The Google Pixel 2 XL: Great phone, brilliant camera!

I’m continuing to enjoy using my Google Pixel 2 XL phone.  It is quite the beast.  I love almost everything about it – including Android.  Took me a few days to get used to how Android deals with things, but one the adjustment period is over – it comes naturally.  I do still kind of miss having a front fingerprint scanner – I do keep putting my finger over the camera flash from time to time, but I’m sure muscle memory will eventually kick in.

But what I really love about this phone is the camera.  It truly is best in class despite only having a single lens.  Google’s computational photography outdoes Apple considerably.  The Google Photos service is also a remarkable thing – far better in many ways than iCloud Photo Library – though I do wish Google would maintain up-to-date support for the latest camera RAW formats as my Sony RX100 mark V isn’t supported and I can’t upload my RAW images.  Otherwise, Google Photos for me has been the best experience in managing and organising photos since the Apple Photos app.  I can download the whole lot via Google Takeaway – though I’d also appreciate some form of API so that I can plug in another cloud service (thinking Backblaze B2) to back up all photos on the fly.  One cannot escape the cloud these days!

Taken at Surbiton Station with a Google Pixel 2 XL.
Pizza time at work. Taken with Google Pixel 2 XL. Note that at 100% crop, you can read the Samsung logo on the TV clearly. With Apple, this would be like am expressionist painting.

The photos are good enough, IMHO, to leave the proper camera at home.  I’m very happy with the quality that Google brings to the table.  When the Pixel 3 XL comes out, I’m sure it’ll be even better.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been going through my photos that are now stored in Google Photos and it’s interesting to note that after the iPhone 6S, the (mainly Samsung) Android phones that I have had produced much better imagery than the iPhone 7, iPhone 7S and even the iPhone X!  At least to my eye.  There’s something that Apple did from the iPhone 6S onwards that seems to have resulted in “painting like” imagery when cropped at 100%.

Getting back to the phone itself, customising ringtones is dead simple to do on this phone – unlike iOS where you have to jump through a number of loops beforehand.  I also really like notifications – though a bit in-your-face at first, they are highly customisable and I like that one can easily copy codes from SMSes or reply/acknowledge direct from the notification centre.

Google really make use of the bigger screen resolution to fit more icons on, and this also means that apps such as Authy allow me to cram as many 2FA sites on there than I could with the iPhone X.

Apple Music on Android is a bit of a pain, however.  It can often just open, sitting there with a blank screen until I click the pull-down menu and fuss about with it.  Then there is the issue that it doesn’t seem to recognise purchased content which IS still available in the UK iTune store and is also downloaded to the phone:

Apple Music – 3 years later, and being a pain in the arse on a different platform.,

Apple still has much to learn about co-operating with other platforms.

I regret nothing switching to the Pixel 2 XL.  Bring on the Pixel 3 XL later this year.  Unless Apple really pull something out their sleeve…

Game of Phones part.. oh, I’ve lost track now.. and the big screen experience at home

September is traditionally the time in which the two biggest players in the smartphone market release (or at least announce) their newest flagship phones to the masses.

Apple is due to announce the new iPhone 8 range of phones on September 12th, whereas Samsung is releasing the new Galaxy Note 8 a few days later.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve really struggled to move to Android and have always returned to iOS.  When I got the Galaxy Note 7, I absolutely loved that phone, but the whole battery/recall situation was unpleasant enough (which also took me to the Galaxy S7 Edge and Google Pixel XL) that I just bit the bullet and went back to an iPhone.  Earlier this year I had a brief encounter with the Galaxy S8+, but one of my most valued (and most used) applications kept crashing under Android and that forced me back to the iPhone – again.

Right now I’m thinking the best strategy would simply to keep using the iPhone 7 Plus that I have and wait it out until later next year to see what’s happened between the Note 8 and iPhone 8.  But I really like the look of the Note 8 – it’s square shape, the S-Pen and the dual cameras (both of which feature optical image stabilisation – a first for any smartphone) all appeal.  I liked that I could jot down phone numbers or write notes when the screen was off with the Note 7.  That’s great value to me.  With the iPhone 8, I stay within the Apple ecosystem with the Apple Watch and the MacBook Pro 2017 Kaby Lake (13″).

Speaking of the MacBook Pro, I decided that, as I will be occasionally working from home with my new job (which is going great, BTW – there’s a LOT to keep me occupied) to buy myself a monitor.  I’ve been using laptops almost exclusively close to nearly 15 years, and I’d never thought about buying an external monitor to use with them.  Back at Memset, I had a single monitor (21″) that kept me going for 5 years (whereas colleagues had multiple monitors) that I hooked up to my MacBook Air.  It was okay, and as such, I felt that I didn’t really need that sort of set-up at home.  This new job, on the other hand, gives me two 21″ monitors out the box on a desktop based Ubuntu OS (it was running Windows).

So last week, having endured two weeks where I had to work at least one day per week at home due to the South Western Railway signal/Waterloo upgrade situation, I decided that what I really needed to be able to work comfortably at home with a trillion SSH sessions going on, a web browser or three, and a Slack session all running at the same time was a monitor.  I had a look at Ultra HD/4K monitors and ruled them out due to cost.  I think it may be another year or two before costs are driven down.   So I had a look at a decent 21-24″ full HD monitor that would be both cost-effective and last me for a couple of years (or more).

I looked at a Samsung curved monitor, then ruled that out as it looked too odd.  Then there was the LG 25UM58-P-25 21:9 aspect ratio ultra-wide monitor, which looks incredible, but I wondered if it would fit on my desk.  I finally settled down on a Dell 2418H InfinityEdge display from John Lewis. £200.  It’s a lovely display and comes with its own speakers (tuned by Waves Maxx Audio) that sit within the stand.  The quality of the image is fantastic.  Yes, you can see the pixels in text given that it’s only a Full HD display and the Mac is capable of driving much higher resolutions – but for my needs it’s perfectly fine (the laptop screen runs at 1600×900 and this display runs at 1980×1080 – then when you combine both screens, I have substantially more real screen estate to play with now).

I also had to buy a new dongle for the Mac because of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports don’t allow me to directly hook up to an external monitor without one.  I settled for a Cable Matters USB-C to 4K HDMI multiport adapter.  This also gives me a gigabit ethernet port and two USB 3 ports.  And it works brilliantly.  It also works with my Dell XPS 13 (9350) too.

Speaking of the Dell XPS 13 9350, I think it may be time to say goodbye to the only decent Windows machine I’ve used in the past year.  Dell is just about to refresh the line with the brand spanking new 8th generation Intel processors which bring quad core processing to 13″ notebooks for the very first time.  So if anybody is looking out for a very good Windows laptop with 16Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD, and still carries an on-site warranty until 2019 – please get in touch (details in the About Martyn page – link on the left).

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.