Thursday 6 December 2018

Is Silence Golden? Not For Me And My Phone

I am a slave to my smartphone. It rings, dings, pops and clicks constantly with each service or app having its own unique sound. With every Facebook comment and tweet my phone makes a noise, it buzzes and I feel the need to look at it instantly.

I've never been a fan of putting your phone on silent. It bugs me when you ring someone and they don't answer it and then get the excuse 'sorry my phone was on silent’ - or you send a message, which you know has been delivered but it takes them an hour to reply. Yes I am impatient.

But I have noticed I look at my phone a lot, probably too much. So I decided to try out putting it on silent. My wife has hers on silent all the time and doesn't feel the need to read every notification as soon as it appears. My phone would still vibrate, but no audible sound would come out.

I tried it. To start with I felt quite free. Liberated from whipping my phone out like I was in a showdown in the Wild West. I got all sorts done without looking at my phone every few minutes - cleaning, house work, watching TV but the best was listening to music without the sound dipping for each notification.

However the novelty of a quiet life soon wore off. When you have a different sound for every notification type you know when a WhatsApp message comes in, which is more important than the latest comment on a Facebook thread. Therefore if I was particularly busy I could ignore a Facebook pop, yet look at a text message. With my phone on silent, all notifications felt the same - so I would miss messages that needed looking at - I even had a habit of missing calls.

This was somewhat overcome by my Microsoft Band which shows notifications on my wrist and vibrates each time - but it just wasn't the same. The fact I own a wrist notification device compounds my need to see every notification as soon as it arrives. I don’t even need to take my phone out of my pocket.

So after less than 48 hours, I turned my phone off silent and am enjoying my usual array of sounds. I am making a conscious effort to not look at my phone for every Facebook and Twitter notification - which isn’t going too well - but I still pick it up for messages.

I will have to admit defeat and come to terms with the fact that my smartphone has taken over my life. Social media, instant messages and always being available to answer a call is what my day-to-day life has become.

Silence certainly isn’t golden for me. Ding!

Thursday 1 November 2018

From Moto Z Play to Google Pixel XL

Although I liked my Moto Z Play, I was never quite satisfied with just a 'good' camera, And it had to be stock or close to stock Android. I really wanted a great camera, so when I had the opportunity to upgrade this year, I chose the best I could afford, a device that was top of the DxOmark list when it was released, the Google Pixel XL. And although they both came out in 2016, the Pixel XL had a faster, newer gen CPU, its screen has Gorilla Glass 4 instead of 3 and 4GB RAM instead of 3GB RAM. It really is a flagship whereas the Z Play was more mid-range.

I managed to find a 32GB XL fairly cheaply secondhand. It has a few marks on the body, has no box, and it came with a Samsung charger, but everything seems to work well. The screen has no obvious marks on it.

First impressions

When I first picked up the Pixel, the weight of the device was the first thing I noticed. It feels heavier than my Z Play was, even though it actually weighs only a few grams heavier, and generally feels much more like a premium device than the Moto. The screen is the same size but has double the resolution and looks more vibrant. The Volume rocker and Power Button both feel reassuringly firm, no wobble in them. It's easy to see why this was a more expensive device.


My Pixel arrived with the Android P beta, so I upgraded it to Pie. The Z Play was on 8.0 (rather than 8.1) and I wasn't confident it'd get another OS upgrade. One main change from Oreo I had to get used to was the app switcher shows apps side by side, rather than vertically. I've installed Nova Launcher as I'm not really much of a fan of the stock launcher, I like a bit more customisation and I still prefer having a button for the app drawer. It's also easy to backup and restore my config between phones. As with the Z Play, I love having an AMOLED screen with Ambient Display as it uses minimal power to display notifications. It too has Lift To Wake but no hovering over the screen to wake it up. Instead you can double tap the screen to wake it. I've also set Nova to lock the screen when I double tap again.

Although my Moto Z Play had a fairly clean, close to stock Android experience, it had 4 or 5 Moto specific apps added. The Pixel of course comes with bone-stock Android out of the box. I have not had a Google branded device since the Nexus 5 and as expected, the Pixel XL is buttery smooth in usage. I also like that you can make some of the UI dark themed now, though it would still be nice to have a proper dark theme for the entire OS (without rooting). Google has introduced a dark mode for YouTube and Android Messages, and I think they should have a dark mode for all their apps.


The camera on the Pixel is just amazing compared with every phone I have had previously, it takes such pin-sharp photos, and far quicker than the Z Play could do. The Moto used to sometimes have trouble focusing on the right area and it struggled in low light, I had HDR mode on all the time to try compensate. The Pixel is fantastic even in fairly low light and the Auto HDR+ mode works very well.

On my Z Play I used Moto's own camera app but also had Google Camera installed via an APK, and it would not run the very latest version. I am impressed enough with how much better the current version is on my Pixel that I'm not even bothering with any third party camera apps. Google Camera also recently started supporting external microphones.

All first gen Pixel devices get unlimited uploads to Google Photos at full resolution forever, unlike gen 2 and 3 devices which get until 2021/2022.

One thing I miss from the Moto is gestures - double twist of the wrist to open the camera from the lock screen (although that was often hard to get right) and double-chop motion to open the flashlight. However, you can still get the camera to open from the lockscreen by double tapping the power button. I'm also still getting used to the rear fingerprint sensor, as opposed to the front sensor on the Moto.

The front facing 8MP 'selfie' camera is very good too. Here's an unedited photo I took the other day, just as the sun had gone behind a cloud.

Google have recently unveiled the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL along with a new version of Google Camera with some neat features such as Night Sight for low light shots which will be officially coming to first gen Pixels like mine. If you would like to try Night Sight early, there's an APK for that thanks to XDA Developers. I tried it out and the results are quite impressive. The first image below is without and the second is with Night Sight:

Update: Google Camera in the Play store now has Night Sight for the first gen Pixels. However to get Tracking Autofocus and Motion Metering in Night Sight in the Pixel 1 and 2, there's now an APK available on XDA Developers.

Every time I get a new phone, I worry that it won't cope with loud volumes at gigs, but thankfully there's no issues with the Pixel on the audio front. I recorded videos recently of a classic rock covers band called Inertia, and they were quite loud but on the recordings it's nice and clear, no distortion. And it coped reasonably well with the awful lighting of the gig.

Here's a video in bright sunshine - I've been sticking to 1080P as I find 4K isn't worth the hassle of having to upload such a large file size. Also I recommend not using 60fps at all as the video quality is awful - all blocky and looks like low resolution.

Battery Life

One area where my Pixel XL seems to lack slightly, at least currently with Android Pie, is with battery life. And at first I was worried that my battery was dying as I went out on one of my very long walks and took over 200 photos, 3 videos and used Google Maps with GPS a lot and it ran out stone dead 7 hours into the walk. If I had had my Z Play with me I think it would have lasted until I got back. However, since I had only just updated it to Pie stable, I decided to cycle the charge from full to flat a few times and it has since improved. Battery life has since improved somewhat and I've been monitoring how well it's been doing with Accubattery over the last two months, I'm currently averaging around 14 hours with around 4 hours screen on time on average usage days, though this is still not as good as the Z Play.

I've done a couple of 4 or 5 hour walks with lots of GPS and videos/photo taking and had around 30% left on getting home. I'm not the only one that's had shorter battery life on their Pixel devices after upgrading to Pie.

I think part of the reason the Z Play could get such amazing battery life, apart from not running Pie (and probably never will get Pie!), is it had a slightly bigger battery, a lower resolution screen, older slower CPU, and was really quite aggressive in killing background apps.


Other than the lesser battery life, I've had no real issues so far. I had a slight issue with Google Maps Timeline not working but it seems clearing it's cache and settings seems to have fixed it. My only other issue is when I needed a case ASAP. I bought a cheapo £10 flip wallet style case and I have had to cut back some of the material around the camera area so it did not intrude on photos. I'm still looking for a better flip case but it's hard to judge what they are like from listings on Amazon.

So unless something catastrophically goes wrong with the hardware, I think I will be keeping this phone for at least a few years, as it has a great camera, unlimited Google Photo uploads at full quality, forever, and it still has a headphone jack!

Saturday 8 September 2018

Turn KDE to The Dark Side - Dark Theme All The Things!

When Apple announced at WWDC2018 that macOS 10.14 Mojave would have a Dark Mode, my first thought was that in the Linux world, completely dark themes have been around since forever. Anyway, whilst you can make Gnome look almost exactly like Mojave with themes, I have no wish to do that though, or to use Gnome either. KDE has been my desktop of choice for over a year now and it's far less restrictive and more customisable, and has a far better file manager in Dolphin.

I've been using KDE Neon for about awhile now, having previously used Debian Testing before that. It's currently based on Ubuntu 16.04 but with the latest KDE software, so it's more up to date than Kubuntu 16.04 and still has a newer version of KDE than Kubuntu 18.04. The image below is how my desktop looks right now. I think I found the wallpapers on this subreddit but then I found out they are from iOS or macOS, but they work well on OLED/LED/AMOLED screens. And yes I do have an odd arrangement of a 27" landscape orientated monitor and a 22" portrait orientated monitor, which makes screenshots look quite odd too. Sadly I had to swap my right hand monitor for a non-LED monitor as the old one died. I take donations... ;)

I use Breeze Dark desktop theme which you can find in the Theme settings, and my choice of icons is Papirus Dark. Breeze Dark icons work well too. You can start typing what you need in the K Menu to quickly find anything. For a macOS-like dock, I use Latte dock, which is highly configurable and is far less buggy than Cairo Dock.

For Google Chrome, I found a good dark theme that goes well with the desktop theme, appropriately named Dark Theme V3.  To make every website in Chrome dark, I found a good dark mode extension in the Chrome web store called Dark Reader.  I found it recently and was the first one I found that doesn't mess up how Google Photos and some other app-like sites work. My only slight issue I've had with it is I cannot see the cursor input in YouTube comment boxes. The good thing is all my Chrome settings are synced to my other Chrome installs so I have these on my Chromebook too, which is nice. It's particularly good with Facebook and Google Plus which are far too bright normally.

And that's pretty much it. It certainly is easier on my eyes than without all the dark themes, particularly as I use my computer in a mostly dark room. Let me know in the comments about your dark themes and desktop tweaks.

Sunday 1 July 2018

Microsoft Band… Is It A Good Replacement For A Pebble?

I have been a wearer of the original Pebble smartwatch for a number of years, but with their demise and my Pebble starting to fail I looked around at something similar to replace it. I ended up with a first gen Microsoft Band, but how does it compare and is it a good replacement?

The first gen Pebble was released via Kickstarter in 2013 and the Microsoft Band was released in 2014.

You can read my full review of the Microsoft Band first gen here.

The smartwatch world is full of touch screen all-singing all-dancing devices and in comparison the Pebble looked a poor option, but it came with some major advantages.

I loved the simplicity of the Pebble. It featured a mono e-Paper screen which was always on and readable in any light. Its lack of fancy screen meant battery life was amazing at between 7 to 10 days on a single charge.

The Pebble is really just a notification device. It shows system wide notifications and phone calls, but it did feature changeable watch faces and you could even install apps on it and a few games, controlled by the three physical buttons on the side.

The Pebble was well built and I found the rubber watch strap very comfortable - although I know a few people who found it irritating. A bonus was it uses standard strap pins so you could put any watch strap on you like.

It was also waterproof and I wore mine 24/7, even showering and swimming. It was great for controlling music on my phone whilst soaking in the tub.

But like all good things, mine began to fail. Pebble had a great replacement policy. If yours broke they would swap it for a new one. However, now Pebble are no more this isn’t an option any longer.

So I wanted a similar alternative and the first gen Microsoft Band looked good.

The Microsoft Band is both a similar and totally different device to the Pebble.

The Band falls in to the fitness band and smartwatch genre. It sports a colour touch screen around a rigid band strap laced with numerous sensors. The Pebble has a mono screen and no sensors.

The colour touchscreen offers more control on the device, but it does mean it is hard to read in direct sunlight. The higher quality screen impacts on battery life, meaning you get around 2 to 3 days between charges vs the 7 day plus out of the Pebble, but both the Pebble and the Band charge very quickly.

You cannot customise the watch face on a Band, but you can change the colour of the background and menu system.

The Band doesn’t allow you to install apps - other than tiles for further controls, but no games and only a few extra fitness based tiles.

Both devices are controlled via an app on your smartphone, but the Band can be used without but does come in to its own when paired with the app.

Both devices offer phone notifications - the main reason I wear such a device - and both vibrate, both performing equally as well at this.

The Pebble doesn’t have a microphone, but the Microsoft Band does - although for use with Cortana this requires a Windows Phone - I haven’t found any other use for the mic yet which renders it a bit pointless.

The Band has a lot of fitness controls due to its extra sensors, which the Pebble lacks - but if these aren’t for you then it is a pointless addition.

Both devices have their advantages and disadvantages. The Pebble is a basic device with incredible battery life. The Band is a more advanced device with reasonable battery life.

Is it a good alternative to the Pebble? For me it is. I like the notification options of both, but I am loving the colour touch screen and fitness features of the Band even though it reduced battery life.

For all you Pebble holdouts out there, the Band is a good alternative.

FitBit took over Pebble and have not produced anything that replicates the simplicity of the Pebble. The Microsoft Band first gen can be bought for a tiny amount. I paid £15 for mine and it was brand new and sealed and at that price it is a bargain.

I am loving my Band and all it brings, but I do miss my Pebble.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Microsoft Band Review

Microsoft like to dip their feet in many pools and the smartwatch scene is no exception. In 2014 they released the Band, a fitness and smartwatch in one.

When looking for a replacement for my dying Pebble, the Microsoft Band looked a good option at a good price, so I bought a first gen Band.

Out of the box, the Microsoft Band feels a sturdy device. They come in three sizes and I bought a medium. It was a good choice. It fits very comfortably without irritation. The clasp is an excellent design (unlike early Fitbits) that clips in the end of the strap and can be adjusted whilst on your wrist.

Underneath the screen is the magnetic charge port and underneath the clasp are the sensors for heart rate etc.

Once charged the initial setup screen is simple as most is controlled via the Microsoft Band app on your phone - available for Windows Phone, Android and iOS. Pairing is simple and it worked first time. It is one of very few smart bands/watches that will work across all three platforms.

The Band is controlled via a small touch screen which mimics the Windows 8 tile interface and works very well on such a small screen. The tiny touch screen is very responsive, very bright and it doesn't take long to work out the layout. Being colour it can be a little tricky to read in sunlight.

It has two physical buttons. The larger one is the power/wake/lock button and the smaller one is a select button.

The screen isn't always-on but it can be set to display watch mode all the time if required (although this would impact on battery life). Once awake swiping left scrolls through tiles such as notifications, messages, social media, fitness and settings. Main control over tiles is handled on your phone.

I have been using it for about two days and it offers a lot more functions than my Pebble. Calls and notifications display bright on the screen. A neat feature for notifications that are longer than the small display is the 'read’ feature. By pressing the smaller button it will scroll through the words in large print making it easy to read.

It displays all notifications from the Notification Centre - with the exception of the eBay app which just doesn't show up on the Band for some unknown reason, yet everything else does.

The vibrate levels can be controlled and it offers a great buzz on your wrist - which is the main function I look for. It means I don’t have to pull my phone out of my pocket each time.

I didn't buy it for its fitness features, but it is nice addition. The sensor detects steps, distance, calories burnt and heat rate on the main watch screen. It can also monitor sleep and offer a summary in the morning. I have already found these new features interesting.

Out of the box it doesn't support music control playback (that was saved for the Band 2), but there are a few third party apps that can do it. I installed Media Controller and that does fine.

Additional tiles and features can be added and social media can be turned on. There is a small amount of customisation available with background colour and pattern being an option and the tiles can be rearranged to suit you.

This is no fully fledged smartwatch like the Apple Watch or Android ones, but it isn't supposed to be. This is a fitness and notification device similar to newer Pebble watches.

Battery life is obviously depending on use. I am averaging between two and three days and charging the device is quite quick.

I am not Microsoft's biggest fan and that initially put me off buying a Band. However I have a new approach to tech, if it doesn't what I need then it's suitable. Brand loyalty gets you nowhere and is just for show.

I have been very impressed with this Microsoft Band so far. It has excellent build and functions and battery life is as expected.

Unfortunately after the Band 2 Microsoft ended it's venture in to that market. It is a shame as they are great products.

I tried not to compare it to my first gen Pebble watch, - which it is hopefully replacing - I am saving that for another article.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Friday 22 June 2018

Oreo just landed on my Motorola Moto Z Play

Well I have been waiting quite a while but now I've finally got the official Oreo update on my Moto Z Play, which is better late than never! It was around an 1150MB update and I did a wipe and set it up again, since the launcher would not start after the update. Sometimes it's best to do a fresh start anyway.

I am also now using this version of Google Camera which is a bit more up to date than the one I was using. It's a bit annoying that you cannot just install Google Camera from the Play store, since I like using it for Photospheres. The updated Moto lockscreen and Moto widget looks nicer than it did on Nougat.

I also love the way the music Notification blends with the album cover, I've missed all the little things from Oreo since that brief time I had a Nexus 6P in October last year.  Another little change I like is the new incoming call screen, looks much neater. Notice from the screenshot above that Ampere now sits in the dropdown to remain open, it never used to be there in Nougat. I think I'd probably notice even more changes if I was using the Moto or Google Launchers but I prefer Nova Launcher Prime. once I had all my apps back i restored Nova from a backup on my SD card so i had it back to how I had it before. As you can see, i prefer the old style Google search box on my Home screen and I'm currently using "Pixel Icon Pack" from the Google Play.

My favourite feature introduced in Oreo is Autofill API, a system wide store of form data, which is like the way Chrome remembers your email and password for sites, this remembers them for apps and all around Android. It made setting up my phone again a lot quicker and easier. I'm sure I'll continue to find other new little things here and there, there's lots of things introduced in Oreo I haven't tried such as Picture in Picture in apps, Instant Apps etc. Overall my Z Play feels just as smooth as it did under Nougat and hopefully battery life will be just as good too, I'll see it how it goes over the next few days and weeks. 

Thursday 14 June 2018

Goodbye Linux Mint... Back to macOS

I have spent the last 6 weeks in the world of Linux, by running Linux Mint 17.3 Cinnamon on my MacBook Air. I have had an interest in Linux for a long time, but for me macOS is where it is at.

I gave it a good shot, but gone are my days of tinkering. I am more a user now. I just want something that is going to get what I need done in the shortest and easiest time.

After 20+ years of using a Mac at home, it has become second nature to me. I know MacOS/OSX/macOS inside out. I know the software, I know the hardware and I like the 'it just works' approach they have.

I feel a little disappointed that I have pushed Linux aside, but why learn a new OS, new way of operating and a bunch of new software - when I have 'old faithful' that I know.

So today I took the task of removing Linux Mint from my MacBook Air and giving the partitions back to macOS. On a Mac that is not an easy task. While creating partitions was easy, removing them was not. I had to clone my Mac partition to an external drive, boot from it, wipe the internal and then clone back.

I will keep my finger in the Linux pie and if I ever found myself without Apple hardware, it would be my first choice over Windows, but whilst I have a Mac - and one that is more than capable of running the latest offering from Apple - I might as well carry on using it as the Cupertino giants intended.

Goodbye Mint, its been a fun ride, but I am now back in the Apple camp.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Tuesday 5 June 2018

A Month With Linux Mint… On A 2012 MacBook Air

This is a follow up article to my ‘7 Days With Mint’. A month in and I am still running Linux Mint 17.3 ‘Cinnamon’ on my MacBook Air 2012. It is dual booted with macOS Sierra, but in a month I haven’t used macOS.

I had a few teething troubles which seemed specific to Apple hardware, some of which I have ironed out.

The heat issue seemed to calm down shortly after writing the previous article. I am not sure if it was settling in or drive indexing but I now have a quiet cool MacBook Air again.

The poor battery life has been improved, by installing PowerTop and turning everything labelled ‘bad’ to ‘good’. Battery is still not as good as under macOS, but it has drastically improved.

I discovered a problem watching online videos - from various sites - with the video flickering constantly. This was resolved by installing the Intel video drivers, which were in the Driver Manager tool rather than the default ones.

Two issues I still haven’t resolved and may never is the very sensitive mouse tap, which still causes me to accidentally send my mouse pointer to places I don’t want and it still doesn’t always wake from sleep with I lift of the lid, although this has also improved since tweaking PowerTop.

I am getting used to the feel of Mint, slowly the new keyboard shortcuts are becoming more natural rather than having to think for a second before remembering I am not in macOS. The same with general navigation, I now look to the bottom right automatically for the clock rather than top right.

I have ventured a little further in to apps, slowly installing items that I would use everyday in macOS. I have installed software so I can edit the websites I maintain (gedit, gFTP and GIMP) which I managed to do and upload successfully.

I need to dig deeper into tools for music management and video conversion for me to feel totally happy.

I am pleased how the journey is going. Day by day I am learning more and feeling more comfortable, but there is still so much to learn - especially if something goes wrong.

However it has certainly opened my eyes to the possibility of leaving the Apple world behind and when it comes to the end of life for my MacBook Air, it would be a non-Apple laptop I look for next.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Friday 11 May 2018

7 Days With Linux Mint... On A 2012 MacBook Air

I’ve been a linux fan on the side for a long time, dipping in to it and then going back to my Mac. However, my love of Apple has faded lately and with my 2012 MacBook Air getting older by the year Linux is looking a viable option for the future. Before I dive in, ditch my Mac and live in a non-Apple environment I thought I would try and get to grips with Linux a bit more. I couldn’t go full time in an OS I am not 100% comfortable with. While I am no Linux n00b, I am not that experienced either. So a week ago I installed rEFInd - an EFI boot manager for Apple computers - partitioned my SSD and installed Linux Mint 18.3 Cinnamon ‘Sylvia’ (ensuring I have 8GB for swap). Mint is my go-to distro. I love the look, it works fantastically and I am the most comfortable in it.

First impressions were impressive. Everything worked and it looked superb. All hardware was detected and setup correctly, even down to the Mac specific hardware keys for screen brightness, sound and keyboard backlight. My MacBook Air is no slouch, a 1.7Ghz i5 with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD and under Mint it performs even faster than macOS. This is not a pros and cons of Linux article. Anyone looking in to it knows its advantages and limitations in comparison to the competition. The GUI of Linux Mint shares a look between macOS and Windows. It has a bottom task bar a ‘Mint’ Start menu and a clock in the bottom right. Drives mount and show on the desktop and Notifications pop up to the top right of the screen. Keyboard shortcuts also mimic Windows using a Control key instead of an Apple key - but oddly enough Control+Q closes windows - a mix of Control + F4 for Windows and Apple + Q on macOS. The Apple (or command) key now activates the 'Mint' menu.

Once you get your head around changed shortcuts and screen decor being in different places navigating and using the OS is great and simple.

Installing apps isn't as difficult as it used to be. The Software Manager is an app store which makes finding and installing apps easy, but other apps can be downloaded and installed from websites just like macOS and Windows. I installed DropBox and a text editor called Sublime without any issues.

Performance is superb, but on this hardware it does have some specific issues. Battery life. This takes a significant hit, lasting almost a third less and that is under average load. I have yet to do anything very processor or drive intensive yet. Heat. My Air runs very cool under macOS, but under Mint it has heated quite bit with more fan action than I have ever experienced before. It happens especially when it is on charge. Initially this was a worry, but after the first few days, this has drastically reduced. Writing this article now my Mac is back to no fans, silent and relatively cool. Mouse. I reversed the scroll direction and lowered the pointer speed, but the tap is very sensitive and I cannot seem to lower this. I have on a number of occasions accidentally tapped when moving my finger across the pad. It has also detected a drag and sent a few windows where I didn’t want them. Being a Mac it only has one mouse button. It took a while to work out tapping with two fingers will bring up a right button sub menu. Sleep. Waking from sleep can be little temperamental. Opening the lid wakes the machine 95% of the time, but a few times I have had to prod the power or escape key to give it a little nudge. Battery Low Indicator. When the battery gets critically low it pops a warning, however plugging in a charger doesn’t automatically dismiss this. You have to manually click it. A small annoyance. Everything else has worked fine. I have ran the multiple updates to ensure everything is up-to-date. I would like to stress that these are not specific issues with Linux or even Mint, rather particular issues when combining Linux with a MacBook. Others have experienced these with different distros. I have never come across these issues before and I have run Linux on various machines from ThinkPads to other Macs without these problems. At first I was very disappointed with the heat issue. After all I don't want to damage my MacBook Air. The others are minor issues.

I thought it was going to call time on my Linux venture, but I will keep a mindful eye on temperature. The more I use and get used to Linux and Mint the more I enjoy it. After 20 years of using a Mac and Apple OS it is going to be strange to get used to.

Wish me luck.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Monday 30 April 2018

Fallen Out Of Love With Apple. But Whats Next For Me?

I’ve been a massive advocate for Apple and the Mac platform for nearly two decades, but of late my love of them has become less love, more habit. Once locked in to the macOS and iOS ecosystem, about 18 months ago I broke free, ditched my iPhone and jumped in to the Google camp.

This was a major step, it meant I no longer required a Mac to take advantage of my phone. The cat and mouse game of will my phone version work with my Mac and will my Mac version work with my phone is no longer there.

My Android based Motorola Moto G4 has served me amazingly for over a year and I can not fault it in any way. It works very well too with a Mac, but it isn’t tied to it.

With every year that passes my beloved MacBook Air gets older and older. A 2012 11” with i5 processor and 8GB of RAM means it is still no slouch and hardware wise probably has a few more years left, but Apple increasingly push hardware and drop older models with each new release of macOS. I am running Sierra, I haven’t bothered with High Sierra and the next version is just around the corner. Whether you want to run the latest or not sometimes you are forced to by software developers or Apple themselves. There is a good chance the next version will be the last for my now 5 year old Mac and that puts it on the slippery slope to ‘low end’.

So what next? I no longer drool over the latest Apple tech and I certainly don’t have the funds to stump up a £1000 for another Mac. Going the used market route saves you a few hundred but puts you closer to the eventual cut-off where you will be in the same position again.

I have had a keen interest in Linux as a desktop operating system for years, dabbling in various distros - such as Mint, Ubuntu, LXLE to name a few - and learning the basics, but it has always been a side interest, a geeky look at what those ‘nerds’ run. However it is no longer spotty speccy geeks who snort with excitement over new kernel releases or wet themselves over the newest LTS release. It has become a real contender in the OS wars. It places itself sandwiched between Windows haters and those who either can't afford Apple hardware or those who don’t want the lock-in you get with them.

Looking at my list of apps sitting in my dock, I see very little that is Mac exclusive. I browse using Chrome, I use GMail for emails, I write in Google Docs or use OpenOffice. I use VLC for video use, Audacity for audio tweaking, HandBrake for video conversion and DropBox for off site back ups. All of which are available for Linux, some of which were originally Linux apps ported to the Mac.

I have a few other minor apps, which may not be on Linux but I am sure there are just as suitable alternatives.

I no longer use iTunes everyday. It is used mainly for editing tags and adding artwork to music and since leaving iOS I don’t use Photos anymore.

Android File Transfer is an awful piece of essential software for any Mac user with an Android, but isn’t required in Linux as most support native mounting with drop and drag.

The one caveat to not owning a Mac would be Adobe Photoshop. Being an ex professional graphic designer I grew up learning Photoshop and despite many attempts haven’t found anything to match it. Perhaps there are or perhaps I am just too set in my ways to get my head around another graphics package. If I am honest it is one of the main things holding me to my Mac.

However, it isnt just about apps. Linux is a large learning curve. It may be nix based and OSX/macOS may share similar ideas, layout and operations - especially compared to Windows - but Mac is 99% GUI. Linux - while it has come a long way to be user friendly - you still need to delve in to terminal and understand what you are doing once in a while.

It is a big step for me, after 20 years of using a Mac, I know the OS inside out. It just works. It never lets me down. It never gets in the way of my every day use. Moving to a relatively unfamiliar operating system I don’t want to be spending time constantly looking up how to perform simple tasks.

Microsoft is definitely not an option. Nothing anyone can say will make me switch to that swiss cheese OS. I may not be an Apple devotee anymore, but I still have extreme hatred for Windows.

The future for me is uncertain, but my love of Apple is no longer where it was. I want the freedom. I want the choices to be my choices and not governed by who makes my computer. Linux is looking more and more appealing as a way to escape the clutches of Apple.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Monday 26 March 2018

The Instagram Android App is infuriating

For a long time now, going back several phones, Instagram has been a pain on Android. I post a lot of photos, mainly from my long walks. After a bunch of photos get posted, the app eventually ends up just making blank white images, like so.

The only way to fix this, at least temporarily, is to go into App Info (tap and hold the Instagram icon),

Tap Force Stop and OK

Then tap Storage and Clear Cache. Then instagram will be fine until it builds up another 50MB or so of cache. I know I should not be surprised that an app owned by Facebook is utter crap, but they could at least fix simple things like this.

Thursday 22 February 2018

Motorola Moto G4... Why I Am Keeping Mine

In February 2017, I switched from an iPhone to Android. I bought a Motorola Moto G4 and compared to my aging iPhone, this thing screamed along. The 5.5” screen, octa-core processor and 2GB of RAM were decent specs and its £159 price tag was half that of a used iPhone.

The Moto G4 was actually released March 2016, so is now coming up for two years old. The Moto G5 was released March 2017 but with a smaller screen than its predecessor, it also benches lower so I decided not to upgrade. The Moto G6 is due to be released shortly, but unless it offers serious improvements I will be holding on to my G4 for some time yet.

Looking around at other handsets from other manufacturers in the sub £200 price bracket and I was thoroughly disappointed with what was offered. Could a two year old mid range handset like the Moto G4 really be better than what is currently being offered?

The Samsung Galaxy J3 2017 and Sony Xperia L1 both have a measly quad core processor, while the Nokia 5 and LG K10 2017 have octa core processors and all feature 2GB RAM.

All of the above feature 16GB internal storage, 13mpx rear camera and 5mpx front facing camera and have Android 7.0 Nougat. While some may have or get the 8.0 Oreo update, some may not and my Moto G4 isn’t going to get it either.

On a side note I was shocked to see low priced sub £50 Android handsets such as the ZTE Blade A110 shipping with Android 5.1.1 ‘Lollipop’ and the Alcatel OneTouch Pixi 3 3.5 even ships with Android 4.4 ‘KitKat’ an OS released in 2013.

Nothing in the same price bracket as my Moto G4 offers much if anything more than I am getting now - and considering my handset is now a two year old model, it really shows how much ‘bang for your buck’ you get from a Moto G handset.

My family all own Moto G handsets. My daughter has a Moto G, my son has a Moto G2, my other son has a Moto G3 and both my wife and I have a Moto G4. They are cracking phones offering far better specs and speed than comparably priced handsets.

Even two years on the Moto G4 is a superb handset. It has never caused me any issues, never let me down, is still super fast, does everything I need and the 3,000 mAh battery lasts forever.

The upgrade from Marshmallow to Nougat didn’t caused any slow down and is a real shame it won’t see Oreo - but having the latest version isn’t that important in the Android world.

It is by far the best handset I have ever owned, a joy to use. On the used market you can pick them up for about £70 which is an absolute bargain.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at