Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Mi Band 2 Review & Comparison To Mi Band 3


Xiaomi are set to release the Mi Band 4 shortly and I currently own a Mi Band 3 - so it might seem a little odd to review the Mi Band 2 now, but I am going to anyway.

I have been loving my Mi Band 3 for a few months and recently picked up a Mi Band 2 as a backup band.


The Mi Band 2 is predominately aimed at the fitness market. Its OLED mono display features a touch button for accessing the menu and can show you the time, steps taken and heart rate. As well as this it can tell you if you get a notification or phone call by displaying and icon on screen and vibrating. However, it doesn’t display what the notification says or who is calling you, it merely is a prompt.


All settings and syncing is done via the MiFit app on your phone.

Its 70mAh battery boasts 20 days on a single charge and I got close to that.

The body of the Band pops out of the strap and is charged with the supplied cable. I like this idea as it means straps can be replaced or changed easily.

Really that is all there is to the Mi Band 2. While it is huge step up from the original Mi Band, which didn’t even have a display, it lacks much in the way of functions. It is a basic device, but it doesn’t claim to be anything else.

Move forward to the Mi Band 3 and this adds more functions, while maintaining a similar design and style as its predecessor. The Mi Band adds a full touch screen which can now show more information, display notifications in full as well as caller ID - with the ability to reject calls, sleep monitoring, timer, weather, phone locator and more.

Both bands are great. If you want a pedometer with heart rate monitor and nod every time you get a notification, then the Mi Band 2 is great. If you want something with more features and full notifications then the Mi Band 3 is a better option.


Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Jumping into the Deepin Desktop Environment

I have seen a lot of reviews and screenshots of a Chinese Debian-based Linux distro which has its own desktop environment, Deepin Linux, which is the name of both the qt-based DE and the distro. Although I was tempted to try it, I still have this nagging suspicion about it, rightly or wrongly, I don't trust the distro.

Anyway, since the desktop environment and apps are open source, you can manually install them on another distro and some distros have Deepin versions or "respins" of them. Manjaro Deepin is one such distro. It's just as easy to install as Ubuntu, even though the installer works a little different. I decided to try it out in Virtualbox before I install it on any hardware.

By default, Deepin uses a Launchpad style launcher, and the panel working as a dock like recent MacOS versions, which I am not keen on.



Fortunately, you can click on an icon in the top right and it switches to a sensible menu like Windows or KDE. Right click on the dock/panel and select mode and choose Efficient Mode and that too becomes more Windows/KDE like, stretching the full width of the display.




Manjaro Deepin is quite good on resources, using just over 500MB after booting, certainly much lighter than Gnome.



You will also notice I have changed to a much more eye-friendly darker theme for everything,  which is easy to do in the Deepin Control Center and also individually on the apps, so you could mix and match if you wanted.



I really like the Deepin Control Center, it pops out from the right hand side. You can quickly scroll up and down it to change theme, display settings, network etc. It works really well as well as looking great. 


The Deepin Desktop Environment or DDE includes a whole bunch of its own apps, most notable of which included here are Deepin Music and Deepin Draw.

The file manager is reasonably decent, certainly better than nautilus, though still not quite as full featured as my favourite file manager, Dolphin. I'm a KDE user mainly, so being qt-based it should work well with my favourite KDE apps, the slight issue is by default KDE apps will not be in a dark theme, and K3b and Dolphin looked rather too bright without a dark theme.  I wasn't able to install the right bits of KDE to theme it, without installing all of KDE. I suppose I could logout, switch to KDE, set the theme to Breeze Dark, logout and then log back into Deepin.  The Gtk apps I installed such as  were a mixed bag, some came up dark, others were still bright, like VLC.



Sadly, judging by this post on the Manjaro Forum, I think Manjaro Deepin will probably be dropped by Manjaro devs since there's a lot of bugs, a lot caused by trying to shoehorn a desktop that is meant to run on a regular release based distro onto a rolling release distro. 


So, overall, the Deepin desktop is easy to use, fairly lightweight compared to most full desktops and has a much saner desktop setup than Gnome, but I don't think it will replace KDE as my desktop of choice, particularly as I would have to do a lot of messing about to get it how I want. It might however suit some users. The main issue with Deepin of course is finding the right distro to run it on if you do not want to use the actual Deepin distro. I think I will give Fedora a go with Deepin manually installed. 














Monday, 6 May 2019

Samsung J4+ Review... A Mid Range Offering With A Big Screen

My daughter was in need of a new phone and she insisted on a Samsung and preferred a gold one. So after looking around saw the Samsung J4+. This is a mid-range handset with a premium look, that retails, SIM-free, at around £160 on launch.

Featuring a 6” screen, 2GB RAM, 32GB internal storage and 3300 mAh battery it packs a punch for its price.


As well as that it comes with Android Oreo - and is due to be updated to Pie - a 13 megapixel camera and 5 megapixel front camera which even has a front flash. It has a MicroSD slot and 3.5mm headphone socket, but uses microUSB instead of the newer USB-C.


This phone isn’t going to be up to heavy gaming - but it isn’t marketed for that. The quad-core processor and Adreno 308 GPU is more than enough for everyday use and average games. This is aimed at the social media generation, the communicators, the picture takers and Snapchat fans.

Its large screen obviously makes it a large phone at 161.4mm x 76.9mm, but it doesn’t feel chunky and is only 7.9mm thick. My daughter has the gold version - also available in black, pink or blue. The colour refers to the back and side edges, the front of all of them are black.

The back of it however is a finger print magnet, within minutes of handling the phone it was covered in smudges and marks.


For a mid priced phone the screen is very impressive. 720 x 1480 pixels on a 6" display offers a very crisp view.

The left side has the volume buttons as well as the SIM and MicroSD card tray/slots. The right side has the power button and speaker. Yes, the speaker is on the side. It sounds odd but it makes better sense than on the back (which can be muffled when laid down), but I prefer mine on the front.

The J4+ runs Android Oreo 8.1 overlaid with the Samsung Experience - the newer name for TouchWiz. The system runs fast and there are a lot of fans of the Samsung interface but I prefer stock Android without the cutesy bright interface.


The cameras perform well, the 13 megapixel camera takes great pictures, that only suffer in very low light and the 5 megapixel front camera works excellent for its intended purpose - selfies and video calls.

It has a huge 3300 mAh battery gives it enough power for nearly two days - and it could be pushed more with light use.

Overall, I have - and my daughter has - been impressed with this offering from Samsung. It is a great looking phone and runs super smooth. Anything we have run on it, loads and operates with no lag or feeling sluggish (not that you should expect it to for a new phone).


It is difficult to write a review for phones these days, as they all do the same and in fairness all do it very well. Unless there is a feature not up to standard or a design that isn’t to your liking, then a phone is going to please you.

With that in mind, the Samsung J4+ is a great mid priced handset with a great feature set, decent power, great battery and nothing bad to say about it and if you like the Samsung Experience you will enjoy this phone.


If you are wanting a big phone to keep up with your followers all day and pose for selfies then you will like this phone.



Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Friday, 3 May 2019

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 Review

I’m a fan of notifications on my wrist, most other features of smart watches and bands are just superfluous to me. I was a big Pebble fan before they went bust, then moved to a Microsoft Band and recently needed another replacement - so I was recommended a Xiaomi Mi Band 3.

The Mi Band is a small device. The body of the device ‘the capsule’ comes out of the strap for charging and changing the strap. I like this idea as a lot of bands have fixed straps meaning when the strap breaks the device is useless.

It charges via a special USB cable, taking only two hours from flat to full.


The Mi Band has a 128x80 mono OLED touch screen, which although is quite small has a good resolution for reading small text - however sunlight legibility isn’t fantastic. The screen doesn’t always stay on but the raise-to-wake feature means just lifting your wrist and the screen comes on.

It is controlled via swiping in different directions on the screen and pressing the menu indentation. The menu is easy to use and gives you access to notifications, steps, heart rate, weather, treadmill as well as stop watch, find device, screen settings and factory reset.


All this is linked to your smartphone via bluetooth and the Mi Fit app. This syncs your activity and can show your progress daily, weekly or monthly. The app further controls your profile as well notification settings.


Notifications for me are the main reason for using such a device, and the Mi Band 3 excels at this. They can be read on the small screen easily, and via the menu you can go back and read the last 5 notifications.


The 110mAh battery might not sound huge but depending on use it should reach between 3 and 20 days on a single charge. The mono screen that isn't on all the time helps with battery life. I have managed 4 days on a charge, so I am not sure if I am a heavy user or I have something turned on I don’t need.

Thats the main technical side out of the way. How does it feel? The rubberised strap is very comfortable and the weight of the device often makes you forget you are wearing a band. The strap loops in to one end and is fastened with a snap fix.

The overall build quality feels excellent.

After a few weeks use I have been very impressed. It is close to the simplicity of the original Pebble, but with the added bonus of a touch screen. The Mi Band 3 is an excellent device and at under £30 you cant go wrong with it.

For further reading and another owners review check out Replacing A Pebble 2 With A Xiaomi Mi Band 3.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Cheap Smart/Fitness Bands... ID115 and ID115 HR Plus Review

Once a nerdy trend, smart watches and fitness bands are now the coolest tech out there. As with most technology cheap alternatives work their way in, but are cheap bands any good?

FitBit are a big name in the sports band area however personally I do not rate them in terms of quality and value for money, so when my daughters FitBit Charge lasted only a few months I wasn’t keen on replacing it with another high priced offering.

ID115 Review
For under ten pound I picked up a smart fitness band online. I am not sure who makes it, but it is labelled as an ID115. A small thin band which features a mono low resolution screen, which while isn’t touch capable it does have a touch sensitive button at the bottom of the screen for menu control.

It has removable and replaceable straps (something the likes of FitBit and Microsoft Band didn’t offer), to reveal a built in USB connection for charging. You simply plug the watch into a USB socket - so no need for a cable - It’s tiny 45mAh battery takes an hour to charge and lasts around 3 or 4 days of average use - despite several sellers claiming 10 days.


Function wise it offers a watch face, call/app notifications (although limited to a few selected apps), sports tracker for steps, calories and distance. It also has remote camera function, find my phone and is waterproof.


The band connects to your Android/iOS device via bluetooth and is controlled via the VeryFitPro app which does a good job of syncing and keeping your fitness history as well as tweaking the settings of your band.

I wasn’t expecting much from this cheap band, but both my daughter and I have been thoroughly impressed. After a terrible experience with her FitBit she is loving this.

ID115 HR Plus
I was looking for a new band and after the great experience of the ID115 I wanted something similar. The low res screen of the ID115 was its only niggle, so when I saw the ID115 HR Plus with its bright colour screen I thought I would grab one and at only £6 would be a cheap option.

It has the same functions as the ID115 - call/app notifications, sports tracker for steps, calories and distance but with added heart rate and blood pressure monitors.


Initially I was impressed. The screen was bright and clear and the colourisation made it look great, and once again not a touch screen device, but a touch sensitive button at the bottom of the screen. The menu was similar to the ID115 and also has replaceable straps and charging via the built in USB connection.


The band connects to your Android/iOS device via Bluetooth and is controlled via the Yoho Sports app which is similar to the VeryFitPro but oddly lacks a few options such as remote camera and screen rotation.

However, the joy of this band was short lived. Despite almost doubling the battery to 80mAh, this band would need charging at least twice a day - even though it was advertised as lasting around 5 days.

After just two days this began to really annoy me and the band was returned.

Summary
Cheap bands can be good. There are so many around your mileage may vary. A band for under ten pounds with replaceable straps is a great bonus and depending on your needs they could cover everything you want.

For me the fitness side isn't important, I just like notifications on my wrist. It saves me taking my phone out every time it buzzes so these bands suit my minimal needs.

For their price they are great for kids or people who risk damaging high priced watches/bands.

I was very impressed with the ID115, but not with the ID115 HR Plus.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Motorola Moto X Style Review

I fancied a phone upgrade and it had to be a Motorola, so I picked up a Moto X Style. The X range was their flagship range and the X Style (known as the X Pure Edition in some parts) is the third iteration released in 2015.

The impressive specs, the fact my wife bought one recently and the glowing review of the second gen Moto X from fellow writer, Moto fan and owner of this blog, Carl Draper, helped sway my decision.

Specs

Spec wise, the Moto X Style features 64-bit Hexa Core Snapdragon 808 processing, 3GB RAM, 5.7” IPS screen, 32GB internal storage, SD slot, 21 megapixel camera and dual flash capable of recording 4k video at 30fps. It has a 5 megapixel front camera with flash, stereo front facing speakers and a fairly hefty 3000 mAh built in battery. It shipped with Android Lollipop and was upped to Marshmallow and Nougat.

The right side has the power and volume rockers, the bottom has the Micro USB port, the left side has nothing and the top has the headphone socket (a necessity for me) and a pull out tray which houses the Nano SIM and Micro SD card. I like this as it means you don’t have to take the back off to access them. My wifes has a dual SIM, but mine only takes one.



That's the technical specifications dealt with, but how does it handle day-to-day?

Feel

The Moto X Style is a large handset, but feels very comfortable. As will all Moto handsets the build quality is superb. Mine is the black version with a wooden style back, my wifes is the champagne version, which has a light blue back and light blue speaker grills on the front.



Battery and Performance

The large 3000mAh battery offers impressive battery life - easily coping with a more than a day of average use and it ships with a quick charger. The 3GB of RAM certainly gives it some breathing room and the Hexa Core processors handle everything with a breeze. Nothing is slow on it, the OS is superfluid and apps open and run very quick. I’m not a gamer so couldn’t say how it handled in that area.

Screen and Audio

The 5.7" screen is large and bright and the 520 ppi makes it super crisp. Notifications are displayed on the lock screen and the screen can be woken with just a wave of the hand in front of it.


Call quality is clear and loud. It is a phone after all so it needs to excel in its primary function. The audio from the stereo front facing speakers is superb (for a phone). I haven’t even bothered to pair up my bluetooth speaker yet.

The headphone socket was essential and produces louder music than on my previous phone with the same earphones. I had a brief issue with fluff and paper stuck in it preventing it being used - the perils of buying a used phone - but I have resolved this now.

Camera

The 21 megapixel camera takes amazingly sharp photos. The image stabilisation is very good.  The camera opens quickly - via the menu or by double pressing the power button - and there is zero delay in snapping pictures.

It can also shoot videos in 4k. This is a pointless addition personally as I never need to shoot video that high, but its nice to know it is possible.

Storage

The 32GB internal storage will make a huge difference. 16GB on my previous handset was getting tight. Coupled with my 64GB Micro SD card I now have almost 100GB of storage.

Packaging

A small note. Boxes never normally interest me, however this X Style came in the biggest most impressive box I have ever seen for a mobile phone.



Comparison To G4

This Moto X Style was replacing my beloved Moto G4 which has been used daily for two years and never let me down so finding a replacement wasn’t going to be easy. While the specs are not drastically increased, the larger internal storage and RAM on the X Style made it a good decision. The larger crisper screen, inclusion of stereo speakers and NFC added to it. The improved cameras sealed the deal.

Conclusion

I am very impressed with this X Style. It looks amazing especially with its wooden style back and the bump in storage will help dramatically. It may be stuck on Android version 'Nougat' (currently two revisions behind the latest), but this doesn't matter too much in the Android world.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Replacing a Pebble 2 with a Xiaomi Mi Band 3

I was recently looking for a replacement for my old Pebble, one that was a bit more comfortable and still supported. With not enough budget for a proper smart watch, the opportunity to get something cheap as a requested Xmas present came about. At
£20, the Xiaomi Mi Band 3 is probably the cheapest way to get your phones notifications onto your wrist!


In the box, there's a charge cable, the watch itself and the rubbery plastic strap which pops round the watch. I was struck by how tiny it is. It does not come with a charger but most USB A phone chargers should be fine. The watch needed charging up right from the off, it was totally out of charge, it's so tiny that it charges from one end - you have to take it off the strap to charge it.


Once fully charged up, I paired it using their app which was simple enough once you sign up/into it, I used my Google account.


Then it needed a firmware upgrade but for some reason after the upgrade, I had to re-pair it again.


I then had to fiddle about a bit to get notifications from my Pixel XL to work. Notification settings are in Advanced Settings. I had to manually enable each app I wanted notifications from, which makes sense I suppose, you don't want everything buzzing the watch all the time. I also found an app called Mi Band Tools - £3 -  that has a lot more configuration of notifications if you need it. There's a maximum of 5 notifications stored which you can scroll through and clear them by holding the button a bit.


The time is not always on, you have to touch it to show the display or enable the 'lift wrist to show display' setting.

I couldn't seem to get it to read my heart rate but I'm not really bothered as I didn't buy it for the keep fit stuff, more for the watch function and notifications on my wrist. I've turned off Automatic Heart rate detection, to get better battery life.

I find the alarm clock function on the Mi Band very useful as it often wakes me up when my phone alarm doesn't. On my phone I manually make alarms for 10 min intervals for several hours, whereas on the Band i can set one that will go off and repeat every 10 mins until I stop it, giving me little vibrations to my wrist.


After 13 none-stop days on my wrist, the Mi Band prompted me to charge it, at 15%, so I popped it on charge. It took around a couple of hours on the 1.5A charger that I used and it prompts you when it's reached 100%.



Overall I am quite happy with it, I've been getting around 14 days battery life and the strap is more comfortable than the one on my Pebble. I wear it 24/7, it's properly waterproof, you can even swim with it! Incidentally, you can buy replacement straps in various colours for a few quid from Amazon or eBay. It's nice being able to see who's calling or messaging by looking at my watch rather than fumbling for my phone when my hands are full. The only thing I miss from my Pebble is being able to do a thumbs up to Facebook Messages! I'll probably keep the Mi Band awhile, until I one day can afford a decent Android Wear watch.