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

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.

the little things I learned today about Android/Cordova/PhoneGap

For work, I had to help test a cordova iOS app and port it for Android. For some reason, the usual deviceready code wasn’t working:

if (navigator.userAgent.match(/(iPhone|iPod|iPad|Android|BlackBerry)/)) { 
     // is on PhoneGap
     $(function() {
        document.addEventListener("deviceready", deviceIsReady, false);
     });
} else {
     // not on PhoneGap
}

Instead, this worked:

if ( window.device ) {
      document.addEventListener("deviceready", deviceIsReady, false);
}
// not on PhoneGap
else {
     // what else
}

The other thing: I have no idea how to take screenshots on Android devices. To be honest, I still have no idea how to do it on my Nexus 7. Even less idea on how to do it on Android 3.0. Google search lead me to this and I still don’t understand why it has to be so hard (or confusing).

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.

From an iPad to an Android tablet

It was pay-day last week (MONEY!!!!!) so I bought myself a mid-to-low range tablet (not that much money!!!): a Cherry Mobile Bolt (rebranded from Ainol Novo 7). I was thinking if I should get the 2nd generation Nexus 7, but I’m actually waiting for the new iPad Mini to be my main tablet so I decided to get a cheap one I can root and play with. I saw some reviews online, and the CM Bolt seemed to fit my budget for a test device (below 5k, specs not so bad, and the OS is barely skinned/themed). I already have the larger iPad, which was why I got the 7-inch one.

Spec list for the curious:

  • OS: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • CPU: ATM Quad Core CPU 1.2GHz
  • GPU: GC1000+
  • RAM: 1GB?DDR3
  • Storage: 8GB
  • Shell Material: Plastic
  • Screen: Capacitive Touchscreen, 1280*800 High-resolution Screen
  • Size: 7 inch
  • Resolution: 1280*800 Pixels IPS Screen G+G
  • Gravity Sensor: Yes
  • Visible Angle: 178°
  • Display: IPS
  • Dual Camera Front camera, 0.3 Megapixels

(Things to note: no bluetooth, GPS, 3G/sim slot.)

As a designer for various platforms (with Android projects coming in as well), it felt important to have more experience with other OS and not just iOS (though hey, I’m not complaining). I’ve recently switched back to the iPhone after a few months with the Windows Phone 8 (the novelty of ‘something different’ wore off, and with iOS 7, its good to be back), and now its time to try Android more regularly.

First Impressions

Charlie was with me when I bought it and he was really skeptical. I don’t blame him. We’re both on iOS devices (he had an HTC once, which slowed down a bit too soon) so we’re kind-of spoiled by speed, smoothness, design (hello iOS7!!!!) and general user experience goodness of the OS.

But I really needed to interact more with Android stuff for work.

Cherry Mobile isn’t exactly there when it comes to visual design and branding (at the very least they have a simpler logo than MyPhone!) so once you get past the default, ugly, pixelized wallpapers, it starts looking acceptable:

Not bad, eh? Got the wallpaper from Pattrn

(Thank you, Pattrn)

I used it all day on Sunday and at first it was quite buggy. I wasn’t so sure if it was broken, or if it was a prime example of low-end tech. The keyboard would double-press keys, and sometimes touch would do the same (touch huge areas on the screen even when I’m not actually pressing on the other areas). I did a factory reset twice, and somehow it stopped being weird on a normal basis (it still happens but only when I try to multitask between apps, or send a number of attachments over email). So I’m just going to assume its not because its broken, but maybe because the specs are quite low. I notice this happened more often when quite a few apps that need internet connection are all on (messaging, fb, tw, email, etc).

Simplenote

The way the resolution renders apps and sites is a bit annoying because even if the tablet is a smaller size, it shows a desktop view (or 10-inch tablet size) so most things are too small to be comfy. Had to go to Accessibility options and change the overall font size Large to make it readable.

It heats up a bit too fast and the wifi range is pretty weak (the wifi nearly ends at the edge of my bed at home, which is maybe 10 meters away from the router, hahaha), but IS only PhP 4.5k (from Cherry Mobile in Robinons Galleria even if other bloggers have gotten it for just 4k)!!!! I’m more surprised it works this well given the price point.

Since I have an iPad 3, I compared the experience of having a larger tablet, and for me pocket-size is easier to use. It feels easier and more natural to bring around for reading, browsing, reading emails, social networks, and the like. Landscape typing is harder on the smaller tablet though — it feels like I’m meant to type with my thumbs on it, the same way that thumb-typing feels awkward when holding up a big and heavy iPad. Being a cheaper tablet though, typing isn’t very smooth on the Bolt so autocorrect always saves the day :P

Android Tablet App Market

I downloaded and re-downloaded a bunch of apps and the first thing I noticed is the lack of tablet-optimized apps in the Play Store. Even Path seemed to be for the phone-only. It’s been a while since more Android tablets have come up though. Maybe Google needs to be a bit more aggressive with encouraging Android app teams. One of my main objectives in getting this Android tablet was to study the UI design, and very few stand out. I even ended up spoiling myself over Downton Abbey in my search for good tablet apps (because I haven’t watched the Christmas special and CLIFFHANGER spoiled it for me when I wondered if Season 4 was on).

Yeah, good job curious self!
“WTF MATTHEW IS DEAD!? THEY SPENT 3 SEASONS TO GET HIM TOGETHER WITH MARY AND THEN HE JUST DIES?????” — spoiled — Yeah, good job curious self!

My only complaint at this point: the Amazon Kindle app keeps crashing when I load it so I can’t load my Amazon e-books. Uploaded some books to Google Play (Books) instead (which weirdly enough you can only do online and not via the app) and it was pretty alright (page-turning smooth enough, given the specs. I’d want better reading fonts though, but it’s not so bad). I also started trying out Google+ again, but I need to figure out a way to cross-post the status messages to Facebook or else I’m talking to a mostly silent audience. The App market is definitely better than Windows though so, hahahaha. Given that Android’s tablet apps already felt lacking, I can imagine how populated the Windows tablet app market is.

I’ll share my list of apps in a future post.

I’ll be on Day 3 of testing the Bolt today (in which at the end of the week, if I don’t need to get the unit replaced, I’ll update the firmware). I left my iPad at work yesterday so I’ll be forced to rely on the Android tablet and aside from the annoying keyboard lag and touch inconsistencies, its pretty OK (I’m writing the draft for this post on the Android as we speak). I even managed to do some responsive web design work (!!!) via Adobe Edge Inspect. It was not as smooth as Safari/iOS (but that’s Android browsers for you).

wooo yeah, that worked
wooo yeah, that worked

Here’s a recap of the pro’s and con’s

 Pros:

  • cheap (PhP 4.5k is cheap enough)
  • not much skin/bloatware
  • I can update the firmware to speed it up
  • I can root it and play with it and if it gets broken, I’d only have lost PhP 4.5k
  • 7″ is a good size

Cons:

  • heats up quickly
  • battery lasts maybe 4-5 hours in full-use
  • wifi range is weak
  • no bluetooth (I didn’t really initially think I’d want it, LOL)
  • heavy for the size, but not for its price

Set expectations to a low/mid-range Android device and the lag/slowness will be ‘OK’.

I have a lot to say about the Android user experience compared to iOS, but nothing other people haven’t already noticed and proven. Will write more in the next few days!