Best eBook Reader for Android

Split screen of Moon+ Reader's shelf screen and reading screen on Nexus 7 2013.

Going paperless – thousands of books in your palm.

I know I don’t strike a lot of people as someone who reads a lot (in the most traditional sense of the word anyway), but I do have a personal commitment, albeit way overdue, to read more. With a plethora of distractions in our hyperconnected world, it just seems like one can never make reading a big enough priority over say chatting on Facebook, posting passive aggressive tweets, scrolling through Instagram feeds, watching random YouTube videos…… you get my point.

eBook Reader Setup for Android

While the Kindle’s E Ink screen tries to replicate the paper experience as closely as possible, there are a variety of reasons why I wouldn’t pick up a Kindle just for the sake of reading. If you want a tl;dr – they don’t provide any other value, and that’s ok for most readers; I get it.

I am very publicly a Google fanboy, so every point I make is going to be in favor of why turning your Android tablet (Nexus 7 2013 in my case) into a part-time eBook reader is really the best of both worlds.

Moon+ Reader

Play Store Link for Moon+

These are all backlogged, by the way.

I may be a tad obsessed with GQ. Just a tad.

Before I discovered Moon+ Reader, I was predominantly using Aldiko for all my ePubs and Mantano Reader for my PDF magazines. But Moon+ Reader quickly became my default eBook reader 15 minutes upon installation; in fact, I purchased the Pro version within the same time frame. That’s kinda the testament to how much I love this sleek app.

Setting up Moon+ Reader is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

1. Import

There are two sources where you can get your books from – the first one is your own ePub files locally stored on your device. To import books, you first need to set your main folder to the folder that contains all your epub, pdf, mobi, or practically any recognizable file type. Click on Options from the menu and set your main folder:

Moon+ Reader Option

2014-10-12 15.03.49

After importing, you can access all your books in “My Shelf” every time you start up the app. There will also be a Google’s carousel-like bar on top that shows you your current reads with % progress, which is really nifty.

Moon+ Reader Startup Screen

2. Customize and Enjoy

Aside from the aforementioned customization option, Moon+ Reader also provides very specific visual options within the reader screen. Check out the short walk-through below:

Upgrading to Pro

Moon+ Pro

At 6 SGD (about 4.8 USD) price tag, Moon+ Reader Pro isn’t exactly a very affordable app for what it does. But I support great developers in the Android ecosystem, plus the app looks so much more premium without those cheeky banner ads at the bottom; it comes down to the personal POV on how you feel about ads and app purchases.

Audio Technica ATH-M50x BL Review

Early last month, after waiting 2 months for the limited edition color to restock and 1 more month of contemplating whether it would really fit most of my day-to-day use cases, I finally decided to pick up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x Limited Edition cans. In a nutshell, these are branded as “professional monitoring headphones” but whether you’re a professional or casual user, there’s very little or nothing you can complain about these sub-200$ cans. Except, unless you’re fixated on a certain brand whose selling points are looks, heavy bass and *coughs* celebrity endorsement…..

ATH-M50X Limited Edition Box

The Technical Bits

Before I proceed any further with the review, I would like to make a note that I don’t intend to make this post a traditional product review, in which impedance, highs, lows, mids, frequency response are thrown around here and there. Instead, I would make it more of a point of “Top 5 Reasons to Buy ATH-M50x”, but let’s get all the technical bits out of the way first.

Type Closed-back dynamic
Driver Diameter 45 mm
Magnet Neodymium
Frequency Response 15 – 28,000 Hz
Sensitivity 99 dB
Impedance 38 ohms
Weight 285 g (10 oz), without cable and connector
Cable Choices All Detachable: 1.2 m – 3.0 m coiled cable, 3.0 m straight cable and 1.2 m straight cable
Accessories Soft carrying pouch (color matching), 0.25 in adapter for use with amplifiers

What’s In The Box / Product Shots


Top 5 Reasons to Buy ATH-M50x

As I mentioned, I don’t want this post to be an overdose of technical bits detailing stuff most readers probably don’t care about. So, here goes the top 5 reasons to pick up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x if you intend to spend a considerable amount of money in return of excellent sound quality and listening experience.

1. Value

Value, value for money, return on investment, bang for the buck, wherever you’re from and whatever you want to call it, Audio Technica ATH-M50x has an incredible ratio of value for money. I said “incredible” because for 189 USD on Amazon (about 240 SGD), the quality of sound and value you get is on par, if not better than, a horde of headphones priced way higher than M50x.

Now, just to put it out there, I was willing to go as high as 350 USD for my headphone purchase so when I talk about value, I am not constraint by price during my research process. For perspectives, I had tested more than half a dozen headphones (including Sennheiser HD 25, Sennheiser Momentum, Shure SRH840, Bose Quiet Comfort 15) and none made me go “wow, that’s really impressive for the price point”.

2. Sound Quality

This point is actually the most important factor, for me personally, in deciding which headphones to purchase. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x has a very balanced rich sound, with highs that are really crisp, mids that are really stable and lows that are deep, non-distorted. When it comes to the bass department, I wouldn’t really recommend this pair to any kind of basshead because while the bass is really tight on the M50x, it ain’t exactly the type of thumping, booming bass that some bassheads are really into (yes, pick up a pair of Beats for those).

Oops, Dr. Dre using..... ATH-M50?

Oops, Dr. Dre using….. ATH-M50?

Also, because the “M” in M50x stands for “Monitoring”, bass is not exactly the top priority in making this product stand out. I don’t monitor audio for recording or anything like that but from listening to various genres of music (from EDM, hip hop, R&B to rock), I will firmly say that one can likely never fault M50x for any sound quality issue; I’ve received the same sentiments from both my audiophile and non-audiophile friends.

3. Design and Build Quality

The idea of good design always comes with a high level of subjectivity, so let’s just say the bottom line is M50x are great from more of a utilitarian standpoint than an aesthetic one. The sturdy industrial design and build make M50x a very durable pair.

ATH-M50X Limited Edition Blue

4. Flexibility

When it comes to flexibility of the headphones, I believe I have not seen a more flexible pair. For starters, the cables come in three different lengths, types and they’re all detachable. Simple lock and twist mechanism keeps the cable fixed in place when you want to listen to music. DJs and studio professionals will also be glad to know that M50x has 90-degree rotating or swiveling earcups that will go any direction you want them to, so you can easily go into one-ear listening mode when you’re monitoring audio or mixing beats. In addition, the earcups can face down when you leave them on the table or rest neatly on your chest when you wear them around your neck.

5. Comfort and Isolation

The earcup cushions are really soft and comfortable even for an extended period of listening. The earcups also provide a very good passive noise isolation as they seal really well (although they don’t have active noise cancellation as found in Bose Quiet Comfort 15). But because they seal really well, these earcups tend to get warm after a couple of hours of listening – worse if you live in tropical areas… like Singapore. For my use cases in the comfort of my room or in office where air conditioning is available, these are quite comfortable for prolonged periods of listening.

ATH-M50X Folded

Conclusion

I may have been very biased throughout the entire review for the M50x because these have provided such satisfying audio experience for me since I picked them up. The only cons I can really pinpoint would be that they’re not Beats by Dre, so don’t expect thumping bass and crazy eye-catching design, and they’re a tad larger and heavier than most headphones in the same league, so they may not be the best fit for your mobile use cases, although they still sound great without an amplifier on mobile devices. If you’re seriously contemplating to pick up a pair of M50x and need further convincing, check out the review by MKBHD below and also go to your nearest headphone store to give it a try extensively.

 

Weekend Project – WordPress Migration to Bluehost + SEO for Blog

After being in the digital marketing industry for over a year, the biggest irony of my professional career had been the lack of any search engine optimization (SEO) effort at all on my personal blog/website. I started this blog, which used to be hosted on free WordPress domain at richxiong89.wordpress.com, some time in the 2012 and have kept it running with sporadic posting ever since. Over time, people have started taking notice of the blog as I’ve linked it on quite a number of my social accounts and the typical conversations surrounding my blog have always been “oh it must have been so search engine optimized”, “how long do you spend each week to work on the SEO on your blog”, “can you teach me what I should do with my blog”, and yada yada yada… I should have been ashamed of the irony, right?

No SEO Meme - Tell me how it works out for you

The untimely arrival of Panda 4.0 algorithm coincided with the period of time this year when I barely had any energy or time to take care of my blog, which led to my blog’s taking a huge dip in traffic over time. If it had happened to a client’s site, I would have been on top of my game planning strategies and tactics for recovery, churning out multiple action plans and executing at the highest level of diligence. But well, 4 months after the hit, here I am getting started on this long-overdue weekend project.

Custom Domain and Hosting

The first of many mistakes I made yesterday was hastily purchasing a custom domain on WordPress.com without digging much deeper into my research on hosting. The implication of this is that you will get very limited functionality for the price you’re paying for (26 USD per year) and you will have to look for a hosting provider (which also will allow you sign up for a custom domain, at a much better bang-for-the-buck bundled price).

Wordpress custom domainI’ll come back to how I managed to make the domain work a tad later. Without getting into long-winded research that went nowhere, I pretty much decided on Bluehost upon reading this article on selecting the best WordPress hosting.

Setting up Bluehost

After completing the transaction for a “Shared, Plus” account, I was ready to rock and roll. The first thing to do is to make sure your custom domain is pointing to Bluehost’s name servers, that is if you made the same mistake as me in purchasing a domain on WordPress. So, there are two options to set up WordPress on Bluehost if you already have a custom domain (if not, you can just sign one up on Bluehost itself and everything will take care of itself):

  • Migrate your custom domain from WordPress.com’s host server to Bluehost server
  • Point the name servers of your custom domain to Bluehost’s name servers

For the first pointBluehost CPanel Domain, domain management options can be found in the cPanel of your Bluehost account (some hosting companies do not allow domain transfer within 60 days from purchase, so you might want to check that).

For the second point, changing name servers on your WordPress’s custom domain is very simple. Go to your domain management screen on WordPress at https://wordpress.com/my-domains/

Wordpress domain management

Click on “Edit” and select “Name Servers” on the left sidebar of the popup that follows:

Wordpress domain name servers
Type in the name servers for Bluehost as seen in the screenshot and Save Changes – you’re good to go.
ns1.Bluehost.com
ns2.Bluehost.com

WordPress Migration

After changing your name servers to Bluehost, you have to set up a WordPress instance in Bluehost in order to build you site. Before you do that, you have to migrate your existing WordPress blog to Bluehost so that you can enjoy all the control and customization options that come with the hosting. This process is pretty straightforward as all you gotta do is to go to your WordPress’s Dashboard -> Tools > Export, select all content and the XML file will be exported to your computer. As simple as that. Bluehost has also posted a step-by-step instruction post for WordPress migration with video for your reference.

Now it’s time to go to Bluehost’s cPanel and set up that WordPress instance. In cPanel, there’s a website builder section where you can find WordPress, Simple Scripts, etc. If you click on WordPress and follow the on-screen instructions, you will have a WordPress instance set up MOJO Marketplace. Bluepost’s instruction on installing WordPress on MOJO Marketplace has outdated interface screenshots, but you get the gist anyway. After the installation, you will be redirected to the MOJO Marketplace landing page where you should be able to see your WordPress install (you’ll also receive an email informing you that WordPress for your new domain is successfully set up, with login details attached).

MOJO My installs

Completing Migration and Final Checking

Once you’re able to login to your newly setup WordPress on your new domain, you can follow the steps mentioned in exporting WordPress content earlier on, except this time you select import and let the process take care of everything for you. If you have a ton of posts in your old blog, the import will take quite some time, so just let the tab untouched. Of course, this is a very simplified migration process that hasn’t taken into accounts the migration of wp-content/themes, databases, etc. But because I am setting up my new website from scratch, new theme design, layout and so on, I didn’t do much transfer via FTP – all I needed were the posts. If you have time and are interested in a relatively more “complete” migration process, Bluehost does have a very comprehensive FAQ post for on WordPress migration.

WP PermalinksOne last thing to check is the “Permalinks” setting in your new WordPress website – it has to be the same URL structure as the old WordPress blog, or else 90 – 99% of your posts will go into a 404 header, following the redirection from old posts. There were a couple of hours yesterday during which I had absolutely zero stats from my new website, because I overlooked this last bit.

Permalink Structure

That’s been it. Thanks for reading. I spent the better part of this weekend working on this side project and I will probably follow up with a series of posts on WordPress SEO – the use of plugins, technical bits and other topics that may be of interest to you. Stay tuned! Also, do not hesitate to get in touch if you run into any issues or if you think I could help. :)

Skimble’s Workout Trainer gets an impressive UX update

I first blogged about Workout Trainer by Skimble more than a year ago after discovering and falling in love with it at first sight. Following the posting, the very nice folks over at Skimble noticed my blog post and decided to gift me a year of subscription for my early loyalty and affinity. Just when I thought it was a really nice gesture by Skimble, they also decided to do a “member spotlight” profile; all of these efforts set the stage for one of the most awesome customer experience for an Android app.

If you haven’t already, you should totally check out Skimble’s Workout Trainer, which would assist you with your home workout plan – available on both Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Workout Trainer by Skimble snippet found on the official website

Click on to download the app!

Today

About a year and a half in and after renewing my subscription for the second year, my love for the app and the brand continues to grow, especially after their most recent update, which features a completely revamped logo and impressive UI update. The new update takes the user experience of the app to the next level. New, awesome UX elements such as vertical sliding menu (similar to the one on Google+) and weekly progress bar are introduced in this update.

Here is the most recent changelog (for Android): 

v5.3
✓ Beautiful redesign & new app icon!
✓ Do the new fitness assessment so we can customize your experience.
✓ New dashboard with more targeted, recommended, and featured workouts.
✓ Set your Weekly Workout Goal to stay on track and be consistent.
v5.1
✓ Auto-sync with Samsung S Health API in upcoming Galaxy S5 device
✓ Stay motivated – get notified when your friends do workouts!
✓ Fix for rare crash problems seen on some Samsung devices
Vertical Sliding Menu - Sleek!

Vertical Sliding Menu – Sleek!

Workout Trainer's homepage on Android showing workout progress, workout of the week and my workouts.

This is the killer feature in this update.

I believe featuring the workout progress at the main page of the app is the most thoughtful UI upgrade in this update, because previously if I were to check how many times I had worked out in a particular week, I would go to my profile and start counting, while having a calender open somewhere to check it against. Now, tracking the weekly progress is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

The progress bar at the top is also a great reminder whenever I open the app to see whether I am on track on a weekly basis. As long as I am making sure to hit the target of 4 workouts a week, I don’t have to go back to my profile at the end of every month to literally count if I have at least 15 (because I use Skimble’s workouts every other day to allow 48 hours of muscle recovery).

Of course, if you’re more ambitious or just starting out, you can set the bar higher or lower, by updating the fitness assessment in Settings.

Workout Trainer's feature - setting to change weekly target to keep track.

Considering ramping it up to 5 a week starting soon.

This is just a quick recap on one of the best workout apps I’ve ever discovered on smartphone. Whether you’re looking to drop fats, tone up or build lean muscles, there is no better time than now to give Skimble’s Workout Trainer a try – I seriously cannot recommend it enough.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Off to hit my workout quota of the week! ;)

Jaybird Bluebuds X Review

I started getting into the audio game (side of the geek culture) only mid last year; by “audio game”, I mean paying much more attention to the details, balance and richness of the sound of music I listen to. For the better part of the last few years, I had been using Sennheiser CX200 earbuds and then I picked up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-CKS77X earbuds, both of which produce incredible sound quality and decent noise-cancellation.

I first came to know Jaybird Bluebuds X after watching MKBHD’s Top 5 best headphones under 200$. Now, note that my first bluetooth headset/headphone experience was with Motorola S305, the crap that came with the purchase of Motorola Milestone XT; the sound quality was totally underwhelming and it was designed so badly that it started to cause discomfort to ears within an hour of listening. That’s also when I got the idea that bluetooth cannot possibly deliver what wired headphones can. Though I was not fixated on that idea, I had never really given any fair chance to bluetooth headphones whenever I did research on audio equipment.

Jaybird Bluebuds X paired with Nexus 5 playing Waiting for the Night by Armin Van Buuren

Nexus 5 and Bluebuds X

But I was intrigued, very much intrigued, by the Bluebuds X. It looks so small, lightweight and it’s positioned as one of the best, if not the best, sports headphones. I have a rather mobile lifestyle and I can’t go through a day without music, so it seems as though the earbuds were screaming at me to give them a try. After reading half a dozen of raving reviews on the Bluebuds X, I was pretty much sold. Being an impulsive buyer that I am, I placed an order on Apple Store.

And it arrived the next day…

Jaybird Bluebuds X box, held in hand

Sleek Packaging is a Plus

 What’s In The Box

Content of Jaybird Bluebuds X's box

It’s both amusing and confusing, I know

User Manual – Who still reads those?

A pair of Bluebuds X

Travel Pouch – a sleek black box that has a strap inside to hold the USB cable and the Bluebuds X if you’re patient enough to fit them both in.

USB Cable – the cable is really portable and I really love the design. But it’s very short, so you’ve to keep it close to your laptop while charging. I think it’s obvious that you’re not supposed to use it while it’s charging, but I am not sure if they make the cable so short to ensure that? *shrugs*

Jaybird Bluebuds X USB Charging cable

USB Charging Cable

Jaybird Bluebuds X USB charging

Yes, that’s where the battery is. Mind-blown.

Canal Tip – as with most earbuds, they come in 3 different sizes; I am going to refer to them as L, M and S. These might not be the most comfortable tips. You may want to check out  Comply Foam Tips, which are already confirmed by Jaybird as compatible.

Secure Fit – unlike most earbuds, you can’t get a great fit with Bluebuds X by just pushing the tips into your ears. These apparently patented secure fit wings are crucial in what kind of sound quality you’ll get. Serious.

Cable Groove – 3 cable grooves are provided to shorten the cable. Under-ear option needs no shortening, but if you choose over-ear fit option, which is a very tight fit option for some serious workout, then you would need these. Watch the How To video by Jaybird on X-Fit + Bluebuds X. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it right the first few times. Hell, it took me over 10 days to finally get the best fit. Will elaborate more later.

Features and Specs

Visit Jaybird Bluebuds X Product’s page for detailed specs. I want to focus this review on sound quality and fit.

Sound Quality and Fitting

As I mentioned previously, it took me more than a week to finally discover what the best fit and setting are for Bluebuds X. I’ve been using it predominantly to listen to music on my Nexus 5 with PowerAMP player. I started using the Bluebuds X with the medium tips and medium wings. For the first couple days, I tried both under-ear and over-ear fit options but I got very frustrated when I just couldn’t get the sound quality claimed by professional reviewers.

Then I read on one of the blogs that if you constantly have to push those tips in, you should probably try a size bigger. So I did, and it sounded relatively better for a period of time, until it started to hurt my ears. Apparently, my ears fit perfectly with the medium tips, but that I just haven’t found the best way to wear them. Using the large tips gives a marginally improved sound quality because they seal much better than those medium tips, but the drawback is that I’ve to push the tips in with a bit of force to get the fit, which is probably not the right way to go.

After about 5 or 6 days with the large tips, I went back to medium tips. Only this time, I started to obsess less with pushing it all the way in, but more with using the secure fit to really seal the buds in. And that’s how I got the best fit, after some trial and error for over a week. Once you get the perfect fit for the ears, the sound quality is phenomenal. Bluetooth with SHIFT Technology definitely steps up the audio quality in bluetooth headphones. The sound is crisp, with really deep, rich bass. The sound isolation is also superb with a great fit as they seal really well.

What about the battery life? 

From fully charged to hearing Jenna’s “Battery Low” voice prompt, I would say I get an estimated 7 – 8 hours of battery life, which is very close to what Jaybird claims. It can be a bit frustrating if you don’t use Bluebuds X with iOS devices as you have no idea what battery percentage it is at. You can only check the battery percentage on iOS devices for Bluebuds X.

Does it live up to the sports headphones positioning? 

Jaybird Bluebuds X - assembled

My choice – medium tips and medium secure fit

After I settled on the perfect fit, I have also started using Bluebuds X for my workouts. I do a little bit of dancing for my cardio and HIIT sets as conditioning. I wear Bluebuds X for all my workout purposes. Sometimes, it does wiggle a bit when you’re moving too much, too fast, or both. Maybe over-ear fit option would minimize wiggling out, but since I can never figure out the best fit for that option and that I don’t want flat hair at the back of my head, I am okay with under-ear option with a bit of wiggling. I guess it’s inevitable that it’ll move a bit when you’re working out, but note that it gets really bad when you sweat a lot on your forehead and it starts going into your ears (while doing crunches).

Conclusion

Overall, there are very few negative things I could say about Bluebuds X because I am still very much in love with those after finding the perfect fit. Now, I cannot leave house without those. They are just so portable and deliver phenomenal sound quality for bluetooth headphones that they’re definitely my go-to earbuds for all purposes. The price tag may be a tad on the higher end though – the white one is retailing on Amazon at 140 USD now. But if you are going to spend some serious money on bluetooth music experience or if you’re looking for the perfect pair of headphones for your workouts, I can’t recommend Bluebuds X enough.

The Flight of Flappy Bird

dont-play-top-iphone-game-flappy-bird--its-simple-but-impossible-and-youll-want-to-rip-out-your-hair

I was on my way to a postponed Chinese New Year gathering when I suddenly pulled out my phone to ask my friend whether he knew about Flappy Bird. Excitedly, he launched the app to show me the score and started talking about what high scores his colleagues had gotten. Before we even noticed, we started playing it on the subway. A few minutes later, after numerous frustrated groans because the stupid bird kept dying, we decided to stop playing and talk about it.

We talked about how this game got viral, how consumers don’t have any idea what they really want until something came along to hit them and how the developer could have made even more money from the amount of impressions he’s getting with in-app purchases (wouldn’t you like an additional life when your bird died?).

2014-02-09 08.09.01

Yes I am very much an addict too

But just a little more than 4 hours before this post is published, the developer of Flappy Bird (@Dongatory) [please don't send him any more hate messages, seriously] posted a series of tweets highlighting that he’s taking the game down 22 hours later because he can’t “take it anymore”.

Snapshot of Dong Nguyen's tweets highlighting about taking down Flappy Bird

It could be rather baffling at first to see what he can’t “take” but on a second thought, it is understandable to feel the heat from so many threats, vulgarities, scoldings, or just plain insults from random people all over the world, for an indie developer who has never expected his game to be downloaded over millions of times on two of the most popular mobile platforms.
Warning: Extreme NSFW language and no human decency ahead

tweet1

tweet2

tweet3

tweet5

Screenshot from 2014-02-09 08:00:46

Screenshot from 2014-02-09 08:01:00

Screenshot from 2014-02-09 08:01:17

Maybe this would put into perspective what he can’t take anymore. That or he’s actually receiving cease and desist letters from Nintendo, although he said it’s not for legal reasons but do you really believe it? Or simply it’s just a strategy to get people to rush to download in the final 22 hours to get a huge revenue bump while he prepares for his next launch.

Nexus 7 (2013) Review

I’ve never written a product review before, although I am certainly no stranger to writing about Android ecosystem in general. Readers came to my blog in the past mostly for tips on rooting and flashing AOSP ROMs or my posts on Ubuntu Linux. But today, or rather from here on out, I would open my blog up for more versatility.

Nexus7_1

Image from ASUS

Google refreshes its Nexus 7 lineup with a brand new, improved tablet this year, while maintaining the same form factor. It’s simply named New Nexus 7 or Nexus 7 2013. This is the first tablet I’ve owned so keep in mind that the review wouldn’t draw any comparison in terms of user experience with the original Nexus.

Specs Sheet

Size 7.9 x 4.5 x 0.3 (in)
Weight 10.24 oz
Screen 7-inch LCD
Resolution 1920 x 1200 pixels (323 ppi)
Operating System Android 4.3
Storage 16/32 GB
SD Card Slot No
Processor 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro
RAM 2 GB
Camera Front 2.1 MP, Rear 5 MP
Bluetooth Version 4.0
Battery 3,950 mAh
App Ecosystem Google Play Store

At one glance, the spec that would stand out the most is the gorgeous 1920 x 1200 pixels screen. For any tablet on the market, that’s the highest ppi on a screen. From a user-experience perspective, the new Nexus 7 is simply a delight to look at. I used to say that pixel density is one spec that has a diminishing return, in the sense that once the density goes beyond a certain point you don’t see that much more benefits of having a relatively more crisp and sharp text/content on your screen. I am gonna have to review that statement and say that in the game of pixels, higher = better.

I’ve also read that they’ve managed to make the tablet lighter and thinner while not sacrificing the processing power. What’s being sacrificed is the battery capacity. The original Nexus 7 features a 4,325 mAh battery to process full HD screen (1280 x 800). With a much higher pixel density and a smaller physical battery, it follows naturally that the new Nexus 7 would take a slight dip in the battery life department. Again, I can’t comment on the original Nexus 7 but my experience with 2013 version has been nothing short of impressive. I will discuss more about the battery life with a complete picture of my use cases later in the post.

Form Factor

The only other tablet I’ve used before getting my hands on the new Nexus 7 is an iPad 3 (or the new iPad?). It’s obviously a very different form factor because the iPad 3 is as good a portrait device as it is a landscape one. Can’t say the same for tablets in 7-inch form factor. I’ve been using the new Nexus 7 in portrait mode about 80% of the time. The only time I’d switch to landscape mode is when I am on YouTube or when some apps are optimized for tablet.

The other thing about the new Nexus 7 is that it not only competes in the tablet market (being the best in class in the 7-inch category), but it also intends to destroy eBook readers. It’s not a ridiculous ambition but rather something that is quite achievable. Although you can argue how LCD-screen devices shouldn’t be in the same conversation as e-Ink screen devices, the new Nexus 7 makes quite a good eBook reader.

Camera 360

Contrary to what I used to believe, it’s quite easy to type on Nexus 7 in portrait mode as well. I used to think that it’s impractical to use chat on Galaxy Tab 7 or those tablets that also serve as phones. After using a lot of Skype, Hangout, Line, etc. on Nexus 7, I’d say it’s only slightly slower for me to type on this tablet than my daily driver Galaxy S3; a large part of it may be due to SwiftKey, but that’s the topic for another day.

Tablet-Optimized Apps are few and far between

As I mentioned just now, Nexus 7 makes for a very good portrait device to use, not just because of its form factor, but also because of the kind of apps available on Android optimized for tablets. Unlike iPad which has hundreds of thousands of tablet-optimized apps, Google Play is only in its infancy stage in terms of tablet apps, although I’ve seen developers’ increasingly developing apps meant for Android-based tablets.

Screenshot_2013-10-13-10-48-54

Twitter for Android already looks sort of stretched out in portrait mode but it’s still an acceptable interface to say the least. I can’t say the same for it in landscape mode though, which I totally cannot stand using in. Check the following screen on why:

Screenshot_2013-10-13-10-48-46

Now, to put this matter into perspective, I will include a screenshot of how a tablet-optimized Twitter app (3rd party) looks on Nexus 7 in landscape.

Screenshot_2013-10-06-21-29-58

While it’s not a necessity for apps to be tablet-optimized to be functional, the enhancement of user experience through aesthetics and better UX design still goes a long way in improving this app ecosystem as a whole. I do hope to see more Android developers embrace and prioritize on the value of tablet optimization.

Performance

Look at the spec sheet again, and one will realize there is nothing much to talk about in the performance department for the new Nexus 7. This thing is an absolute beast when it comes to processing power and how it makes multi-tasking seamlessly snappy. There’s very little or no delay in launching apps, switching apps. Hell, the machine starts getting to work immediately on a cold boot.

Battery Life

Now, this section is probably what any tablet user would care about the most. I mean, no one wants to bring the Nexus 7 out for productivity or leisure and have the battery depleted within hours. It doesn’t happen anyway. The battery run-down tests run by different tech blogs as well as official channels state 9 hours of solid battery life on the new Nexus 7, which is very impressive considering the battery has < 4,000 mAh.

However, this run-down number barely means anything for normal users as I cannot foresee anyone running the battery down looping 720p video playbacks for 9 straight hours or writing a script to get a web browser to keep refreshing a page every few minutes. The realistic measure of battery life is how much total standby hours you get versus how much screen-on time you have.

For my use cases:

I’ve 153 apps installed on my new Nexus 7 and about 30 of them are updated automatically with notifications every few hours. Screen brightness is at about 80% (I like my screen really bright). My most used apps are Flipboard, YouTube, Aldiko book reader, Games (about 1 hour in total per charge), social media (Facebook, Tweetcaster, Highlight, Quora, Instagram, etc.) and I get a standby of 1 day 8 hours with a screen-on time of 5 hours 42 minutes.

So, if you’re concerned about whether you’re getting a decent/normal battery life, go to Settings > Battery and check the screen-on time at the end of a charge cycle. It should give you a pretty good indication; for instance, if your device is new and the screen-on is fewer than 4 hours on one charge, then you should consider replacing the unit or examine what’s eating away your battery (use BetterBatteryStats for that).

Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-31-50

Kernel wakelocks tell you what have been keeping your device from getting into Deep Sleep. If you don’t want any complication, simply monitor the battery drop in standby. With Wi-fi on, my device would drop 3-4 % over a night’s sleep (7 hours).

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My battery usage screen shows the fluctuated graph because I only let my Nexus 7 drain below 20% and charge it back fully once a week or so. That’s because Lithium-based batteries can be prolonged through partial charge (since it has no memory effect) than, say, you run it down and complete a charge cycle each time. I keep my battery level between 40% and 80% for the better part of a week. If you’re interested to know more, please read – http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries.

In a nutshell

I think the new Nexus 7 is the superb value of money you can get with 269 USD. It has the best-in-class processor performance, best-in-class screen resolution and the latest iteration of Android since it’ll be rolled out by Google for all Nexus devices. If you’re considering a 7-inch form factor tablet, I really can’t find anything that offers better than the new Nexus 7.

Facebook Home [APK] for ANY Android Device

facebook-home

APK Download Link – MoDaCo Thread

By now, if you’re even slightly interested in Facebook Home, you’d have seen a ton of pictures and videos depicting how it works/looks etc, and I cannot do a thorough review about it anyway here since I’ve only used it for about 10 minutes before getting annoyed enough to not want to try it again. Plus my love-hate relationship with Facebook over the years also wouldn’t help me write objectively at all.

Launcher homescreen UI

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Homescreen UI (sorry about the choice; I’ve to find a non-personal status)

There is one thing about Facebook Home launcher that is going to be very obvious once the UI springs up, that it assumes that your life revolves around Facebook. Seriously, imagine unlocking your phone to see status updates filling up the whole screen which can be swiped left and right for even more updates. Let’s not talk about how unusable it is, the mere fact that Facebook News Feed popping up on the phone full-screen is intrusive enough, whether you’re a privacy freak or not.

Gesture 1 – Long-Pressing

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Long pressing on the screen zooms out the picture on the status

This is how the UI looks when you long press anywhere on the screen. Pretty handy if you like scrolling through Facebook a lot and zoom in/out pictures with a single long press. You’ll notice that the notification bar is missing in the screenshot; you can easily enable it to show at all times in the Home Settings.

Gesture 2 – Tapping

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Chat Head

Tapping anywhere on the screen will bring up the “chat head”, which is essentially your Facebook profile picture in a round icon. Clicking on the chat head will show you 3 different options – going to Facebook, Messenger or the App Drawer.

How Do I Go To My Apps?

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App Drawer

I didn’t find any way to make folders or put widgets on the homescreen (erm duh, how to do it on top of status updates!), so it’s good that at least the app drawer is readily easy to access and the experience is quite smooth altogether. The chat head comes in really handy in terms of navigating through the mess, i.e. your Facebook news feed.

Note

Overall, the experience is not bad, but since these are the extracted APKs, don’t expect them to work fully well. I’ve had my system slowed down on some occasions because of testing out Facebook Home. But the whole launcher app takes away key elements from Android that we came to love – customizability, widgets, etc… and slaps the Facebook news feed on top of the Android OS. If this is the next version of Facebook app, which they position as it is, I am probably not going to use Facebook on my mobile again, or unless they come up with a better way to integrate with existing Android elements, instead of overriding them.

Android Apps’ Settings Should ALL Be Cloud-Synced

I need to format my SD Card; I am sure there’s some data somewhere on the card causing some errors at boot, and some lags during use. I’ve been living with it for a couple of weeks. It’s the internal SD that comes with Galaxy S2 and I don’t use an external one. Nearly 12 GB of apps data + music + photos. You may think that I am ranting because I am lazy to backup like 7 GB worth of my music and pictures. Couldn’t be further from the truth. My music and pictures are so well-organized in Dropbox that I don’t need a second thought before deleting.

It’s the apps data, scattered across different folders and the tricky part is you’ve to restore them back in the right places exactly, else your apps wouldn’t read those data off the card. Things like launcher preferences (I use 2 launchers btw), Whatsapp messages/photos (I keep whatsapp msgs cos sometimes I need to refer to them), and basically various apps that keep/read data off the SD card.

I know some apps have already implemented something like Dropbox integration so that the apps data would be synced automatically with Dropbox and that’s way too awesome. But I have over 140 apps installed on my phone at any time and it’s safe to say more than 2/3 of them do not support cloud-backup of their settings/preferences/data, YET. The thought that some of my favorite apps might lose all the data/settings is just scary. :/

Y U NO

Ok I’m done ranting. If you’ve a perfect solution for my problem (i.e. if you also tweak/flash AOSP ROMs a lot), do tell. I could live with even a partial solution, but definitely NOT manually setting up all my apps each time I have to format SD Card/tweak or upgrade OS.

Living On The Cloud – Evernote

evernote-windows-phone-app

My friends think I am a control freak when it comes to organizing things; they’ve seen my OCD going to work on so many different occasions that it no longer surprises them when I am being extra particular about a small thing. They’d look at my Android home screen, my bookmark folders, the way I obsessively label everything on Gmail, my Pocket list, my Dropbox folder and believe that I know exactly where to look when I need a certain piece of information or a news article. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is I have absolutely no idea when and where I save a certain piece of information, much less being able to retrieve it in no time. Useful information such as a news article, an interesting research finding, something on the internet I found useful for blogging or a quote I found especially inspiring are dispersed among places such as Chrome Bookmarks, Pocket, Evernote, Gmail, Google+ (yes, I email and post stuff only to/for myself), and Twitter favorites. And then there is also a physical notebook I carry around with me most of the times which I use to jot down ideas, blog topics or things that I need to do more research on. When it comes time for me to sit down, organize things and get some work done, I would be looking all over the place for everything that I’d come across in the past few days.

I’ve kept Evernote on my phone for over a year but hardly use it much beyond taking a couple of notes. After reading this article on Lifehacker, I decided to give Evernote another shot and this time I’ve decided to be disciplined about it and use Evernote exclusively for all the use cases the author mentioned in the article. I even took more than 30 minutes creating Stacks > Notebooks > Notes and moving most of my bookmarks, articles and notes onto them. The result and the productivity following the move have been more than satisfying:

evernote UI

Literally spent more than an hour creating those stacks on the left sidebar and importing over 100 notes into them

Value Proposition – Centralized Information Center

Evernote Web Clipper has become my new best friend on my Chrome browser. I no longer obsessively save articles on Chrome anymore. Although Chrome is synced across all devices and much more easier to load an article than say I open a note on Evernote and then click on the link to load, Chrome doesn’t help me much in saving articles from other sources. If I am reading a news article on Flipboard for example, it’s much easier to drop it onto Pocket or Evernote than say open it in Chrome and save it to Bookmarks. Sometimes, I don’t feel like loading the articles because the 3G is slow most of the times and I don’t have time for it.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I could move so quickly away from Pocket and Chrome bookmarks is the fact that I can write down notes, potential blog topics or even draft blog posts in Evernote; eventually all of them are available to me on all devices in just ONE place. Of course, you can argue that I could use different services for such a wide variety of activities; my point is wouldn’t it make better sense if I can do everything in just one place? Besides all these, I can also save code snippets I come across from forums and also Linux scripts that I could use when I log onto my Ubuntu. Doing all the saving/organizing from Android is even easier than using the web clipper; the system-wide “Share” button makes it possible to save everything into Evernote (or any other services for example) and I can’t emphasize enough how much I love that bit about Android.

I did mention I also used to use Gmail/Google+ to solve the note-taking part, but honestly it sounds a bit lame even to me no matter how convenient it could be. We should probably use Gmail for just what it’s intended to be, i.e. sending and receiving emails.

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Perfectly Synced + All Notes Listed in Chronological Order when not viewed in Stacks/Folders

It’s worked out perfectly for me. What about you?

It’s been more than a week since I started using Evernote exclusively to speed up my work flow, and I’ve to say the result is astoundingly satisfying. I am not saying that other services I mentioned in the post earlier can’t compete with Evernote in terms of providing users speed, productivity and convenience. In fact, every app/service has something unique that it does very well. The fact that I get all crazy over Evernote is the consistency, in the sense that “Evernote” has sort of become the go-to app/service for everything I do on the Internet/mobile phone. Do you also use Evernote extensively to help you in your productivity? I want to know why or why not and also what other services keep you at the peak of your productivity.