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

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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

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

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.

Why SMART’s “re-design” of the User Accounts page has a horrible UI

Charlie asked me how I liked the new design of SMART’s User Account Page, and I said it was pretty bad. It was one of those examples of “style over function” because even if it looks neater than the old version, my experience as a customer was worse than before.

I only ever log in to check my balance whenever I have to pay my bill. Charlie logs in to pay his bill from the Bancnet link on the site. To be honest, I can’t remember how it used to look like, but I’m pretty sure I had an easier time looking for my bills and paying with the old layout than the new one.

To illustrate — this is the screen that I see once I’ve selected the account to “manage”:

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I saw my outstanding balance, but a few days ago I got a weird “0 balance” email from SMART, so I wanted to first check my old billing statements to find out the last bill I’ve paid. This is the first link I try to click: image

Apparently, it doesn’t work. My clicks do nothing, and the page I’m at is the entire “Account Balance” page. There was a “View bill details” link there below my “Outstanding Balance” which I didn’t really notice at first, so I decide to click it thinking it will open up the PDF copy of my current balance’s billing statement.

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And then it brings me to:

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The billing page.

Well, ok, I still can’t equate “View bill details” = list of all billing statements. It made more sense in my head that it was the billing statement that was related to my Outstanding Balance.

And so, apparently the Billing Page is under “Manage Services” instead of “Account Balance”.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who would assume I’ll find my statements under “Account Balance.” It is, after all, related to accounts and money. This is obviously a bad case of Information Architecture and I wonder if SMART’s design team tested this particular layout on any human being. If they really wanted to push it, how hard was it to put a “Billing Statements” button from the Account Balance page because it really sounds like Balances = Money = Bills!

What else could they have “RE-DESIGNED”? Why not add a “Paid” status (or unpaid) or even show the total balance in each row of the billing statements? I had to assume it was the most recent one, but if I really wanted to check if my billing statement had the same balance as the one on the Account Balance page, I must open the PDF.

Likewise, the ATM link was under “Bills Payment”, which Charlie couldn’t find initially because he couldn’t associate paying bills with “Manage Services”

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Whatever the internal name SMART has for these billing things are definitely not what their customers would assume or think of. “Manage Services”? Sounds like it’s where it says I’m subscribed to their network still, or the length of my contract, or if I’ll be terminating my contract, etc etc.

If they only invested a little time into their info architecture, it would have saved me a good few minutes.

some good ideas wither under bad execution

From a recent thread on the Philippine Web Designers group on Facebook, a site was brought to my attention: http://kristn.com/

I haven’t really browsed through the entire site yet. Upon landing on the page though, I had no idea what it was. All I saw was this sunshine of images I didn’t understand and promptly went back to the Facebook thread to ask instead what it was. I was redirected to this article on theBobbery, which had a brief synopsis:

Kristn is a new Lifestyle Assistant, an exciting project by TV5/Interaksyon. What is interesting about Kristn is how the platform will recommend content to users, based on how they use and interact with the platform. Kristn is still in Beta but the crew hopes to release the mobile applications in the next weeks. And Carlo reveals that the platform will soon also have a TV show.

Sounds great on paper, yeah? But the execution was horrible, not to mention very bad branding. “Kristn” — I mistyped it the first time, and if you’re building an online brand/presence, this can be a bad set-back.

If there’s anything I learned from Startup Weekend Manila last year (2012), your product’s name is important: how it’s spelled, if it’s easy to remember, if it’s easy to type. Before launching commute.ph, we were almost going to launch it as “komyutips.com”. The domain has already been bought, branding was done, and we thought the name was a creative version of “commuting tips.”

Except let’s face it, commute.ph is more direct to the point, foreigner-friendly, and less prone to spelling mistakes. (How would you tell a person to check out komyutips anyway? Go to komyutips.com, but use a “K” not a “C”. Sounds bad.) We were told about the bad branding by our mentors there, and even if we had to shell out more money for a new domain, try to wrack my head around some kind of temporary branding for the SW Manila presentation, and redirect customers from the old Facebook fan page to the new Facebook page, we decided to go through it. With new competitors coming up, I’m glad we did.

It’s same with “Kristn” — it’s not “kristin”, or a more popular spelling of the name. If someone told me to check out “Kristn”, how would they say it? “Go to kristn.com, it’s like kristine, but without an ‘I’ or an ‘E’.” That sounds bad too. It probably kept a few people away from your site.

Then again, the homepage tells me so little about what to expect or what it’s about, and doesn’t highlight what’s great in the site: its content. One of the articles that I checked out (or the only article I checked out, for now) was: 5 Things We Learned at Google Philippines Launch because it didn’t sound like the same old “Google puts up office in Manila” news.

So as a whole, Kristn seems like it had some solid idea behind it, and as Franky mentioned on the Facebook thread:

But they have a rather cool recommendation algo and then also check-in and other novel features upcoming.

Unfortunately, with their homepage so badly designed, and a name that doesn’t quite stand out like Rappler does, I feel apprehensive about this site fading completely in the background. None of my friends share articles from this site, or tweet things from this site, and that’s very telling.

I still want to check out some of the content though, but I have to try to see if it works on any of my readers first.

Nintendo needs to up its UX game

I recently bought a Nintendo 3DS XL (add my friend-code if you have one! 0232-7880-2450) — primarily because I wanted to play Pokemon (yes) but also because I’m tired of the ‘Western’ games of the iPad. I mean, they’re fun and addicting, but you don’t always get a cute story like that of Okamiden (Chibiterasu IS SO FUCKING CUTE, HELLO). Sure I’m like, more than a year late or something, but I was in a spending mood and I haven’t bought a toy for myself in the longest, longest time.

Excited as I was, there were a lot of things that frustrated me with the DS. Trying to do the simplest things take me more than minutes to accomplish and the experience is something that you just have to get used to rather than enjoy. 3D is cool, but it hurts the eyes when you’re not viewing it from a straight angle so I’m not even on that mode so often. It’s the games that keep me on the device — but that’s it. Basically, if not for the games, the device and other native things on the DS are so ancient because of how smooth and fast tablets and phones are these days.

1. Similar apps that should be merged together exist as 2 different programs.

See, there is this “Mii Maker” where you make or edit your avatar, and then you close that and open the “Mii Plaza” to meet other players and see their avatars. From the “Mii Plaza” you can only edit your Mii’s hat, but not anything much. The color of your Mii/avatar, the name, and other avatar details you have to edit at “Mii Maker.”

That’s bad. Just, really bad. You should be able to edit your Mii directly from Mii Plaza because the whole closing-this-app-and-switching-and-then-going-back is really tiring. Maybe I wouldn’t complain so much about this except you can’t even multi-task or open these two apps at the same time.

2. LOADING AN APP TAKES TOO FUCKING SLOW.

Every time I load a new app (such as the Mii Maker, Plaza, or any of those that are stored within the DS), the “Nintendo 3DS” loading screen appears on my screen for like, 5 seconds. Those 5 seconds multiplied by the number of times I have to use these apps make me really, really sick of the Nintendo loading screen and it gives the impression that the app is loading really slow.

3. No multi-tasking (even similar apps)

Just try playing with your Mii and then editing it when you win a hat and you want to color-coordinate your avatar’s color. JUST TRY IT.

I don’t even understand why they put the app on suspension (“Suspended Software”) when you have to close it to do much of anything else.

4. Swapnote: Sending notes made complicated.

I’m pretty sure I’m not super stupid, but it took me a lot of chatting with my friends who had a DS to finally understand how to actually send notes.

  • first I save it 
  • the note I just saved and that I want to send gets listed along with ALL the other notes that I have received/sent/saved
  • then you get asked if you want to send it, but only if you’ve activated your Spot Pass or Street Pass because otherwise, it doesn’t tell you anything. I was so confused because initially I was only able to ‘save’ my notes.
  • and apparently sending via the internet is called sending via “Spot Pass” (naming consistency!) 
  • once you press ‘reply’ to a note, the ‘reply’ button (for that specific note) seems to be gone forever. 
  • I think there is a way to add more pages to a note, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

5. You can only save 3 different internet connections.

6. Those internet connections are different from the “Nintendo Wifi Connection” which is limited to WEP-security connections or no security at all. 

when I changed our wifi at home fro WPA2 to WEP, it seemed to slow down the net considerably so I had to settle to removing our wifi password just so I can connect to the Nintendo wifi. Because I paid so much for this shit I want to play it for what it’s worth.

7. The e-shop is more limited than I’ve expected.

I don’t have a credit card with a US account, and the regions where credit cards work are also limited. My other option is to buy a prepaid card from Data Blitz, which is obviously overpriced. But I really want to get the Pokemon Dream game thing.

At least with the Apple Store I can buy a considerable amount of games and apps with my local credit card.

8. There is a browser but forget about browsing the internet on the DS. 

9. I actually don’t know if I can take in-game screenshots with the device because I really want to. 

10. There is nearly an inch of black space between the two screens.

When you’re browsing, the page is cut awkwardly. When the game tries to make use of both screens, it is again cut awkwardly.

The 3DS definitely sucks in its user experience. At a time when iOS and Android are smoother, faster, and both platforms being used for gaming (with great graphics, I must say), I think Nintendo needs to up their game. Android was able to price itself within a budget, much like Nintendo, but the experiences on the devices are so different (with Nintendo pretty much lacking a lot of things).

Although I know that I got it for the games and not for the graphics/UX so I’m keeping it and investing some hard-earned pesos for a small DS/3DS game collection, I just wish that their next DS device offers better UX. I don’t know how fast they could improve on these things though because they’ve really fallen behind.

Now I will just settle with the gameplay their titles offer. :P

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: Drafts (iOS)

I downloaded/bought Drafts (for iPhone) a few weeks ago (a month ago? I can’t really remember) and used it maybe twice, but I enjoyed it. I can type on this clean, minimally designed screen and export it to a bunch of services, like Echofon which I use for twitter, Simplenote which is my most-used note-taking app, Evernote (if anyone prefers it), email, etc. I like the black-screen and white-text on my apps (I read Pocket and my e-book reader on this theme) and Drafts had that option, which was something iA Writer didn’t have. 

So today they had an update (now I can export it to SMS!) and released the iPad version. It was $3 so I sat for around, maybe 10 minutes trying to decide if I really needed it. I had Simplenote. I bought iA Writer. Did I really need another similar app? But I remembered that I enjoyed those two or three times I used the iPhone version and how much I wanted an iPad version some weeks ago. Now that it’s here, I’m hesitating!? Yes, because it’s not free. 

I went ahead and bought it, tested it by using it to type my notes while reading some articles queued on my Pocket, and I have no regrets! 

I think it has something to do with how much I really, really dig white-text-on-dark-backgrounds for reading.