Saturday, 17 January 2015

Budget Androids: 2013 Moto G vs 2012 Samsung Galaxy S3

After the absolute travesty of my Motorola Atrix 4G, I never thought I would get another Motorola until Google bought them and they released the Moto E, G and X, which are all receiving or will receive the latest Lollipop Android version. They also do not load the device with bloatware like Samsung, it is a near stock Android. When they were owned by Google they clearly got a bit of a kick up the ass! They're now owned by Lenovo but continue to produce good value for money devices, including updated versions of all 3 models. Interestingly, the Vodafone shops here have not restocked their 2014 Moto G devices after Christmas, as they are expecting yet another new version of the Moto G.

(Photo from www.digitaltrends.com)

I had already decided awhile back when they were first released that I wanted a Moto G but didn't have the money for a new one on my limited budget. There have been a few versions of the G, it started out without an SD slot as the XT1032, then there was the 4G version with SD slot, the XT1040, and then the 2014 version which has a larger 5 inch screen and 8MP camera, which generally retails here around £140.

I have also recently become tired of the pitiful battery life of my Samsung Galaxy S3 and I wanted something more stable so I could play with Cyanogenmod Nightly builds (and other ROMs) while having a much more stable primary phone. I was also very tired of pulling the battery out on my S3 to let it cool down, it has been overheating and freezing up quite a bit. Anyway, I managed to save up and buy a first generation Moto G 8GB XT1032 for £88, from a second-hand electronics shop, which I think is pretty good 'bang per buck.'




I could not find a second generation device second hand to buy locally, I prefer buying from local shops since you can have a good look at the device and have a play to make sure it's OK. I had two XT1032s to choose from at the same price, this one was in the best condition and has the grippy rubberised back too. It has not got the original charger, but the 1.8A LG charger with it is very good. There's a little mark on the side of the bezel and the back has a few marks on it, but I can easily get replacement back, as Motorola made a range of stylish alternate covers.




As with a lot of smartphones now, the battery is non-removable but it's a reasonably sized 2070 mAh battery. I really like the feel of the Moto G in my hand and the rubberised back prevents the phone from sliding about on a smooth surface. It also feels more durable than my S3, so much so I am not even going to use a case.




Yesterday I managed to get almost 25 hours of battery life out of my Moto G, with a mix of plenty of heavy usage as well as some idle time. I took screenshots when the battery had gone under 15% which is when I would usually put my phone on charge. I don't like to run the battery down too far too often as it could damage the battery.




My Moto G is currently running Motorola's near stock version of Kit Kat and it feels very snappy, and I have not noticed any lag or bugs, unlike the experience I had on my Samsung device. A lollipop update is due for the first gen Moto G, once they have finished soak testing it. The only thing I have changed so far on mine is installing the Google Now Launcher as I really like the totally stock look and Google Now screen. I also have made Hangouts the default SMS app.




Since my original Moto G has no SD slot and only 8GB of storage I haven't installed any really large games or other large apps, and have around 3GB of storage after installing all the admittedly large number of useful apps I like to use. Of the minimal number of Motorola apps installed, I really like that you can migrate apps and photos from other Android phones with the Migrate app.

I always liked the 4.7" screen of my Galaxy S3, and the 4.5" IPS screen on the Moto G looks better in some ways. Maybe partly due to the slightly larger PPI (due to the smaller screen) but also the whites seem whiter, at least comparing it to the S3 with Cyanogenmod.

I have also been comparing the 5MP camera with the 8MP shooter on my S3. I attempted to take two photos in the same position. These are both HDR shots, links to the original files on Flickr in the captions.

Galaxy S3

2013 Moto G

The Moto G's colours look a little more washed out but it still takes a reasonable photo for a budget phone, though I shall continue to carry my S3 for photo and video duties for the extra quality and greater storage capacity. I have yet to try video recording on the Moto G but it only does 720p compared to 1080p on the Samsung. I am curious to try the SloMo mode on the Motorola camera app though. I have also installed A Better Camera and also the Google Camera (although it is missing the Photosphere mode).

At the moment you can still buy i9300 Galaxy S3s for around £140 for an unlocked 16GB version in decent condition, and a brand new 2014 Moto G is around the same price. If your budget is less or you prefer a smaller screen, the older 2013 version that I have (or the 4G version) is still a great phone. Unlike the S3, all Moto G will get (or already has) the latest near-stock version of Android without resorting to third party ROMs. And since the 2014 G has an 8MP camera it should improve the photo quality. I love the build quality and long battery life, and I would definitely recommend a Moto G if you are looking for a decent budget Android phone.










Saturday, 20 December 2014

HP Z5000 Bluetooth Wireless Mouse Review

Although my HP Chromebook 14 has a fairly decent trackpad, I have always preferred an actual mouse, as I find I can be more accurate with them, particularly for things like image editing. So when it came to choosing one for my Chromebook I decided on a Bluetooth model since it wouldn't need a separate dongle which would use up one of the 3 USB ports. I have also read that the newest low powered Bluetooth 3.0 uses less power, therefore lasting longer.



I chose the HP Z5000 since it explicitly states on the Curry's website that it supports Chrome (and even Android), not that I imagine ChromeOS having trouble with most wireless mice. It doesn't specifically mention Chrome or Android support on HP's website.  Unlike the previous model Z4000, the Z5000 uses Bluetooth 3.0 rather than ordinary wireless.



The Z5000 is only available in white but it still looks nice against my pinkish coloured Chromebook.  It's quite a small notebook mouse but still reasonably comfortable in my hands. The scroll wheel is a little small too so it is worth adjusting speed settings.



The Z5000 only needs a single AAA battery (an Energizer battery is included) but hopefully it should last for a long time.




Underneath is an on/off switch to save power when not used. It took next-to-no time to pair with my Chromebook.




So far I have only had the occasionally odd random disconnect here and there, while most of the time it stays connected, even working straight away after my Chromebook resumes from suspend mode. Though I have only had it a short time, I would recommend this mouse if you do need to use a mouse occasionally for your Chromebook or indeed other notebooks.












Tuesday, 9 December 2014

HP Stream 11 - A Windows notebook that's not a "Chromebook killer"



So this is Microsoft's answer to Chromebooks, low spec laptops and "Windows 8.1 with Bing" - as if the mere adding of default IE defaulted to Bing search is anything to boast about. I'm sure most sensible users will install either Chrome or Firefox browsers anyway. This is the HP Stream 11 and the build of it looks quite similar to my HP Chromebook 14 but actually feels cheaper in the flesh. It has an 11.6-inch 1366×768 display and 2GB RAM, much like many Chromebooks. It has 2.16 GHz dual-core Intel Celeron N2840 Bay Trail processor, which is somewhat slower than the Haswell CPUs of many Chromebooks.

Some articles have called it a "Chromebook killer" but I think that's far from the truth. Even with it's 32GB SSD, more than most Chromebooks, it only has 17.5GB of free space, which will soon fill up with the detritus from Windows updates and registry bloat, aswell as all those apps the user will install. Advanced users could remove the Windows Restore partition to recover 7.2GB of storage. The user could just install only a few apps or not install any extra apps at all, and just use web apps, but then that would defeat the purpose of getting a Windows laptop, might aswell have bought a Chromebook in the first place. And the hardware with just 2GB RAM is not going to be much fun with anything more than light office work either.

The advantage of a Chromebook is even with meagre hardware it is much quicker than Windows on the same or similar hardware.  And you won't have to worry about intrusive updates (and their many reboots), viruses/malware and there's no overhead of a bloated OS. Even if there is a problem, it takes minutes to wipe the entire OS and restore your Chrome extensions and data. Windows boots in around 30 seconds out the box on the Stream 11, but given time I'd wager that time will only get longer and longer, whereas my Chromebook 14 boots from cold to in use in just 7 seconds, and will stay that way. Not that I often boot mine from cold, I use it all the time, shut the lid and then open it again later and it's connected and working in a second. I actually find it more convenient than waiting for my Nexus 7 to wake up.  

Chromebooks have been a massive hit both in schools and in the consumer market, judging by their appearance in Amazon's best selling laptop list. It is going to take more than cheap hardware and Bing to kill Chromebooks. I would only really recommend buying a HP Stream 11 if you absolutely positively have to use a lightweight native Windows app for something that cannot be done on a Chromebook!





Sources: ZDNet, Arstechnica, Amazon, HP

Thursday, 4 December 2014

iPearl mCover HP Chromebook 14 Hard Shell Case Review

Since I happen to have had a "Coral Peach" HP Chromebook 14 bought for me, I decided I needed to tone it down a bit and have the added bonus of protecting it's bodywork too with a shell case that I found on Amazon UK. It's available in 9 different shades including clear, but I bought the black version since black goes with anything. It also kind of reminded me of the Apple BlackBook.



Naturally it arrived in a huge box with plenty of packaging. There was no instructions but it's fairly easy to work out how it goes on, there are clips around the lid and a lip along the bottom edge on the hinge side.



The bottom piece of the shell fits in a similar way but with larger clips on the corners and grill holes for cooling. It also has a couple of handy pull-down lugs at the rear that raises the laptop up on stilts, useful for those who like to have the keyboard angled more towards them, and also presumably to aid cooling, both intake and exhaust fans are on the base of the Chromebook. It has four big rubber feet to keep the laptop firmly rooted to the spot.




So far I am quite pleased with it, it does the job just fine, keeping my Chromebook in pristine condition, and avoids covering it with greasy finger marks that it so readily attracts.


If only it covered the rest of the pink bits! (Oo-errr!)  




My next accessory purchase will hopefully be a decent Bluetooth mouse, this one in particular hopefully:

Saturday, 15 November 2014

How to quickly add a printer connected to Ubuntu Server to Google Cloud Print



You cannot install a printer in the usual way on a Chromebook (without installing a Linux distro + CUPS etc),  it can only print to Google Cloud Print connected printers. Usually you would need a computer with Google Chrome to do this, but if you have a headless Ubuntu print server there are other options. The simplest way I have found is by installing cloudprint from the Ubuntu repositories. (I assume it is also available in other distros repositories too.)

sudo apt-get install cloudprint

Then once that's finished run

cloudprint

It will then prompt for your Google account name (usually your Gmail email address) and password, then in a moment it will hopefully show up like so:



Then you can manage your printer(s) from the Google Cloud Print website and now I can print from my Chromebook or anywhere from Chrome or Android. I have a networked HP 2600n and have added it to my Ubuntu Server, which is on 24/7.



Source: AskUbuntu

 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

HP Chromebook 14 Review



HP Chromebook 14 (2013)

When I was deciding on getting a Chromebook, I made the decision to go for the outgoing version of HP's Chromebook 14, as I needed a large 14 inch screen, Intel Haswell CPU and 4GB RAM. I don't like tiny 11 inch screens, and the larger screen also means a decent size keyboard. Although this makes the HP heavier than some Chromebooks, it is still around half the weight of my chunky old 6.6lb Sony VAIO! I could have waited and got the newer replacement model 14, with better screen, but that only has 2GB RAM, and an ARM CPU, which is annoying. I need plenty of RAM as I tend to have a lot of tabs open and planned to run Xubuntu using Crouton, which in theory works better with the Intel CPU.




I received my Chromebook on Friday in a quite plain brown HP and Intel branded cardboard box with large padding blocks inside protecting it. I was struck by how slim and well built the HP 14 feels. The underneath is a kind of rubberised plastic, with 2 ventilation grills. 4 rubber feet prevent the device sliding on glossy surfaces. It has 2 speakers at the base of the screen, under the hinge, and they sound fairly good for what they are.




In the box there's a little Setup Instructions leaflet, the warranty and small PSU, which reminded me of the one from my Samsung N145 netbook.




The left side of the HP has two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI out and a headphone/mic socket. The right side has the power input, a single USB 2.0 port and the SD card slot. Photos on top of my Sony VAIO for comparison:



The setup instructions are barely needed as the Chromebook is so simple to setup, mainly constituting wireless setup and signing into your Google account.




After the brief setup process is the best time to setup Crouton to install Xubuntu alongside of ChromeOS. To do this you need to enable Developer mode, which wipes the device. I found plenty of good howtos, but I used this one here. Instead of Unity though I chose XFCE desktop and Trusty as my 'buntu version:

sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r trusty -t xfce,gtk-extra,core,audio -e

This gives you a minimal Xubuntu setup. It's best not to install too much as it only has a 16GB SSD, of which part of that is taken already by ChromeOS.




The great thing about using Crouton is you can quickly switch between Chrome OS and Xubuntu using the CTRL + ALT + Shift and the arrow keys (located with the function keys along the top of the keyboard).



I like the smooth aluminium around the comfortably-sized chiclet keyboard. The keys have a fine texture so your fingers are not slipping off them and size and layout suits me. You'll probably notice the metal is a bit of a fingerprint magnet though! You'll also notice I bought the "coral" coloured model, because the white and silver models were out of stock. In some lights it looks pink and some lights it looks red or orange. I plan on toning down the look using these covers from Amazon. Some have complained about the screen but I am happy with it, perhaps because it's still better than a lot of my old laptops. The viewing angles are fine and it's plenty bright.


More than just a browser.

I have found that I can do a bit more than just web browsing on my Chromebook. It has a basic file manager that can access and play videos from USB hard drives etc. Chrome OS has a desktop with wallpaper and a panel (Google calls it a shelf) where you can pin apps to. There is a growing section of the Chrome store devoted to apps that work offline too. At the moment the only time I find myself switching to Xubuntu is to use Gtk VNC Viewer, as for some reason I can't seem to connect to my server using the VNC Chrome app.




The best thing about the HP Chromebook 14 is closing it and opening it later and finding it ready immediately. Suspend and resume works perfectly and the battery lasts over 8 hours, so you can use it pretty much all day without needing to plug it in. Also, from a cold start, it boots to the login prompt in 5 seconds! A couple more seconds and it's ready to work.

And there's still more interesting features being implemented in Chrome OS that I look forward to trying. With Android Lollipop phones will unlock when in proximity of your Chromebook (should you choose to use that feature).  Also you'll soon be able to run many more Android apps on your Chromebook. There are also plenty of choice when it comes to Chromebooks with new ones being released and updated every year.














Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kool KDE Features and Little KDE Quirks

I have just recently switched from Cinnamon to KDE on Mint 17 and I am still discovering cool little stuff along with the odd quirks of KDE.

Kool KDE Features

The other day I had a cool moment with KDE, specifically with KDE Connect. I got an incoming call on my phone, and Amarok automatically paused for me to answer it, then after I hung up, the music automatically started again! Awesomeness! I assume it should work with other KDE media players, not sure about other non-KDE-native apps. It reportedly does work with Clementine. Some users have reported high battery life when scanning for a connection using Bluetooth, but I am using KDE on my workstation so I obviously cannot test that.




Another thing I love in KDE is it's System Tray not only shows all recent notifications but it also shows current file transfers for Dolphin, including estimated time remaining. Click the plus sign and it also shows the transfer speed too, which is very useful. You probably also notice I have switched back to Mint's default KDE theme.

 

Another thing I like is the "root actions" menu in Dolphin, which is useful for changing or repairing permissions on files and folders. I did not like Dolphin when it first replaced Konqueror for file management, but it has come a long way since the early days of KDE 4.x.



KDE Quirks

One mildly annoying thing with KDE is, and always has been for me, Kwallet. With my recent KDE use I have noticed it popping up when I open Chrome and Amarok for the first time after login. Luckily I found a little trick to stop Chrome needing to open Kwallet here without needing to completely disable Kwallet. I have not yet found out how to do similar for Amarok. Should I add a similar entry for Amarok? Answers in the comments please! I have tried disabling Kwallet before but it used to course problems, so I don't do that any more!



Another little quirk of KDE is the way it treats workspaces and monitors. It treats each monitor as a separate set of activities. The downside of this is you cannot set one widescreen wallpaper to span over two or more monitors. The only workaround that works at the moment is to edit your wallpaper in your favourite editor, I use GIMP, and split the picture down the middle and set the two parts to the appropriate monitors. I'll admit this is only a very minor annoyance but it means wallpaper switchers don't tend to work well unless you like different wallpapers for each monitor!




So far I am really enjoying KDE on my main workstation and I am still rediscovering the features and quirks of KDE, so I shall likely update this article in the future.