Saturday, 30 November 2013

No post this week

Hi guys. Sorry but there'll be no blog post this weekend because I'm studying for exams...

Rest assured that normal service will be resumed next week.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Quick Review: Tapatalk 4

Chances are, at one point or another, you've had to read through a forum to try and get an answer or opinion on some question you want answered. If you post regularly in forums, especially on mobile devices, then you'll know that, very often, the experience of posting via the browser is pretty poor.

Enter Tapatalk, a forum reader for both Android and iOS. This nifty little app is fully optimised for phones and tablets (at least on Android), meaning that there's no shifting the page about to try and see what you're typing or reading.

Tapatalk for Android is currently at version 4, and sports a modern Cards UI look. I'm going to focus on the Android app for this, seeing as I don't use the iOS version at all.

I mostly use Tapatalk for the XDA-Developers forum, but I've got it up and running very easily with Android Central,  and a few other forums handy enough. One interesting thing to note, for Irish users, is that does not work with Tapatalk. You have to use the mobile site.

In practical use, the app is fast and responsive, with full support for attachments such as pictures. Very importantly, it supports the Thanks system found in many forums.

One small complaint I would have, is that it does not support signatures. If a user has an important link in his/her signature, you can't see it, leading to a bit of frustration. I don't expect to see signature support implemented in the future though, it goes against the look of the app, and besides, you can always use a computer if you're stuck.

There are nowhere near enough apps like this one in the Play Store. It has a modern UI, works well, and integrates with social media very well.

Google Play:

App Store:

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Quick Review: Google Nexus 5

Right, every year or two years, I tend to upgrade my phone. For financial reasons, I've tended to buy off eBay, where I could save quite a lot, by buying not-so-hot phones.

For my last purchase however, the Nexus 7 (2013), I decided to buck the trend and buy new. Of course, Google's amazing pricing helped. So, that's what I've done for my latest buy too, namely, the Nexus 5.

First off, this is one serious bit of kit. It runs the latest version of Android (4.4 Kit-Kat) and has class-leading hardware too. Rather than post rather geeky specs here, I'll just link them at the bottom. But, I will say that it has a top-class screen and processor, and has a great feel, both in software and hardware.

I went for a black device, which, reportedly, has a softer feel than the white version. It feels great in the hand. It's also very easy to use one-handed (very important for me!) with only a little jiggling needed to reach the furthest corner from your thumb. That's also helped by the very narrow bezels around the screen. That's been my experience anyway. It's also very light, so your hand won't get tired by it.

The screen, oh the screen. It is fantastic! It has a full HD resolution (1080p), in a 4.95" screen. Colours aren't overblown like on Samsung screens, although they could be a little more vivid. Text is pin-sharp, and it's a joy to read on.

Now, the software, the pride and joy of the Nexus range. It runs pure Google Android, like the Nexus 7, and is absolutely lightning-fast! It opens, installs and uninstalls apps way faster than the phone I had before it, the Galaxy Nexus. Every app feels liquid-smooth, and I've seen webpages load literally instantly.

One of the features I'm really looking forward to seeing implemented is what Google call "immersive mode". The Navigation buttons and status bar are hidden away, and you can use the full screen for the app content. So far, this has only been implemented in the YouTube and Google Play Books apps (that I know of) but hopefully it'll come to loads more apps soon.

People have had two big complaints about the Nexus 5; the camera, and battery life. I hardly ever take pictures, so the (supposedly) lackluster camera won't bother me. Even so, I took the liberty of shooting the same shot with both the Nexus 5 and my old Galaxy Nexus, just to compare. The difference is startling. I doubt I'll ever find the camera really lacking. As for battery life, I brought the phone to school, and tested out how it would do at being in a locker, not touched for 7 hours, and left in Airplane Mode. Under the exact same conditions, my Galaxy Nexus dropped an average of 3-4%. The Nexus 5 dropped just 1%. That's pretty impressive, even if it is doing nothing. In general use I've noticed a huge increase in battery life. I can actually use the phone for an hour or two now without needing to look for a charger.

Unfortunately, you can't actually buy this device directly here in Ireland. You can either do as I did, and get someone in the UK to buy it for you, and ship it over, or use a Parcel Motel, although that requires a UK credit card. It still works out fairly cheaply, compared to similar flagship phones available here in Ireland, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One.

Camera comparisons:

Friday, 8 November 2013

Quick App Review: Easy Voice Recorder + Waves

If you're a musician, especially if you go out gigging or playing in sessions fairly often, then you'll want a few apps on your phone, for all occasions.

First is a good reliable recording app. I use Easy Voice Recorder Pro. It does exactly what it says on the tin, it's an easy-to-use recorder. There's literally no setup, and you can get straight to recording. Even better, it has an attractive user interface, that isn't too cluttered, but has everything you need.

It has a few options for tweaking the quality of the recording, but for the average user the default settings are as good as any.

There is a free version, which has fewer settings than the Pro version, and it may have ads.

Easy Voice Recorder:

You'll also, if you play an instrument which you tune manually, want a tuner app. My go-to tuner is Waves. Like Easy Voice Recorder, it has an attractive Holo-style interface, although you can change the accent colour to either blue, orange or black and white.

The main pull for me is that it's very easy to use, it's literally plug-and-play. That's what you want in a session or at a gig, something that (to quote a certain company) "just works".

It's also a paid app, although you get a  7 day trial period before having to commit to a purchase. It's well worth it, if you need a reliable tuner, this is a good option.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Quick App Review: DynamicNotifications

There are loads of cool apps out there that try to make your life a little easier. Typically, a manufacturer's fiddling with Android tends to do more harm than good, overall. However, some manufacturers do give us useful features we will actually use in real life. One of the most prominent examples is Motorola with the Moto X. Unfortunately, like many of Motorola's recent high-end phones, this one's a US-exclusive model.

You can, however, get at least some of the useful features from it on your phone today, so long as it's running Android 4.0 or above.

DynamicNotifications replicates the Active Notifications feature found on the Moto X. Essentially, when you get a notification, a text/Facebook message/Google+ notification, the screen will only partially come on, saving battery life (if your phone has an LED screen, Samsung, for example), and allowing you to either open or dismiss the notification without having to fully turn on the screen.

Really, the best way to see if you like it or not is to try it out.

Play Store: