Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Nexus 7 first thoughts

Last week I took delivery of a Nexus 7 – the new tablet made by Asus for Google to show off the new version of their mobile operating system, Android.

There was quite a lot of buzz about the device, partially because it marks a new high in terms of build quality of Android tablets, but also because of the form factor. Rather than matching the size of the iPad, the Nexus 7, with it’s 7 inch screen, takes a slightly different road.

The other, potentially killer, feature of the Nexus 7 is its price point – about £160 for the cheaper 8gb model.

Anyway, I’ve been playing with it for a few days, and here are some early thoughts:

  • The size is really interesting. Definitely feels like a massive phone, rather than a tiny computer. It’s easy to carry around the house or office with you, making it more handy than an iPad, which I feel still remains a bit heavy
  • There’s no slot for a sim card, so no built in cellular data connection. Means you need to be near a wifi connection at all times. Not a problem for me as I have a portable 3g wifi thingy, and as I already pay for three different mobile data plans, I didn’t really want another. However, this may be an issue for those without.
  • No camera on the back, just a front facing one for video calls etc. People taking photos with a tablet look like doofuses so it isn’t really an issue, although I’ve always liked the idea of the iPad as a great all-in-one social reporting device – it’ll record video and audio, let you take photos etc; then edit them and upload them. Can’t do that with a Nexus 7.
  • Google Reader on this thing rocks! I love scanning through stuff, starring the interesting bits so they post to Twitter, saving others to read in more depth later. Again, the weight and form factor makes this a comfortable experience.
  • Surprised at how bad the official Google Drive (was Docs) app is – I had to buy QuickOffice to make editing Google documents a bit easier.
  • The Nexus 7 really does look exactly like a huge Galaxy Nexus phone (which is the smallest device in the photo above). Not a problem, although I do feel like a massive twerp owning both.
  • Playing games is easier on the Nexus 7 for me than the iPad, again because of the size and weight. I’m not a big game player, having no ability to concentrate for more than a minute at a time, so the little time waster games on the Nexus work quite well for me.
  • The Android store does feature apps like the excellent iAnnotate PDF which is a blessing for those who like to go paperless into meetings – and is a potential winner for councillors and indeed officers
  • However, there are apps that won’t run on the Nexus 7, for whatever reason.

So, overall? It’s not as good as the iPad. Android isn’t as nice as iOS, the build quality isn’t up to the same standard and the range of apps on iOS is still better.

However, the form factor is interesting and there are times when using the Nexus 7 is a better experience because of the size and weight.

The other thing though is the price. This thing is seriously good value. It puts very usable, high quality tablets at a very affordable price into the marketplace. For those that baulked at paying £400 or more for an iPad, the Nexus 7 could well be a very attractive option.

Galaxy Nexus

So, a couple of weeks ago I had an accident* and my iPhone broke for good. I needed a replacement, which gave me a good opportunity to assess the options.

It came down to the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus. I opted for the latter, for reasons I will explain. However, if someone were to ask me which is the best phone, I’d still say it’s the iPhone, hands down. But for my particular circumstances, the Nexus suited me.

So, why choose the Galaxy Nexus (GN from now on)? First of all, it’s the latest flagship phone from Google, designed to show off the Android platform at its best. It’s made by Samsung but to Google’s specification, and also features the latest version of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich, unadulterated by any other crud that carriers or manufacturers like to install on Android phones.

I’m a heavy Google user, we use it for Kind of Digital’s email and calendaring, etc, and the integration with Android is excellent. The Gmail app on the GN is far better than the iPhone’s default mail app (certainly if you are a Gmail user, anyway). As email is by far and away the most used app on my phone, this is pretty important!

One of the other considerations was cost. I generally prefer to pay for my phones up front rather than get a subsidised phone via contract. By getting an unlocked, sim-free phone, I can shop around and get a better deal for me. I usually manage to make this pay for itself within a year. I managed to get the GN for a smidgeon under £400 – which is considerably less than an new unlocked iPhone 4S would cost.

In terms of apps, the Android platform is still way behind the Apple ecosystem. The market place, now called ‘Google Play’ – perhaps because of the emergence of other market places for Android – is still full of junk, and it’s too hard to find the good stuff. Also quite a few cool apps just aren’t available for Android yet, which is a real shame.

However, for my needs, the main ones are all there. There’s a NatWest app for banking, a rail enquiries app, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, Remember the Milk for to do lists, and so on. Pretty much everything I really need is in there.

Some thoughts on having used the phone for a few days:

  • It’s *just* too big. My hand aches if I use it one handed for any length of time
  • It’s thin – but almost too thin. I do worry I might break it
  • It’s light – the iPhone 4 and 4S have real heft. Despite its size, you often forget the GN is in your pocket
  • It’s the best keyboard I’ve ever used on an Android device, by which I mean it’s actually possible to use it without going insane
  • It has a really useful widget on the home screen that lets me switch things like wifi, GPS and 3g on and off as I need them without having to mess around in the settings – dead handy
  • I need to figure out how to get my iTunes library onto it so I can stop carrying my iPod around too

Overall, I’d say that the iPhone is the best handset you can get right now. As much as I like my GN, it’s not as nice to use as an iPhone and it lacks the app ecosystem. However, for my personal circumstances – particularly my reliance on Google’s platform – the GN works pretty well and I’m happy enough with it.

Dan wrote up his views on his Galaxy Nexus on his blog.

* I threw it really hard at the floor after having failed to send a text for the 16th time. I can therefore categorically state that I am worse off financially due to being digitally excluded.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • cpsrenewal.ca by Nick Charney: Mapping Internal Policy to the Hype Cycle – "I've been thinking a lot this week about how organizations issue policies to govern the use of new and emerging technologies."
  • The BBC Micro can still teach us a lot – "The BBC Micro taught a generation of teenagers the joys of programming. It's time to re-engineer such a revolution"
  • Amazon v. Apple « LRB blog – "Readers might be revelling in the lower prices they find on Amazon, but if the books they’re buying are ever less worth reading, it doesn’t seem much of a bargain."
  • What is Dart? – O’Reilly Radar – "Dart [is] an open-source project that aims to enable developers to build more complex, highly performant apps for the modern web."
  • MIT App Inventor – "To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a professional developer. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app's behavior."

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Phones, phones, phones

To probably misquote Stephen Fry: “Was there ever a smartphone that I didn’t buy?”

As I posted a little while ago, I’m pretty happy with the Nexus One. Android is a nice, feature rich, open operating system, and the hardware isn’t bad. However, the one major drawback is the keyboard, which is at times incredibly frustrating.

As well as the Nexus One, at home I have an iPhone 3gs and a Blackberry Bold 9700. Each has its ups and downs, and I thought it might be worthwhile writing them up here. It would be great to hear what others think in the comments, too!

Google/HTC Nexus One

Nexus One

Pros:

  • Integrates beautifully with both Google and third party services
  • Email application is a delight
  • Decent browser
  • Plugs straight into a computer to manage files etc – no messing about with iTunes or other software

Cons:

  • Touchscreen not always brilliant, and the keyboard can be appalling at times
  • Not as many high quality apps as the iPhone
  • Hardly any games

Apple iPhone 3gs

Pros:

  • Lovely user experience
  • Great on screen keyboard
  • Mail application is OK
  • Web browser is excellent
  • Lots of great apps

Cons:

  • Lack of sharing options – eg with photos etc
  • Reliance on iTunes
  • Not great as a phone

Blackberry Bold 9700

Pros:

  • Physical keyboard is great
  • Small and light
  • Phone is very reliable

Cons:

  • Mail application is surprisingly rubbish
  • Doesn’t really work at all well with Gmail (whether consumer or enterprise editions)
  • Terrible web browser
  • Few apps

So there we are. The iPhone is probably overall the best, but because of my reliance on Google, I’ll stick with the Nexus One for now.

Perhaps the way forward would be an Android phone with a physical Blackberry-like keyboard?

Android thoughts

So, I was lucky enough to be given a Nexus One by my wonderful employers a few weeks ago, to have a play with and possibly replace my iPhone (3gs) if I liked it. I thought perhaps folk reading this blog would be interested to hear how I’m getting on with it.

Nexus One

Well, the short answer is that I really like it.

Here’s the longer answer:

The Nexus One uses the Android operating system, which is developed by Google, and is a competitor to the iOS of the iPhone and the Blackberry OS, which appears on, yes, Blackberries. Instead of being limited to one company’s hardware, though, Android is open and can be used by any manufacturer.

Here’s a video about the latest version of Android:

This has led to Android being described as a more open system that, say, iOS and this is backed up by the open source nature of Android, based as it is on Linux. The Nexus One is a bit different though, as it is made by HTC, but is to Google’s specification. This has a number of advantages: you get operating system upgrades before anyone else, and the phone is free of any of the crud often automatically installed by carriers and manufacturers. It also means you can stick any sim card you like into it and it should work fine.

Android is therefore often compared with Windows in the 90s, on desktop computers. Apple’s MacOS was only available Apple computers and was tied to the hardware, resulting is a very high user experience but limited sales. Microsoft’s Windows, on the other hand, could be installed on any computer running on an Intel processor, and so was significantly more popular as a result of its portability.

This openness has a number of effects, some good, some not so good. One is that the Android app store doesn’t have the same rigorous checking regime that exists for the iPhone, which means it is easier to get apps listed in the store, but that inevitably brings down the quality somewhat. Indeed, Google are so keen for people to develop for the Android platform that they are making available the Android App Inventor – a drag and drop authoring tool for mobile apps (this reminds me a great deal of the Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit on the Commodore 64, but I digress).

Another form of openness is the way the phone integrates with other services. On an iPhone, when you choose to share a photo, you can usually just email it somewhere, or upload it to Apple’s MobileMe service. Choose the share option on the Nexus One, though, and you can email it, or send it to a service like Twitter or Facebook. It also knows if you have installed apps, so on my setup the options to share to Evernote and WordPress are also available. This is in addition to Google’s own services like Picasa and Goggles.

In a similar vein, external service are integrated to your contacts – so I can, if I choose to, add all my Facebook contacts to my phone, where they are added to existing contacts where possible. This is a nice touch, so for instance all my contacts with whom I am also Facebook friends have their Facebook profile picture added to their listing. I can also access people’s Twitter and Facebook pages straight from their contact listing, which is handy.

The camera is a 5 megapixel one, with a flash, and it seems to take excellent photos, as I found on my recent trip to Ireland:

Ireland photo

As someone who uses a lot of Google services, not least email, one thing that works as brilliantly as you would imagine it would is the integration with Google stuff. The native email application is a joy to use, and various other Google services have their own apps, or just work extremely well in the browser.

Battery life is pretty good, slightly better than my iPhone 3gs but with things like wifi, 3g and gps turned on all the time.

The downside is mainly the touchscreen, which simply isn’t up to the standard I have come to expect with the iPhone. It’s not as responsive, and typing on it can be tricky. I’ve no doubt I’ll get used to it in time, but for switchers it’s an obvious thing.

So for now I’m sticking with the Nexus One. I’ve had a quick play with an iPhone 4 and didn’t see enough in it to make me want to switch. The Android platform may not be as polished at iOS, but it appeals to my tinkering nature and I’ll forgive some of the user experience let downs for having better control over my phone.

Bookmarks for August 5th through August 11th

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I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for July 11th through July 16th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • How to work with online communities at Helpful Technology – "But there are many other ways to build relationships, and lots more experience to share. To help explore this further, I’m helping to convene Meet The Communities, a free, one-off event probably in Central London during September, bringing together some of the leading online communities with the government clients, PR & digital agencies for an afternoon of storytelling and speednetworking."
  • App Inventor and the culture wars – O’Reilly Radar – "Creativity–whether the creativity of others or your own–is what makes life worthwhile, and enabling creativity is a heroic act. Google has built a culture around enabling others' creativity, and that's worth celebrating. "
  • The Big Society – the evidence base – "Building on David Kane’s blog-post on the numbers behind the Big Society, the NCVO research team is keen to explore in greater depth the evidence behind this important policy agenda which emphasises the need to transform the relationship between citizens and the state."
  • Should Governments Develop iPhone Apps? – "No, governments should not develop iPhone apps, the community should."
  • Why Google Cannot Build Social Applications – "With Google applications we return to the app to do something specific and then go on to something else, whereas great social applications are designed to lure us back and make us never want to leave."
  • WordPress Plugins to Reduce Load-time : Performancing – Doubt my blog will ever run into performance problems due to traffic, but some interesting stuff here nonetheless.
  • BBC – dot.Rory: Martha’s manifesto – "But it's hard to see how the pledge of universal web access for the UK workforce – which may well be backed by the prime minister later today – can be fulfilled without some government money."
  • UK Government Goes Social for Budget Cuts: Do Not Hold Your Breath – "Once again, this is the unavoidable asymmetry of government 2.0 in action: it is easier (and certainly more pressworthy) to call for ideas on channels that government controls, rather than to gather them where they already are."
  • How Local Government can do Facebook « The Dan Slee Blog – Great roundup and hints and tips from Dan.
  • CycleStreets: UK-wide Cycle Journey Planner and Photomap – "CycleStreets is a UK-wide cycle journey planner system, which lets you plan routes from A to B by bike. It is designed by cyclists, for cyclists, and caters for the needs of both confident and less confident cyclists."

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for July 3rd through July 7th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.