Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Windows 10 - Almost The Best Version of Windows...

I use Linux for pretty much all of the time, whether it's my Mint 17.2 KDE main desktop or my HP Chromebook 14, (or indeed my Nexus 5 and Motorola Moto G) but there's one thing that I missed and that was the latest and greatest Grand Theft Auto. I decided to get a separate PC to run GTA V and Steam games, so I picked up a cheap HP xw6600 workstation (2.5Ghz quad core Xeon, 4GB RAM, 250GB HDD) that's the exact same model as my main desktop (except my main desktop now has 16GB of RAM and more hard drive space). I installed Windows 8.1 Pro, installed GTA V (using the retail DVDs) and Steam games. I then decided to upgrade to 10 mainly to try it out and get used to it since people have already started asking me whether it is any good or not, and also of course because it is a "free" update, at least as long as you update within a year. 


















After many reboots, the update had finished and then I waited for the problems to start, the glitches and the crashes.  But they haven't. So far. Windows 10 boots just as fast as 8.1 did, though I have disabled the hybrid boot mode as my PC was basically hibernating and resuming, and the shutdown took far too long. It now shuts down much faster. Bare in mind I'm using an old 250GB mechanical hard disk. 

I then personalized the desktop a bit, hid the Search bar, and made Chrome default again (seriously Microsoft, it was default in my Windows 8.1 install, why change my preference? Oh yes, to promote Edge browser, which I found to be meh). I was quite happy with the result. I quite like the black taskbar and colours that use hints from my wallpaper, it actually reminds me a little bit of ChromeOS or a dark KDE theme. The login screen actually reminds me of Gnome Shell's login screen, in a bad way! Click to actually see the login box. 















As you can see the Start menu is back, and it's not bad, apart from by default it is filled with Metro tiles that I have no interest in. Even when you remove all the Tiles from the menu, it still stays the same size, wasting screen space. It should resize automatically. you have to manually resize it, like you would a window, grab one edge and drag it. All your apps are in the suitably named All Apps menu in alphabetical order. Anyway it has at least persuaded me not to install a third party start menu. I also have no interest in any of the tablet-like features and Microsoft's app store which basically seems to consist of a few Metro apps and shortcuts to web apps. I have no use for Metro apps on a gaming PC.     

Microsoft has also finally added virtual desktops by default in Windows 10, but they are pretty useless for me compared with those in most Linux desktops, since there's no configurable keyboard shortcuts for them. On KDE, I like to flick quickly between virtual desktops using CTRL + ALT + the Cursor keys. You also cannot reorder the desktops or use different wallpapers for each as you can in OSX and KDE.























Now here's the dark side of Windows 10...
















Microsoft have unfortunately made Windows 10 a privacy nightmare, right out of the box. For a bit more privacy you need to disable Wi-fi Sharing, Cortana, Location, Camera Access and other stuff, by following this handy guide on ZDNet, but the problem is, even once you have changed all these settings, Windows 10 sends data to Microsoft, despite privacy settings, which is more than a tad annoying!  

Another area that is causing some problems for some is Windows forced updates which are not disableable on all but the Pro versions, which has caused some users' PCs to fall into a constant upgrade/fail/reboot cycle, though fortunately I have personally not encountered any show-stopping updates, so far. in fact i feel like I'm in the minority of users that hasn't encountered any problems, probably because all I do is play a few games on it. I have not done a fresh install so i can always downgrade to 8.1 if I need to.
















Conclusion

So overall I have found Windows 10 to be the best version of Windows so far, but also the worst version in terms of privacy, or rather, the lack of it. And of course when i say "best" i mean "least worst" as after all it is still Windows, it still needs regular updates, it still needs regular scans from the built in antivirus (I am never surprised by all the zero days and security scares) and it still needs to reboot, a lot, and when you're in a hurry it just happens to configure updates on shutdown! In Linux, the only updates that need a reboot are kernel updates, and even that is unnecessary on recent Kernels.

I shall continue using Windows 10 on my gaming rig, but I shall not use it for anything else other than gaming, hence using a separate PC so I don't have to to dual boot. Perhaps one day Rockstar will embrace Steam for Linux so I can remove Windows altogether! In the meantime there has never been a better time to try Linux for those of you who haven't already.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Review: Motorola Moto G LTE (Second Generation)

Awhile back I bought a first generation Motorola Moto G XT1032, while I was looking for a replacement phone for my infuriating Galaxy S3. It was pretty good, apart from the camera was pretty abysmal. I then sold it and the S3 and bought a Nexus 5, which has been mostly superb, except for quite poor audio during video recording. I have in the last few weeks also been missing having a second device. It's handy when out on my long walks to have a backup device with a good battery and half decent camera. I found a good condition second generation unlocked Moto G XT1072 LTE in a secondhand shop.




First Impressions and build quality.

The 1072XT has a nice bright 5 inch IPS LCD display at 720p resolution which still looks pretty good compared to my Nexus 5's 1080p 4.95 inch IPS+ display. There's a headphone socket in the centre at the top and charging port at the base, also in the centre. On the right hand side there's a power button and volume rocker underneath. They are a bit further down the side than I expect so I often find I miss them since my Nexus 5's power button is nearer the top. it's as if they made the device bigger but kept the buttons in the same place.




On the back is Motorola's trademark 'M' dimple which I often like to rest my index finger into. Above that is the LED flash and 8MP camera, a major step up from the poor 5MP camera on the first gen device. The back is removable and there are are some different colour backs to choose from. Mine is a lovely royal blue colour.    




The XT1072 does feel significantly heavier than my Nexus 5, you really notice when it isn't in your pocket. It does feel solid though and the back cover sits tight against the front portion, enough for it to be water resistant, which is handy considering I was taking photos in the rain the other day! The buttons all feel solid too, no wobbles.


Software and performance

My second gen device arrived with Lollipop 5.0.2 and there should be a 5.1 update fairly soon and hopefully it should get Android M not long after release, judging by previous Motorola update schedules.

On first boot, you sign in like most Android Lollipop phones, but with an added section called Motorola Migrate that allows you to migrate your data from another Android device or even an iPhone. After that finished, there were some app updates needed, which were mostly the Google apps, plus the HP Print Service plugin and Motorola Gallery and Camera. It also has an FM Radio. The rest of the OS is pretty much stock Lollipop.

With only 8GB of space I quickly managed to fill it up with apps, until only 1.5GB space left. Luckily, since this device has a Micro SD slot you, can move your photos, music and videos over to that from within settings. You can also move apps to the SD card but you have to make sure the card has a Label. I now have 4.9GB of free space with 3.3GB of apps installed. Not all apps like to be moved to SD card, such as those that use widgets or close hardware links like cameras etc, but it's handy for large games. I successfully installed and moved Goat Simulator on the SD card and it runs just about as well as on my Nexus 5.


"Tall Goat"

Motorola really has got the right balance between stock Android and adding functionality to Android without to the device without adding too much bloat. The only additional apps included are Motorola Gallery, Motorola Assist, Motorola Migrate and Motorola Camera. With a bloat-free Lollipop, I have noticed very little lag, until you really load up it's Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7 and 1GB RAM. Naturally it won't be as fast my Nexus 5, as that has 2GB RAM and a Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400 CPU, but it is pretty impressive for the price. GSM Arena has a full list of specifications, listed here.

Battery life from it's 2390 mAh fixed battery has been just as impressive as it was on the first generation Moto G, though it is hard to judge without a sim card installed.




Camera

I found the first gen Moto G's 5MP camera really rather lacking, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the 8MP shooter on the 1072XT. Photos only really look a little washed-out in lower light conditions. Here's a sample photo below but I have also made an album of photos on Flickr - mostly taken using A Better Camera app since i find it does excellent HDR photos. Other times I use Google Camera for non-HDR shots. I have noticed that it does take just a little longer to open the camera and take shots than with my Nexus 5. Not really surprising, this being a budget phone with a slower CPU.




I am not that keen on Motorola Camera since it doesn't have any outstanding features and also when I recorded a video it ended up the wrong way up when playing back, so had to be edited afterwards. However I was impressed with the sound it recorded, using it's built-in stereo mics, it was nice and clear. I have uploaded the video to Youtube and the only edit that has been made is using Google's stabilisation feature, which corrected my wobbly hand movements!




The front facing camera has been improved too, from 1.2 MP (the same as my Nexus 5) to 2.0 MP, though I have not thoroughly tested that yet. The audio quality from the speakers is very good but I rarely use speakers unless I am playing a YouTube video to someone. I generally use a set of Bluetooth headphones for music playback with Poweramp or Google Music, and WAIL Beta for scrobbling to Last.fm.

Conclusion

The second generation Moto G is a good device for it's price, good "bang-for buck" as long as you don't expect a high megapixel camera and premium features such as NFC, wireless charging and huge onboard storage. You get a near-stock Android experience with an update to Android M when it is released. If you need more performance for a bigger chunk of money, go for the Moto X. If you have an even tighter budget there's also the Moto E, but that has no LED flash and lower specs. They are both great phones for newbies or buying them for your kids since they are inexpensive and fairly durable too. Also bear in mind that there are rumours of a third generation Moto G on the horizon, but we shall see.










Sunday, 24 May 2015

Kubuntu 15.04 on a Dell Latitude D520


I've been following the progress of KDE 5 since it was in beta stages and possibly before and it looked good. I had been trying the Plasma 5 desktop demo ISOs in a virtual machine for awhile and when Kubuntu 15.04 was released recently, with KDE 5 Plasma desktop, I had to install it on something. I've been meaning to get round to it for a bit and since Kubuntu 14.04 wasn't feeling that great on one of my Dell Latitudes, I decided to try a fresh install of 15.04. Installation doesn't take long with a modern Live installer, taking something like 15 mins. Once done and rebooted everything works fine, unsurprisingly with this hardware, it works well with Linux. It has a 1.6ghz Centrino Duo (32bit) CPU, 60GB SATA hard drive and 3GB of RAM. The screenshot above shows the default look of the Kubuntu 15.04 desktop that is, in my opinion, much improved look to previous releases. It feels smoother and lighter on resources but still just as customizable as KDE 4, and it's actually the first time I have not wanted to change the default theme in Kubuntu! As with every time I install an Ubuntu derivative, I always ending up doing a bunch of updates even though I always select "install updates during install" or whatever.


The only minor complaint I have is the wallpaper downloader still does not find any wallpapers, complaining of a network error, despite the network being very much alive. I ended up downloading one of my own photos and manually setting that as my wallpaper.


Also, the Plasma desktop did crash once or twice and I had to kill Xorg and restart KDE...

 
Muon is KDE's default software manager these days, but I'm not really that keen on it, and I often use the command line or Synaptic. It's purely personal taste. I installed kubuntu-restricted-extras and VLC as per usual for the extra codecs and VLC's advanced features. I also installed Filezilla and downloaded and installed Chrome.


All Ubuntu derivatives have a Restricted Driver Manager for proprietary drivers, on this Latitude D520 there's one for the Intel CPU microcode firmware.


Overall performance wise it is not too bad on this machine, definitely feels quicker than KDE 4 did on Kubuntu 14.04.  However, this low end machine is not really quick enough for KDE and Chrome even with 3GB RAM! Probably best to use Firefox instead if you can or install a lighter weight derivative such as Xubuntu that uses the lighter weight XFCE desktop. KDE Plasma 5 though is shaping up to be a great desktop. I shall try other distros with it, to see if they have less bugs than Kubuntu does and hopefully it should be well polished by the time the next long term release of Mint comes along since that is what I run my main workstation on.      



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 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 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.




Update - June 2015: The battery life became worse over time until I was replacing the batteries once a week and then the mouse stopped working completely.