Tag: Android

Change your launcher, change your life

There’s been an undeniable push recently to re-balance our relationship with our digital devices. Willpower alone doesn’t do it, which is why Apple and Google have introduced features into the latest versions of iOS and Android, respectively, for you to ‘take control’ of your smartphone addiction.

I’m just like everyone else in this regard, except probably more so given that I work in tech and I work from home. My ‘work’ is located everywhere I have a connection.

Light Android Launcher

Recently, after reading about The Light Phone (“designed to be used as little as possible), I mused on the fact that there’s got to be a better solution to device addiction than literally buying another device.

That’s why I had a look both at the F-Droid and Google Play marketplaces for minimalist launchers. I discovered LessPhone and Light Android Launcher. Of the two, I prefer the latter, as it’s both Open Source, and more aesthetically pleasing.

So, for the last few weeks, I’ve been using my usual launcher (the excellent, Open Source, KISS) on weekdays, and Light Android Launcher at the weekends. It’s been great. My most important apps are right there on the home screen, and I can swipe up for the full list. The whole thing is black and white with no icons, so I have to be intentional about what I do on my device at the weekend.

Try it! You might like it.


Sincere apologies to iPhone users: you’re stuck with the launcher mandated by Cupertino. You can’t customise your home screen.

Why a ‘mixed economy’ of digital devices is best for your educational institution.

lisa's scissors

Earlier today, on Twitter, I mentioned that the 64GB version of the BlackBerry Playbook is now at the scandalously low price of £129. They’re practically giving it away.

I mentioned that for some educational institutions that would be a really good fit, especially given that you can side-load Android apps. Eventually, I should imagine, you’ll be able to dispose of the BlackBerry OS altogether and juse go with Android for the entire system.

Bill Lord, a Primary school headteacher, replied that he was looking at a ‘mixed economy’ of devices for his educational institution, adding that he had three main reasons for this approach:

  1. Pupil needs
  2. Staff needs (confidence/competence)
  3. Vagaries of the market

I’m with Bill. To my mind, being an ‘iPad-only’ school makes no sense. It’s replicating the Microsoft vendor lock-in all over again. Since when was school about teaching young people how to use particular types of devices?

Instead, it’s better to look at the affordances of each device. That doesn’t mean how much it costs, but rather what it allows you to do. The BlackBerry Playbook at £129, for example, has front and rear-facing cameras and a high-definition screen. Sounds like an opportunity.

It’s OK to build learning activities around specific devices some of the time, but I wouldn’t want to be doing it all of the time. Why not focus on building and using things that are device-agnostic? Surely that’s a more sustainable option? Use the Web, for goodness’ sake!

Finally, if you’re reading this in the UK you should really stop by HotUKDeals every now and again. I’m on there at least three times a day – and not just to find cheaper stuff than usual. I also find it really enlightening in terms of what people are interested in but, more importantly, the comments people leave and the context they give. There’s some serious expertise there.

Image CC BY-NC reebob

A few brief thoughts on the Google Nexus 7. [REVIEW]

Google Nexus 7

I don’t know about you, but it’s the things I expect to be awesome with which I end up being most disappointed. Unrealistic expectations, I suppose.

A case in point would be the Asus Eee Pad Transformer that I bought last October ostensibly as my ‘conference device’. On paper, it’s got everything you would ever want: hi-res touchscreen, gargantuan battery life, relatively lightweight, lots of ports. But it didn’t quite cut it for me. I can’t quite explain why.

I’ve already bought its replacement, a Google Nexus 7. I was very tempted to buy another iPad (our family already has one, used mostly by our five year-old son for his blog) but former JISC colleague Zak Mensah showed me his Nexus 7 when we met up recently. I’d heard nothing but good things about it online, but was sceptical.

(It’s funny how I didn’t need a tablet device a couple of years ago whereas now I feel like I require something to read things from my Pocket account, etc.)

So I’ve had my Nexus 7 for about about three weeks now. I wish it had a rear-facing camera for sharing photos and videos on  Path. I wish it had 3G, or at least the ability to tether to ad-hoc networks like my phone. But other than that, I’ve no complaints. The screen is fantastic. And it’s fast. Really fast. Like, haven’t-yet-experienced-any-lag fast. Android apps make sense on it. And it was fairly cheap – the 16GB version is £199.

We’re in a post-technical specifications era, I reckon. Seriously, the toss I could not give as to which processor and how much memory this thing has. So long as it’s quick enough, can store enough of my stuff, and is ‘open’ enough for me, that’s fine. I’m interested in what I can do with it.

I’ve been using my Nexus 7 mainly for the following:

  • Email – it’s great for a heads-up on stuff or to fire off quick replies
  • Social networking – Twitter and Google+
  • Reading – usually the Pocket, Zite, Feedly and Kindle apps
  • Listening – audiobooks through Audible and music via Last.fm, Soma.fm and Spotify
  • PlayingFootball Manager 2012 (need I say more?), Minecraft  – and a few others
  • Messing about – the camera icon isn’t present by default, but you can activate it (complete with big nose / small eyes / other effects!)

In future I’ll be using additional apps on it such as Evernote and Astrid, but it’s still early days. The Nexus 7 is so small and light that it’s a no-brainer to take it with me almost everywhere I go. Android feels like a viable platform – which has made me re-think sticking with my Maemo-powered Nokia N9 mobile phone. To be honest, it could be going the way of my Eee Pad Transformer before long…

So overall, I’m pleasantly surprised with my Google Nexus 7. I had fairly middling expectations from it and it’s far surpassed them. It’s not perfect, but it’s meant that most days I don’t bother borrowing the family iPad!

And finally, given that some people will inevitably ask me about their use in schools, I think these kind of devices make much more sense than iPads for the classroom. Why? They use an operating system that isn’t device-specific. They’re cheaper. They don’t take up as much of the desk or other surface. And they’re less shiny.

Have YOU got a Google Nexus 7? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to create searchable notes from books using Evernote and your smartphone.

Taking photos of books with Evernote on iOS

Note: This is an update to a previous post.

During the summer holidays before I headed to university I worked in a secondhand bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford. And then, to help support myself during my MA in Modern History I worked in Waterstones bookshop in Newcastle. I love books.

But, despite my affection for the printed word, I still prefer, on balance, reading on my Kindle. One of the main reasons for this is the ease by which I can highlight sections of text (non-destructively) which are then available at kindle.amazon.com.

Whilst I’m waiting for everything that’s ever been written to be digitised I need a solution for physical books that is:

  • Quick
  • Accurate
  • Citable

I think I’ve got that with the following system. Here’s what to do.

The Basics

  1. Sign up to Evernote. You can experiment with a free account but, like me, you’ll no doubt go Premium for the added data storage/transfer and functionality.
  2. Install the Evernote app both on your computer and your smartphone (I’m using the iOS version)
  3. When you start reading a new book, create a new notebook for it and take a photo of the front of the book. Title this first note something like Author (Date of publication) – Title, Place of publication: Publisher
  4. Every time you come across something you want to make a note on, take a photo of the text. Add any comments or thoughts you have and title it something like Author – page number(s)

After syncing, Evernote provides OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on the text of images, so you could stop here as you’ve now got searchable notes from books (as promised in the title). However, I’ve gone one step further.

Going Further

Now that the notes you want are in Evernote, it’s time to tidy them up and make the text copy-and-pasteable. Here’s what to do after carrying out steps 1-4 above:

  1. Create a Book Clippings notebook
  2. Sort the notes in the notebook to make ensure the note with the front cover is at the top
  3. Select all of the notes, click on ‘Note’ in the top menu and then select Merge Notes
  4. Type out the text you want from each photograph underneath it. Add the page number in brackets afterwards and delete the photo and references.
  5. Repeat. Yes, this takes time.
  6. Drag your tidied-up note into the Book Clippings notebook.
  7. Start reading your next book.

Conclusion

I’ve found this an extremely effective way of getting searchable notes from physical books. As a bonus, you might want to try using Evernote’s Web Clipper to import your Kindle notes so that everything’s together in one place.

Have you tried this? Have you got a different system?

Hands-on with the Dell Streak.

So yes, I bought it, took it back and bought it again. But I’m keeping my Dell Streak now. It’s great. And this is my last post on mobile phones – well, this month anyway… 😀

Usually new mobile phones are known about well in advance of their launch. Everything from specs to early reviews are made available in order to create a buzz around the product. For example, a couple of years ago I was sent an LG Shine and encouraged (although not instructed) to take photos of it and blog about it. With the Dell Streak, however, apart from a great video at jkkmobile I stumbled across on the night before it was released in the UK, I’d heard nothing about it!

Full specs of the device can be found here, but the highlights are that it’s an Android tablet/smartphone hybrid with a 5″ screen. Yes, five inch! :-p

Let’s just get past the two (related) questions I’ve been asked most frequently over the last couple of weeks:

  1. Is it too big?
  2. Don’t you feel a bit stupid putting it to your ear to, you know, make phone calls?

My responses:

  1. It’s certainly on the upper limit of what counts as a phone size wise. Some, undoubtedly, will find it too big. But given that I tended to use my iPhone more for Twitter and other internet based activities than for phone calls, I don’t!
  2. It’s not Dom Joly size and I don’t really suffer from self esteem issues anyway. As for people who think that phones should only be able to make phone calls, get back in your cave please… 😉

Things I really like:

  • The whole experience and speed of the device makes it über-slick
  • Spotify, Dropbox and other official apps are better (to my mind) than their iPhone counterparts
  • The size of the screen makes everything… just better
  • It’s really quite thin
  • Several virtual desktops means you can organize your stuff
  • I don’t have to jail break it to set it up the way I want it
  • Widgets provide real-time updates
  • The camera is legendary and the in-phone editing functions are actually useful
  • It’s got a ‘gorilla glass’ screen – check out this video showing it being torture-tested!

Things I’m not so keen on:

  • The placement of headphone socket
  • Volume buttons alter up or down depending on orientation (confusing!)
  • You can’t delete things (e.g. emails) by swiping
  • It’s not running the latest version of Android (v1.6)
  • Proprietary power/ sync cable
  • Current lack of third party support (eg cases, speakers, other add ons)
  • The quality of sound recording when shooting video isn’t gerat

Stuff other reviews might not tell you:

  • As with the iPhone, music stops playing when you remove the headphones
  • Sometimes tasks don’t shut by themselves and drain your battery (a force close app is pretty much essential)
  • It’s not really possible to use the Streak with one hand whilst walking for texting, etc.
  • With Android apps you’ve got 24 hours to get a refund if you don’t like it or it didn’t perform as you expected
  • The power cable is similar to the iPhone’s in that the USB end plugs into the power cable

10 apps that are awesome on the Streak:

  1. Dropbox
  2. Fring (for Skype & instant messaging apps)
  3. Google Listen (podcasts through Google Reader)
  4. Handcent SMS (iPhone-like text messages)
  5. Opera Mini (web browser)
  6. Profiles (change between ‘Normal’, ‘Night’, ‘Outdoor’, etc.)
  7. Quick Addroid (add stuff to your Google Calendar quickly)
  8. Realplayer
  9. SlideScreen (really classy home screen replacement)
  10. Spotify

I’m happy to answer any questions you’ve got – including making another video, so ask away! 🙂

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