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.

Upgrading the OnePlus One to Android Lollipop

I was privileged enough to purchase my OnePlus One a while ago as it was the first Android phone that launched with CyanogenMod as its official ROM. Traditionally, ROMs like CM would be the first to market with upgrades but Google has been changing their policies by releasing their code to large manufacturers earlier to encourage them to upgrade their marquee models to the latest version of Android as soon as possible. While the ROM is not an official one, I decided to upgrade my OnePlus One to the Android Lollipop. After surfing around the web, I decided to come up with a summarized version of setting up my version of how I ended up installing Lollipop.

These steps are OSX specific

Preparation

You typically would need to unlock the bootloader, install a custom recovery and then root your phone in order to replace it with a new ROM. This steps that I’m outlining here would be the basic prep to do that and you can always replace your ROM with other OnePlus One ROMs that you choose to in the future. OnePlus actually has a pretty good write up on the site as well as this is a summarized version of those steps

  1. Installadb/fastboot,
    • Download Android SDK
    • Unzip it into a folder. I typically create temp in my user folder. To access it:
      mkdir ~/temp
      cd ~/temp
  2. Install Android SDKto access ADB andfastboot
    • Go to the folder you’ve unzipped (i.e. /Temp/Android-SDK)
    • Run the Android UI
       ./android sdk
    • Select and install Android Platform Tools
    • Once this is installed, you should see the platform-tools directory in the folder as well as the adb and fastboot files
  3. Unlocking theBootloader
    • Reboot the machine into Fastboot mode
      Shutdown the phone
      Press the Volume Up button followed by the power button. Ensure that the USB cable is not plugged in.
      If the phone is booted into Fastboot mode, you’ll see the “Fastboot Mode” text
    • Type “fastboot device” and you should see your device there
    • Type “fastboot oem unlock”
      This will also wipe your phone. You should see the Android robot being fixed and then it will automatically reboot your phone when you’re done
    • Once the phone is re-booted, turn on developer options
      • Go to settings → About Phone → Tap on Build Number 7 times
      • Tap back and you should see Developer Options
    • Turn on USB debugging and disable CM Recovery Protection
      • Go to Developer Options and select “ADB debugging”
      • Go back out to settings and re-enter Developer Options. You should see the “Update CM recovery” option
      • Uncheck the “Update CM recovery” option
  4. Download the latest version of TWRP for OnePlus One
    • Download the latest TWRP recovery
    • Copy the file to the platform-tools directory
    • Reboot the machine intoFastboot Mode by typing the following in theOSX terminal
      adb reboot bootloader

      or shutting down the device and rebooting it to the bootloader by pressing the volume up button and power

    • Install the custom recovery by typing
      fastboot flash recovery .img
    Once the recovery and bootloader is installed, you’re now ready to install any ROM of your choice. In this particular case, we’ll be installing CyanogenMod.
  1. Download the latest version of CyanogenMod 12 (Lollipop)
  2. Download the latest version of Google Apps
  3. Copy the files to the Download folder on your OnePlus One
  4. Shutdown the device
  5. Reboot the device in recovery mode by  pressing volume down and the power button
  6. Wipe your current data
    • Click on the Wipe Button
    • Click on Advance Wipe
    • Select Davlik Cache, System, Data and Cache
    • Swipe to Wipe the existing data
  7. Install the new ROM
    • Click on the Install button
    • Select the ROM installation file you had downloaded earlier
    • Swipe to Confirm Flash
  8. Install Google Apps
    • Click on the Install button
    • Select the Google Apps file you had downloaded earlier
    • Swipe to Confirm Flash

You’ll note that I didn’t go through the root process. Overall, I have to say that I’ve been pretty happy with the CM Lollipop ROM.

Updated: One thing to note is that CM12 is currently not an official build so I modified the link to point to the CM12 build. Also, special thanks to Jesse Anger for creating the original install instructions and doing the original testing

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.

Continue reading “Smart Launcher Pro Review”

Handwriting for the Android version of Evernote has arrived

Evernote has finally released pen capability for the Android app. The Evernote desktop version for Windows had this ability when they first came and iOS users of the Evernote app have had this capability through Penultimate for a while now. However, it was only recently that Android users finally got a version of the Evernote app that would support pen capability. This was big news for me as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is my primary mobile device – it’s the device that I use the most. Continue reading “Handwriting for the Android version of Evernote has arrived”

Todoist – an easy way to productivity

Todoist has become my favourite To Do list after trying a few in my quest for better productivity in the past year. I love the product because it’s simple, intuitive to use and also fits on how I use it everyday. One of the biggest selling factors for me is how interoperable Todoist for me. I’ve always looked for services that are ubiquitous – I demand that my solutions don’t tie me down to any hardware or platform. This means that interoperability for me is key. I love that I can use Todoist on my phone, on my tablet and on my desktop extremely seamlessly.

Continue reading “Todoist – an easy way to productivity”

Jailbreaking versus Rooting

The topic of jailbreaking and rooting is a hotly debated one for those who are ardent users of iOS ecosystem and Android ecosystem respectively. I’ve used both extensively with a strong preference towards the Android system.

At first glance, both jailbreaking an Apple iPhone and an Android phone accomplishes the same thing – it gives a user access to functionality that isn’t provided and sometimes unintended by default by Google and Apple respectively.

In order to appreciate the difference, you first have to look at not only the product approach each company has taken but also the the mobile phone industry as well. At a very high level, here’s what happens:

  • The OS provider creates the OS and provides it to the manufacturer
  • The manufacturer creates the device, develops the appropriate drivers, loads the OS and loads additional software to differentiate itself from other manufacturers using the same OS and then sells the device to a telecom provider
  • Telecom provider locks the phone and adds their own software to differentiate themselves from other telecomproviders

Apple is in a position where they are both the OS creator and the manufacturer. Where they are truly unique is with the volume of sales, they are able to determine what software is pre-loaded by the telecom provider as well. While Google does own Motorola, they have yet to release native Android OS on Motorola handsets. They have reserved that for their Nexus lines of phones.

So that the context is set, here’s the gist of the difference.

From an end user perspective, Android is probably as open as it can reasonably get from an end-user perspective. Here are some examples of it’s openness:

  • The ability to change your launcher.
    Many people who are new to Android think that the main screen where you see is static to your phone. For instance, Samsung is famous for its TouchWiz launcher and HTC is famous for its Sense UI. However, there are many other launchers that you can load – Apex and Nova to name two of the more popular ones and you can do this out of the box. Apex and Nova lets you do many things including change how many icons you can load on each screen
  • Change your keyboard
    Don’t like the default keyboard? Change it – you can buy SwiftKey or TouchPal from the store. You can change this without rooting your phone
  • Change your own app store
    Some of the manufacturers have their own app store and Amazon has their own as well. You can load Amazon’s app store
  • Side-load apps
    So if an app is not in any app store like for instance Swype (my favourite keyboard for Android still), you can always download it from their site, uncheck a safety setting (do this at your own risk), load it and run it

Manufactures like HTC actually freely give you the ability to root your phone without hassle although by doing so, it would automatically void your warranty. As open as Android is, there are a number of scenarios why you would want to root your phone. The first one is that unfortunately, you can’t delete the pre-loaded apps out of the box. The only way of getting rid of them is to root the phone and then delete them. The second big one is getting the latest and greatest versions of Android before the manufacturer puts them out. You could also do things like change kernels and tweak memory but I find that Android for the most part does that well enough on its own without interference from me.

Apple’s philosophy is different. At it’s core, the primary objective for Apple is to give all of its end-users the best experience. In order to achieve that, it has to be able to have almost complete control over their product by limiting what you can use.

You have to jailbreak a phone to allow you to

  • Unlock your phone
  • Enable multi-tasking
  • Change any of the default apps like your dialer, etc
  • Change your default UI

My conclusion is that one is not necessarily better than the other. It’s really what your goals are for your phone. The one thing that is obvious though – you can do a lot more with your Android phone out of the box without rooting than you can with an iPhone.

* Edit made based on Jason’s comment.

Apple vs Samsung – this is the real fight!

Mashable has recently announced that Samsung has sold twice as many devices as Apple in Q3 of 2012.It’s been pretty interesting how over the time the mobile argument has shifted from Apple versus Google to Apple versus Samsung. The Apple versus Google comparison didn’t make a ton of sense. Both Apple and Google are vastly different companies and you can tell by how they measure success of their mobile strategy. Apple measures success of their mobile strategy by the number of devices sold. Additions to iOS, introduction of the iCloud and Siri are all manoeuvres to retain or cause users to purchase new devices. Google measures their success by the number of accounts activated on Android devices. In order to facilitate this, Google gives away their software for free (OS and Tool sets), allows developers to publish their apps for free and more recently introducing high end hardware for cut throat margins.

The Apple versus Samsung argument is a (pardon the pun) closer apple to apple comparison. Both are hardware manufacturers who measure their success on units sold. And Apple has come out hard in their fight against Samsung – harder than they have against any organization. The most telling sign of course has been the $1B lawsuit that Apple levied against Samsung and won. There are a couple of interesting things about the lawsuit in general

It’s not about innovation

Both Apple and Samsung (through the Android ecosystem) have ideas that are not uniquely their own within their devices. Some really glaring things are the pull down gesture to show the notifications that are now on Apple devices have been a well-known Android paradigm since launch. The same can be said with putting icons on top of one another automatically creating groups has been a well-known Apple paradigm for a while now.

It’s not about money

Don’t get me wrong – $1B is a lot of money and I’m sure Samsung is not happy about losing $1B. But both Apple and Samsung are multi-hundred billion dollar companies. Apple doesn’t need the $1B to enhance their business and losing $1B will not hamper Samsung’s efforts in the market.

It’s about messaging

The one interesting thing to me that came out of the whole lawsuit was messaging. The message which Apple sent to the American people who is their power base is that Samsung is a copycat and a cheat; they are stealing and profiting on American innovation. At it’s heart, this is where Apple has been hurting the most. Apple has traditionally been the masters of brand and messaging. They have always been able to capture the imagination of their consumers by showing them how to purchase less than bleeding edge technology to its fullest. Samsung has copied much of Apple’s marketing playbook and has reaped much benefit from it.

So it will be interesting to see how this continues to play out. The end benefit though is better consumer products assuming that Samsung doesn’t get trapped in a quagmire of lawsuits

First Impressions of Google’s Nexus 7

After being away for a few weeks in Asia, it was nice to come back to a brand new toy in Canada. I was really excited to receive an email indicating that the device had shipped especially after all the hoopla that Google had screwed up the launch of the Nexus 7 devices. It didn’t help that Howard got his Nexus 7 before I did even though he initially wasn’t that enthusiastic about the Nexus 7. For me though, the timing worked out perfectly.

To give some context about what I’m about to write, this isn’t my first 7 inch device. In fact, it’ll be my third after the HTC Flyer and the Blackberry Playbook. I also have previously written some of my thoughts about device form factors. It’s also not my first exposure to Jelly Bean as I’d been playing with Jelly Bean on my Galaxy Nexus for a few weeks already. So because of my experience, I have a lot of expectations of the device especially with all of the enthusiastic reviews of the Nexus 7 device.
Specs
Dimensions: 7.82″ x 4.72″ x 0.41″
Weight: 0.75 lbs
Resolution: 1280 px x 800 px
Processor: Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad Core 1.3 GHz
RAM: 1 GB
Storage: 16 GB
Connectivity: WiFi (b,g,n), GPS, Bluetooth, NFC
Front Camera: 1.2 megapixels
Battery Capacity: 4326 mAh
 Photo
Packaging
The one thing that Apple does a great job on is packaging regardless of what the device is. I have never bought an Apple product and once not thought – “oooh… pretty…” Unboxing the Google Nexus 7 was shockingly blend. I remember opening the Nexus One, Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus and I had the “oooh… pretty…” feel. In all honesty, the packaging for the Nexus 7 felt a bit cheap which is a bit surprising for me because of my previous Nexus experience and that in general Asus packages their products well.
PhotoPhoto
Physical look and feel
The first thing that I noticed about the Nexus 7 is that it feels significantly lighter than the HTC Flyer although the reality is that it’s only 2 oz lighter than the Flyer. It also feel thinner than the Flyer but it’s only marginally so. The back has a bit of a rubbery feel to it making it easier to grip and hold on to. Like the HTC Flyer, the device is built for it to be mostly in portrait mode. So the buttons are on the longer side of the device. It’s slightly recessed making it hard to press which has it’s pros and cons. From my use, it feels as though it’s been designed so that it’d be slightly more difficult to accidentally press the button which is a good thing. The thing with a 7″ device is that I tend to hold it with one hand more often. There is a standard 3.5 mm jack at the bottom of the device along with a standard micro usb port for charging it. It is quite nice to be able to charge the tablet via a standard micro usb port because it is one less thing to carry around.
Jelly Bean
As this is a Nexus device, it’s one of the few devices that comes with stock Android. In this case, Google was trying to show off Jelly Bean, their latest version of the OS. One of the main focus for Jelly Bean was to ensure that the OS got a lot more polish. One thing that people often complained was when swiping screens, it wasn’t nearly as smooth as it was in iOS. Frankly, since I never noticed it, it’s really hard to comment that it’s better now. Most of the people who have complained about it in the past, however, have been fairly impressed by the change. The things that I have really enjoyed about Jelly Bean have been the Google Now, the ability to swipe from camera to gallery and the ability to do offline voice commands (albeit limited).
Usage
Over the past few days, I found myself depending more on my Nexus 7 instead of the Asus Transformer. In comparison, the Asus Transformer feels unwieldy and cumbersome to carry around. Although it sticks out a bit, I can easily slip the Nexus 7 in my back pocket and walk around comfortably around the house. In general, I tend to use the Nexus 7 to read my news, quickly manage my many tasks, read my emails and IM people and I can do this pretty effectively. I haven’t yet written any blogs on my device yet so that will be interesting to see if I do write more because of an accessible 7″ device. One thing to note is that after extended amount of typing, I find that the corners dig into my palms a little bit even though they are rounded.
A neat but scary thing is that when I started to set up the accounts on the device, it automatically pre-filled the account with the email address which I bought the phone with on the Play Store. It’s a nice touch but quite a bit creepy at the same time. After a few hours, I found that it was better for me to use the Swift keyboard instead of Swype.
While it does take a standard micro usb cable, the charger is actually a 2A charger which is interesting. I had problems charging the tablet when it was hooked up to the built-in usb charger on my power bar and it only charged about 30% of my complete battery after about 4 hours. I have to admit that it did take forever to charge the phone the first time I started to charge the phone. On my usage, the Nexus 7 lasts me for a good 16 hours before it started to show that it was at 50% capacity. One thing to note is that at that point, the battery does drain awfully quickly.
The Nexus 7 is positioned as a cloud dependent device and hence claiming that having 16 GB of memory is plenty. I’m not so sure about that personally but I’m willing to give it a go. I’ve primarily loaded only cloud based services for most things so I have Grooveshark and Slacker set up for music, feedly for news and Netflix for movies. I’m curious to see if not having much offline data stored on the data will become a nuisance if I can’t get Internet access.
My current overall impressions of the Nexus 7 is that it’s not an overwhelmingly good device; it’s a solid device at $250 and definitely good bang for buck.
My Nexus 7 photos can be found here

5 Must-Have Androids phone apps for June 2012

With the combination of having to had to recently do factory reset and new friends moving to the Android platform, I decided to write a quick blog entry about what I consider to be the 5 must-have apps on the Android platform for me.

Lookout

I’ve used Lookout since they were called Flexilis on the Windows Mobile (no, not Windows Phone) platform.  They’ve grown to be an authority on mobile security with applications on the iPhone, the Android and the Blackberry platform. They offer the ability to scan applications that scan apps as you install them. This is particularly useful for Android apps especially if you plan to install apps that aren’t in the Marketplace for whatever reason. This is often used for installing apps that are in beta stages. Other features include backing up information (i.e. photos, contacts, calls, etc) and a slew of functions that allow you to deal with a missing device such as locating your device, making your phone scream, remote locking and remote wiping your device. My favorite feature is the find your device followed by making it scream. It’s a really quick way to find my misplaced devices 🙂

Swype

It’s hard to imagine typing on a smartphone without Swype. It was the first keyboard that introduced swiping gestures as a means to enter information on a phone. Because you’re moving over more letters and numbers, it actually tends to be more accurate. Because you’re swiping, it’s actually a bit faster because you’re not lifting your finger up to type. When it first came out, it didn’t handle touch typing as well because it didn’t perform autocomplete. It now does that just as well as the swiping. The one thing though is that it’s a beta product and not in the Google Play Store. While there are other products that do something similar like Flex T9, Swype is still the best in market especially since being bought by Nuance. You’ll have to sign up for it and install it here.

Evernote

Evernote is probably the first app that I used that has a desktop client, web client and mobile client. It was one of the first truly productive web services available in the market when it started. Evernote has also grown to be a leader in its space. Although I do have Springpad and Catch installed, I find myself using it the most because of the desktop and web client availability. There are so many awesome features on Evernote such as OCR and speech to text translation which are extremely useful. The Windows client also supports drawing as well. However, the feature that I absolutely can’t live without is the offline sync and its rich multi-client application.

Pocket (Formerly known as Read It Later)

I use Pocket largely because it was the first official Instapaper-like app on the Android. I needed it to mark articles on my Google Reader feed to follow-up again later. Also, I use it to archive any bookmarks of links that friends send me. When Read It Later became Pocket, it also became a beautiful application to read links. This is a particularly powerful app when leveraged with Android’s Sharing capabilities

Dropbox

Dropbox is a well-known file sharing service so I won’t bore you with what it does. But there are two things about Dropbox for Android that are awesome. The first one is it’s ability to sync your photos automatically to your Dropbox account. This is especially great when I use multiple devices and it’s nice to be able to consolidate all my photos in one place. To encourage this, Dropbox will increase your free account with 2 additional GBs of space which is the second awesome thing I love about Dropbox for Android. If you don’t already have a Dropbox account, you can use my referral link where both of us can have an additional 500 MB of space. Here’s my link: http://db.tt/sIzRrr71

What are your 5 Must-Have Android phone apps today?

MIUI.us ROM – A quick review of another Android ROM

While I’ve always been partial to CyanogenMod ROMs for my device (it’s the de facto standard for Android ROMs), I’ve had a bit of issues with it on my HTC Desire Z starting a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, the marketplace just kept force closing every time I opened the app. Even the install of a third-party app like AppBrain didn’t help me a lot. I tried every trick I know about known issues such as fixing permissions to all the apps and wiping everything including the local cache and the Davlik cache but to no avail. The nice thing about ROM Manager is that it gives you all the ROMs that are available for your device, when it was last updated and how many installed it.

Sample Theme from MIUI

The MIUI ROM is better in that I can actually download apps from the Android Marketplace 😀 It runs Android 2.3.5 and is a lot prettier then Cyanogen – the lines are a lot cleaner. The “native” apps for MIUI are also more refined than the apps that came with Cyanogen. For a quick list of what they are, you can take a look at them at the Core Features section of the MIUI site itself. More features are listed in the For Advanced Users section. My main pet peeve against the MIUI ROM is that every app downloaded is put directly on the screen and not in an app drawer like typical Android. It’s mildly frustrating because that is the one of the things I don’t like about iOS. My general impression leans towards being a bit slower but more stable than Cyanogen.