Category Archives: Galaxy Note

Mojo Not Within Normal Operational Parameters

I’m not sure I know why, but our leading hardware providers are definitely suffering a distinct deficiency in the Mojo department.

Take Apple. I’m really very happy with my 2015 MacBook Pro, even though it was bloody expensive for what it is. The limited soldered in memory is a bit frustrating at times, but otherwise it performs very well. I have never said "you know what? I would happily forgo all the connectivity if only it was a shade thinner". Instead I have started to see intermittent physical connectivity problems with the HDMI socket, which makes me extremely wary if its successor replaces the key USB sockets with smaller, flimsier ones. I can’t see the new MacBook being a good solution for me.

Maybe I’m just an old codger, but given that the device is virtually attached to my wrist about 90% of every working day I think I qualify as a "Pro" user, and I have things like "legacy" projectors plugged in a lot of the time. If I were Apple I would have two ranges of MacBooks, each in several sizes: the Air -  as light and slim as possible, with minimal connectivity or upgrade options; and the Pro, slightly thicker and heavier if needs be, but with a good selection of well engineered ports, and options to upgrade components like the RAM and SSD.

OK, let’s stop picking on Apple. What about Samsung?

Regular readers will know I was a fan of the original Galaxy Note, although it suffered with an odd memory architecture and a lack of TRIM support (which helps flash memory to be reused efficiently) and gradually got into a state where it slowed to glacial speed and couldn’t install application updates. In the meantime I had purchased the original Note 10.1", which was an excellent device apart from having to import a 32GB one from America, so I had no qualms replacing the Note with a Note 2.

That was an excellent phone, but sadly I dropped it, and it was never quite the same again.

So about two years ago I replaced the Note 2 with a Note 3, and the now ageing Note 10.1 with the 2014 edition. That’s when the rot set in.

The Note 3 was rubbish. From day one I could never keep the screen clean, and the GPS never worked reliably. It was never happy working with headphones – you had to waggle the plug to get a good contact, and even then the volume sometimes changed without warning, or the phone would go into "Hello Google" mode without warning. After not much more than a year battery life was poor, and despite always being carried in a case the top bezel stated to look quite tatty as the "chrome" paint wore off. Despite being a simple passive component, the stylus had stopped working and had to be replaced. Thanks to Samsung’s refusal to provide regular software updates It was also stuck on Android 4.4 "KitKat", with all its inexplicable limitations.

At the same time the Note 10.1 had developed a sudden reduction in battery life, rendering it unusable for long flights. I replaced it first, with a Galaxy Tab S2. That works but has its own challenges, like a 4×3 screen and speakers both on the same short edge, so not great for games or videos.

The phone was more of a problem. I really fancied another Galaxy Note as I like their unique support for a fine-pointed stylus. Unfortunately the Note 4 was apparently not much different from the 3, with the same failings in areas like GPS. The Note 5 had no SD support, a real issue given Samsung’s refusal to sell phones in the UK with decent internal storage specs. There was no Note 6.

Then came the Note 7, or #explodyphone. I’ve worked through a long career helping clients to define their non-functional requirements, and it’s not often that "I’d like it not to be on fire" crops up. Not often, but oddly enough not never either. I did help select new field devices for the National Grid gas engineers about 10 years ago, and they had fairly tough gas safety requirements, which led to us at one point having to submit a phone and OtterBox for destructive testing including setting them on fire… However, that’s pretty much an edge case, and I think we have a right to expect suppliers of normal consumer handheld devices to take that requirement as read.

You do wonder if there’s some weird competition between Apple and Samsung, and Samsung looked at the "bendy" iPhone 6, and said "you think that’s bad, just watch the professionals and learn…"

Brand loyalty being what it is, I did have one more go with Samsung, and got my hands on a Galaxy S7 Edge. Unfortunately my copy had a rare but not unknown fault where the home and back buttons trigger themselves randomly, making the device unusable. I did persevere through to the end of setup, by which time I had also concluded that the usable screen, excluding the edges, is too small for me. It went back.

In desperation I spent an hour wandering the phone shops of Liverpool, seeing a lot of the same options. Just on the verge of giving up I discovered the Sony Experia XA Ultra. This is a cheerful phone with a 6" display. It’s supposedly a notch below the Galaxies and iPhones, but I can’t see much to support that assertion. The screen size is a very good match for the Galaxy Note, battery life is fine, GPS snaps to a fix if you can see a sliver of sky, and the headphone socket just works. Predictably I have gone for the bling version in "lime gold", but there is a boring black option as well.

So far so good for the Sony, but back to my original topic, if Sony can do this with a mid-range device, why are Samsung and Apple getting it so wrong?

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Developing for Android

Regular readers will realise that I’ve been rather quiet recently. The reason is that over the last couple of weeks I’ve bitten the bullet and started seriously developing an “app” for Android. As always when I have a programming project in progress other uses of my “project” time tend to take very much a back seat, so apologies if you’ve been watching for photos or words of wisdom… :)

I don’t want to say too much about the application itself until I have something ready to put on the market place. Suffice to say I think I’ve spotted an odd gap in the market where the weaknesses of iOS force a number of good solutions to one problem of information management, whereas Android’s more flexible architecture ironically mean the problem goes unsolved. Watch this space.

I was initially a bit worried that the learning curve for Android development might be very steep, especially when I started working through the standard Java-based examples in the official Google development toolkit. Like all Java development that approach seems to require a vast amount of “scaffolding” code, which must be constructed with very little environmental help, to achieve very simple results. This didn’t look good.

Then, thankfully, I discovered Basic4android. This is a remarkable toolkit developed by a small group in Israel which allows the development of Android software using a powerful but very accessible language and IDE based on Visual Basic. Behind the scenes, this is compiled into standard Android Java code, so ongoing delivery of applications is standard, but the coding and design process is close to “pure VB”.

The development environment has all the features you could reasonably ask for, including code completion, syntax highlighting, background compilation and the like. Remote debugging extends to devices connected over the Internet as well as via cable or local networks, and has a cunning feature where you can “hot swap” the code behind a running application allowing a range of changes to a running test application without restarting it. These are very impressive abilities for a product from a relatively small company.

Just as with the original VB, Basic4android has a model which allows developers to supplement the platform capabilities with shareable components, libraries and code snippets, and a very active community has rapidly built a library of “donationware” which provides easy access to the majority of Android features. I’ve had to be a bit ingenious in a few cases, but even as a newbie on my first project I haven’t yet found a requirement which can’t be met with a few lines of code.

On a slightly more negative note, Basic4android doesn’t seem to provide a good solution to the problem of supporting multiple screen sizes and orientations, except by writing multiple hard-coded scripts for the various options. This problem has been solved for websites with the concept of the “responsive grid”, and it ought to be possible to arrange the UI of an Android app with similar logic (e.g. “arrange these two controls side by side with the label taking 75% of the width, unless the screen is narrower than X, in which case arrange them vertically”). If this can be done in Basic4android I haven’t yet worked out how.

Debugging on a physical device connected directly to the PC is very straightforward, but of course limited to the devices you own, and a bit clumsy if you fancy doing a spot of work when travelling. While the Android development kit includes an emulator for the PC, it runs so slowly as to be completely unusable, even on a high-spec machine like my AlienWare M17x. I may have discovered a better compromise, in Android-x86, a port of Android which runs happily in a VMWare virtual machine. Installation was easy, but there are a few foibles I haven’t yet conquered. Again, watch this space.

Overall my adventure into Android development is shaping up well. More news later.

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USA 2012 – Technical Review

Fireworks at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2012. (Genuine single exposure - only slight crop and exposure adjustments applied.)
Camera: Canon EOS 7D | Lens: EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | Date: 13-10-2012 20:05 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -2/3 EV | Exp. Time: 8.0s | Aperture: 11.0 | Focal Length: 22.0mm (~35.6mm) | Lens: Canon EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM

Or, “What Worked and What Didn’t”

As usual, I tried to take a few notes regarding the more “technical” aspects of our holiday, which may be useful to others planning a similar trip.

One spectacular success was having Laurent Matres’ Photographing the Southwest in Kindle format, with a synced copy on my Galaxy Note phone. On our previous Arizona/Utah trip I missed a couple of the “best shots” because I didn’t refer to Matres’ notes, and at other times we did follow his directions but it was a bit painful lugging quite a heavy book around. The Kindle version solved both those problems, and the Galaxy Note is sufficiently large to be quickly readable, and to render the book’s images clearly and attractively.

It was definitely the right decision for us to hire a convertible. I drive a drop-top in the UK, and we both loved buzzing around with the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair (well, OK, that’s maybe more one for Frances to comment on… :)). However, we seemed to be in a tiny minority driving a soft-top in New Mexico and Colorado, and the rental choice was not good. I’m not sure of the reason, whether the locals are afraid of getting too much sun in the Summer or insufficient weather protection in the Winter, but of course that doesn’t stop us in wet, windy Britain…

We eventually went to Dollar (whereas my first choice would usually be Hertz), and got a Ford Mustang. I can’t fault Dollar’s friendly, efficient service, and would use them again. I can find some fault with the latest-model Mustang, which seems to have definitely regressed compared with the versions I previously drove in the mid-naughties. In particular luggage space seemed to be smaller than I remember, there was very little in-cabin storage, and the CD player wouldn’t play files in WMA format, which put paid to a lot of our music. However, the worst failing was a weird speedometer display cramming an optimistically large speed range into the top half of a small dial, with the result that it can’t be read to an accuracy better than about 5 mph. That doesn’t fit well in a country where a 5 mph error is often enough to earn a speeding ticket. Useless.

Complaints aside, the Mustang did the job, and helped bring us back with a decent tan.

Another trick which worked again was raiding a Radio Shack on the first day and purchasing a can of compressed air. The worst equipment challenge in the American SouthWest is dust, and being able to blow everything clean each day is a real boon. Now all I have to do is find out if I can do the same in Morocco this year…

Cameras

Including our phones we took five cameras this year, which may seem excessive, but each found a genuine use playing to its strengths, and justified its place in the luggage. As usual, the real workhorse was the Canon 7D. Out of a total of about 2050 exposures,1652 (or over 80%) were on the big beast. I have eventually mastered its ergonomic shortcomings, and extensive practice means that its operation is now quite intuitive. I know and can confidently predict its results, which are still better than those from the Panasonic GH2. OK, it’s still an enormous lump and the 15-85mm lens is not the sharpest optical tool, but it works.

The Canon 550D’s main role is as a backup body, offering the same sensor and lens compatibility as the 7D for half the price and weight. However, it came into its own for our balloon trip, where I wanted to carry a lightweight kit which still supported my beloved 70-300mm IS lens. The 550D, 70-300 and 17-85 did the job beautifully. As a result the 550D took 221 shots.

We also carried the Panasonic GH2 and its three lenses. Its main role was as Frances’ camera when she wanted to take her own shots, but I also used it as a lightweight “carry and forget” camera to have with me during shopping trips, evening sorties and similar. It has to be admitted that the 550D and a single zoom lens could also do this, but with less ultimate flexibility and at a higher weight. Having the GH2 along also provided further redundancy should my Canon long or wide zooms pack up, always a consideration given last year’s two lens failures. We took 172 shots on the GH2.

On a less positive note GH2 battery life is not good. A charge is genuinely only good for about 100 shots, and to add injury to insult Panasonic now effectively prevent the use of anything other than their own full price batteries, at £50 a pop or higher. Neither Canon suffers either limitation. It’s not a critical problem, but does place some boundaries on the Panasonic’s role.

We both took a few shots on our phones as well (I took 4 on the Galaxy Note), mainly of things we wanted to share immediately with specific friends. However, I certainly wouldn’t advocate one practice I saw – a lady whose husband was having the “trip of a lifetime” in the cab of the Silverton-Durango railroad, and she was trying to capture his arrival using just the camera on an iPad!

The Gitzo tripod paid its fare with the low light photography at the balloon fiesta, but otherwise saw very little action. I rely more and more on the combination of modern cameras’ performance at medium-high ISO, and the effective combination of my steady hand and Image Stabilisation. As the Americans say, “your mileage may vary”, but I now just assume that I will work hand-held if the sun is up or I need to move around.

Given the extremely photogenic subjects, and a lot of fairly friendly lighting, my hit rate was pretty high, especially for the more static subjects. After an initial edit I still have about 1200 frames worth processing, and I expect to end up with about 200 worth showing to someone else. Cutting this down to about 100 which find their way to my blog and tablet may be a challenge.

Overall a wonderful trip, and very successful source for photography. Roll on the next one!

 

A very Happy New Year, and all the best for 2013!

 

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Why the Galaxy Note is a Better Business Tool than the iPad

It seems barely believable that I’ve had the 10″ Galaxy Note in my hands for just four weeks. Like its smaller brother it just feels “right”, in a way the iPad failed to achieve in two years. It’s already delivering value, at a point at which the iPad was just frustrating me.

About a year ago I wrote a piece entitled “Ten Ways to Make Your iPad Work Effectively With Windows”. That was to some extent a tale of frustrations, apologies and work-arounds, and it’s time to contrast how the Android option delivers for business users in a heterogeneous environment.

Continue reading

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Keeping Current

One of the great frustrations with the iPad was that although it should have been a great blogging tool, between the limitations of available software and input processes, it just wasn’t. (See An Ideal Blogging Platform for my reflections after a couple of months of iPad ownership.)

The 10″ Note addresses all of those weaknesses, and may well become not only a primary content consumption device but also a primary platform for content creation. The available software is just better: I am writing this with the free WordPress apply for Android which just works, where the iPad version was very frustrating. Text input is quick with SwiftKey, I can multi-task with Chrome to look up previous posts, and I can easily find and add content from other sources, always a challenge in iOS land. This post has taken about 20 minutes, entirely on the Note.

I’d also like to bring your attention to a great app from Google called Currents. This takes RSS or similar feeds and turns them dynamically into an attractive “on-line magazine”. It works brilliantly with photo-rich feeds such as the photography blogs I read. Here’s what it does with “Thoughts on the World”:

image

I didn’t have to do anything with my existing feed to get this result. Currents doesn’t work in every case – if a blog starts every post with the same boring advert then it doesn’t have much to work with – but the hit rate is quite high. It is could also do with a way to mark items as read, which is a major omission. However overall Google seem to have another hit, and currently it’s free.

Blogs away!

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Time to Change My Tablets

As the iPad had reached 2 years old, without ever really ceasing to be a regular source of frustration, and as I’ve been very impressed with the Galaxy Note phone, last week I bit the bullet and purchased the iPad’s replacement, a 10″ Galaxy Note.

This wasn’t a trivial act as the 10″ Note is so new that the spec I wanted isn’t yet directly available in the UK. However I went to Buyspry.com of Maryland via eBay, who shipped a 32GB device to me via DHL, and between the two of them I had it in my hands in 4 days. Very impressive.

Setup was also remarkably pain-free. I switched it on, provided a few credentials, and it sat for about half an hour downloading and installing all the apps already on my 5″ Note. About 90% needed no further attention.

So I’m back to an intermediate computing device with a proper multi-tasking operating system with a shared, visible filing system. Hurrah! It has a proper fine-tipped, pressure-sensitive stylus, not a banana. Hurrah! Connect it to a PC and the filing system is just there as part of the PC’s storage. Hurrah! I can choose an intelligent, input mechanism and it works for all applications, in my case the almost psychic SwiftKey. Hurrah Hurrah!

I do prefer Android as an operating system. It’s great having an “active desktop” (to steal the Microsoft term) ?on which I can intelligently organise my applications with the mix of active information feeds. Multi-tasking is so much more 2012. And many of the applications are much more powerful. Yesterday I copied a Word document to the tablet, opened it in TextMaker, SoftMaker’s Word clone, viewed it exactly as on the PC, and marked it up using 100% Word compatible markup operations. Try that on your iPad!

Dislikes? Not many so far. The storage is slightly disappointing, only matching the iPad despite buying the maximum spec and a large micro SD card. However, I expect to waste a lot less on multiple unmanageable copies of files, and the Moore’s Law benefits have reflected instead into a much lower price. The proprietary USB connector is an Apple copy too far – why not just a standard mini-Based or micro-B? And that’s about it.

There are a few software challenges: I’m not sure I’ve found the ideal Twitter client, video player or image viewer yet, but I have functional solutions and the machine has only been in my hands a week. Solving those problems on the iPad took me about 8 months. In a couple of “edge” cases the iPad had a good “kitchen sink” multi-purpose app which will require a slightly more complex solution on the Note, but I can live with that.

So far so good. I’ll keep you posted.

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Galaxy Note Battery Problem – Update

I’ve identified one cause of the problem afflicting my Galaxy Note and some other phones running Ice Cream Sandwich. I’ve been progressively synchronising all my various calendars with Google Calendar, which has worked fairly well, with one exception.

Google Calendar can’t reliably handle annual reminders, you know, those unusual events like birthdays and anniversaries. It frequently gets in a twist and reports that they have a repetition pattern it can’t handle. The nasty knock on effect is that this essentially crashes Google Calendar sync on the phone, but only after hanging the device in a high CPU state for a minute or so, which drains the battery rapidly as it repeats over time.

The fix is to go through the calendar on the browser and fix the repetition pattern for each annual event back to “Yearly”. Sync should then run smoothly, and battery life settle down, although you may need a “battery out restart” to get back to normal.

What is depressing is that these bugs have apparently been known about since last year and Google have done nothing to fix them. Oh well…

On a positive note I continue to be blown away by Swiftkey. Its ability to predict what I want to type is uncanny. I’ve typed this on the Note much faster than I could ever do on the iPad, and probably not much slower than I’d manage on a laptop. Highly recommended.

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Galaxy Note Battery Problem

My new Note was suffering the dreaded “Ice Cream Sandwich Power Drain” problem, but it looks like I have found a solution. You have to install the app “Cpu Spy” and confirm whether it’s going into “deep sleep” or not. If not, the most likely fix (unfortunately not permanent) is to power down, remove the battery for a couple of minutes, and then restart. Quiescent power drain (with phone and WiFi enabled) is now back at ~1% per hour.

There’s an excellent blog on this at the following URL: http://allaboutgalaxynote.com/how-to-solve-battery-issues-after-ics-update-in-your-galaxy-note/

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Did I Speak Too Soon?

After pride comes the fall. My upbeat post yesterday about the Galaxy Note was slightly premature, as I suddenly ran slap bang into a problem with calendar synchronisation.

It turns out my phone was upgraded on Thursday to Android 4.0 (resplendent in the code name “Ice Cream Sandwich”) which has a serious bug causing calendar sync to fail if you have appointments which repeat indefinitely, like birthdays, not exactly an uncommon situation. How Google have released an OS with such a major and far-reaching bug is a real puzzle.

However, the good news is that armed with a copy of the log file viewer aLogcat, and a PC browser where you can quickly update the properties of your appointments, it’s fairly quickly resolved. If the equivalent problem arose on the iPad you’d be stuck.

I guess I just have to avoid tempting fate like that…

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Notes on the Note

I have just taken delivery of my brand new Samsung Galaxy Note, and I must say so far I’m very pleased. After the rather aggravating experience of the iPad I was a bit wary of going to another new operating system, but Android is nowhere so “alien” as iOS.

In many ways this is a more direct successor to my much-loved HP iPaqs than a current Windows phone. First, you can drive it with a stylus, which I find dramatically more efficient and accurate on a small device. You can choose and customise input methods, and they then work everywhere. I’ve found an excellent keyboard with predictive text called Swiftkey, but the standard keyboard, Swype and voice dictation work as well. It has a proper file system, so file management is independent of the application, and both USB and cloud solutions work with minimal effort.

Getting my applications in order has also not been too painful. Many of my favourites from my Windows devices have Android equivalents, so I quickly implemented OneNote, TreNotes and several others. There’s an Android version of SoftMaker Office, so no repeat of the iPad problems with Office files, although I’m not convinced the Android version as mature as the Windows Mobile one. The “missing” sync function for Outlook was a bit puzzling, but I discovered that I already owned some software (Sync2) which syncs Outlook to Google, solving that problem.

The main “serious” app challenge was password management. CodeWallet Pro no longer exists, and while SafeWallet is a reasonable replacement transferring the data was not trivial. However an hour with a bunch of different text editors and manually converting a flat text export file into an XML import seems to have worked.

Sadly, my favourite games are a different matter. Very few seem to have made the transition to Android. Common choices like Sodoku will be fine, but I may have to bid farewell to others.

Downsides? Not many. Yes, it’s very big for a phone, but not big enough to displace the iPad, although it may relegate the Kindle to sunny day duty. Battery life may be poorer than either the iPad or HTC Touch HD2, but should still do a day of heavy use, or two days of lighter duties.

It’s going to take a little while to get completely to grips with a whole new OS, but so far I’m amazed how quickly and smoothly things have gone. Wish me luck!

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