Tech

October 16, 2014

On moving to android and really liking it

Posted in: Tech
By: Peter Costello

search

Or…Seriously, let me tell you all about my phone.

This was something I began writing about 3 or 4 months ago when I switched from iPhone to android and never really got around to finishing. In a previous life, I used to watch mac rumours waiting for the next iPhone to drop, checking specs, reviews and features with fervour and if I was to say what the one main difference in my life after having made the switch to android is, it would be that I’ve lost interest in phones.

That said, there is possibly still some value in the words below, some of it may now be irrelevant as the iPhone 6/6+ and iOS8 have been released and the apple and android operating systems leapfrog each other constantly, however, there were things I wanted to know before I made the switch and I’m sure there are others out there googling the same information. So here goes…

Why I switched

iPhones are rad. No Doubt! But the thing is, I just wasn’t excited enough to warrant spending almost $1000 AUD to buy one outright (and I’m still not, the 6 hasn’t changed anything there). I’m not saying I wanted change for change sake but I did want a change and apart from an increase in performance, the screen was starting to feel a bit small, I really wasn’t excited about thumb scanner technology, I was pretty interested in the camera but not $1000.00 worth of interested. Android on the flip side was affordable, seemed to have matured somewhat to a certain extent, the unknown.

But was it really unknown

I am a Chrome user and I use a few google apps here and there, how different could it be? I basically live in chrome, I love it. It is by far and away the best browser out there. Safari got lost somewhere along the way, firefox is a pig there just isn’t anything else going on for mac users really.

Anyway… Like I said, I live in Chrome and it’s this that has been the nicest surprise of moving to android. It’s that the phone knows what Im doing at work, at home and on the phone and does a pretty good job at putting it into the right context at the right time. It’s this kind of tech that makes me think, wearables might actually work. Not Glass! But you know, maybe the watches or maybe even a more holistic internet of things. There is a lot to like about android and also a few disappointing things too. Below are some of the things I have enjoyed and some others that I have found frustrating.

Some of the things that I’ve really liked so far…

Google Now

This feels like it’s just getting started but has the potential to be really awesome, like minority report awesome without the lame blue glass interface. In short, the phone and Chrome learn about me, my interests, where I’m going, at what time, etc. etc. and serve up topical information where appropriate. I could worry about the phone knowing too much about me, it clearly reads my mail, but then it presents what it knows in such a way that is useful and accompanies it with even more useful information.

For example, I recently travelled abroad on business, Google now saw the ticket in my email, at an appropriate time reminded me of flight details, provided weather reports for my destination, Placed a currency converter on the Now page, reminded me of the time at home, pointed me to interesting places while I was away (This was average at best, but can only really get better). I think it even gave me a translator panel on the “Now” panel. In short, it was awesome!

Search Everywhere

Kind obvious being an operating system made by a search giant but having the ever present search bar is great. Not only is it a web search but also works as an app launcher akin to alfred, which is another app I love on the mac, and suits my user style perfectly you should totally check it out and spring the 15 quid for a licence.

Sharing

Share anything from anywhere. This I really like, It’s not just sharing to your Facebook or whatever but sharing to email, tweet, saving to evernote or pocket or instagram add it to your to do list or just copy it to your clipboard. It’s all baked in. What ever service you’re rocking, you can pretty much share to them. Really, really handy and well executed.

The Keyboard

Oh my god the keyboard! Why isn’t apple doing the gesture type thing?(Correction, I understand that this is now something you can do on iOS8 although I couldn’t work it out when I had a quick play with one in store) At first I thought it was clunky and a nerd gimmick but after a few hours of dragging my finger around the keyboard, actually typing seems so arduous. Silly almost. (after a couple of months, it’s not silly almost, but most definitely ridiculous!)

Universal Back Button

It sounds really obvious but a back button is just the tits. The fact that I can click a link in an email or twitter or wherever, go to a website or app, click around and then hit back a couple of times to get back to where I was, be it in the same or a different app is awesome. I know I can do this with multi tasking or whatever but hitting back feels more natural. I’m all for progress and learning new patterns but I still like the good old back button.

Widgets

When I was on iPhone, I remember wanting a 1 button way of turning on my personal hotspot rather than having to dig through the phones settings in order to find the switch. One of the nice things in android (for nerds at least) is the ability to shortcut to specific settings or a particular email folder from your home screen. These are called widgets, there’s loads of them, most of them I don’t really use but the settings and mail short cuts are awesome. As is the Settings widget for screen wifi GPS, etc.

I believe that this was also introduced with iOS8 but I haven’t yet had a chance to look at it.

Automation (or getting the phone to think for me).

Battery life is a bit of an issue on Android which is definitely a con but there are a couple of things you can do. The settings widget mentioned above is a great way to quickly turn WIFI, Bluetooth and Location Services on or off as well as turning the screen brightness down to save power, but you can also have your phone listen for when your battery hits a certain level and automatically turn all those battery chugging services off. I use an app called agent to do this for me.

I also run a couple of other tasks throughout the Agent app. I Turn my Wifi and mobile data on and off when I arrive and leave various destinations, Send auto responds to text messages and phone calls while I’m driving. Best of all though, when I get to the office, it turns the volume on my phone ringer up to full so I don’t miss any important calls (from my boss).

Things that still kinda suck about Android

Calendar syncing

To be honest, this isn’t really an android thing. It’s a calendar thing and it’s rubbish! Why, in 2014, is a calendar format not universal?

Google, Microsoft, Apple pull your fingers out. People work on one system and live on another or deal with people who do and need to make appointments with those people and it makes sense for those appointments show up at work and at home and on your phone This is totally a first world problem. But it just shouldn’t be an issue.

I recently installed Sunrise Calendar, for android and so far it seems like it might be pretty good, but it’s still not as easy as I want it to be. Time will tell.

Some of the Apps

The android ecosystem is growing at an exponential rate and the quality of apps is getting better all the time but overall, the quality of apps is not of as high a standard as those on iOS. There are a lot of apps that are sort of at the same level as those on the “app store” about 5 years ago.

It’s changing but something I noticed while going through some of my app purchases on an old iPhone recently. While I was blown away at how small the screen was, the thing that I really noticed was “Man these apps are really awesome. That said, I do now spend a lot less on apps☺

Finally on Apps is that coming from iPhone, there are a lot of apps,#TextExpander#1password#Things#ByWord, I’m talking to you, that simply haven’t got an android version. I have found a replacement for things and byword but text expander I’m lost without, I’m sure there are a number of reasons why certain apps don’t port but I feel like in 2014, we should really be platform independent. I don’t want to go through another whole mac windows thing. I just want to make cool stuff.

To wrap it up, I like android, I like it a lot! I also like iOS, they both have really strong points and features, etc. but after having played with an iPhone 6 and 6+ in an apple store, I’m still not excited by it as a device, that said, I’m also not excited by any of the new android handsets. I have a nexus 5, it does pretty much everything I need it to and that’s about it. I hope something in this long winded ramble is of use to someone out there.

If asked for my advice… if you’re not totally married to iOS (and I was) and you’re thinking about giving android a go, you should. It’s good! After a week or so I don’t think you’ll look back. It is worth noting that my experience of android is entirely though the use of a Nexus 5 and I can’t speak for other handsets. So you know, at your own peril and all that.

Thanks for reading☺

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April 14, 2013

Awesome Apps: Endless Alphabet

Posted in: Tech / Things to do
By: Peter Costello

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I saw a post over at artchoo (which is a pretty rad blog you should totally check out) the other day about their two favourite ABC Apps. We’ve mentioned before that we have a a bunch of kids apps, one of the more recent additions is Endless Alphabet which Jeanette mentions in her post.

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We’ve been playing with it for a few weeks and we too think it’s AWESOME! It’s a beautifully finished piece of learning. The illustrations, characters and tone are all really cute and at times quite funny. The letter sounds they make have real personality and seem to really reinforce the letter. I guess by giving the letter a character there is some extra form of retention? Not sure but it seems to be working.

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Best of all though is that the three year-old’s grasp of letters has just gone gang busters. He needs some guidance when playing with the app as he can get a bit carried away, but when he focuses, he really takes it in. We’ve even started using the same method of talking about letters when working on our alphabet without the app.

What letter makes an Rrrr Rrrr Rrrr sound?

It’s really catching on, we can now even play a halfway decent game of eye spy, we still need clues, but the game is actually getting pretty fun.

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Anyway, I’m not a teacher but I can definitely recommend this app if you’re looking for something to learn / play with letters on. Also, I’m in no way affiliated with the makers of this app and not being paid to say this. I just think it’s awesome.

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February 2, 2013

Five kids apps we totally rock on!

Posted in: Tech / Uncategorized
By: Peter Costello

Apps are rad! Yes, I want the boys out climbing trees, but I love this stuff and I think there’s actually a lot of good in it for them too. So I thought I’d put down five of our favourite apps. They all have educational content and are crazy fun, so strap yourself in cause its gonna get all digital up in here.

Robot lab by Toca Boca

robot lab
This one’s rad and hasn’t gotten the littlest bit tired in the 12 months plus that the boys have been playing with it.

The boys love making their own robots, it’s a bit tricky to fly for the little one so the three year-old will help out for that bit. It looks beautiful, works great and there seems to be no end to the robots you can make. I’m sure there’s something I could say about fine motor skills but that’s going to be the case for most everything here:)

It’s by Toca Boca (So you know it’s good!) and is $2.99 and worth every penny.

Count the animals

Count the animals
This is another beautifully crafted app. This time counting from one to twenty. We got the free version of this one day at a café and then ended up buying the full version because of a cleverly placed advert on the final screen.

It’s quite humorous, some of it toilet humor (be warned) and the boys love it. It can get a bit tricky for the fingers on some of the screens as the things to count can get pretty small.

It’s created by appracadabra (See what they did there?) and will cost you $3.99

Lego® Duplo® Zoo

Lego Duplo Zoo
I’ll be honest, I really didn’t like this at first, it’s a branded property and I was all on my high horse about branded content and advertising, rah, rah, rah. (Full disclosure, I work in digital advertising. I know, I know). But then, I realised, that it’s Lego, and Lego is totally rad. It’s one of my favorite toys, let alone the boys, so I got on board. That and the fact that its got a pretty cute story and the little men LOVE it!

Yup, it’s by Lego® and its free. (If by “free” you can accept that it’s branded content)

Monkey preschool lunch box

Monkey lunch box
O.K. This is a new one for us. It’s pretty cute and super educational. This is one that we play with together because it’s possibly a little more educational than we’re used to. It’s very cool though watching him learn while we’re using it.

On the down side, this one doesn’t have quite the same level polish as some of the others. The voice over is a little too high speed, in fact the whole things feels a little too fast and can be tricky for the three year-old to keep up with. Hence playing it together. Also the audio is a little bit mashed together, sort of like an automated phone system.

But… The older lad is learning while using it, he’s having fun doing it and it was 99 cents.

This one’s by THUP Games and is 99 cents.

And finally, Play School Art maker

Playschool Artmaker
Oh man, this is by far and away our favorite app and wait for it it’s free! If you’re from Australia you know about Playschool. It’s an Australian icon on our national broadcaster and is government funded which I think is ace.

The app is really fun! You create pictures out of craft materials and all the Playschool toys from the show. The voice talent is by the actual hosts and it’s just loads of fun to play with.

Once you’ve made a picture you can save it to your scrap book or you can make a movie and animate all the pieces by dragging them round on screen and add your own voice over. Our voice overs generally sound something like “Whahahahaha whoa wha wha whoa”. You can even add your own backgrounds so all the characters can play on top of a photo of your back yard.

Seriously, It’s way cool! do yourself a favour and grab this app. Like I said, it’s made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation And it’s free people. Go get it, you won’t be sorry.

O.K. So that went on much longer than expected so I’ll just wrap it up by saying um… We’re like totally “out-doorsy” and stuff and hardly ever play with the apps. Please don’t judge us:)

Seriously though, what apps do you use with your kids?

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December 10, 2011

How to find a good playground

Posted in: Kids Stuff / Tech
By: Peter Costello

I like my phone.  I’m a bit of a nerd and I download / buy a lot of apps.  I’ve bought a few for the kids, although I haven’t really let them play with them yet.  Largely because I don’t want them to become a “go to” and have them be the only thing that will settle them.

Every now and then an app comes along that you think, “Wow, that app is cool as…!” That’s a great Idea.  I’ll definitely use that.  One such app is playground finder This is a great little app produced in partnership by Playground Finder, the Teacher Learning Network and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development that basically, does what it says on the tin.  Finds playgrounds.

Using the whole location based magics of iPhones, you just crack it open and it will tell you where the nearest playgrounds near your current position are.  It then goes on to let you know what kind of facilities you’ll find at a given, toilets, shade, whether it’s suitable for toddlers or not (a big one for us) to name a few.  But what’s really nice about it is there is seems to be a fairly active community using it, writing reviews and recommending various parks in their particular areas. There’s a star based system for recommendations and then some fairly in depth reviews.

We’ve yet to actually write a review but have used it in our area and found it quite good.  Also, just checking out our local parks and comparing them to the reviews that have been written was quite good in getting a gauge of the quality of the content and from our early experience, it’s fairly on point. If your in Victoria, Australia I would definitely give it a look.

So there you have it.  How do you find a good playground? Playgrounds app! It gets a big thumbs up from Say Noodle and the inaugural, “Say noodle – Wow, that app is cool as…!” award.  Go out and download it now because guess what, that gear is free!  Nice Work Playground finder, Teachers Learning Network and The Victorian Government, making free stuff for kids and their parents is ace. We think you’re awesome!

Also worth mentioning is their site has a whole bunch of content on it too, with search, lists by state or by publishers picks, lot’s of good stuff to help you find a good playground. I should also point out that I am in no way affiliated with any of the above parties, I just though it was a great app.  Nice one!

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