Guardians of the Galaxy S8+ Vol. 2

Unfortunately, while I have genuinely liked the Galaxy S8+, I’m swapping it back for the iPhone 7 Plus.  The biggest issue I’ve found with the S8+ was the lack of Android Pay support in some apps which somehow worked with the OnePlus 3T (Starbucks, IIRC) and the Arriva Bus Ticket app keeps crashing with alarming regularity – and at the most inconvenient times.  Never happened with the OnePlus 3T.  Plus the size of the phone means that many apps can’t take full advantage of the screen size.  Yes, in time, this will change – especially as the LG 6 shares the same aspect ratio.  We’re going to see a lot more phones adapt this kind of size/ratio in the future.

So why not just stick with the OnePlus 3T?  Well, I think it’s a very fine phone, but the battery life just isn’t great.  It ran out of juice on one of my trips out of Edinburgh and I rely fairly heavily on the likes of Google Maps to get me around. It’s good enough for a backup phone, but I can’t say it’d be very good for a daily driver.  Especially if one is doing on-call.  And that reminds me – the Galaxy S8+ speaker isn’t that great – and I found myself missing on-call alerts.

So Apple it is.  I can’t say I shall be trying this again – two years in a trot with Android and Every. Single. Time. I come back to IOS.  That either says something about the strength Apple’s ecosystem, or how well iOS has been designed.  I don’t know.  Much of it is down to marketing, and to be fair to Samsung, they pulled off a very good campaign.  But has not been helped by the lack of the Gear 360 or the VR headset at the time of the S8’s launch either.

By heading back to iOS, I regain the ability to use iMessage again.  Many friends and family have this – and it’s particularly useful for those abroad.  Getting everybody on WhatsApp has been difficult.  I have other contacts on Skype.  So it’s all a bit fragmented.  Also Wi-Fi Calling.  The S8+ is not compatible with Three’s Wi-Fi Calling service at this time, so there’s that too.

There is a part of me that desperately wants to love and use Android full time, but there are too many inconsistencies.  Both in rolling out security updates (the Galaxy S8+ is still on April security updates), features (S8+ on version 7, the OnePlus 3T is on 7.1.1), and app performance.  iOS fixes many of these issues, and thus after the great swaparoos of 2016 and 2017, I declare iOS as the recommended mobile platform.

Now, I had a bet with somebody about all this, and I owe them a crate of Budweiser beer…

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Mini Review

This post appeared yesterday, but due to some weird underlying problem with the host server, it forced me to move everything to a new host.

I’ve had my shiny new Samsung Galaxy S8+ for nearly a week, and I must say that it meets my expectations.  It combines everything that I loved about the ill-fated Note 7 with the Galaxy S7 Edge, and this makes for a very, very nice pocketable computer (which just so happens to make and receive phone calls too).

The 6.2″ screen (phew – nearly a typo, nearly suggested it was 6ft 2inches -imagine carrying THAT around) is, as everybody says, lovely.  As it inherits the Note 7’s more subtle edges, the phone is very comfortable in my hand.  It’s long and slim versus the iPhone 7 Plus’ wide body (which offers less viewing space).

The rear fingerprint sensor situated right next to the camera isn’t a problem for me.  I have been described as having “E.T. fingers”, so my hands are suitably adapted to using a long phone.  My index finger hits that fingerprint sensor every single time – so far I have not yet hit the camera lens – the proof is in the lack of fingerprints on the lens.  When I have the phone in my left hand, I can still manage it, albeit with a bit more difficulty.

Iris scanning is another matter.  I wear glasses, so this was bound to be a disaster – but initially, the system registered my peepers without any difficulty in good light, wearing my glasses.  Unlocking the phone worked just fine using irises for a couple of times – after which it’s become a hit and miss.  Definitely better than the Note 7, but still no cigar.  Yet.  I’ve a feeling Samsung will eventually crack it.

The software side is good – no complaints.  Currently running Android 7.0 with April security updates.  Hopefully, Samsung will roll out May updates soon.  The UI looks and feels like the Note 7 – with a few enhancements.  I like the touch-hold to see options for apps on the Home screen – feels like right-clicking on the desktop – it provides – for me at least – better options than iOS.

Android Pay works – as it should.  Apparently, we’re due to get Samsung Pay this month, and I shall look to see if it’s worth moving over to it from Android Pay. It’d be nice if only to be able to pay with my Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.

I’ve not had much of a chance to test the camera yet, but limited testing seems to suggest a very capable shooter – as good as what I experienced with the Note 7.

I’m particularly fond of the Always On display.  I have that set-up to display the current “home” time and that of Seattle (long story).  Notifications appear as icons as they come in – and certain notifications will trigger the LED notification light – something I would have really liked on the iPhone.

Battery life is decent enough.  Hands down the winner is the iPhone 7 Plus, but the Galaxy S8+ doesn’t do a bad job.  I kept my two Samsung wireless Fast Charge chargers and let me tell you – once you’ve tried wireless charging, you will never go back (okay, I went back to the iPhone for a while after the Note 7 fiasco – but boy, have I missed wireless charging).  Battery life lasts approximately a day and a bit – maybe longer if you don’t tinker much with the phone.

Speaking of battery/display – I kept the default setting at medium resolution – I don’t see any difference in the quality of the display at that setting, and the battery level does drain a little tiny bit faster if you choose to use the higher resolution.

I have a 200Gb Sandisk microSD card installed to complement the onboard UFS 2.1 64Gb storage.  No problems with it so far.  I did think it was a right bugger to get the nano SIM and microSD card to share the same tray (big fingers, remember?), but otherwise, all is good.

I use Apple Music (thanks, Apple – I appreciate having to have a choice) and downloading music to the SD card and playing music back is as one would expect.

Overall I really like what Samsung have done with this phone.  I keep it in a Spigen case.  I have tried the Clear View Samsung case (particularly notable for its ability to act as a stand, and provide a separate partition for the fingerprint sensor so that it’s easier to locate), but – ironically – I found that the cover gets in the way of the fingerprint sensor and camera, and I’m reasonably sure that the Gorilla Glass 5 will do a capable job of keeping scratches at bay when the phone is in my trouser pocket.

Moving from iOS to Android, part one of many – moving to Samsung’s Galaxy S8+

As I await my Samsung Galaxy S8+ pre-order to arrive later next month, I have started planning the migration from iPhone’s iOS to the Galaxy’s Android OS.  Setting up a new phone always takes forever and a day, so getting prepared is always a good thing.

One thing that I love what Google have done is that the Play store remembers all previous purchases and downloads.  I had to use a special SMS application on Android (though I believe this is handled natively) to be able to trigger repeat SMS notifications – for when I’m on call.  I couldn’t remember what it was called, but I’ve just gone into my account at the Play store’s web site and found it (Textra, in case you’re interested).  The major advantage of accessing one’s previous accessed apps this way is that you can then install them via the web too!

I had considered switching from Apple Music to Spotify, but then remembered that Apple Music is also available on Android.  So I don’t need to make any changes to my subscription, nor do I need to ditch iTunes completely – which isn’t something I’m prepared to do.  I’m definitely keeping the Mac – it’s merely the phone and watch that are changing.

In terms of photos, I used to keep everything in the iCloud Photo Library.  My biggest worry was something happening at Apple that could have wiped the entire lot – so I’ve disabled the service, downgraded by iCloud storage, and intend to move everything over to Adobe Lightroom (which forms part of my Photoshop subscription) which has its own Android app for accessing photos.   To transfer to the Mac, I just need a USB-C to USB-C cable, and import them directly into Lightroom.  I’m so glad that Samsung have stuck with USB-C .

I don’t think there are specific apps that I use on iOS that aren’t available for Android.  The main issue may be that some apps look a bit odd on the Galaxy S8+’s longer display, but as Google is actively encouraging developers to adapt their apps to this format, we should start to see some truly attractive apps.

What I’m REALLY looking forward to, and what is pushing me most towards the S8+ is that I felt that with the Note 7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, the cellular performance was far, far better than the iPhone 7 Plus.  It is no exaggeration to say that at times I find connectivity on the iPhone to be sluggish.  But it was never an issue with the Note 7, S7 Edge and even the Google Pixel.  Are Intel’s modems that much worse than Qualcomm’s?  I don’t know, but it sure feels like it.  When you’re out and about, you don’t want sluggish network performance.

Also: wireless charging.  I still have my fast wireless chargers and hope that they will work with the S8+.  They’re incredibly useful to have around.

The only downside, I guess, is that I’ll lose access to iMessage.  This messaging service from Apple allows two iPhone users to directly message each other without utilising the SMS network (or if one user is out of range of internet access, it will revert to SMS).  As most of the family are on WhatsApp, this will make things much easier – but there are still a few people I need to convert.

Other things that I hope to experience with the Galaxy S8+: Virtual Reality.  In the US, Samsung are bundling their VR headgear and controller along with a nice pair of good quality earphones as part of the pre-order deal.  In the UK?  Nope.  Nada.  Diddly squat.  But I’m sure that at some point I’ll get a chance to check it out. VR is the Next Big Thing(tm) and I would like to be a part of it.  The 360 4K video camera is certainly intriguing.  How I’d love to take that with me to Iceland in a few months time.

So lots to look forward to, and lots to do when I do get the kit (including then selling everything else to pay for it!), but I’m somebody who doesn’t stand still when it comes to technology.

Game of Phones: Apple iPhone 7 Plus is out, Google Pixel is in

A while back I posted something (now deleted) about the new Google Pixel XL going too much in the direction of Apple.  Then I thought about things for a bit. With Microsoft having now firmly established themselves in the hardware sector with their Surface range of laptops (and now desktop PCs), it seems that the major players in the tech industry have effectively decided that yes, doing an Apple – designing both hardware and software – is the most efficient thing to do.

I initially wrote off the Google Pixel and Pixel XL as Google aping Apple.  Similar design, similar principals.  The user would get the latest and greatest feature updates and timely security updates as Google designed both the software and hardware themselves.  I was concerned that Google would not look favourably to other flagship Android manufacturers as a result, and Android – as an ecosystem – would become insular.  I was concerned because my experience of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was the best thing I ever had with an Android phone.  The Galaxy S7 Edge was nice, but felt super bulky and – dare I say it – almost cartoony alongside it.  The Note 7 was slim, had a beautiful screen and screen layout, packed full of features .. and the potential to explode at any time.

So my reaction to that was to go back to Apple.  Apple is safe.  Apple is good.  But the thing is, Apple just isn’t as good as they used to be.   They occasionally come up with some products that are truly excellent (their Beats Solo 3 wireless headphones are the bees knees, for example – the battery life of that thing is incredible), but I’ve notice that over the past couple of years, more and more bugs and other issues have crept into their products which has put a bit of a downer on things.

It’s expected that new MacBooks and MacBook Pros will be announced today, and given leaks from the MacOS system itself, it appears there will be a lack of a physical “escape” key.  As a sysadmin/engineer, the “escape” key is one of the most important keys on a keyboard.  I spend a great deal of time on serial consoles which require a combination of ‘escape’ key combinations to diagnose and bring servers online.  If Apple does take away the ‘escape’ key – or turn into a virtual key through the much rumour OLED touch bar – this is going to be a problem.  I am super glad that my return to the Mac is with a design that has served Apple very well for the past 8 years or so.  I shall let others figure out whether the new design is going to work out or not.

The iPhone 7 Plus is good all round pocket computer.  But it’s not great.  The CPU is the fastest in the industry as demonstrated many times over.  The optical zoom is a nice feature to have, but I find that iPhone 7 Plus photos are too soft and looking at images at 100% resolution yield too soft (almost paint-like) qualities to it in comparison to something like the Samsung Galaxy lines.  But my biggest bugbear with the iPhone 7 Plus has been the cellular capabilities.  With the Samsung phones, the reliability of 3G/4G has been superb.  Handover between Wi-Fi and cellular and back again – no problem.  iPhone 7 Plus with iOS 10 – many problems.  Many are blaming Apple’s use of Intel modems for this (whereas with the iPhone 6/6S phones, Apple used Qualcomm).

So I’ve made one more exchange.  I’ve turned my SIM only contract into an phone contract and gone for the Google Pixel XL.  The iPhone is going.  The brief time I’ve had with the Pixel XL has sold me that even if it took Google just 9 months to get this thing out, it’s still done a better job than Apple has with the iPhone 7/7 Plus.  With the Google Pixel XL, cellular connectivity is spot on, the raw Android OS does everything I want of it, and the camera is just superb – lens flare issues or not (again, bringing up the concept of improving imagery with smaller sensors using computational photography – Photoshop before you Photoshop so to speak).

I can live without iMessage and the recent update that allows people to place stickers and animated GIFs all over the shop.  I hate it, to be honest.  There’s a lot of UI associated with that I’d rather see gone.  I can live without iCloud Photo Library.  Google’s Pixel provides unlimited free storage for photos and videos shot/taken on the Pixel, and given that I can backup my entire Google Account through the use of Spanning Backup – no problem!  I’m also a lot more confident of Google’s cloud infrastructure than I am of Apple’s.

Google is definitely aiming to get iPhone users to convert, and I think they’ve done a pretty ruddy good job here.  Given that a lot of my personal workflow goes through Google’s G-Suite for Business, it makes more sense for me to use a device running Android that can make the best use of it.  The problem in the past has been that Android was never completely there for me.  It is now.  And having Google take the lead over other Android flagships gives me a major advantage.  Perhaps now Samsung and Co. will do more to ensure they get out security and feature updates to their Android phones faster.  My initial analysis was wrong – Google is showing others how Android should be done.  And long may it continue.

But Martyn, you may ask yourself, what about the iPhone 8 (or whatever they’re going to call it) next year?  Well, next year is next year.  Providing Google continue to roll out updates, and providing they’re committed to Android and Pixel, I think I’ll be a proper Android convert for a very, very long time.

Where do we go from here?  The next big thing in IT that’s going to shake things up a bit: artificial intelligence.  There’ll be a blog post on that soon.

P.S. – no, definitely no more phone swaps for me for at least a year (and if I do, it’ll be through the phone contract).  I’m keeping the iPad because I’ve still yet to see an Android tablet that renders books, newspapers and magazines as well.

When mobile phones outsmart DSLRs

I’ve always enjoyed taking photographs and have owned a number of standalone cameras in my time.  I never enjoyed 35mm film cameras because of the fiddly nature of spooling the film into the camera, so was very happy when I got my first ever digital camera way back in the year 2000.  It was a Sony Cybershot.  It was a big clunky camera.  My most recent was another Sony Cybershot (the well received RX100 MkIII).  Tiny thing.  But I’ve just sold that.

Why?

I’ve come to realise that I just don’t like carrying around two devices that now do the same thing.  In fact, the device that’s replacing it does more – it can automatically tag photos with location data which makes it much easier to identify where a photo was taken.

So..

I’m buying a Samsung Galaxy Note 7.  I already own the Galaxy S7 Edge (which will be sold to make up the shortfall when the Note 7 arrives), and both devices share the same camera optics.  The S7 Edge has taken some of the most impressive photographs I’ve seen from a camera phone to date.  It uses dual pixel technology as found in the Canon 70D camera (which has only just found its way into the new and pricey Canon 5D Mark IV) which means super fast auto focus.  It behaves extraordinary well in low light situations.  In Pro mode, one can generate RAW files.  In short – you’ve got professional camera features in a mobile telephone.

Let them eat cake - photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (full auto) - click image for full size
Let them eat cake – photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (full auto) – click image for full size

But why the Note 7 in particular when the S7 Edge and Note 7 share such similar specifications?  The first is the S-Pen.  Steve Jobs has always dismissed styluses for phones, but the Note 7 is more than that.  With the Note 7, you can write directly on the screen when the phone isn’t in use and save them.  As I’m always taking down notes, this is going to be a much-used feature.  The second is the curved screen isn’t pronounced.  My biggest problems with the S7 Edge is that I whenever I grip the sides, it results in accidental app launches and whatnot if the phone is unlocked.  Then there’s the slightly larger size over the S7 Edge (a whole .2 inches).  I have large hands, therefore a larger phone suits me better.  Then there is the refined user interface, the iris scanner (though as I wear glasses, I don’t think I’ll get much use of that feature).  The Note 7 is the first Samsung phone to incorporate blue light reduction which I find very useful before heading off to sleep.

I have made the decision to stick with the Samsung Galaxy Note series for future mobile phone tech.  Samsung has taken the lead over Apple (who are currently embroiled in the iPhone 6/6 Plus “touch disease” fiasco).  In particular, I trust Google’s services far more over Apple’s (especially given I have a proper SLA with Google for Google Apps for Work – no such SLA exist with any of Apple’s online services;  I fear that one day,  as Apple integrates its online services even more tightly into MacOS and iOS, they will seriously muck it up, leaving vulnerable Apple users with lost data).  I’m also with Intel in saying that if you’re going to go down a fully digital audio route for headphones and the ilk, USB-C is a better medium than Apple’s own ecosystem.

All these features within a single unit that I carry about every single day and hardly leaves my side.  It’s strange to think how far mobile phone technology has become.  The S7 Edge/Note 7 processors contain neural net technology for crying out loud!  It is a computer, it is a phone, it is a compass, it is a satnav, it is a pro camera.  It’s no wonder why mobile phones have become so popular.