Monday, 1 December 2014

Quick Review: Android 5.0 Lollipop @ Nexus 5

Hi guys, sorry about the long delay since the last post. Here, finally, is my review of Android 5.0 Lollipop on the Nexus 5 phone. You might notice that I'm specifying the device here. I'll write up a separate review for each device, namely the Nexus 5 and 7. The Nexus 7 review will focus on just the tablet-relevant bits, as well as any differences between my experience of Lollipop between these devices.

How It Looks...

Android 5.0 Lollipop brought a brand new design language known as Material Design. It's really about trying to make everything about using your device as natural and intuitive as possible. As such, there are now subtle shadows under certain elements, and the dark blue of Holo has been replaced by white and green.

Most of Google's own apps have been updated to incorporate this new design language, with excellent examples being the new Keep, Google+ and Gmail apps. Unfortunately, there are still a few Google apps that remain to be updated, with Hangouts being the most obvious example.

As regards the system apps, for instance the Dialler, all of these have been overhauled visually. There are loads of new animations and eye candy in these, with a very nice example being the animation when you make a call. The call button expands to become the overlay containing the in-call control options. Most of these animations are small and quite pointless, but they make the OS feel smooth and natural.

How It Feels...

Smoooooooth! For the most part that is indeed how it feels. In general apps load quickly, and there is little to no lag between touching the screen and something happening. One thing that does take a little getting used to is the new way in which dialogue boxes are laid out. Now, as opposed to the buttons being spread evenly across the bottom of the box, they are now all in the bottom right-hand corner, meaning that you have to relearn where you expect the options to be.

How It Disappoints...

Lollipop is prone to stutters and frequent force-closes. This is an issue which was not present in Android 4.4 KitKat. My problems begin with the fact that Chrome will often Force Close when I'm opening a link in a New Tab. The issue goes away if I disable the "Merge Tabs and Apps" option. This is a new feature in Lollipop where you can access your Chrome tabs using the Recents button, as opposed to having your tabs separate from your apps. This is an example of Google totally integrating into Android, but, if it worked without issue, I would have no problem with that.

The other problem I have is that Google+ will often fail to start if I try to launch it from the Recents view. I haven't properly looked into why that happens, but if I had to take a guess, I would blame poor or overly-aggressive memory management. This is where Android removes apps that have not been used in a while from memory. This issue has also been cited on the Nexus 9 by Android Police, so it's clear that there's some problem with Lollipop's memory manager. Hopefully a 5.0.1 or 5.1 update will fix both of my problems.

To Wrap It Up...

Those two bugs aside though, I'm quite happy with Lollipop on my Nexus 5. The new look is head and shoulders above Holo, and I hope that more major app developers get their apps updated to match. A lot of smaller app developers have already updated, but larger companies always seem to take their sweet time, probably due to testing.

Quite honestly I'm surprised that there haven't been any Lollipop maintenance updates for either the Nexus 5 or 7 since the original update landed. They definitely need a little bug fixing, particularly the Nexus 5.

Should I Upgrade...?

Yup, absolutely! Besides just the visual update, Lollipop introduces a huge amount of behind the scenes changes, making for a drastically improved user experience.

I'll release another post soon hopefully about the Nexus 7.

What do you guys think of the new font? Like? Dislike? Please vote, either on Google+, Facebook, or right here on the side!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Nexus Updates Galore

Hi guys!

Some of you with Nexus devices may have noticed that Google just uploaded the factory images for Android 5.0 Lollipop. All Nexus devices since the original Nexus 7 now have a means to update to the latest version of Android, with the exception of the Nexus 4. Hopefully this will be fixed soon.

Google is also pushing the OTA for the update, but it could be weeks or over a month before you ever see that hit your device. In this respect, the factory images are very useful, in that you can update your own device manually without waiting for Google. On the other hand, that means that any bugs in the new version won't have had a chance to be patched before you get your hands on the update.

As apologies for the delay since my last post, I'll post a review of Android 5.0 Lollipop for both the Nexus 5 and the Nexus 7 in the next few weeks.

Peace out!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Quick Review: "Clariel"

As promised in my previous post, here’s my review of Garth Nix’s Clariel. In case you didn’t know, Garth Nix is an Australian author, who has written the popular The Old Kingdom Trilogy, and Shade’s Children, among other novels and series’.

Clariel marks Nix’s first return to the Old Kingdom since the novella The Creature in the Case, set six months after the conclusion of Abhorsen, the last book in the trilogy. Clariel plays the more difficult role of prequel, being set 600 years prior to the beginning of Sabriel and The Old Kingdom series. The very nature of a prequel, particularly in this case, is that unless you have read the main series, much of the impact of Clariel’s choices and actions may be lost on you.

As regards the series itself, the Old Kingdom is a world of magic, both good and evil. The two main types of magic are Charter Magic (generally used by the protagonists) and Free Magic (usually the weapon of choice for the antagonists). The Dead also feature strongly, as both mindless minions and more powerful, and more intelligent, monsters.

All throughout the original trilogy, Free and Charter Magic are seen as polar opposites, and it is stated again and again that Charter Magic is good, and that Free Magic is evil. In Clariel, all this is thrown into doubt. Clariel, our heroine, has little aptitude for, or interest in, Charter Magic, despite being a member of two families known for their strength in Charter Magic.

In a recent Q&A, Garth Nix stated that Clariel was given very little control over her own destiny, unlike Sabriel and Lirael, who were basically given free reign to follow a vague goal. Everything in Clariel's life is controlled by some outer force, be it her parents or her very situation. Her struggle for freedom leads her, seemingly inevitably, to Free Magic. The irony is evident in the fact that even though Free Magic is, by its very definition, free, Clariel's use of it does not lead her to greater freedom or happiness.

It is interesting to see how different the attitude of the residents of Belisaere in Clariel as opposed to the earlier novels. It is seen as the domain of servants and the lower classes, and not something for the upper classes to dirty their hands with. Even the Abhorsen, the man charged with keeping the Dead dead, shows little to no interest in his appointed task, and simply wastes his time at hunts.

Clariel features old favourites of the Old Kingdom series, such as Mogget. This sardonic feline plays a far more manipulative role than in previous books. The laxness of the Abhorsen, combined with other factors, bring his true nature as an ancient Free Magic creature far closer to the surface.

If you are a fan of the Old Kingdom series, then this is an absolute must-buy. If you're just a casual reader, then I would recommend reading the original Old Kingdom novels before Clariel. That way, you will fully appreciate the in-world relevance of Clariel. However, I think that the novel can certainly stand up on its own merit. In short, read it!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Long Overdue Update

Sorry it’s been such a long time since my last update, real life was a bit busy for a while. This post will be a little different, as event though there’s a lot happening in the world of Android, what with the announcement of Android 5.0 Lollipop and the Nexus 6, 9 and Player.

I’m going to wait for the official OTA update before reviewing Android 5.0, so I’ll be silent on the topic until around early to mid-November.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting a review of Garth Nix’s new book “Clariel.”

Stay tuned!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

How To Enable Student Mail On Android [NUIG Only] Part 2

Last week, I covered how to enable Student Mail through the stock Email client on Android. As you may remember, I didn't entirely recommend it, as this required the Email app to be given the permission to wipe your device without warning, among other things.

Happily, I've done some more research into the matter, and found a far better solution. Instead of creating a Corporate Exchange account, instead we'll create an IMAP account on the phone. This method requires no special permissions, and is just as functional as the previous method I covered. Unlike the other method, however, this only syncs your Email, and does not include your contacts or calendar from your Student Mail.

First, go to Settings, scroll down to Accounts, and tap "Add Account".

Then tap "IMAP".

Enter your Student Email address, and tap "Manual Setup". Then tap "IMAP".

Type in your password and proceed by tapping the arrow in the bottom right-hand corner.

On the Incoming Server settings screen, change the server to "" as per the screenshot below. Set the security to "SSL/TLS", and make sure the port is 993. Tap the arrow in the bottom right-hand corner to continue.

Change the SMTP server to "", the security to "SSL/TLS", and the port to 993. Ensure the "Require sign-in" checkbox is unchecked.

That's it. You now have an Email app setup to sync with your Student Mail, with no ridiculous permissions whatsoever required. Enjoy!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

How To Enable Student Mail On Android [NUIG Only]

You may have found that the only way to access your Student Mail on mobile, particularly on Android, is through a desktop web page. Surely there has to be a better way to check your mail?

Good news folks, yes there is! This guide will show you how to use the stock Email app on Android with your Student Mail. However, be aware that this causes the Email app to need very excessive permissions, as you can see below.

If you don't want to give the Email server these permissions, check out my other guide here.

If you're OK with that, then we can proceed. You need to navigate to Settings - "Add Account" - Corporate. At this screen, type in your Student Mail login details, and tap "Next", and then "Exchange".

At the "Account setup" screen, change the "Server" address to "". Then tap "Next".

Before editing

After editing

You will then be prompted about "Remote security administration". You need to accept this to enable Student Mail using the Email app.

Decide how, when, and what you want to notified about, and tap "Next". If you want, you can then name the account, This is completely optional. Tap "Next".

You will then be prompted to activate the Email app as a device administrator, which is where you can see how excessive the required permissions are. Assuming this is acceptable to you, scroll to the bottom of the permissions and tap "Activate".

That's it! You can now check your Student Mail through the stock Email app.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Quick Review: Google+

For the purposes of this review, I'll be focusing on the web and Android versions of Google+, as opposed to iOS, mostly because I don't have an iDevice.

Ask most Facebook users about Google+ and they will either not know anything about it, or will call it a "ghost town." A similar attitude is seen in the media. The vast majority of people don't know anything about Google+, and instantly dismiss it for that very reason. However, those of us who do use Google+ tell a very different story.

In general, posts in my Facebook feed usually consist of pictures from nights out and other such pictures. Whereas in my G+ feed I have loads of links to articles on other websites, as well as posts on the social network itself. Re-sharing posts seems to be a lot more important on G+ as well. A lot of what you see in your feed are re-shared posts, as opposed to originals.

G+ has full integration with Google's other services, and this is very prominent in G+'s Photos section. You can save all your photos to Google's servers, with two quality options. You have a choice between saving them at full resolution and saving them to your Google Drive, eating into your cloud storage, or you can store an unlimited number of photos at 2048 px. The Photos app, installed as part of the Google+ app, allows Android users to manage their G+ Photos. It also supports casting your photos to Chromecast and, probably, Android TV.

Communities are places where people of similar interests can congregate and chat, sharing pictures, advice or similar as appropriate.Regardless of what you're interested in, there is probably a Community or two on G+ that suits you perfectly. Posts from the Communities that you are a member of show up in your Feed. Naturally some of these communities can become clogged up with spam, flaming or other things that you don't want to see, so you'll be glad to hear that you can control how often you see posts from Communities, or indeed whether you see any posts at all.

You don't have a Friend List per se on G+, instead you organise your friends into Circles. For instance, by default I believe you have a Following Circle, which is where you put people you want to Follow, celebrities for example. It's also easy to share posts with specific Circles. You can also view posts from only one particular Circle. This is just one place where G+ gives you a lot more control over your posts than Facebook.

Google+ gives people a chance to meet new and interesting people. It's often said that Facebook is useful for keeping in touch with people you know or met once, while Google+ allows you to meet new people, if only by virtue of the fact that the people you normally chat to on Facebook simply aren't on Google+.

What do you think? What do you use Google+ for? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Quick App Review: Lux Auto Brightness

Most smartphones these days come with some form of Auto-Brightness, allowing the display to get brighter or dimmer depending on the ambient light. In practical terms, it gets brighter outside and dimmer inside.

However, the problem is, the automatic brightness on most phones, particularly those running stock or close to stock Android, isn't all that smart, and can take a while to adapt, and in some cases doesn't adapt enough.

The solution, therefore, is to use a smarter form of Auto-Brightness. Some OEMs such as Samsung and HTC use Adaptive Brightness on their phones, which allows the user to set a brightness, but the screen can still adjust the brightness somewhat. And what about the rest of us, who don't have this Adaptive Brightness? Luckily, there are apps that can be used for just this purpose. One such app is Lux Auto Brightness.

Although it is a little complex to set up, it is well worth the work. You can set what brightness you want the screen to be at for any ambient light level, and you can even set the screen to a lower brightness than the phone can set it to itself. There also tends to be far fewer sudden jumps in brightness.

The app is paid, although there is a free version with a few restrictions. The app is well worth the purchase, if only to support the developer.

Do any of you guys use other brightness managers on your smartphones? Feel free to leave a comment!

Lux Lite
Lux Auto Brightness

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Looking For a New Smartphone? July 2014

Some of you may be bored with your current phone, and looking to get a new one. Maybe your current phone is old, or your contract allows you to get a new phone soon. If you are in the market for a phone, I think that you should know what's the best of what's out there at this moment in time.

Many of you are constrained by budget, especially if you are buying a pre-paid device. I don't know a whole lot about contracts, or the way buying devices works in those situations, so I'll be working mostly off the assumption that you are buying an unlocked device, or buying a pre-paid phone from your carrier. I'll also avoid deals on eBay, Amazon, or any other similar outlet.

Under €150:

When looking at smartphones in this bracket, you are usually looking at phones branded by the carrier themselves. Honestly, if you are looking for the best User Experience, the best phone within budget is the Moto E, available from Expansys for €122.99 at time of writing.

Other viable options include the Sony Xperia E1, Nokia Lumia 635, HTC Desire 310, and the Vodafone Smart 4 Turbo.

€150 - €250:
Maybe you want a slightly more upmarket device that won't break the bank. As regards User Experience, you want the Moto G, also available from Expansys for between €180.99 and €214.99. Motorola have proven themselves to be excellent at providing a smooth, consistent UX, dominating the bottom end of the market.

Other good options at this bracket include the Sony Xperia SP, LG G2 Mini, and the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3. Some of these phones may be within budget only if bought from a carrier.

€250 - €400:

There are several excellent phones available within this bracket. Admittedly many of them are at the top-end of this bracket, but they are excellent choices. The best phone on the market for User Experience is the Google Nexus 5. This is available from €349.99 from Google Play.

The best Small Phone available is the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, available from Vodafone for €349.99. It has largely the same specs as the Sony Xperia Z1, but it has a smaller screen, which users with smaller hands will appreciate.

Other strong devices in this category include the OPPO Find 7a, which I recently reviewed URL[here], Apple iPhone 4s (refurbished, available from Expansys), Nokia Lumia 925, and the HTC Desire 816. Again, some of these may only be in budget from your carrier.

€400 +:

This is flagship smartphone territory, so really this is simply a comparison of the current flagships from the major manufacturers, and a minor one too. Most of these flagships have one or two USPs (unique selling points), so that's what I'll focus. Really, most of the flagships are pretty identical, having the same amount of RAM, more or less, the same processor, similar cameras, and they nearly all run Android 4.4 KitKat.

The HTC One (M8)'s claim to fame is its aluminium construction, as well as its BoomSound speakers. The Sony Xperia Z2 boasts the best camera on the market. LG's G3 is the first QHD (2560x1440) resolution screen from a mainstream manufacturer, and also has the best screen-to-bezel ratio, with 76.4% of the phone's front covered by the screen. The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a great deal of health related features, such as a heart-rate monitor. Finally, the OPPO Find 7 has the title of first QHD phone overall, and also equals most of its competitors on specs, at a sizeable discount, costing just €479 compared to ~€630 for any of the other flagships.

The iPhone 5C and 5S also feature in this budget, but honestly, based on specs, I can't recommend them, as they are completely outclassed by any of the phones mentioned above. However, if you don't want an Android handset but do want a premium phone, the iPhone 5S is probably what you want.

Hopefully that should clarify the daunting task of making your choice for those of you looking at buying a new phone. Feel free to leave a comment below, and thanks for reading.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Quick Guide: How To Update to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8

Please note that this is merely a guideline as to the correct steps to be taken. Also, your computer needs to be on Windows 8 before starting.

Step 1:
Make sure you are logged in as the administrator.

Note: If you are unsure of any terms, see the "Explanation of Terms" link at the top of the page.

Step 2:
Go to Control Panel - System and Security - Windows Update and Check for Updates. Ensure that you are up to date. If not, download and install all updates, especially the Important ones, and allow your computer to Reboot as often as it takes.

Step 3:
Now, to install Windows 8.1, go to the Start Screen (you know, the place the computer starts up to), and open the Windows Store app.

Step 4:
With any luck, there should be a large tile present when you open the Windows Store wanting you to update to Windows 8.1 If so, click on it, and begin the download. You can continue working while this is downloading, and it will prompt you when the installation is about to begin. None of your documents or installed programmes will be affected by this update.

Allow the update to run, and after one or two reboots your computer should have updated to Windows 8.1.

Step 5:
Now that you have updated to Windows 8.1, you'll need to run Windows Updates again. Repeat Step 2 until there are no more updates to be installed.

Q: What if the update doesn't show up in the Windows Store?
A: Try the suggestions here.

Q: It's asking for an Administrator account, what do I do?
A: Make sure the account you are currently logged into has Administrator rights. If your account does have Administrator rights, then try using Windows Fixit from this link.

Q: It's still not working, now what?
A: You have two options. The first is to ask me in the comments. But, by far the better option is to go to Google and search for a solution for your problem. That way, you're learning something!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Garth Brooks Fiasco

The proposed Garth Brooks concerts have been attracting a great many headlines over the past few weeks, for all the wrong reasons. 400,000 people have been left devastated by the unfortunate turn of events, whereby Brooks cancelled all 5 of the planned concerts. What caused this turn of events?

Aiken Productions were the ones organising the concerts. The original plans were for only two concerts, though an extra date was added due to demand, followed swiftly by a fourth and a fifth concert. The problem, however, was that the tickets were sold "subject to license," meaning that Dublin City Council had not actually approved of the extra dates, and could, and eventually, would, cancel the concerts. However, the application was dated 16th April 2014, while tickets went on sale around mid-January. In that case, regardless of how many concerts there would have been, either two or five, Dublin City Council could still stop the shows. The biggest problem in this situation was the fact that Aiken Productions could begin selling tickets three months before even applying for a license.

The GAA is also somewhat guilty. As shown when they stopped a sixth show due to a match fixture, they could have stopped the fourth and fifth shows from going ahead as well. This is especially important when you consider that the GAA own Croke Park, and would have been aware that the a maximum of three shows had been agreed with residents, and that these three slots had already been filled by One Direction. The fact that they allowed a total of eight potential gigs illustrates the lack of respect the GAA seemingly has for the residents around Croke Park, and for agreements made with said residents.

The residents have a good case against the concerts. The area in which they live becomes completely locked down during matches and gigs, restricting their freedom. There are also fears of disorderly or drunken behaviour and littering. Finally, the noise levels in the area would, at the very least, be very annoying. However, there is another side to the residents' case. Firstly, many businesses in the area would welcome the Garth Brooks concerts with open arms. Also, the residents don't seem to be united in their aims. They protested against the concerts when five concerts were announced, but when Brooks made the statement that it would be five or none, another group started a campaign for the concerts to go ahead. In my opinion, the residents who were against the concerts held the minority view, but still achieved their aims. If that is the case, then are we a democratic country? But I digress.

The Government then became involved. Our Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, ruled out emergency legislation that would allow the concerts to go ahead. In hindsight, this was probably the only thing that could have saved the concerts. The Minister for Tourism, Leo Varadkar, then said that he was willing to go so far as to travel to the US in order to resolve the situation. The sad truth is, though, this was a totally futile gesture, as if a resolution could not be obtained without travelling, there was little to be gained from Minister Varadkar going to the US, presumably putting the flight on expenses. Again, however, I digress.

Garth Brooks himself made the statement that it would be five concerts or none. Someone made the comment last night on the News, I can't remember quite who, but essentially he claimed that Brooks was being selfish and childish for not accepting the three concerts that had been licensed. That may be so, but on the other hand, Brooks was showing his commitment to all his fans with the statement. It is quite odd though, when you consider that originally only two concerts had been planned, it then escalated to five, but then when only three were licensed Brooks refused to only do three gigs, despite it being more than had been planned in the beginning. In a statement today, Brooks cancelled the gigs, finally bring closure to this fiasco.

Honestly I believe that all parties are at fault to some extent. I only feel sorry for all the people who bought tickets for the concerts, some of them camping for several days in preparation. In this sorry story, they are the real victims. From now on, any artist of Garth Brooks' stature will be highly cautious in any plans to come to Ireland, based on how this debacle was handled. As has already been noted several times, the Irish economy will suffer somewhat, as a result of losing €50 million in revenue. Our international reputation, particularly that of our being a welcoming people is also likely to suffer, as we hardly showed ourselves to be very welcoming to Garth Brooks.

If you have any comments, feel free to leave them below.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Quick Review: OPPO Find 7a

OPPO may not ring many bells for most of you, but this Chinese manufacturer has been making pretty big waves in the Android world. Normally known for mid- to high-end audio systems and blu-ray players. OPPO's latest offering, the Find 7, comes in two variants, the Find 7 and the Find 7a. The Find 7a has been available for a few months,and the Find 7 has come onto the market in the last month or so. The only differences between the two devices come in the specs, where the Find 7 outclasses the Find 7a pretty much everywhere. I got the Find 7a a while ago, and I've been playing around with it to get a better idea of what it's like to live with.

In Ireland, the Find 7a costs a total of €399 shipped, and they include a free UK plug adapter. In case you're interested, the Find 7 costs €479.

I have been switching between the stock ROM and the Paranoid Android (PA) custom ROM on this device. The good news is that it is relatively easy to get the custom ROM installed providing you know your way around ADB and Fastboot. Either way, you're getting a pretty solid ROM, although I've spent more time with PA than with the stock ColorOS ROM.

The camera is excellent, easily capable of Cover-Photo standard snaps with no particular settings enabled. In terms of modes, you get HDR and a 50MP mode, where the camera takes multiple pictures and uses technical witchcraft to make your picture either more vivid or sharper respectively. Selfie lovers will also be delighted with this phone's 5MP front facing camera.

Gestures are where this phone really comes through. Gestures can be used either through a pull-down from the status (by default on the left-hand side), or, most excitingly, with the screen turned off! You can configure these gestures to open any app you have installed, or to toggle a certain number of settings.

The performance is solid, with the only slowdowns or lags caused by OPPO's ColorOS. Even with that, it does not lag when taking pictures, or when listening to music. The battery, however, is not as reliable. In use, the battery is excellent, especially compared to the Nexus 5's less-than-stellar battery consumption. However, its standby time is atrocious. Many other reviewers have also complained about the poor standby time. I can vouch for their complaints, even on a custom ROM. With WiFi and phone signal turned on, the battery can drop anything up to 20% overnight. The drain is far more acceptable when you put the phone in aeroplane mode, ranging from 2% to 5%.

My problems with the phone begin with the capacitive hardware keys. The placing of the back button on the opposite side to Google's standards causes far too many headaches, especially for a leftie like me. The power key, on my device anyway, had a huge amount of play in it, literally being able to tilt fully on the underlying button. The software helped compensate for this by allowing me to double-tap the screen to wake the device, and double-tap the home capacitive key to lock the device again. However, this is a cure for a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place. The battery life, as I have mentioned above, is also quite a deal-breaker. OPPO's fast charger balances this however, by allowing you to charge the device to around 75% from empty in about 30 minutes. I didn't time the charger, but I can report that their claims are not unrealistic, as the battery can make significant gains in very little time.

So, in conclusion I give this phone a 3.5/5 score. The large vibrant screen and generally solid performance, occasional stumbles aside, coupled with the sensational camera make this phone a force to be reckoned with, even amongst the competition from the likes of Samsung, HTC and LG. However, its unreliable battery, weak power button and unconventional capacitive navigation keys let it down big time. However, OPPO has been able to lighten the impact of these flaws by compensating with the Double-Tap to Wake and Sleep, and the fast charger.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Quick App Review: Today Calendar Pro

Hi guys, sorry about the delay since the last post. Hopefully I'll be able to resume regular weekly updates from now on.

Right, Today Calendar Pro. As you can probably guess from the title, this is a calender app. A couple of months back, one of my favourite developers, a guy called Jack Underwood, decided to revamp and modernise the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) Calender app.

In short, he completely rewrote the interface, which now features Cards UI, and lots of revamped and modern updates to the UI. It also, unlike the Google Calender app, features Android 4.4's translucent status and navbars, although they are turned off by default.

The app also features two calender widgets, with Agenda and Month views. These were once a separate app on the Play Store called Today Widgets, but the developer has bundled these in with Today Calender. The widgets are pretty customisable, with controls for transparency, and a choice of light and dark themes, among other things.

Those of you with iDevices probably take it for granted that the date changes on the calender app on the homescreen. Believe it or not, that's not actually a feature of Android really. Or at least, it wasn't, until lately. Underwood worked with the developers of the popular 3rd-party launcher Nova Launcher, to develop an API (Application Programming Interface) allowing an app to have dynamic icons. Long story short, now the app shows the current date both on the homescreen and in the app drawer on certain launchers.

The app isn't free, although there is a free 14-day trial, with a link below. The full version costs €2.49, and it's well worth it. A well-deserved 5 stars.

Today Calender Pro
Today Calender (Free 14-Day Trial)
Nova Launcher

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

No Post for a while

Sorry it's taken me so long to update this, I've been up to my eyes in schoolwork. I have exams in a few weeks, and I'm afraid there won't be any new posts until out sometime towards the middle of June. Sorry again guys. Normal service will be resumed in a few weeks' time.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

No Post This Week

Hi guys,

Some personal stuff has come up, and as a result, there's no new post this week. Hopefully, normal service will be resumed either next week or the week after.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Quick Review: Chromecast

We all know the feeling. You've found a great new song on YouTube. You want to show your brother, sister, or friend. You have a great TV in your sitting room, but you have to show them this new song on your laptop or phone, and it doesn't sound half as good as it did when you had your headphones blaring. That's where Google's Chromecast comes in.

It's a £30 dongle for your TV, with virtually zero setup. Quite literally, it's plug-and-play. Once you've plugged it into your television and connected it to your Wi-Fi network, you simply go to a Chromecast-enabled app on your Android or iOS device, and tap the 'Cast' icon in the app. Here in Ireland, we have access to a few Chromecast-enabled apps, with the biggest being YouTube, Netflix and Google Play Music. Naturally, in other countries there is a much larger selection of available services.

To be perfectly honest, there's little to fault the Chromecast on, especially when you consider the price. It is competing with devices such as the Apple TV (~€100) and the Roku streaming stick (~£80), and, although it isn't quite as robust as those products, considering that it doesn't have a navigable UI, among other things, the Chromecast has a lot of the same functionality, for a fraction of the cost.

The Chromecast has no built-in support for local media, such as memory sticks or hard drives. There are a few workarounds for this, such as playing the video through Chrome on PC, or apps such as AllCast on Android. However, there can be issues with unusual codecs or formats, so something I'd love to see is video players such as VLC Media Player implementing Chromecast support on desktop platforms.

This is the perfect device for anyone who doesn't have an Internet-enabled television, and doesn't want to splash out on one. In truth, that's more or less what's you have when you have a TV with a Chromecast plugged into it.

Chromecast on
Chromecast Apps

Friday, 28 March 2014

Explanation of Chrome Channels

I recently asked you guys to tell me which Chrome Channel you use by liking, +1ing or answering directly on my blog. The most popular answer was "I don't know".

The other four options were Stable, Beta, Dev, and Other.

Chrome has a number of different Channels, with different levels of features and stability. The general rule is that the further you get from the Stable Channel, the more features you get, at the cost of stability. These Channels apply to Chrome across most platforms, such as Windows, Mac, Chromebooks, and Android.

Chances are, if you don't know which Channel you are using, you're probably on the Stable Channel. This is the default Channel, and is updated every six weeks or so. It is the slowest to receive features, but, as the name suggests, is the least likely to misbehave. It is currently at version 33.

The Beta Channel is a bit less stable than the Stable Channel, and is updated more often. I've generally found the Beta Channel to have slightly better performance than the Stable Channel, although that could well be a placebo. The Beta Channel also tends to be roughly 1 version ahead of the Stable Channel. The Beta Channel's current version is 34.

The Dev Channel is to the Beta Channel what the Beta Channel is to the Stable Channel. It gets features way before the Stable version, although it does tend to be quite unstable. Its current version is 35.

You may have noticed the Other option. This was to cater for Chromium builds, and for the Canary builds. Chromium is the open-source programme that Google Chrome is based on. In essence, the main difference is that Chrome is distributed by Google, while you can build Chromium yourself, if you so wish. The Canary builds, meanwhile, is even more cutting-edge than the Dev Channel, and definitely not for the faint-of-heart. Features are pushed to it without any testing and you're expected to do the testing yourself.

Hopefully this will make things a little clearer for those of you who answered "I don't know".

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Quick Review: Acer Chromebook C720

A while ago, I wrote a post about computing devices for students. In it, I suggested that you're best off with either a proper laptop or a Chromebook, depending on your usage habits.

I've owned a tablet for well over a year now, and I can confirm that a tablet, even if combined with a keyboard dock, is nothing compared to a proper laptop. By its nature, a tablet in a dock will be very top-heavy, as the tablet contains the motherboard and battery, as well as the screen, while a proper laptop has all this in the bottom half of the device, leading to a more stable base. If you're working with a tablet on a desk, you'll either have to keep your weight on the dock all the time, or keep the tablet at an almost upright position all the time.

It probably doesn't help that my tablet has a consistently jerky UI, despite my best efforts to use highly optimised firmware. As a result of all this, I've decided to purchase a Chromebook, namely the Acer C720.

I've had the Chromebook for about a month now, and I'm delighted to report that it is, most definitely, worth getting as a secondary device. The interface is smooth, and it has regular updates (roughly every six weeks).

The build quality is solid, although it is plastic, rather than a more premium aluminium or similar material. It really is a nice bit of kit. In case you're wondering, it really does boot up as fast as it says on the box (about 8 seconds). The desktop is pretty barebones, which makes sense considering that this is primarily a Web Browser. The Files app is very simple, with only a few functions, such as a Video Player, and allowing you to browse USB drives or SD cards.

The great advantages of a Chromebook are the battery life and the sheer convenience of the thing. You can literally just pick it up and start using it. In a way, it's more like a phone than a proper laptop, in that you don't really turn it off, you just close the lid whenever you're finished with it. The battery life is also really good. I haven't actually done a full battery test to see how long it would last, but, having just taken it off charge, it has an estimated 9 hours and 30 minutes of charge left. That is a bit more than I used to get with my tablet.

Chromebooks run, essentially, a glorified version of the Google Chrome browser. It is a very specialised device, but, if you're willing to only work with tools that work online, or in a browser, such as Google Docs, etc, then it's a great device. I haven't found any sites yet where the Chromebook is much slower than my primary laptop, despite having drastically less RAM, and an inferior processor. Relatively heavy sites like Google Play Music and YouTube load quickly and work well.

tl;dr, A Chromebook is a great purchase, providing you accept and work within its limitations. You won't get Office, unless you're willing to You can buy it in technology shops like Curry's, or online on Amazon, or directly from Google Play if you can buy devices from Google wherever you live.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Quick App Review: Talon for Twitter

You may remember that one of the last apps I reviewed was EvolveSMS by Klinker Apps. They launched Talon for Twitter at the same time. I've been using the app over the past few weeks to get to grips with it.

I'd be the first to admit that I'm not a heavy Twitter user (I just never got into it). However, since I bought Talon, I've been checking my Twitter a good deal more than I used to.

The app itself is a joy to use. Like EvolveSMS, it makes use of the translucent status and nav-bars introduced in Android 4.4.

The app was recently updated, bringing a load of fixes and optimisations to the app. I tend to use the Beta version of these apps, seeing as I'm not too worried about stability just so long as it doesn't crash every two seconds. Generally, the Beta versions are only slightly less stable than the release versions.

One of the more prominent features of this app is a feature the developer calls "Talon Pull". In short, it's a persistent notification which shows you how many unread Tweets you have. On Android 4.1 and higher, it also has three options, allowing you to Stop the service, post a Tweet, or launch a Popup right from the notification, regardless of which app you're in. This level of multi-tasking is what Android is all about!

The app costs €1.49, and is on the Play Store now.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Importance of Updating

I asked a while ago, on Facebook and directly through this blog, how often people do or don't, update their phones, tablets, and computers. The main answer I got was that people will update their devices, if its easy or convenient to do so. There were, naturally, a few outliers, but for the most part, that was the view I was getting. Thanks to everyone who chimed in with their opinion!

So, how convenient is it for you to update your device? That depends from device to device. Generally, iDevices are very easy to update, the update becomes available globally at one time. This does, however, mean that your download could take many hours, given the stress on Apple's servers. Microsoft also does a good job with Windows, although the Windows 8.1 update was a bit strange. Because you have to download it through the Store, and not through Windows Update as you'd expect, I suspect many people who use Windows 8 simply don't know that there is a large update available for their device. That aside, however, Windows tends to be fairly well updated. Google Chromebooks do not have any problems with updates, as they are updated roughly every 6 weeks, and the updates are pushed on a timely basis, and are completely automated, suiting a large number of people perfectly.

Android, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. Especially for older, or less powerful, devices, many OEMs (Samsung, HTC, Sony, etc) simply don't bother pushing any major software updates for their devices. In fact, with many of their less powerful devices, they can only make the update available through a client on a PC, which means that, most times, users will never update their device. OEMs have gotten better over the past few years, but there's still a large gap between Google releasing a new version of Android to Nexus and Google Play Edition (GPE) devices, and OEMs getting even their flagships updated to the latest version.

Motorola has bucked that trend with the Moto X, releasing Android 4.4 quite quickly, while Samsung is only now releasing Android 4.4 for the S4 and the Note 3. Still, the update situation is not too good.

If you're quite tech-savvy, you might install a custom ROM on your device. However, most people would never consider this route, as you generally need some knowledge of the command terminal, and you void your warranty by tampering with the device. As a result, users must rely on OEMs to deliver Android updates to them. Unfortunately, that's unlikely to improve too much for another few months, and older or lower-specced devices are likely to never get many big updates.

In short, for Chromebooks, and, generally, for Windows, updates are a background process which don't need to be fiddled with too much. Updating an iPhone is a painless task as well, although you might want to wait for a few days after a big update to give Apple's servers a chance to get back up to speed, and to allow the bugs to be discovered and patched. Lastly, for Android, if you have a flagship from the last 18 months to 2 years, you might get updates from your OEM, newer devices will probably get updates, older ones almost certainly won't, and you're guaranteed updates for a lot longer if you're confident enough to install a custom ROM on your device.

Monday, 10 February 2014

I Want Your Help

I'm planning a new post for my blog, but I want to know something first. Don't worry, I don't want anything personal, I just want to know how often you would update the software on your phone/tablet/computer.

So, if you would be so kind as to comment on how you often you do, or don't, update the software on your devices, that would be absolutely brilliant!

Thanks in advance :D

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Quick Review: EvolveSMS

One of the first reviews I wrote for this was of Klinker Apps' Sliding Messaging, a nifty SMS app with lots of customisation. It's been around for a year now, and to celebrate, the Klinker brothers released two new apps, Talon for Twitter, and EvolveSMS. I'm not a heavy Twitter user, but I've bought Talon, and I'll bring you a review in the next while.

Now, EvolveSMS. It features some features from Sliding Messaging, but not too much, just enough to make it useful without being overloaded with settings. It's a beautiful looking app, and, like Talon, it takes advantage of the translucent system bars introduced in Android 4.4 KitKat. For an app that was just released yesterday, it's pretty damn stable, if you pardon the expression.

Naturally, it has teething problems, but, remarkably, nothing major. Some people are complaining of graphical issues, like text not aligning correctly with the textboxes, but I've no doubt that these issues will be stamped out really soon!

As with Sliding Messaging, EvolveSMS doesn't feature any internal messaging system, a la Facebook/WhatsApp/Kik/etc. It's just a straight SMS/MMS app. Maybe that doesn't have the same appeal as it might have some years ago, but it's still very relevant.

EvolveSMS is, itself, a free app, although you can pay for extra features in-app. That said, even with just the free app, it's a very nifty app, and well worth trying out. All you need is an Android device running Android 4.0 or higher. Try it! You can't go wrong.

Friday, 3 January 2014

From here on out...

First off, Happy New Year's to everyone. I'd also like to thank everyone who actually read my blog last year. I didn't expect a fraction of the traffic I've received; as of January 3rd, I've had just over 1900 hits. Thanks everyone!

Unfortunately, for the next six months or so, until my Leaving Cert is finished, I probably won't be able to spend as much time as I'd like on this. That said, I'll try and push out a few updates every month, but they probably won't be as frequent as they have been up till now.

There isn't much else to report really, other than storms and gales leading to a few power shortages, nothing too major thankfully.

If there's something you'd like me to cover here, or just anything at all really, feel free to comment!

Normal service will be resumed with the next post. Thanks for reading.