Almost a week with an LG G4

I’ve been pretty content with Android since switching to a Xiaomi Redmi Note late November last year. Material Design is pleasing to the eyes, so it’s still refreshing to get an Android design point of view when using apps (with the benefit of still getting familiarized with Android patterns). I still miss the iPhone camera and the latest beautiful apps that get launched on iOS first, but I feel very strongly that our team needs more design diversity so I decided to get a better Android phone. Something that’s more than a budget phone but won’t burn too huge a hole in my pocket.

In comes the LG G4, only around SGD $650 on average in Carousell, the lowest being SGD $550 in the marketplace. It got a pretty decent score on The Verge’s review, and above average reviews when I googled. Suffice it to say, I was pretty sold.

Continue readingAlmost a week with an LG G4

My Android x Windows 8 Setup

androidxwindows6-min

There’s been a lot of excitement for the upcoming Windows 10 recently, but I’m more wary of how the current ecosystem works for me and the other devices that I use. I’ve been exploring how to make Windows more than just my gaming system and for now I’m not so convinced that I should invest in Windows. The Surface looks quite pretty from the outside, and I’ve enjoyed using a Windows Phone for several months before I was forced to abandon ship due to the lack of apps. Some days I think about trying out a Windows PC/tablet so for a while I’ve been testing the waters (although I’m not ready for an expensive Surface, unless it comes for free! Keeping my eye out for more budget-friendly alternatives). How will Windows fit into my current lifestyle?

I have a company-loaned MacBook Air along with my own personal MBA so having two Macs didn’t make much sense. :P So I decided to Bootcamp Windows 8 on my personal Mac. Tweaked it a bit to have reverse (“natural”) scrolling like on Mac. If I can find alternatives for my design apps that isn’t Adobe, then I will remove my Mac partition to make more space for Windows. :P Installing Windows was also something that Guild Wars 2 has driven me to do (mainly because the Mac port of the game is too inferior to the Windows version that I can only play in low settings on Mac, whereas I could play max settings on Windows).

Windows 8/8.1 is still one of the worst OS experiences I’ve had primarily because the Desktop/Touch experience on Windows 8 is so jarring and frustrating. They forced touch design so much that the desktop+mouse experience has been severely affected, and in a very bad way (my most hated are the hidden, corner-triggered menus and the sudden desktop-to-Metro switching!). It’s like they forgot that most people use a mouse instead of touch and keyboard shortcuts. Unfortunately for me, I am using Windows 8 on a keyboard-only laptop, so I feel the terrible mouse experience keenly. Despite my anger and frustrations, I still try to explore the Windows Store part of the ecosystem (Windows apps that run on RT, if I understood it correctly) because it is new and I am curious. I also want to understand this direction Windows is going, since people will be stuck with this company for at least another decade.

I’ve been trying to integrate Windows 8 with my daily workflow/use, particularly with Android (which has been my mobile OS for the past couple of months) so I’m making a list of the apps and stuff that I use on both platforms, with a brief overview of my other daily devices.

Continue readingMy Android x Windows 8 Setup

Making the most of my Xiaomi Redmi Note

I’ve been using a Xiaomi Redmi Note (4G/LTE) for almost a month and I can say that for the value of the phone, it’s been doing really great for me. Admittedly, the cheap price point comes with limitations (camera quality and storage size) but I’ve been able to work around them with some apps and I think everything has been impressive so far (given the said limitations). I’ve brought the phone around with me when my boyfriend came to visit Singapore and we went around like tourists, going out all day. I took pictures, used Google Maps, checked in places, kept my data on, browsed the web to look up info. Some days I would keep the hotspot on hours at a time to share my net with my boyfriend. For these few days that we were out and about, the battery would last me all day long. It’s been a dependable phone and for the most part, I have no complaints.

Because Google made some changes to how Android manages storage by default, I had to tweak things a bit to expand my storage (which is necessary because 6GB of available storage space is just impossible for me to live with). Tweaks included linking apps to expand my storage size with a 64GB micro SD card (which requires root permissions), and some necessary apps so I could automatically store photos (taken by Google Camera) and .obb game files to the external sd card. Here’s a quick list of the things I needed:

  1. Native Root via Updater app (Root permissions without booting to Recovery)
  2. a 64GB class 10 microSD card
  3. MiniTool Partition Wizard (free)
  4. Link2SD
  5. Xposed Installer
  6. Switching default apps, pretty apps, and just apps

I will talk about each one extensively under the cut, with some other apps I love and use that has really made me enjoy using my Redmi Note.

Continue readingMaking the most of my Xiaomi Redmi Note

Back to Android with a Redmi Note

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G became available on the Mi Singapore store recently and I managed to get one, yay! At S$229, it wasn’t bad (around PhP 8k). I wanted to get a bigger phone since it seems to be a trend and I want to study/understand/experience it myself. The Redmi Note seems to be a mid-range phone which performs decent enough. I’m not listing down specs because specs are only ingredients to the experience, so I’d rather talk about how I feel about using the phone.

(You may also want to read: How come the iPhone’s 1 GB RAM is touted to be able to compete with more than 2 GB RAM of Android phones?)

As a phone, it’s waaaay better than my old Alcatel (which I very rarely use for testing stuff, before it housed my PH sim after moving to SG). Let’s just say my Android experience benchmark is low enough that I really found the Redmi Note to be a huge upgrade, haha. My iPhone 5’s battery also only lasts me 4-6 hours at a time with 3G on, so trying out a new device seems like a good idea at this point in time.

Continue readingBack to Android with a Redmi Note

How switching to pocket wifi changed my workflow

My Old Plan

My two-year contract with SMART was a mix of good and bad. Bad because my iPhone 4S broke a month after the 1-year warranty (CRY!!!) but good because my experience of their services has been smooth all throughout. I’m sure there are horror stories out there, but I guess I’m lucky enough that my experience was smooth as a duck. I paid all bills online so I was never late, and I never went a few hundred bucks from my PhP1.5k UnliData plan. I was very careful with my data settings when I traveled (I actually had it on airplane mode all the time for the first few trips just to be really sure, but last time I was in HK I only made sure that Data Roaming is off and didn’t receive any extra charges).

I learned my lesson when my iPhone 4S broke though. Apparently updating it via 3G would fry the wires that connect to wifi, or whatever it is that happened that broke it, so now I’m much careful with how I use my iPhone 5 (this thing is so frigging expensive, it’s worth all the caution). I also computed how much I’d save and getting it outside of the contract is cheaper because I still paid some cash-out with that plan.

My New Plan

My contract just expired so I downgraded to SMART’s ALL-IN 500 plan, where I only have to get TRINET400 (500 mins to SMART, Sun, Talk ‘N Text and PLDT Landline + 2000 texts to all networks + 150MB worth of mobile browsing for 30 days) and have PhP 100 extra for all those Globe people. Then I got a separate Smart Bro Pocket Wi-Fi for PhP599 (50 hours) or PhP999 (once I exceed 50 hours) per month because I wanted to be able to use my Nexus 7 on the go.

(Why not LTE? Because I don’t really need it given the current pricing and 5GB cap on the cheapest pocket wi-fi plan. Weird when there’s a PhP 999 unlimited LTE for the phone plans.)

So now I could either (1) pay a few hundred bucks less than my old plan if I kept my 3G usage to 50 hours or (2) pay around the same amount as my last plan, but I could connect both my phone and my tablet (or other devices).

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

Negatives 

Not all is cool with this set-up because:

  • a pocket wi-fi is an added device to bring around, to possibly forget or lose
  • SMART’s pocket wi-fi (a rebranded ZTE model) only lasts around 4-5 hours with continued usage. But this is not a usual downside for me because I do go to work either at home or at an office most of the time.
  • it also heats up really quickly (but is also not a big deal because I always have a bag/purse to keep it in)

Positives

  • being able to use my Nexus 7 in the car or anywhere else actually is GREAT (this could be any tablet). It’s easier doing a number of things such as: searching for design pegs or inspiration, reading news and blogs online, and reading or answering email. My Nexus 7 is no longer some brick I use only to watch Korean drama or read e-books.
  • I don’t have to switch from reading on the tablet to doing online stuff on my (3G) phone because of the above.
  • My iPhone’s battery doesn’t get drained by 3G so it lasts longer (yay)

I recently got a power bank so I use it for the pocket wi-fi when I have to. But in between home – work – hanging out at Charlie’s in Eastwood, there were only a few times when I feel frustrated with the pocket w-ifi:

  • I still can’t figure out if it is slower or faster than when I was using my iPhone as a hotspot.
  • I’m not sure if it’s harder to get signals because of the device or because the signal is actually weak.

Before making the switch, I searched for reviews online, most of which were frustrated users who hated the slowness of their connection. Most of those who complain were using the pocket wi-fi as their main internet connection at home and I did not have that kind of expectation for it (it is 3G so I’d keep my expectations low) so I decided to just jump ship for better or for worse.

I’ve tested the 3G in a couple of places: in transit from my home to Katipunan or Eastwood, different places in Eastwood (Eastwood Mall, Citiwalk: specifically Tokyo Bubble Tea, Starbucks, Army Navy, Le Grand Tower 1). Most of the time it works well enough that I can load sites, keep connected to apps, reply to emails, etc. It’s just some specific areas that the signal seems weak. To be fair, even when I was using my phone as a hotspot while hanging out at Tokyo Bubble Tea, it’s nearly impossible to go online if I get a table inside the shop vs. a table outdoor. So maybe it works just as well as my old connection (which I was content with anyway). I just need to test if it’s as fast as when I’m at home because I used to do Apple updates over my SMART 3G because it’s faster than our PLDT DSL at home (so sad).

Workflow changes

Actually, the biggest change was the increased tablet usage. To an extent it made me more productive even while on the go because it’s much easier to do small tasks or work on the tablet. For better or for worse, my Nexus 7 has fewer addictive games than my iPhone, so I’m less likely to do something unproductive. :P

My phone is also my most important device (when it comes to being worried about power running out). Having internet, say, while working remotely on my laptop while not thinking about running out of battery on both laptop and phone at the same time gives me less to worry about. The Macbook Air’s battery life is beyond amazing and I could work without plugging for 4-5 hours and the iPhone lasts way longer with 3G turned off (and in the end, I just need the power bank for the pocket wi-fi to keep up with Apple’s amazing battery life).

I’ve been going around with this set-up for nearly a week and it’s been pretty good so far. Just the occasional frustrating lack of signal inside some stores, but otherwise switching still seems like a good move.

Spark Camera on iOS (and circles on your interface)

Spark Camera is free on the iOS App Store for a while, so Charlie suggested that I download the app since it was really pretty for a video recorder+editor. I’m not used to taking videos, more less editing them, so I don’t think I did pretty well compared to Charlie’s tests.

It’s interesting because it seems like circles are slowly becoming more common in mobile UI (thinking about Paper’s undo function) and there are  cases where it works and it makes sense. Spark Camera also uses more gesture-based actions such as sliding to move from one screen to another, or for menus, and at first I would miss some things, but playing around with it twice I think gave me a good idea on how to do things.

Attractive UIs really help getting word out about your app. :P It’s actually very simple, and the videos filters are lovely (reminds me of Path filters).

Here are some screenshots of the app:

Give your Android a sickeningly cute make-over

I used to have a couple of those cute Korean planner notebooks that seemed like a collage and had cutesy characters all over. They were usually in soft pastels. In high school (or was it grade school?), my humble splurge was on cute stationaries that they sold in the book shop inside our school. To relive  those nostalgic memories, I made my Nexus 7 to look like this:

home screen with cocoppa

All thanks to this app called CoccoPPa (and no, I have no idea what the name stands for).

Even their video ad is like an anime:

Most of the theme sets that are shared have limited icon choices (i.e. bad usability, haha), so it’s better if you search and download the wallpaper and the icons separately.

But to achieve a more “Cute Planner” look, you have to install SolCalendar: it has a clean look and design that just fits the cute theme perfectly! Their widgets have neutral themes so you won’t have to hesitate if you want to go for some darker or monochromatic cuteness.

Now, if you want to enjoy the other typical Asian entertainment like I do, I installed #Dramania for my Korean and Chinese drama fix (but they also have Taiwanese, Japanese, and other Asian dramas). The app used to be in the Play Store, but I guess it’s been taken down so you have to download and install the APK from the site, if you still want the app.

Meanwhile, Manga Rock is my preferred Manga reader. I had it on my iPad and liked it enough to buy it again just so I can have it on my Nexus 7. LOL.

There you go. Now you can be so kawaii, it will make other people barf.

I have a 2013 Nexus 7 and it’s still not good enough

Ultralinx published a very good review of the 2013 Nexus 7. And I agree with them: great specs for the price, even if it is around $60 more expensive in the Philippines compared to buying from the US (roughly around $330 compared to $270). But Oliur Rahman echoed exactly the reason why the 2013 Nexus 7 still isn’t good enough:

Android is still a very capable OS and is arguably the most powerful mobile OS available right now. There is so much you can do with it compared to its competitors – it’s just much more versatile.

However one major problem I still have is the quality of apps. Sure Android now has an app for basically everything and anything, but quality in terms of UI and UX just doesn’t seem to be on par with iOS.

I hound Google Play every week waiting for something: I don’t know, maybe some exciting Android tablet app. Maybe a new addition to their featured android app list that I’m actually interested in.

In terms of games, Android isn’t very far behind (it catches up a few months after the popular games are released on iOS, such as Plants vs. Zombies 2). However, when it comes to the apps that differentiate themselves (maybe something like Figure or Day One), the Android ecosystem is pretty lacking. There are some alternatives, but they don’t particularly impress me with the design of the UI and experience. This is old news. It can be argued that the Android apps have the same features as iOS apps (or maybe even more), but it does not equate to the similar experience I’m looking for that only excellent design can bring. Android’s app ecosystem doesn’t make me feel as excited or happy as the iOS app ecosystem, which makes me want to go app-window-shopping as regularly as possible. I even searched for music-making apps once, just to see if there’s anything my boyfriend could use, and I found one that seemed really good except the design wasn’t all too visually appealing. They don’t seem to have an ultimately amazing app that you will die to get an Android for (unlike, say, how I feel about Paper. Because it’s only on iOS, if you want exactly that kind of drawing experience, you absolutely must have an iPad).

It’s no surprise that more iOS apps are featured in BeautifulPixels (which is my go-to site for app recommendations) compared to Android apps. I’m not saying there aren’t a few gems out there (JotterPad X for Android is a very lovely alternative to iAWriter on the iOS); the really well-designed ones are just too few, and for  tablet-optimized apps the options are fewer. I’m sure more beautiful apps will come to Android (though for some maybe never). I just wish they would come sooner. For now, my Nexus 7 tablet is mostly a device for consuming rather than creating.

From one custom android rom to the next

I didn’t really wait for a week before updating the firmware and changing roms for the Ainol Novo Venus 7 / Cherry Mobile Bolt. I’ve been doing it a lot during the week: rebooting, installing, testing, and it’s left me quite tired and frustrated in a lot of ways. That’s one of the drawbacks of having too many customizations: you can’t immediately get the fastest build for your hardware by default.

Upgrading the Official Firmware from 4.1 to 4.2

  1. Download official files
  2. Guide to upgrading the firmware

It wasn’t as easy as the guide because I encountered a problem with Windows not recognizing the drive for the Venus 7. I ended up uninstalling the drive and then re-installing it but I’m not quite sure how it got fixed exactly. I had to do it a couple of times but after the first try, re-doing the firmware update again (which I did later on to modify the default internal storage) was easier. Didn’t encounter any more problems.  Experience I didn’t stay on the official firmware upgrade because it still felt too slow for me. I also wanted the 7″ resolution since the default one is giving me an aspect ratio that seems better fitted for 10″ tablets. Since all the rom customizations I did afterward required the 4.2 firmware update, this was a necessary step so I didn’t feel like I wasted my time. :P

Custom Rom: Venom for Venus 7

Links and Guide Experience The loading screen was ugly, which was a turn-off for me. However, it had the more suitable aspect ration/screen size, which was what I was really looking for. Noticed it seemed to be a port of CyanogenMod, so I looked for the CM build. This was also very buggy and the device reboots too often so yeah, definitely not good.

Screenshot_2013-10-05-20-55-15
Links and Guide Experience I started with CM 110.2 because it was on the latest Android (and someone posted on the forum that it was smoother/fastest). It was smoother than the official firmware upgrade (4.2) but it ended up slowing my tablet down eventually for some reason. The battery life was better than the Venom version though, and had less bugs. There’s also a rotation bug (reboots when rotating automatically) so I decided to try CM 10.1 instead.

Custom Rom: CM 10.1 (Android 4.2) for Venus 7

Screenshot_2013-10-05-20-34-55
Links and Guide Experience This is currently what’s running on my Venus 7/Bolt for now and so far I haven’t really encountered any bugs. But I think I’ll be settling down with this because it’s the most stable one so far that’s faster than the official firmware upgrades. Whatever lag or problems I have is, I think, already due to the low specs of the device than anything.

Conclusion

It was a tablet that cost me less than 5k, so I wanted to learn the most out of it. In a way I did, I suppose, but it feels like it also cost me too much time. I get stressed so easily that it probably isn’t worth it in the long run (to always be customizing, upgrading, re-installing). I’ve decided to get a second generation Nexus 7 maybe by the end of the year for a full-time Android tablet and retire this one for testing apps that clients will be porting on cheap China brands for more realistic use cases.