Saturday, 14 March 2015

Nexus 5: No Longer Available from Google Play But Still A Great Phone

Image from Google Play

Well, after such utter frustration with my Samsung Galaxy S3, I decided to sell it, and trade in my Moto G (1013) too for something better. The S3 was often rebooting itself because of overheating and I was getting tired of Cyanogenmod. I just wanted an affordable, powerful and decent stock or near stock phone. The Moto G was a good stop-gap phone for me, and I loved Lollipop on it, but it was really lacking in the camera department. I considered a first gen Moto X but I heard it had quite a few problems and many have not received Lollipop yet. Some have also complained about the camera and a decent camera was on my list of essential requirements. I also considered an LG G2 but although it has a decent camera, I don't consider it close enough to stock and I did not want the inconvenience of rooting and ROM'ing straight away. In the end I decided the best route was to buy a Nexus 5 as it's totally stock, fairly decent spec, including a decent enough camera, easily available and affordable secondhand.

How things have changed: My LG Optimus 2X alongside my Nexus 5

I bought a secondhand 16GB black Nexus 5 a couple of days ago and so far I am very happy with it. It has a beautiful 1080p screen, nice rubberised back that keeps the phone from sliding around and of course it feels super quick compared to the S3. I did have a slight wireless issue at first but I solved it by enabling Airplane mode, shutting down then starting up again, and has been fine ever since. The only other thing I'm having to get used to is quite excessive battery usage, (compared to the Moto G) which hopefully should be fixed when it receives the 5.1 Lollipop update. It currently runs 5.01. Admittedly I did kind of hammer the battery on the first day of using it, with setting up and testing things out. I really like Lollipop's look, overall feel and notifications and I won't ROM this phone until it no longer receives updates and maybe not even for awhile after that.


The only other minor criticism is the back is coming away very slightly from the phone, but it does not bother me much. I find the size of the phone is just right for me, it's large enough to comfortably browse the web and watch youTube on but not too large to be unwieldy. I can see why some might find the Nexus 6 to be a bit too much of a handful, it's a shame the N5 is now no longer available from Google Play. The Nexus 5 also seems durable enough to me that I do not want to ruin the design or feel with a bulky case. I would like to get a QI wireless charger for it, so if anyone has any recommendations, please leave them in the comments.

So overall so far, I am very pleased with my Nexus 5, even with a few minor niggles, it is still the best phone I have had so far. I'm looking forward to testing it further and doing some Photospheres with it, since I haven't been able to do those for awhile, as the Moto G lacked a gyro and Google Camera always crashed on CM11 on the S3. The Nexus 5 is still a great phone and is now an affordable secondhand purchase.


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Revitalizing a Sony VAIO VAIO VGN-N31S/W - Part 3

Just a quick update on my rescued Sony VAIO (see part 1 here and part 2 here) that I bought awhile back for just £2. I had been switching desktops quite a bit, trying them out, and that meant a lot of cruft and debris in the Home folder, so I decided to install a fresh version of Linux.  

It started out it's life with Windows Vista, and I installed Xubuntu 14.04. This time I decided to go with Mint 17 KDE edition since 3GB RAM would be enough to handle it fine and I prefer Mint's out-the-box experience. Most vital codecs and a decent set of apps are already installed. Mint KDE has been my choice of desktop on my main HP xw6600 workstation for some time now too. The VAIO seems to handle Mint KDE just fine so far, though I don't often use this laptop (my Chromebook is my main laptop) it's good to have this around as a backup or when I need something with more storage on the move, even if it does weigh a ton!  

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

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


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