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Change your launcher, change your life

Update: I’ve since found that Slim Launcher also does a great job!


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.

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