Stop Start Nexus

The original Google Nexus 7 is now 12 months old and has been replaced by a new version that has upgraded much of the tablet – retina screen, faster CPU, more RAM and a camera. Considering it will be only £20 more than last years model that’s quite an upgrade for an affordable tablet. I’ve had my Nexus 7 for just over 9 months and while it’s been a good device the overall experience makes it hard to really recommend an Android tablet.

Performance
One of the big selling points of Android 4.2 was Project Butter. Finally Google had addressed underlying performance issues so that there would be no stutter, scrolling everywhere would be smooth and Android could finally be viewed as an equal to iOS from a performance perspective. 9 months on and I have to say that there is still a considerable performance difference between Android and iOS.

On the Nexus 7 the performance issues have been exaggerated by an overall slowdown over time. This has been well documented and I was seeing it too. I’d launch Chrome and it would sometimes take 20 seconds just to launch and show the 2 or 3 tabs I had open. I tried many of the cleaner tools that are in the Google Play store and while they had an impact for a week or two the system would eventually fall back to it’s usual slow self. Thankfully Android 4.3 has enabled trim support and this has certainly had an impact over the last week but there is still a noticeable lack of smoothness throughout Android as a whole and I’ve got no faith that the stuttering won’t get worse again over time.

Can Google keep the new Nexus 7 from the same fate? At the moment, it’s very fast. Powered by a hefty 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM, it flits around the OS with ease, and I rarely encountered stutters, jitters, or problems of any kind. (Except scrolling. Cool job Google.) – Google Nexus 7 2013 review

Even one of the most glowing reviews of the 2013 Nexus 7 acknowledges that it still has performance issues at a fundamental level. Well played Android.

When things go wrong
Android’s flexibility is fantastic, especially when compared to iOS. However when things go wrong it feels like you are dumped back a decade when trying to fix it. Just this week after applying Android 4.3 I hit a major issue – I couldn’t update any applications from the Google Play store. Worse, the error message was gibberish.

Google Play Error

I tried switching off and on but it made no difference. To the internets, where it was clear that lots of people suffered the same problem and were stumbling through various fixes to try and solve the problem. I first tried the following fix:

  • Open system settings
  • Go to Applications (or Apps) >> All
  • From all apps select Google Play Store >> Clear Cache and Uninstall updates
  • Again, from All>>Download Manager >> Clear Cache and Data
  • Finally, All >> Google Services Framework >> Clear Cache and Data
  • Now, rerun Google play store.

No dice. All applications would fail to update. So then it was onto the next fix all the while thinking that this felt like trying to fix an issue on Windows 95.

Things aren't going well if you are having to use this screen
Things aren’t going well if you are having to use this screen
  • Go to system settings>> Accounts>>Google>>remove your Gmail account
  • Now from settings>>Apps>>All> Force stop, Clear data and cache for Google Play Store, Google Service Framework and Download Manager (like in method 1)
  • Now again go to settings>> Accounts>>Google>>Add your gmail account
  • Restart your android and then accept all the Google terms and setup Google settings
  • Rerun Google Play Store and update or install your app.

That almost fixed the problem except I couldn’t update Google Maps as it failed with the same error. Sigh. I tried again this morning and still had the same problem. So I wiped all accounts from the Nexus, wiped data on the Google Play Store and Google Services Framework applications, rebooted the Nexus and then added my primary Google account. Finally I could update Google Maps. What a farce. This isn’t the first time I’ve had issues that forced me to clear caches from applications to get them back running properly again and it’s one of the reasons I don’t recommend Android tablets to friends and family as the support time is far higher than with iOS.

Ecosystem
Application availability, especially for tablets, is still stronger on iOS than it is on Android. 99% of the time app’s will release first for iOS and generally be the better version. This hasn’t really improved over the last 10 months. I’m sure for phones it’s different but I can only compare what I use which is iOS and Android tablets. The exclusives are to be found on iOS and there is still a richer ecosystem on iOS when compared to Android.

Should I buy a Nexus?
That depends on who you are and what you want to do. Want to customise your device, root it, make it your own and happy to mess around when things go wrong – the Nexus 7 is great and the new hardware looks superb for the price. For everyone else I’d recommend iOS without any hesitation. Superior experience, great performance and devices that in general just work. I still fire up the Nexus from time to time but I’m really back on the iPad even for reading despite the size and weight. Speed wins.

Android

I’ve been an iOS user for 5 years now which is natural as I also use Macs. I love the devices and software but in doing the podcast and seeing so much momentum with Android I had an itch – I really wanted an Android device to play with. I didn’t want a phone as that would involve a contract and I didn’t want a device that had a companies UI grafted on top of vanilla Android. So when the Nexus 7 was launched it seemed to be the ideal device for me to get. The price drop/increased spec’s at the start of November made the choice even easier so I picked up a 32GB Nexus 7 in the middle of November.

As I already have a iPad and iPhone 5 (both new this year) it’s definitely a luxury purchase as it wasn’t as if I had a gap in my gadget library but it has allowed me to compare the different form factors and understand their strengths and weaknesses. What I was most interested in was the software – how good is Android now that Jelly Bean (Android 4.2) is launched and how strong is the third party support? I hate the iOS vs Android posts on the web as the two camps are so entrenched it’s hard to get a view that’s accurate. At least buying the Nexus means I can form my own view and I can also be more informed about Android. I’m also a geek so it was a brand new device and ecosystem to enjoy.

Nexus 7 Hardware

Nexus 7
Nexus 7
I’m not going to cover the Nexus 7 hardware in detail but just mention some highlights. For a full review I’d read The Verge review from June 2012. So what do I like about the Nexus 7?

  • Ever since Steve Jobs dissed the 7 inch form factor there has been a debate about their value. For me the 7 inch Nexus is an excellent size for a tablet. I can hold it in one hand and read from it easily. I’ve not had an issue with touch points or that my hands are too big for the screen. Indeed Apple bringing out the iPad Mini shows that Jobs ire was more to do with competition to the iPad rather than a 7 inch tablet is too small.
  • The screen quality is excellent. Much is made of retina screens but I find the text quality on the Nexus 7 is great. No eye strain and no visible pixels either. The screen is 216 ppi which is less than the 264 ppi that the iPad has but similar to the Macbook Pro which has a ppi of 220. One point to note is the screen felt washed out at first. I found that having the brightness set to automatic set it far too low and my current setting is around 40-50% which is ample for me. Video playback is excellent too – it’s a great device for watching video’s on but more of that later.
  • The weight is excellent. I think this is the biggest advantage over an iPad. I can hold it in one hand, I can read easily on planes, at work or around the house without getting arm fatigue and unlike the iPad the weight is just not an issue. It also feels good in the hand with a grippy dimpled plastic back which makes it less likely that you’ll drop the Nexus.
  • Overall build quality is good but not quite to the same standard as Apple but it is a lot cheaper that the iOS devices. It never feels cheap though – considering it’s only £160 for the 16GB version it’s a steal at that price.
  • Landscape mode isn’t the best. It feels squashed and I find it difficult to work in that orientation unless it’s for watching a film. Limitations of a 7 inch tablet with this form factor.
  • The 7 inch tablet is great for reading, watching video, Twitter et all but I do have issues with it as a work device or content creator. The iPad can do all those things but I found the screen just to small in landscape to create anything useful. Another issue is the lack of software written specifically for Android tablets. More on that later.

Continue reading “Android”

Google Spreadsheets As A Database

Following on from the Google Spreadsheet links in the previous post, I spotted this retweet from Guardian Datastore. Interesting – database querying of a Google Spreadsheet. So following a link takes me to Tony Hirst’s blog and a how-to on applying SQL type queries to a Google Spreadsheet. Very useful.

Tony then takes the data and visualises it using Many Eyes Wikified. Very impressive and a site I hadn’t heard of or used before. Applying the same principles Tony has now applied visualisations to the Shadow Cabinet spreadsheet.

Only slight snag I can see is that spreadsheets are easy to change and hence the visualisations could break easily – more easily than a database would. Apart from that though I’m very impressed. I’m off to dabble!

Google Chrome and some data to go with it

Just read through the comic that announced Google Chrome. Comic? Google Chrome? Google Chrome is the name of the long rumoured browser that Google has been developing. The comic was sent out via mail today and describes the main features of the browser really well. Seeing as I’m hacking web based app’s more and more, Chrome seems to be ideal. In fact if it had bookmark syncing I’d give it a serious trial instead of Firefox. But then again, it’s not out yet and for all I know it could be rubbish. Doubt it though – could be another step forward for browsers, our most used app. *Update – official announcement on the Google Blog and admission that info leaked early. Beta available tomorrow. For Windows only initially, Mac and Linux to come.

So…data. Often the biggest problem in putting together mashup’s and web app’s is finding good reliable data sources. I’d posted before on where to find data sources and the good news is there is some movement in the UK. From the rather excellent Katy Lindemann is a post on freeing our data and how Show Us a Better Way is fronting a government initiative to free up data, mashup the data and has already made gigabytes of data available. The site also links to many web data sources, many that I hadn’t seen before. Time to get the thinking cap back on…and maybe download the iPhone dev kit again.

Google Reader Shares and Notes - Broke?

A couple of add-ons to Google Reader today. Firstly you can now add notes to content you share, or just plain notes. These are then added to your share stream which is something I’ve been meaning to add to the blog for a while. You should see my shared items to the right of this post unless you using, em, Google Reader.

Google Reader

The other addition is a bookmarklet for your browser which lets you swipe text in your browser, add an optional note to the text and then post that content to your shared items list. This sounded like an excellent addition except for one silly flaw. I can edit the swiped content before posting to my shared items but there’s no mention that the edit was done by me. Looking at my shared items I’ve linked twice to the Google post about these new features. However I edited the second posting adding in ‘crappy little’ – see screenshot above. The only way to see the difference would be to click on the link to the Google post and check for differences. Not hot. In the stream to the right of this post because only links are shown the issue is hidden. You would need to subscribe to my shared items for it rear it’s head but surely it’s easier to prohibit editing as the note feature is there if you want to add your own comment? Just need to remember to share more now that it’s added to the blog.

Stats and other Mince

Okay. My love of statistics knows no end. Three stat related topics, one of them seasonal, all of them useful..ish.

  • Google Zeitgeist 2007 has now been published. There is nothing too surprising this year although it’s great to see the Wii top the poll as Christmas comes around. Great stock management Nintendo. Definitely keeps people thinking you are the must buy games console.
    Where's Wii?
    Also worth noting that HD-DVD is more searched than Blu-Ray despite Blu-Ray disks outselling HD-DVD and that more people want to know what love is rather than who God is.
  • Flickr StatsMore stats can now be found on Flickr. If your a pro user, activate your stats and in roughly 24 hours you too can see who is viewing your photo’s. As expected nobody is finding any of my photo’s interesting but it did remind me to get my tagging and geo-tagging sorted.
    The stats are really well presented. Clear with lot’s of white space. You can also dig down into screens that show more details i.e. all photo’s. You can then sort by comments, date’s, your photo’s that have been added as a favourite by other members. Very informative and a great place to waste a few minutes. I even found some photo’s that I had put up that I had totally forgotten about.
  • Now onto a festive stat. Well, when I say stat I really mean reviews. My friend Roy has been road testing Mince Pies (not to be confused with mince rounds). So far the mince pie to beat is from Starbucks. I’m in shock. Having just sampled a Marks classic mince pie I really must seek out a Starbucks version over the holiday period. Anyway, if you have any more recommendations for Roy and his co-workers to test then add a comment below and I’m sure they will oblige.

I hope to have my own further stat/review post up this weekend. Stand by for startling revelations!

Weekend...stuff

Some bits and pieces from this weekend.

  • Microsoft support reckon it’s a paid for repair on the 360. While I argue my point (which will take a few days at least by the looks of it) my patience gave in after less than 24 hours and I picked up a new core 360. Gaming is getting more expensive! Roll on PS3.
  • Fence is now fixed.
  • The weather has been atrocious and anyone would be crazy to not think global warming is affecting us all and that new patterns are emerging. November and December last year were Glasgow’s wettest on record and January isn’t looking much better. Couple that with more frequent and stronger gales and a new winter is emerging that’s wetter and windier. Feb and March look more to be our traditional winter months now. I wonder if we’ll get late snow like last year.
  • Great article in today’s Herald highlighting Flickr and the amateur Scottish photographers that can be found there. Unfortunately the online version of the article doesn’t contain the photo’s or links to the Flickr site of those chosen for the piece. However you can find the photo’s at the Flickr Scotland group or the Flickr Scotland Blog where the best pictures from Flickr are published. Highly recommended.
  • Google Maps app for mobiles. This is a great java app for phones although it’s probably best to have a high speed net connection and also a good data plan before you start browsing around the maps.
  • The first four episodes of 24 are superb – looks like another cracking series. Usual caveat of switching off brain before watching does however still apply.

Hope everyone else had a good one.

BumbleSearch

A great extension for Firefox – BumbleSearch. Can easily switch off shopping results from a Google search, search other sites from the same Google search page and also cross search ebay, Amazon, Digg etc. Can turn on search highlighting which makes finding info on a page very easy. Also has some sidebar note capturing functionality which I don’t use. Well worth installing.