First Foray into Smart Homes

I started to explore smart home technologies a few years ago starting with the Wink but found myself sorely disappointed. The idea was neat but not practical; it’s always easier to get up and turn off the switch than to look for a phone, search for the Wink app and turn off the appropriate lights. A few weeks ago, I got my hands on the Amazon Echo Dot and it’s made a significant difference. Here’s some details of my setup.

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Apple Macbook 2016 Review

I had been struggling with my Apple Macbook Air for a few years now. I was really excited when I started to read about Apple was likely releasing a new Macbook Pro this year. There had been rumours about having a new LED bar. However, by mid August, it was seemingly clear that Apple was unlikely to release a new Macbook Pro by September.

dsc_4544-1

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Nexus 5X – Initial Review

I’ve been eagerly waiting for the Nexus 5X to replace my HTC One M8 that was getting long in the tooth. I was very excited when I finally received in on October X and have been using it as my primary phone ever since. After a few weeks of use, I figured that this would be a good time to write a review about it.
Nexus 5X Photo. Click link to go to full unboxing photo album
The summary of my thoughts on the phone is that it is a mid-range phone that is under powered for my use. Read on for more details

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What’s in my bag – the daily version

My daily needs is geared primarily towards my commute to work and the time I spend around the office. With most of my recent roles, it’s really rare that I’m at my desk. Also, the commute on the subway is the rare time of my day where I have to myself to read, write, code and sometimes just listen to music while I doze off. Since this is a daily commute version, I wanted to carry what would be the absolute essential and nothing more as weight becomes an issue very quickly as I’ll be lugging this in my bag daily

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My thoughts on Android Wear after some months of use

I thought it’d be appropriate to write about my Smart Wear experience after the release of the Apple Watch news. To re-cap, I bought my LG G watch when it was first released and I still love my LG G watch. In fact, I feel naked without it on my wrist unlike the Pebble which I would remove for days and not worry too much about it. Here are some highlights of my experiences

It’s an extension of my phone

There’s much debate in the community about how the early Android Wear devices were not similar to a watch and how that was a detriment to the experience. I haven’t worn a watch since 1996 which is almost 2 decades ago. The key attraction for me was that it did more than my watch. If I need the time, pulling my phone from my pants is typically pretty quick and I don’t have to check for the time all too often during the day. However, not needing to pull my phone from my pants for every beep or buzz is a really nice thing. I can quickly flick my wrist to check the notification and dismiss it from my watch and carry on what I’m doing.

Google Now integration is REALLY useful

I used to think that Google Now voice recognition feature on my phone and tablet was useful in particular for task list integration. It’s significantly more useful when it’s part of the watch because my watch is always attached to my wrist and my watch is connected to my phone. I find that I’m using this feature significantly more now that it’s attached to my wrist.

One day’s worth of battery is enough if you can rapidly charge the battery

I actually get more then a day’s worth of battery on my LG G watch. I typically charge my watch just before I get to bed and then pick it up again in the morning. I don’t have the need to wear my watch overnight. However, there was a day when I forgot to charge my watch and when I woke up, there was 16% left of battery on it. I put the watch on the cradle, did my usual morning routine and picked it up again as I was leaving the house. The battery charge was up to 76% and lasted me until I went to bed the next night.

You can install apps on the watch

While the watch is primarily an extension of the phone, you still can install apps on it. The early apps such as Flappy Bird seemed ridiculous. However, something like WearBucks is a very practical use case of an app that works well without being tethered to a phone. In general, apps that act as a remote control for the phone work really well. Here are some apps I installed on my watch:

  • Wear Mini Launcher – gives you easy access to your apps and settings by swiping from the top left of the screen
  • Phone Finder – Allows me to find my phone when I can’t find it and locks my phone when the phone is out of range
  • WearBucks – Starbucks on my watch
  • Wear Hotspot – Turns on my phone hotspot without me having to take it out of my pocket

There is still some quirks and lots of room for innovation

The LG G watch is really a simple device. It’s a device connected over Bluetooth LE leveraging Google Play and Google Now services using a touch  and voice interface. Google really didn’t add much more capability then that. It’s still very much a minimum viable product which in many ways is a good thing. It’s shockingly simple to use and understand. A lot have been left to the development community to innovate on it. In general, I find apps that act as a remote control for the phone or provide quick and easy access to information seem to work really well as a general use case. One idea in particular surrounds the integration to the Internet of Things; there are more and more connected devices out there. The watch seems like a practical interface for things that can be done quickly such as opening a door remotely for a friend – Thanks, Roberto for the idea 🙂

After about 3 months of use, I still really LOVE my LG G watch. I love the simplicity and pragmatism of the watch.

LG G Watch – an initial review

I have to admit that I entered into this foray with very low expectations. Reviews at the time when I ordered the watch, which was the first day it was made available for public release, was very thin to say the least. The devices that most reviewers were using had limited functionality as they were only set to demo mode during Google I/O 2014. I remember telling a friend that I ordered the watch which I thought I would hate the least with the mindset that I would likely replace it with a Motorola 360. For some context, I already own a Pebble watch which I acquired during their Kickstarter campaign which I liked a lot. My test for the LG G Watch to use it for my summer vacation in Europe. I wore the watch everyday. I was on the go a lot and I was in a mixed environment of having internet access and was rarely in a position where I could charge the watch.

Here are some of my photos on Google+

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Smart Launcher Pro Review

The ability to use the non-standard launcher is one of the huge differentiating features when comparing Android to the iOS platform. Lately I find myself using the Smart Launcher Pro 2 as my default launcher. I happened to stumble over it while surfing through the Google Play Store. As switching launchers is rather easy, it’s easy to try something different every so often and yet go back to an old one if it doesn’t pan out.

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Acer C720P – Initial Review

I had been spending time with two different Chromebooks in the past month or so which led to my last blog about Chrome OS. The first device that I tried was the HP Chromebook 11 device. My trial on that device was about a week. The hardware was very nice – it was light but felt quite solid. However, I found the device slow as the specs were very similar to the Samsung Series 3 which I got last year. However, what was interesting was that it didn’t crash like the Samsung device does. I returned it briefly after I got it. When the C720P was made available, I decided to some really simple tests such as put web site addresses that was content heavy and press enter at the same time – in all cases, the Acer C720P rendered quicker then the HP. This led to my decision to get the Acer C720P. The purpose of this blog will be to compare my experience with both the Acer C720P with both the HP Chromebook 11 and Samsung Chromebook Series 3.

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Replacing the Samsung Series 3 with a Macbook Air 2013

Although I really enjoyed my Samsung Series 3 Chromebook, I decided to recently replace it with a 2013 Macbook Air. The reason why I first got the Chromebook was because I wanted something light and cheap to port around to do basic surfing while I was away from the office. Over time, I felt that I needed something that could do more. I bought my Macbook Air as a replacement for my Chromebook and a supplement for my Macbook Pro. I use it as a secondary machine; something that I would be able to use when I’m not at my desk and still feel like I can adequately complete all of the things that I need to do including communicating via Google Hangout, edit documents as well as do some hard core development when needed.

Macbook Air 2013
Macbook Air Unboxing

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Samsung Series 3 Chromebook – Initial Review

Samsung Series 3 Chromebook
Samsung Series 3 Chromebook

My review of the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook is based on having it for about 3 weeks. To understand why I really enjoy using the device, here’s a little background before jumping into the details of the review. I had been debating about getting a new computing device for a while now. I currently have a MacBook Pro that I absolutely love and does everything that I want still but it has a couple of shortcomings. The first is that the battery doesn’t last as long as it used to and the problem is compounded because I have 2 hard drives loaded in it. The other is that it gets hot to touch after a while. However, as a device that’s plugged in at my desk and hooked up to my Apple Thunderbolt Display, it still does it’s job incredibly well.

I needed a device that had the following attributes:

  1. Light – It’d be nice to be able to carry something that was less than a pound

  2. Decent keyboard – I want do some light work including writing out long email responses as well as moderate surfing for research. I also need to log on to servers to write SQL statements as well as do work with servers.

  3. Lasts for 5 to 6 hours without charging – I don’t want to be lugging a power cord

  4. Enough horsepower to write code – I don’t need to code daily but I do dabble in code from time to time

I debated among four devices – the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, MacBook Air, Microsoft Surface and a Chromebook of some sort and ultimately settled for the Google Chromebook. Among the Chromebooks, I debated between the Samsung Series 5, Acer and Chrome Pixel, Samsung Series 3 and settled for the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.

The Chromebook comes with:

  • Samsung Exynos 5 Dual 1.7 GHz 1 MB cache CPU

  • 2 GB RAM

  • 16 GB HDD

  • 11.6″ 1366 x 768 Screen

  • 11.4″ x 8.09″ x 0.69″ big

  • 2.43 lbs

  • 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0 ports

All in all, the specs for the Chromebook is rather unimpressive with the exception of the price and weight. It is very reminiscent of a small MacBook. The silver colour, the function keyboards at the top, the trackpad that has no buttons, and the trackpad navigation features (two finger right click, two finger scroll up and down) are all very MacBook’ish which made the transition very easy for me. While it does look like a MacBook, it lacks the finish of one. It feels extremely cheap and plasticky. As I got the Canadian version, it comes with an international keyboard that makes typing a bit frustrating for me.

Despite my negative remarks describing the product, it is truly an effective product for me. The Chromebook without any modifications is truly a browser attached to a keyboard. As I am someone that is deeply entrenched in web applications and sometimes very specifically Google web applications, this is a truly ideal device for me. I had originally purchased the Chromebook as a travel machine. Something that I would carry with me whenever I wasn’t at home given it’s lightweight and long battery life. I had only expected to do minor surfing on it, answer a few emails and use IM to quarterback the development from it while I was away from my primary laptop.

I find myself using the Chromebook around the house in the evenings. It’s nice to park my laptop at my desk and use this device to write my blogs, organize my thoughts and even plan my tasks. As I’m able to SSH from the Chromebook, it also allows me to do some lightweight work on my servers when I need to. Looking at my devices, the Chromebook fits between the Nexus 7 and the Macbook Pro. I like the Nexus 7 for consuming information like an e-reader and do light weight communication and my 15” Macbook Pro is meant to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to programming or if I have to open up multiple screens at the same time for me to do intensive work.

There are other features I haven’t explored yet – such as the HDMI output, the USB 3 connector as well as using the SD card slot. It’ll be interesting to see if the 2GB of RAM starts to become a problem for more extensive use of the device.

To summarize, the Chromebook is a lightweight, cost-effective device if the majority of the work you do is via online web applications.