’t need any tools more complicated than a credit card* and the entire process–including reloading my collection after I did something stupid–only took a few hours. If I hadn’t been stupid, it would have been more like an hour and a half.

* Both to buy a larger SD card and to pry open the case.

The reader now has approximately fifty-six gigabytes available for storing my library. Unless I go wild loading it up with comic books (unlikely), that should be enough for the next five years or more. And by then, I’ll probably be ready for a new reader, one with all the latest technology.

And if Kobo continues to make their devices as easy to upgrade as this one, it’ll be an easy choice.

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