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Samsung Gear live Android Wear review

The wearables market segment is moving extremely briskly right now. I’ve read reviews from some writers that just don’t get it, while others clearly do. One of them said if you don’t need to buy a wearable (Smartwatch or fitness tracker), don’t, your better to wait. As a gadgeholic I can’t resist the temptation to play but be aware of the fact anything you buy now is likely to be obsolete in short order. Take for example the Samsung Gear 2 Neo or the Sony Smart Watch 2 I recently reviewed. By all accounts these devices are orphans, left behind by the new direction plotted out by Google, Android Wear. In the past hardware makers, and app developers had to code for a one specific watch/wearable. They are all running proprietary OS’s, and require a developer to learn their unique development environment. This means there is a learning curve, a barrier for each and every developer to get over. Google saw this as an issue and came up with a common set of APIs called Android Wear. This means that a developer can write their code and it can theoretically cover off a number of different watches making it easier for developers to jump aboard the wearables bus. Now while on paper it looks good, the reality is that the developers still need to take into account the vastly different hardware of the wearable. Round, square and even rectangular faces mean all this needs to be taken into account. Not to mention what sensors are and are not on board, heart rate monitor, GPS etc. Google Wear is the future direction for Android based wearables. That said, Android Wear (as should be obvious) is ONLY supported to pair with Android devices. So if you have an Apple iPhone, Android wear isn’t for you. And if your phone is older it may or may not be compatible. Android Wear requires Android 4.3 (according to this web site) or newer (and I think it has to support Bluetooth low energy).

One of the things you need to understand entering this space is that Android Wear is VERY new. They are really just getting started. And as much as you would hope Google learned lots from all the watches that have been on the market to date, IMHO, they have not. More to say on this in this blog post, but suffice it to say, there’s lots missing. Which hopefully is to say there’s more to come. One of the disappointing things with the Sony Smart Watch 2 and the Gear 2 Neo was the things the watches could have done that were never developed. Hopefully Android Wear will be a lot more successful with so many developers out there ready to innovate!

Ok with the lay of the land described let’s start talking about this device, the Samsung Gear Live. Comparisons with the Gear 2 Neo I own are going to be unavoidable, so I won’t even bother to try to not.
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The Neo is a lot more plastic, and all black on the face. The Live has a shiny bezzle that stands out a lot more. It’s a whole lot more noticeable on the wrist. This will appeal to some and not others. The button has been moved from the front (on the Neo) of the watch to side. If you didn’t know it’s there you could miss it. The optical sensor that is visible on the front of the Neo is invisible on the live. All in all I find the Live to be a much cleaner looking interface.

The watch band on the Neo had a safety mechanism to catch the watch if it became undone and a clasp that you did up. While the clasp was finicy on my watch it was solid once done up.
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The Live on the other hand has a two button knob that pushes into the rubber band and no safety. I found it quite difficult to get pushed in (and remember for the heart rate monitor to work it needs to be reasonably tight) and just did not have a good feel to it. I prefer the band on the Neo. Fortunately both watches use a 22 mm standard watchband so you can swap them out. Samsung also put a little nib on the pin making it easier to remove the watch band. This also means if you want to exchange the watch band you are going to need to buy some 22mm watch pins. Not a big deal but worth noting.

The proprietary charging dock for the watch is custom and then breaks into a standard micro-USB port. They did include a micro USB charger. Sadly this dock is different than the one for the Neo. An R381 for the Neo and R382 for the Live. The one for the live was more expensive than the one for the Neo but still cheap enough to have a second one on hand. Especially given the battery life on the Live. More to say on this …
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One of the limitations on the Samsung Neo is that it was only supported on a handful of Samsung phones. Android Wear is meant to work anywhere and I had no trouble pairing the Samsung Live with my Samsung S4, or my Samsung Note Tab 8. The Neo would not pair with the Note Tab 8 by the way. This is a nice step forward in compatibility. Yay!

The Android Wear interface is VERY different. It relies heavily on voice commands. Hold your wrist up, hopefully the watch wakes up, otherwise tap the watch, then say ok google, then your onto your commands. These seem to be predefined (no idea if more can be added) and include Agenda, Navigate (Google Maps), Set a timer, Set an alarm, Show alarm, Show me my heart rate (the Live has a heart rate monitor built in), Show me my steps, start stopwatch, take a note, send a text, send an email, remind me, play music (seemed to only work with Google Play music) and then to start out with the following are greyed out as in the functionality is not there: start a bike ride, start a run, start a work out, and call a car. You can add apps to handle this functionality like Strava/Runtastic, Endomondo for bike/run/workout. You can have multiple apps to control the functionality and define which app on the phone you want to handle for that command. The voice commands ONLY work when the paired phone is available. If it’s disconnected your onto the onscreen method. You can entirely use the watch with the onscreen method and ignore the voice commands if you want. Each of these commands show up on a text menu (who’s font is VERY small) that you can select. There’s also a start button for starting up apps manually that don’t fall into these canned commands. Each of the built in apps while functional lack a certain amount of pzazz. The visual neat fluff. Function over form. It feels kind of unfinished. The Neo had a icon based, smooth, easy to use interface that was slick and customizable. You could even change the background on the menus. Google has some work to do here.

In a Google now kind of way notifications, as well as information show up as cards on the bottom of the watch. Click it and it enlarges. Slide to the right and the card is dismissed. While this works ok, I find the font used in the cards to be so small as to be hard to read. And the most recent upgrade of Android wear broke text message notifications on my Samsung S4. When a text comes in a card comes up and says new message but when I click on the card for some reason (only on text messages) it does not show me the message making this notification broken/useless.

Built in functionality on the watch disconnected from the phone include time, date, count down timer, stopwatch, heart rate/pedometer (using Google Fit), and compass (yay!).

Missing from the watch include find your phone, find your watch, watch/phone disconnected, flashlight, calculator, calendar, local music (useless anyway), and local pictures etc. See below for the list of Android Wear Apps I like to see how I supplemented the built in apps.

As with every other watch to date, you can only pair with one device at a time and to move the watch between devices requires a reset of the watch. There is supposedly a third party app called Beelink that is suppose to handle this but I’ve been unable to get my hands on it.

The Live has an always on mode. In this mode the watch goes into a lower power display showing the watch hands and little else. When it detects you might want to read the time it brightens up. This of course takes more power. It can be turned off in the settings on the watch.

With the default watch face, and default settings after a little over 13 hours the Neo was at 73% battery life. The Live on the other hand was down to 35% with a projected battery life of 20 hours or 5%/hr. So battery life is less than half that of the Neo. Getting through a day is possible but not a whole lot more and if you were hoping to wear it while you sleep as a sleep monitor for example, your SOL. It took more than 2 hours to charge the watch so not a quick charge (same as the Neo by the way).
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As you can see there is an app that can display the battery on the watch from the phone. Something I felt was missing on the Neo. You can now also see the watch battery status from the Android Wear app on the phone. Including a graph.

Turning off always on mode helped. In 8.5 hours it dropped 35%, which would translate into 24 hours of battery life. A little more than 4% per hour.

Turning on Airplane mode helped a lot. In 8.5 hours it dropped 16%, which would translate into 52 hours of battery life. A little less than 2% per hour. Of course with the data connection dropped the watch looses a lot of it’s functionality.

Turning on theater mode (turns the screen off except when you push the button) drops battery consumption. In 7.25 hours it consumed 24% for a projected battery life of 30 hours. A little more than 3% per hour.

Turning Airplane mode on (disconnecting the watch from the phone) and turning Theater mode on dropped battery consumption hugely. In 8.5 hours it consumed a mere 9% or a projected battery life of 94 hours. A little over 1% per hour. Both modes are selected by dragging down from the watch face and across to the feature.

One of the modes that would be helpful would be a sleep mode. As you can see above a lot of battery power could be conserved if when put into a sleep mode theater and airplane mode were enabled.

The number one limitation on this watch is Google fit which I recently reviewed. Google really have dropped the ball on this app. And sadly, Google Fit is the only way to get your pedometer data off the watch. And it seems to totally ignore the heart rate data from the watch aside from displaying it at the moment you take it. The pedometer shows number of steps which is then translated into the number of minutes you’ve been walking. No calorie count. No distance estimation nada. One can only hope Google will focus on this HUGE gap.

In comparison to the Neo there are a number of MAJOR functions missing. No sleep monitor. No manual activity tracker (walk/run/hike/cycle on the Neo). There are apps you can add to somewhat fill this hole but for a device that could be a more all encompassing activity monitor this is a disappointment to say the least. The fault for this lands squarely on the underwhelming Google Fit.

I looked and looked for a mode I could put the watch in for sleeping. Magically an update came the the watch and low and behold they introduced what they call theater mode. Drag down from the clock, then over and find theater mode. An odd name for it.

The font used on the watch is quite small. Even with my glasses I quint to read it, andsadly no way to change it.

There are over 250 items that come up on the play store for Android wear. So it’s off to a good start. Compared to the Sony Sw2 at 180, which has been in the market for a whole lot longer.

Fav apps:
Wear aware alerts you when you walk away from your phone, and immediately launches an app on the watch to allow you to find your phone!
Wear Battery Stats displays and graphs the battery level of the watch on the phone.
Find my Phone.
Swarm for Wear a Foursquare interface.
Calendar for Android Wear
Facer using Facer Repo for watch faces.
Mini Launcher an app launcher. No idea why Google didn’t think of this. It’s a little new so be patient with it.
Tockle a way of automating task on your phone that can then be initiated from your watch. Send common SMSs for example.
Heart rate watch face. I never found a way to do this on the Neo.
Endomondo is the best of the exercise apps that support Android live. It even interfaces with the heart rate monitor on the watch during your work out. Not quite a constant logging of your heart rate, but somewhat close.
Sports tracker also interfaces with the watches heart rate monitor and even has a sensor only mode.

So in the end the Gear Live is a good watch. Battery life is barely acceptable. And this is with it new. Is it better than the Neo? In some ways yes, some no. So at best it’s a wash. But with the direction forged by Google it’s a good watch.

Some more reading on Smartwatches from Gizmodo.

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Android, Android Wear (Smartwatch) | Leave a comment

Windows tablets (misc ramblings)

I was doing a bit of digging after discovering some new products on the market and I found out some shocking new things. I last owned a Samsung Ativ that was based on the older Atom (dual core) processor. It was limited to 2G of RAM. Windows and 2G of RAM is a very limiting combination. I found as I filled up memory Windows would start doing bizarre things like closing out browser tabs (without asking) when I opened new tabs. This limitation is a significant one in tablets where they aren’t upgradeable. The later generation tablets based on what is called the Bay Trail processor when they first came out were also limited to 2G. It was a limitation of the processor. I had wrongly assumed this was always true. Well it turns out there are a variety of Intel Atom based processors, all based on the Bay Trail technology, all under the same name with only a few digits slipped. Some of these processors support a maximum memory of 1G, some 2G and some, ready for it … 4G. Now 4G IMHO is an opening point for Windows. 1G Widows tablets are not going to be all that generically useful. Some minor uses sure. Take devices like the HP Stream 7. It’s super cheap but 1G of RAM. Why Intel puts these processors under the same name is beyond me and creates a great deal of confusion. This web page on Intel’s site helps to sort out the dizzying array of different Atom, BayTrail processors. Focus on the RAM column of this chart and you will see what I mean. I also found a web site on US Hardware that can allow you search for laptops/tablets based on criteria such as processor, memory etc. Using this I was able to find a number of Quad Core, Intel Atom BayTrail based, 4G Windows tables. Yes that’s a mouthful. So in the end the message is buyer beware. Check the amount of RAM on the tablet before you buy.

Now there is another MAJOR technology change coming up. Windows 10. It’s in technical preview right now coming out sometime in 2015. Some reports say as late as end of 2015. This is something you really want to consider when buying a tablet today if you do not want it to be a disposable device. Will your brand spanking new tablet be upgradeable? Well there are a number of things that may be a barrier to it being upgradeable. If the tablet has limited internal storage space, and no USB port (for the keyboard needed for upgrade, for the USB thumb drive needed for upgrade, or for a DVD drive) then the chances of this being upgradeable are slim at best. Microsoft aren’t taking positions on what machines are and are not upgradeable. Understandable given that it has not current released Windows 10. But this is something you want to take a moment and consider before making a purchase.

Anyway, that’s about it for now …

December 14, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Google Fit Android app with Google Wear support review

I recently completed my review of the Samsung S.Health app and thought I would have a look at the Google Fit app. I thought surely Google will have kept pace with the rest of the worlds obsession with calorie count, and fitness goals. I did a lot of digging. I kept thinking what am I missing? I even watched a couple of YouTube videos searching for the rest of Fit. In the end … what I discovered is I am not missing anything. Google is. Google Fit is a pedometer with support for Google wear to act as it’s sensor, with a back end ability to share data with other third party apps. Google fit is the pedometer app loaded onto most Android Wear watches. It is supposed to somehow mysteriously pick up when your running, or cycling, no idea how it might do that. But there is no way to tell it to start a run/cycle manually. Amusingly when fit is the only fitness app loaded the Android Wear shows Start a bike ride, start a run and start a workout are all greyed out indicating they are unavailable? And it is another mystery to me when you have a Android Wear watch is it double counting steps (on the watch and phone) or does it start counting on the phone when the watch is disconnected? And if you have fit on your phone and tablet how does it handle that? Samsung in S.Health allowed you to simply and easily display the data from each device. And separately start and stop the count on each device.

Google Fit does have a portal and has a way to connect supported Apps and devices. The third party app itself initiates the connection to Google Fit. I was able to get Strava to talk to Google Fit from within Strava. Runtastic kept telling me I had to connect Google plus to my account but when I went to the Runtastic web site, sure enough it was connected to Google plus so I have no idea what’s up with that. And when you have no apps connected to Fit there is a link within Google fit that says learn more that takes you to a bogus location.

Even as a pedometer, I find Google Fit to be lacking. What you get is number of steps as well as amount of time you spent walking. No indication of kms traveled, or calories burned? I compared a day of walking between my Samsung Live running Fit and my Samsung Gear 2 Neo running S.Health and they were within 10% of each other in number of steps taken. I checked it throughout the day and the most it varied between each other was 15% and Google Fit always reported more. There is an algorithm involved in figuring out steps so a difference is to be expected.

And don’t look for a widget either. None can be found.

So all in all while Google fit has some promise, I have to say I am utterly amazed a company like Google would put out such a seriously limited Fitness app. Yo Google WTF? Wake up and get with the program … PLEASE.

So for now, ignore Google Fit unless you have an Android Wear watch in which case it is the ONLY way to get your pedometer data off of the watch.

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Samsung S.Health app review

Health and wellness apps and trackers are all the rage these days. Fitbits, the Garmin Vivofit I review etc. Of course at the center of these fitness trackers is an app to interface with the device, get the data, track it and display it in a usable fashion. Recently I reviewed the Samsung Gear 2 Neo and sadly the Samsung S.Health that shipped with my S4 was not properly supported. It kinda worked and kinda didn’t. Just as I was finishing off the review low and behold Samsung released a new version of Samsung Health to remedy this issue. Why they were so late with this update is beyond me when the S4 was a supported phone for the Gear 2 Neo, but with that little fopa aside let’s get into the new version of the app that supports the Gear 2 Neo 3.51.0693. The version can interface with the Neo to get heart rate data or can use bluetooth or ANT+ heart rate monitors. As expected Samsung S.Health does NOT support Android Wear devices like the Samsung Gear Live :(

I was shocked that a few of my colleagues that have Samsung phones have never explored this app. So I thought I would take a moment and review what it can do. It really is quite well done and worth your time. S.Health is ONLY available on select Samsung devices as a preload and while some have tried I had little success loading it onto other devices.

S.Health attempts to cover off a broad array of categories:
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A pedometer, exercise tracker, heart rate, thermo-hygrometer, food, weight, and sleep.

The pedometer can use the sensor in the phone and/or your Samsung Gear 2. You can individually pause the pedometer in each. And can swap between the two’s data by clicking menu select devices.
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It displays the number of steps, approximate distance (remember it does not use the GPS) and the approximate number of calories burned. It also attempts to differentiate between when your walking and running. It use to also differentiate between walking and steps but this seems to have been removed.
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It does a pretty good job and even has historical data, as well as you can set goals and it encourages you when you get to half or the total goal you set.
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These screens can be shared multiple ways as a JPG. The sharing is so so IMHO. One of the nice things about using the Gear 2 Neo is that you don’t have to always carry your phone for the pedometer to be accurate. The data is sync’d frequently off the Neo and can be manually sync’d anytime you like (over bluetooth). The pedometer data can be displayed as a widget on the phone or on one of the base watch faces on the Neo. All in all nicely done. So good it is frivolous to use dedicated pedometer. And even if you don’t have a Gear you can still use your phone to track your steps and it is surprisingly accurate.

Next up is exercise. You can add workouts for Running, walking, cycling, or hiking. Cycling and hiking use the GPS on the phone to give you a more accurate distance number. Oddly walking and hiking do not stop the pedometer. All modes can use the Neo’s heart rate monitor or a bluetooth/ant+ heart rate monitor to make calorie counts more accurate.
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Oddly in the latest version the calorie count from the pedometer does not get passed into the exercise count. They have also removed the ability to manually add workouts not tracked on the device. A pity I used this feature to give myself a more clear count of the number of calories I burned exercising in a month. The Running/walking modes can be used to interface with a heart rate monitor to more accurate track your sleep! If your using the Neo’s heart rate monitor while you sleep remember to put the watch into blocking mode to avoid having the display brighten up and potentially wake you up when you move around. Sounds like a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle thang :) A little engineering humor. No really it does exist :)

The heart rate is a one time snapshot of your heart rate. It can use the Neo’s heart rate monitor or on the S5, it uses it’s. You can not initiate the HRM from the phone it needs to be initiated from the watch. The app then tracks your historical HR data. Kinda useless but it is there.
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The thermo-hygrometer tells you the temperature and humidity at the moment you request it near your phone. Not sure the purpose of this but heh …

The food app allows you to track how many calories you are eating by manually adding your meals from a large database of available food. You can get a complete break down of the food’s nutritional value. This section of the app is quite comprehensive and well done for anyone watching their weight, or keeping an eye on cholesterol etc. There is historical data too … I have to say I don’t use this part at all, but I also don’t have a weight issue.

There is a weight area where you can manually add your weight in and track it historically.

Last but not least is sleep which seems to only work with the Gear 2 and Neo. You manually tell S.Health on the watch that you are going to sleep and when you wake up. It automatically listens to your sleep for when you move and if your wearing the watch will give you a percent motionless your sleep was. It keeps historical data too.
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If there is anything missing it’s the ability to import/export the data as well as the lack of web portal to view the data (or enter data) off the device.

For a free app, it really is quite well done and worth a look if you have a Samsung device with it preinstalled. This app, for me sets the bar for what ought to be there.

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Using Android as your main machine

A while back I bought an Asus Transformer TF701 Android tablet. I liked it enough I bought the keyboard to go with it that transforms (pun intended) it into a netbook. I made this my main machine and even went so far as to sell my Asus X2020 Win 8 machine. I’ve tried to use a number of Android devices prior to this one as my main machine and it was never practical. The addition of the keyboard makes this a lot more possible. This time around I have been able to use it as my main machine. I’ve run into a few limitations and a lot of pluses.

Limitations:
I’ve yet to find a good solution for Office on Android. AOB sucks. Polaris is clumsy. Microsoft released office for Android but left off support for Android tablets. Don’t believe me (I’ve had more than one person argue with me on this point): Both my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and my Asus transformer clearly show not compatible.
office-tablet
Microsoft are in a preview program for fixing it, but until then it is a limitation.

RDP is problematic on this device. I select a resolution other than full screen and it only occupies a part of the screen. I’ve tried 2X, Microsoft RDP you name it. All are less than perfect. The Microsoft one full screen ends up so small I can barely read it even with glasses. The best I have come up with is to use the Microsoft one and use the zoom tool. Clumsy. Right mouse button works, everything else works it’s just finding a set of settings with a high resolution device like this is challenging at best. If RDP worked well, this would solve the Office issue (just RDP to a Windows box).

I run into an occasional web site that will not listen to the request desktop site. What I would actually prefer is a setting that said always request desktop site. And if the site is flash based your completely dead in the water.

As a statement of the obvious if you need to run a PC application, there is just no way to do it.

Anti Virus programs on Android are in their infancy at best. If this is something you demand then this solution is not for you. My internet banking solutions have Android apps and they guarantee the safety of them, so for me this is less of an issue. I am careful to not load APKs from unknown sources (that could be infected with viruses).

Task switching between apps is clumsy. You need to click the double window soft button and select the app you want. What’s missing is some form of keyboard shortcut to quickly move between running apps.

This one is both a plus and a minus. On Windows the operating system itself requires patching once a month (which usually also means a reboot). Then apps acquired from Windows store get updates from time to time. In the Android world the OS rarely get’s patched but the apps are frequently patched. Almost daily. So this is both a plus and minus.

I hate glide points. the one on this tablet is particularly bad. The select buttons are clunky to hit and the glide point does not simulate the mouse button when tapped. I’ve been unable to find a setting to change it. On the positive side there is a quick button to turn the silly thing off and use a bluetooth mouse which is exactly what I do.

There are a number of Android apps that have decided to not allow them to be run on tablets. Too high resolution or for whatever reason. So because of this, there are occasional apps you want and can’t get to work on this tablet. Oddly enough, most of them when I manually installed them actually work. I also found occasional apps that do not rotate on the screen making them useless when the keyboard is attached.

Printing is something you need to think about. The easiest solution if you have a PC in the house anyway is to use Google Cloud Print. Then you can print from anywhere from Android (or other platforms too). If not then you have some challenges.

Scanning is of course not something that is happening. You are unlikely to get Android drivers for your scanner.

Pluses
There are many.

This device has terrific battery life. All day of hard use is not a problem. Much better than any of the Windows devices I’ve used. And with llama set to turn off wifi while I sleep multiple days is a real possibility.

Instant on actually really works. No delays. It just works. And background updating of mail/contacts etc also just work. Try saying that about Windows tablets.

This device is quick. Regular maintenance to kill background tasks is needed to keep it responsive. But overall this device is as close as instantaneous as it comes (other than iOS). You sure can’t say that about Windows.

HDMI works amazing. XBMC at 13.1 works well.

Reliability on the device is really quite good. As good or better than Windows. An occasional reboot is required to get things back running but these are by no means common.

So all in all I have been successful using a Asus tranformer 701 as my main machine!

December 3, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Samsung Gear 2 Neo review

When the first Samsung Gear came out it was hugely limited by the number of phones that it was supported on. Along comes the second generation of Gear the Gear 2. They eliminated the camera (on the Neo) and ditched the custom wrist band as well as increased the number of phones that supported it. When I bought the Sony Smart watch 2 I looked at the Neo but decided on the Sony instead. I had a chance to pickup the Gear 2 Neo for a reasonable price so I decided to give it a whirl. Comparisons with the Sony are inevitable so I won’t try and not do that. The Sony is definitely heavier, more square and more solidly built. The Neo is much more typical Samsung, plasticy. The screen on the Neo is much brighter and more vivid, but is harder to read in the sun. And thus the trade off. Both devices have one button on the front but they do different things. On both they wake up the screen, but on the Samsung a double tap launches a predetermined app (you choose). The screen on the Sony is always on in a dimmed state, and anytime there is any movement at all it comes on brighter. The Neo uses a light sensor as well as a motion sensor to determine when to turn the screen on. The Sony is on more consistently but in terms or waking up the Neo did a better job of detecting when I wanted to read the time.

In terms of base functionality on the watch (without the phone) the Neo has stopwatch, timer, pedometer, and a heart rate monitor (more in a bit on the heart rate monitor). Samsung forgot to include an alarm (really, that’s a pretty obvious one) as well as a calculator. Both can be added for free from the Samsung store. Once connected to the phone there are lots apps out there to add additional functionality. Including a watch faces, calendar apps, notifications apps and more. The Neo does a much better job of the box of being able to pass notifications than the Sony (out of the box). For the Sony I had to add secondary app called watchit to pass notifications from any app to the watch. This is the default (send all notifications to the watch) but you can customize it and turn off whatever notifications you don’t want. The vibrate on the Sony is noticeably stronger. Text messages can be replied to on the watch using canned responses but I don’t see a way to customize the canned responses. You can also click on a button on the watch and have the text message opened on the phone at that message. A nice touch. Other notifications can be clicked on and open the app that created the notification on the phone.

Once setup the watch can exist disconnected from the phone other than for apps that require the phone. A weakness of Sony’s original smart watch.

The app that you use to interface with the watch and get the pedometer, heart rate, exercise and sleep data off the phone is called S.Health. The Neo has been in the marketplace for months. The S4 is on the list of devices that supports the Neo. But until recently the S.Health app did not work at all with the gear. In fact I had this blog post all written up commenting about this issue and before I published bam up came an update to S.Health. It now supports the Neo on the S4. Better late than never I guess but this to me is typical of Samsung just not properly finishing things before they ship.

The Pedometer is an odd beast. It is an additional pedometer to the one on the phone. And they detect differently. So regularly the number of foot steps it records are different.

The sleep monitor once engaged tracks how long you sleep, as well as how motionless you were during your sleep. You can even see when you moved around. It also puts the Gear into what it calls blocking mode to insure the watch does not turn on and no notifications come through while your sleeping. Of course to use this you need to wear the watch. Thanks Captain Obvious :) Oddly even in sleep mode the pedometer continues recording steps?

There is an exercise mode that allows you to track Running, Walking, Cycling and Hiking. Cycling and hiking interface through the Gear app with your phone to get your GPS location and track distance more accurately. Running/Walking end up only using your heart rate and can be used as a heart rate monitor, a function missing from the watch (the heart rate monitor app that comes with the watch gives you only your heart rate at that moment and stops). While in Walking/running the Gear records your heart rate, oddly when you use this function it does not automatically pause the pedometer? The sleep mode and exercise mode can not be used at the same time which I guess makes sense. But Samsung could have used the heart rate monitor with the sleep monitor to give you a better snapshot of how well you slept.

All this data can also be backed up to the Samsung cloud. As with past Samsung fitness apps there is no web portal for you to share or see the data off the phone. There’s also no Social network integration. Oddly there is a share icon on the watch that always seems to be greyed out. Another thing I guess Samsung didn’t bother finishing. And of course just to round out the unfinished thought there is also no export either. So at best a partially thought through app. I went out for a short walk with Endomondo to compare. Endomondo showed 670m. S.Health (this was wtih the older S.Health 2) showed 726 and the Gear showed 690. So S.health was off by 8.1% and the Gear a measly 3.7%. Impressive. Calorie wise S.health showed 29, and the gear 30. So pretty darn close. So all in all the Gear works well as a pedometer. And the pedometer works completely disconnected from the phone.

The watch has a Heart rate monitor but don’t get too excited. It’s a one time (rather than constant) HRM which you need to hold still for to get a reading as well as have the watch pretty tight. Even with that it’s only moderately accurate. Back on the exercise app for a minute, it then uses the heart rate monitor in continuous mode to create a calorie count. But this of course given there is no GPS (in Walk/Run mode) means it depends solely on the heart rate data to be accurate. So I went out for a little stroll. I used RunGPS along with a my Scosche Rythm+ heart rate monitor (which I’ve extensively tested it’s accuracy on) for comparison. In a short walk RunGPS recorded Max HR 110, avg 101.8 in 8.5 mins for a calorie count of 65. The Neo came in at Max heart rate of 179, avg 126 and an odd number of 25 calories? So to say the heart rate monitor is inaccurate is an understatement. Especially when moving around, but then again I’ve found wrist based ones for me anyway are just not accurate.

There’s an Endomondo app that integrates nicely with the Neo. There was one for the Sony as well, but the Neo one just seems a whole lot more polished. The Endomondo app integrates with the heart rate monitor on the Neo and is able to log heart rate data from the device. A nice touch. You can even start/stop etc Endomondo from your watch without ever taking your phone out.

The Neo is supported on a number of Samsung devices, but not all. And is not supported on Non-Samsung devices. My S4 works well with it, my Samsung Note 8 is not supported. So before you buy one be sure and check your device’s compatibility with it. I loaded the Neo up with my S4. Then used an app called File Expert to dump all the APKs that had anything to do with the Gear. Took them all over to the Note 8 and was able to get it working with the Note 8. So I thought I was off to the races. But Samsung even block you in the Samsung Marketplace for unsupported devices limiting your ability to use and customize the watch on unsupported devices. A really stupid and limiting move. Likely one of the reasons I suspect Neo’s are not getting far in the marketplace. Not to mention I can only imagine their return rate.
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Samsung really do expect you to get all of the apps for the Gear from the Samsung Apps marketplace. I tried a few from the Google Playstore but they really are no where near as smoothly loaded requiring a separate step. Samsung from their Gear app make it easy to add and delete apps from the watch.

Sony had a flexible and extensible way to make a watch face and for third parties to make widgets. It meant you had a ton of flexibility on your watch faces. Sadly no such beast exists on Samsung. There are set watch faces, and a good number of them (although a lot of them are not free) but there’s no ability for you to design your own. I found one called Styler that seemed like it would offer similar functionality and flexibility but it did not. Very few widgets. A nice start but way off the mark. No weather widgets etc.

You can store pictures and music on the 4G storage of the Gear. According to the gear you are suppose to be able to send them using Gear manager. I couldn’t get it to work (wirelessly). I read you can do it by plugging it into USB. There is an app you can add called TransGear (for free) that adds the ability to send them wirelessly over bluetooth. No idea why Samsung didn’t include this. Another unfinished gap. Music put on the watch can be played on the watch. Not that I can think of a purpose to that. There’s no headset or bluetooth support so your listening to it off the watch? Sure let’s do that.

The Neo actually does have a speaker (the Sony did not) and it can be used for notifications. Notifications can be be sound, vibrate, but oddly not sound and vibrate. An odd miss … Their own phones have this combination.

The Sony had an excellent design in that it took a standard micro-USB charger right on the watch. This meant that you could charge it anywhere. Sadly the Neo does not. You need a proprietary dock that snaps on the back of the watch then you plug in a standard micro USB charger. Fortunately these docks are readily available and cheap on ebay so you can keep a few around.

Battery life on the watch is pretty important. On the Sony I found 2-3 days pretty typical. Which for me was acceptable. The Neo is very similar. And luckily unlike the Sony the Neo tells you the current state of charge in detail on the settings screen. On day one I ran both watches and after 12 hours the Sony was 82% and the Neo was 71%. And in all honesty I used the Neo to do a few more things so in the end the battery life on the Neo in spite of having a much brighter screen was similar. A nice surprise! I expected the Neo to be much worse, it isn’t. At 15% (which was 2.5 days for me) the Neo turned bluetooth off to preserve battery life. A nice choice. Recharging the battery is not a quick feat. It took 2 hours to go from 15% to 100% using the stock charger. About twice as much as the Sony :(. Disconnected from the phone and the battery life is about 4-5 days.

Like the Sony, Samsung do not allow you to see the status of the watch from the phone (eg battery life or memory etc).

Like the Sony the way to move the watch between two devices is a simple reset of the device. It takes about 5 minutes to complete. Of couse all that exercise, pedometer, sleep data etc are all lost.

At this point there are now four generations of smart watch from Samsung. The original Gear, the Neo (and Gear 2), the Gear live and the Gear S. Samsung have waffled on the tech running the watch. This means apps written for one device do not support the others. This is a huge disadvantage for Samsung (compared to Sony). Google have now come out with a standard set of APIs to allow hardware and software vendors for smart watches to have a more common look and feel as well as broader support. The Samsung Gear Live and Gear S are that generation. At this point the Neo (as well as the original Gear) would be considered obsolete, orphans (as is the Sony by the way), Google has set the direction. So going forward this watch is unlikely to see a whole lot of support. This is important to note. From an app point of view I have loaded a calculator, an alarm, Endomondo, transgear, Starlight (flashlight), and DMA Navi watch. The last one allows Google Maps directions to show on the watch. Very handy when walking. And of course a number of custom watch faces. My point is there is not a lot out there for the Gear 2.

I have to say, I quite like the Gear 2 Neo. And I would even go so far as to say I like it better than the Sony Smartwatch 2. Mostly because of the brighter more vivid screen. But the Sony has more of a hacker feel to the software and what you can do with it. While the Samsung has more of a polished feel (outside of the late to the game S.Health app). The limited device support of the Neo may in fact mean you as a user have little to no choice on which watch you can use. But all that said, given the Gear Live is here and has a future, I’m not sure I can recommend the Neo. Right now reports are that the Gear live barely gets a day of battery life which is totally unacceptable. This segment of the market is moving fast. On the positive side the Gear 2 Neo can be picked up pretty inexpensively so it’s not a lot you are investing. As with the Sony, the most disappointing thing about this watch is all the things it could be that will never be developed. It has a ton of unrealized potential. Simple things like a constant heart rate monitor. Or a simple compass (even if it has to pull it from the phone). And so much more. But it is what it is. Set your expectations. First and foremost it’s a watch. Second it acts as a secondary notification device to insure you don’t miss stuff. And lastly there are a few apps you can use on the watch like the built in pedometer. If you have realistic expectations you won’t be disappointed. I look forward to seeing where this market segment goes next. The Moto360 is already out there and is round. Now it looks more like a watch, but most of the things you want on the display messages, weather info etc all suit a square device better anyway so I am not convinced that round is the way to go. Time will tell … pun intended :)

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And here is the Sony for your reference:
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November 21, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Blackberry OS 10.3.1.662 mini review

It’s been a little while since I did anything with my Q10, and a buddy commented on this new Beta so I thought I would look into it. In the past to load a new Beta required you to backup your BB, wipe it, install the new OS and then restore. It was a lengthy process. The GURUs over at Crackberry have come up with a new method called Sachesi which more closely resembles an over the air process for installing Betas. It will even go out and search what firmware versions are out there. I had a bit of trouble getting it to work. I fussed with different USB connections, enabling development mode, and installing BB Link and I can’t say what got it working but eventually it saw my device. Sachesi was not able to find this beta but I did find and download what is called a Blitz OS release. From there simply dragging it onto Sachesi was all it took. The process failed a couple times (no idea why). And in spite of that there was no damage to the phone. Sometimes when a firmware upgrade goes badly it’s a VERY bad thing. Not this time. Each run took over 2 hours so it isn’t fast. Once it finally did work a reboot happened and after a while the new firmware was installed. Very nice!

Ok, onto the new release. The previous release of BB 10 only supported Android 4, which is getting a bit dated. One of the things missing is support for Bluetooth Low Energy devices. Well go figure, the new release actually supports it. I was able to get an Android app to talk to my bluetooth low energy heart rate monitor, a Scosche Rythm plus! Now this is enough of a reason on it’s own to like the new release but there is more. The UI has been freshened. Now as with any UI change there are going to be those those that love it and those that hate it. Another new feature BB have added the ability to create your own profiles. I was shocked that this has been missing from BB10 for so long. And unless BB are deaf, users have been shouting for it. So I am happy to see it. Sadly still lacking is an ability to notify ONLY on the priority inbox. Another obvious miss (for me). Without this the priority inbox ends up as nothing more than a visual filter. BB have added a new app called Blend which is suppose to allow you from a PC to send messages and other functions from your PC through your BB through a wired, wifi or cell connection. To get it to work you need to update your version of BB Link. No matter what I tried I could not get this to work. It just kept saying my BB was still not on 10.3 in spite of being on the beta. If your on a BB Passport, your already on 10.3. I’m sure there is lots more new in this release. but that’s what stood out for me.

November 19, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of the Samsung Notes for a while now. The idea of using a pen to take notes is interesting. I do wine tastings and come home with scribbles of paper with my detailed notes on them which I inevitably misplace. The standard note Phablets seem to small to be useful to take notes. This size seems to hit the sweet spot on uber portability and I was looking to replace my now very old Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 Plus. So I snagged one off ebay to play with.

Physically right off the bat this is a standard Samsung all plastic device. I can not imagine this device surviving much in terms of drops. If the Samsung Notes have been susceptible to breaking this one will likely be frigging magnet for getting broken. From there you have a micro USB port that performs as a USB OTG (for keyboards and mouse), charging and last but not least MHL connector for HDMI output. This uses the newer MHL standard found in the S4 and the Notes. More about HDMI later. There’s a power switch, volume rocker, 3.5 mm audio jack, uSD slot and a uSIM slot if you have the model with a cell radio in it. On the face Samsung have gone with their usual single button on the front flanked by two soft buttons (back and options). The pen now works with the soft buttons (back and options) which I am told was an issue with previous Notes. That’s about it.

Spec wise 2GB RAM & 16GB On-board Memory upgradeable with the uSD slot. Exynos™ 1.6 GHz Quad-Core processor which makes this device pretty zippy. The battery is supposed to be 4600 mAh but I am shocked how quickly it goes down. If there is a place where the specs on this device are lacking it’s the display. While it’s bright and vivid it’s 800 x 1280 which by the way is even below my S4 which has a 5″ screen at 1920 x 1080.

As with most Samsung’s of late this tablet is burdened by tons of frivolous code like Smart screen that attempts to keep the screen on when your watching it. I turn these off. They just interrupt a smooth experience IMHO.

As mentioned above, the micro USB connector doubles as an HDMI output using what is called an MHL. The MHL includes a pass through for charging but as with past Samsung devices the power does little but maintain the device. Even with the factory charger the charge current drops from 1800ma down to a paltry 900ma. So don’t expect it to be quick charging. And as in the past you can not do HDMI and USB OTG at the same time. So the option of an HDMI output along with USB devices is out the window. As with past Samsung devices the MHL connector requires power to work. At least on this tablet it doesn’t constantly overheat and turn off the charger all together which I have seen on a number of Samsung phones.
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Samsung have chosen to not have onscreen home/back/option buttons so as usual this is challenge when using an HDMI display with an external keyboard and mouse.

Like most of these tablets with cell radios in it you can send/receive text messages but the phone app has been removed/disabled. Of course this does not remove the possibility of using Skype etc. But holding this thing up to your ear to make a call without a headset is going to be the definition of uber geek :)

Battery life is all important on a device like this. With a whopping 4600 maH battery it ought to be outstanding. I did not find it to be so. I was hoping for 2-3 days and get one. By mid day with reasonable use it was already down to 56%. As important as battery life is charge time is equally important. With a huge battery charge times can start to grow if the adapter can not put out enough current. I found this device to very picky about cable and charger if you want to get the max charge current out of the adapter which I saw 1800 maH with the Samsung charger and cable. I found Galaxy Charge current HUD as well as Galaxy Charging current helpful to explain why with some chargers the battery was taking forever to charge. With the battery completely dead, and the radios off the tablet with the factory charger took 4 hours to a complete charge. Turning off the tablet might help it some. This is one of the reasons some companies go to non-standard charging ports (rather than microUSB). They can push more current.

Movie playback and XBMC are very good on this device. The Asus transformer was slightly better with XBMC. We have finally come to an age where a modern phone/tablet can be used for XBMC. I added the Kindle Fire TV remote (it’s Bluetooth) and this device worked well. It was quite usable. Samsung have added support for ExFAT but not NTFS so at least you still have somewhere to put your large movie files.

One of the unique features of a Samsung Note is a digitized pen. And this has it. The smaller notes (and the bigger ones) are just the wrong size to be useful in my opinion. This one seems just right. Pulling out the pen is a bit of a test of patience. Between the device switching into pen mode, swapping over the “Buddy page” and then launching the note taking app your in for a good 3-5 second pause. And you won’t be encouraged to put the pen back in or your in for the same kinda delay. Turning off Page Buddies helped this a lot. The pen is easy to write with. There is no substitute for having a digitizer. The built in app for taking notes is quite good. You can control the thickness of the pen. I’m not much of an artist but one of the reasons I chose this device is to try and use it for digital note taking. I have to get use to the S Pen app but it is a little on the clumsy side. The app saves files as a snb file. From within the app you can export it but each and every page ends up being a separate jpg. Messy. And the snb file can get quite large. A 20 something page with a picture on each page ended up being 30MB so almost a M per page. Try and email that? The files for S Note are in a directory on the device called SNote so at least manually backing them up is easy. Of course if you loose or break your Note all of the files entered in S.Note even if you backed them up are useless unless you thought to export them.  I have to say, IMHO Samsung didn’t think this through. The S.Note app can only run on Note based Android devices. There’s no viewer on any other devices or platforms so all in all the document becomes stuck on your Note with nothing else you can do with it. I tried One note but that has a “feature” on Android that when you try and use the eraser it erases the whole last word. WTF.

The slots for both the uSD and microSIM are both VERY recessed. I found getting them in and out to be a challenge.

The phone supports both Ant+ and Bluetooth low energy. I was only able to get my heart rate monitor to work on Bluetooth low energy (not ant). No idea why. Not that this will be an issue with this tablet anyway. What are you going to do go mountain biking or snow boarding with this thing? I think not :)

Like most tablets this device does not have any indicator LEDs. Not for messages, charging nada. No idea why companies do this. Also missing is a flash for the camera. So taking pictures in low light like say a restaurant is not happening.

Having a tablet with a cell radio in it gives options. You don’t always have to carry both your cell and your tablet. One of the challenges to this is that phone companies remove the ability to make or receive phone calls. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get VOIP running on Anroid. The call quality always sucks. Skype works well for outgoing but there is no incoming numbers in Canada. I found Talkatone that works well and has incoming numbers, again not in Canada. So I got a New York number and added it to my list of rings for my VOIP service. That allows me to make and receive calls on this tablet. Of coure this does not work on 911. MightyText allows you to send and receive text messages on this device from your phone. So with all this you can add a data only SIM into this tablet and leave your phone at home!

Outside battery life I like this tablet. The Transformer is definitely better in a number of areas. If I had reviewed the Note 8 before the transformer I would be more raving. But nothing can hide the fact that the battery life on this tablet is shockingly low.

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October 17, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Windows 10

I’ve not been a fan of Windows 8. I endured it on a first generation Windows tablet (a Samsung XE500) then on an Asus XE202 and in both cases what I found is that as much as Microsoft would like us to believe Windows is touch enabled it isn’t. Outside of Metro apps touch screen on Windows is a mere convenience when it works and infuriating when it doesn’t. The world on Windows 8 was very much split between metro apps and the old style Windows apps. Metro apps did not play nicely, they did not Window, multitask, took gestures you had to learn, to move around and to close them. Originally could only have one on a screen at a time and many other irritating annoyances. The lack of a start menu (as much as you could add one back to Windows 8) meant a learning curve for newbies. So much so I have family that aren’t technocrats that have been stuck on Windows XP and 7 because I couldn’t see them enjoying the Windows 8 experience. I was hopeful that Windows 8.1 would do something do fix the issue but no joy. Along comes Windows 10 (Thanks to my bud Danny for pointing out the release of the preview!) which has been released for Technical preview (free download). At last Windows has seen the light. The start menu is back, the metro apps behave more like normal apps. You can minimize them, resize them, close them as you would any other app. And they even show up in the start menu like any other app. Microsoft has finally seen the light. So far I like Windows 10 and it is finally a step in the right direction. Thanks Microsoft. Better late than never! I won’t do a detailed review of it, there are already lots out there. Just thought I’d throw it out there for my readers that may not have heard about it. Here is Microsoft’s initial announcement with a video of the new interface.

October 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mighty Text Android App review

A while back I played with this app and was underwhelmed. A colleague at work prodded me back to it. How many times have you been sitting at your computer or tablet and have to take out your phone to read/reply to a text message? Forgot your phone at home and need to send a text? Well Mighty Text is a perfect solution for all that ails you. Let’s talk about how it works. So you load an app on your phone and it in turn talks up to a portal. It uploads your most recent messages and your contacts. So right off the bat if this concerns you don’t load this app. Once the app is in, installed, and configured your ready to go. Of course your phone will need to have a constant data connection for this app to work.

From a web interface (which you can log on to from any device) you can send/receive messages, see your photos, see your phone`s battery charge and get at your contacts. All from the comfort of a full size keyboard/mouse or tablet. There is a Chrome extension for it that works VERY well and includes pop up notifications and sound notifications too. You really can completely decouple from your phone. When a call comes in if you have notifications on a pop up box comes up to show you a call is coming in. Of course to answer it you have make a dash for the phone but at least you know a call came in.
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In addition to the web portal there is an app you can install on Android tablets that also links up to the portal and provides the some of the functionality. (You can`t see your contacts, can`t see your photos, and can`t dial your phone). So in other words you can send and receive text messages. The tablet does not need to be on WIFI, or even the same WIFI as the phone as long as the tablet is connected to the net to be able to get to the portal. For tablets with cell radios MightyText does not allow you to setup the tablet to send out the texts for some reason. An oversight perhaps.
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You can load the tablet app onto more than one device, you can be logged onto the MightyText portal from as many computers as you need to making sure you get notified and can answer your texts from wherever is convenient!

All in all this is an app that has come a long way and is now something I have loaded, like and would miss if I went off Android.

October 10, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

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