Pixel XL on Verizon is Google’s first phone

Several auctioneer friends have been anxiously awaiting my reviews of the Pixel XL and the LG V20. Since both devices are excellent choices for auctioneers, I’m posting them to AuctioneerTech, starting today with the Pixel XL. Check back in a couple weeks for the review of the LG V20. Visit aarontraffas.com for reviews of other devices.

The Google Pixel XL

Since the day it was announced, I’ve been anxious to get my hands on a Google Pixel XL. Google makes Android, which has historically run only on hardware designed by third party manufacturers. The Google Nexus line has been sold by Google, but it was still hardware designed by other companies. With the Pixel, Google designed both the hardware and the software to work together. I love a pure Android experience, and the combination of unadulterated Android on premium hardware from Google sounded like the perfect combination. My friends at Verizon let me spend the last month with a Pixel XL, the larger version of the two Pixel models, and I’ve been really impressed with the quality and the experience.


img_8895The phone comes in 32GB or 128GB capacities and is available in colors called Very Silver, Quite Black and Really Blue. My review unit was Very Silver.

The build quality of the Pixel XL is superlative. The metal back and sides yield a solid feel in the hand, and the phone is devoid of branding or logos, save for a tasteful G on the back. There’s a layer of smooth paint surrounding the fingerprint reader on the back, which is an interesting embellishment to an otherwise silver back. The power button and volume rocker are on the right side, the headphone jack is on the top and the USB Type-C port is on the bottom between the stereo speakers.

img_8898The Pixel XL has a 5.5″ AMOLED screen, which I think is a great size for most people who like larger phones. The Pixel XL is too thin and smooth for me to use comfortably without a case, and I’m not big on putting my phone in my pocket, so I grabbed a Youmaker belt clip holster case that made the Pixel XL really easy to use and keep with me on the farm and around the house.

The phone unfortunately lacks an SD card slot, and 32GB is getting to be too small, especially for lots of photos and podcasts, so the 128GB is definitely the version of the Pixel to get.


img_8894The Pixel brings a very clean implementation of the latest version of Android, but also includes features not found yet on other phones running Google’s software. Google Assistant is a new voice only interface to Google’s services that’s only currently available on the Pixel, Google Home and within Google’s new messaging app, Allo. While there’s speculation that Assistant may be available on other devices in the future, right now it’s a very compelling reason to get a Pixel.

Moves is a section in settings that allows me to enable the triggering of events based on physical actions. For example, swiping down on the fingerprint reader can display the notification shade. Double pressing the power button can launch the camera. It seems to be an area that Google will continue to update, as news broke last night that some users are seeing two new moves added with a recent update, including my beloved double-tap to wake. The new moves aren’t yet on my Pixel XL, but I can only assume they’ll be coming with the next software update.

The new Night Light setting will reduce the amount of blue light during night hours, and the times can be configured manually or synchronized with sunset. It allegedly makes it easier to sleep, though I find the red screen sometimes difficult to use.

I did find one noticeable software problem that seems to be unique to Google’s pure versions of Android. On both my Nexus 6 and the Pixel, I can find no way to disable the hotspot timeout. I rely heavily on my phone’s hotspot for my tablets and laptops, and it’s really frustrating to have to re-enable the hotspot every time it decides to turn itself off. Other phones have a setting to adjust the timeout or turn it off, but not the Pixel. I hope this oversight is fixed in future updates.


Camera ranking company DxOMark gave the 12.3MP camera on the Pixel the highest score of any phone on the market. It really is quite good, but instead of providing a bunch of manual controls like other phones, the Pixel wants to make taking pictures easy. The interface is simple and uncluttered, and aside from settings for HDR, white balance and flash, there’s not much the I had to worry about when taking some of the fastest and most reliably good pictures from any phone on I’ve seen. Here’s a comparison between the Pixel XL, left, and the LG V20, right.

The video from the camera is even more impressive. Videos shot with the Pixel XL can be automatically stabilized. The video below is unedited, and the picture is so stable it looks like it was shot with a drone or a steadycam.

Also worth noting is that Google Photos offers unlimited backup for Pixel photos at the original image quality. Because it’s keeping the original images, a setting called Smart Storage can be configured to automatically remove older pictures and videos from the phone, while keeping them safely in the cloud.

Battery and power management


The battery curve is really good

The Pixel XL is the first phone I’ve tested that has a battery that I believe might get me through most of the day. I’m notoriously hard on batteries, especially when I’m on the farm on the fringes of mobile data coverage. Most phones, including recent releases like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5, leave me looking for a charger in the midafternoon. One day I cut milo starting at 11 a.m. with spotty coverage on only a part of the field, and the Pixel was still alive, though barely, at 6 p.m.

It’s my understanding that the Pixel’s battery longevity is due to software optimizations. I still wish it had a replaceable battery and wireless charging, but it does support USB Power Delivery, which means it can simultaneously use data and charge quickly over the USB Type-C connection. While USB Power Delivery is the best standard for future fast charging, it only charges at regular speed with the myriad Quick Charge chargers that litter my house and vehicles.


img_8896I don’t have a way to objectively test phone reception, but ever since the Galaxy Note 3 taught me how different phones can perform on the same network, I’ve always tried to pay attention to cellular performance. I used LTE Discovery to compare the signal strength of the Pixel XL with the Nexus 6 while riding in a car on a road with poor coverage. I’ve always considered the Nexus 6 to have excellent reception, but the Pixel XL always showed an equal or stronger signal than the Nexus 6.


As I put the Pixel XL back in the mail to Verizon today, I’m going to miss the speed and drop-dead simplicity of the camera. I’ll miss the full resolution backups offered by Google Photos and the Google Assistant. If I were to improve on the Pixel, I’d add a removable battery, wireless charging and an SD card slot.

The Pixel is Google’s first attempt at making a smartphone from start to finish, and it delivered a premium phone with excellent software and a great camera.

Google Pixel XL camera demonstration

As always, here’s a selection of unedited pictures I took while reviewing the Pixel XL.

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

The state auctioneers association website solution

I’m in my eighth year writing for AuctioneerTech. Over that time, I’ve proclaimed a correct solution for many things – the best Android podcast app, the best note taking and document management system, the perfect backup solution, the best network storage solution, the correct professional email signature, the best way to brand your company on the Internet and even the best way to roll cables. I’ve even written a series about writing an RFP for building a new, accessible website for an auction firm – even though it was eight years ago, most of it still holds up today.

Today, I’m going to address websites for state auctioneer associations. Auction Zip has historically hosted many – if not the majority of – state websites. However, as Auction Zip becomes more difficult to work with, many associations are left wondering how to transition to a new website that provides membership listings and auction calendaring functions without paying a firm to develop one from scratch.


The KAA website

I have extensive experience with association websites, having served on the NAA’s Technology Committee years ago when we designed the last auction calendar. I’ve also served on the Kansas Auctioneers Association’s Technology Committee since 2010 when we built our own website and have managed it since. I believe our current solution in Kansas is the right answer for most, if not all, state associations.

I know there are vendors in the auction industry who either specialize in or offer this service free to associations. I applaud them for providing this service, because while it’s valuable to the associations who haven’t had many other options until now, it must be a huge headache that’s both thankless and unprofitable. However, there’s no reason now that an association can’t own its web presence.

Let’s first look at the requirements. While these will vary from state to state, I think it’s safe to say that most would like to have a web presence that fits the following criteria.

  • Modern, responsive layout that looks good on any device
  • Auction calendar that displays member auctions
  • Member list that shows a profile or at least contact information for each member
  • Listing of upcoming association events
  • News and event recaps
  • Payment mechanism for dues and event registration
  • Complete control of content by the association without relying on a third party

While these criteria make the project seem challenging, there are modular solutions that, when tied together, make for a simple, elegant solution.

In order to solve the last, most important bullet in the list above, we’ll start with a content management system. Using a CMS ensures that anyone in the association has the ability to add or change the content on the website. We’ll select WordPress, since WordPress is as easy as it gets – if a board member or executive director can check email and use Microsoft Word, he’s got enough skills to handle WordPress. While stats vary, WordPress runs more than 25% of all websites on the Internet, and has greater than 50% market share among those websites that use a known CMS. If it’s good enough for Disney, CNN, TechCrunch, Vogue – you get the picture…it’s good enough for an association website.

I’m not advocating that the association set it up. It’s good to have a vendor on your side who can deal with installation and configuration. Finding a local firm will ensure that you have face-to-face support when you need it, and should help keep costs down and your money local compared to national design companies. All said and done, you should be able to find someone who can help you select a modern theme and get it up and running for fewer than a couple hundred dollars. Maintenance costs and domain registration should be under $50 per year.

Now that we have a good looking theme running on WordPress, we’ve satisfied most of the requirements listed above. We have a place where anyone in our association with permission can post pictures, news and events that looks great on all devices.


Membership listings with Siteshot

Because WordPress is open source and runs so many of the world’s websites, there are a ton of plugins available that are either free or inexpensive. Membership management is crucial to an association website that has the goal of facing the public. There are several plugins available that serve this function, but the KAA selected Connections Pro. It lets us house our membership database on our website, so that anyone on our membership committee can see who is and who isn’t a member without having to contact our executive director. It does a great job displaying profiles for each member, and my favorite feature is Siteshot, which shows a thumbnail image of the members’ websites next to their profiles.

Auction Guy
While there are exceptions, most auctioneer associations want to provide a calendar to the membership where members can post auction listings. This requirement is what has historically limited the ability of an association to build a website itself. Developing an auction calendar isn’t easy or cheap, so they were limited to vendors such as Auction Zip and Auction Services. While those providers can serve the need, Global Auction Guide Media Group has released a WordPress plugin for its free auction calendar, Auction Guy.


Auction calendar plugin

Auction Guy is the largest calendar of auctions in North America that I’ve seen. Using the WordPress plugin allows an association to have its members’ auctions show on the association’s website without having to handle the headache of auction calendar management. The association simply tells Auction Guy which auctioneers are members and gives the members the link to add the auctions. Auction Guy has the vast majority of auctions already in its database, so it’s rare that a member will ever even have to manually add auctions.

I know there are other auction calendaring plugins, and I have experience with all that I’m aware of. Some are difficult or confusing to use. Some don’t allow formatting or restrict the ability to list complete descriptions and pictures of each item with direct links back to the members’ websites. Some actually charge the auctioneers, which should be an immediate red flag for an association. Auction Guy is the best looking, most customizable and easiest-to-use WordPress calendaring plugin – and did I mention it’s free to the association and the members?


UPDATE: Shortly after I published this article, Flint went out of business. We’re currently using Paypal for website payments and our existing credit card vendor for everything else. If you know of a good solution, let me know in the comments.

I’m a member of several associations, and dealing with the hassle of paper registration forms for conventions and dues renewal is a headache, not to mention the stress involved in writing a credit card number on a PDF that I’m getting ready to email. An association needs a payment processing solution that can handle traditional in-person physical credit card payments as well as website integration that doesn’t involve PCI compliance or handling secure transactions on the association’s website. There are myriad Internet payment options, but we’ve recently begun to implement Flint at the KAA. It doesn’t require any physical hardware – simply use the camera on your phone to take pictures of the credit card and it processes the transaction. It’s cheaper than TSYS, easier than Stripe and will integrate with our website and with QuickBooks. We’ll be implementing it in Kansas in the next few weeks.

State auctioneer associations should own and operate their websites. Turning that responsibility over in its entirety to a third party introduces friction for the board of directors and the membership. Building a site from scratch is cost prohibitive and unnecessary. The right answer is using WordPress and a few third-party products to provide complete functionality for the public and benefits to the membership.

Posted in design, featured, websites | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ on Verizon

We auctioneers love our phones. We like fast phones with great cameras. Some of us consider our phones to be fashion statements. I was excited when my friends at Verizon gave me the opportunity to play with the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ for a few weeks. I wanted to see if this it could be both stylish in a unique way as well as powerful.

IMG_4741Let’s get one thing out of the way. The edge display is a gimmick. But it’s a really cool gimmick. Not only do the edges of the screen curve, the software allows it to display content like the time or a sports ticker while the main screen is off. It’s not as functional in my opinion as the secondary screen on the LG V10, but it’s neat nonetheless. I took the edge+ to a couple different auctioneer conventions and was frequently asked about it, with comments ranging from how thin the phone is to how slick the curved screen looks.


The edge+ display can show time and notifications even when the rest of the screen is off.

The glass back and metal edges make the S6 edge+ feel like the premium phone that it is. It takes most of its design cues from the Galaxy S6, which I reviewed last spring, which is smaller and lacks the curved edges on the display. It has the same camera and internals, but boasts an extra gigabyte of memory. It’s remarkably fast and I couldn’t find any instance of lag or a time when I wished it were faster.

Like the S6, the S6 edge+ has a fast and accurate fingerprint reader and a stunning camera that’s both extremely fast and feature rich. I’ll post some pictures I took with the S6 edge+ at the end of this article. I found myself taking more pictures with this phone than I normally do. I honestly think that it was because the camera is so much faster that I didn’t mind using it more.

I prefer to stream auctioneer competitions to YouTube when I have my computer, but I’ve been forced to use UStream at the Kansas State Fair since YouTube doesn’t support streaming from phones. The camera on the S6 edge+ actually does support streaming directly to YouTube, which could lead to a much better experience watching our state auctioneer championship this fall.

I was very surprised with the battery life on the S6 edge+. The original S6 had atrocious battery life. The S6 edge+ does have a slightly bigger battery, but I assumed that it wouldn’t hold up to the big, beautiful screen. I was wrong. The battery life seemed on par with my Nexus 6, lasting the better part of a work day. While the S6 edge+ unfortunately doesn’t have a removable battery, Samsung did include both quick charging and wireless charging, so at least it’s convenient to charge and can be charged in a hurry when necessary.

Nolan playing with Verizon's Star Wars Cardboard viewer

Nolan playing with Verizon’s Star Wars Cardboard viewer

The S6 edge+ is a great all-around device, pairing quickly and easily to my Zenwatch and LG Tone headset army and various other devices. Nolan sure enjoyed playing with Verizon’s Star Wars Cardboard viewer that they sent us to play with ahead of the release of the new film.

While there are many reasons to love the S6 edge+, there are some things that Samsung could do to make me love it even more. I’m actually not a fan of the glass back, which becomes a fingerprint magnet. It’s not really an issue, however, because there’s no way I could use this phone without a case. It’s simply too thin. It’s so thin that it’s actually not easy for me to pick it up when it’s laying flat on the table – I found myself looking for things to lean the phone up against so it would be easy to pick up. I ordered a $9 belt clip case from Amazon, and while I was waiting on it I printed one from Thingiverse. Putting a case on the phone is undesirable because it takes away from the beauty of the edges and actually makes it harder to type on the keys at the edges of the screen.

IMG_20151228_184137 Samsung is known for installing extra software and apps, and they did again with the S6 edge+. Luckily, these apps are fairly easy to disable. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to fix the physical buttons, which are switched from every other modern Android device. The biggest single improvement Samsung could make would be to simply remove the physical buttons like other phones.

Backwards physical buttons and the extra software notwithstanding, the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ is an absolutely beautiful piece of hardware. While the edge display probably isn’t my cup of tea, the phone is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to make a stylistic statement without compromising on features.

Here’s the photo gallery – as usual, I’ve made no edits to these photos. They’re straight off the camera.

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

Internet auction bidding units cancel

unitsHow’s that for a click-bait title? As many of you know, I farm during the summer and fall and work in the auction industry during the balance of the year. As I was doing the math this summer for seeding rates and fertilizer application rates, I noticed some parallels between converting gallons per minute to gallons per acre and deciding what changes to make when going from an in-person auction firm to one that implements Internet bidding.

We learn in algebra that we can convert one value to another by using a unit multiplier. If I want to convert 5 miles per hour to feet per second, I have to multiply 5 miles/hour by 1hour/60min by 1min/60sec by 5280ft/mile.


We can cancel one unit in the numerator with the matching unit in the denominator, leaving us with (5 x 5280) / (60 x 60) = 7.33 ft / second. We use minutes in our math, but we don’t have minutes in the original problem or the solution because they cancel out.


When auctioneers begin to consider implementing Internet bidding in their auctions, many wonder about changes they’ll have to make in their business model, advertising methods and data management processes. Changing a variable as important as the way bids are collected in an auction must mean fundamental shifts to many other parts of the business.

In fact, nothing should change as a result of taking Internet bids. Advertising should always be based on the asset type and the appropriate demographic, not the way in which bidders are expected to participate. Data management processes for a good in-person auction marketer should already be based on taking pictures of individual items and listing them separately. The business model of a professional auction firm is no more tied to bid calling than my farm is tied to which crops I produce or which equipment I use to do it. If changes must be made to advertising, data management or a business model due to changing the way bids are accepted at an event, something more fundamental is wrong in the operation that won’t be fixed by flipping the Internet bidding switch.

I’ve found that bidding type doesn’t actually matter much to the rest of the operation. If the auction business were a long equation, bidding method would cancel out. Internet bidding is like the minutes used in our algebra example. We need it to get the desired result, but it’s not something that we use when identifying the problem nor do we expect it to be present in the solution of a successful event.

Posted in bid calling, theory | Tagged , , |

The LG Watch Urbane is a beautiful smartwatch

Update 2019: I’m currently loving the Amazfit Bip which has killer features and battery life for an amazing price. However, it doesn’t run Wear OS, which is disappointing. Hopefully new Wear watches come soon with better battery and lower prices. If you’d like to learn more about modern Wear offerings, check out the Android Smart Watch: The Ultimate Guide from Joy of Android.

I’ve been an Android Wear enthusiast for over a year now. I ordered the Samsung Gear Live when it was announced and shortly thereafter upgraded to the ASUS ZenWatch. Both of those watches are rectangular, and I never had the opportunity to use a round Wear device – until now. My friends at Verizon let me spend the last several weeks with the LG Watch Urbane. While the specs are very similar to my ZenWatch, it’s clear that the Urbane is designed with an emphasis on style.

IMG_3454Android Wear works better on rectangular devices; there’s no way around that. While a round watch is best for displaying an analog watch face, every other use I can imagine involves interacting with text or images. These interactions are inherently less efficient if the image or text is reduced in size or cropped to fit a round display.

Unlike rectangular Wear watches, however, the Urbane doesn’t make me feel like I’m that guy wearing a calculator watch. It gets noticed as a watch first and a computer accessory second. It also has a completely round display, unlike LG’s competition in the round Android Wear arena, the Motorola 360, which has a notch out of the bottom of the screen that’s commonly referred to as a flat tire.

IMG_3455Android Wear performs great on the Urbane. Interactions are snappy and it’s great to be able to delete emails and dismiss other messages without having to take out my phone. The button on the side brings up the launcher, allowing a quick way to launch common or recently used Wear apps.

The stitched leather strap that came with my silver Urbane demo watch looked nice but seemed somewhat difficult to latch and unlatch. Perhaps that’s something that would break in over time, but the Urbane supports standard 22mm straps for easy and inexpensive customization.

The charger on the Urbane is much better designed than the Wear watches I’ve owned in the past. Other watches utilize a clip-on charging cradle that can break or be arduous to attach every night. The Urbane has a dock that weighs enough to sit on a table and stay put when you lay the watch on top of it at night and remove it in the morning.

The Urbane is a little thicker than I like, and I’m not sold on the round shape as the most efficient display for day-to-day functionality. However, if I wanted a fashion accessory that was also a smartwatch, it’d be difficult to imagine a more stylish way to carry Android Wear. The LG Watch Urbane is a really good looking round watch that runs Android Wear very well.

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