Sunday, 30 March 2014

Google Chrome cast - initial thoughts

*updated: my views of chromecast have dropped as I've used it a bit more. I hoped that Google's music app would let me play the music on my Android device through my TV.  But first you have to log into a Google account in the music app before the chromecast icon is displayed in the music app.  And then,  if you play a track that wasn't bought through Google it says "can't play sidelined music."  So, even though I can play non Google music on my phone using  Google's player (Eg loaded from my pc or bought from Amazon mp3), chromecast limits itself to playing Google bought music. I'm sure other third party apps will step in but I'm surprised at Google - this is more restrictive than apple - where any music on your Ipad (Eg from Amazon) can be played on your TV using the Apple tv.

Also, I've now had to unplug the chromecast dongle twice now,  due to apps freezing. I do wish Google would introduce some quality control - though if I wait long enough I'm sure many of the app providers will fix their apps (does raise that slight niggle at the back of my mind about Google's apparently laissez faire approach to security of apps on the play store eg the recent issues with WhatsApp on Android). Also,  when unplugging the chrome cast dongle I was surprised at how hot it was after only a couple of hours of use.


Got a chrome cast dongle. Overall,  for £30 chromecast is a great way of getting somethings from your Android device to your TV.  Doesn't work as universally with apps as the Apple TV, and perhaps a few edges to improve. However, given it's 3/8 the price of an apple TV it's great value.

Setup :

I stuck the chromecast dongle into an hdmi socket on my TV, downloaded the chromecast app onto my Android phone (lg flex) and connected the chromecast dongle to my wifi network (via instructions on my phone's screen). The set up was very smooth. Though I had hoped I wouldn't have to plug the chromecast dongle into a power socket as well as the TV,  but heigh ho.

Sending stuff from my phone to my tv:

1) I started by using  YouTube on my phone and clicking on the chromecast icon in YouTube got the video and audio on my TV -  great stuff.  For comparison I did the same video with the Ipad and apple to- very similar though slightly better audio with the Apple TV (might be the hardware Ipad vs lg flex). I was surprised to see the chromecast icon on the Ipad in YouTube -  tried it and that worked very well.

2) Next tried showing photos on my TV. Sadly no luck at first, but after downloading a third party app it worked well (not as good as the Ipad - it wouldn't use full screen and was a bit slower to show the next photo).

3) BBC Iplayer - works perfectly on my TV from the Ipad,  and worked very well with chromecast from my Android device (possible slight lag and I had an application error, but only once).

4) I tried a few more apps like audible on my Android device but no luck. I'll have to get more third party apps or possibly a future version of Android or something that will be built into future android devices.  By contrast I can get whatever appears on the Ipad on my TV with the Apple TV (Eg art apps to show paintings).

I'm a bit concerned how quickly my phone is draining power since using chromecast (surpringly, the rate of power drop seems to have continued even when I thought I'd disconnected from chromecast).

I never really understood why apple didn't do more to promote one of the best things to have if you already have an iPhone or Ipad ie the Apple TV.  It means you can put pretty much anything on your TV from your Ipad/iPhone eg iplayer, video,  audio/music, photos, games,  PowerPoint presentations ...    (or why they didn't take the step of allowing two or more people to use their iPhones/Ipad to interact on a shared TV Eg for games (some games work where it's built into the game,  and also where you are collaborating using 2 devices through a single web site Eg for collaborative painting,  collaborative mind maps...). A bit of advertising by Google 
and chromecast could go a long way. And with YouTube,  Google has a ready made channel it can use at any time. Shorter term it would help if Google would make it easier to find chromecast ready apps (there are third party apps to help find chromecast ready apps,  but the one I looked at needed some unusual permissions that I wasn't happy to give).

NB for people who already have an apple tv,  there are apps on the Google playstore that can throw content to your TV,  from your Android device via your Apple tv.  I haven't used these (I use my Ipad at home for content throwing),  but having a quick go with my lg flex and the app 'zappo tv' it seemed to work with YouTube, music,  videos and photos on my Android phone.  Though it seemed to be a bit slow at times when changing what was being shown on the TV. There are also apps that let use your Android device as a controller for your Apple tv.

Friday, 28 March 2014

New HTC one

Had a brief play with the new HTC one today,  wow!

It's a pleasure to hold,  and feels perfectly balanced. The Lg flex is still my work horse (just had kitkat update). But for a smaller phone there's nothing around that feels as good as the new HTC. I like the larger screen size and the louder volume which still has the best audio quality of any phone. The sd slot is a nice addition, though I've gone off sd cards for security and lag issues (on certain phones). A higher resolution camera would have been nice,  but for my usages,  the HTC one camera is more than good enough and better than some for certain situations. I can't really justify buying it,  but it's a world of difference to the s4 I used to have, and even to the g2 (though I like those back buttons). If I was going to get a new phone I can't see any other phone around or due soon that comes close (though will be interesting to see the rumoured iPhone 6, 4.7" and  5.5").

But if I had only one phone for work and personal usage,  for the extra productivity that the 6" screen gives me,  whilst still being able to use one handed  and feel comfortable,  the Lg flex is still my first choice (though picking up the HTC one a few more times I'd become less inclined to let go of it!).

Got the Lg flex kitkat update:)

Looks good so far. It would be handy if Google and phone manufacturers launched a what's new screen after the update that had a bit more detail than 'android upgrade,  wifi improvements...'

Notification pull down is more customisable - you can choose whether to show the volume or brightness sliders.

Handy being able to have the home screen in portrait or landscape or locked in portrait.

The way that the soft keys disappear to allow full screen has been improved (now swipe up to get the soft keys where you've chosen to hide them).

You can say OK Google after you launch Google by swiping up the home key and it responds (I use a voice search icon so no great change).

Sunday, 23 March 2014

If I had to choose just 1 tablet and 1 phone?

I'm lucky I get to use a range of tablets and phones. If I had to choose just one of each which would I go for? 

I've used various iPads, surface devices and android tablets (Samsung, lg, ...). At the moment it's an easy choice- the iPad Air feels great and is a brilliant all rounder.

Phones wise is harder- I loved my htc one, and now the lg flex (which took over from my note 3). I was impressed by the lightness and convenience of the iPhone 5s. For my needs I'd plump for the lg g flex.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The best note taker I've ever used

I went to a conference  today. I spent the day in sessions listening to presentations and taking notes.  I was using Evernote and my notes included photos of what was being presented & screen cuts from soft copies of presentation material.  I was also browsing sites mentioned in the session,  adding tasks,  emailing the occasional bits of material,  looking through presentations in advance to decide what to attend.  And on the way there and back,  checking train times,  listening to podcasts,  checking emails, checking the news and even a phone call.

The LG G flex lasted me the day easily. And more,  this is the best note taking device I've ever used. Pen and paper can be great,  but I end up with lots of notes. I found it faster and more versatile for the range of things I was doing compared to using iPads,  laptops,  and  range of different Android devices (including the whole Note  range, nexus 7,  8", 8.3", 9" and 10.1" sizes).

The g flex fits into my jacket and trouser pockets,  meaning that I didn't have to carry anything around between sessions (papers,  tablets...)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

LG G pad 8.3 initial impressions

Initial impressions after a couple of hours with the lg g pad 8.3:
  • Overall initial impression
    • Nice hardware, bit under specified with an ok(ish) screen. I prefer it over the galaxy tabs that I've used so far (not tried the 2014 ones yet). It's noticeably behind the ipad mini retina- but it is cheaper and it's one of the better mid sized tablets. The nexus 8.9 could knock this into touch,  although this  8.3  is fine to hold
    • It has a larger screen than the g flex,  but in every way that matters to me I prefer my LG G Flex and Ipad air & retina mini over this G pad. 
  • Positive points
    • Nice to hold (and makes the g flex seem small!).
    • Good build quality 
    • Decent sized screen
    • Comfortable to hold and type on in landscape (I prefer this over the nexus 7, which was a bit narrow in landscape for me. In fact it's a pleasure to type on in landscape).
    • Nice use of screen estate for settings, having the menu of the left
    • Soft key customisation (including notification pull down icon is useful, and there's a five button option)
    • Text is decent,  though put next to the iPad and you see the difference 
    • My daughter loves the marshmallow theme
  • Not so positive
    • Camera is not something to write home about
    • External speaker quality  should be a lot better,  it's muddy
    • Battery drains faster than I was expecting 
    • Lag to sharpen text when resize in a browser (very similar to what I had with the Samsung tabs I've tried so far)
    • Double tap to turn on doesn't work as well as it does compared to the g flex
    • The option that exists on my g flex to hide the soft keys in selected apps (under settings/display/advanced) is missing on the g pad (as it is on the g2). This seems a strange omission.
    • The off button is in the wrong place for me for landscape when using a case.
    • The settings icon in in the notification panel isn't there (like the g2 but unlike the g flex)
    • To hold it more comfortably in portrait, an indentation or textured area on the middle of the back where the index finger sits would be useful (I miss the lg button on the back!) NB put an ivso  wrap around case on and it's easier to hold
    • Could do with more brightness 
    • I'd have preferred the lg logo to be at the bottom, just to be consistent with the g flex (until I put a case on I kept picking the g pad up the wrong way round) 
  • Additional thoughts
    • Like all lg devices I've tried, changing the system font to serif looks better

Asphalt 8 test - this gets hot near the LG logo.  Game play is average.  Seriously worse than using the iPad air and Ipad retina mini.  Bit worse than the nook hd+ (surprisingly),  similar to the tab.  Nexus 7 is better. 

My favourite android launchers (a way to give any android device a make over!)

One of the great things about android is the range of launchers that can be easily downloaded to change the appearance or behaviour of your android device (making it feel like you've got a new device:).

I've used a few launchers including:
  • Nova (my favourite. Lots of useful options: 
    • have more rows and columns;
    • configure what happens when you press an icon compared to when you swipe it up eg quick dial icon to call someone & swipe up that icon to launch their contact card;
    • Configure what happens when you swipe up or down (eg set a single swipe up anywhere on the screen to launch an app such as voice search; swipe down anywhere to pull down the notification panel;
    • use multiple rotating docks (useful as this section of the screen is always easy to reach).
    • Ability to lock the set up so people don't accidentally pull icons or widgets around.
    • Change the text under the icons to make it more meaningful for yourself.
    • ...
  • smart launcher (mixing simplicity and complexity, and a pleasingly different appearance to IOS and android which can sometimes look a bit similar)
  • Wave launcher (a unique and refreshing way of swiping up at different angles to get to apps and shortcuts. Definitely worth a play! I used to use this a lot on top of smart launcher on mid sized android devices).
  • apex (very similar to Nova)
  • big button  (which went up to a staggering £8 a while ago, but which is great for a simple, clear UI for those with limited finger movement).
  • SPS shell (some nice ideas in this and a nice looking 3d carousel style that perhaps take form a bit further than function. Sadly, though it hadn't changed for a while since I last used it)
  • And several others including Go, several Windows mobile look alikes (for that tiled appearance, though superficial mostly)...

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

LG flex- areas for improvement

The LG G Flex is the most comfortable large device I've used- and has a stellar battery life. Plus a whole range of useful add ons (like being able to have an icon in the adjustable soft keys at the bottom  to bring down the notification bar- no more straining to reach the pull down on a large device! (using Nova launcher is another way to address this).

The following are a couple of things that after a few months with the G flex I'd like to see in the next version:

1) Less sensitive when  moving icons from screen to screen - it's super sensitive, though there is a knack- and adding new icons to a screen rather than trying to move across is a lot easier.

2) Colours are very good on the g flex- however whites do have a slight grey/blue hue (very much like the Note 2, only the g flex screen is brighter). It took a while to get used to this (and it is more noticeable under some conditions such as neon lights). After a while I found that I preferred the background for longer reading, but also that if, for example, I changed the app (eg using nitro for email rather than the inbuilt email client) there was a difference. I wouldn't change the background settings in a future g- flex but it would be nice to have the option.

3) Whilst the external speaker is better than the Note 3, it's not as good quality as the HTC One (or even the iPhone 5s). It's loud enough but you don't get the staging that you do on the HTC One (not surprisingly). On earphones the Flex is very good. For MP3 (320 and lower) and OGG formats the HTC is better on earphones (and when paired to a blue tooth speaker). However, with lossless formats (I use FLAC) the difference on headphones isn't significant).

4) For the first couple of weeks the back attracted dust. Not as much as the Xperias that I've had, but noticeable. This effect had pretty much worn off now, after a few weeks, though turning the phone over now as I write this, I can see a few bits of dust. That's something to improve.

5) Water proofing would be a nice add on (this thing feels tough, especially using an lg vest (£13) which protects the corners but doesn't add to width.

6) Ability to configure the notification drop down further would be nice. There is some configuration possible at the moment ( show/hide the q slide panel).However, you can't hide the volume and brightness slider. This fills the notification panel. I'm not sure if I would remove these as it means that the quick dials I have in the notification panel (using power toggles) are at a thumb friendly height. However, it would be nice to have the option.

7) The screen is a lot better to read in sunlight than the s4, slightly better than the htc one (the slight curve helps a bit for angling). But it's not as good as some of the Nokia's. I didn't really notice this on cloudy days, but in bright sunshine I do.

Monday, 17 March 2014

So long Siri, it was nice knowing you

Siri has always been a good laugh eg what's the meaning of life. And also been useful at times eg 'what's the weather in seafood  tomorrow' - useful when a couple of you are listening for the reply. However, with the latest iOS updates, that slighter deeper voice of Siri has gone, and perhaps a slight edge of humour. 

Of course I still have google voice, and on android a range of voice assistants (3d and otherwise). There are the new sounds of Siri. But I'll still miss, just a bit, the original sound of Siri.

(someone told me I could get darth vader but it's not quite the same)

which cloud service do you prefer?

For cloud storage and back up I've used a mix of icloud, google drive, dropbox, Box & SkyDrive.
In general though I've tended to use Box more- as it's  integrated into quite a few IOS apps on the iPad  (as is dropbox). It also works well over IOS, android and windows. The clincher was that I got 50gb free for life with a Sony Z - and the ability to give 50gb free to a few other people (which wouldn't accept @hotmail accounts, but would accept @outlook addresses).
For photos it's a bit different- google drive and icloud I find easier.
Now that you can save gmail attachments directly into google drive my use of gmail for docs is picking up again.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

my favourite android apps (at the moment!)

I was thinking today, if I had to name my top android apps what would they be? Based on a mix of how much I use them and which ones I enjoy the most, here are my top 10 android apps (apart from email, social media, google and browser apps):

  1. Ever note, for note taking. Syncs across android, ios and Windows (and google Keep for shorter lists)
  2. Business tasks - after trying lots of differnt to- do apps I settled on this due to the ability to have several widgets with different categories of tasks (eg for different projects). And it syncs (through google tasks) with other android devices and IOS (using go tasks).
  3. Pocket casts Sync podcast listening across android and ios.
  4. Rail planner live - so I know which platform to go to in the morning and evening! Other great London commuting apps: city mapper (gives me the quickest way to get from a to b- including by parachute & tells me the weather at my destination), bus checker (is it worth waiting for a bus or walking?)
  5. Audible- great way to pass the commuting time!
  6. Flip board- for tech news (I used Google Currents and a few others but I always come back to flipboard).
  7. Power toggles, means I can put speed dials on my notification drop down, and can control things like blue tooth, wifi toggles etc with one click
  8. Amazon MP3 player -I use this to down load music from amazon- onto android and ios. I usually use the music player provided on the phone- which usually sound better and have  better features than amazon's (eg playing flac & ogg).  Sometimes, I use poweramp (great for increasing the volume), and am having a dabble with media monkey (having used it on my pc for ages). 
  9.  Kobo (and kindle) apps- I prefer the functionality of the kobo app over the kindle and some ebooks are cheaper on kobo, though most are cheaper on kindle.
  10. Smash hit- fantastic game for android and ios (where the immersiveness of the curve of the LG G Flex comes into its own). This will probably change soon (used to be asphalt 8)

    Others for an honourable mention: nova launcher (used on most of my android devices except the g flex), and the bbc iPlayer

    Saturday, 15 March 2014

    Future design of phones

    A lot of phones look similar, and there are lots of things to improve (battery life for a start), robustness (scratch proof, drop proof, waterproof...).  There are very few phones that are optimised for the human hand (as opposed to being a rectangle with rounded edges). There are improvements in voice control, making use of facial expressions, replacing keys and things we carry in our wallets... Meanwhile, a couple of phone designs for the future: 

    Sunday, 9 March 2014

    Why I don't bother with replaceable phone batteries anymore

    I used to buy spare batteries for my phones- right until my note 2, bit not since. I stopped using them  when I got into the habit of having to charge my smartphone every day. I was still carrying my note 2 battery around (note 2 wouldn't last me through the day). However, I didn't use it as I could plug a USB charger into a PC in the office. And then I got an s4, and then a note 3- and Samsung made previous batteries incompatible (not very pleased about that Samsung!). And then inbuilt phone batteries started getting better - the iPhone 5s gets me through a day, as does the lg g2, and the note 3 (only just, surprisingly). And now the lg flex which outlasts any other phone battery I've used before.

    I also have a portable battery charger- great for taking away over weekends, several phone charges worth, with 2 USB output sockets. Making me free of having to buy spare batteries that are out of date when I get a new phone (

    Yes there is always the thought that my inbuilt phone batteries will die, but I haven't had that problem (yet)- I had an iPhone 4S which lasted over 2 years (went to my wife after a year). The battery didn't need replacing, but it was easy enough to do. I've never kept a phone for 2 years, and whether a phone has a replaceable battery age didn't make for a higher selling price so it's a mute point.

    Now if only batteries would last a few weeks.

    Friday, 7 March 2014

    styluses revisited- the perfect combo for writing: jot script, Swype keyboard, lg flex

    Update: got a Wacom Bamboo Duo Stylus (£10 on amazon). A really nicely balanced stylus - rubber tipped at one end, biro at the end, with a jacket pocket clip.

    I've had mixed experiences with styluses over the years. I used them on resistive screens on Symbian phones in the past with some success (eg Sony p910 & w960), on my note 1, note 2 (several quality issues with that stylus:( ) & note 3. However, I find them a bit fiddly, more so with the button on the note 3. I've used wire mesh headed styluses on android & ios tablets, which were ok (though I don't do much in the way of graphics work, though they were good for mind maps). I used a stylus on a laptop for handwriting recognition which worked well (except Windows isn't optimised for stylus use). So overall, mixed experiences that have never really stuck, resulting in a collection of different styluses.

    However, I might give styluses another shot- the reason? The jotscript stylus; android slide keyboards and the lg flex.

    I got hold of a jot script stylus to try on the iPad. It works quite well for simple notes and sketches (in penultimate). However, whilst I wasn't overly wowed by the experience, I was impressed by the weight, feel and size of the jot script and I wondered how this would work on an android device. It's brilliant! It's like writing with a proper pen, using the Swype keyboard (and swift key). I prefer the experience to using the note 3 stylus on the note (I don't need all the extra functionality the s pen gives). And on the lg flex it's an even better experience. The surface of the curve is better for writing on, helped by the curve screen- whether holding the phone in one hand and writing or having the phone on the table and writing (like I am now).

    If only the jot script had a clip to make it easier to carry in a jacket pocket, the option of a retractable ink nib for writing on paper and had an inbuilt rechargeable battery, rather than using an AAA battery.

    Benefits of the LG curve

    I've had a few people ask me about the curve of the lg flex 'is it supposed to be like that', 'that looks cool', 'why is it curved'.. most people once they pick it up can feel the benefit of the curve for holding a large phone (and with the back button, easier to turn on/off and get to the volume and scroll keys)- mostly it's note 3 owners who when trying my flex have commented on the benefit.

    Below are a few of thethings about the flex's curve that have stood out as I've used it over the last several weeks. Whilst I would have preferred a more pure white display, this is definitely a 'keep' (unlike the nexus 5, Sony z1 compact, note 3, s4, Samsung Mega, Nokia 1520, htc one max ...

    1) the curve makes the flex more comfortable to hold in portrait, and in landscape (especially useful when reviewing documents, holding it one handed, or playing games, holding it two handed).

    2) Better on screen writing experience- the feel of the screen and the curve makes the flex great for writing on- I write a lot, using the swype keyboard (swift key has better prediction for next words but isn't as accurate). I use the mini keyboard option, which pushes the keyboard to the side which means I can also jot down quick notes one handed.

    3) The curve reduces glare- the flex is quite bright (despite some backgrounds having a grayish hue), and I can read things outdoors- one of the better outdoor reading experiences.

    4) The curve, and rounded corners means the flex fits very comfortably into my pockets, whether trouser, jacket or coat.

    5) Using the external speaker- the flex has a loud speaker (better quality than my note, worse quality than the htc one). I tend to place the phone screen down do the speaker is facing up. The curve means there's no risk of the screen being scratched by the surface. Having the volume keys on the back also helps as I don't have to pick up the phone to change the volume.

    6) Playing games feels more immersive (small but noticeable effect eg cupboard to playing asphalt 8 on my note 3).

    The flex could certainly be better, but this has the best battery life I've come across, and it is more of a personal digital assistant than most phones I've used, making me change my use of tablets.