Category Archives: Blog post

New year, new blog

I don’t really have the time to update this blog at the moment, but partly I also don’t have much to write about – I can’t afford the latest phones etc. so I’m stuck talking about my older devices (although I am considering an upgrade to either a Pixel 2 or a Galaxy S8). Personally, I don’t find Android as exciting any more – there haven’t been any major changes recently, it’s more a case of ironing out flaws. It’s still the best mobile OS as far as I can tell, but I don’t have much to say about it.

So I think I am going to change the blog to cover games as well as Android. After sitting out the PS4/Xbox One era, I’ve finally entered the current generation with a Nintendo Switch. So far I am loving it and Zelda is such a wonderful experience, I’m looking forward to trying out other games. So in the coming weeks I’m going to update the blog (and find a new theme as well!) to include my thoughts about games. It will also be a handy place for me to keep my completed games list. I’ve tried maintaining lists on other sites but they always seem to shut down or not get updated.

Tablet decisions

I’ve had my LG G Pad 8.3 nearly 3 years and it’s beginning to show its age. Things seem to be slowing down and it’s still running on Lollipop. I’ve resisted using a custom ROM because some apps won’t work (such as Virgin Media’s TV apps) but there are a few things that annoy me such as the SD card always dismounting itself for no good reason.

I’ve borrowed my mum’s iPad 2 (she’s got herself a newer model) and despite the iPad 2 being older than the G Pad it’s still going reasonably well. The main reason I wanted it was for GarageBand, but I also use it for Readly (the screen dimensions make it easier to read magazines on). I am still not a massive fan of iOS but it still feels like there are not many great apps for Android tablets, whilst the iPad ecosystem is much more extensive.

I don’t think I could ever switch to an iPhone but I could be tempted by an iPad to replace my Android tablet. It just seems to work better for media consumption (which is all I would be doing anyway). The other alternative is a Surface which I’ve been lusting after ever since it was released. It looks great but unless I can get a good deal it’s just a bit too expensive to justify getting.

I’ll wait and see how my current devices fare and whether there’s any good deals in the Christmas sales. I have a feeling I’m going to need a new phone first anyway as I’m sure my Nexus 5X will bootloop again soon…

Android 8 is known as Oreo

The latest version of the Android operating system is now available to select devices. Android 8 is a major release and has a new name: Oreo. I wonder if Oreo paid anything to have it known as that, like with KitKat? Anyway, if you have a specific device (e.g. Pixel or Nexus) the update should be available now or in the near future.

Android Oreo

My Nexus 5X hasn’t received the update yet but I’m in no rush – I’m sure it’s possible to force an update by joining the beta scheme but I’ll just wait for the update to arrive naturally.

Here are the headline updates for Android 8:

  • Performance – devices should be faster to boot up and run. It is also possible to set a quota for each app so that if the cache for that app gets too large, it will automatically be cleared.
  • Battery – Oreo should limit apps running in the background and force them to run background jobs which should use your battery less.
  • Notifications – these can now be “snoozed” for a certain amount of times. Icons on the launcher will also feature dots to show that a notification has arrived.
  • Autofill – it is possible to autofill certain forms and logins.
  • Adaptive icons – you can choose which icon to display for certain apps.
  • Bluetooth 5 – Oreo will support the latest Bluetooth standards.

I look forward to using Oreo but the changes are not so drastic that I feel compelled to update immediately. Generally there are no major visual changes (such as with the introduction of Holo, Material, etc.)

Recording music – what are the choices?

Android has always had one major downside compared to iPads, and that is sound latency. Anyone wanting to record music will know that Apple have a great range of recording apps, notably GarageBand, but as the Android operating system suffers from audio latency it is harder to develop good recording apps.

Audio latency is the difference in time between audio going into the device and exiting the device. So for example if you were using a device to add effects to your guitar, the delay between you playing something and hearing it would cause you to be out of time with everyone else. This is a problem caused by the way Android is developed and there is not much you can do about it unfortunately.

One big Android player, Samsung, has made moves to counter this and has developed drivers and SDKs for their own premium devices (such as Galaxy S and Note) which allow for practically zero audio latency. This allows apps to be developed for these devices which work in a similar way to Apple devices. This is a huge improvement but requires you to have a Samsung device. One benefit of Android devices is that there are many cheap devices available, but the Samsung Pro Audio devices are all at a similar price to Apple’s offerings.

It does seem strange that Google haven’t done more in this area – music apps generate a lot of revenue on the App Store for Apple but there is very little to be found on the Google Play Store. It’s almost at a point where I’ve considered buying an iPad just to use GarageBand, but the truth is I don’t spend enough time recording music to justify the expense. It’s definitely something I will consider though when the time to replace my LG G Pad 8.3 arrives.

Allow custom notifications in the Outlook app for Android

I use Gmail for my personal email account but I’ve found that Outlook works better for my work account which has recently switched to using Exchange. There was one minor annoyance however; I was unable to select custom notifications for the app, and I was originally limited to the default selection. Having spent years listening to the same message notification I didn’t really want to change it, but luckily I was able to find a solution.

The problem arises from a change in more recent versions of Android to allow specific permissions for various apps. Outlook does not have access to Storage by default and so it can’t see the custom notification. It’s easy to solve however:

  • Go to your phone’s Settings
  • Go to the Apps section and select Outlook
  • Select Permissions
  • Switch the Storage permission to on/yes

Screenshot showing permissions for Outlook

Now if you go back into Outlook and try to change the notification sound you should be able to see the custom notifications again!

How to activate “Swipe for notifications”

Thankfully my Nexus 5X did not take too long to repair and is now back in full working order. It’s now updated to Android Nougat 7.1.2, which mainly features stability and bug fixes. However, there is one addition which I’m very happy about – it’s now possible to swipe down on the fingerprint scanner in order to bring notifications down on the screen! It’s so easy to use and it’s a wonder Google didn’t include it before.

To activate this setting, go to the usual Settings menu and go to the “Moves” section. All you have to do is now activate the “Swipe for notifications” setting and away you go!

Swipe for notifications setting

If you weren’t already aware, there are some other very useful settings here. The “Jump to Camera” setting is one that I find very useful, as it allows me to jump straight to the camera when the phone is locked. All I have to do is take my phone out of my pocket, press the power button twice and the camera is active! The “Flip camera” one is also pretty handy, sometimes I like to take photos whilst cycling and being able to switch camera using only one hand is very useful.

The Dreaded Nexus 5X Bootloop

I’d seen all the warnings about the Nexus 5X bootloop and had figured it was going to affect me some day, but in the meantime I was enjoying using the phone – it is easily the best device I have ever owned. However, one day away from it’s first anniversary, the dreaded bootloop hit me whilst I was midway through a game of Marvel Puzzle Quest.

What happens is that the phone turns itself off, boots up, you see the Google logo and then it promptly reboots, you see the Google logo, it reboots, etc. I did actually manage to get it to boot up properly once by leaving it off for a while to cool down, this gave me a couple of minutes to copy some files off before the bootloops hit once again.

I bought the phone from Amazon UK but I have to deal with LG’s warranty department to get it repaired. I’m not holding my breath that this will get resolved any time soon after the efforts it took to get my LG G Pad 8.3 repaired.

Things are already off to a bad start – LG use a locker-based courier firm to get devices to them. They sent out packaging two days after I called them, and I visited the locker and packaged up my phone within an hour of getting the notification. However, five days later and the phone had still not been picked up – I had to email the courier asking why this was and thankfully it is now showing as being sent. Once it reaches LG I’ll have to wait between 10-15 working days for them to repair it, then wait for the courier to get it back to the locker.

For anyone else who bought the phone directly from Amazon, I’ve heard it might be best to take things up with them – if you complain that you’ll be without a phone for a few weeks, they’ll just give you a full refund. The trouble is that I do really like using the Nexus 5X, and I don’t really want to fork out the extra money for a Pixel just yet.

In the meantime I have borrowed my mum’s old phone, an iPhone 4s. Yes, an iPhone – I thought I would give it a try as the only other alternative is a Galaxy Ace 4 with a cracked screen or a Moto G which can’t maintain a cellular network connection. I am trying to be fair (the iPhone 4s is over 5 years old now) but everything seems so difficult to use – I thought the whole point of Apple is that anyone can use it, but simple things require digging through menus which aren’t always obvious. We’ll see if things get any better…

How is Android doing these days?

I am still very much a fan of Android and all smartphones and tablets in my house are Android-based. But am I perhaps a bit too biased towards Android? I can definitely see the advantages of Apple devices (limited range of hardware devices so apps are optimised, popularity means more apps are created, number of accessories, etc.) I found it interesting on a night out with some old friends from university recently. The previous Android owners have now switched to Apple, whilst the previous Apple owner has switched to Android (for his phone at least). There are still many things about Apple I’m not a fan of (still no widgets?) and I can’t really ever see myself owning an iPhone (never mind that the price probably counts me out unless I get a good deal on a contract).

Things are different however in the tablet market. I am still using my LG G Pad 8.3 whilst my wife has an Amazon Kindle Fire (which has had the Google Play store sideloaded). This is one arena where I can definitely see an advantage to having an iPad – the Android tablet market is so fragmented and not as popular as iPads so there are very few tablet-specific apps being made. I’d love to see something like GarageBand on an Android tablet but I think there are hardware reasons why something similar cannot be created.

My G Pad is nearly two years old and is starting to show signs of age – I have never really been able to successfully use it for productivity (e.g. coding, blog entries, simple things such as this) and have generally used it to consume media (comics, videos, games). I have been looking enviously at the Surface tablet – it seems perfect for what I’d like to use it for, but the cost is prohibitive as I probably wouldn’t use it enough to warrant the cost. I have seen similar cheap copies available from GearBest etc. but these always have an element of risk, but some of them are dual-boot with Android – this would be perfect for my needs, so I might take the risk and buy one soon. I’ll definitely have to do some research first.

Android Nougat released – how to get it right now if you have a Nexus device

Google have released the final version of the Android Nougat operating system for Nexus devices – but you might still have to wait even if you have a current supported Nexus device such as the 5X, 6P or 9 as Google releases the update in stages. However, there is an easy way to get the update immediately.

All you need to do is sign up for the Android beta programme and enrol for your specific device. The notification to install the Nougat update will then appear on your device shortly afterwards (it appeared almost instantly on my Nexus 5X). You will see warnings about your phone being wiped if installing a beta update, but you can safely ignore this as this is not a beta update. Once the update has been downloaded and installed to your phone, you should then unenrol your device at the same beta programme link so that you don’t receive the next beta update.

Nougat downloading on my Nexus 5X

Nougat promises some great new features such as multi-window support, quick switching between apps, new emoji, a new Vulkan API for faster graphics, improved battery life, improved bundling of notifications and more. I look forward to trying out Nougat – it’s nice to have a Nexus device and get the update straight away without waiting months for manufacturers!