A Year on Android

Soooo…about a year ago, I said that I was debating the merits of staying with the (then quite old) iOS platform, or moving over to the Android platform, to use one of the Samsung products.

If you paid attention, you would have noticed that I got a cash bonanza from Samsung for switching to them and using their contactless payment system (much more convenient than using cards, even before I had a chip card!). Now I’m even earning rewards from Samsung for taking advantage of Samsung Pay (as long as each transaction is 5 minutes or more apart).

So, what have I missed over in Apple Land?

Not much.

Let’s see what they’ve changed since last year…on my Android phone, I can swipe any which way I want and my phone unlocks – if it’s gone to secured lock, all I need to do is put one of four fingers on the touch sensor and it unlocks for me. On Apple? I have to press the home button twice in order to unlock the device – most of the time having to enter my unlock code to get going. That is so much more tedious!

After the S6 not having expandable storage (and yes, I did go with the S6, but a 32GB USB flash drive serves a good purpose for me), Samsung decided to restore that functionality in the S7 phones, combining the SIM Card slot with a MicroSD card slot. Apple? Nope, we don’t want you to have expandable storage, never ever ever! Just buy more iCloud storage. Oh, you mean 5GB isn’t enough to back up your 32GB iPhone? Haha, oops…give us $5 per month kthx!

Oh, and how can I forget…removing the 3.5mm headphone jack? Fair enough, you were first to remove the floppy disk from desktops and optical drive from laptops, but seriously? What next…a “professional” laptop with no regular USB ports? Oh, wait.

So, here’s the big question…after a year, would I honestly switch back to iOS?

No.

Why? Well, the number of reasons are multiple – but here are a few highlights that I can think of immediately –

  1. Home Screen Widgets – If you never had them before, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. It’s so easy for me to do things without having to go into apps or having apps running in the background – e.g. I can control media just from my home screen (or from the notification drop down – none of this swipe up, then swipe right to change media as you do now in iOS 10)
  2. Back and recent apps buttons – At first, I was victim to muscle memory whereby I would try to swipe to the right to go back to the prior screen or browse to the prior page. Now I’ve trained my muscles the opposite way – I found myself trying to press the back button on my iPhone when I was using it while in Australia (more on that later!), only to find that it wasn’t there.
  3. Split screen apps – Not the most common feature that I use, but something that is useful when you’re trying to watch a video and look at a webpage at the same time. It’s a feature that proved so popular that Google implemented it in Android 7.0 Nougat.
  4. App Overlay – It’s an extension of the split screen apps, but it’s nice to be able to drag an app down to the lower right corner of the screen and keep it on top of another app. In fact, I used this recently when I was taking photos at Costco – I had the gallery open with reference pictures and then had the camera in the background so I could do the updates to those photos.
  5. Screen Mirroring – Admittedly, this was helped greatly by buying a Samsung TV (on the down money, thanks Cash Bonanza!), but since I already had a Chromecast, I was able to mirror my screen from day one out of the box. Apple? It’s not an Apple TV, so bugger off! We don’t play with other companies’ devices!

What do I miss from the iPhone?

Admittedly not much. If there was anything that was a convenience item it was something that I was reminded of while in Australia – since my iPhone and iPad are on the same iTunes account, I could remotely activate the personal hotspot on my iPhone just by going into the settings app in the iPad and turning it on. With that said, the iPhone doesn’t give you the option to (in case you may have let your password slip and not know it) restrict connections only to authorized devices

I even said that there were two apps that I used on my iPhone that I was not sure I could live without on Android – Solebon and Overcast. Well, the Overcast problem was solved with a quick search of Google Play, where I found Podcast & Radio Addict – it gives me the same feature that I loved about Overcast, plus more speed options (ever listen to a podcast at 3.0x speed…it’s difficult to follow!!), as well as support for streaming podcasts and radio stations. Oh, and it lets you search the iTunes directory…all for free (or if you want ad free, it’s like $2)

Solebon? It turns out that wasn’t an app I used all that often – I did download it when they launched an Android version, but I think there’s dust on the icon, even though it is on my home screen! 🙂

The $100 Question

Or, Sephy has money he can’t decide what to do with!

For the purpose of this post, I’ll just cut right to the chase (and will mention more about this shortly) – The robots won out over the fruit (And I really think that I made the right decision for a long number of reasons).

One of the first things that I activated on my new phone – the Galaxy S6, for those keeping score I did buy the more expensive of the two phones I was looking at – was the Samsung Pay feature, which links very nicely to one of my two cards that I carry in my wallet for payments…this one just happens to be the one linked to my Costco membership, but that’s immaterial to this discussion.

It was after then that, while watching TV, I saw an ad for Samsung Pay with a tempting offer – sign up and use Samsung Pay by a certain date and get $100 to use at samsung.com. So, I signed up –

sammydeal1

To be perfectly honest, I was sort of expecting that since I had already activated my card as part of Samsung Pay prior to enroling in this offer, I would be turned down. However, this email came in on the 9th –

sammydeal2

Which leads to my conundrum. I have $100 to spend at samsung.com, but there’s so much to choose from to decide what I want to use it on. For starters, I could choose to use it towards accessories for my phone, for example, a simple case or even a wireless charger (which would not be the most useful since I have a power pack and can do a charge from there, plus the charger in my car which will charge the phone as fast as the fast charger). There are even other headsets that I can buy such as the Samsung bluetooth headset that is out there, but I am not a fan of bluetooth headsets due to the delay that you get when you are playing audio through bluetooth.

But then, I started thinking…there are other things than accessories to buy from Samsung…there are TVs, Blu-Ray Players, Tablets (which I don’t need since I just bought an iPad in the last year), and even cameras. You can even buy refurbished goods for a good deal – for example, this camera is only $130 (or $30 after my discount code).

What I have to look at, though, is what do I really want and what do I need? I have had my TV set for 6 years and it has a bit of a unique “feature” in that part of the screen will frequently discolor itself making the right quarter of the screen viewable – it’s a feature that I’ve dealt with for quite some time now.

Interestingly, I’ve had my camera for about 6 months less – it’s gone tens of thousands of miles with me via road, sea, air and rail

I do have until the 31st to decide what to do with this $100, but still haven’t decided how to use it. Feel free to leave a comment with maybe a suggestion on how to spend the money 🙂

Fruit vs. Robotics

13467490375_a614990236_zSamsung Galaxy S5 vs Apple iPhone 5 by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

I have been the owner or user of various Apple hardware for around 8 or so years now. The first one was an iPod nano. Sure, it was small (4GB), but it was an introduction into the world of Apple hardware.

When the iPhone first came out, I wasn’t sure about it, but oddly, there was a feature that I loved about it, how it would make the numbers look correct when you entered an international number. But it wasn’t until it was mentioned to me that the iPhone was a thing of awesome that I decided to jump ahead in Apple technology. To the iPod Touch, which I still have and it still works. 🙂

Moving ahead to July, 2010 and I decided that it was time to get a proper mobile phone after 5-1/2 years of using various flip phones, so I bought the iPhone 3GS (a decision made on the merits of cost, since it was half the price of the iPhone 4 at that time, plus I had to pay a $125 deposit to the mobile phone company). I put tons of miles on that phone – it went with me to Michigan, almost to Canada, Australia, Hawaii and at least once down to Illinois.

I also picked up an iPad 2 in 2012 for free (thanks to my work’s rewards program!), which has been passed along to my mom for her to use. The reason? I bought myself an iPad Air earlier this year (thanks to a combination of Costco rewards and gift cards from work). 🙂

In 2013, I had to give up on the phone (despite it having lost the ability to make noise some months earlier and the vibration function had totally given up!). Why did I give up on the phone? There was an incident…

brokephone - 1

I think that’s a good enough reason 😉

Well, that and the offer I got from Best Buy just about the same time – buy a new iPhone 5 online and get $50 back. I’ll just leave it here to say that the ordering of the phone and the actual retrieving of said phone were two different things. The email said that it shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. It took more like 2 days, and two different trips to Mayfair Mall to get the new phone.

I was so shocked at how fast the phone was right out of the box! Not only was it an improvement of three generations of phones (having skipped over the 4 and 4S), I had access to the LTE Network for AT&T, which gave a speed test result of something like 2x as fast as my home wifi!

Now that my iPhone 5 (well the new iPhone 5 that I just got a couple of weekends ago due to another incident not related to dropping it on concrete…check this one out –

brokephone2 - 1

Yeah, that doesn’t look right, so I googled and found out that this is related to a battery bulging problem, and Apple are replacing the phones if it’s confirmed to be the case. So, a trip to the Apple Store later and a visit to the Genius bar (which they didn’t seem too much like geniuses considering that they were having issues removing covers from iPhone 6S Plusses ;)), they told me that I would get a new phone, but I’d have to wait…on the Saturday it was ready and I picked it up. 🙂

The other side

So, let’s go on a parallel track; let’s say a parallel world where there were no Apple products. Such a world exists and I’ve dabbled in that world a couple of times. The first was when I was in Australia…it was a gift for my trip back to the ‘States, and the expectation was set that there were some issues with it – Wifi didn’t work, and it was very wonky, especially when it came to powering on and off. The latter was certainly true, but to all of our surprise, the wifi did work on it 🙂 You can check out this tablet (prior to it having been upgraded to a proper version of Android) –

Unfortunately, the wonkiness of the tablet led to it falling into disuse after a short while since it would stop holding a charge, which was disappointing, because it was quite handy to me for reading at night. Its only downsides were that it was not terribly portable (mostly due to not being able to hold the charge) and that the screen wasn’t very responsive to my touching at all.

So that led me to actually go out and buy a Nextbook 7S tablet from Big Lots. This was a small improvement over the original tablet in that it did work…at first, but I still had issues with the tablet. Namely, the fact that since the touchscreen was resistive, you had to press really hard on the screen for it to respond. That is, when the screen actually would recognise your inputs as it would constantly lose its calibration, and even when pressing the calibration targets, you would have to do it numerous times to work correctly.

That was a major component of the decision to pick up the iPad since I had already had my iPhone for 2 years at that time and was accustomed to the ease of use of the Apple Products.

Where to from here?

If you read this far, you’d think that I am completely against Android products due to poor experiences with previous products. For a while, that was right, but as time has moved along, I’ve seen how things are going with Android – especially with the products from Samsung.

No doubt this is influenced by the fact that I have heard nothing but good things about Samsung phones and tablets from Snoskred (since it was her who told me about the awesomeness of the iPhone in the first place), who came to me as a surprise having bought a Galaxy phone about 2 years ago. I will note here that I was at first disappointed because of losing some communication functionality, but that was quickly resolved with a link to KakaoTalk and Google Hangouts.

So, it led me to thinking – what services or apps are there that I use which are iPhone only, and I came up with only two so far –

  1. Overcast – This has become my podcast player of choice since hearing about it on the Hello Internet podcast. The major reason that I use if is its feature called “Smart Speed” – where it will cut out the silences in a podcast. Since installation, it’s saved me somewhere over 15 hours of time in listening to podcasts. As far as I know, there isn’t anything similar on Android (though this can be compensated for by going with a faster playback, like 1.25x speed)
  2. Solebon Solitaire – This is one of the few games that I play on my iPhone right now, and it’s not available on Android. However, there are plenty of other solitaire options available on Google Play, so I’m sure that I could find one to suit me 😉 

There was a third one, the OlloClip, but as it turns out, they are making units for the Galaxy range as well – at least for the S4 and the S5

Yes, I did just get a “new” iPhone, but let’s face it…this is a phone that is using three-year-old technology. I’ve found it being quite finicky in its use lately (e.g. when I’m swiping pages, it will stick sometimes, plus I have quite a few crashes…not to mention the issues that I have with Chrome). For me, it’s about time for an upgrade…so I looked more at the options.

In comparing the iPhone 6S ($199.00 on contract–don’t get me started on these “pay as you go” plans like AT&T’s Next), the Samsung Galaxy S5 ($0) and Galaxy S6 ($129.99) objectively (i.e. not looking at the software), I get this list of advantages for the iPhone (even if you look at the 6S plus which is $100 more) –

……………….

None, really. Consider this – the base model of the S6, despite being $70 cheaper (just the same off contract…$649 for the iPhone vs $584 for the S6) has twice the storage, 1.5x the RAM, better display (1440p vs just over 720p in a similar sized frame, 1080p for the 6S plus), better camera…oh, and it’s lighter (it’s almost lighter than air! I checked one out at my local Best Buy the other day…it was quite an amazing feeling!).

There’s also the OnePlus X that’s being released this month at $249 unlocked without contract, which I like since it’s a one-and-done transaction–just buy it, activate it on the AT&T Network (even just plug the SIM card and MicroSD in and go). Bizarrely, this phone actually has an FM radio included in it which piques my interest 🙂

So, the real question is, with the variety of phones out there that have better specs than the iPhone, why not switch? I already use Google Music for my music, have Dropbox, Box, and multiple Google Drive accounts where I can store my photos (I don’t use iCloud’s photo stream…there was a small incident where I wound up using my data when it was uploading through my mobile hotspot) and with the exception of the two apps above (and the Olloclip), everything else that I use is available on Android…

All I’ll say is I’m watching for deals, and watch this space.. 😉

How To: Use TunnelBear

bear

Living in the US, I have access to pretty much any TV program that I want to get. At least, those that are aired here. There are lots of programs that air overseas and never make it to the USA (for example, The Killing Season, an ABC series talking about Kevin Rudd’s time as Prime Minister), or if the come over here, get changed around (take The Slap, a fantastic ABC series which was re-made by NBC)

Naturally, there are ways that you can get these shows from slightly less legitimate sources, but that has risks of its own like viruses and potential legal issues. If you know what you’re doing, it’s a solution to get a copy to keep for all time if you so desire. You can also use these files on other devices, but it’s not as easy as some other solutions.

Enter TunnelBear. I first heard about it during the 2012 Olympics when it’s very easy to get frustrated with the host broadcaster here in the US – NBC – when they can’t even figure out how to show the ceremonies live. I used it in order to access the BBC broadcast of the closing ceremonies, as shown here, NBC with volleyball and the BBC with the closing ceremonies –

oly - 1

How does it work?

To save a whole long technical explanation, what TunnelBear does is tells a server that you’re located in another country, like I did above in the example of watching BBC One’s Olympics live while NBC is showing replays

A TunnelBear comes with initial access to up to 13 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. You’ll note that my initial example of the ABC, from Australia, is not included.

That’s because in order to access Australia, you do need to pay for your TunnelBear. It’s not very much to pay – US$5 per month, or $50 per year. By paying, you actually get unlimited data for that time period, and access to all 14 countries (which grew from just 2 back in 2012!)

So, how do you get started?

Go to the TunnelBear website, and click Download –

tb1

 

On the download page, select your flavour of operating system. TunnelBear is compatible with Windows Vista through 8.1; Mac OSX Snow Leopard v. 10.6.8 and higher; iOS 7 and higher; Android 4.01 Ice Cream Sandwich and higher; and, more recently, Google Chrome via Extension.

tb2

After downloading, you’ll go through the installer for Windows. For Mac, it’s a normal install of dragging into the Applications Folder. While installing in Windows, watch for the messages. They’re not your usual install messages 🙂

The first time you launch TunnelBear, you’ll be asked if you have an account or not.

tb3If you have an account, all you have to do is enter your username and password and go. For a New account, here is all you’re asked for –

tb4

Your first name, email, a password and your Twitter Username. You’ll need to verify your email address to use TunnelBear.c I’ll get back to the Twitter name in a moment. First, let’s take the quick tour:

tb5

Step 1; Select a country and turn on the TunnelBear

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Step 2: Use your browser as normal. The only difference is that you’re privately browsing from the country you chose in step 1!

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Step 3: If you wish, turn on Privacy and block trackers like Facebook Like plugins, etc. You’ll also be asked to give them a like on Facebook and a follow on Twitter. Do that if you wish to do so 🙂

This is what TunnelBear looks like when you have a basic account. Remember them asking for your Twitter username? Here’s why –

tb8

 

With a basic account, you only get 500MB of data which resets each month. You can go through that quickly. Very quickly, like maybe an hour of TV programs. If you send a tweet to the TunnelBear team, you get a free 1GB of data for the month. It’s a great solution for someone who is a light user – for example, only using TunnelBear to listen to BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra – whose programmes are mostly geoblocked due to rights restrictions.

tb9

 

Once you send your tweet, you will get an email confirming that they have received the tweet, and you’ll see the extra GB in your allowance.

What’s Next?

Well, now that you’ve got your bear up and running, with your 1.5GB of data after tweeting the worker bears, it’s time to get browsing. Watch the latest episode of Dragon’s Den on the BBC iPlayer. Maybe you want to El Hormiguero on Antena 3 from Spain, or The Mentalist on the French Netflix (don’t worry, it’s in English, just any text on-screen is in French).

IMG_1017

Really, it’s all up to you now!

There is one other feature to mention. It’s something that you get when you upgrade to a paid bear. It’s the IntelliBear.

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What the IntelliBear does is lets you set either a whitelist or a blacklist of sites – you can tunnel all sites (default), set up a list of sites which will be forced through TunnelBear (which is useful if your only purpose for TunnelBear is for one country, or for a work purpose, or set up a list to exclude from the bear.

As you can see I’ve excluded my site, Snoskred and Lumosity (a bit of a legacy from when I was having issues connecting). For the most part, the only reason I lock sites out of the bear is because if I change IPs, the site will boot me out sometimes. Otherwise, everything else goes through the bear. 🙂

Over to you…

Do you use TunnelBear or any other VPN-style service (Hola extension, VyprVPN, or DNS changes like UnblockUS)? to access content from other countries? Leave a comment to let everyone know what you’re using! 🙂

 

 

 

SIM Card Shuffle

simcard

For the past 5 years, I have been an owner of two iPhones – first was an iPhone 3GS which served me decently for about 2 and a half years until I dropped it onto a concrete sidewalk and the screen cracked. There were other issues with the phone as well, such as the phone not making any sounds and then losing any ability to vibrate.

As a result, I bought an iPhone 5 which came with a new 2-year contract. Literally on the day the contract was fulfilled, I applied to have the phone unlocked, and it was unlocked pretty much straight away.

unlocked

What can you do with an unlocked iPhone? Switch carriers and maybe save money. Am I dissatisfied with AT&T? Not at all. However, some carriers have great offers and do allow you to bring your own device to them and will sell you just the SIM card.

Currently, I pay around $87 per month for AT&T’s base voice plan – 450 minutes anytime (with rollover), 5000 night/weekend, 200 SMS and 5GB data with mobile hotspot. This pricing also includes a discount that I get with them through an affinity program with my job.

I’m all for saving as much money as possible, which is what I was thinking when I started to look into service with T-Mobile. At first, the offer looks really good –

tmobileplan

So, here’s a quick pro/con list of switching to T-Mobile –

  • Pros –
    • Including taxes, I’d save around $15-20 per month on my mobile service
    • 3GB plan includes hotspot
    • Data Stash – essentially rollover data. If you don’t use all 3GB in the month, what’s left over carries over for the next month.
    • No worries about overages – if I go over on data, my speed is throttled. Right now, if I use 5.0001 GB of data, AT&T will (as a courtesy) add $10 to my next month’s payment for the overage and give me a 6th gig of data to use.
    • International roaming – if I am in, let’s say, Australia, I have unlimited data through my T-Mobile SIM. No real need to buy a local SIM unless I want to have a local number for the time I’m there, or if I want to take advantage of a full-speed network
    • Unlimited Music Streaming – I have subscriptions for Google Music and SiriusXM radio. If I’m out and about, that can be a lot of data. With T-Mobile? No worries!
    • Upfront cost? $15 for the SIM card itself and I don’t need to buy a new phone or worry about a contract.
    • Unlimited talk and texts. I’m not a big phone user, nor do I send many text messages (literally my Messages App is 99% adverts from different stores like the local gas station who sends me coupons for $1 free petrol every week ;)), but this is something that is awesome to have the ability to do.
  • Cons –
    • Smaller network – if you compare the coverage maps of T-Mobile and AT&T, you’ll see that the TMO network has more gaps and less 4G LTE coverage. This isn’t a major issue since I don’t do a lot of travelling, but it’s worth noting
    • No LTE Coverage at my house – This is an interesting one since their coverage map says that yes, I can get LTE coverage, but there’s a caveat at the bottom –
      lte
      What they mean by newly-expanded 4G LTE is that you have to have a device capable of receiving signals in the 700MHz LTE Band 12. My iPhone 5 only supports bands 2, 4, 5 and 17, so there’s no LTE at my house.

If you look at this, the pros well outweigh the cons, and it’s a no-brainer to switch my phone service over to T-Mobile. Add to that the fact that based on their plans, I recommended we use their service to get Internet at my church since the cable company doesn’t get out that far and the phone company would only offer 3×1 service (which is just a little bit more than 10% of the download listed by the FCC as the minimum for broadband service, 25Mbps), so I bit the bullet and ordered the SIM for my phone as well as the hotspot for my church.

Hilariously, I didn’t get my SIM card as planned as the folks at UPS decided to deliver it not to my house, but to a business in the city. I thought it was weird that it was delivered at a “Dock”. Thankfully the UPS guy was able to ring his office and get it dispatched to me, with only a 4 day delay.

I get the SIM card and then I put it in my phone. After seeing the No SIM message, it says that it’s searching for service. I’m doing this in my living room, I should note. I’ve gotten decent coverage with AT&T – not 5 bars, but, as TMO put it, “satisfactory” coverage indoors. I was already a bit apprehensive on the coverage on my phone after the experience with the hotspot. So, it was no surprise for me to see this message –

noservice

I had to walk outside just to get a basic signal, and that didn’t even have data available, it was just a normal cell signal. Interestingly, there was the option for me to select a carrier –

carriers

But none of them would allow me to connect. This is because T-Mobile have it set up that if you are in an area where they have radio spectrum, you cannot connect with other cell companies. Thus, even though AT&T signal may be available at my house, I can’t use it because T-Mobile has wireless spectrum.

Then, I decided to take a kit along – a plastic bag, the SIM card and its holder and a “SIM extraction tool” – better known as a paperclip – with me to work. And that was where I learnt another lesson.

 

I tried making a call to one of my favourite test numbers (it’s an automated system so no actual people, and it’s a toll-free number). When I dialed, I noticed that the data coverage disappeared altogether. This is just not something that I am used to, since with AT&T while I’m on a call, I still have data. It may not be LTE speeds, but it’s still useable.

Now the pros and cons are a bit different. Of course, the main pros of the money saving and the rollover data and the international roaming options are there, but now the cons list is changed – NO service at my house, smaller network, no simultaneous data and voice.

I still have the SIM card on hand, but I am now to the point where I am going to return it back and say thanks, but no thanks, it’s not a good fit for me right now. 🙂