John Galea's Blog

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Windows Mobile 10 review (and a Lumia 625 review)

I’ve been making the rounds on mobile operating systems and this one was on the list to checkout. I last played with Mobile 7.5. I use to be a HUGE Windows mobile fan. Back in the days (I loath that phrase, what/when does it exactly mean? And why has it all of a sudden become ubiquitous in our culture?) before Android, Windows mobile rocked my digital world. At last a reason had come for carrying around a PDA. Integrating the PDA and a phone and the smart phone revolution was born. Fast forward to today and wow have the tables have turned. To say Microsoft has fallen behind is an understatement of epic proportions and would actually imply they were even trying. I have no idea given the lack of commitment to this space MS have shown why they even bother. One must only look to the current sales numbers to see the state of the current market place. At 2.6% of sales their numbers are low. Amusingly, somehow, selling more than Blackberry.

So on with the post. Windows 10 mobile’s idea is to create a common fabric across your digital devices. Why should you have to learn a different interface moving from your desktop, to your tablet to your phone. Microsoft even took the ludicrous step to continue this common interface into the server market with server 2012. That said, it is an interesting idea. As usual the devil will be in the details.

I snagged a Lumina 625 to write this post. This phone is a cheap, plastic, heavy, low end, old phone. I won’t waste a lot time in this post talking about this device. Suffice it to say, you get what you paid for which in my case was very little. If you are really interested here’s a complete list of specs. The diminutive processing power of this phone unfortunately is likely going to color my opinion of Windows phone 10.

Windows 10 phone technical preview is very much in beta mode. If you sign up for it you can enter two rings, a slow and a fast ring. The fast ring gives you access to the latest and greatest current versions of everything. The cost is frequent updates and less stable code. And to say this is unstable (on this phone anyway) is putting it mildly. I’ve had more lock ups in the last 24 hours with this device than in the 2 years. Battery life is equally bad. So be careful before you put this on your main phone. A point they warn you about repeatedly, and they really do mean it.

To upgrade this device (or any others) you strangely first need to upgrade the phone to the latest Windows 8 mobile operating system. This took forever on this device. Numerous upgrades, numerous reboots and a ton of time. It seems that the upgrades were not roll ups or comprehensive upgrades. It really took a HUGE amount of patience. Something I am not known for. Once the phone was finally current I could find Windows Insider in the Windows store. This app then easily and quickly allowed me to upgrade to Windows 10 mobile. Here’s an article on the upgrade/downgrade process.

With Windows 10 on the phone I can finally start playing. Windows 10 mobile definitely has a similar feel to Windows 10 on a laptop/tablet but the similarities come quickly to an end. Gestures like swiping to the side to see running apps, swiping down to close an app and the like all do not work on the phone. There is a look and feel, but it’s more like a skin than anything else.

Each of the builtin apps in Windows mobile are separate from the operating system and can be upgraded at any time. Microsoft have really taken this to a whole new level. What this means is once the operating system is updated then there are a ton of little app upgrades to further test your patience.

The phone only supports one userid at a time, even on Windows 10.

The built in apps for messaging, and calendar both work perfectly with google apps. A great thing given there are no google apps on the platform.

The music app (Groove Music) took a VERY long time to scan through my music collection. Reminded me of the early days on Android. Once scanned the app worked just fine.

I found most of the metro apps I like on my tablet installed and worked on the phone. A point that shocked me. Oddly Navmi (a GPS in car navigation app) would not. And some of the apps on the phone for some reason do not auto rotate even ones that do on my tablet.

Windows 10 phone brings in the new web browser Edge which means history and passwords saved on your desktop follow you onto your phone. But don’t look for too many more levels of cross device integration. Rumors are that Microsoft is working on the ability to send texts from your desktop, something Apple already does. No sign of that yet. Microsoft really need to come up with a sales proposition to tell someone why if they have Windows at home on there desktop/laptop why they want it on the phone. Being device agnostic is really becoming expected and it largely is not here (yet) on Windows 10 mobile.

There is a wallet app but there are so few plugins that support it as to be useless (well for now anyway).

Endomondo is surprisingly there, and it supported my Scosche bluetooth heart rate monitor. Yay! There is even a Fitbit app but I couldn’t get it to connect to my Charge in spite of everything I did. I was even was on a 1 hour tech support call with Fitbit to no avail.

Windows is all about live tiles. Live tiles put active data inside a square shape. There are three sizes of Live tiles. Wide which leave takes up a double width and on this phone leaves room for 3 tiles on the screen. So pretty uselessly large. Square which leaves room for 6 on the screen. And small which is so little room for anything active except maybe notification counts. As on the tablet Microsoft did not include a live tile for things like clock, current battery state etc. Fortunately there are apps for that, one of the few times you will here that on Windows mobile. Microsoft really need to add another in between tile size.

As instantaneous as everything is on iPhones, Windows is anything but, especially on Windows 10 mobile. Now there maybe a ton of debug code still around on Windows 10 mobile but for now I would not recommend Windows 10 mobile on the Lumina 625.

Microsoft maps app includes live turn by turn direction and worked fine as did it’s built in search.

In the end, too quickly really, I had to give up on Windows 10 on this phone. It constantly locked up, would have required me to carry around a lead acid battery to keep it charged and would have required more patience than I have to live on given the lags in the system.

So on with the downgrade process as documented above. All in all this process is pretty simple. Download the app, download the ROM for your phone (1.5G by the way) and away you go. The phone is wiped in the process. And for me, in the process the downgrade died. I was starting to worry I had bricked it. Smartly there is a built in emergency mode that resurrected the phone, and put Windows 8 back on the phone. And then, to my chagrin, I discovered the image from Microsoft was as old as the way the phone started with and I was back to doing the HUGELY burdensome, multi upgrade process. And for many hours of this process my phone was unusable. Being unplugged causes me twitches :) I am a gadgeholic after all. Come on Microsoft, upgrade your base image … PLEASE. Many many hours later I finally had the phone back and could restart all my configs and install. To say this process is time consuming is like saying a Sumo wrestler is heavy … :)

So I had fun, burned a ton of time, consumed a bunch of patience … And onward we go in life.

February 8, 2016 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Blackberry Blend (mini review)

A while back I played with Blackberry blend on my Q10 which at the time was a new feature. Blend allows you remote access to your HUB, contacts, calendar and files on your Blackberry Q10 and Passport over the cell or WIFI network. Blackberry quietly added clients for iOS (iPad/iPhone), and Android. Blackberry Blend is also part of the standard desktop software on PCs and Macs. What this means is you can remotely access your hub and type corporate emails, answer text, BBMs etc from whatever device is in front of you. There’s a bit of setup that needs to be done on both the blackberry and on the client you want to use, but once setup it is pretty easy to use. You will need to know your Blackberry id that your Q10/Passport is using. I am pretty impressed with how well this works. Wow … Check it out!

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Android, Blackberry 10, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Black listed phones (quick post)

A while back the government forced, at the carrier level, enforcement that if a phone that was listed as stolen tried to be used that it be denied service. This is called a black list. The problem is that onus is on the buyer to insure that when purchasing a used/refurbished phone that is not on the black list. I recently bought a refurbished phone from BestBuy auctions, now called 2nd turn. When I tried to get it on the network it simply reported no service. Upon contacting Fido I found to my horror I had been sold a black listed phone, by a reputable organization. Now clearly Fido/Rogers has this new process in place. I can only assume others like Bell/Telus etc do as well. So if you are buying used/refurb’d phones beware. If you were to buy one on Craigslist for example you would have absolutely no recourse. Be sure and check that the phone is on a network before you leave the sale. You can also check the IMEI (the phones serial number) in the database on a site like IMEIData.

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Android, Blackberry 10, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

iPhone 5S review

Table of contents
Physicals and specs
Apple Wallet
General iPhone stuff
iMessage (and a warning)
Android Wear
Google Apps
Battery Life
Charge Speed
Power management tips

Yup you read that right, an iPhone. It has been MANY years since I last owned an iPhone. Think iPhone 3G days. I figured it was time to try out an iPhone again and see what I can and can not do with it. I am coming from a Samsung S5, which at this point is driving me kinda nutz. This post is likely going to be a bit of an epically large post, lots to cover off. This is an experiment to see if I could live on an iPhone as my primary and ONLY device. My phone is at the center with lots of moving pieces around it. An Android wear watch, a Fitbit Charge, the Bluetooth stereo in my car, bluetooth headset, bluetooth heart rate monitor etc, so a bit of complicated mish hash.

Physically the iPhone is
123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm and weighs 112 grams
138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm and 129 grams (iPhone 6 for comparison)
143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm and weighs 138 grams (Samsung S6 for comparison)

This quickly shows up one of the limitation of iPhones (well prior to the 6), size. Apple were the slowest to entertain the idea that people wanted larger screens. That said the unit is solid in the hand, and well built.

It comes with either 16 or 32G, mine is 16G. I quickly discovered 16G is REALLY limiting. I should have checked my music size. On Android I have a 64G uSD card so tons of space. Ooops.

So out of the box the iPhone that I bought is locked to a carrier. In this case not the carrier I am currently on :( iPhone unlocking works very differently than other phones. An iPhone can not be setup without a valid SIM. A valid SIM is one from the carrier that the phone is locked to. Unlike almost any other phone you can not power it up and set it up on WIFI. No siree. Android phones and the like you power them up and when a SIM from another carrier is inserted it asks for an unlock code. You can dismiss it and use it off the cell network. The unlocking is done on the phone itself. On an iPhone the unlocking is done on a back end Apple managed database. There are services that will add your IMEI to the database so your phone is considered unlocked, or you can buy an unlocking from the carrier that the phone is locked to. Unlocking however can only be done once the phone is activated. So your in a bit of a loop. The solution is to get a SIM (and it does not have to be an active SIM) from the carrier the phone is locked to. Then you can totally setup the phone on WIFI and activate it. And then you can get it unlocked. At least this is how the 5S worked. I am on iOS 9.2 (13C75). It took a couple days but eventually I got back an email saying the unlock had been done. I changed the SIM to a different carrier and low and behold the phone came back and said it had to be reactivated. I logged back into my iTunes account, put the phone on wifi and it reactivated. The phone and all it’s setup was as it was before. I bought my unlocking service from for $50 CDN.

Apple include a iCloud service that allows you to find your phone (if you enable it). Sadly it does not include the ability to send texts :( or make calls (like to forward your phone if you left it at home). Be sure and test the find my phone and insure it’s working before you need it!

Apple wallet
Apple has a wallet service that encompasses loyalty cards (for me Canadian tire, Longos, Airmiles and Shoppers Drug Mart) were all covered off. It then allows you to digitally have your loyalty card scanned at the store from your iPhone (optically scanned, not RFID). The wallet can also covers off tickets (for me this included Eventbrite as well as Ticketmaster) allowing you to avoid printing tickets to events. I tried to use TIcketmaster to go to a Hamilton BullDogs game, no joy for whatever reason they couldn’t scan it. Fortunately I brought along a paper ticket.

It appears in Canada that digital payment using the wallet is not possible in the 5S, and starts with the iPhone 6 and requires American Express (from what I read).

General iPhone Sutff
My 16G unit ended up with 11.9G free once all was said and done. This is for content (music, movies, pictures etc) as well as apps.

The 5S uses the lightning cable which is a change from older iPhones (but is the direction going forward). On a USB 3 enabled CoreM tablet I transferred a little over 10G of music in about 14mins. That would translate out to about 12MB/s. Not earth shattering my any definition.

Apple have included the ability to broadly change the font size within the operating system. Most apps seem to pay attention to this setting but not all. Something that is important given the small size of the screen. Even with this there are things on the phone (such as the task bar) that are super small and difficult to read. Crisp but small …

LTE speeds on the 5S were comparable to the Samsung S5. Reception seems better than on the S5.

The music app seems to have lost the ability to do the cover flow I use to love. No idea where that went. Oddly other people I have spoken to with the 5S have it. You can now delete music on the device itself and can buy and download music over the air through iTunes without a trip back to your PC. This is very useful if for example your phone is running out of space. You can just delete music on the device itself.

iPhones really are the king of instant gratification. Everything on the device is just smooth and instantaneous. It really is addictive. And it’s one of the things that’s hard to retrain yourself if you ever go off the iPhone. Android nor Blackberry can not come even remotely close. Especially with the device manufacturers customizations such as Samsungs Touchwiz. All of the Samsungs have these pregnant pauses. Where your scratching things wondering WTF is this thing doing. Not that it lasts all that long, but it’s maddening none the less.

Another area iPhones shine is in the apps. The phrase there is an app for that really applies in spades in the iOS world. Well within the limitations of the rules/restrictions that Apple dictates on the users and developers.

iPhones have never had status LEDS. No idea why. This one continues that trend. So if you missed a message, call etc there is no blinking light to tell you. I have no idea why they insist on leaving this off.

As far as onscreen keyboards go, Apples has always been one of the best. Auto correct is a blessing and a curse all in one. The iPhones keyboard gives up trying to correct you better than most and does a pretty good job of auto correct.

iPhones use Airplay as their wireless media sharing platform. (Android use DLNA and Windows uses Miracast). It works reasonably well, is easy to use/setup/start and can stream your music to your network connected stereo or TV. Depending on your receiver you can control the iPhone remotely using the stereo, can see what song is playing and the cover art for the song.

The iPhone can be used to tether to another device in one of three ways, WIFI access point, blueooth and USB. It’s wonderful to have bluetooth back because it’s something you can enable on your phone, leave enabled and it uses little power. Then from the remote client you can connect to it when you need it without having to take the phone out. Of course bluetooth tethering is limit to about 1MB/s so everything has it’s price.

Here’s how to set it up and use it on Android and Windows.

iTunes is the is the way you backup, restore, update and add content to your iPhone. Unfortunately you can’t avoid it. iTunes adds tags, and cover art to your music so it looks nice and functionality such as Genre etc all work well. iTunes is poorly written on Windows. Try using it on a tablet or touchscreen and your patience will be quickly tested. It has, however, come a long way. Believe it or not it use to suck even worse! Apple have added functionality like over WIFI syncing and the like. There isn’t a lot to say, it sucks but it is something you have to tolerate.

Apps (and music) are purchased through iTunes. If your not satisfied with your purchase you can request a refund. It is processed super fast. I just followed this guide.

If iTunes is not running (or not loaded) the iPhone appears to a Windows PC as a camera to allow you to easily copy off (or delete) photos off the iPhone. You can not use the iPhone as a generic flash drive and dump stuff to it :(

There are converters on Amazon to change lightning into micro USB to allow you to use your existing car and home chargers. I found these really handy and charged at full speed too. There are also adapters that will allow you to read Sd cards from the iPhone (for example for cameras on the Go). There are also HDMI output adapters for the Iphone should you so desire.

There are also secondary battery packs available to give you more juice through the day. Mophie for example.

iPhones all the way up to the current 6S still do not support wireless charging. I love this convenience on the S5 and miss it on the iPhone. There are cases you can buy that add thsi functionality …

iMessage (a warning)
Apple invented something called iMessage. It allows sending of messages between iPads and iPhones for free (except it uses your data). These messages can contain pretty much anything, audio, video, text etc. The built in messaging app (the green one) handles iMessaging all on it’s own in that it knows who is on an iPhone. You likely didn’t even notice that it was using iMessage instead of normal texting. I know I didn’t. Well isn’t this swell … Well kinda, but there is a nice little gotcha. Let’s say the unheard of happens and you stop using your iPhone and go onto some other device? I know that never happens right? Well if it does your messages between ANY contacts that you previously iMessaged with will continue to go to the iMessage server until some magic timeout period happens. Trapped in the ether. Unbelievable … wow. So, to prevent this, whatever you do disable iMessage NOW. You can tell iMessages because they show up blue instead of green (in the default colors). One nice thing about iMessaging is that it provides read receipts. iMessage is somewhere between a brilliant idea (if you are Apple and want to retain customers at any cost) and nefarious (if you are an end user who wants to move to a different platform).

Android Wear
Android wear required me to factory reset the watch to move over to the iPhone (or any new phone for that matter) and it was simply and easily paired. Android wear functionality is more limited on iPhones because there are lots of apps and customizations on Android that are not yet available on iPhones. (watchmaker, facer etc). Google fit is not available on iPhone so there is no way to get your health data (steps, heart rate) off of the watch. I found the connection to the watch less reliable with occasional drop out. This is particularly annoying if you are trying to sleep and the watch buzzes as it looses connection only to buzz again when it reconnects. Sometimes I wonder if I need a cone of silence to put my gadgets in while I’m sleeping :) Google maps integration with Android wear (showing your directions on your watch) actually works. Wow. I eventually figured out that you need to manually start the Android wear app, and don’t close it to keep the connection between the iPhone and the watch live. And to use voice commands the link has to be kept alive. My experience is on the first Gen Moto 360 by the way.

I loaded up the Fitbit app (logged in), disconnected my Android device and Fitbit on the iPhone picked up the device immediately and seamlessly without me doing anything. When I went into settings and enabled notifications it paired it and started syncing. Pretty painless.

Endomondo and RunGPS for iOS works and pair with my Bluetooth low energy Scosche rhythm+ heart rate monitor. There is no support for Android wear (within Endomondo or RunGPS) as there is on Android. And since there is no ANT+ radio connectivity to ANt+ cadence/wheel sensors and the like isn’t happening. There are dongles you can add to enable this functionality if that is important to you. RunGPS does however support bluetooth low energy wheel/cadence sensors. I did notice on Endomondo (I didn’t thoroughly test out RunGPS) that when Endomondo is in the background you get occasionaly heart rate drop outs and the sample rate seems much lower resulting in a much more jagged heart rate curve. The solution seems to be keeping Endomondo in the foreground.
Endomondo in the background
Endomondo foreground

The 5S paired with my Ford Sync in my 2010 Fusion but the connection is far less reliable than on Android. If I don’t wait long enough from the initial connection to use streaming music the connection gets dropped, and one time got so bad it crashed Sync. Oops. When it works Bluetooth controls of the music work just fine. Sync does not recognize the iPhone as a device it supports for reading text messages. A function I only recently got working on my Samsung S5 so not a huge surprise.

OneNote is available for iOS with similar functionality to the Android version. This is another major plus for me!

My goto Media player is Kodi. Sadly Kodi has not made it onto the app store. This leaves two options, neither good. Jailbreak it, or side load it with one of the more convoluted, time consuming processes I’ve seen in a while. On a small screen like this and with the HDMI option too expensive this isn’t much of a loss, but if it was an iPad then it just might be worth your while to mess with getting it going. A friend Johannes did me a solid and loaded it for me. He had done it two times before. Even with that it took him many tries to get it right. Once loaded it is almost impossible to use on the small screen. The interface was not designed for it. There is an iPhone specific skin that tries to help out. Out of the box the iPhones content (music/movies/pictures) is not available to Kodi. This is pretty normal for the way iPhones cordon off there space.

Google Apps
Google maps is available for iPhones and it includes turn by turn navigation. Integration with all Google sign ins means you can keep your favs and the like. Yay, this is a HUGE plus for me. Same for Google Chrome, it also works just fine. Google hangouts is there too. Coming from Android these apps are pretty key to me.

Gmail can be done from within the default mail client of iOS but push didn’t work. There is a gmail app to use but you can tell Google keep their best features for Android. There is no priority inbox. There is a primary inbox but it definitely filters differently. Your mail categories do work though. One big boo boo is that Google chose to ignore the system font and use their own, and there is now way to change it. So if it’s too big or too small for you … tough. Not nice Mr Google. Play nice with Mr Apple please :) So I leave both the gmail app and the default apple app running that way I can read the message in either.

Battery life
On day one of pretty heavy use (setting it up) after 12.5 hours it was down to 14% battery (it showed 5:48 of activity).

These next numbers attempt to measure standby power consumption. The phone is left doing as little as possible with as little in background apps as possible:
With WIFI off, and data off the phone consumed 0.6%/hr or a projected life of 158 hours. On 3G I measured very similar numbers (so close as to be with the error of the measurement).
Turn Wifi on (but cell data off) and this bumps up to 0.9%/hr or a project life of 109 hours.
Turn WIFI off and LTE on and this bumps up to 2.4%/hr or a projected 41 hours.
You can clearly see the effects LTE has on battery life. This is one area that Samsung worked heavily on with their S5 and standby power consumption on LTE and WIFI were virtually identical. So connect to Wifi anytime you can to save your battery, and if you can endure it, live on 3G instead of LTE.

As an interesting side note, the battery on an iPhone 5S is only 1560mAH, Vs that of a Samsung S5 which is 2800mAH.

Charge speed
As important as battery life is, how quickly it recharges is also pretty important. Using the factory charger and cable the phone charged from 57 to 90% in 38 mins or .9%/hr (comparable to the S5 btw in terms of charge speed). This would project to a full charge in just under 2 hours. The graph shows a fall off (as it does on the S5) once it reaches 90%. I tried using my Samsung charger and the charge rate dropped off to .5%/hr which would project charging out to just over 3 hours. Of note the iPhone charger is only 5W (5V 1A) Vs the Samsung which is 10W (5V 2A) charger.

One of the benefits of this being a 1A charger is that there are tons of third party external portable battery packs, but most of them are limited at 1A. Which is a problem for Android devices looking for 2A. Not a problem for iPhones. I tried my Anker lipstick case sized external battery pack and it worked and was pretty close to a full speed charge.

I had read here and there that if you use an iPad 10W charger on an iPhone you can get a faster charge … This is not true. A phone will only pull as much current as it is designed to pull. The 5S is designed for a 5W charger and using a 10W charger does nothing. I did test this by the way and the charging speed with the iPad charger was the exact same as the charging speed with the iPhone charger. So don’t waste your money. Myth debunked … Now that said, I ran the same test on an iPhone 6S Plus and it DID pull more current from the 10W charger, so it would charge faster.

Overall I found the iPhone pretty tolerant of other car and home chargers. Charge speed did vary with some chargers so you will need to watch that.

Power management tips
There are a number of things you can do to take control of your iPhones power consumption. Here are some of my tips:

Control background apps
When you click the home button within an app the app does not close. It actually goes into the background. Background apps in general are suspended a short time after they go into the background. The idea is it’s much faster to go back to a suspended background app than to restart them. There are however a whole category of apps that keep running in the background. Downloading stuff from the mothership and doing whatever they want to do. All this can drain your battery. You can take back control of this and remove an apps ability to run in the background.

Close unused apps
Suspended apps are all well and good but if your done using an app you can manually close unused apps. To do this double push the home button and slide up any app that is open, this will close it.

Control use of location
You can control if and when an app can use your location. The GPS signal in the tray never seems to shut up, which indicates someone is looking up my location. GPS can be a battery hog. So there is an easy way to control this. If an app is running in the background, do you really want it to have access to your location? Maybe, but take a moment and review these settings from time to time. Limit those with always access to your location.
And don’t forget to curtail the use of location by the system itself.

Control notifications
Notifications are both a blessing and a curse. Especially when you have a smartwatch. Do I really need to get a notification that Metro is having a big sale in the vagina aisle today? I don’t think so … So go in and trim notifications. This has two benefits. First you get bothered less, second processing notifications means the apps are talking over the net to the mothership processing data etc. All this takes power.

So what wasn’t I able to get working?
– Android Wear is basic at best, and not all that solid just yet
– I really miss the functionality to get any notifications on my Fitbit Charge from BitTicker
– llama was a tool I use to use to automate configuration changes based on location, time etc. I really miss it. Having to manually change profiles is irritating.
– I’ve been unable to find a way to text from my Windows PC. I used MightyText on Android all the time. This is easily possible if I were on a Mac.

So in the end I found no show stoppers to staying on an iPhone. Compared to my S5 battery life is comparable an impressive feat given the battery is almost half the size), the iPhone is way smoother, and is also more reliable. The specific phone I bought, the 5S was more of a proof of concept, in the end the 16G of memory is VERY limiting. And while the diminutive size is handy, it’s also very challenging in a lot of cases (too small to browse, text to small when default text size is ignored etc). Apple imposed limitations stunt developers but arguably result in a more stable platform.

January 30, 2016 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Ubuntu 15.10 review

Every now and then I get an itch to see just how far Linux has come. Ubuntu IMHO is the most consumer friendly of the Linux distributions. Like any fringe OS figuring out what of the hardware you have will not be supported is the first lesson you will learn. I often don’t want to commit my main machine to Unbuntu, and opt for some variation on multi boot. And thus the time burning begins. I have a variety of laptops/tablets in the house I can experiment with and live without so I start with them. A number of them are Atom based tablets (Asus T100, T100 Chi, Vivotab Note, Dell Venue 8 etc). You quickly learn (well not so quickly) that this is not going to go anywhere without a lot of work. And even if you manage to exert an untold amount of patience you will then figure out what isn’t supported. The T100 for example it turns out is a 64 bit processor that only supports 32 bit UEFI. Thanks Asus for that time waste. Got around that only to have the install hand on both the T100 and T100 chi.

So gave that up. I have a brand spanking new Asus T300 Chi based on a mobile CoreM processor so I thought let’s give that a go. Onto the next hurdle. First I tried dual boot. Well Ubuntu’s boot loader that allows you to choose whether you want to boot Ubuntu or Windows does not support Bluetooth keyboards (well daaaa) so after a bit of futzing I discovered the volume up and down are up and down arrow and the windows key is the enter. After a short period of time for some odd reason the touch screen totally stopped working. So I put Windows back on (from a Clonezilla backup).

Next up I decided to try and put Ubuntu on a USB key. The original install went well but as soon as the update happened it modified the boot loader on the hard drive of the machine. And with only one USB port it became challenging quickly. And having a tablet with a USB key dangling is not exactly convenient.

So I decided the best path was to go all in. So I wiped my T300 Chi and installed 64 bit Ubuntu. UEFI recognized the USB key once secure boot was turned off and the installation went well. You will need a USB hub, usb key, usb keyboard and usb mouse for the install. The WIFI adapter was recognized during the install which allowed me to install updates as it installed. Pretty much everything worked out of the box, audio, video, WIFI, touch screen and even suspend resume. This is one of the most seamless installs of Ubuntu on a laptop (let alone a tablet ever). The coreM based chipset has been well implemented in Ubuntu. Quite surprising really. The sole hold out oddly is the bluetooth enabled keyboard/trackpoint (dock). It sees it, tries to connect it, fails. Ubuntu does not recognize it as a keyboard.
Oddly my bluetooth Lenovo keyboard with touch point works perfectly.

The touch screen works largely as a mouse pointer but is supported by some apps. You can’t do zoom but scroll works on things like Chrome.

Performance on the T300 chi is very good. Smooth and responsive.

First up I loaded 64 bit Chrome from the Google website. It went in smoothly and insures that all your browsing experience is consistent across your all your machines. For me this is key. I could use Firefox which comes preinstalled but prefer Chrome. That way my bookmarks etc are come with me.

Second up from the Ubuntu Software center (USC) Kodi is there. Yay. Another key for me. I used the Kodi from the USC and had mixed results. I noticed starting a video, stopping a video and skipping through a video was all noticeably slower than on Windows. Some MP4s would not play at all. Odd given I have an older machine running KodiUbuntu flawlessly. So I loaded up Kodi from the web site and that seemed to solve the issues.

Ubuntu includes preinstalled an office suite called Libre.

Being able to RDP to Windows servers in the house is also key. I loaded up KRDC and it also works well. It properly supports right mouse button and all.

Performance is good but battery life is much worse than on Windows. On Windows I get about 4.8 hours, on Ubuntu I project about 3. I get As mentioned earlier suspend/resume works.

The onscreen keyboard is basic but can be resized to any dimensions you wish. Once configured it works fine but no auto correct and no word prediction.

There is no auto rotate on the screen and no auto brightness.

The T300 supports a pen, and the pen under Ubuntu is supported as a select tool. Using an app like pencil you can use the pen to draw.

The number one issue with Ubuntu is that, like Windows 8, Ubuntu eliminated the start menu. WTF. They depend on you remembering the name of an app you installed and then the use the search to find it. How exactly is that touch or tablet friendly? Really?

Ubuntu saw my network printer, added it on install but wouldn’t print to it. A common issue with Linux.

I went next onto another distribution of Ubuntu called Mint. Curiously the T300 bluetooth keyboard was seen perfectly. But I couldn’t find a decent RDP client so this was a drop dead item for me. Mint added back the start menu. A nice distro.

So all in all I am impressed with Ubuntu on my T300.

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized, Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Fitibit Charge review

I’ve done a bit of a tour around the Fitbit family but had skipped this one … until now. I liked the Fitbit Charge HR but it was expensive and I found the underside of the watch uncomfortable for everyday wear. The heart rate monitor while a nice add was not that accurate and Fitbit did little with the HR data (think data rich, information poor). I like the Fitbit Flex and with the introduction of auto sleep it made me reconsider it (I sold my last one). For me it was a toss up between rebuying the flex and trying the Charge. Given I hadn’t reviewed the Charge the decision was an easy one.

The Charge is for all purposes a freshened Flex. Frankly I am not sure why Fitbit keep the Flex in the market. That said there are a number of differences between the Flex/Charge …

Physically the charge uses the same silly band that the Flex uses. I REALLY wish Fitbit would use more of a traditional watch band like they do on the Surge. This band is clumsy and likely the number one reason people stop using this device after a while.
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The band is not easily replaced (if it’s even possible) and the Charge is available in different sizes (at time of purchase). And when Fitbit say small, they REALLY mean it this time. The small just barely fits me (and I have small wrists), it is on the very last holes and is still snug. So don’t buy the small unless your sure. Fitbit say 14-16.5cm. On the flex they ship it with both a large and a small band and you can remove the tracker easily from the band. No such luck on the Charge so make sure you get the size you need. Fitbit still have not added any kind of a safety in case the band comes undone. At least when I lost my Fitbit One they replaced it free of charge. I use a small string (it’s a lanyard) between the two parts of the band as a safety. There are also small rubber bands you can get on ebay that also try and help secure the catch …
Doing the band up takes a bit of patience and is best done when you have time, ie not in a rush. As in the past the Fitbit app does not inform you if it looses contact with the Fitbit (ie it fell off).

The underside of the charge is much more smooth than the Charge HR so more comfortable. The underside is where you find the proprietary charge port. The electronics form a solid piece on the bottom. While not as uncomfortable as the Charge HR, it still could be better. Like most fitbits it tends to catch on shirt sleeves. Add in winter jackets and fleeces and the Charge can get positively driven (exaggeration obviously) into your wrist. There have been times it has totally infuriated me. I have no idea why they insist on make the edges of the device so sharp and square. It’s this shape that makes it so easily caught on sleeves. If they would just add round edges on the sides it would be SOOOOO much better.

Battery life according to Fitbit is 7-10 days.
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Like all Fitbits the Charge allows activity tracking of steps (which gets translated into Calories/distance and active minutes). It also adds back stair tracking. Oddly I walked up 6 floors and it didn’t increment at all. The next day I walked two floors and it got that right. So I am not sure if the Charge was stuck or what.

Fitbit wisely added automatic sleep tracking. This was plum annoying on the Flex as you tapped the thing a bunch of times until it blinked in a particular way to indicate you were starting sleep and same to end sleep. And manual entries lead to missed entries. So I am happy to see this add (it was also added to the Flex). In addition to hours of sleep you also get a coarse view of quality of sleep, time as well as average hours of sleep. Good enough for what I wanted. I do not see a way to manually start and stop sleep any more. The one thing missing is the ability to manually add notes about your sleep. You could use these to determine (or explain) reasons for not sleeping well, and maybe learn something from it. As usual data rich, information poor.
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One of the major differences between the Flex and the Charge is the addition of a display. In this case it’s a small, but bright display. You can use it as a watch. You can choose from a few different watch displays:
The Charge attempts to detect when you rotate your wrist to read the display or you can tap the side button (which is a bit awkward). Oddly there is no easy way to turn this on/off for sleep and it is not automatically detected. I found the display came on as I tossed and turned through the night. Irritating. This was so bad I gave up and turned it off from within the Android app. This issue is such that the display is somewhere between less useful than it could have been and totally useless.

Using the button you can toggle between all the activity data for the day. Within the app you can choose what is available in the list and what order they are in.

As with all Fitbits there’s also integration with the likes of Endomondo. Your steps are pushed to Endomondo, and you can have Endomondo push back workouts to Fitbit so on either site you can get a complete picture of your workouts.

The android app is reasonably well done. There isn’t a lot of visual fluff in the app but what you need is all there.

As the Charge gets close to needing recharged (whatever close means) you will get a notification/email to tell you to charge it. No idea how much notice this will give you. There is no way to check the battery from device itself. And if you have all day sync turned off the battery will ONLY be checked when you manually sync the device which will further delay the notification you will get about the battery getting close to dead. All in all this is poorly done IMHO.

The Charge added the ability to get a vibration when there is an incoming call, but this is really poorly done. You get one vibrate and then the display lights up telling you who is calling. And that’s it. So if you miss the first vibrate, tough, and there is no way (that I can see) to redisplay the notification. And no notifications for anything else (not for texts, emails nada). Of course, there’s an app for that :) BitTicker that works well. At least for now. Given the level of integration with the Fitbit App I wouldn’t be surprised to see it break in the future. This app is positively brilliantly done, brilliantly executed, and adds a whole new reason to wear the fitbit (secondary notifications from your phone). There are a few steps to get it setup, and the app guides you through them. You then go in an select the apps you want the Fitbit to vibrate on and that’s about it. It just works! And you do not need all day sync on for notifications to come through. I’m sure there will be an impact to battery life but for the added functionality it is well worth it. Why Fitbit didn’t include something like this is beyond me. Heck go buy the company that makes it …

As in the past the Fitbit will not tell you when you have been inactive for too long. A feature long missing on Fitbits. There is an app for that Bactive, but this ONLY works if you have All day sync on.

From either the app or the portal you can add food consumed to get a picture of calories in/out.

I still do not see a way to pause the fitbit while doing activities like cycling, snowboarding etc.

I was doing reading and constantly saw references to MobileTrack which is supposed to allow you to use your phone to track steps if you left your tracker at home … Don’t bother the list of supported phones for this mode is very low.

I also saw mention of the ability to adjust your stride length to make the calculation of distance more accurate. On Android this can only be done on the Fitbit website. (Settings, Personal Info, stride length).

So that’s about it. The Charge is a very good device, a nice evolution from the flex, with lots of unrealized potential and some minor irritants. If the price difference between the Flex and Charge is small go with the Charge otherwise just get the Flex (unless stairs climbed is important). The addition of secondary notifications

January 14, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivoactive review

I last reviewed the Fitbit Surge and while there is lots to like, it just wasn’t good enough for me to keep and wasn’t comfortable enough as an everyday wearable. So this one caught my eye. GPS City had refurbs on for a reasonable price so I decided to take the plunge. I first have to sit back and scratch things about what is it I am looking for in a wearable? Activity tracking (steps, sleep etc), secondary notifications, great battery life (5-7 days), and if it has some fitness elements all the better. A heart rate monitor on the device is a nice to have as long as it can connect to heart rate monitor somehow.

Let’s get the worst of this device up front. The screen on this device is bad. If you read any reviews on the device it gets maligned constantly for the screen and it has been well earned. It is dull at the best of times. Readable only in reasonable lighting/sun otherwise you have to use the back lighting. And the device could be hugely improved if Garmin focussed on the back lighting. The controls of the back lighting are awful. It makes no attempt to detect your hand moving to automatically turn on the back light. And the default timeout on the back light (which mercifully can be changed) is a ridiculous 8 seconds. What all this means is in anything but the best of lighting conditions it takes two free hands to check the time. You have to push a button toturn on the back lighting. Thankfully notifications do wake it up and turn back lighting on. The screen is a color screen but just barely. Don’t be looking for a bright vivid display and in fact don’t even bother with watch faces or apps that use color because it is almost indiscernible.

Ok now thats out of the way lets get on with the rest of my thoughts (assuming you are still reading). Physically the device is uber thin. Shockingly so. It has a nice rubber band that can be relatively easily swapped out and one size truely does fit all. The overall unit is light, comfortable and does not catch on shirt sleeves unlike so many other wearable. Physically speaking garmin did a great job. The device sadly is square. The reality is I prefer round (and I think many others do too). The device is charged with a proprietary dock that includes a magnet that pulls the watch onto the dock (and helps it make firm contact) and keeps it firmly in place. It works well enough. No complaints.

It does steps, and sleep tracking and has a pretty good Android app as well as a very comprehensive portal. I have numerous other Garmin devices so am well versed in the portal. All activities are sync’d wirelessly with your phone. It can also exchange data with both MyFitnessPal as well as Endomondo. Garmin have this pretty well done.

The device will even remind you when you have been too inactive.

Step wise compared with Google fit on day one:
13710 steps (11.1 km 2048 cals) Vs 11343 steps (5.26km 1898 cals)
on day two
16511 (13.37km 1815 cals) Vs 14310 (5.86km 1544 cals)

Sleep tracking is good enough for me and automatically detects sleep. You can manually edit the times it detects to insure your data is accurate. You get a picture of how sound you slept. All in all it is what I am looking for.

The device does notifications under Android very well and is completely flexible and tailorable in terms of what interrupts your day.
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The watch itself does not have a heart rate monitor but in true Garmin style can connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor as well as an ANT+ cadence/wheel sensor. Very nice!

Garmin a while back introduced a concept called ConnectIQ. It allows third parties the ability to develop for their watches. For this device this falls into four categories. 1) Watch faces (over 250 available) 2) Widgets (more than 50 available) 3) Applications (about 90 available) and 4) Data fields (more than 140 available). Widgets are little apps that open up when you swipe the display from the clock and display some content. There is some slight noticeable lag between opening the widget. If there is a lot of data to get like weather for example the delay can be seconds. Not exactly instantaneous. Applications appear in a tiled menuing system allowing extra content. Lastly data fields add additional content you can add to configurable apps like swim/bike etc. The built in apps are somewhat configurable in that you can select the number of data fields and what is in those fields. Unfortunately the smallest number of items you can have on a screen are rows of three making a data fields small and hard to read. Especially if your biking or running while trying to avoid things like, oh I don’t know trees :) Why Garmin did not allow you to have one large item on the screen is beyond me and seems a huge omission.

Text size throughout the watch is quite small which given the grainyness of the screen is an odd choice. And there is no where to change the default text size.

Garmin do include a widget for weather but I couldn’t for the life of me change it to Celsius in spite of following every instruction on how to do it. There’s also a music control widget that works fine but does not display the song being played (Android wear does for example).

There is a neat app that allows you to remember where your car is and then track back to it by pointing in the direction (and telling the distance) to your car. This could also be used for something like hiking. But frankly is pretty much the only way to navigate on the device. Unfortunate. There is no ability to save a waypoint and navigate back to it. Like you can on the Foretrex 401 I use all the time.

I quickly came to the realization that this device would not replace my Foretrex 401 while cycling/hiking. And would not replace my FR70 which I use as a bike computer. It would somewhat replace my Android wear watch. So in the end, I elected to return it while I could. A nice idea, poorly executed.

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Lenovo Yoga 12 review

It was new laptop time at work and I got this one. So you get a new review! The specs on this system are pretty stellar. Core i7 5600U, 8G memory, 256G SSD. The exact model is a 20DL 003AUS.

Physically the device weighs 3.48 lb and is 12.4 x 8.7 x 0.7″.

Specs for the SSD (from LiteOn): Model Name LCH-256V2S Buffer 256MB DDR3 Sequential Read Speed Up to 520 MB/s Sequential Write Speed Up to 290 MB/s,
Random Read Speed (IOPS 4KB)1 Up to 82,500
Random Write Speed (IOPS 4KB)1 Up to 72,500

I was able to get 113MB/s write and 290MB/s read (using H2TestW). This is one of the fastest drives I’ve seen to date.

The USB ports are USB 3 and the speeds out of it confirm that. I was able to get 154MB/s out of a USB 3 flash drive. (USB 2 would cap out around 20 MB/s). This is super important if your going to use a USB dock for example. Speaking of dock Lenovo designed a dock specifically for this tablet they call ThinkPad OneLink Pro dock. This dock is very different from a generic USB dock you commonly see. It has an extra wide connector and comes with a power cable as well. The cable rather than simply being USB 3 extends the PCI bus (I’m guessing) out to the dock. There are two video connectors: 1 display port and one DVI along with a converter to from DVI standard SVGA. These two displays then hang odd of the main video controller (rather than showing up as a separate USB video adapter. Similarly the ethernet is also not just USB 3 device, it too hangs off the PCI bus. There’s also a USB 3 hub with 4 USB 3 ports and two USB 2 ports. Lastly there is a second audio adapter with a 3.5mm standard audio plug. Lenovo spent a lot of time designing this dock. Architecturally it is VERY different than a generic dock.

Of course there is always also the generic USB 3 dock Lenovo sells also. It is worth noting there is no docking connector. So these two docks are your only choices.

Screen resolution is 1900×1080 which is good but not excellent compared to others.

Jack wise the unit includes 2 USB ports, a mini HDMI port (no display port, an odd choice for what is more likely a corporate device), a power/docking port (see above),an SD slot (not microSD) and that’s it. There is no wired ethernet so for a corporate environment you will likely need to purchase a docking station which then allows an ethernet as well as an external monitor. There is one that does it all in one connection to the laptop called a OneLink.

The unit includes a stellar Waacom (passive) pen for taking notes. Wow, very nice, and probably one of the best in the business. The Surface’s pen is great but it does require a battery. Likely a large percentage of the population will never use (or even notice) that this even has a pen.

The Yogas party trick is that the screen on the laptop can be bent right around so that you can use it like a tablet.
In this mode the keyboard is exposed and where you hand is trying to grab the machine. Lenovo were smart in that they disabled the keyboard/track pad etc when in this mode. They also raise a small outline to make the keys less exposed. But in the end your hand still feels odd holding the tablet this way.

The SD slot got 40MB/s out of a 48MB/s card. One of the fastest I have seen on any of the devices tested to date, and the only one not limiting. I’m not sure if the Sd slot is a possible boot device (most devices are not).

The keyboard and trackpoint are a thing of beauty on this laptop, as expected out of ThinkPads. For those so inclined there is also a glide point. I love the trackpoint, hate all glidepoints. The glidepoint is multi touch and includes the ability to page up and down. The keyboard is backlit. All in all well done!

The power switch is located on the side towards the front and can be all too easily hit by accident. Fortunately you have to push and hold it to do anything, but still … One of the few bad things I can say about this laptop.

The unit does not have a GPS so can not be used as a navigation device. Not a big loss given the size/weight.

The battery on the tablet is a healthy 49 WH.

There is a fan on the unit so it is not silent. The opening for the air is small so the sound from the tablet is noticeable.

This unit does not support connected standby. So all the usual limitations with this exist (no notifications while in standby, device has to catch up once woken up etc). But on the positive side it can remain in standby for days to weeks.

Now to say the price on this puppy isn’t cheap is an understatement of epic proportion. Think like $2000. A very impressive capable device if you can swallow the price!

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Fitbit Aria scale review

This review will be short and sweet. Mostly because there isn’t a lot to this product, it just works. The Fitbit Aria scale is a WIFI enabled, battery powered digital scale. Setup is relatively simple with one major catch, the setup would not work on Windows 10. There is a web based setup but I couldn’t get that to work. So I dug out an antique of mine that just happens to still have Windows 7 on it and in no time flat the scale was setup. You start the app on your PC, put that batteries in the scale (which puts it into setup mode), and away it goes. There is a button on the bottom of the scale you can push with a pin to also reset the scale (this doesn’t seem to be documented anywhere). You will need to know your WIFI password, and you need a Fitbit account. There is no interaction with the Fitbit mobile app (on Android). And the mobile app does not even show your weight results.

Once setup it is ready for the first user and can be used by guests anytime. Guests results show up on your web portal under the measurements recorded for the device. For registered users the scale is able to use the info you have entered on the portal for your height etc and it also comes up with a number for your body fat% as well as your body mass index (BMI). For guests, since it does not have any info on them, all you get is the weight. You can see the exact date and time a measurement was done. It is always recommended you weigh yourself at the same time each day. Your weight can vary 5 pounds or more throughout the day. On the portal you can delete errant measurement easily, and even move guests entries into registered users.

From the web portal you can also invite others to use the scale. They will need a Fitbit web account. The web portal also displays the firmware of the scale, current battery state etc. You can set the scale for pounds/kg also from the portal.

As time goes on you will get a graph of your weight along with a statement of whether you are up or down from last month and by how much.

You do not need a phone to use this device (and in fact as stated earlier, for now anyway, the mobile app seems to for the most part ignore the scale other than list it in your devices). You do not need a Fitbit activity tracker either …

That’s about it. It just works. If your going to buy a digital scale anyway, might as well get one of these! They look stylish, and are easy to read.

As always Fitbit support is second to none. I had issues with my first scale and Fitbit replaced it quickly and efficiently. I had similar experiences with Fitbit support.


December 27, 2015 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Dell Venue 8 quick review

Ok, now before you think, WTF isn’t that an old tablet? Well yes genius it is :) Since my Asus Vivotab Note 8 isn’t reliable, and since the Toshiba Write 8 wasn’t supported in Canada I found myself back looking for a pen enabled 8 inch tablet. The Venue 8’s pen experience got really slammed when it hit the market as attrocious so I never considered it. But, my experience with the T100 Chi left me with, while not perfect, a good enough pen experience for taking digital notes. The Dell Venue 8 uses the same digitizer (Synaptics 7500) and pen as the T100 Chi, so I bought a used Venue off of kijiji super cheap to play.

Spec wise this is pretty typical for a device of this vintage. 32G SSD, 2G ram, Atom Z3740 Quad core processor, 1280×800 (yawn) display. There is no GPS in this device so you can’t use it for in car navigation. A shame given that Navmi is quite usable on Windows.

Other than the lack of GPS and the digitizer the tablet is so similar as the Vivotab note as to be identical. As always on 32G of SSD you end up with about 11G free (including a 4.7G recovery partition and 2G taken for the hibernate file). It always amuses me that Windows allocates a hibernate file wasting 2G of a 32G drive and then disables hibernate by default. By the time all current patches are done your down to about 2G free. Windows keeps lots of backup files to undo patches. 32G really is a minimal size.

Using the disk cleanup delete unnecessary files, then clicking on Cleanup system files, you get to see how much Windows update files are using. These are to be able to uninstall a patch. On my tablet (the screenshot is not from the tablet) it was just shy of 800M.

powercfg /h off turns off and deletes the hibernation file freeing up 2G. For some reason on the Dell hibernation isn’t enabled (on Win 8 anyway) and all the tricks I’ve used in the past to reenable it don’t work.

The battery is 4100maH in the Venue.

Charging as always is dead slow. I look forward to buying a newer tablet and having fast charge like I do on my S5. The microUSB port acts as charging as well as USB OTG. There is no microHDMI port. Thankfully there is a microSD port.

The charger is the ubiquitous 5V 2A 10W …

The 32G SSD clocks in around 32MB/s write, 71MB/s read, compared to 25/46 on the Vivotab, so quite good.

The pen on the Dell (I have a first gen Dell Active stylus) is not bad. I have read nothing but bad things about it but really it is ok. Dell had some issues early on and it got a really bad rep on the net. I guess a lot of that stink has not gone away. The pen is not perfect, and not as good as the Vivotab Note 8 but good. It works the same was as the T100, palm rejection does not start until the pen gets close to the screen. And there is a slight delay to when the pen starts writing at first. If your use to a Surface you will hate it. But as always keep price in mind, this is not an $800-100 tablet. By the way, one of the things that helps is to move the task bar from the default bottom (which just happens to be where your palm rests) to the top. It avoids accidentally starting the clock, onscreen keyboard etc. But you will need to change your sync settings otherwise all your machines will end up with the task bar on top :) The Dell Active Stylus and the Acer Active Stylus are so similar I am pretty sure they are the same pen. I really wish the pens had an on/off switch to preserve the precious power of the pricey AAAA battery.

In doing some reading I found out lots of people are complaining about the palm rejection in Windows 10. It seems to be different/worse than in Windows 8. My testing was on Windows 8. So for now I will be leaving this tablet on Windows 8.

As a reminder, always remember one of the first things you ought to do is to create a USB Win 8/10 recovery drive. It allows you to get the system back to factory settings in the event something goes horribly wrong.

As is common on all these tablets the microSD slot is limited to 20MB/s so don’t bother rushing out to buy an uber fast card.

Also as usual the tablet has no flash for either the front or rear cameras.

So all in all the Dell Venue 8 is pretty much as expected (other than the disappointing lack of GPS)…


December 17, 2015 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment


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