Android Bug Reports, Songs, Rovers

The following is a partial list of bugs in Android (or associated software) which have impacted my actual life in some way.  Some may have been fixed since I last encountered them.

  • When navigation is muted, but you hit volume down just to be safe, it unmutes and starts blaring, waking other passengers on the bus.
  • Sometimes the GPS stops getting locks on satellites until the phone is rebooted.  (This may be related to the GPSStatus app, installed to avoid this kind of thing.)  To be fair, satellites are very small and far away, so you can hardly blame it for having trouble.
  • You can say “Call <contact name>”, and contact names+addresses show up in the navigation search with “navigate to” options, but you can’t say “Navgiate to <contact name>” like you can with all other major actions.  This means you have to type their full address to find out which exit to take from the traffic circle, and it’s really hard to type while holding the wheel steadily to the left like that.
  • Sometimes, when arranging home screen icons, you feel sad and you’re not sure why.
  • If you follow Google’s guidelines and have your own Jabber DNS records set up in a particular way on your Google Apps server, it screws up Google Talk’s ability to authenticate, which in turn (for some bizarre reason) causes all app downloads to hang midway through.  This is rare enough that the error messages are not Googleable.  But don’t worry, it’s easy to figure out as long as you’ve read all of the source code to Android and to Google’s servers, which is good practice when you get any product.
  • Sometimes the home screen icons all disappear.  The only thing which fixes this is a restart, going through five menus to kill the “Home screen” process, or crying quietly for hours until the icons start to feel sorry for you and come back.
  • Occasionally, when swiping the lock sideways to unlock the phone, the lock button images are rotated by 90 degrees.  This is probably connected to your Jabber server somehow.
  • Sometimes an Android user will think they hear someone say their name, but they’re not sure, so they say ‘Yes?’, but then it turns out it was something else.
  • Maps Navigation doesn’t cache your route, so if you drive through an area with bad cell coverage, it may silently stop notifying you of upcoming turns, and you won’t realize anything’s wrong until you discover you’ve taken NH Route 2 all the way to the White Mountains, which are very cold.
  • Latitude doesn’t update well on either end.  Often times, it will tell you someone was in a particular place “5 minutes ago”, and then 10 minutes later — after multiple restarts — it will still say it got that last update from them “5 minutes ago” even if they’re actively using Maps, so you have no idea whether they’ve left.  This can continue for hours as you slowly run out of air in the closet.
  • The phone occasionally locks on full brightness and turns off the keyboard backlight, which is fixed by un-checking and then re-checking the “automatic brightness” checkbox, also about five menus deep, which is hard to see when you’re squinting because the screen is so bright.  Fortunately, it never gets very dark where I live in Boston.  Unfortunately, it’s extremely dark at night in the White Mountains.
  • Navigation instructions silence things like podcasts players, but don’t pause them.  Thus, to hear that missing sentence or two, you have to switch over to the podcast app and hit ‘back’ several times, then swerve your car to avoid the stupid stop sign that shouldn’t be in the middle of the sidewalk to begin with.
  • Google Voice doesn’t do push notifications, so you often get voicemails quite some time after the caller leaves them, sometimes after you’ve already called them back.  This can make you call your doctor back again and have a really confusing conversation where you accidentally get a second prescription. Which you can then get filled and sell on the street. Come to think of it, this bug might be a feature.
  • If you stop for gas, sometimes navigation suspends, but doesn’t resume when you start driving again (or just disappears without notifying you), so you miss the upcoming turn and think you’re already on I-95, and by the time you discover your mistake and turn around you’ve lost enough time that you totally get to the conference too late to catch Richard Stallman doing his acapella Bad Romance cover which is the whole reason you paid the entry fee in the first place.
  • If you have several Google accounts, there’s no way to select which one to use for Google Checkout purchases.  It just picks whichever one it notices first, even if it’s one from an old Google account tied to your mom’s credit card, so now she might know that you bought the app to turn the phone into a vibrator.  (The app doesn’t really work since the vibrate motor is too weak, but the reviews by people who don’t understand its purpose are hilarious.)
  • If you have a secondary account that it’s decided to use for Checkout, and you want to delete it so the phone will use your primary one, you can’t.  Why?  Because that account is used for an essential service and so can’t be deleted.  As far as I can guess, that service is Google Checkout.  This bug report is dedicated to Joseph Heller.
  • Google Chrome in OS X follows the Apple guidelines concerning the green “+” button, and has it make the window no bigger than it deems necessary to fit the current page’s contents.  This annoys a lot of people. Since there are no OS X Chrome extensions, the best workaround seems to be registering maximizechrome.com and putting a giant <div> there.  Whenever you need to maximize, you load that page before hitting the green button.  (This bug is not, technically, related to Android in any way.)
  • There’s a Fantastic Contraption app on iPhone, but not Android. This is probably a feature rather than a bug, since it means Android users can spend time on things other than playing Fantastic Contraption.

These issues aside, I’m really happy with my Droid.  The screen is incredible, it’s much faster and easier to use than the G1, and I wouldn’t trade away the physical keyboard and persistent SSH for anything.


I just about fell out of my chair when I saw this.  Thank you to everyone who appeared in it, and to Olga and Elaine for doing whatever black magic they did to get them all together. <3. (Side note: I met Neil Gaiman once, back when I was in college, when his book tour came near my town. At the signing afterward, I talked awkwardly to him for what seemed like several minutes while he signed stuff for our group. Later, my friends pointed out that I was speaking too quietly for him to hear—or, in fact, to notice that I was standing there at all. I’ve been quietly embarrassed about that ever since and this video makes me feel better.)


If anyone is still sad about my Spirit comic, maybe this person’s rewrite – author unknown, found on a random image page – might provide some comfort.  Also, I got a couple of nice letters from members of the Spirit/Opportunity teams, and it’s very clear how proud they are of these little rovers. Next, Europa!

169 replies on “Android Bug Reports, Songs, Rovers”

  1. I actually really liked the Spirit comic, lol. I found it really ironically funny for some reason… maybe I just have a sick sense of humor. 😛
    I showed it to some of my friends, and they all thought it was really sad, which I didn’t really understand…

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  2. When I first read the Spirit XKCD, I, of course, found it a little sad. But when I got to thinking about it later, I realized that there’s not really any reason that Spirit would think of Earth as being home. I mean, even if they didn’t wipe all the memories before leaving, Earth was just a place where it got tested and prodded a lot and dropped several times in order to make sure it would survive the drop. I think it missing Earth would be sort of like someone wishing that they could go back to the hospital they were born in. It wasn’t really here and operational long enough for it to have a meaningful attachment.

    I run Android on a SmartQ 5 which doesn’t have any of those problems. Of course, that’s largely because there it’s not a phone, it has no GPS, and it doesn’t recognize the microphone, so that screens out most all of them. Probably the Google Checkout ones would happen, but I haven’t tried hooking a Google Checkout account to it yet (although I will at some point).

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  3. There are a few physics games for android starting to appear. You may want to try Space Physics or Shoot U, there are demos for both in the marketplace.

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  4. shift+clicking the green “+” button in Chrome on OS X will do a real maximize. Wish all Mac apps did that.

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  5. I saw another revision of the comic, on someone’s journal: the Doctor shows up and takes Spirit away to start a new life along with another abandoned robot. It made me pretty happy. Something like “The Battersea Home for Abandoned Robots” or something.

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  6. I have a G1 and I hate Android. I can’t hear a damn thing when I’m on the phone with someone because the volume slide doesn’t go high enough. Similarly, the brightness slide doesn’t go low enough — I have it turned down all the way and it’s still too bright.

    But the most annoying thing about it is that you can’t manage running applications. You can’t switch windows, or close applications. I always have to go into a third-party app to terminate processes (either that or I end up with an empty battery within a couple of hours). I know it’s real trendy to leave shit running all the time, but damn is it impractical!

    To be fair, I knew what I was getting myself into beforehand; I knew Google sucks bigtime at interfaces. A while back they introduced a Gmail feature that enabled you to cancel sending of an e-mail — but only within three seconds of hitting send. I don’t know how it is now, but at the time it wasn’t configurable: three seconds is enough for anybody.

    In Google Earth, when the camera flies somewhere or when you reset the compass (so up is North), it happens fluently and slowly, accelerating when you start and decelerating when you’re almost there. At first, this is really neat, but when you actually want the compass to be reset, it is excruciating to wait for it to be done decelerating.

    Picasa has very much the same problem with its smooth scrolling; one time I wanted to scroll all the way up, and I couldn’t make it do so. No matter what I tried, the scrolling rate always hit some sort of ceiling of about 5 pages per second. It was horrible.

    I also hate hate hate the fact that Android requires a Gmail account. I don’t want or need my shit online.

    Well, I’m in rant mode now, so I should probably leave it at this.

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  7. A physical “mute” for most devices: plug in headphone jacks if available.

    I’ve almost come to the point where I carry a dismembered earbud plug with my dodecahedron just to be safe.

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  8. Is your Droid still running 2.0? Do you think 2.1 has ironed out many of those bugs?? Does your appreciation for the physical keyboard trump anything that the Nexus offers?

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  9. Another bug for the Droid navigation:
    So one day you customize your route (by going to route info, and clicking the box with a dotted line), and then you decide that you are not going to go down that tiny side street that Google tells you to, so then you take your own route.
    Our benevolent Google-bot overlord doesn’t like people thinking for themselves, so navigation will make you turn around, drive up that tiny side street, and hit that checkpoint.
    You have no choice but to follow your master.

    p.s. Why do those customized routes have better times listed than the recommended route? Why not have the better time be the main route by default?

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  10. The N900 has a fairly strong vibrator — as root, enter ‘echo 255 > /sys/class/leds/twl4030:vibrator/brightness’.

    The first time I did that, I nearly dropped it.

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  11. I read through the list being very confused as I thought you still had the G1 and my G1 never had any of these bugs. Now it just makes me want to not switch to a Droid.

    I was wondering though, could you make a list for us Android users of apps that you use and like? I’d love to know what you use since every time I ask another Andriod user I find new amazing apps that I never knew existed!

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  12. (Somehow managed to post this on a different blag entry.

    I’ve noticed a few of those Android bugs as well. I have another to add that may be Droid specific:

    When the Droid is sitting in your peripheral vision, sometimes you think you see the little green light blink. After staring at it directly for several seconds, you decide that it did not blink at all, and you feel alone.
    (On a side note, having the green light blink once at random intervals would be an amazing prank app.)

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  13. “Sometimes an Android user will think they hear someone say their name, but they’re not sure, so they say ‘Yes?’, but then it turns out it was something else.”
    I experienced this bug under RIM OS as well as Android… Maybe it’s a Java error?
    As for the GPS locking, I’ve found it adequate just to close and reopen Maps… Overall, though, I don’t trust Maps enough to sell my Garmin just yet. Maybe when it’s out of beta…

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  14. Anybody who’s into stories about abandoned robots that will make you cry needs to go watch Silent Running, immediately.

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  15. What version of Android are you running? I have the Milestone (European versoin of the Droid) and it is delicious. It has pinch to zoom and all sorts of gesture-related actions that haven’t been patented to death in Europe, but it doesn’t have the navigation for maps.

    Anyway, I’ve not seen the problem with all the apps disappearing from the Home screen, and I’m running a 2.0 build.

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  16. The Droid is awesome, but I agree with most of the things you listed as annoyances, hopefully will be fixed in 2.5. I especially notice the issues with screen orientation when unlocking (which is funny because it’s sometimes hard to get it to recognize you’ve flipped the phone during web browsing or chat, but it will do it hair trigger while trying to do the unlock slider).

    As an aside, I tried out the USB hack today that was announced recently on The Register and I was able to get my Droid to recognize one of my external RAID arrays via a USB to eSATA adapter which is Linux compatible. Truly inspiring…

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  17. Your Spirit comic was nice but I do prefer the rewrite. Author unknown you say?

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  18. You can just hold shift and click + to get Windows style maximize behavior in Chrome OS X. No special domain, extension, or SIMBL hacks required.

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  19. A friend from JPL who worked on the rovers emailed me your comic, and a lot of my fellow rocket scientists (we’re grad students) also noticed it. I got to visit JPL during the first 3 months of rover operation through a special NASA program for students, so the rovers have always been special to me even amongst other NASA projects. Thanks for the publicity and the implicit good wishes 🙂

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  20. Thank you so much for the maximizechrome site! You’ve saved me at least twenty seconds a day! That’s over two hours a year!

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  21. There used to be a big room at the Boston Computer Museum that you could reasonably call a Home for Abandoned Robots. Shakey The Robot is an old friend of mine (my dad built it) and we went to visit there. But then they all moved to the silicon valley Computer History Museum where the stars get their own glass display cases and everybody else hides in a storage room at Nasa/Ames. Still, that’s probably where Spirit belongs if we ever bring it back.

    http://www.3djournal.com/galleries_city/USA_Computer_museum_3D/USA_Computer_museum_3D_3.gif http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ShakeyLivesHere.jpg

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  22. What do you mean by persistent SSH? Are you referring to Connectbot? I’ve found it drains my battery when i attempt to screen into irssi, but perhaps you have a different experience.

    You have my email, so if you actually see this, could you kick me an email? Thanks

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  23. That comic makes me feel MUCH better about the Spirit comic. The Spirit comic made me very very sad.

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  24. The Droid definitely needs tweaking. I use a battery app widget that gets me right to GPS and screen timeout settings (another irritatingly shifty setting) with one tap. I also keep a one-touch screen brightness widget that’s a big help.

    I use the Nav heavily and it usually works great. But once in a while it just fails to find the location. I’ve also had glitches with streaming podcasts, which can just drop off and disappear.

    All in all I’m a fan of the Droid. At least it’s open source! But my Droid got noticeably glitchier in the last few days. I can’t wait for Android 2.1, which is supposed to be out soon for Droid.

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  25. I am so happy that my favorite website’s author has decided to write a review of bugs. Well done, pretty refreshing read. Watch out for the left turn off the ledge before reaching the White Mountains, too, okay?

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  26. I feel like if I buy a Droid, as soon as it’s too late to return it, there’s going to be a solid announcement about the Nexus One coming to Verizon, an even better android phone coming out, or iPhone breaking AT&T exclusivity.
    How likely is this to happen? Should I buy the phone without renewing so if one of those happen I can subsidize the better phone and hand down or sell the Droid?

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  27. I’ve been affected by an Android bug where I wander into the kitchen then find I’ve forgotten why I went there and only remember after I have left the room. I suspect other Android users have also suffered with this although I haven’t found a formal bug report.

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  28. >Sometimes the GPS stops getting locks on satellites until the phone is rebooted.

    Exactly! I have the same issue with my G1. I simply reboot my phone once a month or so.

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