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.

After 4 days, the Pixel XL is going back..

.. because of the lens flare problem.

I know I said it wouldn’t bother me, but having experienced it a few times after that post, I just can’t justify locking myself into a two year contract when the hardware isn’t up to scratch.  It is a hardware issue.  I know Google has said it would fix the problem with a software patch that will detect and remove the lens flare through the use of complex algorithms, but having experienced it first hand, I just don’t think this is the right way to do it.  Short of a full recall with redesigned camera assembly, software isn’t going to cut it.   There have also been a few Bluetooth issues that have cropped up as well.

So I’ve arranged with the carrier to return the unit to them next week and downgrade back to the SIM only plan.  I’ll just stick with the iPhone 7 Plus.  Having now had what appears to be two flagship Android handsets returned in four months – both of which were designed in a bit of a rush[1], at least I know what I have with the iPhone.


[1] Apparently the Pixel/Pixel took just 9 months of development time.  Samsung rushed the Note 7 to try and beat Apple, and look how that ended up.

Dell XPS 13 – the Apple of the Windows world

Stage 2 of Operation Bye Bye Apple Pie is in progress.

My replacement for the two-year-old MacBook Pro arrived yesterday.  Having owned a Dell desktop for around three years before switching to the Mac platform, I know just how reliable and well built Dell PCs are.  Indeed – I gave the old Pentium 4 Dell desktop to my in-laws, and it lasted them two-three years with just a graphics card and hard drive replacement required to get it working again after a year of heavy use.

I chose a Dell XPS 13.  It has a 13″ screen but within a 12″ body.  If you thought Apple were the only ones making well-made laptops, think again.  This thing has what is called an “infinity display” – the screen’s bezels are extremely thin., giving you more screen for your buck.  The keyboard closely resembles a MacBook Pro – chicklet keys that are satisfying to type on (albeit now with a Windows layout and the @ and £ symbols moved around a bit).

The system comes with 16Gb RAM, 1Tb  NVe PCIe SSD and Windows 10.  I chose to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro because the ability to generate, host and muck about with Hyper-V virtual machines are extremely useful for work related purposes.  I shall just tap my nose at this point – all will be revealed later.  The most important feature of Windows 10 Pro is the Bitlocker filesystem encryption.  With the Mac you’re rather spoilt with FileVault, so it makes sense to do the same thing with WIndows.  Speaking of the Mac, FileVault has given me quite a bit of jip over the years – see my articles on fixing FileVault on new Macbooks and CoreStorage jiggery-pokery – which will probably make all this look tame when Apple moves to their brand new filesystem, Apple FIle System (or APFS) with MacOS Sierra.  I doubt Microsoft will ever move away from NTFS / BitLocker for quite some time.  I’ve enabled BitLocker and it’s roughly 38% through encrypting the drive.

The SSD itself is a thing of beauty.  I’d always been wary of using SSDs with Windows because for the longest time there was never much in the way of “TRIM” support.  Trim helps manage the areas of the SSD where data has been written and erased.  Over time, the SSDs cells will eventually wear out (despite not having any physical moving parts).  Trimming will help manage the cells and remap where necessary.  A typical SSD should last around 5 years or more even with constant use (constant use being something like writing over 100Gb a day to the drive).  As this Dell uses Intel’s Skylake processor range, it also supports the latest chipset revisions.  It supports the SSD optimised management system called NVMe, an architecture designed around SSDs.  The internal Samsung SSD fully supports it.  From boot to use, Windows 10 Pro is ready to be used within 10 seconds.

The display is a touch screen, super high-resolution beast.  Like the iPad Pro, the screen suffers from a lack of support from developers.  Anything that doesn’t support resolution independence will look a bit blurry and rubbish.  On the other hand, applications such as Adobe Bridge are absolutely hideous – the screen is so small you’ll need to look at it through a magnifying glass.  I’m happy to report, however, that Adobe Photoshop is just fine.

The touch screen makes extensive use of Windows 10 tiles and touch facilities.  You could potentially use this laptop like a tablet – although the screen is firmly attached to the unit and you can’t twist the screen around.  It puts it in the same category as Dell’s excellent Chromebook range (albeit this XPS has a much better display).  It’s rather odd touching the Start menu with your fingers and not your mouse.

My biggest bugbear so far is that while Microsoft provides an OS X-like Preview app for viewing multiple images in separate windows, the Windows 10 Photos app adds all manner of guff to each window which you can’t get rid of.  If you just wanted to look at a photo by itself without the headers or toolbars – tough luck.  But you can, through a registry hack, bring back an older image app called Windows Photo Viewer.  This is much better – it’s easy to resize images through scrolling, resize the windows, etc.  I’ve tried looking for third-party applications that can do this – just in case Microsoft does something silly with Windows Photo Viewer – but nothing comes close to it in functionality.  I have yet to try Adobe Lightroom, however.

Overall, my experience with Windows 10 – my first proper experience with Windows 10 not involving running it in a virtual environment/lab – has been a good one.  But I’m not done there – I still have ti move over my photos and manage them as well as iTunes.  While the iTunes thing is more or less done through Google Play Music now, I’d still like to keep the physical files that I own on the SSD and access them through some form of desktop player.  Microsoft’s Groove player, maybe?  We’ll see.

This weekend I will be waving a sad goodbye to my MacBook Pro.  It was fun.  But it was two generations behind and, as I’ve said, I don’t have much faith in Apple going forward.  Besides, this new machine has cost me far less than what I originally paid for two years ago, has on site warranty for three years, and offers greater tinkering possibilities.  It also fits in with what I do at work, and – finally – who doesn’t like a change once in a while?  I had been stuck in Apple’s complete ecosystem for far too long.

Google Play Music would be the best streaming service if only..

.. it had support for offline support for albums being borrowed on subscription.  Practically every other service has this.  Even more oddly, the mobile app does have offline support.  So why not on the desktop?  And speaking of desktop, there really isn’t a desktop version – you run it within a web browser.  I use Google Chrome – I’m a big Google user – but even I recognise that there are certain limitations with listening to music via a web browser.  I’d much prefer a properly written desktop app for Windows, Mac and Linux.  On the other hand,  even with Google Play Music operating in a web browser, the experience is 100 times better than Apple Music and iTunes!

Speaking of desktop, there really isn’t a desktop version – you run it within a web browser.  I use Google Chrome – I’m a big Google user – but even I recognise that there are certain limitations with listening to music via a web browser.  I’d much prefer a properly written desktop app for Windows, Mac and Linux.  On the other hand,  even with Google Play Music operating in a web browser, the experience is 100 times better than Apple Music and iTunes!

The real beauty of Google Play Music is that one can upload up to 50,000 DRM free tracks and access it in a browser or a mobile app along with the subscription music.  It forms a very powerful and well-integrated system.

So, Google, offline support for the “desktop” and/or a proper desktop app – and I’ll happy keep subscribing.  Which I will.  Until Amazon’s own music subscription comes along when I’ll be checking that out.

As for Apple Music – much trumpeting from Cupertino yesterday about a forthcoming redesigned service, but no mention of fixing server errors, iTunes Match muck-ups and all that malarky.  No apologies, nothing – and we know it’s affected a great deal of people.  Especially those who are heavily into their music collections – the very people Apple are trying to target.

My biggest complaint with Apple services that outside of the US, it’s pretty much a load of old rubbish.  I’m really still not happy with the speed of development of high-resolution apps for the iPad Pros.  I’m not happy with the tvOS uptake of video app for Apple TV (still no All 4, no support for BBC Store in the iPlayer app, no ITV hub, and unlikely that tvOS will get an Amazon Prime video app).   Apple may be providing the platform, but damn it if developers are taking the bait.   As for watchOS 3 – the speed differential should have been there at the launch of the Apple Watch on day one.  As for the other stuff – many features already present in other platforms or third party apps.  And they’re mainly niceties, not must-haves.