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