Sad to see Pebble go

I only caught up on this news last night. It seems Pebble, maker of the super-useful and low-cost smart-watches, is gone. It’s been bought by Fitbit and will no longer sell its watches.

Although I’m an Apple Watch user, I’ve owned a Pebble in the past. I loved it – the battery lasted for days and days (compared to the roughly 24 hours of an Apple Watch), was easy to use and the developer community was great!

Continue reading “Sad to see Pebble go”

The Android Experiment: one week in

Okay, so strictly speaking I’m not a full week in to my “new life” with Android rather than iOS, but I started using a Nexus 7 this day last week and my new Nexus 6P arrived last Tuesday.

I fully intend to do a full comparison between Android and iOS – a very subjective and incomplete comparison, if I’m honest – but for now, my main take-aways are the following:

Continue reading “The Android Experiment: one week in”

An Android experiment

Right. We’ve been here before. I once impulsively bought a Samsung Note phone in Heathrow Airport while on my way to New Orleans and lived with it for several months. Before swiftly moving back to iOS as soon as Apple launched a new handset.

While I loved the stylus and handwriting recognition, as well as the (then) enormous screen, the Samsung-infused Android interface just wasn’t for me.

A lot has changed since then, including the phone I use and how mature Android is as a platform. Watching the video of Google I/O last week encouraged to give the Google apps another try and I was quickly impressed.

I use Google Apps for Business to run my own firm and find it really excellent. So I took it a step further and started using a combination of my personal Gmail account, Google Calendar, Chrome and assorted extensions and other apps. They work together really, really well.

Continue reading “An Android experiment”

Photo library memories…

So, the great photo upload of 2015 continues – we’re down to about 12,000 photos remaining – and I’m struck by just how many excellent and happy memories are contained in these pictures.

It’s underlined for me how important it is to back up these photos in more than one place. And maybe it’s age, but I’m enjoying looking at old photos more than ever right now! Last night, I lay on the couch and scrolled through our travels through Portugal and Spain, Canada and California and some really enjoyable Queen’s Day weekends in Amsterdam.

And then there were the photos of babies who are now toddlers and older. Seeing how they’ve developed and grown is amazing. That, and the various faces they’ll pull when they know someone is trying to take a photo.

And the faces of those people who are no longer here.

I also stumbled across a ton of photos I actually forgot I had; taken on the day of my doctoral graduation. At the time, I thought I’d never forget the details, but it took a wander through he photos to remind me of what happened (including the fact that I was announced among the class of educational psychologists, not occupational psychologists… the horror!).

I’m thinking an occasional dip into the library might give me the inspiration for memory-related blog posts. “This reminds me of the time when…” So many specific memories – food, flights, conversations, sunshine – came flooding back as I flipped through the photos that it would be crazy not to use them as a writing resource.

I can definitely recommend Google Photos. It’s now completely separate from Google+ (if that was an issue for you previously) and allows you to upload unlimited numbers of photos. It also occasionally automatically creates some really creative panoramas and ‘movies’ for you. It backs up photos from your iPhone or iPad (or, of course, the Android device of your choice!) so you never lose an image.

Anyway, I’m checking in on progress every so often, and regularly getting dragged down memory lane. And it’s very, very enjoyable.

Thanks, Google!

My Travel Filofax

So I fly to Japan this Saturday. And I simply can’t wait. I don’t want to miss out on a single thing, but I just can’t trust my memory to remember every detail. No news there!

As always, I’m using Kayak to store my flight details and automatically add them to my iCloud calendars on my iPhone and iPad Mini. This trip, I’m also trying something different. Rather than bring along a heft guide book – that might be out of date – I’m using Tripomatic to build a personalised itinerary for the holiday.

Using this application – available on iOS and Android – you can access a day-by-day plan for your trip. Very neat and very easy to use.

However…

I’m also planning to bring along my Filofax and have converted my Clipbook into a “Travel Filofax” for the trip ahead.

I’ve printed out key information, like flight and hotel confirmations and reference numbers, as well as the Tripomatic guides for each of the cities we’re visiting: Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. Handily, as well as accessing them via the web or on a mobile device app, you can also download and print the document as a nicely-formatted PDF.

But before any information, a printout of The Great Wave of Kanagawa. Because I like the look of it.

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I’ve got details of how to reach each of the hotels we’re staying in, contact details and a map of the vicinity for the final walk.

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Public transport guides are a must. I still have a guide to the Tokyo Metro, saved from my last visit. This is stored in a zip-up plastic envelope at the back of the Filofax. Meanwhile, I’ve printed off a simplified version of the Kyoto public transport system. Really important, as we won’t be limiting ourselves to the centre of town.

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And finally, a print out of each Tripomatic guide, divided by sticky tabs. I printed each single-sided, so there’s space to add in extra sights and plans as we discover them. It’ll all serve as a log of the visit, and get added into DayOne each evening – bits of it might even make it as far as this blog (or Google+).

IMG_1093-0.JPGThis combination of paper and electronic works for me – the Clipbook is still incredibly light and and the iPad Mini is barely noticeable in my backpack. It also leaves plenty of space for the things I’ll inevitably pick up along the way, if last year’s experience is anything to go by.

 

So I switched to Android

Brace yourself. I somehow underestimated the impact the following news would have on people who know me well. I was virtually interrogated by work colleagues who couldn’t believe that I…have finally switched from iOS to Android.

Take a deep breath. Have a seat.

I know I’ve had more time to adjust to this technological earthquake than you. You may need a moment before we continue.

But…why?!

Let’s take a step back and consider my reasons for the move – then I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience over the last few weeks. Life sans iPhone if you will.

I’ve previously expressed my frustration at the lack of a larger screen iPhone. Several times, in fact. I was disappointed at the lack of significant upgrade between iPhone 5 and 5s. (Still bought one, though. The day it was released. Typical Apple fanboy that I am/was).

Since their launch, I’ve been pretty much lusting after some form of “Phablet”  Those strange combinations of mobile phone technology in a form factor closely resembling a tablet. What can I say? I like a big screen. And one thing that I love more than a big screen is using a stylus on a screen.

Something approaching heresy in the world of iOS.

So since about October of last year, I’ve been seriously looking at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. At its launch, I was blown away by the screen when I got to play with it in various mobile phone stores. I loved the speed with which it ticked along, the smooth interface and the handwriting recognition.

I monopolised the demo models in my local mobile phone stores, simultaneously raising the hopes of the staff that I’d buy one, while annoying the hell out of other prospective buys queuing behind me.

It was almost a return to the PDAs of old – devices I still miss to this day. And based on Note 3 sales  I know I’m not alone in this regard.

The stumbling block? My ties to the Apple ecosystem. iTunes, various Apple apps and media… none of these play nice with Android (or so I thought). I was tied to Omnifocus for my task management and project planning. My music and movies were in iTunes format (and I have a lot of both).

Some important questions…

Rather than making a rash move, I set about doing some research. I needed answers to some important questions before making a switch from iOS to Android, namely:

  • What about my favourite iOS apps? Are there decent Android equivalents or alternatives?
  • What about my music? Would I be able to transfer my favourite tracks from iTunes to an Android phone?
  • What should I do about iCloud and my reliance on it for email, contacts, calendars etc etc?
  • With my life contained in Omnifocus, could I find another app that did what it did and not leave me bereft of structure and reminders?

Happily, I got great answers to all of the above.

As for apps, I quickly realised that my favourite and most-used apps were pretty much non-Apple and had great Android versions. Such as: Dropbox, Evernote, Spotify, Instagram and so on. True to form, I made a list and ensured I was satisfied I could find an alternative and that reviews were positive. Remember, I didn’t have my own Android phone to test any of this on.

As for music, I use a combination of Spotify and Google Play Music  It seamlessly uploaded my entire iTunes library available for online play or download to my new phone. Much easier than I originally thought.

The move from iCloud was more of a challenge, but nothing too difficult. I exported my iCloud calendars and imported them into Google Calendar. I started to use my two Gmail addresses and am slowly teaching others that these addresses are the best place to get in touch with me.

Honestly, I’m still tidying up Contacts – this seems to be something that Google haven’t paid a lot of attention to and was quite a manual task – in contrast to calendars and music.

I’d consider this more “work in progress” than something that was sorted on day one.

Yes, but what about Omnifocus?

For the last few years, I’ve been one of this productivity bores who has fetishised Omnifocus. All my work and personal projects, actions, reminders and such were contained in this iOS/Mac app. Seamless synching between my various devices, it kept me on top of my responsibilities and working towards the fabled “mind like water” status.

So…I downloaded and tested a plethora of alternatives. I’ll save all of that for another post, but suffice to say I arrived at a decision and am now using ToDoist on all my devices. It doesn’t do everything that Omnifocus does, but I’ve quickly realised I didn’t need all that functionality. It was actually serving as a bit of a distraction.

And what about the phone?

Well, I got my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in the Duty Free store in Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Probably the worst place to buy a new phone – just before boarding an 8.5 hour flight to the US!! But in the run up to departures, I used my iPhone 5s’s connection to download all my favourite apps onto it and get (very basically) up and running.

I was still ever so slightly worried. I’d done the research I could without actually taking the phone home for a weekend of work/play. So I left the shop significantly poorer but excited. I spent much of the flight playing with the phone and learning more about how Android is different to iOS. But also quite similar.

Putting the two phones next to each other on the table in front of me during the flight was quite the eye-opener! The Note 3 is significantly bigger. It’s pocketable, but only just. But the screen real estate is so worth the extra bulk.

I used both phones while in the US. I had pre-purchased a US SIM card for use during the holidays, which worked in the Note. The iPhone was used to take photos and then back them up to Dropbox and Google+ (you can’t be too careful) while we were within free wifi range or back at the hotel.

I clung to the iPhone while in New Orleans as it was familiar and I didn’t want to faff around with a new phone while trying to photograph something interesting (and potentially fast-moving). But by the time we were in Miami (great holiday, thanks) I was 100% using the Note. It just took a couple of days to fully adjust.

In the couple of weeks I’ve used the phone, I’d make the following observations, with more to follow in future posts:

  • The stylus and handwriting recognition are stellar and better than I could have hoped. I use the stylus to write texts, emails, notes in Evernote and pretty much everything else. The Note manages to interpret my scrawl 90% of the time and helpfully offers suggestions when I’m rushed or trying to write on a moving tube train.
  • The battery is much better than my iPhone. Plus, the Note has the advantage of having a removable battery. First on my shopping list of accessories was a spare battery. I now have a desk stand for the phone which simultaneously charges the spare battery. No more frantically searching for free electrical sockets while in Starbucks.
  • I’m getting used to putting such a large device up to my face to make/receive calls. I’ll be honest – I was a little self-conscious at first. But as I used headphones and a built in mike for most calls anyway, there’s not too much to adjust to.
  • The camera takes great photos. Yes, the iPhone 5 is justly lauded for the quality of its pics. But I’m very, very happy with the output from my new phone. And since most are shared on social media, not the National Gallery, arguments over mega-pixels can be a little redundant.

Mobile phones (and operating systems) are such a personal thing. If you like your iPhone or Windows Phone, then good for you. I moved because my iPhone wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I still used my Macbook Air and have no plans to move to Windows! I can see the advantages of both iOS and Android and I definitely haven’t become an Android fanboy overnight.

But on almost a daily basis, I encounter something that Android does which makes me smile. It’s just so flexible.

So…

I hope you’ve recovered from the above bombshell of news. Some of my colleagues are still perplexed and even reconsidering their planned purchases of iOS devices now that I’ve made the switch.

Especially as I’ve also bought a Nexus 7 and am selling my iPad mini. But more on that another time.

London Super ComiCon 2014

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Had a fantastic morning out at the superb London SuperComicon today. As always (this was my third), the cosplayers were out in force and were really happy to be snapped. The snarling chap above came as Wolverine in his X-Force uniform and was really up for posing with anyone who came his way.

A definite ‘A for effort’ for the cosplayers, most whom seem to have arrived on public transport. The DLR was a very interesting ride as a result. My iPhone kindly automatically sent all of my pics to Google+ – you can see the resulting album by clicking here.

Unlike last year, I didn’t buy a load of comics-related crap to clutter my shelves. I was very restrained and only came close to buying a couple of t-shirts. Then I remember the comics t-shirts I still haven’t worn and stepped carefully away from the merchandise stall.

It was really great to see fans of all ages enjoying their shared love of comics – the cosplayers were simply the icing on the cake!

 

Learning to love Google+

Among the plethora of social networking tools, Google+ seems to come in for an awful lot of abuse. It’s been described as “empty”, a “desert” and a “failure” by various commentators.

Sure, it’s no Facebook.

But that’s the reason I’ve come to like it over the last year or so.

Let me expand.

  • Google+ communities are great for discussions and debates with fellow enthusiasts or technical experts. I’ve posted to various communities looking for input or feedback and had nothing but constructive and helpful comment. Are people better behaved on Google+? I can’t say for sure, but it has a far lower percentage of douches than you might encounter elsewhere.
  • The Google+ iOS app is really, really nice. It’s well designed, easy to use and fully functional. It makes me *want* to use it. As far as I’m concerned, Facebook and Tumblr are playing catch-up here. Additionally, the automatic photo back-up from the iPhone is very convenient.
  • With Google+, you get lots more control over who you share what with – from public right down to the individual. This is important if you care about your privacy or just want to share certain content and photos with close friends, while other links and thoughts can be open to the public. It’s really very intuitive once you get to use it.
  • Google+ is becoming a more popular sharing option on websites, alongside Twitter and Facebook, making it easier than ever to share content with friends. Even when not explicitly listed on websites, it’s as simple as a quick copy & paste and Google+ turns your link into a nice blog-style post.
  • Via a laptop/desktop browser, I *love* the Google+ interface. It’s clean and easy to navigate. It does great things with photos too! Its ‘auto-awsome’ features are excellent.

Again, it’s no Facebook. I use Facebook alongside Google+. One is full of friends and family, sharing pictures of babies and holidays. The other is full of interesting links to stories, photos of things that interest me and communities of fellow enthusiasts and fans of the things I like.

You don’t have to choose between them. They’re doing different things.

It’s got failings, but no social network is perfect.

Go on – give it a go. You never know, you might like it.

On technology and challenge

I’ve had my new MacBook Air for just a couple of days now, but I can already confirm it’s the best Apple computer I’ve ever owned. It’s small, light, incredibly fast and has a screen and display that is a joy to look at.

I’m reflecting on the brief time when I considered getting a Chromebook to replace my 3-year old MacBook Air. Then, it seemed like a smart and economical option. I could get a Chromebook for about £200 – as opposed to the £1400 I’ve spent on this MacBook Air – and do pretty much everything I can do with this laptop.

Or so I thought.

Accentuating the Positive…

Actually, what I was doing was looking at the availability of Chrome versions of my favourite apps, or workarounds to achieve the same result. In my eagerness to try something new, I was dropping my standards for what “great” looks like and was blinded by the prospect of learning something and demonstrating my own flexibility and ingenuity to myself.

And others.

I focused on the availability of apps like Spotify and Twitter and read and re-read and positive reviews of various Chromebooks models, while glossing over the critiques writers had levelled at them.

I avoided focusing on how I was going to access my content on DropBox simply and quickly…convinced myself that the absence of iCloud integration wouldn’t be a problem…virtually ignored that there would be no way of syncing with the app that keeps me on top of life in general: OmniFocus.

I’ve been thinking about why I got into this way of thinking. I can put it down to two factors.

Thinking it Through

Firstly, and this is not news to me, I’m attracted to the new and the different. I’ve spent far too many hours thinking about ditching my iPhone 5S and iPad Mini for a Nexus 5 and Nexus 7  Not because I think they’re better, but because I think it would be interesting to see if I could replicate my mobile computing experience with a completely different operating system and app ecosystem.

Secondly, I somehow developed the mindset that technology should be about coping with inevitable change I thrust upon myself. Rather than finding technology and systems that work for me, I got into thinking that change to these personal systems is inevitable and I should be able to cope with this, no matter how crazy the decisions.

Such as replacing a super-powered (albeit old) MacBook Air with a Chromebook lacking significant local storage, dependant on internet connection to be functional and missing several of my most important applications.

Yes, I’ve spent far more money on the MacBook Air. But I’ve got far more computing power and ease of use to show for it. I’ve also avoided the pointless and potentially disruptive move to a new (and unproved) operating system, which would likely leave me making compromise after compromise.

My laptop is a working machine. I use it for work as well as entertainment. It needs to be useful and helpful with or without an internet connection. It needs to allow me to access my colleagues’ files via Dropbox automatically, make presentations to large audiences, use an Exchange server, keep my project files and actions in sync with my iPhone and iPad… I could go on.

The point here is not to bash Chromebooks.

Not at all.

If money were no object, I’d buy one in a flash, just to satisfy my curiosity regarding my ability to “survive” with a stripped down computing environment. I think they’re innovative and a great option for people with different computing needs to my own. But it would definitely be a “play” or “experimentation” machine, which would stay at home. If a friend had one, I’d like to play with it for a few hours.

“Play” being the operative word.

As my recent MacBook Air set-up illustrated, my key data is in the cloud. It shouldn’t really matter what platform I access it through. But a Chromebook isn’t yet a comparable system.

Lessons Learnt?

The point I’m making is that I wasn’t making a fair or accurate comparison. I was attracted to seeing if I could “make do” and potentially show others just how smart I was. Thinking it through, I can imagine all kinds of scenarios where trying to work effectively with a Chromebook would cause me no end of additional work and potential stress.

I’m delighted with the laptop I now have and very relieved I didn’t waste time or money on fitting a Chromebook into my work life.

What’s the point of bringing that on myself when there’s absolutely no need?