Daily Random Podcast

I’m working on a slightly longer blog entry about podcasts (that seems to be a recurring theme, lately) but for now wanted to share something fun I whipped together.  

Over on /r/podcasts (reddit) there was some demand for showcasing a random podcast each day from the weekly link sharing thread; it would be next to impossible to listen to each one in there and recommend something in a personal matter, so I offered the next best thing: an automated, randomly selected podcast of the day.  

The long and short of it: Each day I run a Tasker task I created to find the weekly episode thread, and randomly select an episode.  Then I create a new post.  

That’s it, and it works pretty well.  I’m curious to know what kind of shows come up each day.  Fun times!

Project: Scan CD Barcode & Play in Spotify – Part Two

Read up on Part One before continuing on – otherwise this post makes no sense.  Why are you reading it out of order?


Day Four – Things Are Working

You’ll remember at the end of Day Three I was getting frustrated with how things were working out, and that I might need to head to a different direction.  In fact, in the intervening days between pausing the project, moving to a new house, and continuing today (Tuesday), I even came across ANOTHER option that might even take all the hard work away from me:

Lifehacker: Stream a Vinyl Album By Snapping a Pic of Its Cover Art With This App

I think this project sounds awesome and is probably a better implementation of what I want to do, but at this point it’s merely a back-up option that I’m going to hold onto.

So I know for sure that using the “auto input” option (described in Day Three) definitely works – but to me that’s very clunky and goes against the entire point of what I’m trying to do with this project.  I did some extra digging and found a barcode for Maroon 5’s Red Pill Blues album (Best Buy is very handy with listing EAN barcode numbers, it turns out).

I went back to AutoSpotify and figured out how to get it to search and return results properly.  I fiddled around briefly with broadcasting intents, and they worked to some extent – but not the way I wanted.

In the end I realized there was a “play media” function with AutoSpotify that I wasn’t leveraging before.  I was able to play the album directly from the URL (obtained from the AutoSpotify Search).

Just to drive the point home, I want to say again – it worked.  I took the barcode from the album (Red Pill Blues), searched the EAN database for the name, plugged the name into a search of Spotify’s database, and then automatically played the album.

I haven’t tested it fully with the barcode scan – that’s next.  But just a quick summary again of the apps I needed to make this work:

  • Tasker
  • AutoTools (JSON Read)
  • AutoSpotify (Search & Play Media)
  • Also need an EAN Database API login (free version)

Full barcode test is next.


Day Five – Putting It All Together (Again)

Finally, it all came together!  I grabbed some CDs from my collection.  Only one of them worked – The Sheepdogs’ Learn & Burn.  That’s okay – I fully expect some of these scans not to return any information (or the correct information).

The ultimate point is that I was able to scan a barcode, look up the album name in Spotify, and play it automatically.  It took me a while to get there, but I’ve got it all set now.

I think the next step will be to add some checks – for example, if it can’t find product information, tell me so that I can decide to try to look it up via image search (the one I mentioned from Day Four).  That type of thing.  Make it a little smarter.

Anyway, if you want a copy of the task (assuming you have Android, and all of the required apps / plugins), let me know and I’ll make it available after I clean it up.

Project Time: Scan CD Barcode & Play in Spotify

It’s been a long time since I’ve started a fun tech project.  I’m not too hands-on when it comes to the hardware, but I like dabbling in the software side of things.  Without further ado, here’s what I’m trying to accomplish, in a nutshell:

Using my phone (or a tablet, that works too), scan a CD barcode and play it in Spotify (or whatever music app I happen to be subscribed to at the time).

This post is being written as I walk through the project.  There are quite a few pieces involved in getting it to work, and I’m piecing it together one at a time.


Day One – Gathering Materials & Initial Tests

This is where I figure out what it is that I need to make this thing work.  As far as I can tell, this is what I’ll need:

The first test I came up with was to figure out how to trigger everything in the first place.  I found this handy Reddit post that used a different method to scan barcodes as a starting off point.  To save you a click though, I’m triggering the task by launching when the Barcode Scanner app is open AND the clipboard is set (that’s how the app works – it copies the barcode to the clipboard).

In the task itself, I want to look up the barcode information.  Apparently you can do this using EAN, which stands for International Article Number (it was originally European, hence the “E”).  Autoweb has a web service to look up product info from the EAN database, which is perfect! So in Tasker, I am sending the barcode (which is stored in the clipboard at this point) to the EAN database, which returns a bunch of different results from product name, description, category, etc.  Well, as long as all that information is in the database, that is.

Grand & Toy Highlighter
Grand & Toy Highlighter

I tested it with the closest object I could find with a barcode – a Grand & Toy highlighter (pictured).  Unfortunately that test didn’t give me any meaningful results, so I had to test something else.  I tried a bag of chips (it was free – technically expired, from the vending machine) and still, nothing came up.  I seem to be doing something wrong.  I think the rest of Day One will be spent trying to figure this out.

So I figured it out with a different method.  I couldn’t figure out how to use the Autoweb API action, so I decided to just eliminate that variable and use an Autotools JSON Read (you can view a tutorial here).  In conjunction with the JSON Editor Online (link), I figured out how to get Tasker to display the information I needed.  After some fiddling, success!  “Roundedge Yellow Highlighter” (incidentally the EAN entry for Grand & Toy has the company name entered as “Grand & Tory”).

Now that I’ve got this basic, most important part of the process figured out, I can now start scanning CDs to see what information comes up in the JSON file and look up via Spotify.

I’m having mixed results – my personal CD collection is packed away right now, so I’m using my parents’ collection to test.  I got a positive match for “Crazy for Gershwin”, but looking up the barcode for Gordon Lightfoot’s Gord’s Gold gave me the following product description:

Lorcos Cinnamon Orange Christmas Cat In A Boot Single Soap Bar 10.5 Oz. From France

So…this might not be the smoothest exercise, but it DOES work.  Sort of.  I count this as a success.


Day Two – Connecting with Spotify

Connecting to Spotify has been somewhat problematic.  While I’ve been able to read barcodes and get the album name, searching the Spotify database hasn’t been so easy.  I used the Tasker plugin AutoSpotify to run a search.  I think I’m just not clear on how the plugin works because no information would return to me.  None of my attempts to get the Spotify API in Autoweb to work either.

So that’s frustrating.  To top it off, randomly my “HTTP GET” action (the function that is reading the EAN database) is failing.

All said, things are not going as smoothly as I would like.


Day Three – Changing things up

I was getting frustrated on day two trying to get the Spotify automation to work.  So I decided to change things up and go back to methods I know have worked for me in the past.  Enter AutoInput; it’s another plugin that simulates and automates user input.

I created a test task with a pre-set search string.  It opens Spotify, clicks on the search icon, pastes the search string, and clicks on the top result.  For the two tests that I ran, I used “our lady peace clumsy” and “oasis what’s the story morning glory”.  In both cases the top result was the correct album.  So this part of the puzzle works fine.  The next step was to put the barcode read and the automated search function and put them together.

I’m not having very much luck.  I think the problem is that I’m sorely lacking in CDs to test with; I did one test at Wal-Mart, but came up with nothing.  I think if I had the CD in hand I might be able to see if it returned actual artist / album information as opposed to what I’ve been looking at (an amalgamation of the two on a greatest hits album – reportedly, greatest hits albums aren’t reliable for EAN scans).

Leaning more toward the much more manual intensive process of printing QR codes for each album. I’d rather not put that much work into it, however.


To Be Continued…

I’m going to put this project on hold for now.  The bones are there, I just don’t have the time or the materials present to continue testing.  There will definitely be a follow-up to this entry though!

My Current Phone Set up at Work

A word of warning: this post is very Android-heavy, and not likely very relevant if you’re using basically any other smart phone.  Turn away now if you’re in the wrong ecosystem!  (Or, keep reading if you’re interested in some of the cool things you can set up with Android to stay productive.)

I’m always trying to find a way to stay productive while still keeping on top of the personal demands on my phone.  My phone is primarily a personal device, and strictly speaking, is not necessary for my job.  However, I use it constantly to keep in touch with my wife through messaging (we use Allo; I also use text messages for just about everyone else).  Other things that come through include email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  I keep my phone on silent, but I don’t want to miss anything that might be an important notification.  So, I came up with a pretty good solution.  At least it’s good for me.

The other purpose for this set up is to help stretch my battery life a little bit.  The less that I activate my screen, the longer the battery lasts.

The Basic Setup

Phone: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Android version: 7.0 (Nougat)
Root? Nope!
Other apps in use:

You can probably accomplish this set up with any Android device – it doesn’t have to be a Samsung product, and I think you’re probably fine running Android 4.4+ (KitKat and above), but I can only “guarantee” functionality based on what I’ve got going on here.  To replicate exactly what I’ve done, you’ll definitely need Tasker.  As Tasker is a great program for automation in general, I think it’s a great app to buy anyway.

Right off the bat, I would recommend reading my article about using the FitBit Charge 2 as a Smart Watch.  At the end of the day, the functionality here can be duplicated with any smart watch or any device that accepts notifications.  Form isn’t as important here as function.  The end result is that I have certain notifications sending to my phone – specifically, text messages, Allo messages, FaceBook Messenger messages, and phone calls.  There might be a few other things I’m forgetting but those are the important ones.

Most of the time I will use my device to respond to the instant messages; however there are web-based solutions for everything here.  Allo has a web interface (it mirrors what’s on your phone and has some limitations); you can go to Facebook in a browser to access messenger; and using Join you can send & receive messages through your browser (more on Join in a bit).  Basically if I need to I can leave my device off for everything except phone calls.  Oh – but I could forward my calls to my work number if I wanted to do that.  That’s a basic service provider option that most people probably have too.

Join

Join is a fantastic app.  If you’ve ever heard of Pushbullet, Join is in a similar category – except that it’s free.  The short version of what you can do with it is send browser tabs to / from connected devices, send notifications between devices, send files between devices, copy/paste text between devices, and so on.  You can read more about it here: https://joaoapps.com/join/ 

I use it primarily now to send notifications to my work laptop while I’m at work.  I haven’t figured out entirely how I want to automate it when I work at home, but for when I’m in the office, I have Tasker activate sending notifications to my work laptop as soon as I connect to wifi.  Join is a stand-alone app developed with Tasker plugins in mind, so it works really easily with Tasker as a plugin.  If you want to learn more, leave a comment…I don’t want to get too technical.

I picked a few apps within the Join app that I want notifications from, including Inbox (my gmail app) and Twitter.  These notifications pop up in the bottom corner of my computer whether or not I have a browser window open.  Join is available as both a Chrome plugin and a Windows 10 app; the plugin is free, but you have to pay for the app.  I just use the plugin.  When you click on the notification, you have a few options – you can dismiss it from the device (and if there are any buttons on the notification on your phone, they’ll appear on desktop too) or open it in a new browser window.  The great thing is that if it’s an email notification, it’ll bring you to your inbox; similarly if it’s Twitter or Facebook it’ll bring you to those sites too.

I could go on and on – I highly recommend watching the videos on the Join website to see all the things you can do with it.  But already we have several ways of handling phone notifications without having to turn the screen on and waste precious battery life.

The primary purpose of this isn’t really to avoid using my phone, it’s mostly because as I said I keep my phone on silent.  I may not always be staring at my screen and see I have a new notification.  So, this is a really helpful way to make sure I don’t miss anything.

Tasker

I alluded to using Tasker to automate when I send notifications through Join.  I also turn my “Always On Display” off when I’m connected to work wifi.  So now my screen is entirely disabled while I’m at work.  I should point out that I use several plugins with Tasker, which I pay for through a monthly subscription.  Check out the AutoApps suite (which you can try out for free) – there are lots of cool things to do here.

To accomplish controlling the Always On Display, I use AutoTools – Secure Settings.  To use this you need to enable ADB access.  It’s not too complicated to set this up, but there are some steps involved – you should read it in a better, step-by-step format.

That’s pretty much it.  I find this setup extremely useful so far, and battery life is great.  I’ve been using “AccuBattery” lately and it recommends charging phones only to 80% (based on scientific studies) to extend the battery’s overall life.  Any battery saving tips of your own?

How to use a Fitbit Charge 2 Like a Smart Watch

I’ve been extremely satisfied with my FitBit Charge 2; I upgraded to it from using a Charge HR, which was also a nice little device on its own. The Charge 2 is leaps and bounds over it. But it’s not a smart watch.

Initially, I was okay with this. I figured that I didn’t need a smart watch – they were a cool thing and probably useful for some people, but not my thing. I was just interested in the fitness tracking aspect of it. That was true until I bought my wife an Apple Watch and got to see how truly cool and useful it was. So, I talked myself into getting a smart watch of my own.

But in the meantime, I decided that I would make the most of my Charge 2 and try to get some smart watch features going on my own.

This guide I’ve put together is something I came up with on my own to make it “smart watch-y”, and relies on using the Android phone OS; I’m sure you could probably get some of the same experience on an iPhone, but some of the things I describe are Android-only.

Notifications

The easiest thing to activate are notifications. This aspect is built into the Charge 2 already, allowing you to be notified on your wrist of incoming calls, calendar events, and select notifications. Out of the box, it only supports text messages and Facebook Messenger. However, if you have an Android device (like me), you can add a few more options here.

For me, I had an extra option showing – AutoNotification. This is a plugin for the automation program Tasker, which I use a lot. Theoretically you could route all your notifications through AutoNotification and then send them that way through your FitBit. This might be the best solution, since you can customize how your notifications appear in fine detail, so this might also improve your experience on your phone at the same time.

But if you’re not really up for fine tuning and customizing to the Nth degree, you should consider the app Fit Notifications. This app is compatible with a few other FitBit devices, and essentially allows you to send notifications for just about every app on your phone to your FitBit. You just need to select Fit Notifications as your notification service for messages in the FitBit app, and then select which apps you want to receive notifications from in the Fit Notifications settings. Simple as that, making it the most efficient method of receiving customized notifications.

My current clock face of choice

Clock Face

The next step is to pick a cool looking clock face. While it would be fantastic if you could create custom clock faces, or import faces from other people, it’s just not possible. FitBit provides a few different faces to choose from – go with what looks good to you. But try to pick something that makes good use of the entire screen.

At the end of the day, this part isn’t the most important change, but helps aesthetically to create the illusion of using a smart watch.

Calendar Notifications

This probably deserves to be grouped under ‘notifications’ in general, but make sure you have your calendar set up in the notifications for your device. To fully utilize this you’ll probably want to make sure you have event reminders set up as well, otherwise you won’t get the notifications for any events.

Again, it’s not a huge piece of the puzzle, but put together with everything else and it helps complete it.

That’s It!

You’re done! I have to do some more research on this, but I think that’s all that you can do to try to recreate the smart watch experience with a FitBit Charge 2. The rest is really already done for you – fitness tracking is built-in, as it’s the primary feature; and you can turn on / off alarms at your convenience in the menus on your device.

It’s not perfect, but it might help you decide whether or not you really need a smart watch after all. Since I haven’t purchased an Ionic yet, this might end up changing my mind. Who knows?

Stranger Things: The Game

Stranger Things: The Game
Stranger Things: The Game

Have you tried out Stranger Things: The Game?  I heard about this a few weeks back in passing, and sought it out.  The gameplay is fairly simple – it’s point-and-click, but is more of an action RPG (in the vein of the original Zelda games).

I’ve only got as far as Chapter 2, but so far it’s a lot of fun to figure out the little puzzles throughout the game.  There are two modes: “Normal” and “1984”, which is apparently next to impossible to play unless you’re a big gamer.  Anyway, I’m on the Normal mode.  There looks to be a ton of things to do.  The game is very well-designed and fun to play, which is  win for me!

It also has a sense of humour, which all of the great action RPG games of old had.  It’s a fantastic homage, but also stands on its own.  I think the mobile gaming world could use more games like this!  If there already are – point them out to me!!

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua Review

I recently had to send my regular phone in for repair (I got it back today!  Quick service, Rogers!), and received a Sony Xperia M4 Aqua as a loaner unit so I could still function in the real world.  Here’s a review of the device and my short time with it.

The Screen

My “daily driver”, as the tech junkie parlance goes, is a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which sports a 5.5″ screen.  It’s capable of displaying what Samsung calls WQHD or something.  Either way, it’s a really good screen, so this is the first thing I noticed on the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua.

The Xperia’s screen is 5.0″, so not significantly smaller than what I’m used to.  The resolution is only 720×1280, a rather large dropdown from Samsung.  But everything on the Xperia is bright and generally looks good.  This probably sounds strange, but everything looks “flat” but that works for the device build (which I’ll get to).

The adaptive brightness seems to work really well, and really quickly.  I was outside BBQing Monday night, in bright sunlight; at first it was hard to read the screen but within seconds the brightness dialed up and I was able to read it no problem.  Admittedly it’s probably a tad slower than most high-end devices but it’s good enough for me.

Software

I was happily surprised to see that the device launched with Android 6.0.1.  I was expecting to see Android L, as I knew pretty much nothing about the Xperia line.  For a 2 year old device, that kind of OS software support is pretty good.

It looks like Sony has kept a mostly stock Android feel to the device, unlike Samsung which layers on its TouchWiz experience that makes their version of Android look very different from stock.  The only reason I recognize the stock look of 6.0.1 is because I briefly used Cyanogen on my old Galaxy SIII a couple of years ago, and it looks pretty much like what I see on the Xperia M4 Aqua.

I quickly installed Nova Launcher on top of it though, so my user experience was almost identical to what I’m used to on my S7.  I wasn’t really a fan of Sony’s default interface, and they install a lot of bloatware.  Luckily I was able to ignore or disable most of it to be able to dive into actually using my device.

Performance

I noticed some sluggishness with the phone – but that’s going to happen when the chipset used is significantly inferior to what I’m used to.  I don’t understand the full differences but suffice it to say, it is noticeable.  However, there were only a handful of times when I felt annoyed by the lag on the device, so overall I’d say it’s acceptable.

Plus, I turned on Developer Options and turned off all of the animations – and that made a huge difference.  Cosmetic perhaps, but it worked for me.

It was a bit slow to open the camera on demand, so quick pics are probably not going to happen easily.  But I didn’t get many photo ops while testing the device, so a very minor knock against the unit.

Speaking of which…

Camera

I own a Sony DSC-H300, so I was looking forward to some “camera synergy” with the Xperia M4 Aqua.  I wasn’t able to dig too deep with the settings but most of the familiar camera modes were there, including a pretty robust “Pro” mode, which I was happy was there.  I took a few shots – I think the quality is good, but not great.  Much better than the other reviews I read of the phone.

They definitely look better on a proper display than how they showed at the time on the device.

View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com

Phone Build

Here’s where I felt the phone suffered.  It felt very cheap, like it was just a piece of plastic and not a phone.  It’s very light.  On the other hand, the device is apparently fully waterproof and features a dedicated camera button so you could take pictures under water if you wanted to!  That’s pretty neat.

I count this next app as a hardware “tick” because it requires physical components to work.  The Xperia has a built-in FM radio!  Yeah, not a big deal when you can stream things all the time…but sometimes I just want good old FM radio.  I used to have a Nokia phone that had a built-in FM tuner, and it was great.

Overall Impressions

You can probably tell from the body of the review that I enjoyed using this phone.  I was expecting something lacklustre, but was (marginally) blown away by the quality under the hood, even though it looks and feels like a cheap phone.

I would most definitely recommend this phone for someone who needed a cheap replacement, but it’s definitely not going to compare to a flagship device.  I might also consider finding a cheap unlocked version of my own to use as a backup / media device.  I was that impressed with it.

Back to Meal Tracking Apps

A couple of weeks ago, I did a comparison of MyFitnessPal and LoseIt!.  I was on the fence on which meal tracking app was best for me – I liked some of the features of LoseIt!, but I liked others of MFP.

I will be honest – I had to give up on LoseIt.  There were just a few little issues that led me to continue using MyFitnessPal.  The “biggest” of these little issues is that I have so much history built up in MFP.

History

Weight numbers, meals, recipes – there are just so many entries here that the app / website just means that my overall experience is tailored to my personal preferences and tastes just right.  You could argue that you can build that same history eventually with another app, but it’s one of those intangibles that is a barrier to entry for some other apps.

It’s the same reason a lot of other people I talked to on Reddit don’t switch to MFP – they’ve built up their own personal history with apps like LoseIt! and FatSecret.

App Connectivity 

This was another little factor.  While LoseIt! synced with my FitBit, MFP offers so many more connectivity options.  For a brief period I was without a FitBit, so I was able to sync with Samsung Health (which in itself is a great app).  I think MyFitnessPal is always going to win out over the other apps for connectivity, because it’s a much bigger app than the others and more services work with it.

User Interface

It’s funny – some people consider MFP to be ugly.  I think just the opposite – it’s sleek and well-rendered.  LoseIt! just doesn’t have the same kind of polish to it.  This is definitely the smallest of the little differences, because otherwise the apps function almost identically.

Recommendation

Like I said – my personal choice is MyFitnessPal.  If you need to decide which app you want to use – just choose one and go with it.  Don’t do what I did and use two apps side-by-side…it gets tedious, and that reduces the likelihood you’ll keep using the app of choice.

If you find that your app of choice isn’t working for you, switch.  If it’s working for you, don’t get tempted to choose another one just because someone else likes it better 🙂

Waze – A New Appreciation

For the longest time, I avoided using Waze.  I tried it – a large amount of people online suggest this app for their daily commute.  But I didn’t like the user interface – it seemed childish and unrefined.  I much preferred the look and feel of Google Maps.  After all, Waze gets its map data from Google Maps, so why would I use an inferior product?

I decided I’d give it another chance a few weeks ago, when there was a serious accident on the major highway that I use to get home every night.  I had heard that the biggest plus to Waze was that it was smart about suggesting alternate, faster routes; basically, I needed it to give me a detour.  Unfortunately it wasn’t too helpful in that regard (it wasn’t aware of the accident that closed the highway).  BUT this is not where the story ends.

More User Data Improves the Experience

I opted to try it out a little more when I was working in a different city on business last week.  I could see a world of difference.  Obviously, Waze works much better when there are more users on the road.  It didn’t really give me any crazy alternate routes, but one feature I found neat was that it gave me a pretty good approximation of how long I’d be stuck in a current traffic jam.

You can see more details at this link: “Waze knows how long you’ll be stuck in traffic”, complete with a relevant screenshot.  Basically, it gives you a little bar, reminiscent of a health bar in a video game, that tells you how long you can expect to be stuck in the current traffic jam.  It really helps to put your time spent on the road in perspective.  What maybe feels like forever, because you’re barely moving, might only be two minutes.  Relax.

The ETA Is Very Accurate

What was most helpful for me – because the routes I take are generally straightforward and don’t benefit from alternate routes – was the ETA.  Generally speaking, the ETA that Waze gave me was incredibly accurate.  The accuracy comes from a combination of user data and your GPS positioning.

For example, when you plug in your route it will calculate your estimated time of arrival based on current road conditions and road speed limits.  But it keeps updating this based on your GPS position & speed – giving you a surprisingly accurate ETA.   I assume that it also takes into consideration your previous driving habits, but I’m not too sure about that.

I find the ETA that Waze provides to be a lot more useful than the estimated duration that Google Maps gives you.

Drawbacks

The major issue I have with Waze is that it largely requires user input to report accidents, speed traps, and so forth.  In my home province, it is illegal to interact with devices (other than one or two buttons to answer a call), so being encouraged by the app to use the app while driving doesn’t sit right with me.

And like I said before, the main use of the app comes from having other “Wazers” on the road.  If you’re in an area that doesn’t have a dense population, or doesn’t have a lot of people using Waze, it might not be much more useful than just using Google Maps.

I much prefer the look and “feel” of Google Maps, and it already gives you traffic data.  So living where I do, which falls under the category of “not densely populated without a lot of Wazers”, Waze isn’t going to get a lot of use from me.

Overall – A Good App

I hesitate to call this a great app, but it is definitely a good app and useful.  I can get past the cartoon-y UI (which I feel has actually improved a bit since the last time I used it), accepting the fact that it’s partly because it’s optimized for a driving experience.  If you’re interested in shaving a few minutes off of your drive, or staying updated on what’s going on along your regular route, Waze is definitely going to help you.

Next week on the blog: not so much tech!  Some book and TV reviews next week.

Android Nougat First Impressions

I’ve had Nougat for a week by the time this post will publish, but I’ve got some first impressions based on my first few days of use. For reference, I use a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, and it was upgraded from Marshmallow to 7.0.  Other relevant info – I’m using Evie Launcher*.

And yes, I realize that I’m a year late and Android O is already in the works, to release sometime this year.  Blame Samsung.

First Reaction

I really, really like the way this looks.  Everything looks sleek and well-designed.  If this makes any sense to you, it looks less “cartoon-y”, something which Samsung has been gradually moving away from since I started with the Galaxy S3.  Starting with Lollipop, they’ve been moving toward a more “stock” look with their notification / quick launch drawer.  I like it.

Digging Deeper

Past the visual elements, my phone somehow feels snappier.  I don’t really think it actually is any faster, but it feels like it is, which is important.  I feel like there’s something operating behind the scenes (maybe faster animation speeds?) that is making the difference.  I’m not speaking from a technological angle here – I don’t think they’ve done anything on the software side to affect RAM for example – but the software seems…optimized.  That’s the best term I can think of for it.

Battery life seems to be improved.  It’s hard for me to tell for sure, because I’m not using my phone the way I normally do right now.  Sometimes I’m actually using it less than I normally do.  The first day, I used it a LOT because I was playing around with it, and the battery life suffered accordingly.  Last Thursday though, I noticed that my battery life was only at 64% or so near the end of my work day, so that’s impressive.  I think some of the battery saving measures behind the scenes have been improved for Nougat.

Some other cool things have opened up for me, now that I have Nougat.  Previously, only Samsung’s Messages app allowed you to type out replies from the notification window.  Nougat adds this ability, so now I can do that with an app like Allo.  It’s pretty handy if you don’t want to leave whatever screen you’re on.  The other neat thing that Samsung added was some more utility to their Always On Display function on the S7 edge.

If they stopped at just adding more icon notifications I would have been happy; but you can also double-tap the app icon and it will unlock the screen and open the app with the notification.  That’s really cool and very useful!  To give you a quick comparison, on Marshmallow, only Samsung’s messages app and phone icons would show on Always On Display, and you couldn’t open the apps from there.

Overall Impression

This is definitely a very cool step forward for Android.  I don’t think that this update is revolutionary, but it’s the kind of update that would breathe new life into a phone (for example, if I added this to my S6 edge if it still worked – that would be amazing).  I don’t know how many phones will actually be getting it, as manufacturers tend to drop older phones from support even though they are capable of taking new operating system upgrades.

If you were on the fence of upgrading (or have the option of flashing a custom ROM with Nougat on it), you should definitely do it.  There aren’t any noticeable bugs that I can see and it runs really well.  It can only get better.  Can’t wait until I get Android O in 2018!

* I’ve actually switched back to Nova Launcher, because they added “Dynamic” notification badges, which are really cool and you should look into.

Coming up on Thursday: more Android talk focusing on Waze.