Sunday, 27 October 2013

Musings on the Train

It’s times like these when I find myself sitting on the train, with the best combination of technology I own for the purpose of writing in front of me, that my mind decides to remind me of all the things I should do now I have a week where I don’t need to go into work. The first is to try to restart the blog I was writing back in the halcyon days provided by my previous job. This new one requires more time, energy and concentration from me. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great job, where I am expected to perform well and do the best I can, my colleagues are amazingly supportive and some of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with, but it all leads to very little time away from it all. So let’s begin with a few recaps.

All the things in my bag

The MacBook Air is awesome

I realised as I sat down on the train that I would now be able to describe myself as ‘adequately catered for this journey’ in the technology department. I have a small bag with all the technology I could possible desire for a train journey of 4.5 hours. I have my MacBook Air which has been on and in use for 2 hours and 50 minutes, and still shows over 7 and a half hours of battery left even with Spotlight trying to read everything on my drives.
MBA battery after nearly 3 hours

This laptop takes battery life to a new level, and still doesn’t have the longevity of the 13” model. My iPod Video from 2007 is still working well and playing the music required to drown out the token screaming child that seems to always be accompanying me on any train or plane I find myself on. On the other hand, my Nexus 7 (2013) is sitting along with my Nook eReader in the bag still, no doubt feeling rather neglected. But all this just goes to show the amount of technology I have and how prepared for avoiding boredom I am. Perhaps it’s a little sad really, but after travelling up and down the country, and expecting to use all of these different devices during my trip anyway, they might as well all be ready to use! Plus I like to keep them all nearby during the journey, and not with my big bag out of my view down the aisle. That means my Nikon D3100 has joined the bag on the seat next to me for the journey too. What a technology geek I am.

My technology-filled Go Bag

On the Matter of Tablets

I wrote a series of posts a few months back detailing the differences between the Cr48 and the iPad 1,1 in several different criteria. Having waited for the 11” MacBook Air refresh and sold my Alienware M11X R3, I was finally able to buy one, and what a machine it is! Over the past few months, it has completely replaced the Chromebook, and was a major factor in deciding to sell the iPad. It has even replaced the iMac in a few cases where I am able to have a supremely fast machine in bed or the iMac’s bigger screen at my desk and will take the lazy option and use the MacBook Air in bed! The Chromebook has become the machine that I will take out only if I know a few people need a computer with internet, as its guest function is great, but otherwise it languishes in the drawer only taken out every few weeks to put a little charge into the battery and receive updates. It is the machine I would take on holiday with me if I expected to take serious numbers of photos or needed to use WIFI, but for everything else the MacBook Air rules the roost.

I mentioned the Nexus 7 above, that is my replacement for the iPad. After getting the iPhone 5 and then the MacBook Air, I realised two different things. Firstly, that the iPhone 5’s screen size is great for a pocketable phone, but not only does it have a small battery I need to prevent from getting too low in case of emergency, but it simply is not great for tasks like getting work done, reading long articles or watching videos on the go. In those cases I usually would differ to the iPad, but since I got the MBA, I found myself leaving the comparatively bulky iPad in favour of the more powerful and useful MacBook. I found that the only actual uses my iPad was fulfilling was as a media consumption device while I was in bed before I went to sleep. So this has led me to decide that a 9.7” iPad just isn’t necessary for me anymore, so I looked towards the smaller Nexus 7 and iPad mini. I decided on the Nexus for its smaller size, lower price and better display than the iPad. I had also previously used, rooted and upgraded an old Galaxy S phone and was interested in running several of the apps available for Android and not available on a regular, un-jailbroken iPhone like console emulators and all kinds of ways to change the look and function of sections of the device.

The iPad mini looked better built and better served by some seriously high-quality apps, but for my use case, I didn’t want to risk the extra expenditure, especially as I wanted to buy the 32GB model to put lots of 720p and potentially 1080p video on it. So I bought the Nexus 7 2013 32GB model off eBay for £210 and I haven’t had any major issues with it yet! There are a few gripes as with most purchases, but on the whole I am very happy with it, and it does almost everything better than the iPad it replaces, and financially considering the amount of money I got for the iPad, I think it was a bargain!

On the matter of a new desktop computer

My iMac 21.5” is great, but having bought the new MacBook Air with its Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 I/O, its PCIe SSD, things like file transfers, read and write times the boot-time, app opening, file-reading appear so very slow on it. Another problem is the greedy technologist in me also wants a larger screened desktop computer in my bedroom since it doubles as my television. So now comes the decision-making process of what I do to solve the different problems here.

Questions: Do I bring the Xbox into my room as well and use the screen to double as that? Probably not a good idea as I’d never leave! 

Prerequisites: I do want my desktop machine to be a Macintosh. It must have USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt to have some future-proofing, it must have a larger display, or I’ll have to buy a separate one.

I’d prefer it not to use the MacBook Air to double as my desktop machine as sitting a laptop as a desktop is probably a surefire way to burn through its battery’s health, plus I’d rather not have to get everything out of my bag when I get home and plug all the cables in again and then put it all away again for the morning. And the method to save that happening: a Thunderbolt display seems incredibly PRICY! Nor  do I really want to be restricted to the desktop during the evening while tasks like video transcoding, CD ripping is taking place. Perhaps a Mac mini with a display or a 27” iMac? Perhaps an old Mac Pro with a third party display, even if it is a beast of a machine on a desk? That would keep the tinkerer/ upgrader in me happy. Hmm, plenty of questions. I guess I’d better do some research!

And the train pulls into the station after a 4.5 hour journey and my MacBook Air says it has 9 hours and 44 minutes of power left. I love this machine and Mavericks!

MBA battery after 4.5 hours of continual use

Friday, 24 May 2013

My Android Conundrum: Benefits of Androids

This is a quick post on the benefits of Android, at least for me! Android is a mobile OS I have only used for a few weeks, and only on low-end devices like the HTC Wildfire S and the Samsung Galaxy Ace. During my brief usage of the platform I continually found my experience let down and hamstrung by shoddy hardware, terrible skins and compromised specifications. These left me annoyed at the terrible quality of the lower-end Android devices and searching for something better at the higher end.

These benefits really refer to the Android platform as a whole, but the high-end in particular, where the operating system is really allowed to shine.


The number of ways in which you can customise your Android’s software is incredible, especially when you realise that all of these customisations are available from downloads within the Play Store. Nothing in the iOS App Store allows for anywhere near that level of customisation. A good example of these are the Launchers like Nova and Apex, allowing you to change how the Android homescreens look and act, as well as the skins of individual icons. Another level of customisation is available with gaining root access of the device itself and installing custom ROMs. This is possible as Google makes their Android code open-source, allowing any developers to access it and change it however they want. Famous ROMs like Cyanogenmod and MIUI allow for a complete replacement of the original operating system that shipped with the device, and often supports the device years beyond its intended life cycle, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S was introduced in June 2010 with Android 2.1, and Samsung stopped supporting it at Android 2.3 in March 2012. Yet ROMs like Cyanogenmod continue to support the Galaxy S, up to the latest Android 4.2 with nightly updates.


Android also allows its apps to interact far more than those of iOS. Apple allows deep access to only its own apps: only Safari can be the default browser, only Maps can be the default Maps application. This is rubbish if you want to click on an address in Contacts and start using it in Google Maps. Instead you are automatically taken to Apple’s Maps. The “Share” function in iOS also provides few options for different files and links, far fewer than Android, where it allows different first and third-party apps to share all kinds of information on the fly, again something that iOS, even with its improvements with Sharing to Twitter and Facebook, simply can’t compete with.
The multitasking on Android devices, especially in its Nexus implementation is far more efficient and useful that that of iOS. A dedicated multitasking button, a clear screenshot of the open app and a simple “swipe to close” action. This is so much easier than iOS’s double-tap to open the multitasking tray and then pressing and holding an icon and then tapping the red “close” button. These types of things allow for far greater interactivity of information among different apps on the device.

Google - king of services

The final ace up the sleeve of Android is that it is made by Google, possibly one of the best internet and information service providers in the world. Google can leverage every one of its tools throughout Android to a level that none of the other mobile device creators can yet reach. This means that it has an advantage in all areas of email, social networking, productivity, search, maps and media. If an Android device can leverage all of these information technology tools effectively, then they stand a far greater chance of being a far “smarter” smartphone than any of the competition. In comparison with iOS 6, Google Now is more powerful than Siri, Android 4.2 can use offline dictation, and use many of its services on several different platforms. Until iOS 7 is released, it does appear like Android 4.2 does have a lead over it. Apple is a hardware and software company first, not a services provider, and it really needs to step up its game at WWDC 2013!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

My Android Conundrum: Benefits of iOS

This is my second post detailing the best parts of iOS and Android in my quest to see whether the iPhone 5 or Nexus 4 is best for me. This one details my three main positives for iOS.

The iPhone 3GS and 5 homescreens

App Ecosystem

The App Store has the best app ecosystem for me. I love that all apps appear to head to iOS first and it appears most developers prioritise iOS. This means that I have access to all of the best apps as soon as they are available. This is something that I didn’t think was particularly important - I bought the Omnia 7 Windows Phone. It turns out I was wrong, there were some great apps I found I was missing. This problem doesn’t take place on iOS. I have access to all of the Apple apps like iTunes, Microsoft’s apps like Skydrive and OneNote, and Google’s offerings like Maps and Drive. No other platform has access to all apps of such high quality from everyone as iOS. This gives the iPhone user arguably the best app ecosystem and it really has spoiled me!

Apple’s offerings

Due to the small number of iOS devices Apple has created, it is very straight-forward for developers to build their apps and market them for the devices. This means that it is easy to install apps that can work on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches and are able to work between all of them with their own interfaces. The word ‘fragmentation’ is bandied around quite a lot, but with iOS, there are four different screen sizes that developers can target, whereas with other platforms there are often a lot more, you just need to look at the number of Samsung screens on their mobile devices, let alone other OEMs! This makes the apps better for the user, as the developers are able to specifically target every iOS device Apple has built, ensuring a great experience on all of them.

Immediate updates to all (supported) devices

This does have to come with a caveat: Google’s Nexus devices receive updates as soon as they are released as well, their so-called "Best of Google" just like the Apple devices. However, all of Apple’s iOS devices currently receive updates as soon as they are released, allowing people to update through iTunes or over the air. Apart from Google’s Nexus line, other Android devices often come to market with outdated software and take months to receive updates to the next version, by which time an even newer version has been released. This doesn’t take place with Apple’s devices, however which receive updates on Day 1 for as long as they are supported.

These are my best reasons for using iOS. The next post will discuss the big benefits of Android!

Monday, 8 April 2013

My Android Conundrum
Nexus 4 vs iPhone 5 from

I am an iPhone user. For many people this will stir feelings of kinship or animosity. Rarely will this elicit no response at all, as today choosing a mobile phone OS is a big deal to individuals and companies. The iOS vs Android “fanboy” flame wars have raged long and hard and have all but replaced the previous Apple vs Windows desktop OS wars in te public's consciousness. For me, having owned the iPhone 3G and currently using the iPhone 3GS, I have generally been a big fan of Apple’s mobile OS, but my iPhone and iPad, from 2009 and 2010 respectively, are getting a bit long in the tooth and are probably due to be replaced with something a little more up to date, especially the iPhone!

The Android OS has been slowly creeping up on me over the years, and the draw of the increasingly impressive hardware coupled with it looked too good to pass up. I thought it was finally time to give this perfect storm of situation and opportunity - Android 4.2 and a new, great value, beautiful Nexus device, the LG Nexus 4.

The stage was set then, for a crunch between the two heavyweights of the mobile industry, so I’ll give you a rundown of the positives of each OS and each device, for me and hopefully I’ll come to a conclusion at the end, with reasons as to which I will go for!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Chromebook vs iPad: Fun

This is the third section of my comparison between the Cr-48 Chromebook and the iPad. This section refers to how the two devices compare in terms of fun and games and other non-productivity pursuits for me.

A screenshot of a game of UniWar, a turn-based Strategy game on the iPad

Internet vs Apps

I think the paradigm of “Internet vs Apps” comes back to the forefront in this section just as much as it did in my previous post about productivity. The iOS platform’s impressive array of self-contained apps really competes against the Chromebook’s web apps and websites and absolutely wins in this area. The ability to play any of the thousands of games available for iOS really gives the iPad the crown in terms of games. Above is a screenshot taken from a game of UniWar HD, one of hundreds of great games for the iPad. This doesn’t meant there aren't good games available for the Chrome OS platform, there certainly are many Flash-based games available through the browser and several great games on the Chrome Web Store like Bastion, there just aren’t as many games with the quality of the offerings from the iOS App Store. With the introduction of the Chromebook Pixel by Google themselves, hopefully developers will begin to develop great games that will use both touch and keyboard for the platform and introduce them into the Chrome Web Store.

On the other hand, there are several webapps that are absolutely brilliant on the Cr-48 even if they weren't specifically designed for it, including the Spotify app and Tweetdeck that aren’t available in quite the same way in the App system on the iPad. Being able to have tabs open in a browser with the different webapps open at the same time is something the iPad still can’t quite compete with.


The thorny issue of form-factor rears its head again in this comparison. The touch-centric interface of the iPad gives it a massive lead in games and other apps rather than having to use the trackpad and keyboard of the Chromebook. This is often a hindrance when it comes to getting stuff done in the productivity arena, however when it comes to games on the App Store, the touch interface is what is now expected and when it has a good layout, praised. The Chromebook is not able to win this simply through form factor for me as it might be able to in productivity.

Steve Jobs, when he first introduced the iPad in 2010 said that holding the first iPad and watching video on it is an incredible experience and I’m still inclined to agree with him over three years later. There is something to be said for holding and physically interacting with the screen with a game or an app, rather than through a different medium like the keyboard and mouse or a trackpad. Using the video app on the iPad and holding the device is still amazing when watching a great video, as well as playing a gripping game. It is even easier to be ‘drawn into’ it than when the screen is further away, even if the iPad1 that I have is heavier and bulkier than the current generations.

When it comes to the Cr-48, watching a video just isn’t as simple as on the iPad. 480p and above stutter and slow down on the Chromebook, where they are absolutely rock solid on even the first generation iPad. This seems to be a problem with both streaming and local .mp4 files on the Cr-48 and even David Pierce on the Verge mentioned poor local video performance in his review of the Chromebook Pixel, suggesting it is something systemic to Chrome OS. It really detracts from the device as a whole even if the audio and video do catch up with each other couple minutes into the video.

Summing Up

Nevertheless, it certainly isn’t doom and gloom for the Cr-48, it just hasn’t been able to age as gracefully as the iPad. This isn't surprising, especially considering it was never meant to be used by the public and was never put on sale. Of the few games that are available for Chrome Web Store, the Cr-48 simply doesn’t have the graphical power to run them well enough to be usable. The first generation iPad on the other hand, even though it was released about 9 months earlier and has stopped receiving updates from Apple is capable of playing most of the games available on the App Store and should be able to for a while yet. The Cr-48 is still great at performing the vast majority of web-based activities, as long as that doesn’t include anything too graphically intensive like high quality videos on Youtube or Vimeo or saved onto the device itself. For me the iPad is the clear winner when it comes to fun and games, and that is without any reference to the convenience of iBooks, iTunes for its simple syncing. The old iPad is definitely the best secondary machine for fun for me!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Chromebook vs iPad: Productivity

This is the second part of my small series about the comparison between the iPad and the Chromebook. This one talks about the "Productivity" side of things and how each work well and how they work badly. There are several different ways each works well for this, but also some areas in which one works better than the other. At the end of the day, neither is truly capable of fulfilling a primary computer role, however since I use them in a secondary role most of the time anyway, it isn’t really a problem.

The usual stuff that goes in my 'work' bag

Apps vs the Internet

The Chromebook uses Google’s Chrome browser at its core, this means that it uses the internet for the vast majority of tasks. On the other hand, the iPad uses iOS apps. These are each self-contained entities . They are often lighter, less complex versions of full-blown desktop apps and are built for the touch-centric interface on the iPad. An example of this is the Google Blogger app. It is nowhere near as full-featured as the Blogger webapp, but it is a good place to draft a post. before completing it in the browser. For example,  I wrote and posted the first post in this series using just the iPad. There were no opportunities to insert hyperlinks, or to decide where pictures should be placed in the text. This problem does not occur on the Chromebook as the full version of Google’s webapps are available in the browser.
On the other hand, the iOS App Store has access to far more apps that are incredibly capable and often easier to use than those on the Chrome Web Store. Where the Chromebook falls short is when no webapp is available or no website can perform that function and another must be used that performs a similar function, forcing the user to make the best of the situation. Often those webapps that can are only usable with an internet connection, whereas most iOS productivity apps are built with offline capabilities in mind. A good example for comparison is that Pages, Apple’s own word processor has a full dictionary whilst offline, something Google Docs does not. Very strange.

Form factor

We would naturally expect the Chromebook to win this category hands down. It has the full-size keyboard and trackpad, the larger screen. However, the problem is that there are so many different things that come under the catch-all of “productivity”. Not only have I been using the iPad to read papers and draft the odd post. It fits easily into a bag and is smaller and lighter than the Chromebook. I have even been known to write chapters of a story in full creative writing mode. The form factor is great for sitting in a cramped coffee shop and since I have a spare Apple wireless Keyboard and a great case for it, as well as a cheap, but functional stand for the iPad, it can be just as good if not better than the Chromebook for getting words on the page.
Having said that the iPad does have some serious shortcomings as a word processing machine with the keyboard. Firstly, the keyboard shortcuts simply aren’t up to snuff. The inability for the user to jump between the different apps or tabs in the browser is very disappointing, meaning that you have to reach up and touch the screen to perform many actions. Now this doesn’t necessarily take a long time or a lot of effort, but it is less efficient than using a key shortcut. Something that is easily available on the Chromebook.
Finally, while the Chromebook is bulkier than the iPad, there is something to be said for a physical keyboard. While I have been known to type a great deal on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard, I much prefer to be able to see the entire screen while typing rather than having half the screen obscured by my fingers and the keyboard.


The convenience of connectivity is all important with these two devices, and each has its benefits. The Chromebook has a USB port and an SD card slot. This means that I can plug flash drives or cards into it to watch videos or transfer files across. This is something the iPad doesn’t do, nor intends to allow, and is certainly a massive plus in the Chromebook’s favour. The ability to quickly plug in a device and quickly drag files on or off it, is a massive bonus, something the iPad cannot do.
On the other hand I have a 3G iPad with a GiffGaff SIM card in it allowing for access whenever I want when I am out and about when the Wifi isn’t available. While this is something that *is* available for Chromebooks, I have yet to delve too deeply into the settings to get it to work on a UK phone network, and even if it did, it wouldn’t quite beat the almost smartphone-like convenience of taking an iPad out of a bag, as it is still a full-size laptop!

Monday, 11 February 2013

iPad or Chromebook?

Part 1

This has been on the cards for a long time, and actually is something I should really have written before the Cr-48/ M11X comparisons. Considering that the Chromebook starts at £199 and the iPad starts at £269, they are far more likely to be compared by consumers, than a Chromebook and a gaming laptop!

This is going to be a strange sort of comparison given that I have the original iPad and the original Chromebook, both released in 2010. This means that neither of these devices are tip top especially in terms of hardware. There have been four newer 9.7" iPads and even a 7.9" iPad that are more powerful than this one. They also have the ability to run iOS 6, giving them access to newer software. The Cr-48 was never commercially available, but has had three different releases of Chrome OS machines coming after it, yet it is still able to run the latest version of the Chrome OS.

While neither of these machines is the best or the brightest, they still allow me to compare their everyday use as coffee table computers, machines you could easily take to the coffeshop or the library. These are uses that I regularly use the Chromebook for, and have previously used the iPad for. The 'productive' ones include adding to this blog, taking notes for university work and writing a story for Nanowrimo, and the 'less productive' include checking social media and watching videos. I will talk about the positives and negatives of using each machine, and how they compare how good they are at being productive and being unproductive!

By the way, this post was titled in Google Docs on the Chromebook, the written in the Drive app on the iPad, and posted using the Blogger app. The photo was taken on my iPhone 3GS, synced via Dropbox and added in the Blogger app as well. Let's see how it turns out!