My Android x Windows 8 Setup

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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

Pulse Beta: when the original app becomes unrecognizable

I use Pulse as a reader for a bunch of blogs that I follow. When I opened Pulse on my phone today, I was thrown into a downward spiral of confusion:

  1. The articles I see are NOT from sites I subscribed to.
  2. I could not find the articles and sites I subscribed to, even when I have an account and even after I logged in.
  3. Who are these people on my feed? Who are these LinkedIn Influencers!? I don’t know who they are, and I don’t care who they are. Why are their articles on my feed, and WHERE DID MY ORIGINAL FEED GO?

I re-installed the app on a new phone, so I backtracked to the Play Store to check if I downloaded the right Pulse. It seemed like I did, but it was not the app that I used to have. I tried to find where the blogs I used to follow were, and lo and behold, without asking, LinkedIn was using the Beta version on me.  Continue readingPulse Beta: when the original app becomes unrecognizable

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.

One day with a Nokia 520

JJ saw me using my phone and said, “Do you have the same phone as Charlie?”

YES. YES I DO NOW. Because I mentioned it to my mom, and told her how my iPhone 4S is broken (and the people said they can’t fix the wifi), and that this Lumia 520 is only P7k.

So she lent me money and I got one at Greenhills. Cheapest I found was P6.8k, but they only had the black one. Charlie got his for P7k, but he didn’t come with me so we didn’t know where exactly he bought his. This one was P7.4k, the cheapest I was able to find (only a few hundred bucks less than the standard retail price).

I’ve been using it since Sunday evening so a little over one day. I downloaded a bunch of apps already, some of which I already collected into a list days ago. I also figured out how to install apps from an SD card (not that I’ve made the most out of it because I only have an old SD card which is 2GB large, hahaha. That sounds pretty sad).

Some initial thoughts:

  1. I really like the Metro UI for the phone.
  2. For some reason, I’m not as constantly connected to 3G or wi-fi as I was on the iPhone. I’m not sure if this is a common problem, or just that this is actually a cheaper phone. I have an unlimited-data plan which means my free SMS and calls are limited so I wanted to make the most out of free messaging apps, but there were a bunch of problems with those. I will expound on it later.
  3. The camera is really not so bad, for this price range.
  4. The battery seems to heat up a little too quickly, but I don’t think it’s bothersome. I just don’t know if it’s natural/expected.
  5. The Facebook integration is sometimes freaky. Like, it would be awesome if I could choose which groups I could connect with my phone because I don’t really need everyone’s names in there. It’s just really convenient so that I get photos on my contact list, haha.
  6. There is a fairly good range of apps. Some of them don’t work as smoothly as iOS or Android apps, perhaps, but I think that maybe development on a WP for companies who cater to all platforms might not be that high on the priority list given the market share.

That said, the 520 is a really good phone for that kind of value.

I actually enjoyed looking for some good apps to use and here’s a list of the ones I ended up keeping:

Viber, LINE, and Talk.to

Viber and LINE were pretty much staples: Viber is the only way I can message my mom and brother for free, since they’re both on iPhones. It’s also pretty popular with most people. I kept LINE for a Japanese friend I occasionally messaged there, and because Charlie and I used to chat there before he got an iPad mini.

My experience with these apps on a Windows Phone 8 was pretty bad though. LINE doesn’t have calls (yet) and both of them have a horrible delay time when it comes to sending a message when the apps aren’t active or in use. When Charlie and I exchange messages consistently, it works as advertised. But when the phones are on stand-by, for some reason either the phone becomes disconnected to the Wi-fi or 3G, or the app stops working on the background. What happens is: notifications come in VERY late (usually during the time I use the phone again) so they’re pretty much useless if say, someone sends me a message out of the blue using these apps. I probably won’t see the message at the same time it’s sent.

Talk.to is new: I’m not aware of an iOS version. But since the default Facebook app doesn’t notify me when I get FB messages, I use this for FB messaging (and Google Talk if I had friends who used that). So far it’s pretty good and more responsive than LINE and Viber. Charlie and I will try switching to this for now, until the other apps become smoother.

I haven’t really tried the other free messaging apps like KiK messenger,  but I might try it within the week.

Battery

Because I don’t get to see the percentage of battery left by default on the hidden header, I needed this to see it as a tile. It came with other short-cuts such as Wi-fi and 3G connections, and it looked nicer than the other similar apps.

Chinese Dictionary

Simple and had better features than the others.

Dictionary

Kindle

I haven’t found another ebook reader for my non-Amazon ebooks, but the WP Kindle app seems to be okay.

Weave

As a reader, I really like it. Plus, you get to find RSS feeds from within the app (like Pulse). And there’s a free version.

Pouch

The only app I bought so far, because there is no official Pocket app. There are other options, but from the screenshots this seemed nice. A little buggy, but not a deal breaker.

Fotor

For photo filters. The design is simple and the app is pretty easy to use. The filters are pretty okay, and not as bad as the other photo apps.

LiveJournal

On the iPhone, Path is my go-to app where I write some private thoughts that I share with limited friends. Since there’s no Path for WP8, I ended up going back to LJ for my deepest, darkest secrets (lol). This is the official app which is in Russian by default (good thing someone posted instructions on the comments to switch to English), but the UI to post a new entry is shit. I don’t have a choice though, apart from using the mobile-web version of the site.

Mixtapes

A music streaming app. I really, really like this though I haven’t used the app that long yet.

Evernote

I couldn’t log in to my Simplenote-app account the other day so I couldn’t use Feather Notes. But then again, I have some notes I store in Evernote so this is still useful to have.

Unit Converter, World Clock, Translator, Google Search, Counters

Useful apps that don’t come by default.

Love/hate relationship with Pixelmator and Sketch (where is Retina support for Adobe!?)

Because designing with Adobe on my retina MBP is a pain in the eyes (all those pixels, gahh!) I’m trying to replace my workflow with Pixelmator and Sketch. Unfortunately, it’s not too easy because:

(1) Designing for, say, 1144px on Pixelmator makes the canvas look as small as this: 

I’m not sure if I’m being stupid or what, but have I missed some kind of option in Pixelmator which Sketch thankfully has? 

Obviously, designing for the same size/ratio would make my job way easier than trying to squint at the pixel-accurateness of Pixelmator. 

(2) As much as I would like to do everything in Sketch because of this issue (or feature), it does NOT support PSD files as of the moment. Also, weirdly enough, despite being a vector program, I cannot copy+paste vectors from Illustrator to sketch. Or open .EPS files. There is no way to copy+paste vector files into a vector-drawing app? Whaaaat? 

Does anyone have any tips or suggestions? 

App review: Sketch

I’ve been using Sketch for high (enough) fidelity mock-ups and wireframes on the retina MBP and right now I feel that: 

  • $30 is still a bit too expensive (even on a Sale price) for the current features of this app
  • $50 (full price) is just not worth it

Although of course, I’m mostly willing to spend a little more on some apps that would look good on the Retina which is why I bought it in the first place. I still end up opening Photoshop and Illustrator to get some things done (quickly). 

Sketch is pretty much similar to how I use Adobe Fireworks because it makes grids, alignments, and resizing easier than some apps (some shortcuts were easy enough to guess). I just have a few things to complain about: 

  • ‘V’ is the shortcut key on Photoshop for the arrow so I would often press it on Sketch. On Sketch however, it’s also the same key for the Vector tool so I end up accidentally adding points on my canvas. It’s annoying to have to undo so often. 
  • There is no crop. Which is crazy inconvenient because I’d get some stock photos on the internet for an mobile app mock-up and I just…can’t crop it. Allan crops in Preview. Which for a $30 app to lack is crazy ridiculous. 

    ** I asked at their support forum and there is an alternative, which means selecting and deleting. Still, not really crop yet.  

  • It crashes. A lot. Although it saves and reloads pretty fast, it’s still a little annoying.
  • There are still some vector functionalities in Illustrator that I need, which I haven’t been able to do on Sketch such as Expand Appearance. I’m not used to the vector tool in Sketch yet either. 
I haven’t used all functionalities yet though, and maybe one of these days I can try out their CSS features and Sketch will be more useful.

At the end of the day I look at my screen and it’s not pixelized and I think it’s still a little bit worth it. 

Synching my Foursquare with Google Calendar

I’ve only recently been using Foursquare mainly because I wanted to keep my own personal log of what I’ve been doing or where I’ve been going every day. It’s not very easy to get an overview of it with the app, so using an IFTTT recipe, I managed to sync it with one of my Google Calendars and viola! An instant overview of everything!

Seriously, it’s just so awesome (at least for me). I don’t really use Foursquare to let all my friends know where I am; the bigger motivation is this log and there’s so many what-if-I-need-this-info scenarios in my head that makes this useful. 

As a side-note, since I log all the restaurants I go to, I end up getting an idea of how bad (or good) my diet is for that month/week. :P 

App splurge: Sketch

I bought Sketch, which was on sale for almost $30. It’s originally $50. Can’t wait to try out CSS and Grids with this! Plus, another retina-friendly app. Not bad but oh god, that’s also Php 1.6k less money, haha. 

I seriously need to go on needs-only mode. So far I’ve successfully kept myself from shopping for new clothes and shoes for a few months now (minus HK).