As you may know, I’m in Hannover, Germany this week for CeBIT, and will be heading to Berlin at the end of the week for some time off. Here are a few quick notes from the road, and about the technology I’m using while abroad.
First up, CeBIT. I was invited to the show by Huawei, the Chinese technology giant, and that alone makes this trip somewhat unusual. Huawei paid for my flights and hotel, but the firm doesn’t have any editorial or promotional expectations. So that covers my ethical concerns, though I still needed to think this one through before agreeing.
Ultimately, what I came to is that I’ve flown and stayed at the cost of other companies before—Microsoft, of course, but also several trips in the US and to Europe where I’ve spoken at local events—and that this was no different. (For example, I appeared at the Windows 7 launch in The Netherlands in 2009, and at the Windows 8 launch in New Zealand in 2012.) I’m always happy to travel. And in this case, I’m of course quite interested in an official introduction to Huawei. So here I am. I’ll write more about Huawei soon.
As for Germany, this is my third trip to this country, and I’ve spent about a month of my life here so far. In 2003, I came to Bonn to speak at an industry event, and my wife and some friends came out a few days and we made a week out of it. On that trip, we traveled throughout the south and west of Germany. In 2010, my family did a homeswap outside of Frankfurt for three weeks, and spent a bunch of time between there and Bonn, Switzerland, plus a few days in the Alsace area of eastern France.
The connectivity improvements over this time period are astonishing, so much so that I’ll likely write some sort of “throwback”-type post later this week. But as you might imagine, Project Fi has resulted in a sort of peak connectivity moment, assuming of course you have a compatible phone.
I do, and while this is my third major experience with Project Fi internationally—after two weeks in Paris last summer and one week in The Netherlands last November—it is the first time I’m relying on the Google Pixel XL. About which I have mixed feelings.
As you may recall, I’m not all that impressed by this expensive iPhone knock-off, and while some of my issues were self-inflicted—I should have gone with an even more expensive 128 GB model rather than settling on 32 GB—my ongoing experiences mirror my first impressions.
Which is this. The Pixel performs fine, overall, and the camera is quite good. But the screen seems curiously small compared to other phablets, like the iPhone 7 Plus (even though it’s really not that much smaller). And there are so many little things—related to the Pixel specifically, or to Android generally—that drive me crazy.
For example. The Pixel has a nice rear-mounted fingerprint reader. Normally, this makes signing in to the device fairly seamless: Your finger moves naturally to the inset reader when you pick up the phone normally and away you go. The issue is that it doesn’t always work, and instead of the familiar vibration and sign-in, it just sits there. Dead.
When this happened initially, I blamed myself. I always do. But after dozens and dozens of failures like this, I’ve come to realize it’s the phone. It happens just enough to be an annoyance. Which pretty much explains my relationship with this phone.
But I’m trying. And there are nice touches, some from Google. Some, surprise, from Microsoft.
Project Fi, as ever, is a wonder. I landed in Germany and was greeted by a cheery welcome notification explaining that I was covered, and what the costs were: Data is the same $10 per GB I pay at home, phone calls are 20 cents per minute, and messaging is free. Huzzah.
Google likewise provided a handy map of the Munich airport, where I had first landed en-route to Hannover. Curiously, a similar notification was not provided at Hannover though.
The real revelation from Google, of course, is Google Translator. This is an amazing application with real-time translations using the device’s camera, and it should make menus a lot less confusing, here or anywhere else. Google Translator is one of those no-brainer apps that every traveler should have at the ready.
As you may recall, I replaced Google Assistant with Cortana on the Pixel. So when I long-press on the home button, Cortana pops-up, and here in Germany, she offers the local weather, a nice US dollar to Euro conversion, and some local restaurant recommendations in addition to my schedule. Nice.
If you’re curious—hey, you never know—I ended up bringing the 15-inch HP Spectre x360 on this trip. It’s a bit big and bulky for international travel, but it’s next on the reviews list. And to be fair, I love it: The keyboard offers a nearly-ideal portable typing experience, which is key for me. And the gorgeous screen and prodigious battery life help tons as well.
That said, I ran into a strange issue this morning when I sat down, wrote the original version of this article, and then started experiencing strange issues with the screen flashing and glitching. I ended up rebooting it to see if that helped, but in doing so I wiped out 1000 words of writing, a mistake I’ve not made in many years. So what you’re reading now is v2 of this post. And I’m still sort of burned by this, and distrustful that the glitches might continue. We’ll see how that goes.
As for Germany, I’ve not seen much of it yet. I arrived in a rainy and wet Hannover in the early afternoon yesterday, got settled in at the hotel, went for a short walk, and then passed out from the traveling.
By the time that was all over, it was dark. I probably won’t be doing too much in the way of sightseeing until I get to Berlin, of course. And I’ll be busy with Huawei today and tomorrow.