Saturday, 16 January 2016

REVIEW: XCSOURCE Qi Wireless Charging Case for LG G3 and Quick Circle apps



Just recently I accidentally fell over and smashed the screen on my LG G3 and the only protection I had was a Spigen TPU case, which did not protect the screen and so I had to send it away to be repaired. In the meantime I had to use my old LG optimus 2X (the first ever dual core smartphone) and a Sony Xperia Miro that I just picked up for music playing. Both are hideously slow for modern apps compared with what I am used to these days.


I wanted to protect my G3 more once I got it back, so I ordered a laminated screen protector and an unofficial "Quick Circle" type case, called an XCSOURCE Circle Window Case Cover. I was a bit disappointed with the screen protector as the screen wipes were rubbish and were starting to leave marks on the screen, so these were ditched and I used some I already had elsewhere. I love the Quick Circle case though, it not only looks very smart it also works well too. They make it for the G3 and G4, in either pink, grey, silver or black. Mine is in black grippy plastic with no logos on (unlike the photos on the Amazon listing).



The back part replaces the original battery cover and instead of being smooth it has a slightly grippier finish which makes it easier to keep hold of. Just like the LG official case, the front flap that covers the screen has a circular hole that shows a clock or other little apps through. When you open the flap the screen automatically turns on. The clever thing is since the only part of the screen showing brightly is the circle,  it should save battery life. Also since when you close the case the screen shuts off fairly quickly, which should also save battery life. I tend to tap the screen to wake it to show the time, then swipe to the right for a circle of other apps, such as a flashlight, music player, etc which you can add to from the Play store.




One cool feature of Quick Circle cases is if you open the camera app by holding the Volume down button for 2 seconds, the camera view appears in miniture inside the circle while the case is closed! Then take a photo with the a quick press of the same button, so you don't even have to open the case to take a photo.




LG devices that support Quick Circle cases have a section under settings to configure the apps:





Quick Circle Apps



My favourite on Play is Quick Circle Apps which is actually a nice little bundle of various open source Quick Circle apps.

* Quick Torch - torch application for Quick Circle and regular torch app
* Quick Music - music application for Quick Circle that enables you to use any music player (unlike LG's one)
* Quick Calendar - show your next events in the Quick Circle
* Quick Notifications - mirror your notification, so you'll be able to see them without unlocking
* Quick Toggles - Control your Wifi, Mobile data, Brightness... without unlocking
* Quick Stopwatch - Count time with one click
* Quick Calculator - Calculate stuff fast
* Quick news - read the important news from your feedly feed
* Quick Compass - find the north
* Quick Dialer - call without unlocking
* Quick Dice - roll a dice
* Quick scanner - scan QRCode


Quick Remote

Quick Remote uses the inbuilt TV Remote functions on the device.


Overall I love this case as it pretty much does the same job as the official LG Quick Circle case at a cheaper price and still looks very smart. I'm protecting the screen with the added bonus of having QI wireless charging, which I shall try as soon as I get a charging pad. The Quick Circle apps mean quick access to little utilities like flashlights and music player controls without using the whole screen,  it should hopefully save battery power.




Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Peppermint Linux on a Samsung N145 Netbook

I have not really used Samsung N145 netbook in ages since I got my HP Chromebook 14 but I was playing around with Cloudready and couldn't get it to install. Since I had already wiped Xubuntu I decided to try something else. A friend of mine reminded me that Peppermint Linux is still around, and I had not tried that in ages either, so I thought I would give it a go. Peppermint is a heavily customised version of Ubuntu/Mint Linux and LXDE desktop with a smart dark default theme and nemo file manager. Install is in the same sort of way as most Ubuntu-based installers and I had it installed without a hitch. On using it installed for the first time it does feel quicker than Xubuntu and now the screen brightness keyboard shortcuts actually work!


Peppermint default desktop showing the screen brightness shortcuts working!

Peppermint comes with a minimal set of locally installed apps - just the basics - Chromium browser (with DuckDuckGo search as per Mint), VLC media player and nemo for file management. It has the same update system as Mint. Peppermint also have added some web app tech to "... put web applications on an equal footing with locally installed apps by allowing them easy integration into system menus, and delivery to the desktop via SSB's so they mimic locally installed applications." I have installed Chrome, Firefox, Gmusicbrowser, Guake and Filezilla so far and moved the main panel to the top where I prefer it. It feels lighter than Xubuntu and much more polished than LXLE, I'd definitely recommend this distro as a possible Windows replacement for old netbooks like this one and for other low end PCs.



Monday, 28 September 2015

Former Flagship: The LG G3 - Still a great device?

Photo from LG

Well after having had terrible audio recording problems on my Nexus 5, I decided I needed to replace it ASAP and on a budget. I did not have the cash for a Nexus 6 or second gen Moto X, which would be my ideal replacements, but I had enough for an LG G3, which suits my needs. My requirements were a half-decent camera, 16GB+ storage, not too much bloat and not too pricey! So when I spotted an LG G3 at a good price and in fantastic condition, on Vodafone, I jumped at it. It still has it's original charger, lead, earbuds (with spare buds), it really looks hardly used. The 5.5" 1440 x 2560 (~538ppi) pixel screen still looks amazing, with no scratches or blemishes of any kind. The dark grey back on mine kind of looks like polished aluminium from a distance but is actually plastic, but it still feels like a premium device. It's so slim and easy to hold despite having a removable battery. The back is smooth so be careful on inclined surfaces as it may slide off, takes a little getting used to after the rubberised back of the Nexus 5.




The volume controls and power button are on the back of the device under the camera. You can also unlock the device by tapping on the screen in a pattern, instead of using a pin or pattern, even when the screen is off. Also 2 quick taps turns the screen on. It takes a little getting used to but after a few days of use it has become practically second nature, and I keep accidentally trying to use Knock To Unlock and feeling for buttons on the back on my other devices that don't have them! It's also arguably more secure than a pattern since it means there are less marks on the screen to show where your fingers have been. A pin unlock is used as a backup in case you forget your knock code. Also I noticed sometimes it asking for my backup pin for some reason, maybe because something in my pocket has tapped on the device too many times, I have not been able to track down exactly why it has been doing this and have disabled knock to unlock.

Photo from LG

Software

Starting on KitKat when it was released in mid 2014, LG updated the G3 to Lollipop 5.0 later in that year. LG's skin isn't too bad compared with such monstrosities as Touchwiz (at least the last time I used it) and I like the way you can choose which extra LG apps you want at setup time, such as the FM radio app, Calculator and rather handy QuickRemote (TV remote control using the IR) app that I installed. Amazon, Kindle and Ebay apps were all preinstalled.




I've installed all my usual app choices and made it look a little more like stock Android using Google Now Launcher. It's good to see the LG Gallery app is much like the one that used to be stock in KitKat or Jelly Bean. While we are on the subject of versions, it is rumoured that the LG G3 might actually skip out 5.1/5.1.1 and go straight to Android 6.1 Marshmallow. Update: T-Mobile now lists the G3 in the first wave of Marshmallow updates.

Despite having LG's minimal skin - most visibly noticeable when you pull down to see your notifications - it really is just as buttery smooth with Lollipop as it was on my Nexus 5. I have not encountered any annoying lag yet and I like some of the extra features such as the Dual Window mode where you can run two apps at once - just about usable on a 5.5inch screen. I've not used that since Samsung's implementation on the S3 I had, though this feels much smoother.  One little thing I miss from stock Android is you cannot access the quick settings drop down from the lockscreen.


LG's launcher on the left and Google Now Launcher with my customizations on the right.


Camera

The G3 has a 13MP camera that can record video in up to 4K resolution! Not that you would want to do that too much, since it takes up a lot of storage space, you'd probably want to get a 128GB MicroSD if you plan on doing that! The LG camera app shows advanced features when you tap the little 3 dots, so you can enable various modes. Here's a screenshot showing G3's fancy laser focus:




Of course you don't have to use the default LG camera, there are plenty of alternatives but they might not use the laser focus. I have installed Google Camera, mainly because the LG app has a Panorama mode but cannot create Photospheres, but for most of the time I think I will use the LG camera app. Unfortunately the G3 is not compatible with Manual Camera, whereas my Nexus 5 was compatible. The G3 has a 2MP front camera which has a very wide angle for getting more people into a shot. It can also recognize gestures, for example if you open and close a fist it starts a timer so you don't need to touch anything to take a shot.

Quality wise, photos seem to be similar in colour reproduction as my Nexus 5 was, but with 13MP over the it's 8MP, there's definitely more detail there. The G3's optical image stabilisation and laser focus mean it focuses very quickly, quicker than the Nexus 5. It is also great for close-ups.






One neat feature I like is you can get straight to the camera from screen-off by holding the Volume Down button for 2 seconds, ideal for quickly taking photos. Also if you hold the on-screen shoot button it turns on burst mode. When these are uploaded to Google Photos, these get "Autoawesomed" into animated gifs.



You can find also view these photos and more on Flickr.

Video quality is great too. I recorded the following video at 1080p (30fps) and I am impressed with the image and especially the sound quality from the built-in stereo mics.



Battery

The LG G3 has a fairly sizeable 3000mAh removable battery (compared with the Nexus 5's 2300mAh fixed battery), but it also has that vivid 1440 x 2560 pixel 5.5inch screen to power, that's a lot of pixels to push, so it kind of balances out. Today I went for a 4 hour walk, taking photos (and using GPS for maps) and a few videos, came back and let Carousel and Google Photos upload them all. I also listened to a little music, browsed a little, and installed some more apps. I still have 16% battery after just over 12 hours and an estimated 2 hours battery left. I also liked that it warned me that Pushbullet was using too much battery so I could stop it. Of course, unlike the Nexus 5, you could carry around an extra fully charged up battery for emergencies. Having said that I tend to carry a 10,000mAh battery charger just in case I get low on battery.    





Conclusion

Overall, so far, I am really happy with the LG G3, I love it's beautiful quad HD 5.5 inch screen, generally buttery smooth operation, IR and great camera. I'm definitely sold on large screen devices now, aka "phablets"and 5.5 inch isn't too cumbersome, especially with it's slim profile. I am considering getting a suitable case to protect it, possibly a Spigen as I liked the one I had on my Nexus 5. The ability to use a MicroSD (up to 128GB) and removable battery could be handy for long photo taking and/or HD video recording sessions. The only downsides to the phone I can see so far is some of the LG UI is ugly, and you can't remove some of the preinstalled apps, at least not easily, luckily there are not too many. Alternate ROMs exist for the G3 but you then lose the laser focus on the camera and IR remote functions. Hopefully LG will update it to Marshmallow anyway.

So, if, like me, your budget can't stretch to one of the newer flagships like LG's own G4, or a Nexus 6, or the second gen Motorola Moto X, then the LG G3 might be a good choice as it is still a fairly decent phone. Feel free to share your experiences with the G3 in the comments below.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Apple's iPhone 6S announcement in Tweets

As per usual Twitter pretty much exploded with tweets about Apple's latest conference - the #appleevent hashtag stream was a blur in Tweetdeck - about the new iPhone 6S, iPad Pro, new Apple TV and to a lesser extent Apple Watch, here are some of my favourite Tweets:

In a surprise move Apple allowed the conference to be viewed in Microsoft's new and very basic Edge browser, perhaps in a deal with Office on the new iPad Pro. Microsoft also made a surprise appearance on stage at the event.


At one point in proceedings, Apple demonstrated the new iPad pro by editing a woman's smile, because they didn't like women having their own emotions perhaps...




Ah yes, and then Apple unveiled...a STYLUS! Or rather "Pencil" that needs to be charged, and costs $99! Yes, you read that right, ninetynine Dollars!






And then Apple unveiled their new Apple TV with "tvOS"..


And this tweet pretty much won my stream today!


And finally Apple unveiled the iPhone 6S...


 So much truth!...




Final thoughts

I think I nearly dozed off during the Apple Watch part hence the lack of tweets there. Then Apple showed the iPad Pro which btw does not have the iPhone 6S's "innovative" 3D Touch, I guess that will probably in next years iPad Pro Plus!
And how is it that Apple still makes a 16GB iPhone? With the usual size of that "Other" folder and all the apps and bigger 12MP (really Apple?) photos to store (at least temporarily), that 16GB will be used up rather quickly! Oh and by the way, in the small print from Apple: "Live Photos and 4K video recording not supported on 16GB" - for obvious reasons! I'm more looking forward to Google's Nexus event in October.






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.