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.