Recommendation: Ikea’s NORDMÄRKE Wireless charger

Note – this is NOT a sponsored post, and does NOT contain any affiliate links.  I just like this charger.

I’ve had wireless chargers since I used a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge – I found some official Samsung wireless chargers at a really low price on Amazon. And, they’ve been great. The downside – these chargers, they are really bright at night.

Cue Ikea’s Nordmärke wireless charger, which runs at $19.99 (Canadian) plus tax.  There is one tiny LED light to indicate that it’s charging (you should be able to spot it in the photo), but it’s obscured by my phone when it’s resting on the charger.  

The other thing I really like about it is that the power cable is permanently attached to the charger.  Most wireless chargers (Samsung’s included) need to be plugged in via micro USB, and usually don’t come with a cable included.  One of the reasons I ended up buying this charger is because the charger I was using stopped working properly due to this connection.  

It’s lightweight and works perfectly.  I highly recommend it!

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?

Black Mirror – USS Callister

Black Mirror’s season 4 was recently made available on Netflix. This is a show I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to. Peak TV, everyone. Anyway, I heard a bit about the first episode of the season, USS Callister, and decided to at least check out that one episode. I don’t have too many thoughts to write down about the episode, but I have some. Mild spoilers follow, but I don’t think you’ll lose anything knowing a few details before viewing.

Production Quality

The production quality of this episode was amazing. I know that a lot of TV shows, especially those on Netflix, are really upping their game in terms of picture quality, but this one really felt cinematic. I can’t help but be blown away by the quality; the sets aboard the USS Callister were deliberately cheesy, and of obvious lower quality, but it’s still high quality. The scenes in the real world are well shot, and I really enjoyed the sound design in the episode – something that I think is often overlooked.

There were some small, subtle touches as well in the set design. Most of these that I enjoyed were the light technology touches. The apartment door for example, using a display screen to show the apartment number as well as a nice little Christmas wreath. Cell phones appear as sleek devices that are essentially just a screen. The downside to this is that some of the video game equipment seems inappropriately clunky in comparison to the rest of the tech.

Ship In A Bottle

The ending of the episode, which I don’t really want to spoil, reminds me a lot of the ending of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Ship In A Bottle. The open ending of both episodes are really quite similar. Unfortunately since I don’t want to spoil it, that means I’ll have to stop talking about it.

Humour

USS Callister was very hit-or-miss with the humour. Some of it worked really well for me, but other places it felt very flat and didn’t work at all. I think in some parts they were clearly trying to invoke different sci-fi franchises (Star Trek being the most prominent) but stopped short of using copyrighted terms for some reason? I’m not sure why, because it would very clearly fall under the category of parody. For example, when Nannette asks if Daley is going to throw a fireball at her…I was expecting her to ask if he was going to use the Force. I guess the point was to avoid any mention of real life properties in the show?

Another thing – sometimes the humour felt out of place with the rest of the episode, which at times played as a sort of body and psychological horror show. What I mean is that the overall tone of the episode was uneven, leaving me unsure of what kind of message the show was trying to leave about technology. I think they were just telling a cool story they wanted to tell?

Overall Thoughts

I don’t think this episode convinced me to pick up watching the rest of the series. It was good, and I thought it was well-produced, but I don’t think this particular anthology series is for me.

If you want to hear some more detailed, spoiler-filled thoughts about the show, check out Anthology Pod’s bonus episode coverage.

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?

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.

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.

#myAndroid

Over the weekend I caught wind of a neat little toy released on Android.com called “My Android” (colloquially, #myAndroid).  The basic idea behind it is to show you how many different ways you can customize your Android set-up beyond the stock screen that you get when you first turn on your Android phone.

How does it work?

Once you head over to the #myAndroid website, and click on the ‘Find Your Match’ button, you’re guided through a series of (mostly) binary tests.  They want you to react, not to think, as you make your selections.

Some of the options are obvious, but there’s a test near the end that asks “Hot dogs or legs?” that is pretty funny, but I’m not sure what results are derived from it.

What does your match give you?

After you complete the little quiz, you’re shown three home screen options that are tailored to your tastes based on your selections.  A quick animation gives you an overview of what your home screen might look like.

Scroll down a bit further and it gives you some more details about each home screen: the launcher (this is the “skin” or “theme” layered on top of Android – more info here), icon pack, wallpaper, and keyboard (more on that in a second).  Along with each item there’s a direct Play Store link so you can download them.

Problems with the process

I mentioned that I’d get to the keyboard suggestion; that’s where there’s at least one problem with the whole process.  Every time you complete the test to find your match, every keyboard recommended is Gboard.  I’m not saying that Gboard is a bad keyboard (it’s the one I use, in fact), but it seems a bit disingenuous that no matter what, the #myAndroid website will suggest it every time without fail.  There are a lot of different keyboards out there, and different styles will suit some more than others; this test should just leave the keyboard match out completely.

The wallpaper suggestion leaves a little to be desired too.  It will give you one of two options: Backdrops or Zedge.  It will show you the suggestion based on your test selections, but won’t give you the name of it or what to search for in order to find it in the selected app.

Lastly, I’d also love to be able to sample some of the launchers in a virtual environment before trying them.  They give you a very brief animation but to me that’s not enough.

Overall impressions

This is a great tool, for both new and experienced Android users alike.  I’ve even seen mention on the Android subreddit from iPhone users that this has helped convince them to switch.

I’ve found two new launchers – Evie and Smart Launcher 3.  I’ve used Nova Launcher for almost the entire time I’ve used Android, but thought I’d try something new based on the suggestions given here.

I use Evie on my Galaxy S7 edge, and Smart Launcher on my Galaxy Tab S2.  Both have their advantages/disadvantages, and so far I feel that Smart Launcher works better on my tablet and I wouldn’t really like it on my phone.  Similarly with Evie, I find that it works great on my phone but isn’t something I’d use on my tablet.

Even if you just want to shake things up a little, I recommend taking the #myAndroid test to find your match.

On a side note – I finally have a set publishing schedule!  Enjoy new posts from me every Tuesday and Thursday from here on out.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 – A Non-Technical Review

Most of the reviews I looked up when trying to get more info on this device were heavily technical in nature.  Great for comparisons, but a lot of the terms and numbers went over my head.  I’ve since purchased the device (and I’m writing this post with it, in part!), so I thought I’d give a more practical hands-on review.

Display

The display on this thing is absolutely amazing. It is what’s called “Super AMOLED”. I’m not really sure what that means, other than that it’s optimized to not light up the screen when black pixels are present. And it’s a super version of that.

Last night, I watched the highlights of the Ottawa Senators win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the display quality was noticeably better than what I’d get on my TV.  The tablet also has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which means that when I watch Star Trek: The Next Generation in HD, it plays in full screen.  It’s amazing.

Physical Input

I didn’t know how to label this section – but this is the best I came up with.  The device inputs are your standard touch screen inputs – your fingers.  But I also bought a Logitech Type-S keyboard case to go with it, which is how I was typing with earlier in this post.

But it doesn’t stop there.

I was playing Blades of Steel using a Logitech USB Gamepad.
I was playing Blades of Steel using a Logitech USB Gamepad.

As you can see in the above photo, I was able to hook up a Logitech Gamepad I bought years ago for my laptop and play NES games with it.  Specifically I was playing Blades of Steel.  I’m hoping that some of the other games I have will support it (such as Knights of the Old Republic).

But that’s not all, either.  I then hooked up a USB mouse/keyboard combo and was pleasantly surprised to see that those worked as well.  There’s even a mouse cursor / pointer when you attach a USB mouse to the tablet.  Essentially, this is going to act as a pretty decent laptop replacement.

Unfortunately, my USB mic did not work when I connected it to the tablet.  I have to figure that one out still – but I have some ideas for that.  One thought is that my USB mic is technically a Rock Band mic, so that could be a mitigating factor right there.

Software

Nothing out of the ordinary here; out of the box it was running Android 5 (Lollipop) but immediately after I set it up, there were software updates to bring it up to Android 6 (Marshmallow).  So, it’s functionally the same as my S7 edge in terms of the operating system – and both devices should be getting an update to Nougat (Android 7) “soon”.

What I was happy about was that it wasn’t over-loaded with software bloat; my previous tablet, the Galaxy Tab 4, came with a bunch of stuff I never used and just took up precious space.  I haven’t fully explored everything, but from what I can see there wasn’t too much extra.

A welcome pre-installation was Microsoft Office Mobile.  Waiting for me to sign into my Microsoft account were OneDrive, Word, Excel, and other mobile Office suite apps.  I’ve used them before, but when used on the Tab S2’s 9.7 inch screen they actually look and feel closer to their desktop counterparts.

Also pre-installed is Samsung’s SideSync, which allows you to remotely control your phone and transfer files.  It’s a pretty nifty feature to have, though I have yet to make full use of it.  It’s definitely fun to play with!

Overall impressions

Overall, from just one weekend with the device, I’d give it an 8.5/10.  I love the size of it, and having the extra input options just put it over the top.  It loses points based on the fact that you kind of need these additional input options to get good solid use out of it.  I feel like it should be able to stand on its own – which it mostly does, but not completely.

The Tab S3 is coming out in 2017 so now is the perfect time to jump on the S2 bandwagon.  It’s amazingly fast, display quality is top notch, and gives you everything you can do with Android, plus a few extras that only Samsung can give you.