The MediaPad M3 is a fast, modern Android tablet

I’ve found that auctioneers are always excited about finding ways to be more efficient. Indeed, some of the best ideas I absorbed in Columbus last month revolved around doing more in less time. I’m a firm believer in the importance of the right tool for the job, and when it comes to reading news, checking email, reviewing PDFs and performing other information consumption tasks, nothing works better than a mid-sized Android tablet.

I was a huge fan of the Nexus 7. It was Google’s first tablet, released in 2012, and the first Android tablet that I felt got it right. I’d used the Acer Iconia and Toshiba Thrive and Samsung Galaxy Tab and nothing seemed to work right until the Nexus 7. It was the perfect size and ran pure Android. The second generation Nexus 7, released in 2013, was even better and with a sleeker, more modern shape.

Huawei MediaPad M3

Huawei MediaPad M3

Over the next few years, I bought the Nexus 10 and Nexus 9. Each had problems, mainly that they were quite slow and sluggish. I actually bought a second Nexus 9 when my first one broke because I needed a tablet to control my drone and my Behringer XR-18 mixer for my band. The second Nexus 9 seemed to slow down faster than the first, even after factory resets.

A few months ago, I’d finally had enough of the unreliability of the Nexus 9 and began searching for a replacement tablet. I looked at the Samsung options, but wanted something with an IPS screen and a smaller screen than the Tab S3 offered. I took a chance on the Huawei MediaPad M3 and have been quite impressed.

I’ve never used a Huawei device before, and I was a little nervous placing the order. I knew that it was a premium tablet, even though the name sounds like one of those $50 tablets you can find at your local Quick Trip. Even though I knew that Huawei makes huge numbers of device around the world, their comparatively smaller market share in the US gave me pause. I’m glad I placed the order.

The reason the Nexus 7 was such a great size was that it split the difference between a phone and a full size tablet. As phones got gradually bigger, there wasn’t much of a difference anymore between a 7″ tablet and the 6″ Nexus 6. At 8.4″, the MediaPad feels again like the perfect balance of a larger screen yet not cumbersome like a 10″ tablet. It’s really thin and difficult to hold, though, so I grabbed a kwmobile Crystal Case TPU silicone protective cover and Mr. Shield tempered glass screen protector since I knew I’d be using it on the farm. It’s easier to hold now and I can use the tablet without fear of dropping it or damaging the screen.

Huawei MediaPad M3 with Crystal Case

Huawei MediaPad M3 with Crystal Case

The MediaPad is fast, with specs on par with modern phones. It’s so nice to have a tablet that’s not frustratingly slow. While a new Nexus 9 or 10 feels fast, it doesn’t take long for it to seem slow. I’ve used the MediaPad M3 for the last couple months and it feels as fast as it was when I got it.

The screen is an IPS panel that’s bright and beautiful but not polarized like the Nexus 7 so I don’t have to take my prescription sunglasses off when using it in landscape orientation. The bezels are small enough that, even at 8.4″, the tablet is easy to grab with one hand.

Battery life has been quite sufficient. I don’t carry it everywhere I go, so it’s easy to leave on a charger when not in use.

The front facing fingerprint reader doubles as a multifunction button. Touching it functions like a back button. A long touch is like pressing the home key. Swiping horizontally brings up the recent apps display and swiping up triggers search. There’s also a setting to enable soft keys like a standard Android experience, but I noticed some random bugs so I keep them off. I also quickly became frustrated at how easy the search function is to trigger — luckily there’s an app called SwipeLaunch Disabler that disables the search triggering.

Huawei MediaPad M3

Huawei MediaPad M3

The software on the MediaPad initially sucked. A lot. It runs Huawei’s EMUI, which was every bit as bad as Samsung’s TouchWiz. A few weeks ago, the tablet upgraded to Android 7 and EMUI 5, and brought with it a new notification shade design that makes it very similar to Android devices from other manufacturers. It’s quite usable now, especially with Action Launcher and Gboard.

The MediaPad M3 isn’t without flaws. I really wish it came in a color other than “Moonlight Silver” [read:white] and that it used a USB Type-C port instead of the Micro-USB port. There’s also an issue with the Wi-Fi only working on 2.4 GHz in the US, so it won’t connect to any 5 GHz access points.

Overall, I’m really happy with the Huawei MediaPad M3. I don’t use it to take pictures and I don’t use it to type, though I did type over half of this review on the tablet before finishing up on my Chromebook. It works great with my drone and my mixer for my band and is much more pleasant to read than my phones. Fast, modern Android tablets are harder and harder to find. If you’re looking for a simple, fast Android tablet that’s easy to hold and fun to use, get the Huawei MediaPad M3.

Posted in Android, gadgets, reviews | Tagged , , , |

Your call to action is on fire, and your brand is burning

I’ve had it with marketers — even though I suppose I am one, by process of elimination. But I’m sick of emails with hail-Mary subject lines, yellow AUCTION TODAY signs and websites with all-caps, bold and flashing text saying, essentially, “BID NOW, DAMMIT!”

Maybe that’s your niche. Maybe you you decided that your company’s brand strategy is to compete on price and your slogan is “we sell things at auction at bargain-basement prices!” You’re willing to do anything you can to catch someone’s eye, even if it means using emoji in the subject of your bulk emails.

Emoji subject line

Maybe you read an article or have first-hand experience that yellow is the best color to catch someone’s eye, so all your flyers and signs are on a yellow background. You don’t care that yellow also means cheap, because your job is to do the best job for the seller you’re working for to the exclusion of all other priorities — including your and your company’s dignity.

This race to the bottom, in the long run, hurts your company’s brand. Worse yet, it hurts our industry. If our customers see that every call to action we use has the volume knob turned to 11, then they’re likely to lump our content into the same bucket as other similarly faux-important, hair-on-fire materials they receive — spam.

My friend Ryan George frequently says, “If everything is bold, nothing is.” He’s usually talking about flyer design, but the saying perfectly summarizes the challenge that we auctioneers face. Each auction deserves our best effort, so why shouldn’t we try to convey to our prospective bidders that it’s the most relevant-to-them event we’ve ever conducted?

Because they’re not stupid. They know that every auction we have can’t be our most important sale. They know that we’re in the business of finding repeat business, and they can see through our smoke and mirrors. They lose respect for a furniture store that has more than one going-out-of-business sale per year, so why do we think we can convince them that every sale we have is the opportunity of a lifetime?

We should know that the harder we try to iterate on the most eye-catching, routine-disturbing subject line or post title, the more our content looks like spam. We should know that success is built on establishing a company brand that’s respected for quality of service, not our willingness to busk or feign phony plumage.

I’m not saying we should sandbag our marketing efforts and underrepresent the items in our auctions. By the same token, I don’t want to work in an industry where everything is superlative. I believe that the best way to retain the customers we want is to treat them — and their attention — with respect.

Posted in advertising | Tagged , , |

Proper password management

This article was the subject of Fast Talking Podcast episode 163.

Password management can be challenging. Proper password hygiene requires a different, secure password for each service. Let’s take a look at what these two requirements mean and why they’re important.

Secure passwords

A secure password is one with enough entropy and length to resist brute force attacks. Entropy, in this context, is the amount of randomness in the password. A password that comprises words in the dictionary has a very low entropy, while a password made up of random characters has a high degree of entropy. A brute force attack uses a powerful computer to try every possible combination of characters until one works. Modern offline brute force attacks can attempt billions or trillions of combinations per second.

Entropy is important because modern password cracking processes are smarter than just starting with A and then trying AB and then ABC. They use patterns derived from the millions of leaked passwords to determine commonalities likely found in your password, and they try those first before moving on to more random combinations.

Length is important because it’s how we can easily make the brute forcing process take much longer. Each character in the alphabet can be upper and lower case, which means every letter we add forces an additional 52 possibilities. Adding numbers and special characters to the password “alphabet” can increase the character depth to 92. There’s the great Password Haystacks tool at GRC to analyze password strength and length and tell you how long a brute force attack would take on the password you give it. Don’t worry – nothing is sent through the internet…it’s all done with your browser, which is important for reasons we’ll examine later in this post.

Different passwords

We’ve all heard of the myriad password leaks from major internet businesses in the last few years. These leaks seem to be increasing  – Yahoo is usually good for a new breach announcement every few months now. When passwords are leaked from one service, every user who used the same password on a different service is suddenly vulnerable. If every password you use is unique to each service, then a password breach only impacts your account at the service that was breached.

Rotating password

Why do some security experts recommend, or in some cases demand, that we change our passwords every so often? Because if our password is one that we’ve reused on multiple sites, then the longer we use it, the better the chances that it’ll have been involved in a breach of some service somewhere and our password will be floating around in one of the databases-for-sale available to the hacking community. A frequently refreshed password mitigates this danger. But, if we make sure that each website has a different and secure password, then there’s no need to ever change it.

Here’s a bad password.

Auction123

Here’s a good password.

VSSK}5kQeJu>F3*,IIK|CWzUa6<SkPQLbxJnc/k}XlS3,nDrI`{K!b<jyAp8|=5

It’s unrealistic to think any of us can remember a good password for the hundreds of sites that we use on a regular basis. We must use a password management system.

LastPass is the right password manager

While there are many services that compete for each class of service these days, in my experience there are some absolutely right answers. CrashPlan, for example, is the right answer for file backup. TrueCrypt was the right answer for encryption when I wrote about it in 2008, now it’s TrueCrypt’s offspring VeraCrypt. Doggcatcher is the right answer for podcasts. For password management, the right answer is LastPass.

LastPass is the Cadillac of password management systems. There are several out there — 1Password, KeePass, Dashlane — but in my research and experience, none offers the combination of security, simplicity and enormous feature set found in LastPass.

You name it, and LastPass does it. Browser extensions and an excellent mobile app mean you only have to log in to LastPass and LastPass logs you in everywhere else, automatically filling in your username and password across the web and in your local apps and even Wi-Fi networks. Passwords are only the beginning, as you can store notes, SSNs, QR codes, images and credit card information completely securely. Shopping becomes much easier when LastPass populates credit card information and addresses into web forms.

It features two-factor authentication, so you can enter a one-time-use code in addition to your LastPass password for that important second layer of security. The first time you log in to a site, it pops-up an option to automatically store that credential so you never have to worry about it again. When you’re creating accounts, it generates extremely secure passwords so you don’t have the stress of having to come up with something yourself. It can also audit your security, letting you know which sites have weak passwords and offering you the ability to easily change them. For most sites, it can actually change your passwords for you to something much more secure.

You can also share passwords securely with other LastPass users, which lets us share the ability to login with employees without giving those employees the actual passwords. If an employee leaves, we simply turn off the sharing of the login with that user instead of having to actually change passwords to the different sites the employee was using.

The best part about LastPass is that all your content — passwords, SSNs, notes and even images — is encrypted on your computer before it’s transmitted to the LastPass servers. LastPass never has access to the master password since it, too, is encrypted before it leaves your computer. Even if the LastPass servers are compromised, all a hacker would have access to is the encrypted data which, assuming the master password has enough entropy and length, is useless to anyone other than you.

LastPass has  a free tier, which lets you sync any of the same type of device. If you set up your account on a desktop, you can sync with any other computer for free. If you create your account on a phone, you can sync to other mobile devices for free. To sync your phone and computer, you need to upgrade to LastPass Premium, which, at $1 per month, would be a steal at 10 times the price.

If you don’t have a password system in place, get LastPass today. If you currently use one of the other password management systems, take a hard look at LastPass and see if it might make your life even easier. If you look at LastPass and think one of the other solutions works better, I’d love to know why and how — let me know in the comments.

Posted in Apps, Security, services | Tagged , , , |

The LG V20 is Verizon’s best phone of 2016

The LG V10, released in late 2015, was a monster of a phone. It was a big device with dual cameras and screens on the front and geared for content creators. I’ve been eagerly awaiting its successor, the V20, to see how it improved on the V10. My friends at Verizon recently let me use one for a few weeks, and I was able to confirm what I suspected. My LG V20 review found it to be my favorite phone of 2016.

LG V20 hardware

LG V20 and box

The V20 is one of the largest phones available. At 5.7″, it’s the largest phone currently available from Verizon, along with the V10 and Stylo 2 V which also have 5.7″ displays. The V20’s screen is a beautiful IPS display, which I prefer to the AMOLED panels offered by other manufacturers.

The 4 GB of memory and Snapdragon 820 processor mean that the phone is among the fastest ever released. Currently, only the Google Pixel has a better processor, and I personally didn’t notice a difference in performance using them side by side.

In addition to the large primary screen, there’s a second screen that sits just above the main display. This always-on screen can be configured to show time and notifications, media controls, recent apps, quick contacts, app shortcuts or upcoming plans.

Volume rocker on left, headphone jack and USB Type-C port on bottom

The headphone jack, USB Type-C port and speaker are all on the bottom of the phone. Unfortunately, in a departure from last year’s designs of the G4 and V10, LG has moved the volume buttons to the left side of the phone. The power button with a fast and accurate fingerprint sensor is still conveniently on the back, but I found the volume buttons to be inconvenient to use when holding the phone with my right hand.

One of my favorite features of the LG V20 is the removable back that exposes a removable battery and the SD card slot. The phone comes with 64 GB of internal storage, which should be enough for most people. Support for an SD card means there’s not really a way to run out of space.

My favorite part of the V20 is removable battery and SD card slot

The sound quality of the V20 is stunning. Playback is enhanced with what LG calls the Hi-Fi Quad DAC, or digital audio converter, that provides amazing sound quality for wired connections. While I nearly always use Bluetooth, I did enjoy comparing the sound quality of the V20 to the Nexus 6 with a set of Sony MDR-7506 headphones. The V20 was not only louder, but it was cleaner and clearer with improved frequency response all over the spectrum.

In addition to the best audio playback I’ve ever heard from a phone, the V20 boasts improved recording abilities. It ships with the HD Audio Recorder app which is the best audio recording app I’ve ever seen. It can record to 24-bit FLAC at 96 kHz, and allows the user to adjust gain, add a low cut filter and control the limiter.

Software

The phone comes with LG UX 5.0+, which displays all apps on the home screens by default. A tweak to the settings will restore the app drawer to restore sanity, but it’s best to install a third-party launcher like Action Launcher 3 or the Google Now Launcher. The LG default keyboard works, but isn’t as clean as the Google Keyboard.

Always-on second screen

The best use for the second screen is for notifications. Normally, notifications on Android pop up and interfere with whatever app is in use at the time. The V20’s second screen shows these notifications, leaving the primary screen dedicated to the app that’s in use at the time.

Another nice software feature is the ability to scale the content of the screen. The beautiful 2560 x 1440 Quad HD screen can be set to show a lot of small content or a lesser amount of larger content. The default setting didn’t show enough content on the screen for my taste, and I was thankful it was easy to change to take advantage of the large, high resolution screen.

Battery and power management

Back of LG V20 features power button with fingerprint reader

The V20 is one of the only recently released phones that has a removable battery. I was slightly disappointed by the battery life on the V20. I reviewed the V20 immediately after testing the Pixel XL, which I found to have phenomenal battery life considering the size of battery it had. The V20 is okay, and certainly as good as any other Verizon phones released in 2016 with the exception of the Pixel XL, but I wasn’t able to get anywhere near a full day out of it, even when at my desk. It supports Quick Charge, so recharging it with a cable during the day didn’t take too long, but it’s still not as convenient as only having to charge a phone at night.

Disappointingly, unlike the G4 and V10, the V20 doesn’t support wireless charging with the addition of a special back cover. However, it appears ZeroLemon will be selling a battery upgrade for the V20, replacing the 3,200 mAh battery with a 10,000 mAh brick. A battery this big would mean I would only have to plug the V20 in at night, eliminating the need to recharge it to get through the day.

Camera

Saving the best for last, the V20’s cornerstone feature is the camera configuration. The back features a 16 MP camera with laser autofocus and optical image stabilization that I found to be just as good as the camera on the Pixel XL. It also has a wide-angle lens on the back, which is amazingly convenient. This was the deal-making feature on the LG G5 that caused me to immediately order one for my wife, and it’s one of several features that will cause me to pick the V20 over the Pixel XL for my next phone.

Not content with the winning camera configuration on the back, LG also uses a wide-angle camera on the front to make it easier to capture selfies of multiple people or capture more of the background environment. They’ve simply done everything right when it comes to cameras on the V20.

As you can see in the example below, the V20 easily bests the LG Stylo 2 V and the Motorola Nexus 6.

Compared to Google’s Pixel XL, the V20’s camera runs neck and neck, in my opinion.

While the video stabilization isn’t as freakishly good as that which is found on the Pixel XL, it’s still really, really good. Here’s a 4K video I took of a tractor for an auction. Make sure to bump the quality to 4K to see the high quality of the video camera on the V20.

Summary

The LG V20 ticks all the boxes. It’s like a Swiss Army knife – they threw in nearly every feature that I want in a phone.

  • Large 5.7″ IPS screen
  • Removable battery
  • Excellent primary camera
  • Additional wide-angle camera on back
  • Wide-angle front-facing camera
  • Large 64 GB built-in storage
  • SD card for external storage
  • Quick Charge 3.0
  • Power button on the back
  • Headphone jack on the bottom

The even threw in a couple of features I didn’t know that I wanted in a phone, but now that I’ve seen them, I love them.

  • Second screen
  • Hi-Fi Quad DAC audio system

There are a few features missing, though.

  • Wireless charging not supported
  • Volume buttons are on the left side
  • Google Assistant not yet available on phones other than Pixel

I’m really going to miss this phone when I mail it back to Verizon. It’s the best all-around phone I’ve ever used. If you’re a fan of large phones and want the best specs and most features anyone has ever crammed into a smart phone, the LG V20 is the perfect device.

The LG V20 is currently available for $672 from Verizon.

LG V20 picture gallery

As always, here is a selection of example pictures I took over the last couple of weeks while carrying the V20 as my primary phone.

Posted in Android, hardware, reviews | Tagged , , , , |

When “sold” doesn’t mean sold

The Uniform Commercial Code, or UCC, is a law that’s common across the country which, among many other things, contains clauses that govern how auctions are to be conducted. I’m a UCC purist, believing that a strict interpretation is the best way to run an auction, even if the common practices in some areas of the country differ from those prescribed by that law.

I’ve recently accepted that there are practicing auction law attorneys who make compelling cases that it’s actually legal to override the UCC with an auction’s terms and conditions, and that it’s okay to do so. However, even if it’s legal and common to override the default, why on Earth would you want to? I’m no legal expert, but I intend to show from a customer experience perspective that it’s better for the bidders, the auctioneer and the seller if “sold” means sold.

The UCC provides a default standard of practice that involves an offer and an acceptance method of establishing the sales price and buyer for an item at auction. The strict interpretation, of which I’m quite fond, is that the auctioneer is the only person with the authority to accept an offer made by a bidder. Once no other offers are tendered, the auctioneer sells the item to the bidder he recognized as making the last, highest offer.

When an auctioneer says sold, the contract is formed between the bidder in the auctioneer’s mind and the seller. In the event that another bidder believed he or she had made a valid offer, the UCC’s default position is that only the bidder in the auctioneer’s mind is the buyer and that the second bidder has no claim of ownership.

This situation can seem unfair to the second bidder. Because of this specious unfairness, some auctioneers add terms to the auction that allow them to “reopen” the bidding to give the “missed” bidder an opportunity to advance the sales price to become the buyer. This practice of overriding the default way an auction should work creates problems for the bidders, the auctioneer and the seller and, in my opinion, should be avoided.

Bidders

Bidders should expect auctions from different auctioneers to work similarly. The UCC establishes that default expectation. When an auctioneer overrides that default, he’s creating a set of “house rules” that may be confusing to bidders. Now, I accept that common practice for an area of the country might be the same set of house rules and that bidders from the area may all be accustomed to that same set of changes imposed by most of the local auctioneers, but we can’t expect all bidders who may not be familiar with the changes to hunt for them in the terms and conditions.

Most of the examples given for reopening bidding involve being fair to the missed bidder, but they ignore that the bid caller has said “sold” and established a buyer. That buyer believes he or she is the owner of the item and then is told that when the bid caller said “sold” he didn’t really mean it. The terms and conditions said he could offer the item again to someone else. Even if the missed bidder elects not to advance the bid, the buyer will likely, or at least should, still feel wronged and lose some respect for what should be the absolute authority of the bid caller.

Auctioneer

An auctioneer should strive to create an environment where bidders know who is currently winning and at what price, and that if they aren’t sure that they’re winning or not, that they won’t accidentally advance their own bids if they bid again to be sure. If the auctioneer finds himself in a situation where the bid caller and a ringman have indicated to separate bidders that each is the currently winning bidder, then that auction crew has failed spectacularly.

It’s no secret that I’m not fond of ringmen, but my personal feelings notwithstanding, a ringman’s job is very important — to relay bids to the bid caller, not accept them on behalf of him (I understand there may be a state-specific exemption to this job description). If the ringman has given indication to anyone that the winning bidder is someone other than the bidder the auctioneer has recognized at that increment, that ringman has not only performed his job incorrectly, he’s created an opportunity for disaster. Should the bid caller declare the item sold, then at least one bidder will feel wronged by the auction crew, regardless of how the situation is handled.

The bid caller is not without fault in the situation. Any time ringmen are involved in an auction, the bid caller has a responsibility to the bidders and the ringmen to make very clear before selling each item who the currently winning bidder is. I’ve attended too many auctions in my 15 years in the industry where bid callers are either lazy, apathetic or lack the skill to specify in the chant where the winning bidder is before declaring a buyer.

27365319If the bid caller failed to make clear who the winning bidder was before saying “sold”, he then has to choose between being loyal to the the bidder he declared to be the buyer and a bidder who mistakenly believed he or she was the currently winning bidder. I think it’s best for bidders as a whole to trust that the bid caller will be loyal to the buyer with whom he’s already created the contract. I think it’s much easier to explain to a missed bidder than an item can’t be unsold than to tell the buyer that the word “sold” doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.

Seller

An auctioneer has a fiduciary obligation to the seller. This set of responsibilities often requires the auctioneer to obtain the highest price for each item sold. It’s this flag that most proponents of reopening bidding wave when defending the practice of modifying the common auction rules set forth by the UCC in order to allow them to unsell an item long enough to see if another bidder will advance the bidding. Indeed, it seems to make sense — our job as auctioneers is to take as many bids as we can, so why wouldn’t we want to establish every set of house rules possible that allows us to take more bids?

In Auction Podcast episode 13 I discussed the appearance of dual agency regarding absentee bids, where I made the case that, on the aggregate, sellers benefited most and would realize higher overall proceeds when an auction created an environment of trust among the bidders — that we work best for our client only when we treat our customers fairly. If bidders believe their bids will be handled fairly, they’ll bid more and higher. The flip side of that axiom is that if bidders don’t have trust in an auctioneer, they’ll be less excited to participate to the fullest extent.

By creating an environment wherein a bid caller saying “sold” doesn’t actually and absolutely create a buyer, the bidders’ faith in the process will likely be diminished. The auction process is a simple one. The more complex we make it, the more difficult it is for our customers to understand and participate. By adding house rules that increase complexity above and beyond what’s established by the UCC, we’re creating opportunities to depress bidder participation and, thus, not being true to the duties we owe our sellers.

Summary

I’m not a legal expert, and I hope I didn’t get too far into the law here. There are heated discussions on the book of faces that are picking the legal arguments apart on both sides, but I posit that it’s not really a question of law but of how we treat our customers. I have spent countless hours thinking about and writing about the customer experience at auctions. Whenever I think about the issue of reopening the bidding, it’s clear to me that doing so ends up having a negative impact on the experience for bidders, the auctioneer and the seller.

 

Posted in bid calling, theory | Tagged , , , |