Aside

Samsung, S Planner SUCKS! #bloat #pretentious

Every time my phone reboots (because you’re crummy battery won’t hold a charge) your apps reset their configurations even though I DON’T USE THEM!!!

The worst is S Planner. I don’t use it. I turn off all the notifications. My phone reboots and WHAM, notification storm until I get in and turn everything off again.

You really think people are going to love your apps so much they will use them exclusively? Rather than one of the thousands of other, often better, choices?!

You have allowed the marketing department to run the show for too long! Time to put the engineers back in charge. Or at least allow me to remove your crummy apps from my phone.

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Samsung can’t keep its hands off!

I get why the first three are there, I’m using Google Photos after all, and I have used them. But in next nine I would have expected Gmail to be higher up, Hangouts too. And I don’t see Push Bullet or WordPress or my SMS messenger any where.

For some reason though Samsung’s S Memo is first even though I never use it!

Samsung’s hardware is excellent. But the self righteous attitude they have drives me nuts!

HERE maps and GPS navigating to Upper Canada Village

Nokia HERE Maps and Navigation Review

There are plenty of GPS Navigation apps available to Android users, from big names to odd names and no names. The latest addition to crop is Nokia’s HERE. Obviously this is a big name! Most importantly this is a primary provider since Nokia’s HERE subsidiary is a mapping company – this isn’t just a third-party app that relies on someone else’s data.

The next thing to take note of is that this is coming from the new Nokia that is no longer beholden to Redmond whip masters. I was always a big fan of Nokia (most of my mobile phones were from them) so I really hope they do well and work hard to get out of the Microsoft shadow and regain their former glory.

I finally had the opportunity to really put HERE through the paces on a recent road trip to the USA – which means no data while roaming!!!
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Aside

Honestly Samsung, OS updates are NOT an opportunity to make all your S apps my defaults again!

Over the weekend an update came in OTA for my Galaxy S3. A quick check on the usual mobile web sites didn’t mention anything for me to be concerned about so I let her rip. But after the update the Samsung apps S Planner, S Memo, S Craptastic-bloat-o-rama were front and centre again in my notifications. Even though none of them have been my preferred apps for quite some time.

Android Camera Apps

What’s the Best Android Camera App

One of the things I like to do most with my smart phone is take pictures. I’ve been through more than my share of camera apps, and probably purchased more than I needed to. Here’s a run-down of what I’ve discovered along the way.

Samsung Camera UI

Samsung Camera UI

Update 1: I’ve made some discoveries regarding Snap Camera and A Better Camera that improve the review. I’d also like to highlight some developers who’ve been very responsive.

Obviously there were issues with the camera app that came with my Samsung Galaxy S3 that made me start looking for an alternative. The most egregious problem was that the camera app kept losing its settings, especially my selection of short-cuts, if I was storing photos on the phone (as opposed to the SD card). The other issues were the interface and functionality was pretty basic, and when launching the camera from the Cover lock screen I couldn’t switch to the video camera.

Two elements I’ve included in the review are whether you can specify the storage location for your pictures (and videos). Some of the apps only let you choose between phone/device and SD card while other let you specify the full path to the storage location. This may be an issue if and when your device is on Android 4.4 Kit Kat since it changes how the external SD Card is accessed and used. Personally I can’t believe that Google would make such a breaking change without any mitigation path so I suspect that as people come to better understand the changes in 4.4 they will re-implement whatever needs to be done and everything will be just perfect!

I’ve also indicated whether you can take still pictures while shooting video. This is a great little feature allows you to capture the whole event as well as the little moments along the way. Not all the apps were capable of this, in fact some couldn’t even take videos! The Samsung Camera allows you specify the general storage location (phone or SD card) and grab stills while shooting video.

One thing none of the cameras featured was a document mode for scanning pages. I know apps like Evernote and Handy Scanner both have these features, but I would find it convenient to have them in a generic camera app rather than a component of another app.

Cover Camera Selection

Cover Camera Selection

The issue with camera apps is they’re notoriously finicky. Each phone, even from the same manufacturer, uses different hardware for their camera. Some camera’s are really unique – like those from HTC, and then there’s Samsung’s line of Android powered point-and-shoot cameras. An app that works perfectly for me might not work properly, or even launch, on your phone.

The list of camera apps I tried includes Camera KK (and it’s predecessor Camera JB+), Nexus Camera: KitKat Camera, Focal, Camera FV-5, Open Camera, Snap Camera, and A Better Camera. A few other things to note are that I prefer QuickPic as my gallery app and Aviary as my photo editor; and I also use the Cover lock screen replacement which features quick-access to the camera that by-passes the security.

Camera KK

CameraKK UI

CameraKK UI

This camera from Moblynx is built on Google’s camera source code, but fine tunes and adds a few features. I started with the predecessor, Camera JB+ (which included a gallery app), and used this camera exclusively until I ran into some lag issues when taking pictures – especially when using the flash. The interface is pretty clean and, apart from the lag, all the functions work very well. You can specify the general storage location with this app; and you can take stills while shooting a video. One of the things I really appreciated was that this camera did NOT come bundled with another gallery app since I prefer QuickPic. The developer is very responsive to e-mails.

Nexus Camera: KitKat Camera

Nexus Camera UI

Nexus Camera UI

Following the lag issues I was experiencing with Camera KK I decided to give this camera app a try. It is also built from the same code base as the Nexus camera like Camera KK. However this app sticks closer to the original and doesn’t add any features or do any fine-tuning. You can’t specify the storage location at all, but you can take stills while shooting video. And unfortunately it also suffered from a frustratingly long lag when taking pictures. I assume the lag is either because the source target’s Nexus cameras or because it’s so generic it doesn’t handle specific interactions with the Galaxy S3 camera.

Focal

Focal UI

Focal UI

I was really looking forward to this camera since it came from CyanogenMod. It has a unique interface that could be quite powerful, but there are some features that just don’t work yet (it is in beta). Most annoying is missing EXIF data like orientation (portrait/landscape) and geo-location. One of the coolest features is PicSphere mode for taking 360-degree photos. Another cool feature is being able to pin open the configurations you change most often so you can quickly access them; and quickly changing modes using the outside edge of the shutter button. You can’t specify the storage location at all, and in theory you can grab stills while shooting video but neither worked very well for me during my testing. Although I can launch this camera from Cover it doesn’t by-pass the security screen. The developer is active on the project’s XDA Developers thread.

Camera FV-5

Camera FV-5 UI

Camera FV-5 UI

This is the camera app to use if you want a DSLR in your phone. Everything possible is adjustable, there’s no fancy icons of snowman wearing party hats at night; just the controls you would expect to find on a real camera. Granted on a phone, with it’s tiny little capture element and feeble LED flash there’s only so much the settings can accomplish. But for some phones, and for Android cameras, this is a great app to have. I used it a lot to take a series of bracketed photos for Google+ to make an HDR photo from – automagically!!! For the storage location you can choose from suggested paths or specify your own, and this is only a still camera – no video! This app does NOT integrate with Cover though.

Open Camera

Open Camera UI

Open Camera UI

This app is a whole new design effort that re-imagines the camera interface on a touch screen. It definitely has the most unique interface, but I have to admit I wasn’t too crazy about it as it involved a lot of cycling through choices and waiting for the choice to take effect rather than being able to directly choose the option I wanted. This app is still under heavy development though so hopefully this is something that will change. The camera interface also displays some very useful information, like a horizon line, compass direction, and angle. You can’t specify the storage location at all, and not only does it not take stills while capturing video the video I did capture was mostly green static! This app does NOT integrate with Cover. The developer is very responsive on the project’s Source Forge site.

Snap Camera

Snap Camera UI

Snap Camera UI

The interface of this camera comes back to the one found in Google’s Nexus camera app, but the camera itself works differently and has a lot of other features. One of the most interesting features is the camera shutter and the video shutter are on-screen together, so there’s no switching modes – both are always available. My biggest issue is with navigating the menus actually. You can specify the full path to the storage location, and although the camera shutter button is always visible during video capture you can’t capture any stills unless the option is activated! This camera app also comes with a gallery app and video player (neither of which I would choose to use since I have QuickPic).

A Better Camera

A Better Camera UI

A Better Camera UI

The author of this app has a prolific collection of photography apps that are brought together into this one app. You could always install only the specific app you want, but the fun thing with ABC is there’s also a widget that let’s you open the camera directly into the mode you want. It also features DRO, Dynamic Range Optimization, to enhance your photos as you take them. The interface is quite powerful and really takes advantage of the touch screen interface, making all the functionality easily accessible. With ABC you can choose between phone or SD Card presets or specify your own path to the storage location; unfortunately though you can’t grab any stills while shooting a video. Although I can launch this camera from Cover it doesn’t by-pass the security screen. The developer is very responsive in the Google+ community.

Conclusion

Unfortunately there’s no perfect camera app in this list. Either they can’t be launched from Cover (which is essential for me), or I can’t grab stills while shooting video (with two kids multi-tasking is a requirement), or it suffers from some incompatibility with my phone (broken video, excessive lag, etc.). I’m going to keep Camera FV-5 around for those times when I really need to geek-out with my photos, but for my day-to-day camera I feel like I’m stuck with the average performing but generally functional Samsung camera app.

Another interesting observation is that half the cameras listed here use the same interface design (not the same options though) coming from the Google Nexus camera interface. It’s an interesting interface with a lot of sliding left/right and up/down to access options and make choices. But I found it a bit difficult to work with since the icons are small (i.e.: hard to press) and you end-up wandering all over your screen as you move through the menus.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

Galaxy Gear App

The Google Chromebook Sells Out!

Google’s latest iteration of ChromeOS hardware has very impressively sold-out almost as soon as it went on sale.

The new hardware is attractive for a number of reasons: it’s thin, it’s light, it features a lot of the latest technology like Bluetooth 3.0, USB 3, and dual-antenna a/b/g/n wi-fi (and we know there’s a mobile-wireless version coming soon too).

The coolest feature though is that it does not run on an Intel processor, but rather the Samsung Exynos 5 – an ARM A-15 processor like the kind found in smartphones and tablets! The A-15 is the latest iteration of the ARM design; and the Exynos 5 is a powerful chip with minimal power consumption – so no fans and longer battery life on a thinner, lighter battery.

About 90% of what I do my computers is web-based, such as e-mail, news, blogging, and even working with documents and spreadsheets on Google Drive. So a Chromebook would fill just about all my requirements. The only thing I’d be scared to try is managing my photo & video library or touching up my photos. There’s certainly no reason why a Chromebook couldn’t handle that and software like Aviary proves it possible but I think it will be awhile before we see digiKam ported to a Chrome App and there’s a truly comparable option.

What I can’t wrap my head-around though is why?! I have nothing against ARM-based computers or living my life on-line. But what I don’t understand is why we need another platform? At this point Android is a viable option for a netbook operating system. Chrome (the browser at the heart of ChromeOS) even runs on Android. An Asus Transformer is basically a Netbook running Android. Any Android tablet matched up with a Bluetooth keyboard is basically a netbook.

Even Microsoft with the launch of their Surface tablet and it’s choice of keyboard covers has basically said the netbook market was killed by the tablet market!

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep repeating it as long as I have to: WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER PLATFORM!

Apple offers developers the burden of iOS and OS X. Google offers the burden of Android and Chrome. Microsoft offers the burden of Windows (in it’s many iterations) and Windows 8 new paradigm and Windows RT (all of which multiplied by the burden of traditional libraries or newer .NET libraries). And then of course there’s the waffling RIM that burdens us with the old Blackberry and the promise of BB10; and a flurry of other platforms like Firefox OS, Sailfish, and Tizen.

It’s not surprising that RIM and Microsoft are having trouble attracting developers to their app stores – developers are all sick and tired having new platforms dropped on them like a ton of bricks and being told “if it doesn’t succeed it’s your fault because you didn’t write any killer apps for it!

So why didn’t Google put Android on this hardware and call it a Nexus NB (for netbook) or Nexus K (for keyboard) or Nexus RT (for Kiss-our-ass-Microsoft)?

As a Chromebook my only interest in purchasing one would be to wipe-out ChromeOS and install ARMedSlack. If it was running Android though I’d be perfectly happy to leave it as is!

Cross-posted on 2FatDads